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The Syngress Commissions

Among the many pleasures that Lego has brought me was the chance to participate in creating three books related to the hobby. I was one of the lucky builders approached by Syngress Publishing during the writing of "Building Robots with Lego Mindstorms" and then later to continue their series of Lego books. All in all, apart from a brief mention of Hammerhead in the book mentioned above, I'm at least partly responsible for the content of three other Syngress books.

For obvious contractual reasons, I cannot release the DATs or or text related to the creations featured in the books here. But the most interesting mechanisms have been or will be used in models eventually featured in these pages. Please be a bit patient while I articulate the little time I can devote to the hobby around so many different tasks.

"10 Cool LEGO® MINDSTORMS™ Dark Side Robots, Transports, and Creatures"

10 Cool LEGO® MINDSTORMS™ Dark Side Robots, Transports, and Creatures This was the first Lego book published by Syngress after "Building Robots with Lego Mindstorms", but unlike its precedent, it was conceived in the manner of the Lego instructions books. It contains step-by-step instructions for 10 different models created by 4 different builders from around the world using only parts found on set 9754-1 "Dark Side Developer Kit". My contributions are LOU, a guitar playing android and the Imperial Hound, a beast I'd rather not meet.

This assignment brought back to at least some of the builders the primal Lego experience of stretching the content of a single kit to its maximum possibilities – and hopefully we have passed along some of that spirit to the reader. This project convinced me that the "Dark Side Developer Kit" is a great kit from Lego, both by itself and as part of a larger collection.

As for my two models in particular, there is room for improvement - as is usual. In the book, I use a balancing act for LOU's playing arm. A much better alternative (which I did not know of a the time of writing) is to use one the Technic ribbed hoses used for his ZZ-Top inspired beard as a flex-axle of sorts. The imperial hound could be rebuilt so that patting its head activates the light sensor and the creature becomes somewhat more tame. I might sit down one day and build it myself. In which case, you'll see it here.

Finally, I can't finish without mentioning the incredible work done by Kevin Clague initially as part of this assignment. Kevin authored the first version of the excellent Lpub utility for this book. This application allows any Ldraw user to create professional-looking Lego instructions sets at a fraction of the time and complication that it once was. Although it has to be said that it accomplishes it by integrating other excellent tools such as L3P and POVray. Syngress Publishing was very generous in allowing the release of the utility to the Lego users' community at large. Kevin (A.K.A. "the Tireless") has improved it much since the days of the perl script that suddenly made a huge difference to a bunch of builders-turned-authors ...

(LOU also inspired me to make a short Lego Movie: "Life and death of a Lou")

LEGO Software Power Tools, Including LDraw, MLCad, LPub, and Lsynth

LEGO Software Power Tools, Including LDraw, MLCad, LPub, and Lsynth This was the first published book devoted entirely to the Ldraw system (Jin Sato had already devoted part of his Lego Mindstorms book to the subject). I accepted the assignment both excited and terrified at the task. Any tutorial of the Ldraw system should not only cover the technical aspects of it, but also convey the community spirit that brought it to life and still fuels it. I hope we achieved both.

The book was co-written by Kevin Clague, who is also the author of two pieces of software covered in it: Lsynth and Lpub.The manuscript was reviewed by Lars C. Hassing, author of the L3P application that translates Ldraw data into POVRay. I feel roughly half as smart as they are, so please credit them for the high points and I'll take blame me for the blunders.

The book covers MLCAD, Lsynth and Lpub extensively, including an introduction to the Ldraw file format, buffer exchanges and a very handy (although necessarily complex) explanation of rotation matrices. Some readers have expressed their wish to see more material on rendering techniques. I intend to follow-up on this request with a series of articles/tutorials/columns (final form yet to be defined) dedicated to the subject specially oriented towards beginners. Once again, when that comes, you will find it on these pages.

LEGO Mindstorms Masterpieces: Building and Programming Advanced Robots

LEGO Mindstorms Masterpieces: Building and Programming Advanced Robots This is the last book (so far) published by Syngress on Lego. Intended as a follow-up of sorts to the fantastic "Building Robots with Lego Mindstorms", this book combines the best of both worlds: comprehensive textual explanations along with step-by-step instructions for some fairly complex machinery created by builders from all over the world.

This time around, we were given free rein to use whatever parts we chose, which allowed us to create sophisticated machines built around smaller subsystems. The reader might want to replicate a complete model or might simply benefit from a (very specific) detail of one. If "Building robots with Lego Mindstorms" brought college-level stuff to the masses, this book reads like a doctorate degree covering such fields as pneumatic computation or vehicular science.

My contribution to this work is the Shape-Shifting Camera Tank (SSCT for short). It is a shape-shifting vehicle based on the Variable Geometry Tracked Vehicle (VGTV) produced by the robotics firm Inuktun. The original VGTV is a search and rescue robot capable of crawling into tight crevices by becoming flat and peeking or even going over taller obstacles by changing the form of its tracks.

One very interesting subsystem that I came up with for the SSCT mechanically couples the output of two motors of a tracked vehicle with two clutch gears so that both tracks turn at the same speed when going in the same direction (while allowing for a decoupling while turning). A similar subsystem is used in Differtimento. In this case, the same mechanism automatically adapts the wheelbase during turns as well. There is a simpler model in the pipeline which will illustrate this concept in a much clearer way. However, this prototype is currently still in production.

The other novel mechanism of the SSCT it, of course, the form-changing tracks. The book includes a detailed mathematical explanation of how to calculate the exact lengths and locations of attachments needed to keep the proportions right (and the chain from bursting). However, there is also a very simplified shape-shifting tracked model coming. It will most probably be the next major addition to this website.

All in all, my dearest wish is for these books to entirely satisfy the reader. Please don't hesitate to contact me if that is not the case and I'll my best to make it up to you. In any case, thank you very much for reading me.

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