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.