Robot Classes for Adults

small, plastic white robot in front of a computer screen with computer code displayed.
Finchy the Robot contemplates his sub routines.

I recently presented a class on using Finch Robots, those slightly unnerving looking wunderkinds from the folks BirdBrain Technologies. The robots are a fun way to learn how sensors and servos work in conjunction with Snap. Boy-o-boy do I love Snap. It’s an interface that scales up or down depending on the age of the user. I’m a crotchety Gen Xer and I love using level 4 just to play with stuff.

Anyway, my students were particularly interested in programing the robots to interact with each other using the sensing blocks. They also enjoyed programming the little guys to respond to keyboard input to make the robots “fight” each other.

I made a little movie of a fun exercise that shows how to program simple Javascript concepts like “Else” and “If Else” statements

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Work Off Your Fines by Liking This Post

Recently I  ran across an article about Blloon.com, an ebook subscription service that launched in the UK last October. What caught my attention was the attempt to apply social media practices to readership. Participants can” earn” more pages to read by engaging in  the holy trinity of social media behaviors: the like, the share and the comment. 

 
This got me thinking about how libraries could use a similar game plan to increase social media engagement.  What if people could “work off” fines by commenting on a Flickr picture, liking a YouTube video or Sharing a Facebook post?
 
How would you reward “good” users? What about a free book, coffee or tote? How about money added to your print card?
Would you run this as a shot term program, or make it part of standard operating procedure?
 
Yes, it’s a bribe, but bribes work. Think about the promise of a snack if you are good and do your to-do list. There are other, more pressing issues with library social media strategies and implementation would be a challenge ( hello Drupal?) If I were the Queen of a small system that I had god-like authority over, I would at least try it.
IMG_3693 2

You Always Have the Best Ideas!

Here is a little PSA I put together to promote the channels to the community. I used Illustrator to make the icons, After Effects  to animate, Garageband for the soundtrack and a borrowed ukelele for the sound track. I wanted to start from a positive place and get people’s attention with an upbeat message.

Mac Trackpad Freakout (and how to fix it.)

MacTrackpadI spilled one tiny drop of tea on my MacPro track pad and the next thing you know…Havoc! I was sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying some hot beverage when I accidentally jogged tea on my laptop. Without thinking, I dragged my sleeve around, trying to mop it up, but really just shoving the water into the cracks around my track pad. The mouse arrow starts jumping around, becoming completely unusable. I grabbed my phone and started searching for something to do about it. Rice!

  1. Turn off your computer.
  2. Get the following supplies together: handful of rice (I used sushi rice), blue painter’s tape, 5″ of saran wrap.
  3. Cut the saran wrap to cover the trackpad and tape it to the laptop leaving the side toward you open.
  4. Tilt the laptop on its back and pour the rice into the “envelope” you made.
  5. Seal up the open side.
  6. Pat down the rice to distribute it evenly.
  7. Leave it alone for 24 hours.
  8. Tear off the tape close to you and dump the rice.
  9. Remove the rest of the tape.
  10. Enjoy your working laptop!

From what I can guess, the rice acts as a desiccant. The tape helps create a very dry environment by sealing out the moist air and allowing the moisture to be drawn into the rice.

CSS and HTML for Total and Absolute Newbies

CSS-and-HTML
These two languages go together like peanut butter and jelly!
Learn about the history of HTML as a tool to build the framework of the web and how CSS can be used to style that content. In this 90-minute class you will be given a brief overview of learning resources and some introductory tips to get you started.

  • Participants will learn how to create and style a document
  • add a page title
  • insert a photo
  • make a list

Registrants must have basic computer knowledge such as mouse, keyboarding and directory navigation skills.
Space is limited, so sign-up by registering online. Ages 16 & Up

Creating Content for an Early Literacy App

On set with the actorIn order to shoot clean, audible clips, I have a solid equipment list that I go to time and time again. My favorite piece is the boom microphone set up. Folks get active on set and can produce quite a bit of rustling if they have a mic on them. The best solution is using a well-pointed  PAA 350, a dynamic mic made by Peavy. I place it so it doesn’t cast any unsightly shadows and in a place that I can use a matte to remove it in post production. It is sensitive enough to register low talkers and produce a strong signal that can be shined up in an audio editing software like Adobe’s Audition.

I quick scan of the internet proves that this was probably purchased many moons ago, but the traits to look for in a replacement would be : solid metal construction, dynamic range and directionally mountable. I can’t wait to get this footage into After Effects and start adding the fun animations.

PAA 350, Peavy

 

Parallax ActivityBot in the Library Classroom

I finally feel like I have a handle on the robots I use for the “Intro to Robots” Class I have once a month. They are feisty little buggers and I had issues with several of them spinning in circles when they should have gone straight. Turns out, there were some serious issues with the placement of the encoders on the chassis, the servo connectors and the i/o pin configuration, which is just a fancy way of saying that the wires were all messed up and I had to trace the pins and the plugs to make sure left was going left and right was going right. Here is a PSA I made for the next round of classes!

Adventures in teaching when you have no idea how to teach

photoThings I have learned from my students.

Last night’s “Newbie’s Guide to HTML and CSS” class went much better than the first one, which is to say, I didn’t feel like apologizing profusely to the students as they walked, bleary eyed and slack jawed to the door. That was last time, when I fell prey to Librarian Information Expansion Syndrome and kept piling detail upon detail on them. This time, I glossed over details but tried to give a big picture overview of what these 2 languages do. This is a 90 minute class and that is just not enough to make experts out of beginners. So, I tried to impart concepts and then a few important examples, a little time for them to try it on their own and then I gave them resources to help get them started, like my fave, codeacademy.

They seemed to take pretty well when, at the climax of the class, I showed them how to link their CSS stylesheet to their HTML page and VIOLA! The future!…*nothing happens* cough, cough…THE FUTURE!…*still, nothing*. So painful. So, I know to test little things like that even though I’ve made that link a thousand times….

Teaching Beats to New Producers Using FL Studio

Something I’ve noticed since the opening of the library’s audio recording booth is that many people who are very talented rappers have very rudimentary audio production skills. This is a shame because many times I see people recycling the instrumental beds of other, more established recording artists like Drake or Lil Wayne. This is unfortunate because it is limiting to  musical artists who want to claim their songs as their own and post them to social media sites that prohibit posting copyrighted material. Freestyling over mainstream beats is also the sign of amateurism in some circles and it is hard enough to stand out in the music world as an individual with a unique sound without a unique instrument bed.

This is my opinion and I decided to try some programs to address that situation. I have planned a twice monthly program utilizing an inexpensive Digital Audio Workstation that is installed onto 6 of the computers in the library. I have access to an overhead projector that allows me to walk students through the various windows and interfaces that aid in the creation of some phat beats.

At first glance the tool bar is pretty confusing, but I use a Powerpoint that only I can see to guide my students through the step sequencer, playlist and effects windows. (Dj Cafe). I use the Pharell Song “Happy” as an example of the different parts of songs. This song contains easily identifiable Verses, Choruses and Breaks and it is pretty tame content wise.

Robot Class!

photo by: parallax.com
This little fella and six of his jerk friends made my life very hard yesterday.

I had my first robot class yesterday. It was a nerve wracking run up to the very end. I had to fight my way through panic and flop sweats when I realized 3 hours into prep that I was using the wrong damn robot! I was using the robot with the groovy Arduino Shield as my test when I should have been using the ActivityBot. Different Software, different interface different chassis UGH!

After skipping lunch and talking myself off the ledge, I realized that I was a damn fool for waiting so long. I’m glad the class wasn’t full because I didn’t get a chance to calibrate all the robots and some of them had motor issues. I also was not as familiar with all the handout material as I should have been. Many of the handouts were from the Parallax site and were very detailed and helpful, but a hair too in depth for my needs.

I want to make up some sheets that hit the Breadboard schematics for the LED, Piezo and servo configurations with big, brightly colored images. I then want to figure out a way that the robots can run still hooked into the computer. I need to compile the code sketches for each exercise into one folder and save that onto the shared drive (hear that, future self?). Tonight is the DJ workshop. I hope I’m better prepared for this one.