January 06, 2006

The Case for Mindstorms

I'm still excited about yesterday's Lego Mindstorms NXT unveiling, and I'm not alone. Gary gave me a call yesterday right after he noticed my blog post, just to talk about Mindstorms. Dave emailed to figure out where to get a remote for his RCX. The rebirth of Lego Mindstorms is turning out to be one of the big highlights of CES this year (Engadget video of the NXT at CES). It's funny how a humble Lego toy release can generate more excitement than all the rest of the glitzy Microsoft/Sony/Gadget hoopla at CES.

I think it's because the whole Lego concept strikes a special chord with engineers. While most of the tech industry talks about what some other engineers have built, Lego all about what we can build ourselves.

Mindstorms captures the true gadget spirit. Inventing is fun. Many of us fell in love with engineering through Legos as a kid, and many of us learned to program using toys (or using simple, more toy-like computers from Atari, Commodore, or Radio Shack). We want to capture the same magic for our own children or recreate that magic for ourselves, yet today it can be hard to find really good programming toys. Mindstorms fits the bill perfectly.

And so in the spirit of having fun with Mindstorms, here is another tip on getting the most out of your Mindstorms: get a good case for them...

Tragic Lego Stories

The first challenge with Mindstorms - or with any large Lego kit - is dealing with the hundreds of little pieces. Do you remember the sound of playing with Legos as a kid? It's the sound of sifting through a big pile of plastic bricks, as you search for just the right piece.

And Lego tragedy would strike when Mom or Dad stepped on a piece. Legos are painful when you step on them; and then you always seem to break or lose that key important piece; and then there would be lots of scolding about cleaning up the mess all over the living room floor.

Little pieces rolling under the sofa or getting lost in the carpet is just part of Lego life. It's sort of like death and taxes.

Fishing For Lego?

Or maybe not. Here is a secret for improving your Lego life: Plano fishing tackle boxes.

For medium sized sets (like the Motor Movers sets we have), the Plano 3700 is a good size. Its adjustable compartments are just-the-right size for holding all the commonly sized pieces, up to and including being able to hold Lego 9V battery boxes. If you want to organize a lot of small fiddly pieces, Plano also makes smaller and thinner boxes, like the 3701; on the other side for larger pieces are fatter boxes like the 3730. If you have lots of sets, Plano makes storage systems like the 1374 for organizing all your utility boxes.

These utility boxes won't fit all the Mindstorms pieces. In particular the RCX brick and the wheels are just too big. But the Plano 1258 together with a few 3500 boxes is perfect for holding everything. It even has a big compartment where you can put your assembled robot away safely.

Ready For Robots

For Mindstorms specifically, roboticslearning.com assembles special Mindstorms storage cases. These are just Plano 1258 cases outfitted with all the right sub-boxes. But the cool thing is that they have even done the work of pasting in pictures of all the Lego pieces into appropriate compartments, so you have guidelines for what pieces can go where. And they hot-glue the removable dividers for you so they don't slip out. I have one of these boxes, and it's perfect.

For whatever reason, roboticslearning.com seems to be out-of-stock of their Mindstorms storage cases at the moment; You can probably assemble something similar by just getting the Plano cases yourself.

Also, many Lego Education products come in Lego's Medium Green Storage Bins. These have bigger storage compartments that can hold pretty much everything, and they're useful as sort of "overflow" bins when you don't want to sort the pieces so carefully. But the fishing tackle boxes are better for storing and using well-sorted pieces.

Boxes Make You Smarter... Really!

Once your pieces are all sorted, the whole experience of building Legos changes quite a bit. Instead of hunting endlessly, you become more free to build exactly what you imagine. And instead of wondering whether or not you have enough of piece X, you know exactly how many you have, and you can plan ahead. Just sorting your pieces makes you into a Lego pro.

And of course, once things are sorted into cases, cleanup is a snap. And Lego tragedies become a thing of the past.

Posted by David at January 6, 2006 05:36 AM

Hi, We are an engineering company in New Zealand and found your image on the internet - we might like to use your image of a pile of lego bits as per your blog jan 6, 2006. Is this yours? If so do you have a high resolution version you could send?

Appreciate your prompt attention - we have an advert due mid this week...

Kind regards - Kent

Posted by: Kent Nixon at August 5, 2013 12:12 AM

Not mine, sorry; source unknown. You'll need to take a new picture.

Posted by: David at August 8, 2013 10:03 AM

Check out the InI (LEGO table), it helps sort, store, and organize your child's (or your) giant LEGO collection. www.flippytan.com

Posted by: K at February 20, 2016 01:36 PM
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