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Scratch

May 4th, 2013 by Matt

Scratch is a simplified computer language that solves the toughest problem with learning how to code. Because all of the statements are connected with mouse commands, not typing, it’s next to impossible to get something that just won’t work at all. The code still might not do what you want, but you never have to search through pages of code to find a missing semicolon whcih is keeping the program from compiling.

I’ve instututed a house rule that you can play any computer game that you wrote yourself, and Carmen and David have risen to the challenge. A collection of largely their work is here. I also got excited enough to see how far I could push the language, and this post has two of the results.

The first is a recreation of the Bouncing Babies video game from 1984. The goal is to move the trampline (use left and right arrows) to keep a baby from hitting the ground. The original showed a burning building at left where babies jumped out to be rescued. Click here to play

The second is a (simplified) implementation of Frogger. Arrows move the frog, as you try to avoid the cars. Click here to play

Tags: Scratch

Under Construction

January 14th, 2012 by Matt · 1 Comment

Just to be clear, our house is not deprived of certified kid-friendly building tools. Within various bins and boxes (and occasionally spread across the floor), Carmen and David have ready access to:

  • Magna Tiles
  • Kapla Blocks from a clearance sale at a grocery store, of all places, with enough blocks to make a railroad bridge
  • Five drawers of traditional wooden blocks
  • A couple variations of Erector sets and similar
  • Several vintage sets of Capsela, with a few trips to Radio Shack to fill in any missing electronic connectors
  • A few sets of Legos
  • And, in case that isn’t enough, plenty of cardboard, glue, and string

However, in the last couple of months, David (with occasional help from Carmen) has decided that something is missing. With this meager set of building supplies, how, for example, can you make a one-room house big enough for you and your sister to eat dinner in? And with that goal in mind, they’ve discovered the tool cabinet in the garage.

This is the second or third cycle of building in the last couple of months. The garage is a nice multipurpose space – part vehicle storage, part bike workshop, but it occasionally gets taken over for a week or so by some life-sized building toys. A few days ago, this construction started – not sure who’s idea it was, but the carpenter in this picture has some serious braids going on.

And then a day later, Matt came home from work and found this sitting where his car usually goes. The car spent that night outside. This is supposed to be a playground, with a canopy over a climbing structure, a long piece that can be the beginnings of a slide, and a see-saw (not shown) built beside it.

One of the carpenters finishing his work:

It sat like this for a couple of days. Then today, I did what I figured any parent would do in this situation. I took the kids to the lumberyard, bought an extra box of nails and a dozen 1×4’s ($1.67 each, about the cheapest building toy you can buy), and let the carpenters finish their work. I provided some help in measuring the boards for the walls (a measuring tape seems more difficult a tool to grasp than a hammer or saw) and nailed the two boards on top. Every other piece of wood cut, nail hammered, or concept developed was done without outside intervention. Carmen jumped in a bit later, taking charge of some of the construction, the drywall, the security notice, and (in the last picture) cleaning and furnishing the house. The shovel and watering can are the “shed” in the back of the house.

Tags: Crafty · Dynamic Duo

Wood Duck Farm Open House

May 28th, 2011 by Matt

Tags: Bigger Pictures · Dynamic Duo · Learn Something

The Pony Bike

May 18th, 2011 by Matt · 9 Comments


 
The pony bike project is done, at least for now. Additions to the stock Xtracycle components include:

  • Big Apples: Schwalbe tires for a cushy ride with great handling and durability.
  • Copper foot rests: a simple spot to place those patas.
  • BFL-2010 LED bicycle front light: easily as bright as a car headlight.
  • A liberal application of reflective tape and two large rear lights: for extra nighttime visibility.
  • Custom deck: Joyce drew out the pony head and rear on a piece of 2×12 Southern pine. Matt’s seat backs and handles allow extra stability at starts, stops, and over bumps.
  • Glass eyes, plus Wool-Ease mane and tail: make it a pony.
  • Lone Star on right rump: make it a Texan.
  • Bouquet of flowers on a fiberglass tusk whip flag pole: for visibility and charm.
  • Reflective/phosphorescent halter and reins: for visibility and because, well, every backseat cowgirl and cowboy need some.

Tags: Crafty · Dynamic Duo

Whee!

March 31st, 2011 by Matt

As these aren’t stellar pictures Matt didn’t use them for his previous blog entry, but I decided to post them here, anyway. They demonstrate how hard it is not to smile wide when you’re being pulled down the street on a pony.

Yee-haw.

Tags: Bigger Pictures · Crafty · Home Ec

One Horsepower

March 31st, 2011 by Matt · 2 Comments

Tonight was the maiden voyage of the world’s first horse-themed three-seat bicycle. Like all great projects, it isn’t done; a mane and tail (made of wool yarn), saddlebags, and maybe a few flowers for decorative accent and better visibility are planned. But the seat, rack, and mechanical systems all cleared the rigorous engineering test of holding 100 pounds of giggling six year old, and so she was cleared for launch.

And launch she did, and successfully make the commute to and from a meeting tonight. Why a bike? The jogging stroller’s days are numbered and weight limit is fast approaching (or, um, past). We need a way to get the aforementioned six year olds to the store, plus bring home a few bags of groceries. Walking works (and we do it often), but with so many acorns and spiderwebs to look at, the pace can be slow and the cargo carrying capacity limited. How about a bicycle rated to carry 200 pounds (plus rider), with room for two seats and space for additional cargo bags to boot? And compared with a real pony, just think of the savings in hay alone!

The bicycle is a used hardtail mountain bike. Bolted to the back is an Xtracycle longtail extension. That was the easy part. The hard part was figuring out how to get the two six year olds on, safe and comfortable.

Longtail bicycles are not new, and there are lots of examples of people who have used them to carry a single adult passenger, or one or two little kids in special seats. To my knowledge, ours would be the first pair of seats designed for two six-year-olds, and we would have to do some custom engineering. Bicycles handle best when most of the weight is between the wheels (cars do the same thing, which leads to race cars with wheels as far to the front of the engine as they can get). As much as possible, both passengers needed to be in front of (or, at least, close to) the rear axle.

This is tougher than it seems. If I built two seats like chairs, there was no way for this to happen; chairs are long, and putting one behind the other would leave the back passenger flapping in the wind. So instead of seats, the pony has saddles, which are short and leave the rider’s legs to fall straight down. The two saddles can be close together…but where to put the handlebars? There’s room for the front passenger to hold a traditional handlebar (or, um, a rocking horse head). The rear passenger’s handlebars, however, end up being right beside the front passenger, and have to be attached to the side of the seat.

To lay it out, I used GIMP to manipulate a photo of the bike and kids; the photo below was taken before the Xtracycle shipped, and so the magic of computer graphics was used to pencil in the bike rack and rear wheel. The photo includes a tape measure; once everything was in place, I used the tape measure to scale distances and start building.

The majority of the pony deck is 1/2″ plywood. It’s cut based on the same template used for the official Xtracycle Flightdeck, with some extra length in both the front and the back. The horse head and tail are cut from a 2×10; it’s not as lightweight as plywood, but really – once you load up the rear of the bike with 100 pounds of passengers, will you really notice a couple more pounds of wood? The horse head is long and thick, and hardware could be used to mount it securely (and allow for future removal, if needed). Similarly, the back seat could lean against the tail and use it for support. But the front seat was a big challenge – it had to be strong enough to support the weight of one passenger leaning against it, plus another passenger holding on to the handlbars on the side of the seat. But at the same time, there was no space available for a big support to be bolted to the deck. Instead, it’s built like a box, with glued dovetail connections on all sides for rigidity.

The passengers needed a place to put their feet. Xtracycle sells footrests for the front seat, but not the back. Like some others have done, I used 3/4″ copper pipe with soldered connections to build a wrap-around footrest. The kickstand nicely rotates around the copper. A couple of screws keep the pipe from falling out of the Xtracycle.

One last accessory is a relatively inexpensive pully systems that can lift a bike for storage in the garage. This works great with the longtail; one pully attaches to the front handlebars, and another to the bridge at the back of the bike. A few pulls and the pony is safely stowed; one more, and it’s lowered and ready to use.

The goal is for the pony to be as convenient as a car, maybe more so – even if the engine has a bit less than one horsepower.

Tags: Bigger Pictures · Crafty · Dynamic Duo

Naturalists

March 7th, 2011 by Matt

Armed with paper, crayons, and pencils at the Cockrell Butterfly Center of the HMNS, C&D and a friend drew pictures of what they saw.

photo

After lots of hard work, it was time to play.

Tags: Dynamic Duo · Learn Something