Dec 24, 2009

Not Enough Parts

I have been following the difficulties surrounding the introduction of the LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0. There is a lot of literature available that has building instructions for Mindstorms creations. Most of the instructions assume that you have the NXT 1.0 set, so the instructions are centered around that set. The NXT 1.0 was all that was available when the book, website or blog entry was written.

There are a lot of people new to NXT that are buying the 2.0 set, not realizing or thinking about the fact that there was a 1.0 set that was made before the 2.0 set and that there could be any difference in the building elements that LEGO would include in one set or the other.

Building with the NXT set reminds me of many years ago when I was much younger and the popular building set was the Erector Set. This was the best thing to get if you wanted to build things that were not just “glue it together and put it on the shelf” plastic model kits. For Christmas one year (many, many, many years ago) Santa brought me an Erector Set. The “Big Set”, lots of parts, and some getting started instructions of how to build several things; they were great! The getting started models helped me to understand how to use the building elements included in the Erector Set. I built many a contraption with my “Big Set”. But after awhile it was not enough, there were just not enough bits and pieces to build all the things I wanted to build. My imagination was much bigger than my “Big Set”. So I convinced my parents to buy me the Erector “Expansion Set”. With my new “Expansion Set” I could build many more things, but I after awhile I still ran out of pieces, so I needed another “Expansion Set”. Does any of this sound familiar?

A generation or two later in 2006 enter the Mindstorms NXT! Wow, now we can build anything in our imagination and we can program an on-board computer to make it do almost anything we want. For many of us it was our first Mindstorms set, our introduction to NXT and all the wonderful things we can create. Many folks started websites to highlight their creations. Writers wrote books teaching others how to build things and how to program using NXT-G and other programming languages to make our creations more than just a model to stick on a shelf. All was right with the world, there was the Mindstorms set, there were web sites, there were books there were blogs all centered around the NXT 1.0 and what we could build with just the elements included in that set. Nothing else required. Those were the golden ages. We could build and discuss what we built and we knew we had the parts necessary to build many wonderful things.

Then in January 2009 LEGO announced the Mindstroms NXT 2.0 set. Wow! Wonderful! A new set, new elements we can all build new and different robots. But then in August 2009 LEGO actually starting shipping the NXT 2.0 set and the problems began. It was not a problem for the folks who already had a NXT 1.0, It was just a welcome addition to the NXT line of products. But for the folks new to NXT there was a big problem! The NXT 2.0 set did not include all the pieces that were included with the NXT 1.0 set so the websites and books and building instructions did not match. The folks who bought the NXT 2.0 could not build the wonderful things that we as NXT 1.0 owners could build. Not enough parts! The folks new to NXT (with the 2.0 set) were outraged, they had purchased books on how to build many wonderful things with the promise that they could build all these things with just the parts included in the base NXT set. They did not realize that the books were written for the NXT 1.0 set and that they had purchased a NXT 2.0 set or that there would be any difference in the building elements included in the NXT 2.0 set. Just look at some of the book reviews from outraged consumers about the fact that they purchased this new Mindstorms NXT (2.0) set and some books to build beyond the box, only to find out that the books had building instructions for creations that they could not build because they did not have all the necessary parts. They did not know why they did not have enough parts, they just knew they did not have the parts and there was a promise on the cover of the book that everything could be built with what was in one NXT kit. Not enough parts! It is unfortunate that LEGO did not include all the parts from the NXT 1.0 in the NXT 2.0; life would have been so much easier for the folks who write the books and maintain the web sites, but that is not what happened.

I hate to break it to you, but you will never have enough parts! Remember my experience with the Erector sets? Not enough parts!

I look at the NXT 2.0 (or 1.0) like the Erector Set, “Big Set”. It includes a lot of parts. But it is just a start. I believe that is what LEGO really intended; give the consumer just enough parts to build many interesting things, but not enough to build everything possible that could be built with Mindstorms. Think about it. If LEGO made a kit that included everything anyone would ever want or need in one kit, that kit would be so large that the average person could not lift it. More importantly very few could afford it. So LEGO gave us the “Big Set”! A very nice starter set.

Some folks may have enough elements included in the base NXT 1.0 or 2.0 set to build everything they want. But many of us are not going to have enough parts included in the base set to build all we want. Not enough parts!

My suggestion is to build all the wonderful things you can build with your set (1.0 or 2.0), then start collecting building elements to build different, bigger and more complex devices, robots or whatever you can imagine. We can build many wonderful things with just what is included in the base set, but remember – The NXT 1.0 or NXT 2.0 set is just a start!

If life gives you LEGO®, build robots!

Andy Dannelley

5 comments:

Brian Davis said...

Actually Andy, I suspect this may go right back to the "do your homework" issue on some (perhaps even many) occasions. Many folks who use both the books and the websites simply want to copy the robots there, with little or no innovation. I guess that's fine... but those sorts of people, who would like everything supplied to them, are the ones that will have a problem with limited parts from LEGO. Again, they want it quick and easy ("I don't want to have to shop on BrickLink... I don't want / can't afford to acquire a significant stockpile of parts"). The fact that LEGO is a *design medium* is what is being lost.

Which is really too bad. People are paying for an entire toolbox, and using just the hammer. I wonder if there's a way, just like with the folks that think getting a piece of paper is the point of an education, to teach people that the process, not the product, is the goal here.

Andy Dannelley said...

Brian,

Your last thought really hit home with me. I am also a teacher (a professor at a local community college) and what you said is something I really strive for with my students. ..."the point of an education, to teach people that the process, not the product, is the goal ..."

I do believe we can help people here to learn more about the process and have a great time with NXT.

Thanks for your comments,

Andy

LEGOmom said...

"the point of an education, to teach people that the process, not the product, is the goal ..."

Yes! Yes! and Yes! to the above, the post, and Brian's comment. You hit the nail on the head. Here's a sad story. A friend of a friend bought an NXT kit for their DS. Just like all his other LEGO kits, he built a model w/ the NXT (didn't program it or anything) and simply put it on the shelf for display. That's it. There it will remain forever and they will buy him the next new thing. I was flummoxed. Now, if that floats your boat...float away but I think it misses the heart of what LEGO is meant to be.

I post on a few parent/education boards and the subject of the NXT comes up around Xmas time. I try to understand what they want. Do they want a robot where you clap your hands, push a few buttons, it learns a few tricks and everyone has fun and moves on? Or do you want a product that you may likely have to learn/do with your kids, experience some frustration when things don't go as planned, learn more from that frustration than when things go as written, then NXT is for you. So many people would post how they bought their kids an NXT and it just sat there, an expensive toy that no one knew what to do with and they regret the purchase. My friend bought her kids an NXT LAST Christmas and they have yet to do anything with it b/c she is intimidated by it. We live on opposite coasts or I'd have fixed that a long time ago. I told her to just let her DD build a model from the kit and let her run with it. Learn with her. My DS9 quickly surpassed me and that's OK! When we're stuck, I have Brian's email. Ha Ha Ha. BTW Brian, next week will be doing more testing w/ NXT-G edu version data logging and the digital thermometers to try and figure out why that doesn't work as expected. I'll post what we've done so far at the forum for others who may want to chime in. Case in point, my DS has learned so much in thinking about what controls to run to test the thermometers than he would have it all had worked as planned. As a scientist, I expect failure most of the time. 8-)

I think a lot of the *toys* today reflect our culture....I want it now, I want it quick, I want it done for me. I've heard from several parents of kids w/ 9-10yrs that have stated that the kids now say at 9yrs old "I'm too old for LEGOs, I only play with video games." Sigh....

Waiting for kids to wake up so they can open presents (more LEGOs!!!) Unfortunately, I don't think Santa brought mom her own NXT2.0 kit. 8-(

LEGOmom

Andy Dannelley said...

Maybe some of these folks who just build from books and websites and whatnot will become inspired to build their own creations one day.

We can't all start out building new-never-before-seen creations. Most of us (me included) have to copy a few things to see how it's done, then use that knowledge to build new and wonderful things.

Maybe some folks who get a NXT and just let it set on the shelf will one day get an idea and the motivation to create.

Andy

Joe said...

I certainly didn't expect to find this while googling!
What I googled was hardly related to the topic of this post, but it certainly was a good read.

I enjoyed reading this. I thank you.

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