Lego Beagle coming soon?

More beagle news? Sort of – but this is actually Beagle news, with a capital B. And that’s because it relates to the ship that Charles Darwin did his stuff on. Proper nouns FTW.

It’s now been 180 years since Darwin’s voyage to South America and those infamous Galapagos finches, and as history shows, he went there on the HMS Beagle, a ship so named because it chewed everything it got hold of and continually ran off with people’s socks. Darwin wasn’t actually meant to be looking at birds and animals: he was the ship’s geologist. The naturalist on board was, of course…?
Exactly, you have no idea because he didn’t come up with anything particularly spectacular in the field evolutionary theory. 1-0 to the Darwin bloke.
(For completeness, the ship’s naturalist was Robert McCormick, and he never ended up on the back of a ten quid note.)

Anyway, one of the ports of call on the voyage of the Beagle was Santiago in Chile (another was Cape Town, but that’s not important right now). And it’s there that Luis Peña, a Professor of Opthalmology, has created a 2,024 piece Lego replica of the HMS Beagle and he’s hoping that with enough support, Lego will actually produce and market an official Beagle kit. It’s simple and free to support his quest to get the most famous ship in the history of scientific exploration in the form of small, interlocking plastic blocks: you just click here.


Luis’ project has already attracted 4800 “signatures”. If it gets to 10000, Lego will officially review it and consider making the kit. I think that’s quite cool.

You can read more about Luis Peña and his interest in Darwin and the Beagle here.

Art of the Brick

We left it (quite) late to go and see this, and it’s in no way a cheap day out. In fact, it’s neither cheap, nor a day out – but it IS definitely worth your time and money to go and see it.

We went down at 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning (this one, in fact) and despite struggling to get into the actual building it was being staged in, which didn’t open til later, had a fantastic time.
It’s one of those things where you can spend as much or as little time as you want on the way around, but each and every exhibit you see is more breathtaking than the last. The time, effort, patience and detail that’s gone into the sculptures is incredible. Each of the pieces has a short description next to it, which includes the number of bricks used. Most are well into 5 figures. Wow.

Parthenon: 30,201 bricks

The short video introduction by the artist, Nathan Sawaya, was a little ‘American motivational chat show’ for my liking, but when you see the work he has created, you almost want to know exactly how or why he does it. The exhibition is beautifully laid out, cleverly lit (although it does make for difficult photography conditions) and, as I said above, awe-inspiring. It’s fun, it’s serious, it’s whatever you want to make of it – much like Lego – there are no rules.

At the end, there’s even a couple of rooms and an outside area where you can build and create from Lego yourself.
I made a little Table Mountain. It was amazing.

> Tickets are R95 for kids, R140 for Adults, R395 for a family of four. [Computicket]
> It’s worth it, yes.
> It’s in Cape Town til 28th February, then Joburg 13th May – 12th August.
> You don’t need to have kids to enjoy it, but kids will enjoy it too.
> Early mornings seem to be quiet.
> This is not a sponsored post.

Photos are on my Flickr, but don’t really do it justice (in any way, shape or form).
Go, see, enjoy.

Dream Job?

Having just dealt with 15kg of Lego at Alex’s birthday party this weekend, you might think that I’d have gone off the plastic stuff for a while. But no – and what could possibly combine Lego and my love of football better than a combination of Lego and football in Chris Smith’s “English football stadiums built out of Lego” project? Not only does Chris get to… well… build English football stadiums out of Lego, he also got the UK Government to give him a grant of £5,000 (that’s R89,148.01 at today’s exchange rate *involuntary clench*) to do it.

ZZ230414legostadium-2 Here he is “doing” Goodison Park, just down the road from where Steven Gerrard threw the title away this weekend. Interestingly, the supposed omnipresence of Lego was found wanting by Chris, which is why he started doing what he is doing:

The 31-year-old former primary school teacher came up with the idea after searching the internet for football-related Lego already on the market and drawing a blank. He uses pictures of the stadiums, Google Street View and his own experiences of grounds he has visited to build the models.   Mr Smith is now hoping to turn the project into a business, Brickstand, and intends to sell the finished stadiums, branded t-shirts featured images of the models and other football memorabilia built from Lego.

It’s a brilliant idea! The plan is to do all 92 of the football league grounds, but on Hawksbee and Jacobs’ podcast yesterday, he suggested that he might just “go rogue” and throw in Celtic Park as well. YOLO! I’m left wondering what I can build that people might want to buy and that hasn’t already been done by either Lego or someone innovative like Chris?

The LEGO post

Three parts to this one, which I will click together to make a simple, yet pretty and colourful post.

Firstly, my lucky son, who got an early Christmas gift from his Uncle and family yesterday. They’re away for the festive period, so the cousins took our kids out yesterday and they got to choose their own presents. Scoop chose a cuddly puppy with its own portable kennel, while Alex plumped for a Lego set. He then spent yesterday evening building his 4×4 and trailer and was up and dressed by 6:30 this morning to finish it off.
I always loved Lego as a kid and I still think it’s great, firstly for teaching kids about following instructions and then, as the set gets “integrated” in with the rest of his bricks, for stimulating the imagination as they build ever wilder vehicles and other such fanciful “stuff”. And I haven’t even mention the fine-motor skills bit yet, although now I have.

Secondly, I also came across this story of another kid who has just got a new Lego set as well.

James Groccia has loved LEGO since he was about 4 years old.
But when the little boy told his parents a couple of years ago that he wanted the $100 Emerald Night Train set, which had more than 1,000 pieces, they hesitated before making the big purchase.

The couple, who live in Boylston, Mass., also saw one of those golden parenting opportunities to teach their oldest child about responsibility.
“My wife just basically said, ‘If it’s something you really want, save up for it,” Groccia said.

James, who has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome, did just that. It took him about two years to save up the $100.
And then, disaster struck. LEGO had stopped making the train set.

Of course, there were still sets available, but they were on collectors’ websites and – as with all toys that are no longer produced – the prices were through the roof, way beyond the $100 that James had saved up.

James wrote to Lego and explained the situation. Lego sent a letter back saying that they were sorry, but that set was not being produced any more. And that was that.

Until just before James’ birthday, when a package arrived at the Groccia’s home. Here’s what followed:

Well played, Lego. Play well.

But then, in a really tenuous link (and here comes the third bit), what if James had wanted to build a really tall tower out of the Lego set he was sent? I know that you’re asking exactly the same question that I am – Exactly how tall could he build that Lego tower?

It’s a trivial question you might think, but one the Open University’s engineering department has – at the request of the BBC’s More or Less programme – fired up its labs to try to answer.

“It’s an exciting thing to do because it’s an entirely new question and new questions are always interesting,” says Dr Ian Johnston, an applied mathematician and lecturer in engineering.

Looking on the internet, he expected to find the answer, but was surprised to find only a lot of speculation.

Perhaps that’s because not everyone who has pondered the question has ready access to a hydraulic testing machine.

Perhaps that’s the reason, yes. In fact, in a quick poll of my Facebook friends, precisely zero of them had ready access, or indeed, any sort of access to a hydraulic testing machine. Although they had all pondered the question. But yes, 0% that amounts to a fairly robust vote for “not everyone”.

Here’s a 32.5m tall Lego tower in Prague, which is impressive, but could they have made it, say, 33m or even taller?

The problem with doing this experiment “in the flesh” is that there are likely to be a number of difficulties. Finding somewhere big enough to do it, finding enough Lego bricks to build it, finding a way to keep adding the bricks. So the best way is to use a readily accessible  hydraulic testing machine.

Safety glasses on, the engineers begin to nervously edge towards the door.

“We’re setting it up automatically, so that we can all back out of the room, so none of us is in range when the thing goes bang,” Johnston explains – positioned, I notice, slightly behind me.

This basically squeezes the Lego bricks and measures the force they are under to see how many bricks it would take before the bottom bricks fail under the weight of the tower:

…the load on top of the brick gets larger and larger. We reach 3,500 newtons (N) of force – the equivalent of having 350kg (770lbs) sitting on top of the brick – more than a third of a tonne.

The force climbs on, above 4,000N. And then…


Well, not much. There is no big bang. The brick just kind of melts. It looks like a small square of warm Camembert.
This, Ian Johnston explains – noting that the computer also shows the load is no longer increasing – is a “material failure”.

The total force causing that “material failure” was 4,240N. They’ve been doing some rudimentary calculations and that equates to 432kg (950lbs). If you divide that by the mass of a single brick, which is 1.152g, then you get the grand total of bricks a single piece of Lego could support: 375,000.

So, 375,000 bricks towering 3.5km (2.17 miles) high is what it would take to break a Lego brick.

That’s more than 3 Table Mountains piled one on top of the other. So you can see that there would be other issues involved as well, not least the banging SouthEaster which would take it down as soon as it got anywhere above 10cm. Also, we’d have problems with the local Nimbys and their tall-buildings phobia. Incidentally, if you have ready access to a hydraulic press, 4,240N is also quite enough to silence their whining.

Mind. Blown. (Episode 47)

Here is a robot made of lego and powered by a cellphone.

CubeStormer II solves the Rubik’s Cube puzzle faster than the human world record.

This ARM Powered robot was designed, built and programmed by Mike Dobson and David Gilday, creators respectively of CubeStormer and Android Speedcuber

Ja right? Ja. Right.


Look, I’m no expert, but it looks to me as if:

The mechanics are constructed entirely from LEGO, including four MINDSTORMS NXT kits, with the addition of a Samsung Galaxy S II smartphone running a custom Android app as the robot’s brain. Both the MINDSTORMS NXT kits and the Samsung Galaxy SII use a variety of ARM –based processors.

The app uses the phone’s camera to capture images of each face of the Rubik’s Cube which it processes to determine the scrambled colours. The solution is found using an advanced two-phase algorithm, originally developed for Speedcuber, enhanced to be multi-threaded to make effective use of the smartphone’s dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 1.2GHz processor. The software finds an efficient solution to the puzzle which is optimised specifically for the capabilities of the four-grip mechanism. The app communicates via Bluetooth with software running on the ARM microprocessors in the LEGO NXT Intelligent Bricks which controls the motors driving the robot. During the physical solve, the app uses OpenGL ES on the phone’s ARM Mali-400 MP GPU to display a graphical version of the cube being solved in real time.

Human speedcubers’ solve times only include the physical manipulation of the cube and don’t include some time which is allowed to “inspect” the cube beforehand. Times recorded by CubeStormer II are for the total solve including: image capture, software solution calculation and physical solve.

Now I just need an Android-powered lego robot to pick my jaw up off the floor.

(thanks Jerm)