Virtual Micropolis: Progress and Upcoming Display!

I mentioned back in March that I had started working on a wiki to provide further information about our Micropolis modules and I am fairly proud to say that we’re definitely making progress on filling the site with content. It’s not complete yet, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s got a good base of content and the visual style is starting to come together as well.

If you haven’t had a chance to look at it, or you haven’t looked since last March, now is a great time to go take a peek at http://www.virtualmicropolis.com and you can get updates by subscribing to any of the RSS feeds on the site or by following the Mayor’s twitter feed @vmicropolis!

We have also been invited back to the Saint Anthony Park Library to display our layout as part of their post-renovation grand re-opening party! If you missed the display in March this is a great time to come out and have a look at our layout with some additional modules by Thomas Anderson. Plus Peter Hoh is returning with his educational models, the travelling DK Books display for their Star Wars LEGO books we be on hand, at least one stormtrooper from the local 501st, and refreshments provided by the little grocery store up the street! Mark your calendars for Wednesday August 14, 2013 from 6-8pm and be sure to tell anyone else who likes LEGO.

LibraryShowFlyer_August Saint Anthony Park Library Show - August 2013

 

(PDF Version of August Library Show Flyer)

Introducing Virtual Micropolis

Virtual Micrpolis Logo

After a few years of owning the domain name, I am finally getting off my proverbial butt and doing something with VirtualMicropolis.com. My original idea had been, as is somewhat usual for me, a bit grandiose. I was going to get the spec moved over there and make it a community for everyone who built Micropolis to come and post their stuff. Because there aren’t any other places on the Internet to build a community (like Flickr, MOCPages, Facebook, Google+, ad infinitum…), or something.

Anyway, the point really came home last weekend in Des Moines where we were displaying our little corner of Micropolis again and we also had the TwinLUG QR Code out on the table next to it. As usual we got several people who tried to use it, and mostly it worked (The lighting was a bit weird), but the overwhelming response to being sent to the TwinLUG site was one of disappointment. What people really wanted to see was lots of pictures and maybe some more stuff about what they were looking at right then. Obviously it was finally time to do something about it.

To get this really rolling though I was going to need to scale things back to just a place where we could put up information and pictures about just the modules that Jennifer and I own. Almost all of them are ones that we designed with the exceptions of some that I bought off a TwinLUG member before he moved out of the country a few years ago (Hi Gary!). Thanks to the wonderful photography skills of Alyska Bailey-Peterson we had a base of some excellent photos to go along with the drek that I manage to shoot so that we could at least get the site off the ground before having to figure out where we were going to get more good pictures.

For this project I think we really needed a Wiki. A blog or other groupware CMS system was just going to have too much overhead and complexity for the basic requirements of setting up easily linkable pages that could be simply protected from spam or other ne’er-do-wells with some file management capabilities. I finally settled on DokuWiki and I’m pretty happy with the results so far. My one small issue is that for some reason there are no simple methods of setting text alignment, but everything else is great so I’m ignoring that as much as possible. If you’re looking for a good Wiki platform you should definitely add them to your list of candidates.

As of right now I’ve got pages up for eight modules and material for a couple more before we start to run out of images, but I think it’s a decent start and hopefully we’ll be able to keep some momentum on the project for awhile.

While right now the site is all about our collection and the layouts that we have been part of but I think we would be glad to broaden the content in the not too distant future. I do have things locked down so that even if you register for an account you can not make any edits until I tweak the account so please contact me if that is your intent.

Thoughts on a new module base

Ri Co Le Go on Flickr has proposed a new module base for Micropolis. (Composite example and Building Instructions)

I started working on a comment on the image with my reactions and analysis and it got really big very quickly, so I decided to move it here instead. Please be sure to look at those links and the associated comments first for better context.

First off, I think it’s a really interesting idea and certainly deserves discussion.

I like that it remains compatible with the existing standard and doesn’t compromise the depth of the module. Additionally it seems like there would be a lot more possibility of being able to overcome table height differences with only some small modifications.

To elaborate on Dave DuJour’s observation about pin usage in TwinLUG, we’ve pretty much given up on pins in the big layouts for a few different reasons:

  1. Laziness. :-)
  2. The size of even our medium layouts means that we almost always run into weight limitations that result in cracked or sheared pins across table edges.
  3. These days we have quite a few modules that are larger then 1 block which makes managing the connections much more complicated.
  4. Probably most importantly, we find being able to make quick changes by simply lifting a module out to be incredibly useful, especially in convention layouts where people are dropping off new modules at random times and we want to make sure we get good placement for all modules so that you can still see everything.

The proposed change resolves being able to maintain a nice and even layout while still maintaining the ability to make easy changes. The implementation seems fairly straightforward as well since it can use pretty common parts.

However I think my biggest concern is about part count for the base modules. These days my quarter block bases use exactly 14 parts at an average cost of $2.72 per base. (LDD File for reference)

Minimal Quarter Block Base Cost Breakdown
qty Part $per cost
4 8×8 Plate $0.20 $0.80
2 1×16 Technic Brick $0.57 $1.14
2 1×14 Technic Brick $0.22 $0.44
4 2×2 Corner Plate $0.03 $0.12
1 2×16 Plate $0.19 $0.19
1 2×2 Brick $0.03 $0.03
Total $2.72

I went ahead and threw together a really quick minimal implementation of the proposed module base and came up with 28 parts at an average cost of $2.28 per base. (LDD File for reference)

Minimal Proposed Quarter Block Base Cost Breakdown
qty Part $per cost
4 8×8 Plate $0.20 $0.80
8 1×4 Brick $0.04 $0.32
4 1×6 Brick $0.05 $0.20
8 2×1 Inverted Slope 45 $0.04 $0.32
4 6×6 Plate $0.16 $0.64
Total $2.28

That did NOT include the cost of each of the H connectors which I came up with several different permutations for. The most sturdy using two 1×4 Technic Bricks ($0.04) and a 2×2 Modified Brick with 2 pins ($0.03), most common parts using two 1×4 Bricks ($0.04) and one 2×2 Brick ($0.03), and your proposal with four 2×2 Corner Bricks ($0.06). If we used 1×4 Tile ($0.07) on all three of those permutations the average cost comes out to $0.31 per connector. Supplying enough connectors for a large layout could become quite expensive and even for a medium layout could be slightly prohibitive. (LDD File for reference)

Still, if you figure an average of 2 H Connectors per module that does make the price difference $0.18, which isn’t huge for the possible increase in functionality.

However I think the best place that this will be useful, and the best reason for adoption, will be with Bluff modules. There is currently a big issue with assembling Bluff modules and keeping them together plus the common need for support structures underneath standard modules arranged behind Bluff modules. If we included the H Connector (or maybe “Rico Connector”?) in the Bluff standard on the high sides of the module that would go a long way towards resolving a lot of the problems I’ve had there though not entirely obviating the need for under structure. However since I am in the minority of people working with Bluff modules I doubt that will have much sway with the rest of the community.

As for concerns about this change causing difficulty for using the depth of the module, I do not find that to be a compelling argument. Most modules that make use of the depth of the module do so towards the middle of the module and not towards the edges. The exception I can think of would be Thomas Anderson’s Construction Site, but even in that case there is an intact road on one side. So if the implementation of this change involved requiring at least one (or possibly two) connection points I think that would probably be enough.