Tag: nostarchpress

Book Review: The Cult of LEGO

Published / by Bill

A few months ago I was sent a review copy of the book “The Cult of LEGO” by John Baichtal and Joe Meno. Although the book was published last November by No Starch Press, and it’s taken me a while to finish reading it… but I finally did, and here are my thoughts on it.

The Cult of LEGO (book cover)

I’ve known Joe for years; he’s a regular at many of the major fan conventions on the east coast, and the editor of BrickJournal. He also ran the 2006 BrickFest in Washington, D.C., and when I was starting up the Bricks by the Bay planning process for our first convention in 2010, he provided a lot of great advice. I don’t know the other author, however.

This is a great coffee table book covering pretty comprehensively all aspects of the LEGO adult hobby. It’s not a single narrative though, from cover to cover, but rather each page pretty well stands on its own (in some cases the story might span 2-3 pages). This is perfect for picking it up, opening it to a random page, reading a page or two, then putting it back down again, but if you do try to read it continuously it comes off a bit jarring. I suppose as a coffee table book this is ideal, but it’s not how I like to read. The chapters or stories in the book seem like blog posts more than anything else, which is understandable as John Baichtal is a prominent blogger.

Most of No Starch Press’s LEGO books are squarely aimed at the LEGO hobbyist, but this one is not. It’s for the person who finds LEGO interesting, but isn’t a builder themselves, or maybe someone new to LEGO as a hobby. It’s perfect for someone who loves to come to the public day of a LEGO convention but would never attend the whole weekend.

The book is full of great pictures featuring a wide variety of creations and events from all over the world, spanning the last ten years and more. I like the fact that they don’t just highlight the latest and greatest, but creations that were featured on LUGNET 10 years ago are given equal billing with something from last year, showing the timelessness of LEGO as a medium. If you have a friend or family member who doesn’t understand your fascination with LEGO, sharing this book with them would go a long way toward redressing that disconnect. Combining Meno’s encyclopedic knowledge of the LEGO hobby and AFOL scene with Baichtal’s outsider point of view was a master stroke by the publishers, as it ensures accuracy and comprehensiveness while keeping it accessible and understandable by a non-AFOL.

It was out of date almost immediately after publication though, with the closure of DesignByMe and LEGO Universe and consequent changes to LDD, and the introduction of the new LEGO Friends line (and its attendant controversies in the media) being topics that were completely missed by the authors. In a rapidly evolving scene such as ours, that’s pretty much inevitable, however.

On a personal note, two of my photos were used (thanks to the Creative Commons license I use in all my Flickr photos) and both BayLUG and Bricks by the Bay got a mention. None of my models were featured though.

Review: New LEGO Technic Idea Books

Published / by Bill

There’s something new for LEGO Technic fans from No Starch Press.

These books from Yoshihito Isogawa are a great guide to all the wonderful ways you can combine LEGO Technic gears and related elements. I’ve always been a little wary of Technic myself. Even though I got an Expert Builder parts pack as a kid, I never did a lot with it. (I was probably too young, since I was only 6 when that set came out in 1977.) I’ve built a number of modern Technic sets, most recently the Lego Technic Crane Truck 8258, but I’ve only done minimal work with designing my own Technic machinery. Mostly what I’ve done is simple gearing such as my Scrambler amusement park ride, but I always seem to have trouble getting the gears to do quite what I want without either destroying the gears, skipping teeth, or woefully misjudging speed and/or torque.

The first book is The LEGO Technic Idea Book: Simple Machines which shows a myriad of different ways to combine LEGO gears and pulleys to achieve particular gear ratios and directions. If you’ve ever scratched your head wondering how to get a certain speed or torque out of a LEGO motor, your answer is in here. Even the most experienced builders will certainly find something new they can use. For example maybe you know how to get the gear ratio you want, but the mechanism you’re thinking of is too bulky to fit into the model you’re working on. Take a look through this book and there’s a good chance you’ll find a better way to get the same effect in the space that you need to fit it into.

The LEGO Technic Idea Book: Fantastic Contraptions is full of clever ways to combine gears, pulleys, springs, and magnets to create models that move. There are ideas for shooting projectiles, building shock absorbers, and even using magnets to animage LEGO minifig scenes. The only problem is that the magnets shown have been discontinued (due to fears that a child might swallow magnets which would get stuck in their digestive tract and require surgery – for example, the new train sets have a redesigned coupler with a magnet permanently affixed), so that might be frustrating to some people without extensive collections of older parts.

Finally, the The LEGO Technic Idea Book: Wheeled Wonders is full of great ideas for LEGO vehicles. Drivetrains, steering mechanisms, and other vehicular ideas are illustrated in full detail.

The examples in these books are purely pictures. There are no verbal explanations, which you would think would be a problem. But the pictures are reduced to such a level of simplicity that it’s easy to understand the mechanism without any text, and if you build them you could easily understand how they work. There are a lot of tips that show ways of combining gears that I had never thought of, and as I was flipping through it I kept thinking “Oh, that would be good for X” type thoughts. The lack of text would also be helpful for younger kids or people whose primary language is not English (or Japanese, in this case).

I think the one area where this could have been improved would be to show more complex ideas – instead of just showing the simple combinations of parts to achieve a particular kind of connection, show ways to combine these together to create more intricate machines. Some of the examples in the Fantastic Contraptions and Wheeled Wonders books do this to some extent, but I’d prefer to see that taken to a higher level. Also, instead of just showing each model from a variety of angles, I’d like to see step-by-step building instructions or to see some of the simpler modules combined together to create more detailed ones.

One area that isn’t explored very well is motorizing the sets. There are some examples that use motors, but they are largely built using the older 9V motors instead of the current Power Functions parts, and with the Power Functions remote control system, there are a lot of things you could do that aren’t covered by these examples. Hopefully they will come out with a fourth book featuring Power Functions.

All in all though, these are excellent books showing a lot of great ideas for LEGO mechanisms. Even if you’re an experienced builder, there are surely some ideas in here you’ve never seen.

Full Disclosure: The publisher sent me a free review book and sample galley, and the product links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Besides Amazon, you can get the books from No Starch Press directly or through their distributor O’Reilly.