Happy National Robotics Week!

April 5-13 2014 will be the fifth annual National Robotics Week.The event is recognized in many different ways, often by the holding of a robotics-related activity or event. For details and information about events nationwide, visit the Robotics Week site.
The purpose of the event according to the official website is as follows:
  • Celebrate the US as a leader in robotics technology development
  • Educate the public about how robotics technology impacts society, both now and in the future
  • Advocate for increased funding for robotics technology research and development
  • Inspire students of all ages to pursue careers in robotics and other Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math-related fields
You may notice that this is only the fifth year in which this event has taken place. In fact, it only became nationally recognized in Congress on March 9, 2010 in House Resolution 1055, "Supporting the designation of National Robotics Week as an annual event." In fact, the resolution attributes the purpose of the event to renowned science fiction author Isaac Asimov, as stated below:
 "Whereas the second week in April each year is designated as 'National Robotics Week', recognizing the accomplishments of Isaac Asimov, who immigrated to America, taught science, wrote science books for children and adults, first used the term robotics, developed the Three Laws of Robotics, and died in April, 1992: Now, therefore, be it resolved..."
In preparation and celebration of this week, I have not only been working with my Lego Mindstorms sets, but also reading several of Asimov's sci-fi novels. I encourage everyone to find their own ways of commemorating this week, whether through reading, building, or attendance of an event. Happy Building!
DARPA's  Atlas robot, which is being developed for rescue applications.

Popsicle Stick Ballista

Popsicle sticks are a versatile building material. They can be used to make things like bridges, lamp shades, and most importantly siege engines. I have built multiple miniature weapons with these sticks before, such as catapults, trebuchets, and siege towers. However, only recently did it occur to me to try a ballista.

A ballista is a stationary ranged weapon that is in many respects similar to a crossbow. They were made in all sizes and forms, but they all share the same function: launch bolts at the enemy. They get their power from torsion coils, which the arms of the bow are attached to, and most often they have a winch for winding up the weapon.
Sketch of an ancient ballista
I cannot take all of the credit for this project myself. I made several of my own adaptations, but I got the basic plans from Storm The Castle, an excellent site for all your medieval-warfare-related needs. The instructions for this project can be found here. Meanwhile, this is how mine turned out. (This pictures do not show the base for the machine). It works very well, successfully shooting its makeshift bolt several feet, with a surprising amount of force for such a small construction.
Isometric view, with the string drawn

Rear view
If you are going to attempt this project, I recommend letting the glue dry for several hours or overnight before stringing it up. Also, USE STRONG STRING. I ended up snapping a few torsion coils before it finally worked. Enjoy!

OYLC Part III: Sorting Sets (Special Cases)

Welcome to Part III of OYLC (Organizing Your Lego Collection)!
This post covers how to sort a Designer or Creator set. For the other parts of this series, select a link below:
Part I: Sorting Bricks
Part II: Sorting Sets
Part IV: Storing It All

The simplest way to sort out a set is to build it. However, Creator and Designer sets pose a problem to this strategy. These types of sets include instructions for multiple models, and it is rare for one or a combination to use ALL the pieces. One way to tackle this problem is to simply build all the models one at a time to make sure you have the pieces for them, but this approach takes a long time and can cause you to miss some pieces. I have found that the quickest and most direct method is a hard inventory.

To take a hard inventory, find the inventory in the back of the instructions (or online if you don't have it) and lay out each type of piece one at a time. While this method is an unnecessary hassle for a normal set, it works wonders for Creator sets. Once you have laid out all the pieces you can find to the set, write down the ones you are still missing, so you can find or replace them later.

Once you have found all the pieces in the inventory, it is a good idea to build all the models one at a time after the fact. The inventories in the instructions sometimes have misprints, which you have to catch yourself. Misprints are more common in older sets, when the inventories were a new thing.
This is a picture of the inventory I took for my Deep Sea Predators Designer set (4506).
As I later built the models, I discovered I needed one piece that was not in the inventory.
Even with this setback, I was able to sort the set completely in under three hours.
Note that it will take longer if your pieces are not organized as directed in earlier segments.
If you or someone you know are in the process of sorting your collection, please take the time to read the other segments of this series (links are at the top). Good luck and Happy Building!