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Customer Review

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must buy., 27 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: The LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Laboratory: Build, Program, and Experiment with Five Wicked Cool Robots! (Paperback)
There are a lot of Lego NXT books out there, and I own a few of them. This book is by far the best I have purchased (I read it cover to cover in a single sitting the day I received it), but it will not please everyone. Why? Let me explain.

I am not an automatic fan of everything Lego. I don't collect sets, and I don't furiously build everything I stumble upon. I bought the NXT 2.0 kit with the sole purpose of educating my kids, just as I bought real fossil sets, kumon math books, small and not so small microscopes, etc... Call me a sucker for anything that claims, with a reasonable grounding in reality, to be technically and scientifically educational. Sadly, I was probably a bit over-optimistic: a 6 years old boy and a 3 years old girl are not a good audience for a robotic kit. Now that they are a few years older, I decided to try again, with the same goal - entertaining education - and an EV3 kit. It is from that perspective that I will judge this book.

The book begins with a good and brief introduction to the EV3 kit pieces and their names. Unlike some of the other NXT 2.0 books I own, this part is not an overly verbose page filler. Mentions of structures and frictions are a hint of things to come.

Chapter 2 and 3 introduce the mandatory base platform and the visual block programming. This is probably the weakest part of the book: while they are excellent and have to be there if only for the users who will only buy one book, I can't help thinking it deprives us from a bit more of what follows, which is even better.

Chapter 4, 5 and 6 dive deeper into programming and the first application. Interesting experiments are suggested, not randomly but in the framework of a logical pedagogical approach.

Chapter 7, "The math behind the magic" floored me, because I didn't expect it. It could have said something like "the robot doesn't perform greatly, but hey, its only Lego and real robots performed better" No, like an invisible hand guiding us through experiments, it quietly introduces the notion of measurement noise. A fundamental notion that touches so many things in our modern science and technology, that our kids could eventually encounter during their secondary studies if they have a good math or science teacher, is presented in a way that a 12 years old boy can understand! And followed up by experiments that lead to immediate practical improvements in the robot's behavior.

Chapter 8 is a cookbook of Lego recipes that addresses structural integrity, friction, typical machine parts. It is goal oriented: do you want strength? A lot of friction or none? This is again a place where I have seen other books (and Lego's own instructions) fail: they give you building instructions but don't tell you why the model is being build that way. Here, your get a good primer on common mechanisms and structural issues. After reading it, you won't think in terms of "I put a beam here because the instructions say so" but you'll know the reason why you are doing it "I put a beam here because I want to improve the rigidity of that important piece". Again, fundamental issues of mechanical engineering insidiously pushed into the brains of our kids (and I like that!)

The rest of the book follows a regular pattern. Build a robot, experiment a bit, improve, experiment more, think. It touches essential programming concepts (the notion of variable, arrays, logic etc....), fundamental software architecture patterns (state machines!) in a style that is never boring or paternalistic. A bit of math is used here and there but nothing (except maybe the basic use of trigonometry) that a 12 years old couldn't understand. The added bonus, of course, is that kids realize that the math they learn at school is useful in the real world.

To summarize: this book marvelously introduces kids to fundamental scientific, engineering and software programming concepts. Its flow and pedagogical approach is so smooth that kids aren't bored and don't even realize they are taught those things (which is a very, very good thing with kids - try to force them study polygons properties by rote because polygons are important).

Now, for the caveat: The only audience that could be a bit disappointed is the type of audience that wants to build spectacular robots for the fun of it, or because they find the Lego build process mindlessly relaxing. The robots in the book aren't fancy or truly spectacular.

For the adult who wants to build solid robots and learn sound building and design techniques: an excellent book.

For my purpose: the almost perfect book. (I find something like Bricx to be ultimately better than the standard visual development environment and its quirks)
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Dec 2013 12:26:33 GMT
J. Wilson says:
What actually comes in the Mindstorms box itself ? Is there enough to get you started and you can think of moving on to a book later or do people recommend we get this book along with the Mindstorms kit ? I am not a major programming geek but I do dabble a bit. Suspect the kids will be quicker if they take to it !

Posted on 2 Dec 2013 12:26:43 GMT
J. Wilson says:
What actually comes in the Mindstorms box itself ? Is there enough to get you started and you can think of moving on to a book later or do people recommend we get this book along with the Mindstorms kit ? I am not a major programming geek but I do dabble a bit. Suspect the kids will be quicker if they take to it !

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Jan 2014 12:06:35 GMT
omnium says:
The EV3 box contains a simple booklet that shows how to build 1 model. There is no explanation of anything. However, once you install the Mindstorm software, there are lots of guides and manuals linked from there. You should be able to install the software yourself and have a look. The PDF versions of the user guides are also available on LEGO.com. So there is quite a lot on their website already.
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