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Derek Carter’s blog » Uncategorized

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On Legos past and present

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

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Yesterday I got a Lego set for the first time in about 7 years. The Off-Roader looked to be the most interesting and challenging of the current Technic sets, so that’s what I got. Building it was no harder or easier than any other set I’ve built in the past, so this post will be mainly on how things have changed since I last built a Lego set.

First, the box. Everyone’s probably experienced a time when they saw something and thought “That seems a lot smaller than it was when I was a kid.” In this case, the reverse happened: the box seemed larger than it needed to be. Being scientifically inclined, I decided to see if my initial impression was correct and located in my attic the box for the Super Car (yes, I still have a lot of Lego boxes from years ago. Don’t ask.), a set from 1994 that is of comparable size to the Off-Roader.

Off-Roader and Super Car boxes side by side

Yep, I was right. Despite having about 18% fewer pieces than the Super Car, the box for the Off-Roader was over 23% bigger. What could possibly require that much additional space? Were there a bunch of pieces that were particularly big?

Nope.

inside the Off-Roader's box

Air. The extra space was filled with air. Lego might have been able to justify that extra space if the bags of pieces were in the bins of a plastic tray, which they often used in the past and takes up more space than the bags by themselves, but as you can see the bags are just loose in there. Nice job helping the environment, Lego.

On to the pieces. When I last built a Technic set, the main structural pieces were mostly studded beams (essentially regular Lego beams with holes in the side) that could be freely used with any regular Lego pieces, and usually were. While a few smooth beams existed at the time, they were only being used in a limited fashion as a complement to the older-style beams. The photo of the Super Car below shows off the studded beams, and how many “normal” Lego pieces were used in Technic sets.

Super Car

Now, the studded beams have been replaced entirely with various shapes and sizes of smooth beams.

Off-Roader

The immediate consequence of this change is that there are very few normal Lego pieces in this set, most of which were used for the lights. This seems like a mistake to me. While there are certainly things the smooth beams are better for, there are other things the studded beams are better for. For example, this detail on the roof of the car:

close-up detail of the roof

As you can see, the smooth beams require a completely new piece to join them together at that right-angle joint. With studded beams, all you would need to do is butt the ends together and attach some ordinary right angle plates on the top and bottom - no special pieces required. There were a lot of other connections in this set where, although they didn’t require such specialized pieces, were still more complicated than would be needed if studded beams were being used. It seems to me it would be better to mix the two types of beams together.

The assortment of basic connectors used to hold everything together has changed as well. Some have changed color, while others now come in several varieties (to allow whatever’s connected to them to swing freely - or not - for example); two of the pieces that were common in the past weren’t present at all in this set. I hope that’s simply because they weren’t needed; it’s hard to imagine that they’d no longer be in use period.

Anyway, that’s all I had to say. Here’s one last photo to end this post:

Off-Roader and Super Car side by side

A little of this, a little of that

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

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I finally did some housekeeping on the site.  I fixed, deleted, and added a lot of links to other sites, mainly on the Links page.  I also added a page describing what the Bathroom Server was.  Alas, I don’t have a screenshot of it.

A lot of stuff has happened in the last week. Last weekend was the Boston Trolley Meet. Excellent place to find stuff relating to trolleys. I bought a t-shirt with some Boston PCCs on it, two books on the history of the Commuter Rail here in Boston, and a replacement for my oldest book on Boston transit. (I did not treat my original copy very well when I was a little kid. It’s bound with masking tape and is missing several pages.) I also helped out as a door guard for a few hours.

Also last weekend was the first Level 1 training class at Seashore Trolley Museum. For me it was just a refresher, since I went through the training last year as well, but since I didn’t get around to qualifying I have to retake everything. Two other people (my friend Bernie and another guy) are in the same boat (or should that be trolley car?). Fortunately, it sounds like those of us who are redoing everything will be able to go right into the pilot program after we finish the classroom work. There’s a lot more people in the class this year, so we got less road time. On the other hand, we did get to use SEPTA PCC #2709, which even experienced operators rarely get to use.

Last week I started working part time for the Central Transportation Planning Staff, which is the agency that collects all sorts of ridership data for the various state transportation agencies. I spent the first few days doing ridership surveys on some of the trolley lines. This week I’m mostly doing passenger counts.

Site Update: Mattapan trolley line reopens

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

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The Mattapan High Speed Trolley line reopened today after 18 months of construction.  I went down to photograph and ride the line today.  My photos and videos can be found here.  Hooray! :-D 

On an unrelated note, you may have noticed the Sellaband banner on the bottom of my homepage.  Do check out the band listed there, they’re quite good and I’d love to get an album from them someday. 

Now with live blog updates

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

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Thanks to my friend Slobbergoat, my homepage automatically shows my latest blog post.

People who forget to turn their headlights *on*

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

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It seems like a lot of people are forgetting to turn on their headlights at night. Two or three times in the last week I’ve passed cars which had either no lights or just their marker lights on, well past sundown. “What’s that thing that light keeps glinting off of? Oh, just a car with no lights on that I’m coming up behind at 65 miles an hour.” You’d think the fact they can’t read their instrument panel would be a clue to these people, but apparently not.

Let’s see if this works…

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

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I’ve switched over to an actual blog for my news updates and other ramblings. Hopefully I can get the damn thing to work.