Tag Archives: technology

Manga Guide to Microprocessors: Excellent tech graphic novel

It has been a long time since I’ve written any machine or assembler code, and it is a rare day that I hand construct a logic circuit using transistors. But it is comforting to know that these skills and the knowledge associated with them still reside in some form or another in the world of microprocessors.

The Manga Guides published by No Starch Press and written by a wide range of authors manga-based graphic novels on diverse topics in science, math, statistics, and technology. I’ve reviewed several here (see this post for a partial list of some of the other guides). And the newest entry to this growing and rather large and excellent library is The Manga Guide to Microprocessors by Michio Shibuya, Takashi Tonagi, and Office Sawa.

This book is really thorough, packing in piles of details about computers, focusing on the microprocessor level technology but covering a lot of related things as well such as memory and data storage and programming, with a whole section on controllers.

But this information is embedded in a story, as is the case with all the Manga guides.

This is the story of Ayumi, a master chess player who is beaten by a computer. She engages with the computer’s programmer, Kano, in a quest to learn all she can about her nemesis.

The book has three modes. One is a standard manga graphics novel sequence of frames with the main story. That is most of the book. The other is a more detailed conversation between iconic versions of the protagonists, in which detail that would be difficult to easily convey in pure cartoon form is gone over. The third is a retrospective or detailed section at the end of each chapter which is lightly illustrated, text heavy, and serves to contextualize the previous material.

I strongly recommend this book.

Here is what the various modes look like:

Most of the book looks like this.

Some of the book looks like this.

An Excellent Robot Kit: Tenergy Odev Tomo 2-in-1

Tenergy is a company that you know well even if you don’t know them. They make a lot of the replacement batteries for everything, external power supplies, other electronic items. But recently they’ve added a few items to their line of products that reach out in an entirely different direction.

Tenergy Odev Tomo 2-in-1 Transformable DIY STEM Education Programmable Robot Kit is a robot kit that can be configured as a tricycle with two large wheels, or as a two-wheeled “bicycle” which operates like a Segway. Which is pretty amazing.

So far Tomo is my favorite out of the box Robot Build, and I highly recommend it. It is also very reasonably priced (see note on that below).

Tomo the robot has the usual sensors that come with such a device, including a line tracker and a distance sensor that resembles a pair of eyes. The yellow color of the framework and the overall configuration give Tomo a sort of Wall-E look, which is cute.

Assembly: Instructions are clear. Assembly involves the use of several different size bolts and nuts to piece together the various framework parts into the appropriate configuration, which differs depending on if you want the trike or bike. The parts are high quality ad perfectly machined. If you find yourself wondering why something does not make sense, that’s you, not the robot. Check to make sure you used the right size bolts and re-read the instructions. The number of steps required to put the machine together is, in my experience with several similar devices, on the low side, so assembly will be quicker than you might expect. The kit comes with two tools which are of high quality, not the cheap knockoff screwdriver that you can’t really use. (The screwdriver is actually very nice.) Note that the bolts use two different screwdriver bits, and the shaft of the screwdriver is reversible. When we did the initial assembly, Huxley, 7, did most of the work with me guiding and holding some parts while he used the bolts.

Tomo under construction
Hint: There are two steps to get the big wheels to stay on. Consider super-tightening the first step or they’ll eventually (like, in a few minutes) fall off. I’m considering scoring the motor shaft with my Dremel to help the screw bite better. This is not a problem with Tomo, this is a problem with all wheels on all shafts on all robots.

Hint: The line tracing sensor has an adjustable height. This is an excellent feature. Go ahead and play with it to get it just right, which is probably lower than you are initially comfortable with. I find that this line tracing sensor on this machine works far better than others I’ve tested, but I’m not sure if that is the adjust-ability, the sensor itself, or the software. All are likely important factors.

Operation: Operation is right out of the box excellent, using an app that runs on Android or Apple. I did not test the apple version. The app that controls the robot is easily deployed and well designed.

Programming: This may be the best feature of Tomo. The programming app is designed for Android or Apple devices and works great. The programability is flexible and powerful, and the Scratch-like programming interface is top quality. Every now and then the unexpected happens, but I think that has to do with Bluetooth connectivity issues. Hint: When programming keep the Android/Apple device and the robot right near each other. This may be just Huxley, but the programmable sounds and lights are of greater interest than the movement of the robot, ad least for the first hour or so!

Guts: The processor board is based on Audrino architecture. I’ve not hacked it but it should be totally hackable. The processor is hooked to the other bits with Rj11 male-to-male cables. Our cat ate one of them and we were able to easily find replacements.

NOTE ON PRICE: At this time, the Tenergy Odev Tomo 2-in-1 Transformable DIY STEM Education Programmable Robot Kit is about $30 cheaper than any similar robot, but also comes with a number of other deals including 10% off a second robot, and discounts on various other products (see the link, click on the “buy one get a discount…” link.

How to build your own computer

Almost every resource on the Internet on building your own computer is oriented towards building a gaming computer. The second most common discussion is how to build a “budget PC.”

When I sought out the latest information on building a computer a few weeks ago, I did not like either of these two options.

A “gaming computer” is oriented towards two features: a) overclocking your processor and b) having one or two mondo power-hungry and gigunda graphics cards. A “budget PC” is an under powered machine that replicates what I could have purchased in many forms for less than the cost of a build.

My intention was to build a computer that would be able to crunch large amounts of data quickly, allow a large number of normal applications to be open at once, to be able to handle multiple very large text files, and to do mid level audio and maybe video editing (even if that required shutting down other software). Also, I wanted the computer to be 200% to 300% faster than my currently fastest computer, which is an Intel I7 holding laptop that is several years old.

I had on hand a small pile of “hard drives,” including one 2.5 terabyte hard drive, and one 125 gigabyte solid state drive (not called a “hard drive” by many, but it is essentially the hard drive.) I also had a case, and a keyboard, and a collection of monitors. I also had a case. The fact that I already had a case turns out to have been a big problem, and I’ll discuss that below.

I decided to go for an Intel I5 but a higher end one, which would give me that 300% performance increase required to make me feel like I had something new and cool, but to put in in a motherboard that would likely handle a later upgrade to a faster I7, if I made that upgrade within a year or two. Also, the mother board had to be able to handle 64 gigabytes of RAM because the best way to meet the requirements listed above is not with multiple processors or multi threading etc., but with a whopping amount of memory.

Here is a list of the parts that I bought to assemble:

Motherboard

GIGABYTE GA-H270-HD3 LGA1151 Intel H270 2-Way Crossfire ATX DDR4 Motherboard

This motherboard costs about 100 bucks. It handles sixth and seventh generation Intel Core processors, and Dual Channel DDRF4 memory, and has graphics support on board. It does not have a lot of other bells and whistles. It is supposedly sturdy and has high ratings everywhere I’ve looked.

The documentation on the motherboard is very well done. I’ve referred to it many times while messing around with this build, so I should know.

Processor (CPU)

Intel Core i5-7500 LGA 1151 7th Gen Core Desktop Processor (BX80677I57500)

As noted, I chose the I5 for just under 200 bucks instead of an I7 for more. The old I7 in my Dell Laptop, which is a reasonable computer, has a passmark rating of somewhere beteen 2000 and 3000. This process is just over 8000. I don’t know much about passmark ratings, but I know more is better and most normal fast processors produced today that you would actually buy are in the 8000 to 9000 range, so this is good.

The key number here is 7500, which makes this a seventh generation processor. Here is a key point: This mother board and this processor are claimed to work together, and I can tell you that they do. A lot of other motherboards require bios upgrades or other fiddling to make them work with the most current processor.

Anticipating something I’ll be discussing below, yes, this motherboard and processor combination work fine with Linux. It never occurred to me to worry about that, because Linux works with everything, but in case you were wondering, it does. I do not know if this configuration can be a Hackintosh or not.

Cooling system

I used the cooling fan that came with the processor and it works fine. I’ve checked the temperature readings and the processor does not get hot. However, I think the fan that came with the processor is a bit noisy. I intend to install a different cooling fan to see if it is quieter, and the one I got to do this is the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO RR-212E-20PK-R2 CPU Cooler with 120mm PWM Fan, which happens to be on sale right now for 30 bucks. I’ve not installed it, installation looks to be a bit complicated and I don’t know how I’ll like it, but that’s what I have sitting here on my workbench.

Power Supply

My build does not need a fancy power supply. The EVGA 450 B1, 80+ BRONZE 450W, 3 Year Warranty, Includes FREE Power On Self Tester, Power Supply 100-B1-0450-K1 is inexpensive and highly rated. It is onlyh 450 watts. If you are using a graphics card or two you may need to upgrade beyond this.

Bluetooth

The motherboard does not have Bluetooth or wireless. I got the MIATONE Wireless Bluetooth CSR 4.0 USB Adapter Dongle for PC with Windows 10 8 7 Vista XP 32/64 dongle to give me Bluetoth, for seven bucks. Works with Linux. Note: This is a USB 3.0 device, and it won’t work if you plug it into a USB 2.0 port. I found out.

My Wired Networking Thing

This motherboard does not have a wireless card. It does have an ethernet jack. You probably don’t even want wireless if you have a LAN nearby. In my case, temporarily (until I drill some holes in the house) my nearest LAN device is not in my office. I wanted the computer’s LAN to be hooked to the network, so when I do get around to bringing a router or switch into the office, I’ll just change what it is plugged into. So, I got the IOGEAR Universal Ethernet to Wi-Fi N Adapter.

This cute little device is basically a wireless router that hooks into your wireless LAN, and pretends to be an ethernet jack. It can get its power from a powered USB port or it can use a USB charger brick, which is supplied. Works great.

Display

As noted, I have a pile of displays laying around but they all suck. I bought a Dell SE2416H 24″ Screen LED-Lit Monitor. I had purchsed one of these from Best Buy for about 135 for a different computer. I got this one for about the same price from Amazon. The price of this monitor ranges from 120 to 190. There is also a version that is higher grade, as in, more finely tuned up but with the same specs, for a bit more. Right now, I’m using this and second, older, display, and things are working fine, but eventually I intend to get a second Dell 24 inch. This is obviously a very personal choice and people will have strong preferences. I may get the upgraded version of this monitor when it comes time to getting the second one, see below. (Reminder: This is not a gaming computer.)

RAM

Given the mother board, I went for fast. Also, since I want to eventually have 64 gigabytes, I went for large. So, I got one chip of G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series 16GB 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 3200 (PC4 25600) Intel Z170 Desktop Memory Model F4-3200C16S-16GVK with 16 gigs on it. I will add a second, third, and eventually, fourth chip over time.

The motherboard and memory uses a dual channel technology, which allows for effectively faster RAM. But with only one chip installed, I don’t get the dual channel effect. So, when I buy the second chip, I’ll be both increasing RAM to 32 gigabytes, and unlocking the dual channel technology, so that may be a noticeable upgrade in my future.

Here is a list of parts that are rough equivalents to the parts I had on hand. This list together with the list above will produce a full working computer:

Computer Case

I had an old case that had never been used and that is supposed to be quite. It isn’t especially quiet, and the front connectors don’t include some of the modern things computers have (it is about 12 years old) and does include some things that are fairly arcane. I regret not just getting a new case. But then, when I look at cases, I realize that I want a really good case. But, like computer build documentation, cases are either crap-budget or gamer cases, and I want neither of those. I list a case below that might be a good one to get, and if I do get that case, it will be the most expensive single element in the whole build. But it might be worth it.

Second Monitor


An old RGB monitor that works.

OS “Hard Drive”

Something like this: Samsung 850 PRO – 256GB – 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSD (MZ-7KE256BW). I installed the operating system on it.

Data Hard Drive

Something like this, on which I keep files: Seagate 2TB BarraCuda SATA 6Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5-Inch Internal Hard Drive (ST2000DM006)

Keyboard

I like mechanical keyboards, and had this one: AUKEY Mechanical Keyboard with Blue Switches, RGB Backlit 104-Key Gaming Keyboard with Preset and Customizable Lighting Effects for PC & Mac Gamers

Mouse and Mousepad

There are advantages to having a wired mouse, and if you use a laser mouse, there are advantages to having an appropriate mouse pad. Or you can just get some wireless mouse of your choice. Currently am using these:

TeckNet Pro S2 Ergonomic USB Wired Optical Mouse for Laptop Computer, 6 Buttons, 2000DPI

3M Precise Mouse Pad Enhances the Precision of Optical Mice at Fast Speeds and Extends the Battery Life of Wireless Mice up to 50%, 9 in x 8 in (MP114-BSD1)

Here is a list of parts that I have not gotten yet but as I do I’ll be adding them to the computer.

Better second monitor

Dell S Series Screen LED-Lit Monitor 23.8″ Black (S2418H) or similar

Better case

Something like be quiet! BGW10 DARK BASE PRO 900 ATX Full Tower Computer Chassis – Black/Orange, because I want a full size ATX case that is quiet.

Building the computer

Take your time.

Get a magnetic screwdriver that fits your screws, probably Phillips.

Some people like to ground themselves with various grounding devices (such as Rosewill ESD Anti-Static Wrist Strap Components RTK-002, Black/Yellow) when they are building computers.

Start by putting the processor into the motherboard, then put the motherboard into the case, then the cooling fan on the processor, and the ram in the slot. You can change around the order of these things if you want. You’ll need to put some goop (such as Thermal Compound Paste, Carbon Based High Performance heatsink Paste, Thermal Compound CPU for all Cooler computer PC Fan) between the CPU and the CPU fan, but that will probably be supplied with the fan, most likely already smeared on the correct location.

Then put the hard drives where they are supposed to go, screw in the power supply, anything else that is not hooked up, and hook up all the wires.

Then attach a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, and turn the thing on. It will work fine.

Hint: A motherboard does not “turn on” until if has power from the power supply (and the power supply is plugged in and turned on) AND the motherboard gets a signal from the case’s off/on switch.

Installing the Operating System

Set up a USB stick to be bootable, insert it into the appropriate slot, turn on the computer and select the function key that switches the boot process to a boot menu. Pick the likely choice for the USB stick, and run through the install procedure (just follow the instructions and mostly pick defaults).

Since I have a second drive for data, I created a new partition using the whole drive (ext4) and added the UUID code to the fstab file, mounting it as “/hdd” and put my Dropbox folder there. Dropbox complained, I ignored the complaints, and so far so good.

You can use a service like PC Parts Picker to work out compatibility.

For me, this was worth it. I could not get a computer this powerful and with this configuration for this price (I did explore that option). Also, I’m getting some parts later to increase the overall quality of the build, such as RAM and a monitor and probably some other things, so even if the total cost is the same or slightly more than an out of the box computer, I’ve got added flexibility that I like. Plus it is fun.

Building a computer is fairly easy, and nothing can really go wrong. If it does, I don’t know you, OK?

Good luck!

Arduino Inventor’s Guide

First, a word about Arduino and why you should care. An Arduino is what is called a “prototyping micro-controller” aka “really fun electronic gizmo toy.”

Micro-controllers are everywhere. When you “turn on” a machine in your house, chances are there was already a micro-controller sitting there, running on a minute bit of juice from a built in battery, waiting for you to push a button. Then, you turned a dial or selected an option on your dishwasher, or changed the setting on your thermostat, or picked some alternative mode on your coffee pot, or shifted into a different gear using a “gear shift” in your fly-by-wire Prius, or you opened up the birthday card and cats meowed out “Happy Birthday.”

All of those events involved a micro-controller, which consists of thee parts. There is a brain inside it, there is a set of sensors or actuators (a thing that detects that the greeting card has been opened, and an actuator that is the thing that makes the meowing sound by playing an WAV or MP3 file), and some software. The software gets in there by hooking an in production version of the micro-controller, likely once in its life, to a regular computer via a COM port (the same kind of interface used by your mouse, or a USB connection, etc.), and stuffing the software in there.

The Arduino Uno is a micro-controller that is very generalized, very large (a bit larger than a credit card), has a well behaved power supply, lots of connectors for either sensor or actuators, and a pretty fancy brain for a micro-controller, with lots of room for code written in a very powerful and fairly easy to use language similar to objective C. You can hook the Arduino up to most computers, using freely available software to communicate with it and compile your code. For the most part, you don’t have to actually write code, it is provided by the developers of projects you are poaching, but if you want, you can go to town with it.

There are hundreds and hundreds of sensors and actuators, from thermostats to motors, gyroscopes to myriad things that light up, available for the Arduino, and in fact, anything that runs on low voltage can be hooked one way or another to it (if you know what you are doing). High voltage uses (like shifting a car or opening or closing a garage door) are done, of course, by using relays that are switches operated by a micro-controller but that pass any voltage level you want, if you get the right one.

The Arduino and its associated equipment can thus be used to replicate, design, and experiment with pretty much any thing a micro-controller can do. After “prototyping” it is trivial, for an expert, to rebuild the circuit using a less capable but perfectly adequate bunch of parts, and solder instead of just sticking things together (called “breadboarding”) and so on. But no one really does that with Arduino. With Arduino you may leave the final product at it is (like the robot we built a few weeks ago) or, as in the case of the projects in an introductory book on how to use and have fun with an Arduino, you may just take the thing you built apart and build another thing.

So, this new book, The Arduino Inventor’s Guide: Learn Electronics by Making 10 Awesome Projects, is sitting on my workbench ready to go to work.

Of all the intro Arduino books I’ve seen, this one is unique in a way I’ll explain below.

The book gives detailed, understandable, and learning-oriented instructions for a home stoplight (helpful with toddlers in the house), a reaction time garme, a balance beam game, a diminutive greenhouse, an small piano, and a handful of other projects.

The coolest project might be a living breathing Logo turtle. Logo is a computer programming environment developed years ago to serve several functions including helping kids get interesting in coding. Logo is actually one of the oldest computer languages still in use (dates to the late 60s) and it is a general programming language, but it is mainly adapted to running the Logo turtle. The turtle is a curser that is moved around on the screen, and instructed here and there to drop a specific pen (it can have several different pens) so as it moves along it draws.

This project, from The Arduino Inventor’s Guide: Learn Electronics by Making 10 Awesome Projects, is a physical turtle that draws on your rug! Or, hopefully, a big piece of drawing paper you put down for it.

I mentioned above that this book is unique. Here’s how. I’ve looked at a Lot of Audrino project books, and there are no introductory books that provide detailed information on how to make interesting project enclosures and cases. The projects in this book rely heavily on the stuff you built the electronic into. The project enclosures are generally made of simple corrugated cardboard that you can get from an old box, or, if you want, from a craft store (for more interesting colors, better quality materials, less cat hair, etc.)

You can build all the projects in this book with parts you have acquired in the usual manner, but the book suggests you get the Sparkfun Inventor’s Kit for Arduino, which is about 75 bucks. Note: This book is produced by No Starch Press and Spark Fun, so of course they suggest the Sparkfun Inventor’s Kit for Arduino as a way of getting all the parts. But, by the time you add up an Uno or equivalent micro controller for 19 bucks, LCD display for nine bucks, fancy breadboard holder for 9 bucks , a shift register for 8 bucks, and miscellaneous other parts, you might be over $75 anyway. Or maybe not. You’ll have to check around.

There is plenty of preliminary information to get a total novice started, and each project is rich in detail and very fully and expertly, clearly and helpfully, described.

This is an absolutely excellent choice, perhaps my favorite at the moment (and totally up to date) Arduino starter book.

Amazon Echo Dot Review

I got an Amazon Echo Dot for my birthday. This allows me to command a computer, using voice, to do things. The voice response on the echo is amazing. It does not get much wrong, and you can speak in a fairly normal voice from another room and the mysterious entity that apparently lives inside the Echo (known to me as Alexa) will hear you.

There is an Amazon Echo and the alternative, Echo Dot. The price difference is very large, and the differences are fairly small. The regular Echo is tall and has high quality speakers, the dot is short and has OK speakers. If you have nice speakers that you can plug the Dot into, that’s the way to go. You can get inexpensive Echo’s refurbished)

HAL
The Amazon Echo from the top. Or is it?????
(I should mention that just about now, Amazon is ramping up to Prime Day 2017, which starts on July 10th and runs through July 11th, which is when they produce all sorts of sales (currently you can get $10 by streaming a Prime video for the first time on your TV, and get a substantial discount off of Kindle Unlimited, which I do not use but some people swear by.))

The Echo/Alexa thing can be very handy. I can easily create and update a shopping list that is mirrored on one of two list keeping apps available for the phone, on that is fancy and not free and the other that is less fancy and free. The Echo can generally be set up to interact with the Internet of Things. We are building a very intelligent robot and I assume I’ll be able to use the Echo to command the robot to do whatever the Robot can do. The other day I played a podcast, but I was unable to rewind backwards a few seconds, to hear a part I missed, but I’m sure that can be done somehow.

The Echo can be sufficiently integrated into your Amazon account to use it to order thing and to check the status of orders. I’ve chosen to not do that at this time. I’ll wait until Huxley is away at College.

The other big deal voice actuated device like the Echo is, of course, the Google Home. Since Google interfaces with the Android OS, and Google and Android are in a steel cage death match, Echo does not automatically do a lot of things it should do. For example, it should work flawlessly with a lot of different Android apps, so, for instance, I can send shopping or to-do list items to my Simplenote app, which is what I use for such things. There are indeed ways to make Echo work with other machines, and probably to make Home do the same thing, as there is an API, and neither device is made by Apple (which will take your first born if you try to integrate with any other company’s products). But at the moment it is medium level hacking. I expect that problem to go away in a matter of months, however.

The single best thing about the echo is its excellent mic and whatever software/hardware magic is being employed to pick up voice from far away and understand it clearly. I can’t compare it to Google’s device because I never tried one. I look forward to bending Alexa’s abilities to my will, and eventually taking over my kitchen!

Recommended music player and radio for the gym

Several weeks ago I tried once again, after many prior ill fated attempts over several years, to get a device that would play music, audio books, and be a radio. The audiobook part wasn’t the most important part, but the ability to play various audio files AND act as a radio AND not be a big giant thing I had to strap to a body part AND be sturdy were all important. This latest attempt has gone very well, and I now have a device that is very nice and therefore, I figured you’d want one too.

This time I tried the AGPtEK M20S 8GB Mini MP3 Player(Expandable Up to 64GB), Lossless Sound Touch Button Metal Music Player with FM/Voice Record,Silver and I love it, enough to recommend it.

Here are some of the specs from the manufacturer:

<li>Tiny and Solid Construction: The metal body makes it sturdy with some weight. Mini and portable,only 3 x 0.3 x 1.2 inches.</li>

<li>Lossless Sound Quality: High sound quality brings crystal clear sound wherever you are. Support audio formats: MP3/WMA/OGG/APE(Normal/Fast)/FLAC/WAV/AAC-LC/ACELP.</li>

<li>Easy Operation with Touch Button: Designed with 6 touch buttons and 5 metal buttons,independent locking and volume control. Fashion and convenient operation.</li>

<li>Multi-function: With music play, FM radio, FM/voice recording, resume playback, folder view, clock screensaver, bookmarks etc.</li>

<li>Long playback time: Up to 14 hours of audio playback with 2 hours of full charge. 8 GB digital storage media capacity, supports up to 64 GB (not included). To avoid incompatibility, please use AGPTek Memory Card.</li>

Did you see that it holds a microSD? I’ve not used that feature, but that is pretty cool. It has folders you can divide the music up in, which is, essentially, a very efficient way of making a play list. I’ve also not tried to record music off the radio. I’ll probably never listen to music on this radio. I may, however, record Rachel Maddow now and then..

At this point, being fairly new, I think it goes well beyond the 2 hour charge estimate.

It is complicated, this little device, and therefore can not be operated with a single button like a Shuffle. So, it will take a little while to lerarn how to use it (perhaps a full five minutes). Just remember, the reverse U button backs you out, and that’s a great way to change modes. The menu hamburger button, while listening to a radio station, lets you make a preset or change the presets.

I’m not sure that I loved the headphones. I remember not being too impressed with how they fit, but that’s going to be true for everybody vis-a-vis various headphones. I just plugged in my favorite headphones and used them. I’d grab them and look them over one more time to give you my opinion, but it is possible that the cat ate them.

Also, I just noticed, that if you get the AGPtEK now and buy an additional item with it, like a microSD card or a wall charger, you can get a discount on something. I’m not in the market for any of those things so I didn’t look closely.

Almost Free Computer, Coding, Game Programming Books

Have a look at the list of books, below.

Would you like a subset, or all, of these books, in electronic format, for very cheap? There is a way to do that. Note: This is time sensitive, the offer running for just about two weeks and it started yesterday.

I’ve reviewed several of these books on this blog, and have recommended them. I’m going through Python Crash Course right now, and we’ve found the various kids programming books to be helpful, for instance. I’ve not looked at the grey hat or black hat books, but I’m sure they are fine.

The publisher, No Starch Press, has created one of those deals where you give them a small amount of money and they give you a pile of books. Since I review a lot of books, esp. computer related books, the publishers sent me the info on this, asking if I would pass it on. See the site for details, but you can have have the firs three for $1+, those plus the next three for $8, and those plus the bottom three for $15+. In addition, if you get the first bundle (or more) you get a “sampler,” which is probably a big pamphlet for their other books, not sure.

Here is something really important, to some of you, about these eBooks: They come in multiple formats and are DRM free. So this is not as restrictive as, say, getting a book from Amazon or B&N. They are in PDF, MOBI, ePUB so they’ll work on pretty much any reader.

There is also an option for donating so a charity, including the Python Foundation, but also, pretty much any charity you can think of, while you buy the books. You can divide your payment between the publisher, the charity, and a tip jar. I’m not sure who gets the tip!

Any on of these books costs more than all of them, in any format, so if there is any single book on this list that you were going to get anyway, in electronic form, now’s your chance to get a whole big pile of them. With books, that is always a good things. And, since they are electronic, when you move, they add hardly any weight to your stuff! Electrons are light!

Automate the Boring Stuff with Python: Practical Programming for Total Beginners
Doing Math with Python: Use Programming to Explore Algebra, Statistics, Calculus, and More!
Teach Your Kids to Code: A Parent-Friendly Guide to Python Programming
Gray Hat Python: Python Programming for Hackers and Reverse Engineers
Python Playground: Geeky Projects for the Curious Programmer
Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming
Black Hat Python: Python Programming for Hackers and Pentesters
Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python
Python Crash Course: A Hands-On, Project-Based Introduction to Programming

HERE IS THE LINK TO GET THE BUNDLE DEAL AT NO STARCH PRESS

Makeblock mBot Add-on Pack-Six-legged Robot

The Makeblock mBot Add-on Pack-Six-legged Robot V1.1 is an add on for the Makeblock DIY mBot 1.1 Kit (Bluetooth Version) – STEM Education – Arduino – Scratch 2.0 – Programmable Robot Kit for Kids to Learn Coding & Robotics – Pink or any of its variants.

The makeblock robot is an arduino technology robot. It can be controlled with a supplied controller, or operated from any of several different kinds of computing devices (such as your cell phone) using an app. It can be programmed using the Arduino interface (from a Mac, Windows or Linux computer), but the robot comes with built in capabilities so you won’t need to do that to operate it. Note that the app-based controls provide more functionality than the hand held IR control.

But here we are talking about making that robot into a six legged insect with an add on package.

The add on package consists of the leggy parts of the photograph above. With this add on installed, the robot walks instead of rolls on wheels.

I love the Makeblock Robot and this is a great add on, but before you start investing in this system you need to know a couple of things.

Makeblock itself makes well designed and interesting robots and add ons, but they also produce several slightly different versions of everything they do. They all seem to work fine but there are many differences you will want to track. For instance, when buying a robot make sure you get one with bluetooth, because you will enjoy controlling the robot with your phone, where you will have more options than with the supplied IR controller. When choosing a leg upgrade, there are several options, though I think they all have the same basic parts. Each expansion pack allows you to make a six legged robot (the beetle robot) or a mantis robot, or a crazy frog robot. The kits I know of are:

  • Makeblock mBot Add-on Pack-Six-legged Robotby Makeblock
  • Makeblock Add-on Pack: Six-legged Robot Designed for mBot
  • Makeblock mBot STEM Six-Legged Robot Add-On Pack
  • Makeblock mBot Add-on Pack-Six-legged Robot Enjoyable Funny Tool Kids Adults Xmas Gift for Learning Programming Promote Creativity
  • Makeblock Flagship Store – Makeblock mBot Add-on Pack-Six-legged Robot by Makeblock
  • Makeblock mBot Add-on Pack-Six-legged Robot V1.1
  • I would go for the cheapest one, which at the moment, is this one. Whatever you do, don’t spend more than about 30 bucks.

    The basic idea is this: The main back wheels of the mBot robot serve as cams for a set of levers. To get a six legged robot, the first lever is attached off center to the wheel, and thus acts like a piston as the wheel rotates. This then drives all the other levers in a series of crude step like movements. The other variants use a similar principle.

    Tips and hints for building the mBot legged robot extensions:

    This is a DIY kit. Therefore, the manufacturers have less than the usual interest in keeping their product exactly the same for every iteration. This probably contributes to the plethora of seemingly similar but maybe slightly different versions. So, the first hint is to look at the pictures and descriptions closely to see if you can figure out exactly what you are getting, and then, don’t expect the instructions to necessarily exactly match the product. They usually do, but beware.

    If something doesn’t seem quite right, check the instructions to see if you screwed up. Whether or not you screwed up, remember: DIY project. Fish some additional bits out of your box of extra parts, figure it out.

    The biggest limitation of the robots, especially the six-legged version, is the surface on which they are walking. I have two suggestions that may allow them to be able to turn on a carpet and to keep traction on slipper tile. First, maybe add length to the legs so the thing rides up higher. Second, add feet. Feet that provided a bit more traction would help on tile. Perhaps a simple wrap of electric tape will do this. Feet that are flat attached to the bottom of the legs, like little snow shoes, should both increase traction and allow better turning on shag carpets. If you are going to have this robot chase around your cat, you are going to have to handle a variety of surfaces. We are playing around with some of these ideas.

    The kit comes with what are called “lock nuts.” But really, they are “hard to screw on nuts.” They are designed to not unwind themselves to fall off this highly energetic device. Two hints will make their use more effective.

    <li>use a socket from a socket wrench kit to hold the nuts when you are screwing in the bolt.  This will work better then the little wrench the kit supplies, or your fingers.</li>
    
    <li>there may be some places where the instructions don't tell you to use a lock nut, but you will want to anyway.  You will discover these when the nuts start falling off as you use the robot.</li>
    
    In the six legged build, shown at the top of the post, notice that the wheels do not have their tires.  Take the tires off. In our kit, the instructions did not say to do that. 
    

    Instructions for making the Mantis, and Crazy Frog configurations

    The six legged adapter kit allows you to make three configurations. The most complex one is the Beetle, which uses six legs. The other two, Crazy Frog and Mantis, are much simpler.

    Instructions are provided to make the Beetle. To make the other two, look at the back of the box and, well, DIY!

    If the pictures on the back of the box are not clear, the following images may help:

    Mantis configuration
    Mantis configuration

    Crazy frog configuration
    Crazy frog configuration

    Notice that with the Mantis, I think you keep the tires on the back wheels. With the crazy frog, you take the tire off.

    Have fun!

    The CS Detective by Jeremy Kubica

    The CS Detective: An Algorithmic Tale of Crime, Conspiracy, and Computation by Jeremy Kubica is the tory of disgraced ex-detective and hardboiled private eye Frank Runtime.

    Frank Runtime knows REGEX and is not afraid to use it.

    From the publishers:

    When a robbery hits police headquarters, it’s up to Frank Runtime and his extensive search skills to catch the culprits. In this detective story, you’ll learn how to use algorithmic tools to solve the case. Runtime scours smugglers’ boats with binary search, tails spies with a search tree, escapes a prison with depth-first search, and picks locks with priority queues. Joined by know-it-all rookie Officer Notation and inept tag-along Socks, he follows a series of leads in a best-first search that unravels a deep conspiracy. Each chapter introduces a thrilling twist matched with a new algorithmic concept, ending with a technical recap.

    Learn about the key algorithms, basic data objectgs such as strings, arrays, and stacks.

    This well illustrated, well written book is, as far as I know, unique. Read a novel, learn computer science.

    This is for anyone starting out in computer science, including CS students. And, just for fun.

    STEM Books And Toys For Kids: Your Science Holiday Shopping Guide

    I’ve reviewed, researched, and generally looked around for a selection of gifts that could work for kids ranging from very small to High School (and beyond!?!?) that are science oriented.

    (For gifts, mainly books, for adults, see THIS.)

    Coding

    The best kids coding books these days are probably those that use scratch. Before suggesting a couple, though, consider, especailly for older kids (middle and high school) this fairly recent Python language book that focuses on Minecraft: Learn to Program with Minecraft: Transform Your World with the Power of Python HERE is my review.

    My favorite scratch programming book is Scratch Programming Playground: Learn to Program by Making Cool Games is a brand new offering from No Starch Press.

    scratchprogrammingplayground_coverNever mind all the other programming books for kids, this is the best so far.

    Scratch is in the Logo family of object oriented programming. Indeed, Scratch itself, as a language, is a very short distance from the original object oriented programming, much closer to the source than many professional object oriented language.

    Scratch 2.0 can be run as a stand along program in windows and on a Mac, but works better on the web, in a browser, on all platforms. Working in that environment, on the browser, has the important advantage of immediate access to a large amount of work done by others, that you can freely borrow from. And, of course, you can show off your own work.

    Al Sweigart, author, has really nailed a kids oriented programming book better than I’ve seen done before, and I’ve seen them all. I’ve got a full review of this book HERE.

    screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-8-10-11-pmComputer Coding Projects In Scratch: A Step-By-Step Visual Guide

    Coding Projects in Scratch uses fun projects to show children how to code with Scratch, teaching essential coding and programming skills to young learners. Built on the basics of coding, each project follows simple, logical steps that are fully illustrated. Kids learn a new, important language through simply explained projects, with key coding concepts broken out in separate panels and illustrated with Minecraft-style pixel art. Learn how to create animations, build games, use sound effects, and more before sharing projects with friends online. Coding Projects in Scratch is highly visual and unique step-by-step workbook will help beginners with no coding skills learn how to build their own projects without any instructions, and helps them develop key programming skills that will last a lifetime.

    Technology

    Get a robot. I highly recommend the mBot robot kit (pictured above).

    electronicsforkids_cover-front_0The simplest project in the new book Electronics for Kids: Play with Simple Circuits and Experiment with Electricity! by Øyvind Nydal Dahl is the one where you lean a small light bulb against the two terminals of a nine volt battery in order to make the light bulb turn on. The most complicated projects are the ones where you make interactive games using LED lights and buzzers.

    In between, there is quite a bit of detail.

    I’ve written a detailed review of this excellent book HERE.

    Super Cool Tech is a book that looks like a laptop. Or do the kids, these days, call it a notebook. Whatever.

    supercooltechThis is one of those innovative format DK books, and is great for kids around Middle School age through High School, in my opinion. This book …

    … explores how incredible new technologies are shaping the modern world and its future, from familiar smartwatches to intelligent, driverless cars.

    Packed with more than 250 full-color images, X-rays, thermal imaging, digital artworks, cross-sections, and cutaways, Super Cool Tech reveals the secrets behind the latest gadgets and gizmos, state-of-the-art buildings, and life-changing technologies.

    Lift the unique laptop-inspired book cover to see incredible architectural concepts around the world, such as the Hydropolis Underwater Hotel and Resort in Dubai, and the River Gym, a human-powered floating gym in New York City. Discover how a wheelchair adapts to its surroundings and learn how a cutting board can give the nutritional information of the food being prepared on it.

    From 3-D-printed cars to robot vacuum cleaners, Super Cool Tech reveals today’s amazing inventions and looks ahead to the future of technology, including hologram traffic lights and the Galactic Suite Hotel in space. Perfect for STEAM education initiatives, Super Cool Tech makes technology easy to understand, following the history of each invention and how they impact our everyday lives, and “How It Works” panels explain the design and function of each item using clear explanations and images.

    This book could be in a kid’s gift guide or an adult’s gift guide, depending on the kid or adult: Arduino Project Handbook: 25 Practical Projects to Get You Started.

    I’ve read quiet a few Arduino project books. There are two kinds. The intro book, such as the one being reviewed here, that provides a large number of projects that illustrate how the system works, while at the same time, providing a number of practical projects mixed in with some that are just for fun but that show important physical and programming principles. the other kind are more specialized, and cover how to use this system to build, say, environmental sensors, or robots, or to work with Lego Technic, or whatever.

    All the intro books that don’t suck (some suck) are similar, give you similar tools, similar information, etc. But this new book, Arduino Project Handbook: 25 Practical Projects to Get You Started, is better than the other intro books for two simple reasons.

    First, the instructions themselves are VERY clear and have EXCELLENT illustrations to show the wiring. The second reason this book is good is that it is current, new, up to date. This is the most current project book available, so if you are looking to get started with Arduino, this is the one you want today. I’ve written a more detailed review of it HERE.

    This is not new, but look at the still current and fantastic new version of David Macaulay’s “How Machines Work: Zoo Break!” reviewed in detail HERE.

    screen-shot-2016-11-19-at-7-49-29-pmNot sure what category Wall-E goes in, but if you order quickly (supplies are limited) you might be able to get your hands on the LEGO Ideas WALL E 21303 Building Kit.

    The official description:

    Build, display and role play with WALL•E! Construct the LEGO® Ideas version of WALL•E with posable neck, adjustable head and arms, gripping hands, opening trunk and rolling tracks.

    Build a beautifully detailed LEGO® version of WALL•E—the last robot left on Earth! Created by Angus MacLane, an animator and director at Pixar Animation Studios, and selected by LEGO Ideas members, the development of this model began alongside the making of the lovable animated character for the classic Pixar feature film. It has taken almost a decade to perfect the LEGO version, which incorporates many authentic WALL•E characteristics, including a posable neck, adjustable head, arms that move up and down and side to side, plus gripping hands and rolling tracks. With a trunk that opens and closes, you can tidy up the planet one pile of garbage at a time! This set also includes a booklet about the designer and the animated Pixar movie.

    Math

    Have a look at the Manga Guides to math and related topics.

    I reviewed the Regression Analysis guide HERE.

    Here is a list of most of the other guides, all of them are great:

    <li><a  href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593274408/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1593274408&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=8f4446517c41182a25c30bd7d6bddb42">The Manga Guide to Physiology</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1593274408" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>
    
    <li><a  href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593271964/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1593271964&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=be50acdd1e7c35d849b4be4ef737e580">The Manga Guide to Physics</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1593271964" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>
    
    <li><a  href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593271972/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1593271972&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=28ebb6187119eafa087f3e9b6ce7b5d7">The Manga Guide to Electricity</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1593271972" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>
    
    <li><a  href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593274130/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1593274130&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=f2cf04b8bb7fdfbd96d8e432f21b8cb5">The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1593274130" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>
    
    <li><a  href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593271891/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1593271891&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=d9d8af91ed673f2635593459bd119c8f">The Manga Guide to Statistics</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1593271891" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>
    
    <li><a  href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593272766/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1593272766&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=79434e52a8a220d5f62b3fd5550290e3">The Manga Guide to Biochemistry</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1593272766" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>
    
    <li><a  href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593271948/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1593271948&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=afadb72bd949b447e7236436eafdaa32">The Manga Guide to Calculus</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1593271948" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>
    
    <li><a  href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593271905/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1593271905&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=a34cafdd58d40c57ec354e4493808d42">The Manga Guide to Databases</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1593271905" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>
    
    <li><a  href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593272723/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1593272723&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=1cffe9cb147c13aef2cd923b69ca7185">The Manga Guide to Relativity</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1593272723" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />
    
    <li><a  href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593272677/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1593272677&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=a37b72740e174d8762f8d8700a3ad2e4">The Manga Guide to the Universe</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1593272677" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>
    
    <li><a  href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593272022/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1593272022&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=a4a69cc504611b5df52ed884ba3a1327">The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1593272022" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li>
    

    Climate Change

    Climate Change: Discover How It Impacts Spaceship Earth (Build It Yourself) covers many concepts in earth science, from paleontology to climate systems to how to make a battery out of apple (how can a kid’s science activity not include the apple battery!).

    screen-shot-2015-09-15-at-10-18-02-amThis book represents an interesting concept, because it involves kids in mostly easy to do at home projects, covers numerous scientific concepts, and takes the importance of global climate change as a given. There is a good amount of history of research, though the book does not cover a lot of the most current scientists and their key work (I’d have liked to see a chapter specifically on the Hockey Stick and the paleo record, thought these concepts are included along with the other material).

    One of the coolest things about the book is the material on what an individual can do to address energy and climate related problems, including (but not limited to) advice on activism, such as writing letters to government officials.

    Climate Change: Discover How It Impacts Spaceship Earth (Build It Yourself) is listed as for reading ages 9-12 (reading level U), but with a parent working with the kid, this can work for much younger children, especially if you focus on the projects. I intend to work with my five year old on some of the projects, and use a couple of the sections as night time reading material. When he gets a bit older he can read the book himself. This would also be a good book to give as a gift to your kid’s school library, or even better, the appropriate elementary school teacher.

    Please Don’t Paint Our Planet Pink!: A Story for Children and their Adults was a go fund me project that eventually evolved to become a real live book and an excellent one.

    screen-shot-2015-02-26-at-7-11-18-pmmagine if you could see CO2? In the book, it is imagined to be pink. The imagining takes the form of a quirky father, one imagines him to be an inventor of some sort, coming up with the idea of making goggles that would allow you to see CO2 as a pink gas. This is all described by the man’s patient but clearly all suffering son, who eventually dons the prototype goggles and sees for himself.

    I read this to Huxley, age 5, and he loved it. He kept asking questions, and saying things like, “Is that true? Really?” I knew he would enjoy the book for its witty chatter and excellent illustrations, but frankly I did not expect him to be enthralled. He is fairly laid back when it comes to matters of science, nature, and for that matter, mathematics. He tends to absorb, then, later makes up song about it or comes up with difficult questions. His reaction was unique.

    Bill McKibben’s reaction was pretty strong too. He is quoted as saying, “I’ve often wondered what would happen if CO2 were visible. Now I know!” … except he already knew. There would be pink everywhere. At the density of about 400ppm. More than the 350 value that gives his organization its name!


    Doing Science

    Treecology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Trees and Forests is an excellent new nature activity book for kids of a fairly wide range of ages.

    9781613733967Like a tree, the pattern of the book is pretty straightforward but fractal like; you start off simple but end up pretty much anywhere in the world of ecology. The book begins with the basic definition of a tree, simple tree anatomy, some phylogeny, some tree physiology and biology, but then branches off (pun intended) into things that are related to trees, like things that live on them, eat parts of them, etc. Seeds and seed dispersal come in around this point as well, as one might expect. The role of trees, or tree related images or tree names, etc. in human culture is also explored.

    As indicated by the subtitle, these lessons are organized into thirty things you can do. Some of these things simply involve looking (dividing your local landscape’s larger plants into “tree” and “not a tree,”, etc.) while some involve more intense observation (like telling different trees apart) or interaction (including, of course, waxing leaves and similar activities).

    The book includes some great tips on observing (or attracting) forest insects. I think Huxley’s Buggy Camp could have used some of this info this week to help them find tree-related buggy creatures in the nearby woods.

    This book can probably work in any North American region, as it is not too specific at the species level, and pretty generic at the genus level. As it were. There is more than enough activity in this book, in terms of both amount and diversity, to keep a family with any number of kids busy on several weekends. The activities are also spread out across seasons fairly well.

    Monica Russo has written and illustrated several nature books for children, and authored “Nature Notes,” a column in the Sun Chronicle. Kevin Byron is a nature photographer who’s work is widely recognized.

    The Outdoor Science Lab for Kids: 52 Family-Friendly Experiments for the Yard, Garden, Playground, and Park is a good guide to home science experiments for kids, usually with adult involvement, ranging across a fairly wide range of age but mainly, I’d say, middle school for unsupervised work, or pretty much any age if supervised.

    screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-12-44-12-pmAll of the experiments can be done by adults with younger kids watching or being involved to varying degrees.

    Most of he experiments cost little or nothing, depending on where you live (like, do you live near a pond?) and what the phrase “common household ingredients” means to you.

    Many of the experiments involve things in nature, which is why it is the “outdoor” and not the “kitchen” or “bathroom” science lab.

    Make a pitfall trap, find and observe inverts, conduct plant warfare using the principle of allelopathy.

    For those in temperate zones, these are mainly spring-summer-fall experiments, so with 52 of them, this book is good for a few years.

    Each spread (two pages) has one experiment, richly illustrated with photographs. There is a list of materials, safety tips, the protocol, and a side bar on the science itself, along with a “creative enrichment” idea such as making graphs, or testing the allelopathic properties of invasives.

    The author, Liz Heinche, is a molecular biologist and mom, thus this book. From the publisher:

    Outdoor Science Lab for Kids offers 52 fun science activities for families to do together. The experiments can be used as individual projects, for parties, or as educational activities for groups. Outdoor Science Lab for Kids will tempt families to learn about physics, chemistry and biology in their backyards. Learn scientific survival skills and even take some experiments to the playground! Many of the experiments are safe enough for toddlers and exciting enough for older kids, so families can discover the joy of science together.

    I know of at least one pre-school that uses the book. I’m not a big fan of home schooling, but home schoolers will like this book. The book is not a substitute for middle school or high school science instruction in schools.

    Also in the same series are Kitchen Science Lab for Kids (where you will find an excellent milk rainbow protocol) and Gardening Lab for Kids, which I’ve not looked at.

    Reading Science

    For early readers, just learning to read and interested in science, I reviewed a bunch of books HERE with the intention of helping with the sometimes daunting task of matching a kid to a level.

    Super Cool Tech and Kids Programming Books

    I just received two books that I will be reviewing in more detail later, but wanted to let you know about now.

    Coding Projects in Scratch: A step by step guide by DK Publishers is a new scratch coding book. I got a copy a couple of days ago and have been going through it, and found it to be excellent. I’ll be including it in my Science Oriented Holiday Shopping Guide for Kids Stuff, which I’ll have out soon, but I wanted to give you a heads up first. From the publishers:

    screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-8-10-11-pm

    Using fun graphics and easy-to-follow instructions, Coding Projects in Scratch is a straightforward, visual guide that shows young learners how to build their own computer projects using Scratch, a popular free programming language.

    Kids can animate their favorite characters, build games to play with friends, create silly sound effects, and more with Coding Projects in Scratch. All they need is a desktop or laptop with Adobe 10.2 or later, and an internet connection to download Scratch 2.0. Coding can be done without download on https://scratch.mit.edu.

    Step-by-step instructions teach essential coding basics and outline 18 fun and exciting projects, including a personalized birthday card; a “tunnel of doom” multiplayer game; a dinosaur dance party animation with flashing lights, music, and dance moves—and much more.

    The simple, logical steps in Coding Projects in Scratch are fully illustrated with fun pixel art and build on the basics of coding, so that kids can have the skills to make whatever kind of project they can dream up.

    Also to be featured in the Holiday Shopping guide, this very interesting technology book mainly for young folk. At first I wasn’t sure how much I’d like it, but then, once I started going through it, I couldn’t put it down.

    screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-8-15-22-pmSuper Cool Tech is like a coffee table book for nerds. It is designed to look like a laptop (see the picture at the top of the post) and that is how you open it and use it.

    See today’s best innovations and imagine tomorrow’s big ideas in Super Cool Tech. This cutting-edge guide explores how incredible new technologies are shaping the modern world and its future, from familiar smartwatches to intelligent, driverless cars.

    Packed with more than 250 full-color images, X-rays, thermal imaging, digital artworks, cross-sections, and cutaways, Super Cool Tech reveals the secrets behind the latest gadgets and gizmos, state-of-the-art buildings, and life-changing technologies.

    Lift the unique laptop-inspired book cover to see incredible architectural concepts around the world, such as the Hydropolis Underwater Hotel and Resort in Dubai, and the River Gym, a human-powered floating gym in New York City. Discover how a wheelchair adapts to its surroundings and learn how a cutting board can give the nutritional information of the food being prepared on it.

    From 3-D-printed cars to robot vacuum cleaners, Super Cool Tech reveals today’s amazing inventions and looks ahead to the future of technology, including hologram traffic lights and the Galactic Suite Hotel in space. Perfect for STEAM education initiatives, Super Cool Tech makes technology easy to understand, following the history of each invention and how they impact our everyday lives, and “How It Works” panels explain the design and function of each item using clear explanations and images.

    Designed in DK’s signature style, Super Cool Tech is the ultimate guide to exploring and understanding the latest gadgets and inventions while looking ahead to the future of technology.

    What printer should you get?

    I had a good printer experience, and I thought I should pass it on to you.

    Printers are, of course, the spawn of Satan. Especially the ink jet kind.

    For a long time, I had a cheap black and white laser, which worked OK for non color stuff, and an inkjet all in one, which was handy but cost a lot to keep in ink.

    When Huxley, at about age 5, figure out how to use the all in one as a photo copy machine or to print photos off an SD card (both functions I had not explored, but he figured out on his own), he incorporated the all-in-one into his artistic work flow, which involved making computer graphics, sometimes displaying the graphics and photographing them, photocopying them, drawing on the printouts, scanning those into a computer, manipulating them in software printing them out, cutting and pasting (with real scissors and paste!), and so on.

    But then, I had to spend all my time changing ink, and again, the ink was eating us alive. And, buy chance, the old black and white laser died. So, it was time to seriously think about getting a laser.

    My only requirements were that the printer be reasonably sturdy, to last a long time, and compatible with any operating system.

    I quickly discovered the various PHP Color LaserJet Pro printers.

    Now, Imma stop you right now. You are about to say, “HP!?!? No way, I had one of those once, and it ate my dog, never again!!”

    OK, fine, but for everyone who ever had an HP printer eat their pet, there is another person who’s Epson crashed their car, or who’s Brother ran off with their girlfriend. Or whatever. The point is, if you can’t consider an HP printer because an HP printer scared you in the crib as a baby, I can totally understand that, and you should not buy what I’m recommending here. But, if the Satanic Printers (and they are all spawn of the devil) have not attacked you from that specific manufacturer yet, then read on.

    I settled specifically on the HP Laserjet Pro M452dw Wireless Color Printer, (CF394A).

    This is in the middle of the pack. It is the lowest level in the series with WiFi. The higher end ones have slightly larger touch screens and a document feeder. I did not need those two features, but you might. And, you might not care about WiFi (except that you want the WiFi).

    Here is a summary of the variation available in this category of printers.

    Two of these printers are basically the same as far as I can tell, neither has wireless. If you want to consider either one, check them out more closely because one of them is 50 bucks cheaper:

    The HP Laserjet Pro M452nw Wireless Color Printer, (CF388A) costs about $150, has only an Ethernet connection and a 2-line LCD.

    The HP Laserjet Pro M452dn Color Printer, (CF389A) costs about $200. It also has only ethernet and a 2 line LCD.

    I bought the HP Laserjet Pro M452dw Wireless Color Printer, (CF394A), which currently costs about $260. It has wireless, nice touch screen, other features (I’ll describe below) and for me was the sweet spot.

    There are also more expensive and higher end versions, such as the HP Laserjet Pro M477fdw Wireless All-in-One Color Printer, (CF379A), which has the document scanner. This one is about $450.

    If you go to this page on Amazon, and scroll to the bottom, you can see the range I’m talking about in a handy table. If a document feeder is important to you, click on one of those printers, and then scroll down again, and you’ll see another table of similar printers, but most/all with document feeders.

    I’ve been using this printer for a while now. It was easy to set up (had a smell for a few days, that went away). It is quite compared to older HP laser printers I’ve had. It prints nice, prints fast, etc.

    Meanwhile, Huxley has been messing around with it and he discovered some cool features. First, you can hook it up to the cloud and use Google Print. I have no idea if that is a good thing, but we’re doing it.

    I already knew that the printer would store previously printed documents, which could be quite handy. But I had no idea that it also contained pre-made documents that you can print out at will. This feature does not appear to be listed in the usual documentation of the printer, so it was a surprise to me. It is hidden down under settings.

    You know that paper with the non-dotted and dotted lines that kids use to learn how to write? You can print out those sheets, or regular ruled (narrow or wide) notebook sheets.

    You can print out a couple of different sizes of graph paper, music score paper, and more. This is probably one of those things everyone else knew about but that I didn’t now about.

    You can also use a USB stick with this printer, it will handle standard office style documents.

    Apparently, this printer has some ink saving ability and is relatively efficient in energy use.

    Here are some specs:

    Print speed black: Up to 28 ppm.

    Print speed color: Up to 28 ppm.

    First page out (ready): As fast as 8.9 seconds.

    Recommended monthly page volume: 750 to 4,000 pages.

    Paper handling input, standard: 50-sheet multipurpose tray, 250-sheet input tray.

    Paper handling output, standard: 150-sheet output bin.

    Media sizes supported: Letter, legal, executive, 8.5 x 13 in, 3 x 5 in, 4 x 6 in, 5 x 8 in, envelopes.

    Two-sided printing that’s fast

    Manage print jobs directly at the printer-just tap and swipe the 3-inch (7.6 cm) touchscreen.

    Print Microsoft® Word and PowerPoint® documents-now directly from your USB drive.

    Print from a variety of smartphones and tablets-generally no setup or apps required.

    A Tablet PC For $170

    I have another tablet review for you. (See the bottom of the post for some followup on my last review.) This is a “tablet PC” meaning a tablet that runs a full on PC operating system, as opposed to a tablet-oriented operating system.

    With the keyboard (not supplied, buy separately).
    With the keyboard (not supplied, buy separately).
    The Jumper EZpad 5SE Tablet PC is a pretty high performance tablet with an exceptionally low cost, and worth a look especially if you are a Windows user. The tablet comes with Windows 10, and a most notably, a magic “magnetic stylus.”

    The screen and stylus use electromagnetic technology. So, you can hold the stylus over the screen, and it still interacts magically with the device. The stylus has a button on it, so when you are doing this spooky and very cool action at a distance, you can click on something or produce some other result. The stylus can also be touched on the screen, and is pressure sensitive. Given all these attributes, you can use the stylus to draw in ways not previously seen before on a tablet or computer. By me. Maybe you have. This is like the Samsung S Pen, as far as I can tell. It is, as I say, very cool.

    screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-8-54-19-pmThe tablet also comes with a built in stand (see photo above) which has two positions. This allows what is essentially a small highly portable Windows computer to work with a keyboard and mouse in a very convenient way.

    (Of course, you don’t need a mouse because it has a touch screen, but many will be more comfortable using both a mouse and the touchscreen).

    This tablet specs are very impressive, with a good processor and screen, lots of holes to plug things into, a rasonable amount of ram and storage, etc., including:

    <li>Intel Cherry Trail X8300 Quad C ore 1.44 GH plus processor.  </li>
    
    
    <a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/files/2016/10/Screen-Shot-2016-10-18-at-9.04.30-PM.png"><img src="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/files/2016/10/Screen-Shot-2016-10-18-at-9.04.30-PM.png" alt="screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-9-04-30-pm" width="282" height="608" class="alignright size-full wp-image-23122" /></a><li>A 10.6 inch screen (IPS, 1920X1080). </li> 
    
  • Note that the screen is very bright, clear, and provides excellent viewing from oblique angles.
  • <li>Intel HD graphics designed to save power and allow high end graphics use.</li>
    
    
    <li>There are 4 GB of DDR3 Ram and 64GB of storage</li> 
    
  • slot for a micro SC card.
  • <li>HDMI output </li>
    
  • front and read cameras
  • blue tooth and wireless.
  • <li>There are two standard USB outlets and a micro USB, aside from the HDMI </li>
    
    <li>It is designed to work, optionally, with a keyboard, but unfortunately I did not test out the keyboard and they are currently out of stock at GearBest, where this device is most readily available.</li>
    

    Also, the device is uncannily light, at least in my estimation. I will probably be watching Amazon Prime videos on it.

    NOTE: I just got this info I’ll pass on to you. If you use this coupon code, the price of the device drops to 168.29. I’m not sure how long that is good for.

    sesep

    You can charge the device through one of the USB slots, but you can also use an external brick, not supplied but readily available (the kind with the extra small connector thingie).

    GearBest actually has a pretty impressive set of other tablets and accessories and they are often on sale. Also, poke around on their site, you will find a “Today’s Deal” section with some pretty good prices such as this Arduino UNO starter kit that I would have bought except I already have all these parts. That deal was 18.99 (normal price closer to %50) but unless you saw this blog post soon after I wrote it, no UNO for you! GearBest ships the product via DHL and that works great to the US in my experience.

    screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-8-55-30-pm</aAnd now, on a different but related matter …

    Earlier, I had reviewed the Teclast Tbook, but I hadn’t said much about the keyboard. I’ve since played around with the keyboard, and I have to say that,for the price, it is very much worth it. It turns the PC tablet into a small computers. This, among other things, lets you interact with your android world with a pretty OK Keyboard (comparable to, and similar to, the Mac keyboard). Why would you do that? As a writer, I am shocked that anyone would ask such a questions. Keyboards!

    This is the link to the keyboard.

    OpenOffice May Close The Door

    The history of what we call “OpenOffice” is complex and confusing. It started as a project of Sun corporation, to develop an office suit that was not Microsoft Office, to use internally. Later, a version became more generally available known as Star Office, but also, a version called “OpenOffice” soon became available as well. The current histories say that Star Office was commercial, but my memory is that it never cost money to regular users. I think the idea was that large corporations would pay, individuals not. This was all back around 2000, plus or minus a year or two.

    In any event, the Open Office project built two things of great importance. First, it made a set of software applications roughly comparable to the key elements in Microsoft’s Office Suite, including a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation app, and, depending, something that draws and something that relates to databases.

    The second thing it did was to create and develop an important open source document format.

    But, believe it or not, in the world of software development and programming, even in the happy fuzzy world of OpenSource, there can be fights. And, not just the fun and tongue in cheek fights over which religion you are (vi vs. Linux). These fights often involve differences in points of view between megacorporations that get involved in OpenSource projects, and the unwashed masses of programmers contributing to such things. The majority of code is written and maintained by corporations, much of that in the hands of a very small number, but the contributions from individuals not linked to corporations is extremely important.

    In the case of OpenOffice, the tensions were between the broader Office-interested development community and big corporations shifted in 2010 when Sun corporation which had always been involved in OO development, was purchased by Oracle Corporation. Oracle has not been friendly to OpenSource in the past, so the wider community freaked. There is a side plot here involving Java, which we will ignore. Oracle didn’t end up doing anything clearly bad against the OpenOffice project. But, they also ended up not doing anything good, either, which is essentially a death sentence for a project like this. Later in the same year, an organization called The Document Foundation was created and took on the job of forking OpenOffice.

    Forking is where a given lineage of software is split to create an alternative. Sometimes this is to bring some software in a different direction, perhaps for a more specialized use. Sometimes it is a way of resolving conflict, much as hunter gatherers undergo fission and fusion in their settlement patterns, by separating antagonists or putting a distinct wall between antagonistic goals. In this case, while the latter is probably part of it, the main reason for the fork and its main effect was to get the project under the control of an active development community so work could be continued before the project stagnated.

    That fork became known as LibreOffice. For some time now, it has been recommended that if you are going to install an OpenSource office suite on your Windows, Linux, or Apple Computer, it should be LibreOffice.

    One could argue that the OpenOffice suit or its analog (earlier, Star office, later the LibreOffice fork) is the most important single project in OpenSource, because an office suite is a key part of almost all desktop computer configurations. Of course, most servers don’t need or require an office suite, and there, web servers and database servers, and a few other things, are more important. But to the average end user (in business or private life) being able to open up a “Word Document” (a term misapplied to the category of “wordprocessor document”), or to run a spreadsheet, or to make a presentation, etc. is essential, and that is what an office suit provides. OpenOffice was comparable to Microsoft Office, and now, LibreOffice is comparable to Microsoft Office. By some accounts, better, though many Microsoft Office users have, well, a different religion.

    Now, it is being reported that the mostly ignored, maligned by some, historically important yet now out of date OpenOffice project is about to byte the dust. As it were.

    Dennis Hamilton, VP of the group that runs OpenOffice, “… proposed a shutdown of OpenOffice as one option if the project could not meet the goals it had set. ‘My concern is that the project could end with a bang or a whimper. My interest is in seeing any retirement happen gracefully. That means we need to consider it as a contingency. For contingency plans, no time is a good time, but earlier is always better than later.'” [Source]

    Approximately 160 million copies of LibreOffice have been downloaded to date. The closing of the OpenOffice project, should that happen, will probably have little effect on LibreOffice, since most people had already walked away from the venerable old but flawed grandaddy of OO Suites.

    Amazon FreeTime Unlimited Review

    Amazon FreeTime Unlimited is a subscription service that covers children. I normally avoid subscription services of any kind. But, I have a six year old, and suddenly it made sense.

    Huxley is very tech savvy for a newly minted first grader. Last night I was reviewing a new tablet that had multiple operating systems on it. He was building a robot or something and watching me at the same time (I was projecting the tablet’s image on a big screen). I said out loud, but mainly to myself, “How the heck to I change operating systems on this?” Huxley reached over and pointed at a button that did not look like anything that would do such a thing. I pressed it. It changed the operating system that was running. After the fact, I realize that it made sense. Huxley saw it right away.

    The point is, I can’t really manage the problem of putting this or that app or this or that game or this or that book or this or that video on a Kindle Fire that Huxley has more or less full access to, without actually hampering his technological development and driving myself crazy. The FreeTime Unlimited service locks down an Amazon Kindle android account, i.e., on a Kindle Fire, for use by a certain kid for access to a certain and rather large range of educational or just plain fun do-dads, books, videos, etc.

    In actual fact, Huxley knows how to hack the Kindle Fire I’ve set up for him, but he also knows not to do it. He basically understands that there are safe zones and less safe zones on the Internet, and on devices, and that he actually has access to all of it but is supposed to stay in the safe area. You can get a Kindle Fire for kids and put FreeTime on it (or get a bundle with all of it together) and lock it down so the kid really can’t get out of their space. I just chose, at this time, to not take that step.

    So, the subscription service, in this case, stands in for my messing around with content on Huxley’s Android device.

    So, what kind of content is there and how much does it cost? First, it costs less than five bucks a month, or if you already have Amazon Prime (which I do – see “Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial”), then it’s less than 3 bucks a month, for one kid (more for more kids). So, if you figure one or two Kindle books a month, one paid for app every few months, or the greatness of using all those “free” games but with the advertising gone (i.e., the paid rather than free game) to the tune of a few a month, etc., then this service is underpriced if they provide enough stuff.

    And they do. It seems that a very large portion of the Amazon Kindle literature for kids is available for free. Even the Harry Potter books. The number of apps and games is huge. The video offerings seem to mirror what we already have on our ROKU and other places, but the truth is, we simply haven’t explored that to any great degree. It is not so much movies, but rather, shorter things like some educational TV shows and age appropriate stuff from Disney, Nickelodeon, PBS, etc.

    When I signed up two months ago, the first month was free. I don’t know if that offer is available now, but if so, it might be worth a look.

    I believe it is also possible to put the entire thing on your TV via a Fire TV, and to access it on other Android devices or Kindles. I’ve not done that. I imagine that to use Android devices you have to install the Amazon system enhancement thingie that also allows you to watch Amazon prime streaming movies and such. I will be trying to put this on a tablet, within a user account for Huxley, just to see if it is possible. I’ll let you know how that goes.

    To makes sure I’m being clear and accurate, here is what Amazon says about this service:

    Amazon FreeTime Unlimited is an all-in-one subscription for kids that offers
    unlimited access to thousands of kid-friendly books, movies, TV shows, educational apps, and games. FreeTime Unlimited offers unlimited access to over 10,000 kid-friendly books, educational apps, games, movies, and TV shows from top brands like Disney, Nickelodeon, PBS, Electronic Arts, and many more.

    • A world of content for kids to explore within a completely kid-friendly environment
    • Promote reading and math with educational apps and thousands of books
    • Best-in-class parental controls – choose what content each child sees, and set educational goals and time limits
    • Personalize each kid’s experience with profiles, and let them watch where they want to – on Fire Tablets, Kindle eReaders or Fire TV
    • Great for kids between 3 and 12 years old

    In FreeTime, the background color changes to blue, letting parents know at a glance that their child is safe. Kids only see titles that have been selected for them. Younger kids can search before they know how to type by using Characters – for example, tap on “Cinderella,” “Dinosaurs,” or “Puppies”.

    Personally, I think the entire search capabilities of FreeTime kinda suck. Don’t get it for the ability to search for things. Use Google for that!

    While in FreeTime, kids do not have access to social media or the internet, and they can’t make in-app purchases.

    FreeTime lets parents set daily time limits, or restrict certain categories – like games and video – while leaving unlimited time for reading.

    FreeTime Smart Filters ensure that your child sees age-appropriate content within FreeTime Unlimited. We use input from Common Sense Media and from parents like you to ensure that pre-teens don’t get the baby stuff and little kids don’t see the scary stuff. Parents can also adjust Smart Filter settings to tailor the experience for each child.

    With Learn First, parents can block access to games and cartoons until after educational goals are met. Using Bedtime, parents can control when FreeTime shuts down for the day.

    Parents can create up to four individual child profiles, customize each child’s access to content from the parent’s library, and decide which FreeTime Unlimited titles will be viewable in each profile. It’s like giving each kid their very own, personalized tablet. Kids can’t exit FreeTime mode without a password.

    If you have more than four kids within the age range of this product, it is possible that you are reproducing too fast. Slow down please.

    Fairly new is the “child safe camera.”

    Kids can take pictures and edit them by adding stickers, drawings, and more. Parents can view photos and videos taken by their children in a separate photo gallery, and have the option to auto-save to Amazon Cloud Drive.

    This is not the kind of thing I normally do, but I tried it. It is not the kind of thing I normally like, but I like it. I wasn’t sure if it would go OK but we have been using it for a couple of months, and it has gone great. So, I’m telling you about it.

    I bought a Kindle Fire and a kid proof case and then subscribed to the service. You can be less stupid and get a Kindle Fire with a kid proof case and the service at a massive discount.

    I should note that FreeTime Unlimited has been around for several years. If you google around to investigate it, as I did, you’ll find a lot of old and out of date information. Make sure you are looking at recent discussions.

    And, finally, I just want to say that Curious George is an ape, not a monkey.