You know how I don’t like to spend Saturday? Watching kids play with Lego bricks. Especially if I’m not allowed to play with them myself. So how I found myself driving three sixth grade Montessori boys (one of them my own spawn) and offering to spend the entire day in an auditorium watching nineteen teams of four build Lego robots, then watch them try to push three other Lego robots out of a taped circle again and again, is beyond me.
I was greeted this morning with a pretty significant change on my Facebook desktop. When I hovered my mouse over a post to “Like” it, I was given icons for numerous reactions.
As Gizmodo already broke this morning, on February 24th Facebook launched their “reactions” capability. So instead of merely “liking” a post, you can now be a little more specific to how you’re feeling about a post.
How do you “react”? It’s easy! On the desktop, simply hover your mouse over the “Like” area of a post and the icons will pop up. Select the icon that matches how you feel. If you click “Like” it will continue to act like the classic “Like” button. As of now, you can react to original posts, but I don’t see the capability for comments yet (you can still “like” comments). Just refresh the cache if you aren’t seeing this capability yet.
On the mobile versions, Facebook pushed out an update this week that includes the reactions. On my iOS version of Facebook, I was able to just press my finger on the “Like” button of the original post and the reaction icons pop up. If you don’t see them yet, make sure you close your existing version of Facebook and open the recently updated version.
If you have a well-reacted-to post, you can view the combined reactions too, as seen in the image below.
I am over-the-moon about this new feature. It was really getting to me last month when I wanted to share my feelings about David Bowie and Alan Rickman’s deaths. I didn’t want to “like” posts…but now Facebook users can be more specific to how they really feel (such as with the “sad” icon).
Note: I posted that status in the top photo this morning, thinking that the angry face was a “Dislike” button. It’s called “Angry”…and some media outlets (such as Gizmodo) are still complaining about “Dislike” not being an option.
Thank you Facebook for listening to your customers!
What do you think about Facebook’s new reactions? Let us know in the comments!
It started simple enough. I had my then three-year-old daughter at work with me. I needed to talk with a coworker and needed something for my daughter to do. All I had was my work computer.
In a hurry, I closed all the programs on my Windows machine and opened up Notepad. Maximizing the program, I figured it was unlikely she could harm my computer. I quickly showed her the keyboard and let her hit as many keys as she wanted. I then turned to my coworker, thankful for the distraction.
The distraction that launched my daughter’s reading, writing, and typing exploration.
For my generation, reading, writing and arithmetic provided a base skill set. It opened the way for any number of careers. For my daughter, it will not be enough.
She still needs these skills. However, they will not grant her admission as they did me. She needs more. She needs a computer science understanding to control the technology and devices around her.
It is a reality President Obama recognizes. He wants to facilitate the changes needed to address this new world.
It is a simple enough of a concept, educate our children for the realities of tomorrow, and we will build a strong tomorrow. Because of this, I commend President Obama for his Computer Science for All initiative. My question remains, will it provide the base he hopes it well? Or is it too one size fits all?
My four-year-old is really interested in sea creatures and in zombies. One of her very favorite water dwellers is the mysterious and lovely Sea Star (or the star formally known as fish).
In our morning search on Youtube we came across a true-to-life ‘Zombie Starfish’ mash up that peaked Ella’s curiosity. The video is from a BBC-two popular show called Nature’s Weirdest Events.
Just what is happening here? The images shows what looks to be Sea Stars actually ripping off their own limbs. If that wasn’t alarming enough, those limbs then look to crawl away, zombie like on their own. Could this be a real life undeadliest catch happening on the West Coast from Alaska to Mexico? My daughter wanted to know more. Continue reading Zombie Starfish: Nature’s Undeadliest Catch
My house has the Two Week Rule: no doctor unless the illness is getting worse after two weeks. Unfortunately, both my daughter and I passed that two-week mark for completely different bacterial infections, and found ourselves taking antibiotics. I was worried.
Both of us have digestive problems and antibiotics are harsh on that system. So I read some of my nutrition books, chatted with friends and family, and flipped through the web for advice. Here is what I found:
Yes, antibiotics can cause stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and exacerbate existing intestinal problems. Why? Because antibiotics kill bacteria, but they don’t stop with just the infection plaguing you, they wipe out the beneficial bacteria in other parts of your body as well.
Our gut is filled with an effective and diverse population of microorganisms (also called flora) that help us digest our food to get the nutrients we need. You can put all the healthy food in your mouth you want, but unless your body is breaking it down and absorbing the vitamins and minerals, you will become ill and eventually die. Killing off our natural digestive ecosystem with antibiotics is a dangerous side effect, especially for those prone to stomach upset. Continue reading Repopulate! Keeping Your Gut Healthy On Antibiotics
Can you shimmy? Can you shake?
Can you step-clap-twirl to the right then the left?
Can you do the Hokey Pokey and turn yourself around?
Because that’s what it’s all about.
Coding, that is. Behind the intimidating circuitry hidden inside the impersonal hardshell exterior known as computers is an elegant simplicity that can unlock countless possibilities limited only by your imagination. The beauty of it is that it is so fundamentally easy to understand, yet capable of doing so, so much. Much like dancing.
Continue reading If You Can Dance, You Can Code
Twenty years ago I was in the same room as Alan Rickman. It was 1994, in between my first and second years of college, and I was in Oxford, England, studying with the British American Drama Academy. During the five-week summer program I was privileged to attend Master Classes and Lectures given by various British actors such as Fiona Shaw, Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Irons — and Alan Rickman.
Unlike the others, he was completely disinterested in inspiring us as young and hungry acting students. Although it was years before he took the role, he was very like Professor Snape: arrogant, vaguely bored, amused by our passion, deeply British, and utterly magnetic.
I will never forget it. Continue reading Don’t Be Afraid to Grieve for Professor Snape
“Why” is a common question in our home as I’m sure it is in yours. Right now, the kidlets still think I’m a genius because I can read more easily and faster than they can, though I know those days are rapidly coming to a close. And thank goodness for the internet and the quick Google… I think their tiny little heads would explode if they had to wait for me to look something up in a book.
One of the activities we enjoy most is baking and both kids, but Stinky 2 especially, is starting to express an interest in why things happen the way they do in the baking process. So, this is really me crib sheeting various answers before the fact. Hopefully, they’ll come in handy for you too.
Why Does Yeast Make Things Rise?
Yeast is a single celled fungus. That’s right, a fungus. For those of you who hate mushrooms but love bread, I have news for you.
Hour of Code has come and gone; the reviews are jumping all around the interwebs (my own is coming shortly). But was it enough for your kids? Did your spawnlings savour the taste of coding … and then ask for more? And is coding really enough for them to start their career in-game development?
To recap: we got word very abruptly from our OB that one of the test results of a Non-Invasive Prenatal Screen (NIPS) had come back positive for Down Syndrome. As a writer I research everything. I Googled the test and between articles and speaking with Heather Bradley of Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network I learned that my odds were likely far lower.
On my OB’s advice, we went to meet with a genetic counselor who also told us very firmly that there was a 99% chance of the baby having Down Syndrome. She gave us no information about Down Syndrome itself. All she had to offer for our situation was her belief that we should have an amnio. When I told her I wasn’t interested she talked over me “Or, right, you don’t abort for religious reasons.” I told her that I wasn’t having the amnio for medical reasons, but I felt like I was trapped in an absurdist play where I was speaking and no one could hear my voice. Continue reading Falling for Chuck, Part Two: NIPS – a Screen, Not a Diagnostic
When I approached my four-year old’s teacher about Hour of Code, she invited me into the classroom to do a half hour lesson. My little ballerina goes to a Montessori, so the classroom is computer free.
“How hard can it be,” I thought. “I will just grab something off the internet and teach from that.”
So I told the teacher that I would be happy to do this.
I discovered how hard it is to plan a lesson for four-year-olds, both when following a lesson plan and making a new one.
I also created a binary counter that you can download and use with your children.
After giving a successful lesson on counting in binary and the Divide and Conquer algorithm, I have a new found respect for preschool teachers.
The excitement in our household was barely containable. Anticipation, joy, and dreams of what could be all radiated from the two geeks who live with me.
What caused such enthusiasm, you ask? Was it Christmas? Someone’s birthday? An anniversary, perhaps? The new Star Wars movie?
No, my friends. It was the announcement that Barnes & Noble, in partnership with Make Magazine, was going to be hosting a Mini Maker Faire at every single store location in the U.S. Continue reading Lessons From a First-Time Mini Maker Faire Exhibitor
Image by Luke Maxwell
I have a disconcerting memory from when I was in my early twenties: I was reading an article in a magazine about how the adolescent brain is still changing and developing longer than most people realize. The article had an example which showed a photo of a woman. According to the article, adolescents saw anger while adults saw fear. I stared and stared at the photo but could not see fear instead of anger—even knowing what it was!
I was startled into realizing that no matter what stage of life I was in at the moment, my brain was not done yet. Was that a relief that any mistakes were the fault of not-full-adulthood? Or should I second guess all my decisions now? I decided not to worry about it, shrugged and put it out of my still-developing mind. Continue reading Keeping Teen Brains Safe
While I wouldn’t call myself a “weather geek” per se, meteorology and weather have interested me since at least high school. I love looking at weather maps, learning about low and high pressures, knowing what the marks on wind direction maps mean, and parsing the extensive data tables that come out of weather records.
Seeing how weather changes over a year for a particular spot really helps me get a feel of a place. Is it a wet winter or a rainy summer? Does it get above freezing during the winter? Is there a monsoon season? How likely are there to be mosquitoes (see: rainfall, among other things)? I’ve especially enjoyed how much more accurate weather forecasting has gotten over my (42 year) lifetime.
Before I got to try out the Davis Instruments Weather Box recently, the closest I ever got to a weather station was an outdoor temperature probe that was connected to an indoor wall clock. I loved weather data but had never had my own data to play with. So when the Weather Box arrived in the mail, I was excited to set it up. My 14-year-old daughter, equally excited, made me wait until she was available before getting started. She’s the type of weather geek who keeps a cloud journal.
I am extremely grateful for the many, many years we have had of employer-provided healthcare. We decided to look at the Pennsylvania healthcare exchange and find a plan that works for our family of 6 should we need to purchase our own coverage.
But I found myself staring blankly at the screen, trying to figure out which plan would provide for us without bankrupting us. Continue reading A Healthcare Headache
Remember in my PAX Review how I mentioned that Disney Infinity was going to be even bigger—especially with anything Star Wars related? Well, this is it.
Disney is teaming up with Code.org for this year’s Hour of Code and it is going to be big: Coding. Gaming. And, best of all, sharing!!
One Saturday a month, dozens of kids from across the New York metro area, with parents in tow, attend free learn-to-code workshops run by CoderDojo NYC.
Kids as young as six years old are let loose to explore computer science with tech industry pros who volunteer as mentors.
I discovered CoderDojo NYC in 2013 during an otherwise fruitless search for coding classes for my tech-enthusiastic, (then) nine-year-old daughter. We made the trek into Manhattan for a November workshop, not knowing what to expect. After a few hours of playing with binary code, we were both hooked.
And I’m not alone. Despite the quiet and free wi-fi in designated “parent zones,” many adults opt to hang out on the workshop floor to help their kids embrace their inner geek and, in some cases, because they’re tech-curious, too. Continue reading Tech Support for Curious Kids (and Low-Tech Parents)
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Pink and red clash.”
“Do blue and light blue clash? Green and light green?”
“Why?! Pink it just light red! We’ve been culturally brainwashed to see pink as a completely different color!”
I argued this with my daughter. She agreed that it was strange that light red had its own name, but pointed out “grey” was also light black with its own name. I told her grey had its own cultural preconceptions as well and technically isn’t a color. It also depends if you’re talking about pigment or light.
She is an art student and we debated color and culture. She told me about a lecture she heard on how indigo was included in the rainbow. (There needed to be seven colors since that’s a super-duper-special number, and purple is only one color so it was made into two: indigo and violet.)
We touched on how we see color in the first place, but then how language shapes our perception of color. A study published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology looking at color and language from children in different cultures concluded: “Across cultures, the children acquired color terms the same way: They gradually and with some effort moved from an uncategorized organization of color, based on a continuum of perceptual similarity, to structured categories that varied across languages and cultures. Over time, language wielded increasing influence on how children categorized and remembered colors.”
It was late 2004.
In November, I’d given birth to my firstborn son. By December, it was often cold and snowy, Western New York being what it is, and we’d been cautioned to keep the baby indoors and away from people for his first few months. Worried first-time parents with an infant with a heart defect, we took this advice to heart.
My husband had his job. Me? I was off work for the first time in more than a decade. I had Jim to care for, of course, but he was a remarkably laid-back baby. I was used to noisy newsrooms, constant activity, people all around me.
I was bored out of my mind.
I read everything I could get my hands on. I picked up a scrapbooking habit. I even started watching more TV than usual and I am not a TV person. I devoured odd stuff: cartoons, documentaries, cooking shows. (My love for Good Eats also dates from this time.)
Then, aimlessly channel-surfing while my son slept in my arms, I came across a show on the Discovery Channel.
“Huh,” I thought. (I actually remember thinking this.) “I like urban legends. Could be interesting.
“What are they doing to that elevator?”
Years later, that baby is about to turn 11 years old. And that TV show is ending.
You can’t go very far these days without hearing about Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but have you heard of Nature-Deficit Disorder?
In his best-selling book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv explores research linking children’s health and well-being to direct exposure to nature.
The reality is, nowadays, our children are better able to identify jungle and zoo animals than the animals that reside in their own backyard.
In this age of screens, our nation’s children are not getting out there and this has a direct impact on their health and happiness. And, lest you think nature only benefits children, Louv shares the benefits for adults in his book, The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age.
After reading Louv’s books, you won’t want to come inside. Louv uses research to show the many benefits of time spent in nature, including: Continue reading 50 Ways to Fight Nature Deficit Disorder This Fall and Winter
Furby horrifies me.
I was NEVER a fan, and my kids knew it. My daughter, the evil genius that she is, would place Furby in my dresser drawers. As I would put away laundry, Furby would wake up and start talking. Naturally I would start screaming when my undergarments voiced a yawn and cried about hunger pains.
Sometimes I wonder if my mom bought my daughter a Furby as retribution for all the horrible things I did in my childhood. So, when I discovered that my son took Furby apart to see the components that made it function, I wasn’t as mad as I should have been.
I didn’t know it at the time, but deconstructed Furby was the beginning of our journey to harness my son’s curiosity. Fortune favored me because I eventually stumbled upon a geeky dad with the answer to my problem.
I have to admit that when I first heard the name of Ada Lovelace, I had to look her up. When girls and women had few options outside the home, Ada followed her dreams, studied mathematics and became the world’s first computer programmer.
It’s awesome to see so many women who’ve made vast contributions to the world finally coming to light. And it’s even more awesome that my friend, Laurie Wallmark, got to tell her story in Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine.
In honor of the book’s release, Laure composed an acrostic poem to Ada:
A proper Victorian gentlewoman,
Determined to become
A professional mathematician.
Lady Ada Lovelace,
Of noble birth, a
Excited by the marvels of the Industrial Age.
Lord Byron’s daughter,
Appreciator of technology, the world’s first
Computer programmer and an
Laurie is one of my oldest friends in NJSCBWI (the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Our resident technical wizard, Laurie maintains the chapter website and builds the online forms that make registering for events and workshops so easy for our membership.
Teaching kids coding is one of the current buzz topics in schools, and rightly so. Programming is a vital skill, so much so that the National Curriculum in the UK—the government’s official guidelines on what schools are required to teach—has recently been updated to include the subject from a very young age.
My six year old has already come home talking about debugging algorithms, words I never used in all my years of schooling. I wanted to be involved in this journey with him and this new post series will follow our adventures in learning more about robotics, programming and more.
This is a story about a girl name Dakster and her adventure into Apple Land.
Dakster loved Windows computers more than anything. They’re shiny. They’re easy to use. And if they break, her degree in Computer Engineering and day job as a Network Administrator gave her the skills to either fix it or turn it into a toaster.
She can take a computer apart, put it back together, and get it working again quicker than most people can take apart a pen and put it back in working condition. She’s tamed servers, copiers, laptops, and desktop PCs with her mad computer skills that she’s obtained over her 15 years of working with Windows computers. Continue reading A Girl and The “Apple Demon” – My First MacBook Pro
Who else noticed Google’s new logo that appeared on September 1st? Cute, isn’t it?
Being the curious geek I am, I took some time this morning to Google [like what I did there?] why Google chose to update its logo. The Google Blog has a story that’s written in propaganda-ese regaling the new logo as a “sign of the times,” indicating that the new sans serif design will work better with mobile platforms and will transition to the “Ok Google” microphone feature and bouncing dot icons more easily. Continue reading Google Takes Over the World in 2 Minutes
Sometimes the trending Twitter hashtags make lose my faith in humanity, and sometimes they make very happy. The latter happened last night when I found #ScienceAMovieQuote trending. That’s people turning famous movie quotes into geekier alternatives by replacing one word (or a few) with something more scientific.
Here’s my favorites thus far! (And yes, I included my own somewhere in there, because I’m cocky like that.)
GeekMom has joined Instagram as @GeekMomBlog! Follow us to see the products we’re loving right now, events we’re attending, great DIYs, and some old favorites from our archives.
We’ll be kicking things off with some back-to-school ideas and photos from PAX Prime this weekend. We’ll also be at DragonCon!
Tag your geeky photos #geekmomblog so we can see your geeky adventures, too.
There was a lot of fanfare in our house earlier this summer when BattleBots returned to TV. In our home, watching the show turned into a family event, with friendly bets on which bots would continue on in the competition. If you walked by our house during an episode, I’m sure you would have wondered what all the shouting and commotion was about. If you missed out on the excitement, you can read weekly recaps on GeekDad. And if you want to create your own competition, read on to get the scoop on how you can use Lego Mindstorms robotics to create your own robot battles.
Last year, after our FIRST Lego League (FLL) competition season came to an end in November, our team wanted to move forward with more robotics fun and activities. Engaging in a SumoBot competition seemed like a great idea, and we set out to learn all things Sumo.
If you’re not familiar, the art of robot Sumo is modeled after the sport of Sumo. You put two robots, created following a given specification, into a round ring, and the robots try to push each other out. The first robot out loses. The robots can vary in size from fitting inside a 7-by-7-inch cube to much bigger. There may be weight restrictions along with the number of sensors and motors that may be used. The ring, or arena, can vary in size but is often 3- or 4-feet wide and either white with a black outer 2-inch ring or black with a white outer 2-inch ring. The robots will often have tools mounted on them to push or move the other robot out of the ring.
Our team consulted Phil Malone’s SuGo website for guidance and ended up participating in a contest following a set of rules outlined by Appalachian State at the NC Science Festival. Don’t get hung up on the rules; just make sure everyone participating is following the same ones.
So what do you need to get started? Well, you need at least two kids or competitors, two robots, an arena, and some agreed-upon rules. Just make sure to nail down the rules and equipment you are going to use before proceeding.
You can either buy a SumoBot ring or make your own. I was crazy lucky and noticed a round piece of wood sitting on the side of the road. It had obviously fallen off a truck, and it was a little smashed, but it still looked usable and was small enough for me to get in my minivan on my own. My luck continued when I gave my guy the specifications for the ring, and a short time later, I had an awesome SumoBot arena. He trimmed the wood, sanded the platform, and painted it. You don’t have to have woodworking skills or lots of money to spend, though. The ring does not have to be raised off the ground. You could make a ring out of poster board or cardboard, some duct tape, and paint.
You need to come up with a design for your robot. Do you want your robot to be lightweight, small, and dash around the ring and the opponent quickly? Or, maybe you want your robot to be as large and heavy as possible and attempt to overpower the opponent. Perhaps something in the middle is appropriate. Our team started out with a simple SumoBot and then made modifications. You could use the same robot from your FLL competition. As long as it follows the weight, size, and sensor/motor rules, let your imagination and personal experience guide you. Some of the kids on our team really wanted to test a robot with tracks against a robot with wheels to see which would perform better. The kids followed the TRACK3r building instructions, made a few modifications such as mounting the ultrasonic sensor on the front, and then tested against our simple SumoBot. Our results showed that wheels work better than tracks. TRACK3r kept trying to climb his opponent instead of push him out of the ring.
Once you have a SumoBot to test out, you’ll need to write a program to run him. Phil Malone’s website has a wonderfully sophisticated program that you can review, dissect, and run to get started. I found it to be of immense help to me, although it was a little too complicated for my kids. I encouraged them to study Phil’s program and to then create their own program keeping in mind several factors:
- The robot has to stay moving at all times once the match starts.
- The robot has to stay inside the ring.
- The robot should try to find and push the opponent out of the ring.
Our program ended up being a stripped down version of Phil’s program. Move out of the starting box to the left or right, as indicated by the judge. We used two programs to accomplish this; one had a hard-coded left turn, and the other had a hard-coded right turn. The rest of the programs were identical. Start moving forward and stay moving forward until you see the arena boundary (a white line, in our case) or the opponent. If you encounter the white line, back up, turn, and resume moving forward. If you encounter the opponent, speed up and push forward, trying to knock your opponent out. You will also need to keep an eye out for the white line while pushing. It doesn’t sound terribly complicated, but it is. A loop along with an impressive switch (case) statement are required.
Your program will need to use the infrared, ultrasonic, or SumoEyes sensor to detect the opponent. Although not genuine Lego, the SumoEyes sensor is a lot of fun to use. It will allow your robot to not only see the opponent when he’s directly in front of you, but also when he’s to the right or left. We were not able to compete with SumoEyes, but we sure did have a lot of fun playing around with the SumoEyes sensor from MindSensors within our own team.
Our FLL team found preparing and competing with SumoBots to be very exciting. The kids really got into the competition of trying to decide on the best SumoBot design. They loved cheering for their SumoBot to win. The whole experience was a pleasant break from the more vigorous FLL season.
Check out this video of our SumoBot in action at the competition this year! 1. 2. 3. Sumo!
Summer nights are more than ideal for heading outside to stargaze. Every summer, the night sky lights up with the Perseids meteor shower, a perfect opportunity to watch the stars. This year promises one of the best shows yet, with the peak night predicted for August 13 paired with a new moon. Continue reading Summer Science Fun: Shooting Star Party