Building digital castles

Last time I wrote about the Zoho suite of online applications which are freely available for personal use.

In the article, I remarked how unusual it was to see their users’ support forum where the vast majority of users’ questions had been answered by Zoho staff. This is in stark contrast to many other software forums, put up by the website owner instead of going to the expense of hiring real support staff.

Things got even more unusual when I put up the article onto my blog archive and, within a couple of hours or so, received a thank-you note from Arvind at Zoho. Among other things, he said he hoped that we in South Africa soon got cheap and fast Internet connections, like the ones they have in India and the East, that would make using online applications really viable here.

On that subject, it seems I wasn’t wrong about the likely effect that the arrival of the Seacom undersea cable would have on our Internet connection speeds and bandwidth costs. My prediction was that it would have little or no effect and, even though the cable has been running for a month, there hasn’t been a rush of ISPs cutting their prices.

Surprisingly, the only development in that direction has come from the evil empire itself, which is now allowing users a slightly larger bandwidth allowance each month; in my case, 5 GB instead of 3Gb. [Added after the column went to print: If they can give us 5Gb for the price of 3Gb, and still make a profit, it only proves what we’ve been saying all along; that we have been exploited. Makes you wonder how much more they could cut prices…]

Anyway, to the subject of this week’s column which is far more cheerful, being a free software program that can take you back all the way to your childhood and keep you entertained for many hours. I’m talking of Lego Digital Designer, which you can download from the site, and which you can use to build all manner of fantastic models without moving out from behind your computer.

I have a long history with Lego, having played with it in my extreme youth, and created all manner of things, including an unsuccessful Easter Bunny trap. In later years, while visiting friends in Denmark, we drove across the whole country to visit Legoland, only to find it was closed for the winter.

Damn! At least I saw the North Sea.

Anyway, once the program is installed and running, you are taken to start screen. You have the option of choosing a partly-built model, like a racing car, and completing it from the selection of bricks on offer, or you can start from scratch, and build whatever takes your fancy.

There is a wide selection of bricks to choose from and all you have to do is drag the one you want from the stack, rotate it appropriately with the arrow keys, and then drop it in the place where you want it.

Using Digital Designer is just like playing with the real thing, except that the bricks don’t all have tooth marks on them, caused by trying to separate ones which are stuck together too firmly.

The program is very easy to use and, once you’ve got the controls figured out, you’re up and running, and building whatever fantastic creation occurs to you. The graphics are great and you can rotate and view your model from any angle, even from below.

Digital Designer does have a serious business purpose, from Lego’s point of view, because it will tell you at any time how much the bricks that you’ve used would cost, and once your creation is complete, it will allow you to order those bricks online, so that you can rebuild your model in the real world.

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3 thoughts on “Building digital castles

  1. I got all excited re. sugarsticks, only to find that I could not save Fedora LiveUSB Creator to my memory stick! Also, the download of strawberry stops at 280Meg. Not sure what I am doing wrong? Help!! Gaye

  2. For some reason my earlier comment has disappeared! I really need help with the sugar stick please? I LOVE the whole concept but am having difficulty downloading it. When I download Fedora LiveUSB Creator it won't let me save to a memory stick & when I download strawberry I get 280 Meg & then it stops! Help!

  3. Hi Gaye
    The USB Live Creator doesn't go on the USB stick. You run that on your computer, once you have downloaded a copy of Strawberry, to install it on your memory stick. As far as the download goes, it is a pretty big one, and it may tend to crash, given our slow connections. You might try a download manager which can resume downloads if the connection fails. There is a trial version of GetRight available at Otherwise , you might persuade a corporate friend or even ask your ISP to help. ISP's did download files for users and store them where they could easily get hold of them.
    Unfortunately, I don't have the file any more because I had a hard drive crash since writing the article. Hope this helps.

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