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YouTube // BrainCraft
YouTube // BrainCraft

How LEGO Helps Blind People See

YouTube // BrainCraft
YouTube // BrainCraft

Matthew Shifrin works to make LEGO kits accessible to blind people. Along with help from his family friend Lilya Frinkel, Shifrin became an expert LEGO model builder, developing a scheme to translate visual LEGO assembly instructions into Braille. Shifrin wrote:

Lilya could make just about anything accessible for the blind. Making things accessible was a challenge she enjoyed, but LEGO was different. It was impossible to Braille the blueprints. The instruction manuals had no words, and they were too complicated to be turned into raised-line drawings. Building a model required so many steps that I couldn't copy them all. LEGO was the only thing that stubbornly resisted adaptation.

Or so I thought.

For my thirteenth birthday, Lilya had custom made instructions for the Battle of Almut, a Middle Eastern domed castle. How had she done it? Where did she find text-based instructions?

It turned out that she didn't find them--she created them! Lilya wrote out the instructions step by step, describing every blueprint, giving names to every kind of LEGO piece, figuring out the most logical sequence for a blind person to follow. She also sorted the LEGO pieces, putting the pieces necessary for each step into a Ziploc bag and labeling each bag in Braille.

Shifrin has begun posting these instructions on his website.

In this 13-minute documentary, Vanessa Hill visits Shifrin to explore his work. This is not just about LEGO, it's about spatial perception, which is fascinating stuff. If you're sighted, keep an eye out for the Braille display Shifrin uses—that device pops up one line of Braille at a time, and along with the attached keyboard, allows easy access to long sets of Braille instructions.

Enjoy:

If you liked that, you might enjoy this outtake video in which Shifrin's screen-reader reads out 10,000 digits of Pi from a YouTube comment. (Then he flips it into Russian mode and does it again.) This is a nice mini-demo of how screen-reader software works, even for silly stuff like YouTube comments.

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Airbnb is Giving Away a One-Night Stay in Denmark's LEGO House
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Airbnb

The LEGO toy company opened its 130,000-square-foot LEGO house in Billund, Denmark, at the end of September. The attraction, which contains 25 million interlocking bricks used to make everything from furniture to dinosaurs, is a LEGO-lover’s fantasy. Now fans of the toy brand can enter for a chance to spend the night there.

For one night only, one lucky family will be invited to stay at the LEGO house after hours as part of a collaboration with Airbnb. The vacation begins with superstar LEGO set designer Jamie Berard greeting the guests upon arrival. Later, the family heads to the dining room to construct their food orders out of LEGO bricks. After the plastic requests are sent to the kitchen, edible versions of the meals are served by robot waiters.

The rest of the day consists of exploring the house’s galleries and experience zones. Guests can appreciate life-sized LEGO sculptures, browse iconic sets, or assemble their own one-of-a-kind creations. But the highlight of the trip has to be the suite where the family spends the night. The armchairs, books, alarm clocks, television, and pet cat are all constructed out of LEGO bricks. One of the only features that isn’t made of blocky plastic is the bed, which is nestled in a pool of bricks beneath a rainbow LEGO waterfall.

Living room made out of LEGO bricks.
Airbnb

“This really is a dream come true for any family with a passion for LEGO,” James McClure, Airbnb’s General Manager for Northern Europe, said in a statement. “I doubt there will be much sleeping as there is so much to enjoy in this incredible space.”

To enter, candidates must answer the question, “If you and your family had an infinite supply of LEGO bricks, what would you build?” in 50 to 550 characters. Submissions are open through November 16 and the winner and up to three guests will be flown to Denmark to commence their stay on November 24. The chosen visitors should be prepared to follow the house rules: LEGO-proof slippers are recommended, play is mandatory, and diving in the LEGO pool in search of that “one rare brick” is forbidden.

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New LEGO Set Honors NASA’s Female Pioneers
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LEGO

For all their exemplary qualities, the LEGOs of yesteryear did have one flaw: the minifigures were predominantly male. In recent years, however, there’s been a notable uptick in female-focused sets, thanks in large part to fan-created concepts promoted through LEGO Ideas. One such project is the Women of NASA, a LEGO set celebrating some of the space agency’s most notable female figures that was posted to the LEGO Ideas last summer and has just been released for sale by the brick toy company.

The four notable NASA pioneers honored in the set are: computer scientist Margaret Hamilton, who played a major role in coding the flight software for the Apollo missions; famed first woman in space, Sally Ride; the "Mother of Hubble" Nancy Grace Roman; and astronaut and physician Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space. (The original proposal also included Katherine Johnson, the mathematician at the center of Hidden Figures, but the company was reportedly not able to secure the needed approvals to feature her in the final set.)

The minifigures were created with set pieces like Hamilton’s stacks of code, scientific instruments, a microscale Hubble Space Telescope, a space shuttle, and more. The long-awaited 231-piece set officially went on sale on November 1; you can purchase it on Amazon for $24.99.


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