New IR Train Set Reviewed

LEGO is coming out with a new line of battery-powered, infrared (IR) remote controlled trains this year, and Larry Pieniazek has written a review. There’s a long discussion thread on LUGNET about it here (use this link to see the full text of all replies on one page).

UPDATE: The other new set in the IR trains line, a cargo train, has been reviewed by Steve Barile. The LUGNET thread is here (full text).

Like a lot of people who have heard about these new sets, I have mixed feelings. I’m really concerned about the move away from powered track, and worried about losing the existing train system (which LEGO continues to sell for the moment as the “Hobby Train” line, but may discontinue next year if sales aren’t good – see Save 9V Trains for details). But this may be what LEGO needs to do in order to sell more trains to kids at a more reasonable price point than the current system. And I’m excited by the way the new motors have wheels that are removable, connected by Technic axles instead of permanently fixed to the power brick.

As for the BayLTC train shows, the loss of powered track would be a blow. Though we do collectively have a pretty good-sized collection of powered track, the prospect of losing our source is not comforting. And of course, one of the nice things about doing LEGO train layouts is that we can tell people where they can get the product. If they discontinue the powered rail, we won’t be able to do that. And we can’t really switch to the new system: for one thing, it “times out” if it is left running for very long (I haven’t seen a report of exactly how long) so we’d have to keep using the remotes to keep them running. And for another, the reports are that the new motors are not very strong. Our current layouts often feature very long trains pulled by several motors at once, but apparently the new system has trouble with only three cars. However, I suppose the remote control units could be useful in the yard for switching – using powered rail, it’s awkward to ensure that only one yard track has power if there are other locomotives parked there.

I think the best scenario is for LEGO to continue making and selling both lines of trains. I urge everyone to continue buying the old 9V system to send a message to LEGO that they shouldn’t discontinue it. And try the new system – it could be fun too.[tags]lego,trains,ir,9v[/tags]

Lombard Street, San Francisco

Along with the TransAmerica Pyramid Lombard St. in LEGO, this was built for the display that my LEGO club, the Bay Area LEGO Users’ Group, had at the LEGO store in Pleasanton, CA. In January 2006 we used “mini-scale San Francisco” as the theme for our display.

More pictures of the model can be found on Flickr and on Brickshelf (once moderated).[tags]lego,lombardstreet,sanfrancisco,mymodels,microscale[/tags]

Mindstorms NXT Firmware to be Open Source

LEGO has announced that the new version of Mindstorms will have open source firmware! This is very exciting news for anyone who likes to hack on robotics. While people reverse-engineered the original Mindstorms to come up with an alternative firmware called LegOS (which was renamed to BrickOS at the request of LEGO’s legal department), this time around LEGO is supporting software hacking from the get-go.

Also in the announcement, they’ll be making the Bluetooth interface and the 6-conductor connector system public and releasing Developer Kits for both software and hardware. They don’t say for sure that it will be free, but I hope that it will be.

Information about the NXT system is starting to become available via the panel of adult fans that LEGO has been consulting with (the Mindstorms Developer Program non-disclosure agreements allow them to release some information as of May 1, 2006). Here are some of the things I’ve found:

I’m looking forward to August when we get to see full retail availability of NXT![tags]lego,robotics,mindstorms,nxt[/tags]

BayLUG at Maker Faire

Maker Faire BayLUG at Maker Faire sure was a lot of fun! We (Bay Area LEGO Users’ Group) had a great time showing off our LEGO train layout to the public and other Makers at the event.

I uploaded my pictures of the LEGO layout as well as other things from Maker Faire up on my Flickr account.

One of the highlights was when I got interviewed by Blaed Spence about the club on the Yahoo! Answers stage.

I don’t know if it’s going to be an annual event or what, but I sure hope they do another Maker Faire event again soon![tags]lego,makerfaire,baylug,bayltc[/tags]

Halfway through Maker Faire

Wow, this has been a great show! It’s quite different from the train shows we (BayLTC) usually do. The Maker Faire crowd is a very diverse group of artists, geeks, and craftspeople. Plus, a lot of families with kids which is just like what we’re used to. One of my favorite things about the LEGO hobby is when little kids are staring through the “sneeze guards” at our layout with their eyes and mouths open, and just about the only thing they can say is “wooooaaahhh.” That’s fun.

Unlike the train shows we have a lot more non-train stuff at this show. David brought in his big crane (it’s about 12 feet tall, entirely made of unglued LEGO bricks, mostly Technic), and an assortment of other Technic creations including pneumatic walkers and an inclined cog railway. I also brought in the only sculpture I currently have assembled, my Maneki Neko (Japanese good luck cat) statue.

I haven’t had a chance to take many pictures, but we shot an hour of video, including an interview of me at the Yahoo Answers stage which was a lot of fun. Hopefully I can edit that down to a reasonable size and make a little video of the Faire. I am planning to take a lot of stills tomorrow, and will post those on Flickr in the next few days.

If you come by the BayLUG layout at Maker Faire today (Sunday, April 23) please stop by and say hi!


These two fish Fish were built as part of a display that my LEGO club, the Bay Area LEGO Users’ Group, maintains at the Stoneridge Mall LEGO store in Pleasanton, CA. On February 20, 2006 we installed an “aquarium” theme there, which lasted for about a month. Read more about the installation and see more pics.

More pictures of the model can be found on Flickr.

Getting Ready for Maker Faire

Next weekend (April 22-23) is Maker Faire, an event featuring “the MythBusters, and thousands of tech DIY enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, science clubs, students, and authors,” put on by the publishers of MAKE Magazine. This event is kind of like a giant science fair for grownups, mixed with an art show and all kinds of stuff. I don’t really know what to expect but we’re planning to treat it pretty much the same way we do the train shows.

We have a space that’s 30 feet square, which will feature a train layout and some additional non-train LEGO exhibits such as David Wegmuller’s giant Technic crane.

I’ve been frantically busy “making” things for the Faire all weekend. But last night I seem to have caught a cold. The worst part is the difficulty sleeping. And I don’t have the strength to build much LEGO even though I am home sick from work.

Also I want to apologize for the dearth of posts lately. Holly and I went to Charleston, SC for a week last month and when we got back, I was quite busy with regular life and just didn’t get back into the swing of things in the blog. But I’m going to start posting more soon, I promise!!

TransAmerica Pyramid

The TransAmerica Pyramid TransAmerica Pyramid in LEGO is one of the most distinctive structures in the city of San Francisco. In January 2006 my LEGO club, the Bay Area LEGO Users’ Group chose “mini-scale San Francisco” as the theme for our display at the LEGO store in Pleasanton, CA. I built this model, along with a scene of Lombard Street, for that display.

More pictures of the model can be found on Flickr and on Brickshelf (once moderated).[tags]lego,pyramid,sanfrancisco,mymodels,microscale,transamerica[/tags]

Old-fashioned Fire Truck

This old-fashioned fire truck Old-fashioned Fire Truck was built in July, 2004 for the display that my LEGO club, Bay Area LEGO Users’ Group & Train Club put on at a museum in Pleasanton, CA. Since the 4th of July was during that exhibit, we added a parade to the layout, and what’s a parade without an old-fashioned fire truck? So I built one.

More pictures of the model can be found on Flickr and on Brickshelf.