Monday, October 19, 2009

Vibrobot Family Workshop at the AVA Lebanon

Oct. 17th 2009 - Vibrobot workshop at Lebanon's AVA Gallery and Art Center.

The kids with help from their parents made some really cool Vibrobot creatures. Vibrobots are little robots made from recycled materials and powered by tiny cell phone or pager motors.

The kids brought their imagination to the table full of 3v batteries, pager motors, wire, solder, sticky table and a lot of hot melt glue.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Arduino + Processing - Serial Communication

It's surprisingly easy to get Arduino talking to Processing via Serial Communication. You can send sensor readings to Processing and make things happen there or send data from Processing to Arduino.

A good start is the Virtual Color Mixer project. Very simple and quick. Just remember after loading the sketch to the Arduino to shut down the software on your computer before running the Processing sketch otherwise the Arduino holds on to the port and won't let go!

Next step is I want to get a couple of sensors on the Arduino to represent the x,y cords. of a mouse. I'm going to start here: Lucky Larry's Arduino + Processing

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Arduino Wave Shield

I recently built and have been playing around with a Adafruit Wave Shield for the Arduino. Basically you are building your own iPod type device although it plays low quality wave files and not MP3s but it's an iPod that can respond to sensors and provide outputs.

Couple of handy links:

Interface class for the Arduino Wave Shield

Free sound samples

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mistake of the Week

I was building a Wave Shield for Arduino (available from Adafruit ) and of course nothing worked the first time.

I checked all the solder joints, went online looking for software problems, checked the sound files, formatting of the SD card etc. I looked at the serial output of the program and everything there checked out. Finally I starred at my board and the picture of a completed board on the website and DUH! I saw the problem. I had put one of the capacitors in a spot where an LED was suppose to go! I was so busy trying to make sure I had the polarization right that I wasn't paying attention to the component description.

In any project a zillion things could go wrong. Best advice is to take your time and double check everything.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Amazing Yard Sale Find!

Lego Mars Rover - found at a yard sale for $5. What an incredible find! My son was focused on building this all day!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Spelling Fun with IPod Touch

We've been having fun with our new Ipod Touch. Its an amazingly simple to use device. This has to be the future of computing. Maybe Microsoft will get a clue and realize that the Iphone type of operating system is what people would like to see computers do. That is start up instantly, provide quick and easy to applications.

The Ipod Touch has all the capabilities that probably 80% of the computer users out there use. If it had a bigger screen, a real keyboard and Quicken it would be perfect for most household computing tasks.

I wait for the day when one of these things is mounted in every room of the house in the place of wall switches. Networked music, light controls, security, access to information from where ever you are etc.

Anyway, one unexpected plus for our household has been access to some neat educational apps. We've been playing with some spelling games and math games to give our fifth grader a little boast in those areas. Its certainly more fun than the worksheets that have been coming home as homework.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How to Fix a Dead IPod Touch 2G - The Secret

Can I tell you how much I hate technology?

An upcoming trip to Europe pushed us over the edge to buy a Ipod Touch 2G. We figured it would help out with entertain us, give us the opportunity to perhaps get email on the run and use some cool apps like maps and travel guides as we tour London and Paris.

Well, yesterday was a very exciting mail delivery day when the new Ipod Touch arrived from Amazon. Right out of the box I marveled at how easily it came alive and synced up with my Itunes software and a few games and apps I had downloaded. I was praising Apple for its advanced usability compared to my very much hated underpowered Vista laptop which is the only computer in the household that works with Itunes. My old reliable desktop computer running XP never can load Itunes because it won't install Quicktime. But anyway back to the story.

So everything was peachy keen that is until I was tempted to upgrade my Itunes software for $9.95. At first I was a bit outraged at the idea of upgrading for money but I went for it anyway.

Then my brand Ipod Touch 2G simply dies. Blank screen. No reaction to any button pressing, wouldn't even be recognized as a USB device. But this story has a happy ending and after hours and hours of trying to revive it let me just jump to what worked for me.

First I tried the following suggested methods of reviving a dead Ipod Touch:

But I had better luck with the "DFU" method:

DFU mode is a mode where the iPod Touch/iPhone will be made to force a restore of the firmware into whatever version firmware it is given.

Getting your iPod Touch/iPhone into DFU mode is somewhat tricky, and it may require some patience/practice because timing is essential to get it to DFU mode and not into recovery mode.

1. First, Open up iTunes, plug in your iPod Touch/iPhone to the CPU's USB port. Turn on your CPU's speaker and make sure it is loud enough that you can hear it.

2. Hold down the Home button (top left for iPod Touch and top right for the iPhone with the screen facing you) and the Power button (located on the front bottom of your iPod Touch/iPhone) simutaneously, until the screen goes black and the device turns off. (past the red slider/slide to power off screen)

3. Now let go of the Power button, but continue to hold the Home button. Your iPod Touch/iPhone should have turned off and the screen should not be on.

4. After around ~10-20 seconds, you will hear a noise (beep/ding) from your CPU as if it had just recognized a new hardware device, now iTunes should recognize it in DFU mode.

5. After iTunes recognizes the iPod Touch/iPhone, let go of the Home button otherwise it will go into recovery mode and you will have to do the entire DFU process over again.

6. You will know when you have put your iPod Touch/iPhone correctly into DFU mode when the display is blank and that you do not have anything on your device.

My problem was first that it took many many tries to get into the DFU recovery process and when it did get started it would stop about half way through and give me an error message (error 6 to be precise).


The solution I found for fixing my IPOD Touch was to do all the above BUT with my Zone Alarm virus checking software turned off. It seems that during the Ipod Touch restore process that it needs to communicate with Itunes headquarters about half way through and the security software was blocking the connection. With the security software turned off I had no problem restoring my Ipod Touch.

I hope this helps anyone out there with a dead Ipod Touch especially anyone thinking of throwing theirs against the wall. Did I mention I hate technology?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Meet the Arduino Electronic Brick

I've been working with Mindstorms NXT robots for a few years now and I'm just getting into the Arduino open source microprocessor platform. Trying to learn all about it has been exciting as well as confusing will plenty of forehead slapping moments of DUH! its a lot easier than I thought.

With the Lego Mindstorms NXT you had one software package (well there are a few other ones available) and the familiar Lego building system to work with and it was available from a single manufacturer. Even the prices of the hardware seems to be fixed in stone.

The challenge of Arduino is that it is an open source platform which means that any one can design their own version of the product. So there are official versions and tons of modified versions of the main processing board as well as a ton of things called "shields".

Shields are basically add on boards that help to interface with the Arduino boards. There are all kinds of them, prototyping shields, robotic shields, Ethernet shields. Each adds features to help out with various projects. But you still have to jump into the electronics workbench type stuff like soldering or using solderless breadboards. Believe me this is the path I started down, collecting a bunch of stuff for my workbench until I found a shield that makes working with Arduino a lot like the plug and play sensors and motors of the Lego NXT world.

The Electronic Brick Sensor Shield attaches to the Arduinio board and provides jacks for a series of Electronic Brick components. They simply plug in without breadboards or soldering.

"By using electronic bricks, you may connect Arduino compatible boards easily with various digital, analog and I2C/Uart interfaces. These the breadboard-less firm connection are prepared to extensive modules like poteniometers, sensors, relays, servos...even buttons, just plug and play.

Each terminal module has buckled port with VCC, GND and Output, which has corresponding port on the sensing board, with a plain 2.54mm dual-female cable you may start playing already. Buckled brick cables are like cement for bricks, make the connections easier, secure and more professional looking."

The Electronic Brick, an Arduino sensor shield for an easier Arduino hardware interface for beginners and even old pros.

This is great for beginners or kids learning to put together Arduino projects. It simplifies the hardware end of things but will raise the costs of the project. The Sensor Shield sells for $20 and the individual components cost more than loose parts would but they can easily be reused like the parts in the Lego NXT robotic kits. Perfect for schools or workshops.

There are a wide range of sensors and components (leds, push buttons) available including:

Sharp distance measuring sensor(Analog)
PIR motion sensor(digital)
Multi Rotary sensor(analog)
Temperature sensor(Analog)
Mercury tilt switch(digital)
Light sensor(Analog)
Playstation2 analog joystick(Analog)
Lighting Emitting Diode(A/D)
Small push button
Large push button
Capacitive Touch module
Sound module (microphone with amp)

2pin plugable terminal module(digital) This brick is a simple plugable terminal module, you can easily plug some other stuff into this wiitout connect the wire to the terminal every time.

ADXL330 Acceleration sensor(analog)
Carbon monoxide Sensor(MQ7)
Electricity meter(Analog)
Gas sensor(MQ5)
Rotary angle sensor (Analog)
Smoke sensor(MQ2)

5V Relay module (digital) - This Brick uses Omron G5AL relay module to control high-votage elecrical devices. (maximum 250V).

Magnetism switch(Digital)

Lots more than what is available on the NXT plus you can add more sensors to the Arduino and the Arduino is cheaper than the NXT. With Arduino you can afford to build standalone projects and not have to take them apart.

I found my Electronic Bricks on Ebay (seller "pokaralake" also known as Robot Cart) and from

The Electronic Brick series comes from FlamingoEDA

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Getting Started with Arduino

First off what the heck is Arduino?

"Arduino is a physical computing platform based on a simple I/O board and a development environment that uses the Wiring library to simplify writing C/C++ programs that run on the board. Arduino can be used to develop stand-alone interactive objects or can be connected to software running on a computer (e.g., Adobe Flash, Processing, Max/MSP, Pure Data, SuperCollider). Currently shipping versions can be purchased pre-assembled; hardware design information is available for those who would like to assemble an Arduino by hand."

In other words Arduino is an easy to use, hobbyist programmable little computer that can be used for all sorts of projects from interactive lights to robots.

The best way to learn about Arduino and the possibilities is with this inexpensive guide written by one of the people who created Arduino:

After reading the book you'll want to dive in and try out the examples yourself! The confusing part is assembling all of the components you'll need. This kit will give you a great start and can be used to create the examples from the book and beyond:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Snake Wrangling for Kids: Learning to Program with Python

Snake Wrangling for Kids is a free ebook (CC licensed) specifically written for teaching kids ages 8 and older how to program, using Python.

This one is meant to be printed out and stapled together and given to a child as a gift. (and not necessarily your own child, either)

It comes in 3 different flavors (Mac, Linux, Windows) and 2 different versions (for Python 3 & Python 2).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Zion Plug - Scratch to Physical World

Zion Plug is a simple program which allow you to connect your Scratch program to the physical world. Zion Plug just serve a message router purpose which route the message to and from any connection connected to the Zion Plug.

Scratch to Twitter Interface via Python

Scratchtweet includes a small Python file and a bare-bones Scratch project that together allow you to send tweets to a Twitter account.It is based on a commonly used python-twitter API. What use is it? Well, you could attach a sensor board with probes sunk in the dirt of a fern and let it tweet you whenever it needs to be watered (i.e., by sensing resistance), or maybe you could come up with a two-person chess program that shares moves via Twitter.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Catenary: Arduino 2 Scratch Interface

Catenary is a small, easy-to-use program that allows a project written in Scratch ( to communicate with an Arduino board ( Catenary is written in Processing (, and runs as a Java application. It takes advantage of Scratch v1.3’s ability to send and receive broadcasts and global variable messages. Catenary acts as a middleman, shuttling certain messages back and forth between the Arduino board and Scratch.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Summer Brain Drain - Fact or Fiction?

At the end of the school year parents are assulted with the notion of "Summer Brain Drain". The theory is that students "lose: a few months of learning over the summer break and then the schools have to spend a few weeks at the beginning of the year reteaching this lost knowledge.

I contend that if this knowledge is so easily lost then it truely wasn't learned in the first place!

Surely if your child summer consists of sitting in front of the tv or playing video games all summer long then he/she is missing out on the opportunity to do some real learning, the kind that sadly they don't have time for in school because they are focused on things like cursive writing and memorizing facts and figures.

Summer is the perfect time to explore the natural world and learn how things connect to each other. Higher concept learning rather than compartimentlized learning in which kids have no idea how the various concepts relate to each other. For example learning multiplication facts by memorizing instead of using it directly in a project.

Personally I use the summer break to do all sorts of project based learning with my son, we also go on a lot of family trips, sign him up for a few art, nature, sports camps and I make sure there are plenty of trips to the library to spend a few hours of reading in the car or especially on those very hot muggy after noons when you don't want to move.

A few weeks agon I over heard the principal talking about year round school in order to catch up with our European and Asia global neighbors who are passing us in the education front. I cringed at the thought of year round school without the break to do the things school does not. Unless the schools taught an entirely different circulum perhaps spent mostly on the arts and sciences I'm not interested.

The problem of brain drain really is more economic as children in poorer familys do not have the access to the enriching summer camps or even a stay at home parent who can spend time with them and do the project based learning.

"If we can eliminate the summer gap, we can close the longstanding achievement gap between richer and poorer kids," said Richard Allington, a professor of education at the University of Tennessee and past president of the International Reading Association. "Basically, even poor kids grow reading skills at about the same rate as middle-class kids, when they are in school." he said. "Two-thirds of the achievement gap occurs during the summers, not during the school year." - Daniel T. Willingham, a professor of psychology at U-Va. who is an expert in cognition and the application of cognitive principles to K-12 education.

Active Summer, Active Minds

Great Schools - Stop Summer Brain Drain

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Meet Your Teacher

This current issue of Edutopia
says it all - Kids lead the way in the digital classroom.

My philosophy working with kids is to show them technology, give them a little direction but then get out of the way.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Self-described as a cross between a mechanical engineer and a choreographer, Arthur Ganson creates contraptions composed of a range of materials from delicate wire to welded steel and concrete. Most are viewer-activated or driven by electric motors. All are driven by a wry sense of humor or a probing philosophical concept"

Exhibit info

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

Why don't we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it's because we've been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies -- far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity -- are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. "We are educating people out of their creativity," Robinson says. It's a message with deep resonance. Robinson's TEDTalk has been distributed widely around the Web since its release in June 2006. The most popular words framing blog posts on his talk? "Everyone should watch this."

A visionary cultural leader, Sir Ken led the British government's 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education, a massive inquiry into the significance of creativity in the educational system and the economy, and was knighted in 2003 for his achievements. His latest book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, a deep look at human creativity and education, was published in January 2009.

Check out this humorous and thought provoking piece:


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Time to shut down the public education system

Alvin Toffler (Future Shock author)on why public school need to be rebuilt from the ground up:

"We should be thinking from the ground up. That's different from changing everything. However, we first have to understand how we got the education system that we now have. Teachers are wonderful, and there are hundreds of thousands of them who are creative and terrific, but they are operating in a system that is completely out of time. It is a system designed to produce industrial workers.

Let's look back at the history of public education in the United States. You have to go back a little over a century. For many years, there was a debate about whether we should even have public education. Some parents wanted kids to go to school and get an education; others said, "We can't afford that. We need them to work. They have to work in the field, because otherwise we starve." There was a big debate.

Late in the 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution, business leaders began complaining about all these rural kids who were pouring into the cities and going to work in our factories. Business leaders said that these kids were no good, and that what they needed was an educational system that would produce "industrial discipline."

What is industrial discipline?

"Well, first of all, you've got to show up on time. Out in the fields, on the farms, if you go out with your family to pick a crop, and you come ten minutes late, your uncle covers for you and it's no big deal. But if you're on an assembly line and you're late, you mess up the work of 10,000 people down the line. Very expensive. So punctuality suddenly becomes important.
You don't want to be tardy."

Yes. In school, bells ring and you mustn't be tardy. And you march from class to class when the bells ring again. And many people take a yellow bus to school. What is the yellow bus? A preparation for commuting. And you do rote and repetitive work as you would do on an assembly line.



Once you start thinking about this "industrial discipline" taught in public schools you can really start to see it: Don't run on the playground. Don't play with sticks. If you have extra time here is another worksheet.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

DrumBot Project Update

BTW - I order a few of these surplus Saw 3 toys from All Electronics. For $2 you get a digital voice recorder part and even two included AAA batteries. Just the battery holder is worth that!
So far so good. My soldering skills seem to have been good enough to get the MSA-R board working properly despite a few questionable solder joints. The one LED stays lit and the other one comes on and then goes off as its suppose to - I did have the MIDI connector soldered on wrong which I learned is a common mistake according to the Highly Liquid web site. Note to self - Read the diagrams with care!

I got a really cheap MIDI to USB cord off of Ebay and used Anvil Studio (free MIDI composer program) to generate some MIDI signals. Anvil has a nice MIDI test feature that generates about 12 notes over and over so you can test your MIDI ins and outs.

For who knows why I couldn't get my Windows NT computer to work with the DrumBot. I have a zillion USB ports in use so maybe that was the problem. Anyway I tried it on my super slow Vista laptop and had success! But I did have to download a little Vista Midi Mapper utility. Here are the resources I used:

Midi Mapper for Vista

Anvil Studio

I set the MIDI out to channel 13 and set the DIP switches to channel 13 and the note range of around 60 to 70 which is where Anvil Studio runs its test. Success! The MIDI cable lit out as sending data OUT and the LED on the MSA-R blinked with the incoming notes.

Next up - Raid Caffrey's collection of talking Happy Meal toys and add some motors and solenoids!

Friday, June 12, 2009

DrumBot Project - Tips from Michael Una

These are the solenoids I use:

If you're considering tackling this project, I recommend using a different HighlyLiquid kit than the one mentioned in the article. John has come out with some newer ones that work a little more cleanly than the MSA-R.

You should check out the MD24:

It's got 24 outputs, and can control servos directly for a quick and easy solution. You can also drive transistors with it for activating the solenoids.

Please feel free to ask me any questions as you get into it.


Michael Una

Thursday, June 11, 2009

DrumBot Resources

Original Drumbot Article in Make

Michael Una's Blog

Cocktail Drumbot -


This one uses a motor to drum:

Teaching Computer Technology

I found this great blog that is "A collection of ideas and resources that might help someone who wants to teach kids about computer technology"

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Step By Step Reactable Journal

I just found this step by step guide as to how to make your own reacTable.

He is going to use the following software:

reacTivision: reacTIVision is a computer vision framework for the fast and robust tracking of fiducial markers via a camera.

TUIO Simulator: A java application that simulates reacTIVision, i.e it simulates a real table so that you can configure all of the software without the need of a camera and a physical table set up.

MIDI Monitor: An application that intercepts all data being broadcast over the MIDI controller channel and notes what information is being sent. This is useful to monitor exactly what is going on between Max/MSP and Ableton Live.

3dMix patch: A kind of application that runs inside Max/MSP because Max/MSP alone is useless, it needs to be instructed, that is what this patch does.

Ableton Live: Ableton Live is a versatile loop-based music sequencer software for mac or PC.

Max/MSP: Max/MSP is a graphical development environment for music and multimedia.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Progress on the Reactable

After a week of fussing with this and learning a lot I have some success. I got the ReactTIvision software working right off and it was reading the fiducial symbols no problem. The sticking point was getting the MIDI data into something that could read it.

The ReaTIvision MIDI setup video helped A LOT! Specifically moving the Midi demo.xml file out of the Midi folder into the main folder and in the xml file itself moving the MIDI config line into the active code from the comments area. See the video for more details.

I also installed the MIDI Yoke driver.

Settings that worked for me. Opening Midi Device: Out of MIDI Yoke: 4

In Midi-Ox input port 04 in from MIDI Yoke: 4

MIDI easier for non-programer types...

The application can alternatively send MIDI messages, which allows to map any object dimension (xpos, ypos, angle) to a MIDI control via an XML configuration file. Adding and removing objects can be mapped to simple note ON/OFF events. Keep in mind though that MIDI has less bandwidth and data resolution compared to Open Sound Contol, so the MIDI feature is meant as an convenient alternative in some cases, but TUIO still will be the primary messaging layer.

Adding to reacTIVision.xml switches to MIDI mode and specifies the MIDI configuration files that contains the mappings and MIDI device selection. An example configuration file along with an example PD patch can be found in the midi folder. You can list all available MIDI devices with the "-l midi" option.

A user at the reaktor forum posted this brief tutorial on how to use reacTIVision in conjunction with commercial audio software such as reaktor. "

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

And now for something really kewl: Reactable

How it works

reacTIVision (free software and directions)

Make a Reatable

"To make sure that all of the included libraries are loaded when Pd runs, double-click C:\Program Files\pd\pd-settings.reg"
Installing PD (PureData) on Windows

Tangible Laptop - step by step

Tangible Laptop software TUIO to MIDI

Create Digital Motion

Groovy - Kids Making Music

My son's former music teach had a sign on in her classroom that said "Musical Kids Excel". I used to think it was just a way to promote the music department and keep the funds for music from being cut but as I've seen my own child excel in music I wholeheartedly believe in the connection between music and learning.

Once music basics are learned it one of the most creative and fun learning activities is composing your own music. In the past, aspiring composers typically had to master an instrument, play it and then listen to the sounds before they wrote down the notes for a composition. Now software is available for even very young kids to write original compositions. Comparing it to painting, think of the software as the brushes, music as the paint and the composition as the canvas.

"Students are able to do things now that were all but impossible before except for the truly gifted and talented, which is to compose their own music," said Sandi MacLeod, coordinator for the Vermont MIDI Project, a 12-year-old music composition project involving more than 7,000 students grades two to 12 from 40 schools in the state that use Sibelius and its kids software, Groovy." (from Software for kindergarten Beethovens By Stefanie Olsen)

Groovy comes from Sibelius a leader in notation and composition software for professional musicians. There are three versions of Groovy for different ages, each allows for compositions to be viewed as standard music notation.

Groovy Shapes - Ages 5+

Teaches the basics of sound, rhythm, pitch and composition using pictures and animation. Children can compose by dragging and dropping shapes that represent rhythms, melodies and chords. Compositions can be viewed as standard music notation.

"I am an elementary music teacher and our school bought the entire series of Groovy Music for our computer lab. My students have done so well with it and enjoyed it so much, I bought it for my 5 year old niece. It's very user friendly and kids find it very entertaining. The Create portion of the software is awesome for beginning "composers." I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to encourage the exploration of music in a 5-7 yr old they know."

Groovy Jungle - Ages 7+

Teaches the basics of sound, rhythm, pitch and composition using pictures and animation. Children can compose by dragging and dropping shapes that represent rhythms, melodies and chords, or by playing from a MIDI keyboard. Compositions can be viewed as standard music notation. Introduces children to notes and notation, ostinato, major and minor, and simple musical terms.

"The moving animals, the sound effects ~ it's so much fun to be creative with this software."

Groovy Music City - Ages 9 - 11

Futuristic city themed Create mode. Library of sounds includes patterns, as well as individual sounds. Introduces notation and musical terminology. Record from a MIDI keyboard, display compositions as a score and work with text.

-- Ed


If you are looking for a game that combines creativity and music (Wii Music also comes to mind), you might want to track down SimTunes from Maxis. It came out in 1996 and seems to be out of print.

"SimTunes is one of those wonderful programs that grows with the user. In essence, it is a paint program that doubles as a musical composition program--or vice versa. The user begins with a blank screen, or canvas and a variety of tools, paints, and patterns with which to decorate said canvas. The twist is that each colored dot applied to the design represents a musical note--from low C to high C. Now add 4 adorable little "bugz" to the painting. The bugz march across the screen much like Pacman. But instead of munching, these bugz make music when they contact a dot.

Each bug is a caricature of the musical instrument it plays. There are a dozen bugz in each of 4 different categories to choose from--some play standard instruments, like pianos and guitars; some play unusual instruments, like steel drums or cymbals; some play chords or riffs, some make sound effects, and some rival Scatman Caruthers in verbosity. The user chooses one bug from each group to create a quirky quartet.

At this point the creative mind is let loose. Some users choose to create non-drawings which sound like actual tunes, known or newly composed. Others choose to create intricate drawings that, when "played" by the bugz result in utter cacophony. With dedication, the user can even create the perfect marriage of art and music. Examples of previous SimTunes users' masterpieces can be found in the "Gallery". The possibilities are endless, and as with any artistic endeavor, beauty is in the eye, or in this case the computer, of the beholder!"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

DrumBot Project

Robot drummer from Michael Una on Vimeo.

Caffrey and I are going to work on a project similar to this once school gets out. Inspiration comes from an article called "Drumbot Activate!" by Michael Una in Make: 15 (


Highly Liquid MSA-R MIDI decoder kit
MSA-R firmware docs
Video of Drumbot

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Einstein Never Used Flash Cards

How Our Children Really Learn - and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less

From the Publisher: Children don't come with instruction manuals, but sometimes it seems like everyone has an opinion on how to make your child into a mini-Einstein. A winner of a Books for a Better Life award, this book sifts through years of developmental research to give you a clear message: learning really happens through playtime. As the authors explain how to make the best of your time with your child, they show you how to practice their own three "R's":

REFLECT: Stop and ask if a formal, structured activity is right for your child and whether you're reducing the time that she could spend learning through play.

RESIST: Just say no to stuffing your child with information and do so knowing that the research in this book backs you up.

RE-CENTER: Reassure yourself that you made the right choice, because growing up should be full of play, not work.

More than a book about parenting, this guide is a joyful celebration of childhood and the imaginative and nurturing play that should be so much a part of it.

A Nation of Wimps

"Parents are going to ludicrous lengths to take the bumps out of life for their children. However, parental hyperconcern has the net effect of making kids more fragile; that may be why they're breaking down in record numbers.

...With few challenges all their own, kids are unable to forge their creative adaptations to the normal vicissitudes of life. That not only makes them risk-averse, it makes them psychologically fragile, riddled with anxiety. In the process they're robbed of identity, meaning and a sense of accomplishment, to say nothing of a shot at real happiness. Forget, too, about perseverance, not simply a moral virtue but a necessary life skill. These turn out to be the spreading psychic fault lines of 21st-century youth. Whether we want to or not, we're on our way to creating a nation of wimps....

Read the full article
By: Hara Estroff Marano

Nanny State Playgrounds

My son started at a new elementary school (4th grade). The only complaints I've heard is how they can't run on the playground equipment and how they keep getting kicked off it. He says recess can be boring! Is this what we want? A bunch of quiet, slow moving but super safe, non-risk taking wimps? What kind of adults will they become?

see the video

Monday, May 4, 2009

Minyan Land

MinyanLand, a virtual community designed to teach kids and families about earning, spending, saving and giving through games and interaction that are entertaining and educational.

The world was conceived by Minyanville, a leader in financial infotainment and home to the icons of Wall Street and finance, "Hoofy" the Bull and "Boo" the Bear. Joining the effort is the Council for Economic Education, the nation's leader in economic and financial literacy.

MinyanLand as a platform to entertain and educate a young generation so they understand the concept of a market and the basics of economics and finance on a real-world level. The economic system of MinyanLand mimics the real-life pricing of general goods and services. As players participate in the system, their actions will affect the overall MinyanLand economy. This is how they will learn. MinyandLand is best suited to kids in grades 3-5 but can be used by all ages.

MinyanLand will also offer incentives to encourage such behavior as charitable giving.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Playing With Python - The Modern "Basic"

"I learned how to program with a book similar to this one when I was 9 years old. That book covered games programming in the BASIC language. Python is a much more modern language that makes programming even easier. At the same time, Python is a serious language that is used by companies and organizations such as Google, NASA, Industrial Light and Magic, and many others." by Albert Sweigart

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Unofficial LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT Inventor's Guide

This book is excellent both for beginners and for more experienced Lego enthusiasts. Most of the book is written in step by step instructions that are beautifully illustrated with informative graphics. These images blend both the Lego modeling aspect of building robots and the visual programming side.

The best part of the book is in the robot recipes which is in the second half. There are six different models to choose from and you can use these easily as a base for more complex designs that suit your needs.

For more experienced readers the book covers different ways of hacking the NXT set. There is information on different compilers that you can use to program your creation. As well as a fantastic resources section at the end which is sure to satisfy your craving for more ways to use your NXT system.

This text is well written. The coverage is in-depth but provides a reasonable learning curve. I highly recommend this book.

Scratch For Teens

Scratch is a new programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art -- and share your creations on the web.

Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills. As they create and share Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.

The program is free to download and the Scratch web site has all kinds of information to get you started. But if you are the type who would rather have a step by step book kind of introduction to Scratch basically there is only one book on the market at this time "Scratch For Teens".

Don't let the title fool you. Scratch is great for kids as young as six and for adults as old as 106. Teachers will find this book as a great source of ideas for guided projects while kids will probably just jump in and start Scratching away.

"If you aspire to one day become a professional programmer, Scratch provides everything you need to build a foundation. Scratch also packs all of the programming power and punch needed to satisfy the programming needs of most computer enthusiasts and hobbyists.

Best of all, it’s actually fun to use!

Scratch Programming for Teens provides all the instruction that a first-time programmer needs to quickly get up and running with Scratch. Before you know it, you will be creating all kinds of projects that incorporate graphics, sound, and animation. As you learn how to program with Scratch, you will learn programming principles and techniques that you can later apply to other programming languages such as Microsoft Visual Basic and AppleScript."

Friday, January 9, 2009

What They Play Site

Your kid into video games? If they have a pulse they probably are - Check out "What They Play" at a parents guide to video games.