Ray Howerter’s LEGO Challenge

While looking for other ideas on what I could build I found another LEGO challenge. Ray Howerter is posting an image a day on his Instagram of a small LEGO creation he has made. The challenge is to figure out how he built it.

He will post solutions on Sundays. It’s a like LEGO crossword.

A post shared by Ryan Howerter (@ryan_howerter) on Apr 3, 2020 at 8:54pm PDT

He also suggests some cool tools that can help if you don’t have a lot of LEGO bricks.

There is the LEGO Digital Designer : https://www.lego.com/en-us/ldd

MLCad is another option for Windows users: http://mlcad.lm-software.com/

And then there is an online version that I liked to use to catalogue my builds after building them by hand – MecaBricks: https://www.mecabricks.com/en

But now I use BrickLink’s Studio designer and enjoy that it also has an instructions module so you can make instructions for your builds.


S.T.E.A.M. Build Challenge

First things first, the S.T.E.A.M. Build Challenge and then an update.

One way to keep busy while stuck indoors is a fun challenge. For the first time in a long time, I pulled out my LEGO bricks and had at it building something from my imagination.

After several tear-aparts and rebuilds the result was a steam locomotive. The images are below.

Your challenge? To build any form of transportation that you want using things from around the house. LEGO, toilet paper roles, shoe boxes, K’Nex! Anything is game.

Share your creations on our Facebook page or suggest ideas for the next build challenge that we’ll announce next Friday.

I must admit that I am used to working from home and the first week of social distancing and isolating wasn’t that abnormal. The only difference was that my girlfriend was at home with me creating digital lessons for her students.

Week two was spring break and we got to rebuilding the walls in our basement after some needed foundation work. As that week drew to a close, I began to feel a little stir crazy.

One down three to go. I was also on sweeping duty.

The stress of a weird world isolating itself was finally getting to me. My girlfriend had recently dressed up one of our camping cots with blankets and pillows so we could make use of our loft space. A place in the house that has seen little attention since we moved it. Other renos and projects took priority.

With a lovely place to lounge all set up, I went up and realized that it was in the loft that I had tucked my LEGO away. What better time to revisit your youth and play than when you’re feeling out of place?

I rebuilt the old harbour set my grandmother (Baka as we called her) had gotten me, only to find that I was missing several pieces. Thankfully, I was able to borrow from other sets and get most of it back up. I’ll have to scour my parent’s LEGO bin and hope my niece and nephew haven’t made off with the pats 🙂 (But that is a project for when things get back to normal.)

After having put the harbour back together, I had a bunch off pieces left over. As I kid, I was never that great at making my own creations from LEGO. Then ended up being more imagination rather than looking like something that resembled anything.

But with a needed distraction, I let myself wander down a path of creativity. The steam locomotive came in fits and spurts. It also required tear downs and rebuilds as I found better pieces to do one job, freeing up needed ones to go elsewhere.

After a few of days the final project came to completion, and I figured why not share it with friends and challenge them to make something as well.


Getting Back to Film and Away From Digital

I picked up a Zeiss Contessa a year ago and started shooting film again. I did it because I was always taking pictures with my digital camera and just storing the images on the computer and not really looking at them again. I thought that if I was shooting film, I would have to get the pictures developed and would then have pictures to put on the wall or in albums.

I got my first rolls of film developed and have learned that it is rather expensive now to get prints made. I’ve since gotten the supplies to develop my own film and while talking about how excited I was to try it out, they asked if I wanted to use their old cameras.

I figured why not, it couldn’t hurt to play around with some other cameras. My dad had an SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) and a TLR (Twin-Lens Reflex). I wanted to get away from SLRs and so took my dad’s Supper Ricohflex. My mum had her dad’s Voigtländer Brilliant which looked in rougher shape, but I took it as well.

The lens on the Voigtländer needed a good clean and the picture counter wasn’t counting. I was able to get the lenses off the front and clean them with some cleaner and lens paper. Getting to the back lenses was a little trickier. I had to borrow a pair of surgical clamps so I could loosen the ring holding the lenses on. In a stroke of luck, it was also the ring holding the whole front mechanism to the body. I was able to give everything a once-over, it looked like the timing mechanism on the shutter was working fine.

The viewfinder lens was held in with a couple of screws and although the spring flaps don’t come off, I was able to clean the mirror and the inside of the lens.

For the picture counter, I was able to take out the false wall on the inside. It was pop-riveted on, regrettably, I thought it was friction fit on and ended up pulling the rivet through the camera body.

I wasn’t sure if I could save the counter at that point but managed to drill out the rivet and saw that an M3 screw would fit nicely in the old rivet hole and I could use a washer to go over the now larger rivet hole on the body.

The spring on the counter needed an extra wind in its coil and the numbers needed a little glue to reattach to the front of the gear. I’m just waiting on a screw of the right length and hopefully, it will be taking pictures as good as new.

3600 and Some Photos

Yesterday we were supposed to get a big thunderstorm pass through the city. Unfortunately, it passed well south and my girlfriend and I knew we were going to be out of luck.

Knowing that she had storm chassed a little in the past with some friends, on a whim I asked if she wanted to try and chase the storm. Her eyes light up and we grabbed our cameras and took to the road.

I had the task of suggesting where to go as she drove her car. I had little idea of what I was doing, but I could see from the radar images in Environment Canada’s app that we needed to head south and east of the city. She coached me a little on how you want to get close to a storm but not be in the rain. With her advice, I plotted a course out to the perimeter and off an access road not far from the city’s water reservoir.

We set up by a culvert and had an okay view of the storm. The last time I took my camera out was in the winter when we went meteor watching. I did get a single meteor that time, so I was hoping that I would have better luck with the lightning that afternoon.

I used a wild west technique with the intervalometer from Magic Lantern. Short, fast, continuous photos! With 50 photos in rapid succession, I was still missing the lighting bursts. The storm was moving away from us and we also ran into a bathroom and snack problem, having left the house without thinking about how long we’d be out photographing.

Thankfully, the truck stop known as Deacon’s Corner wasn’t too far and that would also put us on the Trans-Canada Highway and take us south-east again. Hopefully, we could catch up with it.

Back in the car, a short hop and a brief bathroom break we were back on the road, regrettably without snacks. I’ve begun to realize that there are few options for lactose intolerant people as quick road snacks. It’s either covered in chocolate or has lactic acid or whey powder. Our small thermoses of tea and coffee would have to sustain us.

We raced along the Trans-Canada making sure to stay in the speed limits and found ourselves passing a train. It was an odd feeling to be outpacing a leviathan of the rails. A quick turn off the highway put us on the opposite side of the tracks and beside a beautiful field of yellow canola.

As we set up, we had the odd drop of rain, but we never had more than a few drops at a time. The perfect distance from the storm. This time I just let my camera take pictures until it ran out of memory or battery, whichever occurred first. After a while, the train caught up with us and I turned my camera to have it visible off to the side. Mother nature was not kind enough to create any lighting as the train rumbled gently passed us. Can’t win them all.

After a while, my camera stopped taking pictures. My memory card was full. 6300 and some photos. I could only hope that I had captured some of the beautiful lighting strikes that we had seen. My girlfriend had a fraction of that, having stayed with taking 50 pictures at a time.

Back at home we slowly sifted through our photos, sipping on tea as we snuggled on the cough. Our eyes fixed on our respective computer screens. I realized that my lenses were incredibly dirty and in desperate need of a cleaning.

Thankfully though, there we did get some nice lighting shots. We would let out exclamations of excitement when we’d find one in our photos and the other would lean in to see.

In all, I managed to get 12 strikes, but only three really stood out. I combined two together because they were back to back in the sequence of photos and the combined photo turned out okay.

Not bad for an afternoon out and on the spur of the moment adventure. I hope we get to do it again this summer.


When a Theory is not a Theory

I was reading an article online from the Express when I read the following: “Black holes are often found at the hearts of galaxies and up until April this year have been purely theoretical.“ The statement threw me for a bit of a loop, mostly because black holes have been an active part of astrophysics since the discovery of Cygnus X-1 in 1971. Using the day to day word theoretical misleads the general public into thinking that black holes were not confirmed in science until this past April with the discovery of M87*’s shadow. This is a dangerous statement to make.

In day to day language, theory is used to mean a hunch or an educated guess. However, in the sphere of science, a theory is an explanation of what something is or how it works. Theories are often large bodies of work and research and are quite detailed.

Take gravity for example. Newton’s law of universal gravitation does not explain what gravity is, it only shows mathematically how two bodies affect each other through gravitational attraction. It is the theory of general relativity that explains how gravity works and what it is (a result of mass curving space-time). Black holes are part of the general theory of relativity. To start they were a mathematical quirk of Einstein’s field equations, but the discovery of Cygnus X-1 showed that black holes were not a mathematical quirk.

Further observations about black holes have been made over time adding to the theory and supporting the existence of these massive objects. Accretion disks, relativistic jets, active galactic nuclei, gravitational waves and other observations were all documented well before the Event Horizon Telescope document M87*’s shadow.

None of these observations, including the observation of a shadow, have moved black holes out of the realm of scientific theory. Instead, they help keep black holes as active parts of the general theory of relativity.

Science writers and communicators need to take extra caution when using terms like theory, theoretical, law, fact, hypothesis or conjecture. They have different meanings inside and outside of the sphere of science and using them inappropriately can build a false impression of what science does; that in turn can cause misunderstandings and mistrust of science as a whole.

I am not without fault and am often rereading and refamiliarizing myself with the different terms. It is part and parcel of the job as a science communicator. One of my go-to’s is this article from liveScience.com. Writer or reader, it is probably worth a second look and remember to give critical consideration when you see those terms in an article.