Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?

Lego Vs. Meccano & Engineering Knowledge 300

Anonymous In Indy writes "How much of our learning comes from the toys we play with? Nobel prize winner Sir Harry Kroto (Chemistry, 1996) feels that the falling popularity of Meccano and the rise of Lego is inextricably linked to "the demise of British engineering." "Meccano teaches engineering and architectural skills in a way that Lego doesn't. If we had more Meccano, we would have railways that worked. There would be more engineers with better basic understanding." The Sunday Telegraph has the complete story. (USAians note: Meccano = Erector Set."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Lego Vs.- Meccano and Engineering Knowledge

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 09, 2001 @02:09AM (#98540)
    My friend's son has a lego sports car, out of the "Technic" series of kits. This thing is actually quite impressive. Working shifting mechinism+gearbox (5 speeds plus reverse), rack and pinion, a differential to drive the tires, even operating doorhandles with hydraulics to make the door rise (Like a delorian).

    This is equal to or more advanced than most of my old erector set kits.
  • by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @07:59AM (#98541) Homepage
    Lego Technic and Construx

    Technic was halfway between Lego and Meccano/Erector: It had the standard Lego modular pieces (it's easy to mix Technic and Lego parts in the same item), but it also had elements much more geared towards engineering like gears, shafts, and motors. And then there was the Technic Control Centre. It was the ancestor of Mindstorms, a console that could record and play back sequences of actions involving up to 3 motors. It came with enough parts to build a programmable vector plotter (among other things).

    Construx was by Fisher-Price (sadly it seems to be discontinued now), and it was sort of a plastic version of the Erector set minus the annoying nuts and bolts. It was on a much larger scale than most of the toys that have been discussed so far: it was easy to build items several feet tall (aside from structural problems), and the motors were beefier than the ones Technic used.

  • When I was but a wee lad, Lego came out with their first Castle Kit - no custom blocks, but a lot of the standard "thin" ones, all in yellow, and a bunch of hinges so the castle could be opened up to see inside.

    My friends and I all got one set for Xmas one year, and we quickly determined a game to play with them. The idea was to build a castle that would withstand a Lego siege. You built a castle, and then you built a catapult, all out of Lego. The only non-Lego part allowed was a rubber band to make the catapult work.

    We'd then take turns launching Lego bolders against each other's castles from little Lego catapults, ballistae, and even an attempt at a trebuchet.

    It taught us all kinds of things: how to build high walls that don't fall down (hint: buttresses), why walls had to interlock, the virtues of flat vs high missile trajectories, the tradeoffs between missile velocity vs missile mass, basic aiming techniques, and the strength of various household objects when subjected to accidental Lego bombardment (brick wall - high; glass lamp - low)

    It was great fun until one of us figured out that a solid, interlocked and buttressed tower was pretty well impervious to anything short of a pellet gun, and then our attentions turned elsewhere - shooting each other with pellet guns, as I recall.

    Great fun, and a complete engineering education.

  • by nathanh ( 1214 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @01:55AM (#98545) Homepage
    Amen brother! Back When I Was A Lad the fanciest Lego piece was the thin 2x2 square. You really had to struggle to make something look realistic from the dozen or so pieces.

    Some of the modern Lego kits have 50 unique Lego pieces, only found in one kit, and only suitable for making one specific model. The result is one extremely realistic model, but where was the fun in building it?
  • by sql*kitten ( 1359 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:29AM (#98546)
    Saying that giving more kids Meccano would solve this is totally unfounded. Whilst I respect Harry Kroto (he discovered Buckminster Fullerenes), and think that kids should be exposed to more engineering toys, I think that he's way off the mark with his comment.

    I'll tell you why the quality of British engineering has declined: because Engineers are treated terribly in the UK. For a start, "Engineer" isn't a protected title, as it is in the US and even in Europe, where it has similar standing to the title of a medical doctor. In the UK, the electrician who installs your cable TV probably calls himself an "Electrical Engineer". If someone asks you what you do for a living and you say "Mechanical Engineer", in the UK they will think you are a car mechanic. (These are of course necessary and worthy jobs, but you don't need a 4-year degree and 4 years of professional experience to do them, as you do to become an Engineer). Also, an Engineer in the UK is unlikely to be well paid, compared to a similarly qualified lawyer or finance professional.

    I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering from UCL [ucl.ac.uk], one of the top 3 universities in the UK, and like many of my graduating class, I didn't even apply to engineering firms. We went straight into consulting, banking, software and similar jobs - where our talents would be respected and rewarded.

    I believe that these factors are more important than Lego -vs- Meccano. Remember, we all started off *wanting* to be Engineers - it was only when we realised what it was really like that we changed our minds.

  • As an American who has been to Britain, I have to say that in comparison, riding on a British train is a divine experience of pleasure.
    When you're on AmTrack, you want to put your head on the rails in front of an oncoming train, rather than be forced to actually ride on board.

    You whiney Brits don't know how good you have it.

    The US used to be the greatest rail network in the world. Now, there is only one passenger line, and it's federally funded. Last time I rode, what would have been a 3 hour drive was an 8 hour hellish ordeal via rail. American passenger trains are loud, slow, bumpy, and have crappy seats, and poor service. British trains are smooth, luxurious and quick by comparison. And they actually name the individual engines all these strange names like "The Duke of Wolverton" etc. Just like in Thomas the Tank Engine.
  • by mattdm ( 1931 )
    Who says Lego (Technic or otherwise) doesn't encourage invention? Check out some of the sites on LUGnet's Cool LEGO Site of the Week [lugnet.com].

  • You don't have to "progress". Even the basic building blocks are complicated and versitile enough to be an artistic medium for adults, and the more complicated Technic and Mindstorms stuff is better than any Erector Set I've seen.
  • If any infrastructure of national importance is outsourced to a private entity you're fucked! The moment this happens profits are more important then the public...

    This is simply not true. There is nothing wrong with privatisation per se. The problem comes when you don't have sufficient guards against abuse. That essentially means a regulatory body with the power to act in the best interests of the consumer. Here in the UK, we did the privatisation bit, but forgot to give the regulators enough power to do anything useful. Hence the current mess with trains, phones and half a dozen other utilities. The regulators need to be able to do whatever it takes to protect the consumer, up to and including the financial ruin of the company running the service. Until that happens, things are only going to get worse :-(

  • by tjansen ( 2845 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @02:46AM (#98551) Homepage
    I can understand him somehow as I have similar feelings about a german system called Fischer Technik [google.com] that has almost disappeared from german toy stores in the last 10 years. While not as complicated as Meccano (no screws and stuff) the constructions were more stable, the motors bigger...

    In other words, Fischer Technik allowed you to build larger and more complex things (after all the first sets were made for industrial models, and that's what it is still used for today). It also pioneered many things that Lego had done only years later: sets for pneumatic, electronic circuits and a programmable computer interface.
  • by counsell ( 4057 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @02:37AM (#98552) Homepage
    Public Exam in Ideology Part I:

    Compare and contrast the following with particular attention to the continuing absence of pragmatism and rigour in modern political theory:
    "This is simply not true. There is nothing wrong with privatisation per se. The problem comes when you don't have sufficient guards against abuse."
    "There's nothing wrong with communism per se. The problem comes when you don't have sufficient guards against abuse."
  • I've been keeping this a secret, but you can built just about anything in a few minutes with hot glue and toothpicks. Towers, bridges, cantilevers, I've done it all.

    Start with a board as the base, put drops of glue on the corners of a square one toothpick wide, put in 4 toothpicks as verticals, and connect them horizontally to form a cube. Repeat to build box girders, etc. You can add diagonal braces as needed.

    Hot glue is about the best thing every made for connecting small wooden structural members - strong, flexible, and it sets almost instantaneously. You can also melt the glue with the point of the glue gun to add additional 'picks to a joint, or to disassemble it.

    It can be a little bit too flexible for some things, but if the point is to get some experience with structural design, it's ideal.
  • by blech ( 8859 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @01:19AM (#98558) Homepage
    For the point of view of the Lego advocates, see this post [lugnet.com] which contains a letter written to the New Civil Engineer journal in the UK, by Simon Bennett.

    This article also contains links to a longer thread preceeding the letter itself.
  • Alas, I despair for the world of technology. Understanding assembler goes hand in hand with understanding computer architecture. If you do not have at least a basic understanding of computer architecture, then I find it very scary that you could even graduate from a B.S. in CS program.

    I despair for the world of computer science when atavists from the land of vacuum tubes demand that the curriculum of science be tied forever to a particular technology. Although current computer architecture is a fine realization of Von Neumann's theories, it just doesn't have any useful relation to computer science theory, like algorithmic complexity, decidablilty, graph theory, induction, and all the other math that goes into computer science. Saying asm is foundational to computer science is like saying using a HP calculator is fundamental to mathematics. Dijkstra, one of the gods of computer science, hates computers.

    I submit learning asm isn't even terribly useful for programming (except in C), but that's another argument entirely.
  • After Legos, you progress to Tinker Toys, then to Meccanos (called "Erector Sets" in the States).

    Hell no, Legos, Tinker Toys, then Zome [zometool.com].
  • I played both with Meccano and Lego. I do not see why those are put in the same basket; Lego is clearly an architectural toy, whilst meccano (as it's name even implies!) is clearly a mechanical toy.

    With one, you build houses, castles, cities, and the other, you build cars with steering, differentials and gearboxes & cranes.

    How can both be mixed?

    And you don't play the same with either; with meccano, you have to design subassemblies and make sure they come together the first time. How many times did I have to "redesign" one whole side of an assembly, because one shaft could not go through another one on the same plane?

    With Lego, you just stick bricks together; no gears, no shafts, no mechanical subassemblies...

    They're like apples and oranges!

    However, for having drooled for many years on my granfather's number 10 Meccano set (a 80cm by 40cm by 30 cm wooden chest chock-full of meccano parts (and finally inherited it), Meccano is a fine toy to learn industrial mechanical design, whilst Lego can be a fine architectural toy.

    But how can both be mixed???


  • Give me a break. Data entry? Have you ever written anything somewhat complex in Java? Doubtful.

    Just like you have to think differently about coding when you do assembly language, you have to think on a different plane when designing Java apps. Object relationships, interfaces, dependencies, etc. are all something you need to put into your design, instead of knowing what's on the stack or what registers are holding what values. These are the things you "hand off" to the Sun developers, worrying about the specifics of your OOP app. It's surely programming, though a different type of programming.

    If when coding a Java app I used the assembly (or even C) part of my programming brain I would be doing things wrong in many cases. To take into account registers or memory addresses when designing an OOP app is something you shouldn't need to do, and for good reason. The only case where a C background _really_ helps with Java programming task is when you're dealing with object references, which are analagous to pointers. However, such a concept is easily learned and understood by non-C programmers. Demonstrating CS algorithms is better done in a high level language in most cases, so that's not a good argument either.

    An understanding of assembly language and computer architecture is definitely essential to warrant a Computer Science degree, I couldn't agree more. However, to downplay Java as not being "programming" is a ridiculous statement that shows a lack of understanding of the whole point of component based/OO programming.
  • Elitist. If they're going to class, they have the intention of learning. It's not their fault that your school has been unable to get them to a level in which you'd consider them worthy of your almighty company.

    Graduating from school lacking knowledge is one thing (and is often not the fault of the person graduating,) but people who are annoyed at their classmates for not spending all their free time learning computer algorithms piss me off.

  • And those of you who are so stupid to have to learn algorithms piss me off. You're just bitter that you have to study. Some of undestand with little or no problem.

    If all algorithms were easily understood by people with "little or no problem" then we'd have them all from the day the computers were there to perform them. It seems to me that you haven't expanded your algorithm knowledge past the binary tree or the bubble sort, or else you'd realize that you can dedicate years of your life to understanding and building upon a single algorithm.

    You've proven you're foolishness immediately by your very first statement. To even make the claim that every student in a class has the intention to learn is ridiculous, apparently you haven't been to school at all.

    Yeah, I go to school. I go to Cornell. I go to many CS classes at Cornell. Nobody is in a CS class to fuck around once you get past the first couple weeder classes. If a classmate has no experience with C or a merge sort, I'm not going to jump on them as being inferior because I learned that stuff in my spare time. They have experiences in things outside of my realm of knowledge, and I'd expect the same respect from them.

    You are the one who has obviously never been to school, or at least, partook in a competitive academic program where everyone there is taking their education seriously and keeping you on your toes.

    You throw it around like it's a dirty word, I'm proud of my ability, and of course I look down on anyone who can't compete.

    I think you probably need a reality check, because you're not so superior as you think. I'm pretty sure all of the people I've met at school (largely professors) who I've considered as being truly labeled as being "smart" have never read, or would bother reading, Slashdot. They're too busy doing more important things, like studying and expanding upon those algorithms that you seem to understand with "little or no problem."
  • You implied I've never been to school, dumbass. I was telling you where I go to school.

    You said what I read as "some of us understand with little or no problems" in reference to algorithms, which implies that you think that all algorithms are alike and understanding them is a skill which you either have or don't have, and is one you have. These things are all not true.

    We were talking about the ability to understand computer science, perhaps I was being vague when I mentioned that my professors are the only ones who can be labeled as "smart" .. I was talking about in their abilities within CS. You have most likely never been in the same room as someone who is fundamentally talented at CS (and who would excel in any engineering science) because you would not take such an over-inflated view on your CS abilities.

    My final point was that your presence on this website almost definitely excludes you from the small sect of people in society who are naturally good at CS, simply because in my experience Slashdot is a pseudo-technical site that in lots of ways lacks any real intellectual discussion or content. Not that I don't enjoy it, but it's surely uninteresting to these smarties I'm talking about.

    I have come to the conclusion that you are 15 years old, BTW.
  • ...and little people.....

    They were always smiling as well. Even after dying heroic deaths in inter-galactic battles. I was convinced they were plotting something, in my lego box under my bed, late at night.

    They probably still are, just hidden away in my parents roof, undisturbed for the last 15 years.

  • by DGolden ( 17848 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @02:12AM (#98572) Homepage Journal
    Well, fischertechnik is kinda like "technic lego" . It's more popular in europe than america. Most home robotics enthusiasts in the 80s in Ireland (where I am), England and Germany used fischertechnik kits to build their robots that they hooked up to their BBC Micros and C64s.
    See www.techeducation.com [techeducation.com] for american distributors. They have a cool robot arm kit.

  • Thats so true. I rember when I was very young making space ships from the red angular roof tiles, then they came out with "Space Legos" with al sorts of fancy custom pieces, and little people.....

  • by acomj ( 20611 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @02:28AM (#98577) Homepage
    As an "Engineer" (rather an EIT, Engineer in training), I grew up using legos. I nevery really liked the erector set style of things. I don't think it hurt my science at all. Lego has changed a bit from when I was a child, with more custom blocks, but they now have "Mindstorms" http://mindstorms.lego.com/ [lego.com]with programmable robotic pieces. Although not purely engineering, they are really good and a great thinking toy. (we only had a black brick with a motor that could go forward and backward....)

    They also have some "technical" legos with motors and gears, or at least they used to.

    To blame the downfall of British engineering on toys is wrong. British engineering is facing increased competition form abroad. To generalize, which is always dangerous, British engineering has been fairly innovative (box bridges, those reflective things on highways.....) but sometimes not as thorough and reliable. Look at the former British car companies for an example to see this problem is far from new..

    In general though, through out the world engineers are under paid and under appreciated. (software "engineers" being an exception..)

  • Anyone else remember a building set called Riveton or Rivetron, from the late 70s? It had a bunch of plastic panels, tubes, and corner joints, all with holes in them, as well as special parts like wheels. You used a special gun to connect the parts together by means of little rubber rivets that were stretched into the holes. Very cool - I made some neat little racing carts and vehicles for my action figures with these. As I recall, the tech was taken off the market after some little kid choked on one of the rubber rivets.

    My other favorite building toy (apart from Lego), was my "Girder & Panel" set that could be used to throw down some very cool-looking high rises and similar neubauten. I ended up using this stuff many years later to construct some very cool-looking scenery for SF miniatures gaming (the scale was different, but it still looked great).

    I only had a brief run-in with erector sets, and I think I was too young to really appreciate it -- probably about 4-6 -- but from what I remember, I concur with others, that erector sets really do emphasize real-world mechanical skills more than other toys...

  • by scotpurl ( 28825 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @05:01AM (#98583)
    Um, if you'd actually had kids, you'd realise that the point of Legos is to give small kids (the type who'd promptly eat all those little nuts and bolts) something that takes some motor skills, but not that many motor skills. It's one step up from building blocks. After Legos, you progress to Tinker Toys, then to Meccanos (called "Erector Sets" in the States).

    The failure of the British Rail System is political in nature. Let's not shift the failings of politicians off onto engineers, and let's not get any more of that "you younger generations are causing the decline of civilisation" nonsense. The younger set didn't invent nukes, spread herpes and aids, or listen to Bryan Ferry.
  • Unlike Lego, building serious constructions with K'nex [knex.co.uk] does require good constructive insight. After a while you get to know what makes a strong construction and what doesn't. I suppose that Lego Technic (sp) is fine too (I never had any Lego Technic parts). Fisher Technic is also very Meccano-like.

    The main advantage of K'nex over Meccano is that it does not require all that dexterity to put those tiny bolts and nuts together. A secondary advantage of K'nex over all those others is price. You can buy an awful lot of K'nex for two hundred bucks.

    Personally, I don't like the K'nex robot building stuff very much. There is no way to write your own software. Lego Mindstorm stuff is probably much better than the K'nex attempts at intelligent components.

  • Yes. Except: The average person at a Rave missed PacMan by about 3 years.
  • Before New Zealand's power and rail systems were privatised, they were a shambles. NZRail employed people who did nothing but maintain disused stretches of track - what a waste of my money and on a service I don't even use.

    Just a small point.

    You may still benefit from the existence of rail travel options even if you don't use them yourself.

  • If we had more Meccano, we would have railways that worked. There would be more engineers with better basic understanding.

    That's right. The Russians are kicking themselves for not introducing the Radioaktivo [findarticles.com] backyard nuclear reactor kit for kids back in the '50s, after that whole Chernobyl thing.

  • what do you know, that works... and here I've been using just slashdot.org this whole time... it seems that slashdot.com works, too... scary.
    [/OT nonsense]
  • One problem that is common with both Lego and Meccano is that it forces the child into building things that are almost all orthogonal. Time has marched on and a great many smart kids have since gotten bigger (grown up isn't the right word) and have invented better toys since then.

    Here are a few alternatives:

    Zometools [zometool.com] are like a bit like tinker-toys but allow a greater number angles at the hubs and are much better thought out. They also have a large collection of online lesson plans for educators that are free for the downloading. [zometool.com]

    Roger's connections [rogersconnection.com] and Mega Magz [naturestapestry.com] take the concept further by using ball barings as hubs and magnetic rods allowing for an even more flexible joint and rod system.

    How about having children explore this kind of this cool construction technique [dstoys.com], like the artist Ken Snelson [photopoint.com].

    Check out Chuck Hoberman's Expandagon construction toy [hoberman.com] where the parts expand and contract causing the construction to transform from one shape, to

  • by Kenneth ( 43287 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @05:48AM (#98597) Homepage
    on the whole, I liked Legos more. Why? Well, the erector set was far more challenging and interesting., but in order to join two simple objects, I had to dig through to find the parts, then sort through screws to find the proper length, then deal with my poor coordination to screw them together, crossthreading the nut onto the screw several times before I finally got it right. Then I could move on to the next one.

    Although that IS very much how large engineering projects go, it is frustrating for younger people to have to deal with such things.

    Legos do involve less thought, but trade that for quicker gratification. By the time I had joined a couple of parts with the erector set, I could have most of whatever I was building built out of legos.

    Legos also made one think about structure. It is just in a much different way. Legos are inherently of inferior building structure (from the standpoint of structural integrity). You must there for think of how to build something strong enough that you can play with it afterward, while still making it look like what you want. This meant adding support blocks to various areas.

    From the other posts here, I don't buy that the increase in the popularity of Legos is the cause of the decrease in quality of engineering in england. I would attribute it to other factors. I know nothing of the English education system, but if it is anything like the one here in the States, it must be getting pretty dismal.

    I would wonder if the decrease in the quality of engineers and scientists in the U.S. matches the increase in schools allowing persecuition of anyone who would choose science, math or any other "geeky" subject over taking the minimum requirments, and goofing off the rest of the time.
  • You're confusing "Java" with "popular Java IDEs". Java is, in a lot of parts, C++ with a lot of the interesting ways to shoot yourself in the foot removed and some syntactic clean-up.

    I'm doing some things in Java these days, and I haven't downloaded components from anywhere, dragged or dropped anything, or let someone else's IDE glue anything together for me. I write source code with an editor, feed it to the compiler, and feed the byte-code to the run-time.

    Java has the problem that the flash IDEs were developed in a very close time-frame to the language, so you never got the huge base of "real" coders that you did for something like C. (Although not as bad as Visual Basic, where the drag-n-drop, write all the code for me version is all you get.)

    Take a look at a recent version of MS VisualC++ (or whatever they're calling it these days). With the "build me an app" wizard you can get a working "do-nothing" skeleton program that produces a standard Windows app, menus, widgets, open / save dialogs, cut-n-paste etc without typing a single line of code - in C++!

    It's definitely a programming *environment* issue, more than a programming *language* issue.

  • I certainly do not really remember cutting myself on the parts. I am sure I cut myself when the screwdriver slipped a few times, but, I would not exactly call it tramatising... nothing a parent really need worry about.

    I remember at school being amazed at how kids didn't know how two gears meshing together would work, why they would turn in different direction, why they would turn at different speeds if they weren't the same size. Why a "worm" could not be turned by a sprocket. How kids didn't know which why to turn a screwdriver to tighten or loosen a bolt.

    Meccano's biggest folly I think is that it is hard to make "cute" looking things out of it. Lego is very good at doing that with minimal effort. The latest set designs brought about by a change of ownership to a Japanise toy manufacturer has caused parts to be introduced to make those cute models you can with Lego.

    Meccano is certainly a lot more tedious, but then again, perhaps its a better metaphor for life because of it?

    I remember my disapointment with lego was that you could build something, say a crane, it would then creak and bend as soon as you tried to pick something up with it... if I built a similar model with my Meccano it would actually work as I had invisioned.

    Lego is poor in that its all to easy to break the peices if they get trodden on accidentally.

    Both are excelent toys however, I can see the person's point that Meccano teaches more about "Engineering" - certainly all the engineers I know think that Meccano is a far better toy to teach engineering with than Lego ever was to them.

    Linking that to a failing infrastructure is a little tenuous though. That is as others have said perhaps more politically induced.
  • Ah... your very own Amtrack. Brittrack, perhaps. Ours keeps begging for money and trying to legitimize itself, as well.

    - - - - -
  • I'm happy to say I've used all of'em: both fischer technik, lego and meccano, and some aluminium form of meccano (it was used for building model airplanes, and looked better than the painted 'normal' meccano. it was also more expensive). I mostly used the lego, and a friend of mine had a shitload of Fischer. ah.. the times we built entire themeparks. unfortunately, when making moving attractions with our slightly beefed motors, the fischer attractions tended at times to collapse under the load when running at high RPM (which was all in good fun, after all.. sometimes real themepark attractions sometimes fall apart too). Fischer had reaqlly good load on static constructs. for dynamic, powered constructs I found lego slightly better.

  • When i was a kid, i had the choice between Meccano or Lego.

    I chose the Lego every time, because somebody had obviously put a lot of thought into it's design - Lego is designed to appeal to kids, Meccano is designed to appeal, well, possibly to British railway engineers?

    Meccano's iron material would certainly make for more durable constructions, but the breadth of the Lego offerings - from castles to spaceships, dwarfs Meccano's range.

    Lego is not just about encouraging construction skills, it's about encouraging the imagination.

    When you build your own spaceship to fly your tiny astronauts to the moon, somehow it's much more real to you than if you were to have been given a ready-made space-ship toy.

    And when the engines on your spacecraft fail, and you are forced to make a crash landing on the moon, being able to put your craft back together, perhaps in a new configuration (some parts were too badly damaged by the crash to be repaired) and fly home again is a whole new adventure.

    Meccano could arguably supply the same experience, but crashing a meccano ship is just not the same, since they tend not to come apart unless under extreme stress, and then youre looking at permanent damage.

    I too lament the recent 'dumbing down' of Lego, going for mechandising tie-ins like with Star Wars instead of creating new designs, but I own the Lego Mindstorms kit, which i plan on giving to my girlfriend's nephew when he's wise enough not to lose all the pieces.

    This is a lot of fun to play with (even for a 26-year old software developer like me), and i think it's great that Lego has stepped outside it's traditional market with new and somewhat groundbreaking products.

    Meccano vs Lego?

    It may be more 'realistic', but there is no way it's more fun.

  • I guess girlfriends would rather buy sweaters than toys for they husbonds for Xmas.

    Hey! My Wife bought me a Mindstorm RIS 1.5 set for my birthday :-)

    It true that Lego is a bit less "engineering" than mecanos, but with the whole Mindstorm series, they're going into programming and robotics. It a field with much more interesting potential.
  • Just because you're the type of person who prefers low level programming doesn't mean all programmers should be low level programmers. I prefer to use higher level languages, I like building GUIs, but I also got good scores in my assembly classes. We had 2 subjects in my CS course with assembly, and I think that's plenty for the average programmer. CE students of course would have more, and they'd also have to take a few EE subjects, because that's what they need in their jobs.

    Programmers are supposed to produce solid programs quickly, and clearly it is more efficient to pull from well known and tested components than to rebuild your own wheel every time.

    Incidentally, I found that the people who sucked at the assembly classes sucked at all the other classes too. I didn't know anyone who got great scores in one type of programming and scraped thru with a pass in another...

  • I remember playing with both Lego and Meccano when I was a kid. With lego, I had lots of small pieces which I could use to build whatever I wanted. If I got a new lego set, I could mix it with my existing ones and build new objects.

    With Meccano, the pieces are so big. If I was building something, I couldn't easily turn that long piece into the short piece I needed. There just wasn't as much fun when you're limited to a small number of greatly varying pieces.

  • Before the Mindstorm came out, I would have been with you 100% on this. But since getting one two xmas's ago I've been saying nothing but 'why didn't lego do this when I was a kid?'. Those custom pieces do, at first, seem pretty useless, but when you start building lego objects that do something other than just sit there, you start finding ways to use those custom pieces because the plain bricks just won't work. There have been times where the custom part contained in a kit is what decided which kit I buy, just because the custom part looked like it may be useful in my own projects.
  • by _xen ( 79742 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @04:13AM (#98623)
    There is nothing wrong with privatisation per se.

    No, but what is wrong is the fetishistic notion that privatisation good per se. We are just emerging from the damage inflicted by ideologists who believed the mere fact of private ownership to be a social good.

    When you have private ownership in the context of competition, consumers can vote with their wallets if the goods and services they are receiving are not up to expectation. When you have government in the context of democracy, citizens can simply vote if the ruling party fails to deliver. By placing public goods which form natural monopolies, into private hands, consumers have been put in the position of citizens in states where they have no vote. Here in Australia many of the privatisations carried out (by both sides of politics!) have accomplished both these economic and policial ills.

    After centuries of struggle against absolutist government (which some might want to date back to 1215, or more realistically 1649), not only had the common law world established democracy, but by the early 1980s (at least in Australia) an effective body of Administrative Law, by which citizens could challenge the previously inviolable decisions of state bureaucracies. No sooner had this been accomplished, but governments started to 'outsource' (an 80s abomination meaning to contract out) bureaucratic functions, putting the decisions once again beyond the challenge of ordinary citizens, as they are beyond the choice of ordinary consumers.

    Quite apart from resurgent neo-fascist parties, what we've been left with is poor service (eg . compare the Post Office with hopeless Post Shops of today), queues, higher prices, queues, inefficiency and queues. Did I mention fees to join queues? To think that we used to laugh at the Soviet Union because they had to queue for everything, and that the ideologists assured us this was from a want of market mechanisms! It's enough to make one change one's sig!!

  • I guess girlfriends would rather buy sweaters than toys for they husbonds for Xmas

    If your girlfriend has a husband, I think you have bigger problems than not getting Legos for Xmas.
  • The problem is not lack of regulation, the problem is that privatisation of national infrastructure does not and cannot work.

    The justification usually given for privatising public services is that they can be made more efficient if private companies compete for contracts. Sounds like a good idea, but unfortunately it doesn't work for national infrastructure, because there's no room for competition. National rail and utility networks have to be national. So when you privatise them you have to decide (1) who's going to own the existing network and (2) who's going to stop the new owners from breaking it up or running it into the ground. The usual response to (1) is to create a national infrastructure company (eg Railtrack) and grant it a monopoly. The solution to (2) is to create a regulatory body to supervise the infrastructure company.

    At this point you may notice that what we have created is not very different from what we had before (except that there are lots of ministers with lots of shares in the infrastructure company, and none of the assets paid for by the public belong to the public any more). We have a national monopoly controlled by a government department. Where are the benefits of competition going to come from if companies can't compete to run the infrastructure?

    The answer is service providers - companies that operate services (train journeys, telephone calls, water) over national infrastructure (tracks, cables, pipes). But they can't compete in the sense of choosing a can of Coke over a can of Pepsi - you can't choose which water provider to use every time you turn on the tap. You have to use the provider that 'operates' the pipes running to your house. Who chooses that provider? The regulator. 'Competition' occurs once every few years when the service contracts come up for renewal; service providers which have performed so badly that they have been fined to the brink of bankruptcy by the regulator might lose their contracts. Note that the service providers are not competing with one another on a day-to-day basis. They are only competing against standards set by a government department. It is only when a company fails to meet those standards for several years running that competition between companies occurs.

    For example, I get to work on a train operated by Thameslink. Thameslink has a monopoly on my local line, so I have no choice about which service provider I use. No matter how much Thameslink pisses me off, I'm not going to switch to the competition because the competition doesn't run trains in my area. The only way I can get an improved service is if Thameslink performs so badly that the government takes away its contract. This is not free market competition, it's a command economy. It combines all the bloat and sluggishness of a command economy (the rail regulator is, after all, a government department) with the disadvantages of the private sector (accountability to shareholders rather than customers, long-term investment sacrificed for short-term profit).

    Why on earth was this horrible public/private chimera created? Because corrupt ministers realised they were sitting on billions of pounds worth of saleable goods, and there was public support from people like you for the idea of privatisation even in situations where the principles of the market economy cannot be applied.


  • Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: the only way you can make the situation worse is to allow the infrastructure company to be a service provider. This gives it a massive advantage over other service providers, since it controls the common infrastructure, and takes away its incentive to invest in the infrastructure, since it would be spending money for the benefit of its competitors.

    The combination of an unfair competitive position and freedom from long-term investment worries may go some way to explaining BT's financial success since privatisation.


  • - junkyards. The metal junkyard on our farm was a source of inspiration for me. Most of the time you couldn't tell what a piece of junk came from, trying to figure that out stretched the brain. Of course the pieces themselves would then be assembled into giant robots. Just make sure your kid is up to date on his tetanus shots...

    - unconnected computers. (not even to a BBS) Since you can't download games or surf the web, and you can't afford to buy them, you have to make your own, or else try to crack the games you've borrowed for friends.


  • When I started buying Legos for my kids, I was dismayed to find that you couldn't buy just plain blocks from Lego anymore, like when I was a kid in the 60s. No doubt, this is due to the expiration of the patents on the blocks.

    But you can get large quantities of the plain blocks from the knockoff companies. We bought a large number of plain blocks from one of the knockoff companies. Plus, of course, my son has dozens of the various Lego-branded project kits that he's gotten on birthdays and XMAS.

    You know what? My son (now 7) puts the Lego projects together exactly once, in record time. Then he rips them apart and tosses the pieces into the box of all other Lego parts. Then he builds fabulously complicated things out of the collection of parts that he has. The stuff he dreams up and builds is way beyond what I was building with just the plain parts. He's got all kinds of new pieces to choose from and the possibilities are far greater than ever before.

    I think the situation with Lego is way better now than it ever was. There is no dumbing down of Lego that I can see. Just dumb kids and parents that can't see the possibilities. Mostly, its probably compulsive parents that urge their kids not to destroy or alter the intended project in any way. They want little Johnnies bedroom neat and tidy with the Lego projects showcased up on some shelf. This is not Legos problem, this is the anal compulsive behavior forced on middle-age society by the likes of Mr. Clean and Mr. Hoover, and TV shows like My Three Sons and Family Affair.

    The damage was done to the parents of today's kids back in the 60s and 70s.

    Luckily, I was smoking so much pot back then that the brainwashing did not take. I view the array of Lego parts littering my sons bedroom floor for what it is: the remains of a successful battle between his engineering skills and the creative visions of his mind.

  • by Chairboy ( 88841 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @01:11AM (#98631) Homepage
    It seems that some of the points he makes could be applied towards programming as well. Lego is about putting components together using common interfaces, the Visual Basic way. Erector set is more about making those interfaces in the first place, the assembly way.

    Have we reached a point in software development where instead of innovating genuinely new software, we just put together libraries other people have written and consider ourselves 'building on the shoulder of giants'?

    Workers, throw down your common libaries, your DLLs, your open source! Innovate the way it was meant to happen, in PUTs and POPs! As your key to the revolution, please see the included copy of MASM. May the cpu tick be with you.
  • Meccano/Erector set requires tools. Lego requires hands. That makes Lego much better suited for younger, less skilled audiences. And yes, I ha an erector set as a child. It was a royal pain to build anything out of, and I don't beleive I learned anything from it except how difficult it is to get the mechanical contraptions you can dream up to actually work.
  • Well, that would certainly be the wrong way to privatize. Here's how auto inspection works everywhere I've lived in the US: the DMV licenses private businesses to sell inspection services to vehicle owners. The DMV does not serve as an intermediary in these transactions. If you start an inspection station and it takes years to get operational, that's your problem. Nobody will pay you to fail to inspect vehicles.
  • I also had Fischer Technik and prefer it to Lego or Erector (== US Meccano). Lego felt too dumb and limited compared to FT. However Erector Set was probably beyond my capabilities - I rarely played with it. I also found the aesthetic feel of Erector Set rather unpleasant - thin tinny metal, bolts that were never really tight, and bad paint colors. FT, in contrast, felt cool when you slid protruding studs into grooves. The color scheme was informative rather than decorative - grey (with black studs) for the blocks and red for specialty parts (wheels, gears, angle blocks, panels.)
    The same grooves which accepted studs from other blocks could also accept a steel shaft, acting as a bearing. FT encouraged you to keep one foot in the world of blocks (the Lego world) and one foot in a harder world of shafts, pulleys, wheels, sprockets.
  • You can't produce the angles required to make regular polyhedra with Meccano or Lego.

    Not with conventional Lego, true. But with Meccano? Seems to me you're overlooking the ability to bend flat steel members. Of course I recognize the disadvantages.
  • (I know nothing about NZ electricity).

    The key phrase here appears to be "competition". I live in the UK, and I hate the legacy of Thatcher. Maybe it's all working wonderfully for you guys down under, but we're screwed.

    How do you introduce competition in a railway system ? All we've seen are the train companies fighting to get out of each other's way and not compete on any services, a complete failure of the centralised group that maintains the fixed lines, failure of any through timetable, booking, or even ticket issuing services (don't expect to go in one side of London and out the other without queueing at least 3 times). Worst of all, we're now footing the bill for the directors of Railtrack to vote themselves massive pay increases when they've put up a poorer performance at management than the millienium dome.

    Maybe privatisation with competition works (good luck to you if it does). The lessons of the UK though are that privatisation with fake competition is a failure, and that privatisation loses what little accountability there was in the first place.

  • by dingbat_hp ( 98241 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @02:41AM (#98645) Homepage
    When I was a lad (a mere 10 years ago), Lego came in lots of little pieces.

    When I was a lad (a not so mere 30 years ago) Lego came in lots of little pieces and we made the same complaint about this "new fangled" stuff just appearing. There were windows that looked like windows, not square bricks ! I think it's an old "nostalgia isn't what it used to be" rant, and it's bogus.

    Now my own son (6) plays with his Lego, and my old stuff. He just doesn't care what shape the bricks are; a roof tile makes just as good a piece of pizza as it does a computer console.

    At his age, Lego isn't interesting as a construction toy. It's more about simple abstract constructs that are given meaning by their play context (if he says yesterday's castle tower is now a bus, then it's a bus). By the time he starts to think about it as an engineering problem solving tool (How do I find a thing that can reach sideways and have a hook on the end ?) he'll hopefully be too interested in using it to do the job, not worrying about the provenance of whether it's OK to make Giant Killer Roberts out of pink Belleville pieces.

  • I Got it about 1980-1981 as well...

    Us oldies...

    Anyway, I see there are several sets one can buy... there are some specialised sets which force you to build specific models etc, but I had the 1000 set... with many more pieces... and I can never remember having trouble building my own designs...

    Depends on the set, I guess.

  • I have looked...

    I cannot find it many places... I bet it is fetching huge amounts on e-bay though...

    PS: Some companies do still seem to be selling it.
  • Check out: Capsela [constructiontoys.com]

    .. at least for kids.

    I remember my first Meccano set... I lost a lot of little bits, and the rest rusted or broke.

    The problem with LEGO is that it's overpriced for bits of inert plastic, but otherwise it's cool, but not *that* cool.

    Capsela on the other had was cheap (at the time), and it was motorised. It also did not rust, and NEVER broke.
    I wish I could buy some again, but have not seen it in local stores for some time now...

  • by bockman ( 104837 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @04:32AM (#98651)
    And nowadays with universities considering (or allready have) switching to Java as their teaching language, the problem will only get worse

    If you want to teach how computers work, go for C (with some assembler).
    But if you want to teach logic and algorithms, such as sorting, stacks, etc ..., then higher level languages do a better job, because students are less distracted by syntax and hosekeeping problems.

  • The higher level languages let you program without all the tedious details.

    Which is exactly my point. It's not so much programming as it is data entry. The problem with people who don't learn those low levels of programming make poorer programmers, in general, than those that do. I hate to even say in general, I don't want a blanket statement that offends someone, but if you know what's really going on you have an edge, it's that simple.

  • My point exactly, it's frustrating just going to class with these people much less having to work with them.
  • I certainly agree, Java is like (just about) every other language, using only the basic you can build your own code libraries (which hopefaully at least sometimes are better than using others, at the very least you learn something). You're right that it is the IDE and not the language, (although there are times when Java is infuriating, sometimes the programmer is smarter that the compiler (and lang specification) and what appears to be code that's shooting yourself in the foot is actually a brilliant hack... but I digress) but on a higher level I'd have to say that it's the mindset of the differnt types of programmers. Most java programmers aren't like you (that I have met at least) and don't do much more than point this object at that one and compile. I imagine it's a natural progression, over time the level of common tasks in technical fields fall to a level where a larger portion of the population can do it. The lowere level stuff will be programmed by real programmers,... the people who write the java compilers and envrionments, the people who use java to write libraries for others to use.

    It's sad that if you were to go to a college campus today and talk to the students, you'd be hard pressed to find one in twenty that really enjoys programming. The future hacker who loves the details and understands computers. The rest are kids whose parents (or through their own ideas) told them that they could make a lot of money in computers. Which sadly sends some woefully underskilled and (dare I say) incompetent workers into the field. I realize I'm being a little elitist, but it's getting harder to find people who appreciate the art of programming, and get fired up over great code, killer algorithms, and elegant proofs in computer science.

  • That's not true. There is not always a better way. If I want blazin fast code I'll still write it in assembler. And I'll beat anyone else's code in a higher level language. The truth is that you should be using the right tool for the right job, somethings assembler is more appropriate for, and some that java is. The number of situations that assembler is needed for has not shrunk, the the frequency that an average coder encounters them has. The average coder today can skip along using others libraries indefinitely, because someone else with real skill came along and created them. If you'll forgive me an analogy, it's like cooking, I can't do it, but when I can buy the pre-made ingredients on a higher level than raw ingredients, do little more than combine them and heat, I've made a meal, but someone with some skill had to provide me with the tools to do it.

    The recent decline in status of assembler falls into the same category of those who say (and teach) such bullshit as "Computers are so fast nowadays you don't have to worry about speed", "Memory is so cheap and plentiful, you don't have to worry about size", and "Never, ever use a goto statement". All three of these statements are false, but that's the mentality that's being passed along. Which is fine when you do nothing more than write jsp pages (or whatever), but to get involved even a little with hard core "real" coding you're going o have to through this crap out the window.

  • I understand it fine, and I've designed plenty in Java, and I still feel it's not real programming. To put it bluntly it's slow, underpowered, and boring. The fact that demonstrating algorithms is better in a higher level language is better is an unwarranted claim. You don't back it up at all, it's nothing more than opinion. If you can't implement an algorithm without keeping track of the details at the same time, maybe you shouldn't be coding. I am fluent in java, I could use it exclusively if I wanted to but why? I much prefer writing for java in native c, at least then I get to do real work.
  • You are wrong. Number one there is always room for hand tuning. Number two, in the case of java you always have the overhead of the virtual machine.
  • And those of you who are so stupid to have to learn algorithms piss me off. You're just bitter that you have to study. Some of undestand with little or no problem.

    You've proven you're foolishness immediately by your very first statement. To even make the claim that every student in a class has the intention to learn is ridiculous, apparently you haven't been to school at all. The majority of students aren't there to learn, they're there to get a degree, which is a wholly separate thing. They don't care if they leave with the knowledge or not just as long as they get a passing grade. Graduating from school lacking knowledge is ENTIRELY the fault of the student. If a student leaves college with no knowledge it's because he/she did not put sufficient effort into it. The knowledge is there.

    Yeah I am an elitist, but I have every reason to be. You throw it around like it's a dirty word, I'm proud of my ability, and of course I look down on anyone who can't compete.

  • Actually I work well in a team, I can lead and be lead. Most of my reaction was over-reaction to being attacked and my inability to ignore trolls. I do not like Java. I can use it but I do not like it. It doesn't matter what language I'm asked to work in I am more than capable.

    As far as the difference between CS and SE, I know both, I'm damn good at both. I will admit that I'm more CS oriented, but I also believe that you have to be. I also believe that you need a deep understanding of CS to be a software engineer, otherwise you will always be surpassed by those with knowledge of the theory who can adapt to any situation.

  • I don't give a damn where you went to school. That's meaningless. I went to MIT so what? You have no idea how easily I handle algorithms, or design or anything else for that matter. You don't know how many degrees I have or what they're in.

    I can't even been to deconstruct your last paragraph. Who's being elitist now? They must not watch tv, or play with their kids, or just go outside because they are so busy too huh?

  • by jgerman ( 106518 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @03:12AM (#98663)
    It's kinda of funny you say that. Personally I find programming in languages like VB and Java less pregramming and more data entry. I don't know many VB programmers, but the overwhelming theme among Java programmers, in my experience, is grab components glue them together and you're done. While I apreciate that this is what these types of languages are for, it's not why I got into computer science. What scares me is that an alarming number of software engingeers that I've met can barely code well in C much less assembler. I saw it in school and I've seen it in the workplace. It amazed me that we graduate people who can barely pass an assembly language course because it's "too hard", and "doesn't make any sense". Programming in C, assembler, and lower level langauges teaches more about how a computer works that do the higher level languages, which is something IMHO that a good programmer needs in order to write solid code. And nowadays with universities considering (or allready have) switching to Java as their teaching language, the problem will only get worse. Of course, it's probably not the best idea to focus on only one language in any event. A much more effective education could be had by teaching a variety of languages, high and low level at the same time. The important thing in early computer education is understanding the concepts, but it's just as important to show how different languages handle those concepts from an early level. And not wait until a higher level course in programming languages. I've always thought that it would be a good idea instead of having deiscrete classes (and only (usually) two Intro to CS classes, to require students to take a series of courses everysemester in CS along with the subject specific classes that make up the degree. Come of the subject classes should be combined as well. I would have loved it had my architecture and operating systems classes combines into one year long class. It's not impossible that a class like that could be structured so that in the first semester you learn architecture and design or (even better build) a small computer and in the second half write an OS for it. In my school experience, however, the upper level classes were filled with kids that didn't have the slightest idea how to program Unix, much less be prepared for a course more intense.

    I'm not saying Java like languages don't have their place. They're great for building GUI's. But half the time it doesn't even seem like programming.

  • You've got a fair point here - perhaps the original post should've made some sort of point about monopolies. Cases in point - BT is now in competition with several companies (since I switched to Cable and Wireless I've had much lower bills and better service) and is going down the pan as a result. But Railtrack are the only ones who get control of the railways and allow carriers to run on them, so they can do what they like and they have passengers over a barrel because there's no alternative (which is why they can ask the government for millions of pounds subsidies one week, and give a huge payout to their shareholders or executives the next week).
  • True; it's now owned by a French company. But it was originally a British invention. From the article:
    ...Meccano, which this year celebrates the 100th anniversary of its invention by a Liverpool shipping clerk, Frank Hornby...
    Meccano made a fortune for Hornby, who had been inspired by the cranes in Liverpool's dockyards. Declining popularity, however, forced the closure of the Liverpool Meccano factory in 1979.
    I was unaware that Meccano was no longer made in the UK, and I suspect that most people in this country think the same.
  • by Dr_Cheeks ( 110261 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @03:15AM (#98666) Homepage Journal
    Ignoring for a sec what I've already said about the problems with the railways.....

    Lego is still a contruction toy that encourages kids to be inventive and use their imaginations - it provides more of an engineering experience than Action Man or Playstation or something, and has clearly been a major toy in the childhood of a lot of /.ers.

    We should encourage any toy that stimulates kids, not just the most complicated ones.

    I also suspect that there may be a patriotic side to this too (Meccanno is British like Sir Kroto, Lego is Danish), though of course that's just my unfounded speculation.

  • by Dr_Cheeks ( 110261 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @01:22AM (#98667) Homepage Journal
    Spot on there - the railways were constructed just fine, but then woefully neglected, particularly under the management of Railtrack. for those who don't live in the UK, Railtrack is the private body who took over management of the national rail network when it was privatised (and it was split up into several regional operators instead of just British Rail). This was supposed to improve services and revenue, but in fact it stinks.

    And Railtrack keep going to the government asking for more money (they're supposed to be a private company remember, not a nationalised service), and all they seem to do with the cash is come up with more reasons why they need more cash. BR wasn't great, but Railtrack are really poor (as is demonstrated by the terrible number of deaths and accidents over the past couple of years).

    Saying that giving more kids Meccano would solve this is totally unfounded. Whilst I respect Harry Kroto (he discovered Buckminster Fullerenes), and think that kids should be exposed to more engineering toys, I think that he's way off the mark with his comment.

  • Some professor at MIT once suggested, in the 1960s, that grade school students with high mechanical ability should be found early by testing, then shipped a big Erector set at no charge, funded by the Government.

    This was a serious proposal, back when staying ahead of the USSR technically was a major goal of American education. Bell Labs used to send out free electronics kits to students.

    I had "From Sun to Sound", with a solar cell, speaker, and transistor. You had to build your own capacitor from foil and waxed paper, and they didn't tell you the dimensions; you had to calculate them.

  • Uh, my boyz (4 and 5 years olde) have:

    - Lotso ThomasTheTankEngine Stuff
    - The plastic beginners erector stuff
    - All 3 sizes of Lego plus the sound-module jet thing
    - No computers or gameboy's or anything (there isn't one in the house)

    Why not have both?

    I'm a developer and manager with 20+ years experience, not a luddite by any means. But I'm convinced that, at least for the next couple of years, these types of toys are better than a peecee with even the best educational software.

    Just think - most folks spend $1,000 on a peecee. If I spent that much on an erector set, my boyz would put Pinky and the Brain out of business!
  • I've had both. The truth is that Erector sets are a great idea, but at the end of the day you feel more like a mechanic than an artist when you're done with an Erector piece. Also, keep in mind that Erector/Meccano seems to be primarily an engineering thing, whereas probably a majority of Lego geeks probably go in more for architecture than mechanics. They really do occupy separate (though overlapping) problem spaces -- and a Lego castle just looks better, dammit :-)

    What I was always a fan of was Pipeworks. You can get Quadro now, which is essentially the same thign -- I used to build gokarts with them and race them down driveways.

  • Yes, Capsela was great. I remember a day back in 1981 or so (wow I'm old!) when my Dad brought me to work for Bring-Your-Son-To-Work Day but I spent the first half of the morning in the car, building a motorized, mechanized, floating Capselized boat. Wow! I couldn't wait to rush into a bathroom, flood a bathroom sink with water and watch it propel itself a full 4" from side to side.

    The problem with Capsela, which is why I guess they went out of business or stopped production, is that the pieces were too specialized. So it was great for building individual models out of the manual, but too difficult for me as a 7 year old kid to envision my own designs. Legos--oops, "Lego Building Blocks(tm)"--on the other hand, didn't build quite as wonderful motorized models, but they did give you smaller building blocks that allowed for a variety of models and let my imagination run wild. I suppose that's why I have no idea where that Capsela set is, while my cherished Lego sets remain built and stored to this day.

  • I always turned their heads around, so you had a blank yellow visor on the space helmet. It turned them from cheery little spacement into my faceless minions of doom.
  • by IronChef ( 164482 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @07:21AM (#98698)
    From the Zometools web page:


    Regular Polygons
    And many more!

  • I never had Legos.

    I had an erector set. It had sharp edges, a million little pieces, and I could never think of anything interesting to do with it.

    I got my start programming with

    • Think-A-Dot
    • DigiComp I
    Think-A-Dot was a plastic box with 8 flip-flops inside. You dropped marbles in the top to toggle them.

    DigiComp I was a 3-bit state machine, implemented in plastic. I spent hours programming it when I was 9 or 10.

  • Nowadays, Lego comes in HUGE custom pieces.

    They do that to keep the cost down.

    Each big (hollow) custom piece replaces anywhere from 10 to 100 individual bricks in a Lego kit. This enables them to sell the kit at an affordable price.

  • The problem I have with your statement is... well, I could care less about assembler code! The fact of the matter is that the only people that should care about it, or need it are the people that are writing the compilers, assemblers, linkers and loaders.
    Alas, I despair for the world of technology. Understanding assembler goes hand in hand with understanding computer architecture. If you do not have at least a basic understanding of computer architecture, then I find it very scary that you could even graduate from a B.S. in CS program.

    I agree that you probably will never need to write assembly code, but understanding how assembly works on different platforms allows you to optimize your code for a variety of architectures.

  • Ok, in that case I can agree with you. It's not usually such a great idea to break out the ol' assembly code. However, it is certainly a very good idea to understand assembly code, and to know how it works on various machines.

  • don't forget about Capsella, tinkertoys, and of course that damn log house building set... e.
  • by CaptainZapp ( 182233 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @01:21AM (#98720) Homepage
    Meccano teaches engineering and architectural skills in a way that Lego doesn't. If we had more Meccano, we would have railways that worked.

    I take it the gentleman refers to the trainsystem in ol' Blighty and I agree that it doesn't really work well; however I don't really link that to the rising popularity of Lego and the decline of Meccano, but more to the following factors:

    Miss Thatchers unprecedented privatisation blizzard, which essentially wrecked all British utilities, by guaranteeing end user prices beyond believe without the necessity to invest into maintenance.

    I don't think it's really efficient to split a national train system into umpteen private companies, each one of them considering stockholder profit far more important then customer satisfaction, clean trains or even security. The safety record of the British rail system is probably the worst in Europe, which brings us to another issue:

    Railtrack, the infamous privatized infrastructure company, with an abyssimal track record for just about everything. Now, please repeat loud and clear: If any infrastructure of national importance is outsourced to a private entity you're fucked! The moment this happens profits are more important then the public...

    You see, the UK is living proove for this fact: Watersupply, train system, electricity is about the most expensive in Europe, but provides the most rotten service to their customers. Just ask a fireman about what they did to the water pressure in order to avoid fines for water leaked through the rotten pipe system and no! the fire brigades don't consider this to be funny.

    So sir, the demise of the British rail system is not due to Lego or Meccano, but due to greed, buddy favors and quite likely corrupt politicians.

    No need to thank me...

  • by jesterzog ( 189797 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @02:34AM (#98724) Homepage Journal

    I think the original quote for that was from Kristian Wilson of Nintendo in 1989:

    "Computer games don't affect kids; I mean if Pac-Man affected us as kids, we'd all be running around in darkened rooms, munching magic pills and listening to repetitive electronic music."

    (Kristian Wilson, Nintendo, Inc, 1989.)

  • by Elvis Maximus ( 193433 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @01:10AM (#98727) Homepage

    As I understand it, the problems with British railways have a lot less to do with engineering than with finance and administration. Maybe all those kids who grew/are growing up on Railway Tycoon will be better equipped to realize that half-assed privatization is not a good idea.


  • by ishark ( 245915 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @04:32AM (#98761)
    My friend's son has a lego sports car, out of the "Technic" series of kits. This thing is actually quite impressive. Working shifting mechinism+gearbox (5 speeds plus reverse),

    As some other poster noted, LEGO has the problem that with time it's moving toward the "few specialized pieces" approach instead of the "lots of unspecialized pieces". Technic is following the same trend: if you grab hold of the ORIGINAL technic boxes you'll see that they had very very few pieces, but they managed nevertheless to build objects of high complexity. I owned most of them as a kid (they still sit somewhere at my parent's), and in particular I remember the first "car" box, featuring 4-piston engine, gearbox (3 speeds, I think), steering wheel, adjustable seats, and all of this done with basically the classic lego pieces plus 20-30 parts (shafts, wheels,....).

    What's more interesting is that with the same parts you could build anything else, since they were absolutely non-specialized, pushing creativity much more that the current sets.

    See what I mean at this site [sunysb.edu].

  • by Kraft ( 253059 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @02:01AM (#98766) Homepage
    As a Dane, critisism of Lego always touches a sensitive spot (you DO know that Lego is from Denmark, right? ;) but you are really on to something here.

    The blocks are bigger now than before. However, I saw an interview with a chief designer/engineer at Lego on Danish TV a year ago, and he said that this was a trend Lego got into in the 90's, and that they wanted to move away from it, as many of their customers were complaining about it..... so there's hope :)

    BTW, a tidbit you might appreciate: A couple of years ago part of the LEGO Technic [lego.com] assortment was targeted in Danish newspapers towards adult men! A picture of 40 year old man in a suit toying around with a few pieces. I thought it was so cool, but I don't think it was a commercial success. I guess girlfriends would rather buy sweaters than toys for they husbonds for Xmas.

    Oh yeah.... another tidbit.... LEGOs longterm vision: Programmable intelligent blocks - think OBJECTS! Very cool that LEGO, which AFAIK inspired OOP, now wants to take the idea back and use it to develop themselves.

  • by Zeinfeld ( 263942 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @07:19AM (#98780) Homepage
    There are plenty of sucessful British engineers. Silicon valey is full of them, as is the area arround Cambridge. Fewer Brits go into mechanical engineering than they once did, but that is simply because there is much more happening in other fields.

    The only really cutting edge areas for mechanical engineering are manufacture of ICs and Formula One racing. Perhaps the ignorant fool has not noticed but the British Formula One industry is a multi-billion dollar concern. Also Ford may have closed the plant making the Ford Fiesta (budget hatchback) in Halewood, but they replaced it with the plant making the Jaguar X-Type.

    I had a Meccano set growing up, a number 6 set with several extras. The box must have weighed about 30 or 40 lb. At the time the same set new would have cost several hundred pounds. Today it would probably cost over a thousand.

    I also had lego and from an earlier age. Most kids can't start with lego until they are 9, they don't have the strength to do the bolts. You can start with the duplo lego at 3 and on the real stuff by 6.

    When technical lego first came out it was very much a competitor for Meccano. As time has gone on though they seem to have dumbed it down. Most sets have at least one unique piece so that to build it you have to buy the set.

    Unfortunately the comp-sci version of Meccano has yet to be written. When I grew up with the Commodore PET and the ZX-80 personal computers were pretty simple and well within the understanding of a 12 year old. Today the PC is beyond anyone's understanding.

  • by Caid Raspa ( 304283 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @02:54AM (#98782)
    To me, this sounds just like a traditional 'grandpa rant' that I used hear at the dinner table every Sunday when I was a kid.

    When I was younger, we didn't have any of those (modern gadget)s. We had the (old junk), that was good and lasted forever. Now, the kids can't even...

    My Grandpa wasn't a nobelist, so he didn't make it to the news, but that's the only difference I can see.

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @03:43AM (#98784) Homepage
    • My friend's son has a lego sports car, out of the "Technic" series of kits. This thing is actually quite impressive.

    Isn't that just preparing him for a job on an assembly line?

    Sure, Lego Technic is fun, but Mecanno encourages you to invent new things.

  • by Hasie ( 316698 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @03:32AM (#98794)
    I had a similar discussion with a friend of mine a while back about LEGO vs computers. When we grew up we played with LEGO, but kids growing up today play with computers. I think this is a much greater problem that the LEGO/Meccano debate. Our current generation is growing up with no understanding of mechanical systems. You can get computer programs to design LEGO structures without ever touching a LEGO block!

    I also don't think much of modern LEGO. The sets I grew up with had hundreds of little pieces that could be used to make all sorts of things, but the modern sets have a few large pieces that can only really make one design. This is a pity. In fact, if you look at the really good LEGO models on the 'Net, they use lots of small pieces rather than a few big pieces.

  • by infinite9 ( 319274 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @08:12AM (#98796)

    OK, as an IT consultant and lego fan, I feel compelled to speak (type). I got into lego in 1976 and I'm now a hard-core collector, 300-400 sets. I've also run an online parts auction and bought and sold many sets on e-bay

    In my opinion, lego has changed greatly over the years. Sets got more complicated, then a lot less complicated. But still, it's silly to go to the store and look at the shelves and only use that subset of available sets to develop an opinion as a whole. What's happened to town sets in the last few years is very sad. Buildings used to be made of many smaller bricks, now they're fewer, larger pieces. But that's just what's on the shelves. There's a complete line of very good train sets that are largely only available from lego shop at home. The same is also true for technic sets.

    I've played with erector sets and I believe that they can't compare to lego technic. Lego technic has transmissions, differentials, crown gears, bicycle style chains, spring-loaded pieces, pneumatics, and electric lights and motors, as well as countless connectors in all shapes and sizes that can produce literally anything. As an example, I'm currently working on a motorized Lego gatling gun.

    So to me, lego is easily more advanced than erector sets. As an example, have a look at set #8888, which is the black super car. It had a v8 with working pistons, a working transmission, 4 wheel steering, 4 wheel independant suspension, and 4 wheel drive through three differentials and constant velocity joints.

  • by Yorrike ( 322502 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @01:42AM (#98804) Homepage Journal
    You're talking out your arse.

    New Zealand has a privatised electricity production industry and it keeps electricity prices down. It's a little thing called competition.

    Repeat loud and clear: If any infrastructure of national importance is outsourced to a private entity with competiton, prices and service will plummet and sky rocket respectively. The reason? Money. If people don't like your prices or service, they'll likely to drop you and give their cash to your competiton.

    Before New Zealand's power and rail systems were privatised, they were a shambles. NZRail employed people who did nothing but maintain disused stretches of track - what a waste of my money and on a service I don't even use.

    So mate, next time you want to go ranting about privatisation being "bad", kindly remove your blinkers and look at more than one case before forming an opinion.


  • by Yorrike ( 322502 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @01:17AM (#98805) Homepage Journal
    When I was a lad (a mere 10 years ago), Lego came in lots of little pieces. I had to think of ways to make the overall shapes using lots of tiny parts so all of those parts made whatever I was building, work.

    Nowadays, Lego comes in HUGE custom pieces. The sheer number of blocks you get in a Lego set these days is tiny compared to when I was 10. It involves a lot less thinking.

    You could draw a parallel with Windows/Linux. Linux comes in lots of little pieces (in a big box of course), and to get your OS to work the way you want it to, you have to make sure all those pieces are compatable.

    With Windows, you get huge custom pieces that can't be used for much else than the picture on the front of the box.

    Modern Lego just dumbs the whole process down if you ask me.


  • by janpod66 ( 323734 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @05:00AM (#98806)
    I never really liked Lego. But Meccano/Erector Set also seemed pretty limited. To me, the most interesting construction toy was Fischer Technik [fischertechnik.de]. It offered many more options for building mechanical devices than either Lego or Meccano, and it offered analog and digital control circuitry, as well as computer interfaces, long before Lego. Fischer Technik is still a great system for prototyping and is actually used in industry for that purpose.
  • by ascii(64) ( 454365 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @02:01AM (#98818) Homepage
    If games would affect kids then by think of all the "pacman" playing there where in the 80's.

    That would mean that we would by now have a bunch of teenagers running around in dark rooms, listening to monotonous music and eating pills..


  • by ThePilgrim ( 456341 ) on Monday July 09, 2001 @01:41AM (#98821) Homepage
    Part of the problem is that when Rail Track (RT) took over thy found they wher paying all this people near retirment age to wandet up and down the line every night.

    As they where spending all the time streaching their legs and they where so close to retirment age any way RT sacked them.

    3 years on RT is wondering where all their enginears are and why no one seams to inspect/understand large sections of the inferstructure any more

There's no such thing as a free lunch. -- Milton Friendman