Archive for April, 2009

SITE UPDATE: Photos from around the BU Bridge

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

Last Friday I went over to Cambridge to have the hard drive in my MacBook Pro replaced with a larger one. Since I had a few hours to spare while that was being done, I went and took some shots from the nearby BU Bridge and the Boston College branch of the Green Line. My shots of the B line are here, while those of other subjects are here.

On Legos past and present

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

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?


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.


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