Wednesday, February 24, 2010

More Upcoming Events

While I'm still hesitant to share most of the details, I should let my readers know that I'm planning on being at a few other events that are coming up. Here's the full list of possible "tour dates" coming up in 2010 (list was updated March first to reflect events that have been confirmed):

March 13th-14th, Chapel Hill, NC: LEGOPalooza 2010 (look for my GBC factorysets and other buildings in the town display)
March 20th, Durham, NC: Robot Rumble (I'll be the guy with the LEGO)
April 25th, Durham, NC: Maker Faire NC (previously blogged as well - my exhibit has been approved. I'm told that similar exhibits will be lumped together - look for me near the LEGO)

May 6th-9th, Raleigh, NC: BrickMagic
August 5th-8th, Chantilly, VA (just outside Washington DC): BrickFair

The LEGO conventions included in the above list have public hours that do not run for the full length of the event. Make sure that the dates you plan to attend are really available - full info is at the links above. What I bring to show will vary fairly widely between events. I will post more information about these as we get closer to the events - I'm hoping to get to the point where I can point people to this blog when they ask for more details about how things were done.

There was also some chatter about a possible LEGO-related children's class to be offered at a local library here in NC, but at the moment that idea is on the back burner.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Early Robots

It feels wrong to share something from Cracked on here as inspiration, but this article includes several interesting items that are worth reading about (and warrant further research on my part). I find it disturbing how often I actually learn something while reading satirical "time waster" sites.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Upcoming Event: Maker Faire NC

EDIT 4/23: While the motorized compressor and some of the car bits I was planning on bringing aren't currently ready to go, we do have enough other exciting things to fill the space packed already. I'm compiling a list of the projects that are packed for Maker Faire NC at the Maker Faire NC post on the NCLUG blog. Please refer to that list if you are looking for more information about anything included at the LEGO DIY display.

The date and location for Maker Faire NC have finally been announced. Generally speaking, I'm not posting too much in advance about events (I'm trying to keep some things as surprises, and I don't want to hype something up if I'm not sure I can finish it in time). However, the application page asks for information about projects we will be bringing, and I thought airing a list publicly would be a good way of summing things up. I have a few creations I've shown off before that I thought would appeal to the more DIY crowd of a Maker Faire. Regrettably, I haven't documented most of them on here yet, but I intend to share more about each of these online eventually and those additional details will appear on this blog.

I intend to bring the following projects (all LEGO-based) to this event:
Lamp - my lamp made primarily out of LEGO, with a socket cord inside. In the spirit of the event, I'll have an extra socket cord out so people can more easily see how to do it themselves.

Magnets - I have a set of LEGO magnets I have built using old DUPLO letter tiles on LEGO magnets. They're a big hit at the office.

Coasters - Yes, you can build coasters out of LEGO.

CD Holder - I have built a few CD holders out of LEGO. I will be showing off the one that is 10" wide.

Robot Band - I have been working on building a LEGO Mindstorms based robotic band. Although I am planning on having enough material programmed to do a show by the end of the year, at this event I intend to demonstrate some of the smaller mechanisms I use for making robots play instruments.

Model car parts - I will bring my modified 8880 kit and some additional model car bits (including manual and automatic transmissions and a gas/electric engine model).

Pneumatics - My electric pneumatic compressor is ready to go. I will bring something (either logic gates / walkers or an arm) to show off with it.

I might try to squeeze in some other goodies. I'm mainly interested in showing off some of the more DIY side of the LEGO hobby. I'm also hoping to arrange an NCLUG group layout of more traditional LEGO creations (assuming there are enough people in that group who can make it and that we can agree on a theme - as of this writing no one else from that group has expressed interest in Maker Faire NC, but I'm trying to change that).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Interesting Links

I'm trying to get out of the habit of keeping links open for long periods of time and not really reading them. So I'm posting these here for my own later reference and for the benefit of anyone else who is intrigued by them as I am.

Isogawa Studio Model Gallery - original LEGO creations by the author of Tora no Maki. Tora no Maki is the fantastic book on mechanisms that everyone who thinks they don't know enough techniques to build with LEGO Technic and Mindstorms parts has been looking for. It's largely pictorial, so the language barrier is a non-issue.

Crowkillers is the website of the famed LEGO builder who designs original super cars that are at, near, or in some cases even beyond the level of quality of set 8880. I had previously only known about his Brickshelf page and sparsely-updated MOCpages account. Now that I've put in the time to provide more background for you, I've also discovered that he's on YouTube. Those of you who aren't supercar geeks can see an overview of his work at TechnicBricks. I fully intend to soak a few more months into the field of building fantastic functional cars at a scale of roughly 1:20. I'm modding my 8880 ever so slowly, trying to improve the suspension and add extra features...

I've been meaning to take some photos and post about the magnet set I made for my office recently. It's been surprisingly popular, and we wish we had a magnetic whiteboard to put them on. I found this how-to on making magnetic whiteboards to be a bit much to try at the office, but it's definitely an exciting idea. If I ever have kids, I'll definitely have to try to get that going in their play room. For now, I'm just sticking my magnets to the frame of the cubicle wall.

This last one I'm a bit less sure about, and frankly the "Featured sites" category looks a bit questionable to me. Supposedly Video Download Helper can work some magic with Flash-based streaming media to make files downloadable. I have no idea if this checks out, but if you try it let me know how it works for you.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Google AI Challenge

I know that I shouldn't have started this with all of the other things I have on my plate, but it's fun and not too difficult to get started on. The Google AI Challenge contest going on now (February 4th 2010 - February 26, 2010) is a simple contest to create the best AI that plays Tron. It's a fun, lightweight little bit of ASCII-art action that you can watch right at the command line. No word on prizes for winners yet. Full details at the link above.

You could probably beat the relatively simple approach I've used so far (after I finished my first two real entries, I realized both had been suggested on the strategy page). It's pretty exciting watching scores jump - each entry is graded and ranked against the other entries (the server hosting the challenge is set up to automatically play the bots against each other).

Another Option For Used Floppy Disks

What you're looking at in this picture is a painting by British artist Nick Gentry. He's a pretty skilled painter, and he shares my interest in reusing potentially discarded items instead of letting them rot in landfills. Nick Gentry paints directly on floppy disks (some bought, some donated) and creates surprisingly evocative work, frequently with parts of the disks forming or distorting parts of the image. More pictures of his work can be found on his website (where you can also buy some of his pieces).

It looks like we do have to pay shipping (to the UK at that) if we pass along our extra floppy disks by donating them to Nick Gentry, but this is definitely an exciting alternative use for old floppies that I had not thought of before.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

XKCD Comic (Stand Back - I Know Regular Expressions!)

I'm not sure why I didn't blog this earlier - it' s a bit overdue. Several months back, my boss started encouraging me to change up my office LEGO display a bit. I had brought in a set (a dump truck) and filled the back of it with a series of tubes (an obvious Ted Stevens joke that works that much better at a network company). Around Thanksgiving, I built a LEGO version of a favorite XKCD comic strip that mentioned some programming skills I'd learned on the job and enjoy using at work. The photos have been up on flickr for a bit, but I changed out my display again around Christmas break (yep, I'm still using college lingo for vacation days) and I've since brought in even more LEGO (a set of magnets that spell out a slogan). My coworkers are fairly split between people who like LEGO and people who aren't familiar with it, but nobody else is as crazy as I am. I mean, seriously, how devoted do you have to be to have this sort of working collection of sand blue bricks, Technic sets, and DUPLO parts on hand?

So anyway, here are the photos that I apparently uploaded in December but have neglected to post until now. For those of you unfamiliar with XKCD, the comic I used is Regular Expressions.

First, some link action (flickr tags are fun!) - you might find it easier to just browse these photos on flickr :
All photos from that office display
Just the XKCD photos

Or you can click on these photos below for more info (I wrote a description for each photo when I uploaded them):

It's a series of tubes!

The truck, inside the DUPLO "table" I built to let me show the truck and the comic at the same time (the Perl books in the background here and in the other photos just happens to enhance the theme - they're really in the office all the time):

Stand Back - I Know Regular Expressions!

The sufficiently panicked minifigures:

Here's how the whip and Indiana Jones' position works:

Here's a close-up of some LEGO trickery - levers positioned just right to make a sign stay in place. Oh, and I used Technic pins with studs on the end to flip the studs upside-down under the letter bricks.

Look! Coincidences!

Here's an overview shot of the entire thing (Truck, table, comic, and some office miscellanea):

This final shot of the comic seems like a good one to zoom in on to look at the details (OK, so it's a fairly simple scene, but you can have another look):

Sadly, my perl/regex related day-saving does not involve a whip...yet.

For more on this topic, check out my LMOTD round-up of XKCD comic strips built in LEGO to minifig scale.

Gas Update

EDIT: Whew - I didn't realize this would be posting near the top. Leaving it here for now anyway even though it's already old and I thought it'd be buried in other posts. I probably won't post on the topic again until I've gotten a spreadsheet going.

It's been waaay too long since I've done this, but that's true of far too many things (including many things that ought to be blogged here - I believe my readers are familiar with the big transitions in my life that are slowing my to-do lists). My recent situation has changed the gas matter a bit - as one would expect, I'm now paying these expenses myself out-of-pocket (thus increasing my incentive to worry about mileage). Further, I'm now driving nearly twice as far for work as I did for school - requiring a fill-up roughly once a week instead of roughly once every two weeks. As crazy as it may sound, my employer is open to moving the job closer to where I live - apparently the tax situation for operating an office with x amount of employees in various towns (together with the rent for where the office is) has encouraged the company to pursue options for moving us in the near future (which has obvious implications: possible changes in the distance between work and where I live, and changes in convenience to going various places after work (including that LEGO store I've been visiting fairly regularly)).

This set of data is a bit scatterbrained, a reflection of how difficult it's been to stay organized these past few months.

March 31st: (invalid data, had not reset odometer - when the previous receipt is found, I should subtract it) 536.8 mi ($1.979)
May 19th: 495.4 ($2.249)
June 12th: 364.4 ($2.559)
June 26th: 235.1 ($2.589)
July 8th: 312.9 ($2.519)
July 17th: 318.7 ($2.429)
July 31st: 347.5 mi, 15.462 gallons at $2.399 each
August 9th: 219.3 mi, 10.698 gallons at $2.549 each

I'm leaning towards switching to some proper spreadsheet setup in the future to allow me to use the data in more meaningful ways (and also make it easier to read a wider variety of it at once, graph it, etc).