Sunday, December 27, 2009

About That Water Damage....

To follow up on this post from earlier this year (in which I said that dealing with repair people related to our water damage problem was a project in it's own right), here's what's going on with that now.

I have moved back into my regular bedroom. We ended up changing out the carpet, hanging up some new shelves, but leaving other things unresolved (the closet door doesn't shut anymore and we still haven't fixed the doorstop). The kitchen has taken longer than anyone has expected - there are some patches of floor that need to be redone (the whole floor has been done once now, but some spots didn't take the way they should have), most of the cabinet doors still need work, and there were some delays caused by our decision to modernize the kitchen a bit while we had the room torn up (we have a new stove/oven, an additional sink, an additional dishwasher, and a few embarrassingly expensive features my parents thought would add to the house's resale value down the road). The extra expense of handling the kitchen wasn't budgeted for, but we were able to take the hit (and the insurance company seems to be properly paying for their share - replacement costs of furniture/flooring/appliances ruined by the original flooding and the various repairmen's actions).

There were some issues with moving my stuff around that are yet to be resolved. It can be a bit hard to communicate my neurotic sorting habits to people who don't share my hobbies - for example, there were several stacks of CD's arranged in various spots in my room. One stack was all items I had listed for sale on Amazon, another was put on a shelf somewhat decoratively to show off a complete discography of my favorite band (Over the Rhine, thanks for asking), another was a stack of CD's I haven't listened to yet (OK, so I actually had 3 separate stacks like this on various shelves - I've caught myself buying collections in bulk a few times when the price has been dirt cheap), and yet another was a set of bootlegs and mixtapes I had received from friends. I'm sure you can see where this is going - Mom decides to "help" and put them all in the same box, requiring sorting again later. Multiply that scenario times quite a few sorting-intensive hobbies and the size of "stockpile" I keep around, and I'm sure you can imagine how obnoxious this got to be. The initial insanity seems to be over but small surprises continue to pop up, leaving me feeling like I still need to spend most of my weekends tidying up (which, to be fair, is also worthwhile towards the goal of moving out if/when I get final word about if/where the office may be moving).

Besides not documenting a few smaller projects of mine (primarily of the more light-hearted LEGO variety - my boss has asked me to periodically swap out my "ironic" display at work), that about wraps up 2009. Any reader questions out there? I like to think that I've covered it, but I'm open to feedback here. Was there anything you wanted to hear more about?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

New Years' Resolutions

I've decided to make some New Years' Resolutions for 2010. There are some things I want to do fairly soon that are generic wishes or goals, and then there are things I know I can accomplish if I just sit down and really focus on them. Once they are done, they will stay done and be useful in the "lifehack" sense. Most of these are items to get back on-track after letting myself develop some bad habits during college. Only these items - those that can be quickly tackled if I focus on them, and don't require excessive planning or new resources - are being listed here as resolutions. Here's the list (which I will continue making changes to over the next week - I'm hoping to make this fairly comprehensive and then be able to use it as a checklist):

  • Get the e-mail backlog under control. I suspect that most people reading this are familiar with this phenomenon - once upon a time (probably in 2002 or 2003), I used to promptly reply to all e-mails. Now it's not unusual for things to sit for months or even years. I suspect that if there wasn't an ocean to get lost in, I'd be able to get things moving more quickly when they come in. Part of this will likely be accomplished by condensing mailing lists (I'm told that more than a few contacts of mine have quit mailing lists outright recently, but I'm hoping to avoid that jump). I have several e-mail accounts to tame, and I'm also looking to completely break ties with the NC State webmail system (and back-up the old e-mails).
  • Get my Projects blog looking respectable. While I don't intend to change older content on here (for the sake of my own sanity, I need to learn to trust my younger self to have not done anything too embarrassing - and to be honest, even the potentially scandalous things I've posted here and elsewhere are nothing I'd mind owning up to, even in cases where the tone is a bit more hysteric than I'd like), I do need to finally get the layout under control. I'd like this to look a bit like a portfolio, and to not use a generic Blogger template. I'm well aware of all the "The cobbler's children have no shoes" problems here, and I want this to be my home on the web. As I continue to loosen my chains to other "social" platforms (and hold out against joining Bebo/MySpace/Friendster/Facebook/any other trendy closed site), I feel a need for this blog to be a bit more functional.
  • Determine a real photo hosting solution. I may decide that the best approach here is the popular flickr pro approach, but I'm yet to make my final decision. I want to be able to get LEGO photos out faster, upload some photos done just for the sake of learning to take better photos, and even push out decent event coverage (concerts, LEGO conventions, etc).
  • Determine a semi-permanent music collection solution. I'm not sure what exactly I'd like in terms of a repository for music that I don't need on my laptop regularly, but I'd like to have a clue (OK, this may be a longer-term goal). At a minimum, I need some new database/spreadsheet/cloud whatever solution for keeping track of what I own and what I think of things. I also need to repair some holes in my digital collection caused by various hard drive crashes (doing back-ups on the cheap using my parent's older computers seemed like a good idea at the time...)
  • Determine a new process for adding music to my collection. When should I rip CD's? How many listens should I give something before deciding to add it to my library? How many new (current to the year) CD's should I be purchasing? What's a healthy dollar amount to limit this hobby to? As a sidenote, I'm weary to ask for advice here because I'm told few people are as anti-illegal downloading as I am (the legal sort, especially of the "free promotion" variety, is awesome if you ask me though). It's time to get some sort of process in order here, though.
  • Get off of floppy disks and Zip disks. Yes, I still have floppy disks around the house. I still have data on them I want preserved. I really need to get those moved to at least my external hard drive (again, a longer-term, safer storage solution would be wise, but I'm trying to think in terms of what I have already bought and can use instead of in terms of additional resources).
  • Get out of the MiniDisc format. It was never a great idea to get into a proprietary format designed by Sony, but hey, YOU didn't get several hundred dollars worth of professional-grade, easily mobile recording equipment for $30 when you were in high school. I have many exciting stories and concerts captured on minidiscs, and some of those concert bootlegs have been promised to various people over the years. It's time to liberate this stuff and get the taper-friendly stuff shared. I have since bought a newer recording device that makes transferring recordings to a PC (and then to the format of my choice) much easier.
  • Cover political issues better on this blog or a separate channel. I'm not sure yet if I want to do this right here, but it should be done. On the previous bullet point, I mentioned owning a recording device that can easily record things and make it easy for me to archive those recordings. However, using it for casual conversations or without the consent of everyone who appears on the recording is illegal in some states. I'd like to do a better job of covering that (and other legal and political issues related to me and what I've written about) in the future. I also see the occasional opening for further political commentary, but sometimes I suspect it's for the better that I don't get too into the pathetic day-to-day battles.
  • Begin uploading more content of my own. Even as I've shied away from using the computer as much in my non-work times (I'm on the PC all day - as much as I love coding, it's healthy to step back a bit when I can), I've noticed that I've been creating many more things worth sharing online. I'm hoping to share way more photos, LEGO ideas and creations, legal music from taper-friendly bands, and original music by me (with and without robots) in the future.
  • Finish writing those articles I keep saying I'll write. Writing about RSS, simple web design, Google reader, yubnub, and other technologies I consider daily necessities really needs to be done soon. I'd like to be able to share the resources I love so much! It would be great if I could actually direct people to my website when I want to explain how I use things.

Important Dates (Future Blogging Calendar)

I just came across this post from last May and realized I should just post the darn thing and stop worrying about how embarrassing some omissions may be. Feel free to add your own input in the comments...(and yes, I know that there currently is no Boxing Day post on LMOTD)

Somewhere along the way, it occurred to me that I have no good way of noticing blog-worthy dates in advance. I can generally spot major holidays (Christmas, Halloween, American Independence day...) but I regularly miss minor occasions that I could totally be having bloggy fun with. For example, this week I've failed to note a Star Trek premiere (yesterday), Cinco De Mayo, Coca-Cola's anniversary (123 years today), and Star Wars day (May the Fourth be with you!)

So here's a pathetic attempt at listing some days I should cover, off the top of my head. Comments are wide open, so fill in anything you can. Although I try to avoid covering religious topics (I prefer not to offend anyone and religious satire can be hard to spot on the internet - note how many people think The Brick Testament is actually a Christian site even though it's a humorous satire. Although I do have one awesome Old Testament model to blog soon, I plan on leaving that sort of thing to GodBricks in the future), I'd say religious holidays are fair game for this:

Jan 1: New Year's Day
Jan 2:
Jan 3:
Feb 14: Valentine's Day
Feb 15:
March 17: St Patrick's Day
May 4th: Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you...)
May 5th: Cinco de Mayo (Mexico)
May 6th:
May 7th:
May 8th: Coca-Cola anniversary
May 9th:
April 1st: April Fool's Day
April 22nd: Earth Day
June 14th: Flag Day (US)
July 4th: Independence Day (US)
October 31st: Halloween / All Souls Day
December 24th: Christmas Eve
December 25th: Christmas Day
December 26th: Boxing Day (Canada)
December 27th:
December 28th:
December 29th:
December 30th:
December 31st: New Year's Eve

Occasions that move each year:
  • Hanukkah
  • Thanksgiving
  • Easter
  • Passover
  • Chinese New Year
  • Mother's Day
  • Father's Day

Automatic Transmission Ideas

Recently, I built a variation on this design. It works pretty well, but is never truly at a 1:1 or 5:1 ratio. It's still not a true CVT, but so far it's the best LEGO attempt I've seen. The designs that pop up in a YouTube search are increasingly impressive, but it looks like we still don't have a reasonable solution to this problem.

On the bright side, I've now finally bought enough traditional transmission parts to build a really nice manual transmission. With any luck I'll post some sort of hybrid approach (which isn't that dissimilar from the 1/2/D/N/R set-up most cars I've been in actually have) one of these days.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

AdWords "Offer"

This Google Adwords support thread accurately describes (give or take a few typos) the situation I just found myself in. You know, I don't even feel a great need to use search-based advertising. It was something I was willing to try because I was given this "free" promo offer. It's not "free" if it costs $10, sorry ($10 is the "minimum" amount that it's asking me to pay before I can try this "free" offer).

I'm generally a happy subscriber to the cult of Google (you'll notice I'm writing this in Blogger, and that I also make heavy use of Reader, GMail, Google Calendar, AdSense, Google Alerts, Search, etc...) - but I have to draw the line here. This is a pretty scammy promotion, and frankly, I think it violates their motto of "Don't Be Evil".

Why am I posting this here? I think I may be persuaded into spending the $10 to use advertising yet, and I'm still holding out hope that this coupon may be salvageable some other way. Until either of those possibilities happen, I'm going to ignore AdWords. Of course, the really bad thing about this is that they went through all that effort to try to get people to try this service, and all they've done is turn me against AdWords (it was a difficult and time-consuming experience to find out that they weren't going to give me the "Free", "No Risk. No Obligation" offer without me spending money).

Monday, November 9, 2009

November 2009 Raleigh, NC Window Into the Community Display

I recently built and installed a display for the Raleigh, NC LEGO store. My display, titled "LEGO Castle Through the Years", will be visible in the Window Into the Community (a special store window at LEGO stores that features creations by local builders - in this case it's in the back of the store, to your left as you look at the Pick-A-Brick wall) through the end of the month. For those of you who haven't been into LEGO Castle sets from the 1970's to today, the layout uses a variety of popular sets and minifigs from over the years - the landscaping and overall layout is an original design (as is the mill building styled similarly to the 10193 Medieval Market Village set), but most of the layout closely follows popular LEGO sets from over the years. Notable sets here include 375 Yellow Castle, 6066 Camouflaged Outpost, and 6038 Wolfpack Renegades. A few classic minifigs from various LEGO Castle lines show up as well - see if you can spot Majisto. The tree from 10193 Medieval Market Villagemakes an appearance too, but I decided to use an original mill building (which, of course, has a working water wheel and grindstone) to represent peasants instead of using a building from the current set (as a current high-ticket item, 10193 is already displayed in the store for sales purposes).

Matthew (Brickapolis) was at the swap-out and got some set-up photos. These are mostly for seeing me set up my display, but you can also get a glimpse of my tree technique. You can see the rest of Matthew's photos at

My photos can be seen at . I may add more photos later - I've been surprised to see how some details have come out in the end. A cave that I was afraid would be hidden turned out to actually be perfectly visible from a child's eye level, but appears to be covered by the large tree in the front when looking at it from an adult eye level. That's the only highlight that the brightly-lit display area has brought to my attention so far, but there may be others. I'd also like to try getting some photos with less glare - we'll have to see if I can get my camera back in there soon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Instantly Recognizable"

If you've ever discussed LEGO blogging with me for any serious amount of time, you've probably heard me mention how difficult it is to find interesting things to say about other people's models. There are only so many complimentary words in the English language, and inevitably we end up repeating common phrases, descriptions, techniques, etc.

Over at The Living Brick, they've taken on one cliche I use regularly - "instantly recognizable". I would have linked to this over at LMOTD, but since that's supposed to be all kid-friendly and the link above used the word "testicle", it's off-limits there - so it shows up here instead.

Don't worry too much about this blog becoming an addendum to LMOTD - I'm working on some slightly longer-term projects lately, but I will post about some of them soon (most notably: Castle Window In the Community display and some updates on the still-unnamed robotic LEGO band).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I may get around to writing a "journal" of sorts about BrickFair (I attended quite a few seminars and games there that won't get too much attention elsewhere), but for now I'm just posting general commentary over at LMOTD.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


At long last, I'm finally writing about the lamp. My lamp has been around for nearly a decade now, but since the largest event it's ever appeared at is LEGOPalooza at UNC Chapel Hill, not many people know about it. Everyone who has seen it expresses interest, though, and I keep saying one of these days, I'll write about it. That day is today. Sure, I wish I had better photos (these were taken before I bought myself a proper duster), but at least we're here now...

Overview shot

This is a sculpture with a socket cord in it lamp made out of LEGO. Back when electronics casing hadn't become such a popular thing to build out of LEGO, I came across a socket cord at a hardware store and thought this would be a good opportunity to try my hand at building non-LEGO electrical matter into some sort of LEGO sculpture. Surprisingly, I'm yet to hear about anyone else building one of these, even though it is relatively simple to do.

I have built and re-built this a few times now, and I hope to post reasonably good instructions at some point in the future (sadly, the twisty red part isn't easy to toss into a CAD program to make instructions). You can get the gist of how this is constructed from the photos below. Sadly, none of these were taken with the intended clip-on shade, but I don't think it looks that bad with this lampshade either.

Personally, I don't think this should count as "cheating" - the cord, bulb, and shade are the only non-LEGO parts. This is otherwise completely purist - something that you can't do if you just build around a commercially available build-your-own-lamp kit. Socket cords are available at most hardware stores should you want to try this yourself.

On to the "detail" shots!

Here is the base of the lamp. Note how DUPLO bricks were used to create a sturdy base without using that many parts. A gap the size of one 1x1 LEGO brick was appropriate to get the cord out safely.

This is the top of the lamp. The cord was snaked through the entire construction, but the socket itself requires some extra support - which this little ledge you can see provides.

Here's the top section. When I built this, I was into showing off techniques. I don't think the design suffered for it. This is another fairly straightforward trick - just angle the bricks a little bit. You do have to make sure you get the right height in there - believe it or not, you can often get parts to "stick" in there when the connection is not really sturdy enough to stay. I put 8 bricks in between the two red 2x4s, but if I wanted to squeeze 9 or 10 in there and let things twist, I could have gotten away with it.

Look! It's my ball! Complete building instructions are available to download. This, by the way, is one of the reasons I decided to make my ball in sections that allow the "core" to be popped out.

That about sums it up. Any questions?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Things to Build out of LEGO Parts

I recently came across this post that I started writing last March, and I thought I would go ahead and share it today. I should probably make a longer and more complete list, but this is interesting enough on its own.

It's been a while since I've made one of these lists and I'm finding that inspiration has struck me repeatedly and violently tonight. I've toyed around with the idea of doing some sort of CAD-related contest for some of these to gather up ideas on how I want mine to look (but never actually figured out how I'd make that work).

  • Oil rig (the tall tower kind - I never did get to it)

  • Large hospital (possibly based on the 1987 Emergency Treatment Center kit, but with more realistic scale)

  • Aquarium (1x4x3 trans-light-blue panels to separate visitors from underwater vignettes)

  • Soda Shoppe (already started even though I really don't have time - never mind the tiles for a proper checked floor, or the correct minifigs for soda jerks...)

  • suburban restaurant (buffet?) with enclosed patio (or two)

  • suburban American houses in colors that a homeowner's association would actually allow (for inspiration, use Street View for this subdivision in Apex, NC) - bought specially-colored parts from Cary for this, but will probably have to be clever for roofing

  • suburban American landscaping (there is no such thing as a cul-de-sac roadplate piece)

  • Parking lot or parking garage (where the heck do people park when they go to the Cafe Corner?) - side thought - parking spaces on road plates?

  • Large urban bank

  • Town Plan buildings upsized to Cafe Corner scale (restyled?)

  • Great Ball Contraption town - factory buildings dump balls onto motorized cars/trucks/train, train/cars unload balls themselves back into other factory buildings, chutes and machinery maneuver balls withing factory buildings.

  • Jewelry store (to use the "Diamonds" brick from a Spiderman set)

  • Girly clothing store (for realistic variety and cool sideways use of DUPLO roof piece)

  • A few buildings that minifigs walk around (done using hockey sports pieces)

  • Cathedral (in bley)

I've been a bit inspired by the thought of building some Americana lately. All these plans are for naught, though, because my big bag 'o' minifigs is MIA. Perhaps it's time for me to build miniland-scale instead (but where to start?)

Quick Update

As you may have noticed, I've posted jack here lately. We're still recovering from the water damage, and I'm still working on wrapping up some long-term projects (I suspect that most people who care enough about me personally to read this know of a few things that I haven't finished to put up here yet).

I can now follow up on this post from last year and two posts from this past weekend with the announcement that I will be attending BrickFair this year.

This blog remains a bit ignored - note the hideous default layout - but frankly I've been two busy to prioritize it. We're trying to push for LMOTD being actually updated every day right now. Keep watching that site for now (especially if you're here as a LEGO fan) - I don't anticipate posting much more here for the immediate time being. I'm also continuing to work on the NCLUG website, which also has some pretty substantial work to be done ASAP (we now have TWO Window-In-The-Community displays, but no proper webpage discussing them) and I've had to make some pretty sudden changes there. This blog, while reasonably good for a things-I'm-working-on update, isn't too exciting for LEGO content and I was really surprised when I saw some posts from here syndicated on there. After learning more about the WordPress software, I wound up changing it to grab BrickJournal posts (Joe Meno's also in that group) and not include posts from here or LMOTD.

While I have registered for BrickFair, I have not yet registered any MOCs for BrickFair. I'm open to suggestions if anyone would like to request a MOC of mine that they have seen in the past (I can't fulfill all requests due to the amount packed away right now, but some can be done).

Additionally, Matthew and I are working on some surprises for BrickFair. Nothing too crazy, since we didn't start preparing soon enough to sponsor a LMOTD-backed doorprize or goodie-bag giveaway, but there may be something put together. I won't announce what we've looked into, but I am really hoping we'll have something ready to announce in the next few days.

Finally, I can provide free delivery to the convention of any order placed in my BrickLink store before Wednesday, August 19th., there's the update. Bland, behind-the-scenes, and not too exciting. At least it puts something slightly less personal and dramatic up here for the people reading this blog for the first time.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

LMOTD Update / Personal Update

Just to follow-up appropriately to the previous post, I have made an announcement over at LMOTD. We'll be becoming a community-oriented site with contests in the near future.

I didn't think it appropriate to mention over there, but we've also been dealing with some water damage in the house. Our water heater is in the attic, and when it burst the weekend before all the big school projects were due, it apparently left far more damage than we had previously believed. Note how I made that post on Sunday and didn't even mention how the heater had burst early Saturday morning.

Not to give away too much personal info, but my bedroom is the room directly below the heater. I slept terribly and took a bit too long to realize that the "thunderstorm" wasn't the predicted sunny weather for the day, and was actually happening entirely in my wall. While we originally thought that the damage in my room was minor and that the kitchen below that had been dried out fairly well by us on Saturday morning, the various people we've dealt with from the insurance company felt otherwise. Of course, they started making my life a living hell the Wednesday of Posters and Pies - I got back that evening not knowing where I'd be sleeping, and eventually wound up in a makeshift bed in the room down the hall. We'd been preparing that room for a planned visit from Grandma in June, so the space was available. We've since had to cancel that visit now that we know that I'll be moving into there so that the insurance company people can redo my ceiling and floor.

The various things the insurance company has been doing to try to dry out the insides of walls have been very hard on us - we don't have access to a few major kitchen appliances, and we've been trying as hard as we can to find ways to cook various things in the fridge before they go bad (figures that we stocked up on eggs, bacon, and hash browns JUST before they took out the stovetop - I was able to save Mother's Day by using George Foreman grills to prepare mum's breakfast in bed, though).

...the process of moving [me] out and figuring out if we want to do any repairs while everything is ripped out (about a third of the house's flooring is currently ripped up, in addition to everything related to the kitchen island) is a considerable drain on my time (and the time of the rest of my family), and probably counts as a project in it's own right now.

The rest of my time is now occupied by the happier news I slipped into that LMOTD announcement - I got a job :-D. The job is a good one, but it definitely requires me to push myself a bit to make sure things are getting done, that I'm keeping up with the technology which is new to me, and that I stay focused and not do anything that would get me fired ("start up culture" is nice, but my boss has been pretty upfront about firing anyone who isn't contributing enough - I figure I need to "prove myself" for the first month or two before assuming I'm in for the long run).

That's the current news for me. I'm hoping to write more sooner than later, but if I don't get the chance, I think you understand why.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Status of LMOTD, Raleigh LEGO Store, My Own Situation

I've gotten quite a few LEGO-related questions lately, mostly from people wondering if I'm building anything myself lately. The answer is pretty much no. Some trivial WIP ideas are on my flickr photostream - you will notice that none of them appear finished or particularly good. I really don't have time to work on these things lately, and some storage needs on my family's part mean that I can't even get to that much of my LEGO parts. I am still occasionally sorting out some parts and sets purchased from Cary Clark (who recently liquidated his collection), but otherwise I'm trying to avoid doing LEGO-related things until after graduation.

As mentioned in my previous post, I am using the NXT for a school project that concludes this week. The building portion of that took surprisingly little time but is very promising for the future - I have a sturdy construction that works very well for attaching LEGO parts to an electric guitar without damaging the guitar (although I suspect the occasional scratch might be getting on to the surface of the guitar, it looks like very little movement is happening there).

Most people reading this know I run LMOTD, a blog that features one LEGO model each day (more or less). I intend to blog there more regularly after graduation (especially since I don't have employment lined up yet, but I expect that any full-time job I can get won't be as time consuming as the academic loads I've been taking on lately). The LMOTD blog is at a crossroads of sorts now - while Matthew (Brickapolis) and Chris (Duckingham) have helped pick up the slack while I focus on school projects instead, I haven't really made it much of a "community blog" yet. However, I've had two more people (coincidentally both named Matthew) offer to help recently, and I'm considering inviting them both on and turning it into a community blog. Of course, I'm still not sure how to handle both running ads and having other people write a portion of the blog's content (I'm trying to be sensitive to that issue in this post, but bear with me while I "think out loud" a bit about where I might take things). I'll be honest - I've been toying around with the idea of trying to blog full-time and keeping the money made off of it. While money from blogging doesn't pay steadily, it now comes out to about $100 per year and I bet I could turn it into something greater if I truly invested my time into it. On the other hand, I've always thought it would be better to get a real job lined up and start using the money from the site to fund prizes for contests.

One important issue to consider is proper payment of contributing writers. Since LMOTD has a requirement of a paragraph or two of writing for each model, it's a bit more time-consuming to keep up this site than it is for some other LEGO-themed blogs out there (of course, we're also on firmer legal ground should anyone ask if the content is being used commercially or merely in a scholarly way as reference for discussion - our focus on writing about LEGO or building techniques around the models means that we're not at much risk of being accused of making money off of other people's models). If I'm letting other people do most of the writing long term (which will certainly be the case if I have four people helping me out, instead of just two people on something of a "trial basis" right now), then I'll have the following possible outcomes:

  1. Pay the contributors a certain fixed rate per post or proportional rate based on the total amount the blog makes

  2. Keep the money for myself but expect people to contribute anyway (a "dick move", so to speak, but it works for Arianna Huffington, who has achieved fame and fortune for running a site that seems to allow contributors to get away with any crazy thing they try to post - I'm sure there are other such examples out there was well, but HuffPo's extremely poor editing makes it stand out as a site where the founder clearly shouldn't be hogging the profits)

  3. Ask everyone (myself included) to blog for enjoyment, and use the money to fund contests

I consider 3 to be the most noble option, but it remains to be seen whether or not I really want LMOTD to become a community blog. I like the idea of maintaining editorial control, and that also gives me the ability to handle scheduling (I have various arbitrary rules governing when certain things can be blogged - currently all contributors save things as drafts and I make minor changes for consistency and schedule publication for a later date). The issue of whether or not I can afford to put time into the blog or engage in building myself is also still on the table.

In any case, I'll be more focused on blogging in the not-so-distant future, and I hope to have LMOTD in a stable and respectable state before long. Time permitting, I may return to properly blogging my own creations here as well (since I do have a considerable backlog).

Finally, we have a LEGO store opening in Raleigh next month. I've attended one "build party" for assembling the in-store models and I hope to attend another one in the future (again, my schedule opens up considerably after Thursday, and while the job search will be a full-time task for me for a while, I'll likely to get to some other things as well). The opening date has been announced as May 29th and I hope to attend. Of course, I remain hesitant to make any plans after May 9th for the time being - there's still a chance of getting a job, which will drastically change any plans I could try to make at this point. As of right now, I'm not putting anything on my calendar and I'm assuming I will not be attending any LEGO events (beyond NCLUG meetings, and I don't even think we have any scheduled now) this summer.

I believe that covers everything about how things currently stand - of course all of this is liable to change very suddenly in the near future.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Projects Coming to A Close

As graduation approaches, my four project courses are coming to a close.

One of these (for the DBMS course) isn't really exciting to share - no creative skills are used, it's just a matter of struggling with mediocre documentation and figuring out which methods need to be written (and how they should be written). Sometimes I fear that "the real world" of computer coding is more like that than like most of my more enjoyable computer-based projects, but I really hope it is not.

Speaking of documentation, that's how the majority of the remaining time for my Senior Design Project will be spent. We have an event this upcoming Wednesday (April 22nd, 2009) called "Posters and Pies" - all are invited to attend, but you must RSVP (at by tomorrow if you plan on coming. I will not be delivering our presentation downstairs, but I will be involved with that as the "clicker" and will be available with my team upstairs for questions. That's actually not the culmination of that project - a final presentation will be given to our sponsor at a later date, and we may have some additional work to do regarding finalizing code and documentation.

There is an additional presentation for an "Innovating in Technology" class later that day. I will begin blogging more about that project once a decision has been made on whether or not to continue the project after graduation. This presentation isn't truly open to the public, but I'm allowed to invite anyone I would like - if you would like to attend, send me an e-mail at

My fourth project concludes on Thursday instead of Wednesday, and also may be continued after graduation. As mentioned previously, I'm using some discoveries from my still-unblogged "Robot Rock Band" project in my computer music course. The assignment for this project requires us to compose a piece of music between 5 and 7 minutes in length, however, my desire to experiment with various structural ideas and compositional algorithms means that my piece will take almost the whole 7 minutes, and would be trivial to expand to a longer period of time (at one point, the NXC program controlling the LEGO components had a 10-minute runtime). The current premise of this piece is based on historical approximations of pi. The NXT-based section is based on mappings of historical approximations, and these determine the current structure of the piece. A "performer" (myself) will be playing an electric guitar part alongside the LEGO electronica, and this will be based on a Markov process I am still tinkering with in Java.

...additional compositional algorithms learned in that class will be used in the future for new variations on my "Robot Rock Band" project, some of which will be bland and accessible pop music that my professor would abhor.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Noting Recent Buys

I recently bought these 3 LEGO sets for $15 each. Not sure what I'll end up doing with them yet, but the price was fair and it put some newish pieces I wouldn't ordinarily seek out into my hands. The Castle one actually looks pretty interesting - great new minifigs, a modular Technic-based construction (which will be easy to expand - even more so than the "classic-era" Castle sets) and a mountain-y base that's just asking to be part of a taller and more fire/lava-filled construction.

In the interest of not letting the inventories of these sets that I have open on the computer distract me, here's the list of links:

4982 Mrs. Puff's Boating School
7093 Skeleton Tower
7721 Combat Crawler X2

...and for the record, this is my first time buying a Spongebob kit and my first time buying an Exo-Force set. This might also be my first Castle set to technically be part of the "Fantasy Era" as well (but what's the point of noting that? If Medieval Market Village is "fantasy" but the Dragon Masters from 1993 aren't, we're not using the term "fantasy" correctly...)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Palooza Posts coming soon

Just a quick update for people waiting for LEGOPalooza 2009 posts - I will be cleaning up the stack of boxes still packed from the show this upcoming week. I plan on doing a separate wrap-up post for each display I participated in. I'll try to do each post as I finish going through each bin.

Some brief robot band news in the mean time: I will be preparing an electric guitar for a future robot band piece soon. Surprisingly few people have decided to look into ways to pick up LEGO 9V motor frequencies using electric guitar pickups, and naturally it's the angle I'm pursuing for a project in my computer music course.

By the way - the robot band remains unnamed. My job search also goes on (which is, perhaps, the only thing worth sharing from my Career Fair experience during those "Marathon Weeks"...)

A LinkShare Question has offered me a LinkShare affiliate deal (as a "Private Offer" - apparently the commission rate offered to me isn't the one available to just any blogger) very much like the one I have with LEGO for - do you think this is a sign of anything? Something to do with the new licenses, perhaps?

The real question, of course, is whether or not I should do it.

Actually, wait: a better question might be why LEGO hasn't paid up in a while now (they haven't paid commissions for the Christmas rush yet).

In any case, I've given up on trying to keep up with LMOTD by myself and brought in a co-blogger. Team member? I don't know if I want it to get too big - realistically, blogging barely pays at all to start with, but once people see ads on your site, they want a cut when they start writing for you (unless your name is Arianna Huffington, and no one knows why or how she gets away with it - then again, I suppose you get what you pay for sometimes...). I decided to go with a percentage of daily AdSense revenue (itself only a few pennies) as a payment arrangement for now - too little to be worth it for anyone but people who buy inexpensive LEGO parts from me locally. Not that AdSense is paying too well, usual when I let things fall behind there, my daily views (and thus ad impressions) have gone down by a third over the past few weeks...

So, anyone think I should take that Disney offer? Anyone know of any other programs I should be joining to try to monetize my blogging?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Automatic Gearboxes with LEGO?

Saved for reference:

There are also CRT attempts on YouTube, but none as functional as this.

All of these look better than mine, which isn't documented at all yet :(

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Marathon Weeks, Post 2: FOSS Fair

Most of these fall under "interesting notes to self", but hey, it's actually getting something written down.

Here's the run-down of Monday, February 2nd:

9:35 AM, first FOSS fair session, decided to attend a section called Predicting Vulnerabilities with Software Metrics. This was a bit dry and awkward - my Software Engineering instructor was overseeing it, and the people running it were her grad students (one of which was "Andy Programmer" of iTrust fame). If you know Dr. Williams at all, you know that she's actually pretty well known in the field for writing research papers on software methodologies, pair programming, and other things that most of us find a bit dull. Trust me, though, it's important and respected. My biggest issue with this section is that it felt too much like an abstract for an academic paper - it covered some findings, information about using metrics, but no actual metrics. I would have preferred to see some code instead of just hearing statistics about what was discovered when open-source software was analyzed (OK, the graphs were a bit intriguing - but again, not really something practical for someone like me coming in with no real knowledge of the subject).

In spite of all the other events during those few weeks, I attended all my courses regularly. So I still went to my "course" which featured my classmates giving updates on our big Senior Design Projects. I was really disappointed that this made me miss some of the more exciting FOSS Fair sessions (at least they sounded exciting to me from the descriptions on the site), and frankly, my classmates aren't that good at presenting and didn't have much to say. Sorry, but c'mon, nobody really wants to hear undergrads go on for 5+ minutes each about how they're just starting to work on something. Let me know when something interesting's already been done. Again, I'm not trying to be rude here, but note how I haven't said anything about my own project for that course yet either - I know nobody wants to hear it.

After lunch, I made it to another FOSS Fair session - this one an overall look at the benefits of open source. This was fairly interesting, with some discussion of major projects and how things fit together, but it was ultimately just a well-presented version of the sort of thing cranky Slashdotters are always saying. I was a bit surprised by a slide near the end that listed ways open source is changing the world - I hadn't really thought OLPC as an open-source project before (another interesting point, about open government policy under the Obama administration, is one I've made myself in an earlier blog post here).

The next FOSS Fair thing I was able to make it to was focused on Cloud Computing. I didn't really know much about Cloud beforehand, and this worked as a good introduction. There was some unforeseen technical issues, though, that kept the "simple" demonstration from working on campus.

The night went a bit long for me - I visited with a potential employer for an info session on a training program I ultimately did not get into, and after that I got a chance to catch up with the local amateur robotics club. This was a bit wonky for my tastes (big emphasis on discussing designs on the white board), but interesting nonetheless. I need to properly join the Yahoo! Group for that still. I briefly discussed my 'bots that I had shown up at UNC the previous weekend, and one person even asked a bit more info about LUG's (needless to say, most of the people there knew a little bit about Mindstorms already). One thing that sounded pretty interesting to me (not for the immediate future but for potential use in months to come) was that the group was talking about moving the meetings off-campus to a place in Durham that would allow people to rent metal-working machines. That has some serious potential for some larger robotics projects (not that I'm ready to give up on Mindstorms, but once you've tried building a musical project, you start to notice the limitations of LEGO parts and the presence of gear lash...)

Overall, an exciting day, and I'm hoping to make it to the next FOSS Fair (whenever that ends up being) and to catch up with the amateur robotics crowd more frequently. I'm also planning on looking into the other robotics groups on campus more - it looks like I'll have a good time to try out the UAV club next week.


Edits put in February 26th:

Some obnoxious happenings lately regarding my BrickLink store:

1. Too many people have not followed the Terms of my store, forcing me to upgrade to a different type of PayPal account in order to keep receiving payments. I was allowed so many exceptions to the rule each year, but all these people ignoring the terms have used up my exceptions already. This means that all prices have to go up - as of this past Tuesday, everything costs 4% more. It hurts a bit - everything was priced in fairly round numbers before, and now everything has awful fractions of cents involved. I will be upgrading the PayPal account sometime between now and March 12th - I'm trying to put off the upgrade as long as possible so I won't be out another $10 for the orders that haven't been paid yet but were processed before the need to raise prices. I have now upgraded my PayPal account. All because a few people couldn't follow the rules...

2. I will probably work out new promotions soon to bring prices back down for people paying with cash locally or with Revolution Money Exchange.I am now offering 4% off for people paying with Revolution Money Exchange. I have not decided what new discount to offer for local buyers paying in cash. It's only fair that I don't punish everybody for the sins of PayPal users.

3. I might be fine with the inevitable decrease in sales related to this. Things are starting to pick up again here and it's doubtful that I'll be spending much time on LEGO things for a bit. I'm not sure when I'll revive LMOTD again (although there is a post scheduled for Valentine's day already), but I'm hoping to get a few posts in. The job search continues, as does my sorting through parts I'm buying locally from someone who graciously is allowing me to determine how much I owe him whenever I can.

It is possible that I will work LEGO into some academic projects, though. Frankly, expect this blog to get much drier and more school-oriented for the next few months - the only LEGO projects I'll be doing are BrickLink orders, sorting/cleaning/storing, and whatever I can work into my schoolwork. No less than 4 of the 5 courses I'm taking now involve large, open-ended projects, and I'm looking forward to blogging about them at some point in the future. Only one of them currently looks like it'll be of interest to the LEGO fans that make up most of my readers here, though (hint: it involves AI and some robot band ideas).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

LEGO logo mosaic

Found this photo while skimming through LEGOPalooza photos and thought I should blog it. This was built in the late 1990's, when I was still "little". No software was used - this was just a freehand build on a 32x32 baseplate. I occasionally compared with various LEGO logos I had handy to figure out where parts looked like they should go.

This has never been fully taken apart, but the odd part has come loose over the years because I don't glue my models together. You may have seen this at LEGOPalooza 2008, DGXPO 2008, or LEGOPalooza 2009.

The picture's not quite the whole thing, but you know where the other red and black bricks go. No need for building instructions here!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Marathon Weeks, Post 1

This picture was taken by another NCLUG member, I forget who at the moment. You can see me tweaking the code for guitar-playing robot, though. You can also click on that picture to go to flickr, where there are more photos from LEGOPalooza. Mike Walsh has rounded up some photos and videos from LEGOPalooza over at the NCLUG site. Normally I'd be doing that sort of thing, but I've been very busy these past few weeks - the three days of LEGOPalooza have been surrounded by coursework, homework, a FOSS Fair, a two-day career fair, and a variety of smaller events and BrickLink orders.

I had a pretty interesting set-up at Palooza for my robot band (one of several displays I was "running" essentially by myself, and the only one I was able to actually keep an eye on) - a dual monitor set-up much like I got used to working on iTrust last semester (Oops, haven't blogged that yet either). I had originally planned on doing some things with LEGO Vision Command, as the previous post suggests, but I ultimately wound up putting the camera away (after a kid said "he's recording us" I realized that it's actually quite creepy to leave a camera out if you're not doing something with it) and showing off IDE's and code on the monitor facing outward.

This lead to an interesting situation - during LEGOPalooza, I spent much of my weekend talking about code, open-source, LEJOS, Bricx CC, NXC, various pbricks, etc, and not much time focusing on LEGO. During Monday (which I had written off as booked due to the FOSS Fair I attended), I wound up going to an amateur robotics meeting and talking LEGO. Not that I mind, but it's certainly unusual.

That's not even the worst of the whiplash of the past two weeks. On Saturday at LEGOPalooza, I had kids coming up to me that recognized my robotic band from my most recent appearance on the LAML Radio podcast and was asked some questions by numerous newspaper reporters (only article I've successfully dug up featuring me so far is in the Daily Tar Heel, UNC's student paper). People I'd never met before were acting like I was someone famous, and I guess in the online LEGO community, I sort of am (in spite of how few of my own models I've actually posted). On Thursday, I was at a career fair being asked if anything sets me apart from my classmates (the list of things I can actually put on a resume is surprisingly short). On the bright side, at least I had something to say when people asked if I had any embedded C experience (everybody forgets that NXT programming is technically a form of cross-compiling for an embedded device)...

I intend to post a bit more recapping this past week (LEGOPalooza in particular, since I know most people who read this are LEGO people and not software people or graduating Computer Science majors) soon, but that's probably about it for today.

One last thing, though: My family has moved suddenly twice now because of work shortly before a LEGO store has opened in our area (we lived in southern New Hampshire shortly before the first store in northern Massachusetts opened, and we moved out of Sammamish, WA, just as the Bellevue store opened minutes away from where I was attending college at the time). I've been joking for a while that Raleigh, NC will get a LEGO store as soon as I have to move away. Although I don't have any serious job offers yet, it's hard not to take the news that we're getting a LEGO store in mid-May as a sign that I'll be working elsewhere shortly after graduation (in early May). We'll see, I guess, and if I don't get something lined up by May, perhaps I'll just apply there - I certainly don't have any issue proving credentials as a LEGO nut. I'm not making any long-term plans, though, just in case I do end up moving out of the Triangle area.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Vision Command XP Install

Mostly noting this for personal reference (I'm still rushing to set software up for this weekend's show):

I originally tried the approach prescribed at this site: to get Vision Command running. All 5 files were ran, but when it came time for the registry update, I ran into a bug because apparently I didn't have RIS 2.0 in the default install directory (RIS 2.0 is on there, of course, and thanks to Cary selling me a new USB IR tower on the cheap, I got it to work again shortly before I started again in trying to install Vision Command).

After that failed, I tried following the advice seen on this website (the second result for "vision command xp" on Google): - so far, so good, but it's rebooting now. We'll all see soon enough if I'm able to successfully launch an air-guitar system before Saturday's really the last big goal left.

Oh, and before anyone starts wondering: Yes, I tried doing the properly nerdy thing and interfacing an NXT with the Logitech SDK. I didn't get very far, and I figured this program could be simple enough just to try in a kid-oriented graphical language. Sure, I don't get to do anything to show off my fancy Computer Science college-learning, but at some level just the novelty of having a working LEGO guitar player controlled by air-guitar playing children is already exciting.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Welcome LAML Listeners

EDIT: This was originally posted on January 11th, the night the show was taped. I am moving this forward a bit so that it will still be current when the show is aired (I suspect that sound problems on my end are a big part of the delay anyway, so I'm sorry if the below now reads as overkill).

Welcome LAML Listeners! This is my project blog. Not all of my projects are LEGO-related, but there are many LEGO-related projects blogged about here (and plenty more that I need to get around to covering here in the near future).

As noted on the podcast, I write about other people's models over at LMOTD and at Brick Town Talk. I also have a flickr account where I occasionally post some ideas and finds. The two models I have on flickr that I mentioned are Futuron Labs and the stool.

The robotic band does not have a name yet, and needs one. Feel free to send your ideas for robot band names to

A blog for the robotic band will be made once a name has been chosen. I hope that that blog will also grow into a place for showcasing other musical models and bands (there are other musical Mindstorms ideas out there, just not many people who try to do everything to flesh out a band that way).

Of course, the stuff on LAML about this is something of a leak - I suspect we'll see video crop up from a few sources once LEGOPalooza happens.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

LMOTD Behind-the-Scenes notes

While I'm not entirely sure I'm going to be back up-to-regular-speed on LMOTD for a few weeks yet (this is a very busy time for me for a number of reasons), I am thrilled to report that my laptop is now back in working shape. The miraculous recovery is just as strange as how it suddenly became nearly unusable - I accidentally bumped it with my toe before we brought it into the shop, and after the toe-hit, everything worked again.

I now have an idea for a future project - testing the ability of my toes to fix electronics. Something similar seems to work with kicking things for some people, so maybe there's actually something to this. (Kidding.)

In the interest of making sure I don't mess up any tax stuff, I was asked again earlier about the "money" I've "made" blogging on LMOTD. While I was there, I found a report option for the top ten items, and I thought it looked interesting. Perhaps even interesting enough to fill in for a proper top-sets-voted-on-by-you-my-readers top 10 list. I decided to just take a screenshot and post it to flickr. I might regret posting this - it's something of an "inside" view into the world of LEGO blogging. You can actually see how much money I made blogging last year if you add it up (hint: not much, but enough for me to consider running a contest at some point in the future). You can also see how some of the data is pretty useless - UNKNOWN is listed by many sets in these reports, and you have to know the items numbers to figure out what you're seeing.

So far for this year, I've had a few people buy Star Wars sets and one person buy a Taj Mahal through the site. Not a bad start to a "slow" season.

I never used to believe that nearly half of all sales happen during the Christmas rush, but even when I was trying to blog about music and barely getting any traffic (and using Amazon's affiliate service primarily instead of focusing on LinkShare), I started to see that trend come out. Most of the items on the "top 10" list are there because of December purchases.

It's also worth noting that there's a bit of delay before they actually credit a "publisher"'s account. The Black Friday deals in particular were noticeable, because several of the popular sets were backordered and the commissions were not put in until the orders had shipped. Mid January is really the EARLIEST a list like this can be done.

Funny sidenote: anyone else notice that some of the other LEGO-related blogs started to run more event announcements for events the authors weren't involved in shortly after TCBX got hefty coverage on LMOTD? I suspect that even though we don't all read each other, there's a bit of copy-catting going on. Of course, mentioning that seems silly now that we all use the BrickJournal calendar, but it's still hard to miss. I'd be interested in seeing - for comparison's sake - similar top-10-items reports from some of the other bloggers in the community. The most popular item on mine was only bought 4 times - how many of the same item do you think The Brothers Brick sold?

Just to reiterate, since I was questioned about earlier comments on sponsored links: I don't really need to see anything, and it's none of my business how you run your site, where the money goes, etc. I read/use most of these sites anyway, even if I don't link to them directly much. I've also been known offline to encourage people to use sponsored links from whatever site they'd like to support, as a way of helping out the AFOL (Adult Fan Of LEGO) community. I know my place as someone hosted by Google/Blogger and not someone who is paying to keep a private server hosting the site. I really have no harsh feelings on any of this stuff - the only thing I see in LEGO-related blogging that bugs me is when people who don't follow the hobby post things that are outrageously off-base and/or forget to credit the builders whose work they're featuring.

I don't expect to make Behind-the-Scenes a regular feature, but I'm happy to field questions if anyone has them (beyond the usual ones about what RSS is and what affiliate services I use - I'll get around to writing about those properly eventually, and then treat whatever I write about that as a FAQ for blogging in general. I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to things like that that people who "don't get it" will use as a starting point).

Neurodiversity Article Spotted in LEGO's Internal Magazine

I know that I shouldn't have been able to get my hands on this, but it's thrilling nonetheless. Of course, it's not available online - or to the public (this magazine is only for the company's employees) - at all, and I'm not even sure if I'm technically "allowed" to see it (since I'm not an employee) - but it was still exciting to see.

The article was about video game testing and debugging done for the LEGO company, and they spent a few paragraphs out of the (IIRC) 4 pages focusing on how this one guy has an Asperger's diagnosis, what Asperger's and autism are, and how he's better at the job because of it. Granted, it's nothing I haven't said before, but it still surprises me when I see these things in print - not many people have much interest in these issues, and usually when they are covered, it's aimed towards parents and doesn't give a fair impression of autistic adults. Even though I am, of course, familiar with LEGO UK's work with the NAS last year, and with LEGO's overall excellent record of designing toys that autistic kids love and can learn from, it's still exciting to see the company take the initiative in talking about neurodiversity and employment.

I suspect that LEGO is trying to avoid getting involved with the politics of this, and the backlash tied into that. Those of you who follow politics likely saw the recent dust-up where an antivaccine lunatic on the Huffington Post confused (a "social" site about various causes) with (the Obama administration's active democracy tool) and then proceeded to launch into a looong rant about how those of us who focus on autistic adults really just hate children (based on bringing in reputable pro-neurodiversity bloggers). I think it goes without saying that no toy company wants to get involved with that sort of negative PR, regardless of how discredited the quack touting it is.

Of course, the really funny part is that anyone wanting to pick at Obama for supporting initiatives that benefit autistic adults but not research into vaccines or less-than-solid medicine would have had more than enough ammunition on his campaign's website last year (in spite of all the "more affirmative action for black people" rants in the media, his actual policy of aggressive affirmative action for employment of people with all sorts of disabilities went unnoticed). While it's still shocking to see any company take a side on neurodiversity, we totally got the first national politician to take a stand on the issue into the White House. Frankly, the whole thing seems surreal, even as I try to keep my expectations realistic as to how much will actually get done.

On one last LEGO-related note, they've also gone all-out on celebrating the Obama inauguration in LEGOLAND California's Washington DC miniland. I'm probably going to write about that properly for LMOTD sometime tomorrow. To be honest, with any of those huge layouts, there's always a huge issue with not having enough photos. Politically, I'm inclined to be excited about the moment and tell everyone to check out the display. As a LEGO fan, I kind of want to wait until someone else LEGO-obsessed can get a few thousand photos and name most of the "guests" shown in the celebrations. This layout will be out for a few months - surely some of the best photos (and videos) are yet to come. As a reasonable person who recognizes I'm reading too much into things sometimes and then blogging about them, with all the potential for embarrassment that brings, I'm also interested in knowing if past Presidential inaugurations - or other transitions of power in the world - have been documented in miniland form. Sure, Obama's a "rockstar" and all that, but in terms of poll numbers in the election, he actually didn't get that much of a landslide - doing other swearing-in ceremonies in miniland form may have actually made more sense (except, of course, that this is happening now and is still exciting - and frankly, game-changing. People who don't like Obama will take advantage of his open-government ideas to their own ends anyway, and politics will, at least in the short term, have to adjust a bit to work with that). Of course, it's worth pointing out that the last time there was a clear landslide in a US election, there was no LEGOLAND park in the US. For what it's worth, the official spokespeople are saying that the inauguration display is supposed to educate youngsters about government (personally, I'll believe it when they release a minifig-scale senate playset - but then again, the lack of diversity in our political figures would likely not inspire kids the way LEGO likes to...but I suppose the gender balance is much different! Just saying...).

Sorry if you're not into this stuff, but I don't have a proper political blogging outlet and this serves as a bit of follow-up on a poorly-written earlier post. I've decided to go ahead and cover my political "projects" here and I've started tagging (or "labeling", whatever you prefer) the related posts as such. This should work for now, since I don't get into politics too much and I'm actually not very opinionated on most of the "hot button" issues (call me crazy, but I'd rather focus on issues I might be able to do something and stay away from partisan bickering when possible).

Gas update

$1.769 a gallon
279.1 miles
13.247 gallons
21.0689 miles per gallon

Trend over 2008 (with laughably few data points - ignore this):
8/21/2008: 20.85
11/16/2008: 23.03 MPG
1/14/2009: 21.07 MPG

With any luck, this year won't see the absurdities that last year brought and I'll be able to gather more data.