Wednesday, May 24, 2006

My First Star Destroyer

Finally, I managed to build that lovely huge Lego Star Destroyer. Finally, I managed to upload all those photographs to my blog. Finally, I managed to actually write an according blog entry. Well, building this thing took some 16 hours (I didn't actually try to be quick and literally enjoyed placing every single brick), so it's maybe fine if preparing all this is also not done at the speed of light.

Here's my story. The big box just had to be photographed before starting. By the way, the table turned out to be far too small; I helped myself by stuffing all those tiny bricks and pieces into plastic boxes that are normally used for storing food. Heh.

Normally, when you open a Lego box, you find several plastic bags containing all the bricks, and a manual with building instructions. This box is different. It contains, indeed, a manual (happily), and four more boxes. The manual is really impressive, by the way. It's huge.

As written above, the four white boxes contain quite a pile of plastic bags which looks impressive enough even though the model is still very very far from completion. This is the moment where I first realised how much time this might take. That insight didn't manage to make the pleasant anticipation go away, though. It rather increased.

By the way, the bottle of wine you can see in the background was my only companion that night. Great wine. Not much left afterwards. But great.

Some hours later that night, the frame to which the hull was to be attached was completed. It consists of two identical frames that are connected to each other. Even though I mentioned above that I didn't make many attempts to be quick about this, I wanted to avoid dull repetitions, so I built both frames simultaneously.

Yet some more hours later, the first two parts of the hull (the lower hull, in fact) were finished and attached to the frame. The hull pieces are built identically, but are mirror-inverted, of course. They were also built simultaneously.

I recall being puzzled about the little magnets in the box when I first opened it. While reading the manual, I realised they were supposed to connect the hull to the frame. I think that's an ingenious little piece of Lego engineering. It's very simple and you don't have to care about the angles, because the magnets are pivoted and automatically adjust.

This is a shot from the rear of the Star Destroyer towards the front, showing another magnet junction. And this is also the last picture I took before going to sleep late that night. Early that morning, that is.

The next day, I completed the upper hull and mounted it, and there it was! The topping-out ceremony was rather brief because there was yet more to come.

Another engineering detail I like very much is that the conning bridge is not actually attached to the basis using the normal Lego studs. It is placed on top of the black spike you can see in the image below. That's actually handy when transporting the Star Destroyer; you simply take off the conning bridge and grab the entire basis by the frame running through its insides.

Part one of the conning bridge is finished. The construction will flap down if you hold it up in the air, but as soon as it's placed on the spike, it will adjust to the basis and lie there like it was intended to be that way. Another great idea.

The second part of the conning bridge is also just placed on top of the rest; this time, the blue-grey tower-like construction is used.

In this detail image, you can see how the two flaps of the conning bridge are constructed and connected to the bridge's inner frame.

And... completed! Well, not entirely; there still were the little rebel spaceship (15 minutes) and the plate (5 minutes). Laughably quick indeed. Next time I build this thing, they'll be first. It's just too depressing otherwise.

Here's an image of the larger building blocks.

This is how it is supposed to look, I believe. Just imagine there's a black background with stars all over, maybe a galaxy, whatever.

The little ones shall have their go.

With the box containing over 3,000 pieces, it's amazing how not a single one was missing. Still, there were some leftovers. You can't build anything much sensible using them, but I sure won't throw them away!

Thanks, Lego!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

It's Official: MindStorms Does Go Open Source

As Lego announced yesterday, the firmware for the NXT bricks will indeed be available under an open source licence. The licence itself has not yet been announced, but hopefully it will be a "bearable" one.

Moreover, three developer kits – for hardware, software and Bluetooth – will be made freely available as well. The hardware developer kit will contain detailed information on the wire connectors, allowing for home-made sensors, for example.

Hooray once more!