Presto: Jordan had used the cow's weird behavior to create, in effect, a random-number generator inside Minecraft. It was an ingenious bit of problem-solving, something most computer engineers I know would regard as a great hack -- a way of coaxing a computer system to do something new and clever.
In addition to learning about logic and computer science, various educators have also touted Minecraft's lessons in civics, design, planning, and even philosophy. If you've ever seen little kids playing with blocks, you've noticed that some of those potential lessons there too.
Block-play was, in the European tradition, regarded as a particularly "wholesome" activity; it's not hard to draw a line from that to many parents' belief that Minecraft is the "good" computer game in a world full of anxiety about too much "screen time."
Among the parents I know, Minecraft is not classified as a game...it's very much tied to education.1 And when listening to the kids and their friends talk about it, if you can get past the endless chatter about zombies and diamond armor, their understanding of the whole world of possibilities is quite sophisticated.
And I can't resist commenting on this little aside about Lego:
Today many cultural observers argue that Lego has moved away from that open-ended engagement, because it's so often sold in branded kits: the Hogwarts castle from "Harry Potter," the TIE fighter from "Star Wars."
Until very recently, I was in that camp of cultural observers, frustrated by the brands and paint-by-number aspect of contemporary Lego kits. But my kids play with Lego a ton and I've observed plenty of open-ended engagement going on. Sure, they sit for 20-30 minutes putting the kits together using directions, but after they're "done", the real play begins. Ollie's Star Wars ships dock at Minna's birthday party. Soon, beach goers are wearing Stormtrooper helmets and Vader's eating cupcakes. None of the "finished" products survive more than a few minutes without being augmented or taken apart to make something different. Ships take on wheels from previous kits and become delivery trucks (with cool laser cannons). Parts from every station, house, vehicle, and landscape get remixed into whatever's necessary for their dramatic play. It's like jazz with injection molded plastic.
On my iPad, I have a screen full of educational apps that the kids can work with pretty much anytime they want without asking. (To play Alto's Adventure or Subway Surfer, they have to ask.) Minecraft is not on this screen -- and I had to explain my decision on this specifically to the kids -- but this article may have persuaded me to add it.↩
Lego and Disney are teaming up for a Star Wars: The Force Awakens video game, out this summer. The trailer for it is possibly more fun than the movie was and is well worth watching if you enjoyed The Lego Movie.
Yes, yes, it is fascinating. At least when Bill Hammack, aka Engineer Guy, explains how it all works. Don't miss the bit at the end for how quietly ingenious Lego's injection molding process is. (via digg)
Nice four-minute video about how the creators of The Lego Movie used CGI to make the movie look like it was 100% constructed with real Lego bricks with fingerprints and everything and animated in stop motion.
I've watched it twice with my kids, and The Lego Movie was way better than it had any right to be. They so easily could have bollocksed the whole thing up. Maybe the secret is Chris Pratt? Guardians of the Galaxy was better than it should have been as well. I'm bearish on Jurassic World, but come on Indy! (via devour)
In our home, Lego currently rules the roost...the kids (a boy and a girl) spend more time building with Lego than doing anything else. This weekend, they worked together to build a beach scene, with a house, pool, lifeguard station, car, pond (for skimboarding), and surfers. Dollhouse stuff basically. Then they raced around the house with Lego spaceships and race cars. Nailed it, 1970s Lego.
My kids and I went to the new Lego Store in the Flatiron this weekend, and I again noticed how freaking expensive Lego sets are. The Death Star set is $400 + tax and even small sets are $30-40. Afterward I wondered if renting Lego sets would be an economically viable business and sure enough, someone is giving it a go: Pley. It works a bit like Netflix's DVD service: you pay a flat subscription fee each month and can check out as many sets as you want, one at a time. Doesn't look like they rent out Lego Stephen Hawking or Lego Mona Lisa though.
If you missed it in the theater (like us), The Lego Movie is available to buy on Amazon right now. I mean, you could wait until mid-June for the DVD/Blu-ray, but one of your kids' friends is going to see it this way and come to school and lord it over your kid that he saw THE LEGO MOVIE AT HOME and then your kid is going to feel bad and why would you want that so you should just buck up and watch it already so your kid can have the cool cred at school for once and parlay that into greater social & academic success and then she'll get into Harvard and have a fantastic life. What I'm saying is, watch The Lego Movie now and your child will become President basically. Why wouldn't you want that? Are you history's greatest monster? Ok, I'm calling child services...
Some Hollywood people are making a Lego movie called The Lego Movie. Batman's in it and the plot is from The Matrix. I can't decide if it looks horrible or amazing.
An ordinary guy named Emmet (Chris Pratt) is mistaken as being the Master Builder, the one who can save the Lego universe. With the aid of an old mystic named Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), a tough young lady named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), and Batman (Will Arnett), Emmet will fight to defeat the evil tyrant Lord Business (Will Ferrell) who is bent on destroying the Lego universe by gluing it together.
The Wikipedia page notes The Lego Movie Video Game will be released in conjunction with the movie. Which, if you're following along, is a video game based on a movie based on stacking toys & figures containing characters based on other movies that are based on comic books. I can't wait for The Lego Movie Videogame Comic Book Movie that comes out in 2019.
Vitamins is a design studio in London that made a wall calendar out of Lego. They also built a mechanism to sync an online calendar to the Lego one: you just take a photo of the Lego calendar and send it to a special email address and voilà!
Now that I have a 5-year-old, I pay attention to things like Star Wars branded Lego sets. And they are a rip off. Why are these little plastic bricks so expensive? The cheapest set I can find is $7, most of the minifigs are more expensive than that, many sets are a few hundred dollars, and the most expensive sets are the price of a used car: there's a Lego Star Destroyer for $1600 and a Lego Millenium Falcon for $3400.
Now get off my lawn!
Update: Ah, the Star Destroyer and Millenium Falcon are discontinued and collectable, that's why they are thousands of dollars. Original prices were $300-500. It's so difficult to tell these things on Amazon when you're old and crotchety and and and wait, where are my pants? (thx, everyone)
Rhett Allain from Wired asked and then answered, "could you build a scale Lego model of the Death Star?" Using the scale of the Lego people as a guide, Allain estimated that the Lego Death Star would be much taller than the world's tallest buildings and weigh more than 2 billions tons. My favorite bit: a visual of what the Lego Death Star would look like in low earth orbit. "That's no moon" indeed. (via @educurate)
Every family, it seems, has its own set of words for describing particular Lego pieces. No one uses the official names. "Dad, please could you pass me that Brick 2x2?" No. In our house, it'll always be: "Dad, please could you pass me that four-er?"
8-Bit Trip is the result of two brothers spending 1,500 hours moving LEGO bricks and taking pictures. An homage to 1980s video-games, it's considered by many to be the greatest among the micro-genre of LEGO music videos, sometimes known as brickfilms. Originally made famous by director Michel Gondry for his work with the White Stripes, these block-by-block masterpieces are now being put to more use than just trippy visuals for killer beats, recently there was a LEGO PSA for bicyclists, warning against the dangers of running red lights.
In the United States, Lego's biggest market and the biggest toy market in the world, games with themes like "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" were among the reasons Lego sales jumped 32 percent last year, well above the global pace. But experts like Dr. Jonathan Sinowitz, a New York psychologist who also runs a psychological services company, Diagnostics, wonders at what price these sales come.
"What Lego loses is what makes it so special," he says. "When you have a less structured, less themed set, kids have the ability to start from scratch. When you have kids playing out Indiana Jones, they're playing out Hollywood's imagination, not their own."
Even toy analysts who admire the company and its recent success acknowledge a broad shift. "I would like to see more open-ended play like when we were kids," says Gerrick Johnson, a toy analyst at BMO Capital Markets in New York. "The vast majority is theme-based, and when you go into Toys "R" Us, you'd really be challenged to find a simple box of bricks."
Man, when even the financial analysts are saying that you need more open-ended play toys, you've really gone off the rails.
 Attention Lego pedants: I know I'm supposed to call them LEGO® plastic stacking bricks or some crap like that but Legos is just so much easier. ↩
I bought a pile of the standard bricks and -- as an experiment -- this Star Wars kit to see how ridiculous the pieces were. On the box, it appears to be made of all-kinds of single-use bits. Building it told a different story. The feet of the walker turn out to be the same part as the bodies of the Droids. Some of the joints are re-purposed guns. There are dozens of little clever things so that as you follow the instructions, there is moment after moment of discovery. "Oh, I can do THAT with that part?"
In the early 1960's Godtfred was building a new house and, naturally, he tried to model the structure with Lego bricks. The problem was that the Lego brick, with an aspect ratio of 6:5, was different than standard European construction modules of 1:1. Rather than contend with the problems of using regular Lego bricks he simply had new, special bricks molded for him. Bricks that would allow him to more closely copy his architectural plans.