Tag Archives: technology

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.

    Electronics for Kids: Great new book for kids and their adults

    The 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 first several projects in the book involve making electricity, or using it to make light bulbs shine or to run an electromagnet.
    The first several projects in the book involve making electricity, or using it to make light bulbs shine or to run an electromagnet.
    The most complicated projects are the ones where you make interactive games using LED lights and buzzers.

    Electronics for Kids: Play with Simple Circuits and Experiment with Electricity! does almost no electricity theory. Thankfully. It simply delves in to messing around with electricity (and in so doing, provides basic theory, of course).

    This is a book about how to play with electricity, not how to get a Masters Degree in electricity. In other words, any kid, the ones who seem destine for a career in electronic engineering and the ones who don’t, can get along in this book because it does not assume itself to be a building brick to a greater career. Yet the projects are interesting and informative and educational, and any kid who does a dozen of these projects is going to learn.

    This kind of activity, which should involve parents for most kids, is the cure for the sense of depression you feel when you go to the toy store and look at the “science” section and everything you see is crap. Just get this book, order 50 bucks worth of parts, and get to work-fun. Then order some more parts, probably.

    No kids' book on electronics would be complete without a batter made from something you get in the produce section.
    No kids’ book on electronics would be complete without a batter made from something you get in the produce section.
    This book for kids is very kid oriented, as it should be. One of the first practical projects you build is an alarm system to keep your parents the heck out of your room. You can make a noisy musical instrument. You can make a device that makes sounds some humans can hear (the kids, likely) and some can’t (parents).

    Although soldering is done, it is minimal and, frankly, can probably be avoided by using alternative techniques. But really, it is not that hard and one should not be too afraid of it.

    A lot of the projects use and develop logic circuits. Kids actually love logic circuits, I think because they end up rethinking a bit about how tho think about simple relationships. And, it is good to know this stuff.

    Unlike many electronic kits you can buy (which can be quite fun and educational in their own right) this approach does not rely on ICs (integrated circuits) that produce magical results with poorly described inputs and hookups. There are some basic ICs, including gates, an inverter, flip flops, and a timer. These are very straight forward circuits that are mostly (except the timer) really just very fancy switches.

    The web site that goes with Electronics for Kids: Play with Simple Circuits and Experiment with Electricity! gives you a list of all the parts used in the book, with enough information to find them easily on line or at a hardware or electronics store. The book suggests a multimeter, which is probably the most expensive thing on the list. (this one is perfectly good and is about 35 bucks.) Other tools include a soldering iron and related bits, a wire cutter, some scissors, tape, etc.

    Many of the parts, including a breadboard, LEDs, hook up wires of various kinds, and pretty much all the resistors, capacitors, etc. etc. can also be used with the more sophisticated Arduino projects, should you end up going in that direction.

    This is a really fun book. If you have a kid of the right age (maybe from six to 12, with 100% adult involvement under 10 years) get it now, secretly, get some parts, and work your way through several of the projects. Then, make it (and the parts) a holiday present. Then look really smart.

    This chapter-end section give you an idea of the level of the projects.  There is a lot of stuff in here. All doable, but it will take a while to get through it all.
    This chapter-end section give you an idea of the level of the projects. There is a lot of stuff in here. All doable, but it will take a while to get through it all.
    Here is the overview table of contents (the book is much more detailed than suggested by this top level TOC):

    PART 1: Playing with Electricity
    Chapter 1: What Is Electricity?
    Chapter 2: Making Things Move with Electricity and Magnets
    Chapter 3: How to Generate Electricity

    PART 2: Building Circuits
    Chapter 4: Creating Light with LEDs
    Chapter 5: Blinking a Light for the First Time
    Chapter 6: Let’s Solder!
    Chapter 7: Controlling Things with Circuits
    Chapter 8: Building a Musical Instrument

    PART 3: Digital Electronics
    Chapter 9: How Circuits Understand Ones and Zeros
    Chapter 10: Circuits That Make Choices
    Chapter 11: Circuits That Remember Information
    Chapter 12: Let’s Make a Game!

    Appendix: Handy Resources

    Let me introduce you to my little friend …

    The ePaper Kindle is back in my life. I started out with one (the original model), then moved on to using tablets and phones and computers and stuff to read ebooks. Then, I got a Kindle Fire (see this discussion), and that was nice.

    But I wanted an ePaper reading surface for all the reasons people tend to discuss. It is more like paper, perhaps does not have the down sides of constantly staring at a light emitting screen, etc.

    There is an ePaper kindle that is under $80 (with the non obtrusive special offers on the sleep screen) that has very long battery time, holds a gazillion books, etc. This link will get you to the “New Kindle 6-inch”. I’m sure that’s a great Kindle, but I opted for the somewhat more expensive “Paper White” model: Kindle Paperwhite E-reader, 6″ High-Resolution Display (300 ppi) with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi. This comes in different colors (black vs. white) and with or without cell phone type connectivity.

    The “Paper White” has mysteriously placed LEDs that light the screen from somewhere nearby the screen itself. It is like having a book light but using quantum mechanics instead of a tiny light bulb. I don’t really understand it. It is optional: can be turned off for the full effect of ePaper, or turned up and down as desired.

    There are a couple of elite super duper higher end versions of this as well that have potentially important differences, and some probably very unimportant differences.

    The Kindle Voyage E-reader is slightly smaller and lighter and brighter (more of the LEDs). The “Kindle Oasis” has even more LED’s, and comes with a fancy “charging cover,” and is even smaller. This is for people who are so fancy they can spend nearly 300 bucks on an eReader that is smaller than everyone else’s eReader!

    To me, this is crazy. If anything, I’d like a larger one, maybe an inch taller and a quarter inch wider.

    Here’s the thing. The original Kindle and several early models had buttons that you could use to turn the page. That was annoying to many people but many got used to it. The “New Kindle” and the “Kindle Paperwhite” use only touch screen capabilities (but built on to the ePaper using some sort of magic). This eliminates the accidental page turning. The touch screen, however, is not the best touch screen in the world. I’m doing fine with it, I’m happy, but some people will want their damn buttons back. The Voyage and Oasis have both touch screen and buttons. And, they are vastly more expensive. I’ve not played around with them so I have no advice on this, but I don’t really like the buttons so it was easy for me to not spend the extra money.

    With this new eReader, I actually find myself reading more, and choosing the eBook option over the paper option more frequently.

    Why is the government slow, inefficient, and stupid?

    I’m not anti-government. I’m pro civilization. But I’m also an anarchist, of a sort. I think institutions should be dissolved and reformed regularly. What really happens is that institutions add bits and pieces over time, in response to things that happen, as solutions to interim problems, until finally the bits and pieces take over and nobody can move.

    Do you know the The Gormenghast trilogy?

    In this amazing story by Mervyn Peake …

    … a doomed lord, a scheming underling, an ancient royal family plagued by madness and intrigue – these are the denizens of ancient, sprawling, tumbledown Gormenghast Castle. Within its vast halls and serpentine corridors, the members of the Groan dynasty and their master Lord Sepulchrave grow increasingly out of touch with a changing world as they pass their days in unending devotion to meaningless rituals and arcane traditions. Meanwhile, an ambitious kitchen boy named Steerpike rises by devious means to the post of Master of the Ritual while he maneuvers to bring down the Groans.

    A subtext of the story is that over time, in the kingdom of Gormeghast, ritual after ritual has been added to the daily life of the royal family, to the extent that there is barely enough time in the day for the Lord to do anything but serve those rituals, and in fact, the Master of the Ritual is ultimately in charge. This fantastical depiction of a fantasy kingdom is the future of all institutions that are not occasionally rebuilt.

    There are other elements to this problem. Consider technology. Back when the Year 2000 problem happened, people learned that a good portion of the critical computing technology, such as that used in banking, was based on mainframe computers using ancient programming languages like cobol, where values were hard coded rather than represented as variables, and data was stored on ancient media. That is actually a good thing in a way, because those systems were proven to work. Shifting a system to the most current and advanced technologies virtually guarantees unforeseen bugs and opportunities for exploits by nefarious crackers. In critical technology, traditional and proven is good. But there are limits. In the video below Rachel Maddow points out that key data used in the US nuclear defense systems are stored on 8 inch floppies. Where do they even get those floppies?

    In a way this seems the opposite of adding rituals over time, but it actually isn’t. It can create new rituals, and stupid rituals.

    The intersection of ancient technologies that were once new and modern context that demands new rules (such as documentation of communications or transactions) results in bizarre outcomes even more troubling than the use of 8 inch floppies to hold the data needed to run and control the nuclear arsenal.

    By now I’m sure you know that we’re talking about emails. Rachel also talks about the official government method of dealing with emails.

    When you get an email, or send an email, you print out a copy of it and put it in a box. All of the emails. There are no exceptions.

    If everyone printed out every email, there would be about six billion emails printed out, at least one page, often many more, per email. I estimate that if this policy was generally applied across all email uses, 2 or 3% of all paper use would be dedicated to this purpose, not counting storage boxes.

    How do State Department officials and employees handle this problem? Simple. They ignore it. But how many things do we do, especially in the government, and other institutions, can’t be, ignored, and thus serve as glue poured into the precision gear boxes of our administrative institutions? A lot of them, I suspect.

    Check it out:

    (Image above from the Gormenghast website.)

    What is the best mouse for a Mac, Linux, or Windows?

    One mouse to rule them all

    I had previously reviewed the Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse, suggesting it as a replacement for the Apple Magic Mouse. Now, I’ve tried it on my Linux machine (don’t know why that took so long). It turns out to work very well, better than most, possibly all, mice I’ve used.

    One’s mouse is a very personal thing, and everyone is going to have a potentially different opinion about what the best mouse is. The Ultrathin is designed to work with laptops/notebooks because it is small, and it is assumed that everything you use with such a portable device must be small. The truth is, you can carry around a whopping big mouse in your notebook bag and not even notice, so this is a bit of a fallacy. Anyway, it obviously works with any computer with a bluetooth connection, desktop or laptop.

    Also, some people want their mouse to be big, some want it to be small. And most people can probably grow to like whichever mouse they are using, and thus develop their preference longer term. I personally like a very large mouse or a very small mouse. I can not explain that.

    A touchy mouse

    There are, these days, two fundamentally different kinds of mouse. One is the kind with buttons and scroll bars and such, the other is the kind with a swipe-able surface. The Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse is one of the latter. It vaguely resembles the standard Apple mouse that comes with modern Apple computers, but is trapezoidal in shape rather than ovaloid. It is also smaller.

    As I noted in my earlier review, my Apple mouse was starting to act strange, so I decided to replace it, and instead of getting an Apple mouse, I got the cheaper Logitech touchy mouse to try it out, and I’ve not looked back.

    Designed for Windows/Mac but Works on Linux

    There are two versions of this mouse, the T631 for Mac for the Mac, and the T630 for Windows. As far as I can tell, they are the same, but look different, with the Mac version being white and the Windows version being black. Makes sense at several levels.

    I have read on the Internet, which is never wrong, that the Windows version works fine on Linux, and I can attest to the Mac version working fine on Linux as well. I doubt that at present Linux is using all the various swipy capabilities of the mouse, but it moves the cursor, has left and right click, swipe-scrolling, and it may also emulate a middle mouse button. Two fingered swiping back and forth trigger Linux buttons 8 and 9. And so on.

    Obviously, I’ve not tried this mouse on Windows. Why would I ever do that?

    Two hook ups and Great Battery Life

    This is a bluetooth mouse (and that is how you get it to work with your Linux machine). The mouse has a selector switch, A and B, so you can pair it with two different computers (such as your desktop or your laptop).

    Unlike the Apple Mouse or many other existing mice, this device does not use batteries that you replace. (Indeed, the Apple Mouse is even pretty picky about the kind of battery you use.) You plug it in to a micro USB cord hooked to something with power, every now and then. It charges really fast, and the charge lasts a long time.

    I recommend the T630 or T31.

    Command Line Science

    A worthy Kickstarter science related project is afoot.

    Face it. Most science is done on the command line. When it is not, we call it “science by spreadsheet” or name it by some other epithet.

    Much of that is done on Linux or Linux like computers, but that actually includes Macs, and if you must, it can be done on Windows.

    Bioinformatics, climate simulations, basic statistics using the r language, fancy math things using the appropriate python library, making graphs with gnuplot, and even producing nice looking results for dissimnation to our geeky peers using LaTex. Science-related engineering uses the command line too, if it involves any programming of controllers or sensor equipment.

    This is not to say that all science is done this way. Quite a bit isn’t. But there are many tools used in science that are best handled with the command line or something like the command line.

    Brian Hall, a computer science guy, is developing an on line training class to teach the methods of command line science. He is developing the class using Kickstarter, which is fairly unique as far as I know. He isn’t even asking for that much money, and is over half way to his goal. Visit the Kickstarter site to see what you get if you donate. He has a nice video explaining the project.

    This video course is designed for scientists with little or no programming experience. It’s okay if you’ve never even touched the command line (or if you did once but it felt icky).

    You’ll have fun learning a new, powerful way of communicating with your computer. Along the way, you’ll acquire access to a whole world of amazing open source data and software. Who knows what you’ll do next?

    The project home will be at Udemy, here. You can go there and see a draft of the course, which will give you a very good idea of what it entails.

    The class will probably cost $199, but Brian is considering discount rates for teachers.

    Here’s the press release for Brian’s project:

    Crowd­funded Video Course to Boost Scientists’ Computational Skills

    “Learn the Command Line … for Science!”

    Nearly every field of science has a significant computational component ­­ but few working scientists have been trained as programmers. Universities are adapting, but not nearly as fast as the sciences are exploding with new applications. Simulation, data mining, bioinformatics ­­ these are the fields that are driving innovation in physics, astronomy, biology, and medicine. New tools and techniques are being developed every day, but we need more scientists with the interdisciplinary skills necessary to harness them.

    A new video course called “Learn the Command Line … for Science!” is calling for backers on the crowd funding site Kickstarter.com. This class will walk trained scientists through the basics of using the command line interface, an absolute requirement to run scientific applications and take advantage of high performance computing resources. It’s also great preparation for learning to code, and eventually contribute new and novel tools to computational science.

    The class is being developed by Brian David Hall, a Computer Science instructor with experience doing bioinformatics for the USDA. The course is upbeat, fast­paced and targeted at the needs of working scientists. It goes into detail where necessary ­­ for example, covering how to install software and download datasets from the command line ­­ but it skips topics which are less relevant to scientists, such as the system administration tasks emphasized by other command line courses.

    Kickstarter campaigns operate under an “all­or­nothing” funding model, so if “Learn the Command Line … for Science!” doesn’t reach its funding goal of $1,500 after 30 days then Brian gets no funding, and nobody gets to take the course! Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@_bruab_) to stay up to date on the project’s progress, and help spread the word to your social media networks. Just $5 is enough to become a backer of this project. For Science!