Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

Why geeks love Lego

By DeepDarkSky in Op-Ed
Tue Mar 27, 2001 at 03:30:26 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Ok, so this piece is a generalization and is not all that useful, informative, insightful, funny, or thought provoking. But I have come to a simple conclusion why geeks, especially computer geeks, love playing with Lego: Legos are physical digital elements (pixels/voxels).

When you work with computers, especially if you work with computer graphics, you are dealing with pixels. Digital computers (which is what almost all of the computers nowaday are) need to digitize data. Read Nicholas Negroponte's Being Digital. Digital computers digitize all the analog signals around us - pictures, sounds, ideas, etc. Geeks who love to use computers to manipulate bits are using a powerful tool to create and modify things in a virtual world that models the real analog world.

Digital building blocks allow us to assemble many different things quickly and with great flexibility. However, not being about to touch your creation still leaves you with a kind of empty "feeling" (pun intended). Imagine if you could not only see Lara Croft's 34D bust, but (gasp!) touch it as well.

What does this have to do with Legos? Are Lego's usually wholesome? Why am I bringing up Lara Croft's bust? No reason except to put in that last link, in case anyone missed it the other times.

Anyway, I digress.

The reason why we love Legos is because they are physical digital building blocks that allows us to build practically anything we want. Heck, Legos even have jaggies! Furthermore, depending on whether you go for regular Legos or possibly the jumbo-sized duplos for kids, you can control the resolution of your physical digital creation. How cool! Lego has even created anti-aliasing for their jagged blocks with those slanty blocks.

Let's face it, most of the time, we like to build or see people build those large zillion-piece lego models like this guy does. And what he does is create three-dimensional Lego-voxelized representation of things. We don't like the Lego sets with the prebuilt themes as much (my opinion). Lego's even got a brick-o-lizer that helps you take a flat 2D image and create a mosaic of the picture with instructions to build it from Lego blocks. Using Legos is one of the coolest ways to digitize things. And if you are particularly clever, you may even use error-diffusion dithering to render the image more "realistically"

This is why geeks like Legos, I believe. The colors help. The relative wholesomeness gives it more parental support. That it involves more imagination makes it a better toy and more fun, especially for the engineers among us.

How many of you can't wait till we get nano-Legos?

Poll Links:
Lego Mindstorm
Lego Classic
Lego Porn
Lego Tux
Lego Star Wars Trilogy
Lego Duplo
Virtual Lego
Lego my Eggo!


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


What kind of Lego do you like
o Lego Mindstorm 16%
o Lego Classic 41%
o Lego Porn 20%
o Lego Tux 4%
o Lego Star Wars Trilogy 4%
o Lego Duplo 2%
o Virtual Lego 0%
o Lego my Eggo! 8%

Votes: 124
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Being Digital
o 34D
o wholesome
o this guy
o brick-o-li zer
o Lego Mindstorm
o Lego Classic
o Lego Porn
o Lego Tux
o Lego Star Wars Trilogy
o Lego Duplo
o Virtual Lego
o Lego my Eggo!
o Also by DeepDarkSky

Display: Sort:
Why geeks love Lego | 39 comments (25 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
old toys (3.75 / 4) (#1)
by spacejack on Fri Mar 23, 2001 at 09:41:18 PM EST

I always thought Lite Brite was much more like pixels. :)

But I still have all my old Lego (or at least whatever didn't go into the vacuum cleaner and down the rad into the furnace). In fact, I have this one spaceship intact that I must have built at least 20 years ago. And that was before the kits with specific spaceship designs and parts came out.

i hate those things (none / 0) (#2)
by rebelcool on Fri Mar 23, 2001 at 09:56:15 PM EST

those little unique parts have completely ruined the lego concept of building anything out of the little bits.

Granted, i liked parts from 10 years ago or so (the magnets and things) that made you able to design spaceship looking things, but you could easily put them into other designs, unlike todays.

Ah, the good ole days.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

yup (5.00 / 1) (#4)
by spacejack on Fri Mar 23, 2001 at 10:09:39 PM EST

Lego started sucking once it went OO :)

[ Parent ]
What's next? (4.50 / 2) (#7)
by BigZaphod on Fri Mar 23, 2001 at 10:24:27 PM EST

What's next, the Word model? :-)

"We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
[ Parent ]
Can I predict the discussion? (3.25 / 4) (#3)
by SIGFPE on Fri Mar 23, 2001 at 10:06:49 PM EST

Let's see how many people bitch about how Lego isn't like in the good old days when all the pieces were rectangular.

But I think sacrificing the purity of Lego was worthwhile because with the new parts you can make a toilet scrubber

And let's also see people bitch about whether 'Lego' has a plural or is an adjective or whatever.

Anyway...has anyone built a Turing Machine out of Lego (without using an RCX)?

fuck off (2.83 / 6) (#6)
by spacejack on Fri Mar 23, 2001 at 10:13:30 PM EST

It WAS better when all the pieces were rectangular.

[ Parent ]
I bet your toilet scrubber... (3.33 / 3) (#15)
by SIGFPE on Sat Mar 24, 2001 at 10:57:15 AM EST

...leaves rectangular lumps behind in the bowl.
[ Parent ]
Not a Turing machine... (none / 0) (#38)
by cr0sh on Tue Mar 27, 2001 at 01:14:09 PM EST

But this guy is working on building a stored-program calculating engine...

[ Parent ]
close enough (2.44 / 9) (#5)
by eLuddite on Fri Mar 23, 2001 at 10:13:23 PM EST

Geeks like legos for the same reasons children like legos. Legos gives them the power to exercise a measure of control over their otherwise powerless lives. Geeks _are_ children, or at least emotionally retarded. I mean this in the nicest possible way, of course, without conceding any accuracy in the statement.

Anyway, by geeks I assume you mean anti-social beings who prefer the company of objects to us normal slobs? Well, they love legos for the same reason they love programming: both pursuits allow them to build little self contained worlds according to well defined rules and interfaces. In other words, both pursuits allow them to exercise control over _something_ in life, damnit -- you know, to sweat the easy stuff. Real life just isnt anywhere close to being comparably amenable. Dilbert, the uber geek if ever there was one, cant even make his tie stay down, for example. Scott Adams has written of this as being symbolic of his powerlessness.

It should also be said that most people dont identify or characterize their existence according to their job, OS, or toys.

God hates human rights.

geeks vs. nerds (2.75 / 4) (#11)
by DeepDarkSky on Fri Mar 23, 2001 at 10:56:46 PM EST

this can be one those great heated debates. Basically, by geeks I mean all the guys who are into gadgets and toys and computers especially. Anti-social-ness not necessary. That's the realm of a nerd. I think most people may agree with the assessment. There's not a discrete and abrupt transition from one to another - probably a continuous shift in the spectrum.

[ Parent ]
Microserfs... (none / 0) (#35)
by nickwkg on Tue Mar 27, 2001 at 08:08:42 AM EST

Blimey, 2 in a row.

That definition of geeks/nerds is also in Couplands Microserfs book.

[ Parent ]
Me (2.80 / 5) (#13)
by mystic on Sat Mar 24, 2001 at 07:50:05 AM EST

I do not like Lego and I think I can be classified as "geek".

hell yeah (3.50 / 2) (#14)
by Seumas on Sat Mar 24, 2001 at 09:19:59 AM EST

I remember playing with those giant oversized legos (the ones where the blocks are the size of a stick of butter and the people are the size of salt shakers), but that was back when I was maybe three or four years old. I can't recall ever even touching a lego since then. And although I'm not into toys at all (well, not real toys -- but I splurge on tech toys of course), I couldn't imagine getting into legos these days when a starter package is more expensive than a DVD player.
I just read K5 for the articles.
[ Parent ]
Me neither! (3.50 / 2) (#28)
by deefer on Mon Mar 26, 2001 at 07:21:24 AM EST

Meccano was where it was at!
Lego just seemed... Well, *easy*...

Kill the baddies.
Get the girl.
And save the entire planet.

[ Parent ]
Lara's bust (1.40 / 5) (#23)
by Miniluv on Sat Mar 24, 2001 at 11:10:02 PM EST

Gonna have to say I didn't gasp at the thought of touching it. Maybe that has to do with the fact that my fiancee is the proud owner of a pair of tits bigger than Lara's?

"Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'
ldraw/mlcad (none / 0) (#25)
by farlukar on Sun Mar 25, 2001 at 04:27:40 PM EST

Let's face it, most of the time, we like to build or see people build those large zillion-piece lego models like this guy does.
Even if you don't own enough bricks.
$ make install not war

Legos are Unix for kids (and adults!) (4.00 / 4) (#26)
by hardburn on Sun Mar 25, 2001 at 06:47:17 PM EST

Legos are a great example of the Unix philosophy (small tools, do one thing, do it well, put them together in facinating ways) in physical objects. Some of the latest crap comming out of there is, well, crap. The bricks are getting too specialized. Much like a lot of the dreck GNU/Linux programs I've been seeing lately. Coincidence?

while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }

Lego bricks and GNU/Linux programs (none / 0) (#37)
by Drone X on Tue Mar 27, 2001 at 11:14:54 AM EST

Quite the oposite. The difference is that the lego bricks are too specialized and the GNU/Linux programs can do about anything.

Monkey sense
[ Parent ]

"geeks" and "love"? dump it wi (3.25 / 4) (#29)
by danny on Mon Mar 26, 2001 at 08:04:03 AM EST

Oh, hang on, this one isn't by streetlawyer...

[900 book reviews and other stuff]

Douglas Coupland (4.00 / 2) (#30)
by pos on Mon Mar 26, 2001 at 02:26:30 PM EST

Once again the big problem with writing on the net:

You're not the first one to make this connection. (sorry) Douglas Coupland wrote a fictional tale called Microserfs that involves a group of Microsoft employees who leave the safety of the Bill! compound for an exciting startup life. For reasons critical to the plot (notice the cover art) there is a section devoted to all of the similarities of Lego Bricks and the digital world.

I really enjoyed reading this book if only for the technical references and folklore.


The truth is more important than the facts.
-Frank Lloyd Wright
as long as i learn something (none / 0) (#32)
by DeepDarkSky on Mon Mar 26, 2001 at 08:34:17 PM EST

hey, i don't have a problem with repeating something someone else has already thought of - it happens all the time. if i actually come up with new stuff that nobody else has ever thought of, then i'd be f***ing brilliant! But I'm not. But I did learn something from your posting, and for that, and for all the input - positive or negative, as long as I or others learn something, then it has been worthwhile. Thank you.

[ Parent ]
didn't mean to rain on your parade (none / 0) (#33)
by pos on Mon Mar 26, 2001 at 10:48:58 PM EST

I hope you didn't think my comment was meant as a negative, as it wasn't.

The frustration of realizing that any unique idea I have has probably already been thought of is purely mine. :)


The truth is more important than the facts.
-Frank Lloyd Wright
[ Parent ]
not to worry (none / 0) (#34)
by DeepDarkSky on Tue Mar 27, 2001 at 07:32:18 AM EST

No, I didn't think of it as negative. I am merely saying that I'm happy to hear what you mentioned, because I learned something, and I would never take that negatively. Sometimes, you learn the most from the most negative and opposing views, because they are so different that it offers you a new perspective. but in this case, it was merely my ignorance.

As far as the frustration of realizing that any unique idea you have has already been thought of, I know how you feel! But geez, did you have to take even the idea of the frustration away from being uniquely mine?! :)

[ Parent ]

Reductionism or holism? (4.00 / 1) (#36)
by eskimoses on Tue Mar 27, 2001 at 08:56:20 AM EST

My personal view is that I like legos becuase I can build things with them, not because of what they represent in their reductionist atomic state.

Which gets more at the constructionist mentality of computer programmers -- who want to create grand architectures of logic and form -- more so than it does any penchant we have for pixels or voxels.

Pixels and voxels are cool, mind you. But I never drooled over dx in calculus, and have never done so for discrete differences, either. {cough} pixels {cough}. Legos are just plain fun.

That being said, I am a mathematician by training as well as a computer scientist. I dig math. But because of the wonderful beauty and elegance of mathematical structures and relations, not some supposed coolness I find in the elements of those structures.

Lego Style -> Coding Style (4.00 / 1) (#39)
by Misagon on Tue Mar 27, 2001 at 01:28:12 PM EST

Have you ever noticed how a person's Lego-building style from childhood is reflected in how they create things as an adult?
* When I was a kid,I wanted my creations to be perfect: blocks should overlap correctly, use the right colored bricks wherever and have a balanced set of features. Today, I strive for these things when programming.
* A friend of mine used to make mazes for rolling beads: he is now working as a network administrator. ;-)
* Another guy I know used to make pretty aesthetically pleasing creations with only the larger type of blocks. Later in life, as a 3D modeller he uses the same principles: composing larger primitives and chiseling out the details.

If I were to be in a position where I would decide wether or not to hire someone as a programmer, I would give the applicant a box full of LEGO and tell him/her to build something. I believe that the result would tell something about that person's coding style.
Don't Allow Yourself To Be Programmed!

Why geeks love Lego | 39 comments (25 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
Display: Sort:


All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!