Risk Obtuse and Danger Perception

If you’re reading this, you’re in danger.

Look out!  Caution!  Beware!  DANGER! OMG YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!

Overwhelming, isn’t it.   Our minds and our bodies are great at filtering risk and processing danger — if we let it.  Most people raised in a modern urban environment have very little experience  with actual, immediate, personal danger.  They just don’t grok it.

David Ropeik in his HOW RISKY IS IT REALLY? book talks about a ‘Perception Gap’ to try to balance actual risk with what people are afraid of and tries to get to the underlying causes of those fears.  Maybe what is dangerous for you, isn’t dangerous for me and vice versa?

Jeffrey Rosenthal in STRUCK BY LIGHTENING: The Curious World of Probabilities tries to help people get a better grasp on statistics and appeals to the math behind actual risk to see if that will make sense to people.  If you run the numbers, how bad is it really?  Do you know you’re most likely putting yourself in danger daily which far far exceeds any perceived threat you’re worried about?

Richard Louv in LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder devotes Part III of the book to “The Best of Intentions: Why Kids don’t play outside anymore” and gives many examples and descriptions of how parents have meant well, and inadvertently have done much more harm to their children.

Don’t be risk obtuse.  My advice?   Do something you feel is dangerous.  I didn’t say life-threatening, I don’t mean be careless, I want you to think about something you feel is dangerous, think about how you can mitigate the risk, and try it.  ‘Baby steps’ at first, but do some research and try to wrap re-define your baseline for danger.

There is a scene in the 2009 Australian film The Boys are Back that I often use as an example for people.  The movie stars Clive Owen as a widowed father trying to find his way raising his kids.  The scene in particular is when he hosts a kid’s birthday party and installs a high zipline for the kids to swing on and the mothers attending the party are agog.  “But what if he let go?!” one mum exclaims.  “That is why he is holding on so tight” replies Owen’s character.

“Better a broken bone, than a broken spirit” I’ve been fond of saying of late.

Instagram version of Winning Magnolia Photo

3rd Place – Flora in the SCB-Toronto Photo Contest

A photo I took of a neighbour’s magnolia tree won 3rd place in the SCB-Toronto Photo Contest.

The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) is an international professional organization dedicated to advancing the science and practice of conserving the Earth’s biological diversity. SCB has local chapters across the globe that provide opportunities for members to engage in conservation at the local level.

SCB-TO is one of these local chapters, we strive to build a network of active conservation biologists from the three local academic research universities – University of Toronto, York University and Ryerson University, as well as government, non-government and private agencies operating within the Greater Toronto Area. Our goal is to facilitate the discussion of and solutions to urban conservation biology issues that threaten the function of Toronto’s local ecosystems.

magnolia

Winning Magnolia Tree Photo

All the winning photos are being exhibited all week at Baka Gallery Cafe near Runnymede Subway Station in Bloor West area, and the award ceremony will take place Friday evening.

flora 3rd gift flora 3rdThanks to Sheridan Nurseries for my prize.

You can also view a version on Instagram.

Scratch Day Logo

NYCL Scratch Day Diary

We’ve been looking forward to Scratch Day for a couple of months now, and am happy to say it went off wonderfully.Facepainted 7 Year Old ready to lead his first Scratch DayIt was five months ago today that we checked out No Starch Press’s SUPER SCRATCH PROGRAMMING ADVENTURE from the library, and it was this past Saturday that Xander revealed Scratchy to 15 more kids, ages 7 to 12, as the culmination of his hard work.

After we shared his Scratchy themed birthday cake (he turned 7 in January) with the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT, I learned of ScratchEd (thanks @TwilightDreamWolf for the heads-up) and their role in helping to bring Scratch to more kids.  From their group, I learned of Scratch Day and looked into where we could go to meet other Scratchers in Toronto, only to find there wasn’t anything already organized.    Thinking about possibilities of organizing something to help foster his passion, I mentioned the idea to him and he said he’d love to teach kids to do it — which cinched it, this was going to happen if he was this keen about it.

There is an amazing technology vibe in Toronto, so I knew there would be many ways to go about the event.  Part of me wanted to see if people at UofT would want to be involved, to keep the university feel of Scratch, but I didn’t have any current contacts there to work.  Working the start-up vibe was another angle I considered, but was a bit wary of the sponsorship angles inherent with that culture.  When I was at an early Maker Series event at the Toronto Reference Library, in connection with their new Digital Innovation Hub, I saw they had the new version of the SUPER SCRATCH book in their collection (which isn’t available in the Library’s main collection). I inquired asked about the possibility of doing Scratch Day there, and they declined saying they didn’t have a kid friendly space.  This brought me to our local library, North York Central Library, which we have a good rapport with.

I introduced the idea to them, and they did some research to see if it might be a good fit.  We arranged to meet and Xander shared his enthusiasm for Scratch and we discussed some of the ideas for what the day could be.  We settled on a small introductory class for kids aged 8-12 accompanied by their parents as a trial run.  Coordination with the Learning Centre in the Teen Zone/Hub at the library, outside of the Children’s Department usual dealings and recruitment  within the Teen Department’s Youth Advisory Group to find volunteers to help mentor during the class was done.  Much thanks to Sharon Andic, and Kathryn Copeland for their work in preparing the program, and to Chantee, Charles, and Wendy for their work during the class helping the kids out.

We announced the class on a blog setup for the event at ScratchDayNYCL.tumblr.com and the library put it in their Spring Flyer of events.  Registration quickly filled up with positive comments from parents.  Xander practiced his instruction skills with a friend, going early to our Homeschool Group at the library for a few weeks.  We also arranged to tour the Learning Centre space to get a feeling of the room and what was available there and discuss the format and layout of the pairs.  Everything was set — I was more nervous than he was.

The biggest hurdle was going to get through introductions, as he was really struggling with that part in our practice session.  Kathryn agreed to introduce him which worked out great.

The class went very well.  We managed to squeeze in two extra groups who arrived morning of to see if anyone didn’t show-up.  Many smiles and much enthusiasm from the kids gathered (and a few handstands from the leader).  We made a NYCL Scratch Club Studio on the Scratch website to help encourage the kids to collaborate and build their skills together going forward.  We ran over our time estimates (of course) so we didn’t get to do the maze program he planned, and we didn’t get to show some of our ‘Connecting to the Physical World’ projects as we had hoped.  His response?  “We’ll just have to have another class.”

Naxder and his Dad leading Scratch DayNot only that, he came home and asked to start to write a book about Scratch, for his “55%”ers, those we know a bunch of scratch but want to do more advanced things.  When he started Scratch, he didn’t read and he learned so he could do more Scratch.  I guess it will also be his gateway to writing too!

A very proud Papa.

 

 

SpikanunkCatapultLg

Homeschooler Catapult Exhibition, June 2014

The kids & I thought it would be fun to revive the catapult exhibitions we attended a few years ago, when they were too little to build any themselves.  So, here we go:

Catapult Exhibition
June 11, 2014 11AM
Location: TBA green space near North York Centre
Participants: Children educated at home in and around the Greater Toronto Area
Comment here or send me a message (iam at this domain) and I’ll build a roster of participants

Catapults go by many names: ballistae, trebuchets, onagers, hsuan feng, mangonels, petraries, scorpions, tormenta, and others.  What we’re looking for here is a ballistic device used to launch a projectile a great distance without the aid of explosive devices.  Put your thinking caps on, get your tools out, work out the maths and angles, and build away.

We are thinking of setting up a system to measure the distance the objects are thrown, and also an accuracy/target course.  Two categories: kid made only, and then the models which the adults helped with.  Ammo wise, plan to use something similar to an orange — we’ll update this after we’ve had a chance to test a few things out.   Depending on numbers we will either give everyone a chance to talk about their build in front of the group, or a set time where spectators can go from build to build and ask questions about it.

Ideally the space we pick in addition to the missile range will have some playground equipment for families with younger siblings, area to picnic for lunch, and generally hang out to make a day of it for those so inclined.  I have a great spot in mind, I just want to test out the range of our builds to get a sense of how much space we’ll need before I settle on it.  Don’t want any windows broken or near by roadways interfered with.

catapult-DIY-easy-kid-actvity-marshmallowNot everyone is as handy with tools and building as they once were, so I hope to see some collaborations between different groups, maybe even some teaming up to share resources and expertise, or some grandparents pitching in.  It could be just the opportunity you’ve been looking for to try a maker project?  Alternatively you might want to start small and build a simple one out of craft sticks, or marshmallows.

Toronto Tool Library logoA place you might want to check out in the course of your project is the Toronto Tool Library, they have a variety of tools available, and at their East End location a makerspace.  Another makerspace in town that has woodworking capability is Site3 co-laboratory.  Let me know if you are aware of others.  Maybe we’ll see some 3D printed designs, in which case maybe check out the Digital Innovation Hub at the Toronto Reference Library?

A site we like is DIY.org, and they have a Catapult or Trebuchet challenge you can submit your project to, or review some of the devices other kids have made.

Some books we’ve found at the library that have designs and plans and ideas on how to get started are:

Toronto_Public_Library_logoSpeaking of the library, maybe you’ll join us at our Wednesday afternoon homeschooler group at North York Central library (1:30-3pm in the storyroom).  We plan to cover a few topics in the next couple of months applicable to catapults (levers & fulcrums for example is set for April 9th’s session for example).

Michael Albert's Pi collage

Happy Pi Day (3.14, March 14)

We’ve been celebrating Pi (π) Day for half a decade or so now, but some of you may be new to the idea.  At the very least, it is an excuse to eat pie, and on the other end of the spectrum it is  a great day to celebrate math and the beauty of nature in numbers.

For those looking to eat pie, why not try to bake your own?  It could be sweet or savory.  Wikipedia has a list of pies to get you started, and AllRecipes has a lot of recipes on making pies available.  Perhaps you want to aim for a Steak & Kidney pie and combine two pseudo-holidays into one?

If you’re musical, there are many pi songs and raps out there you can try to learn.  My favourite is Dr. Arthur Benjamin‘s version of “American Pi”, captured here during a presentation he did at The Archimedeans (Cambridge University Mathematical Society).  We were lucky enough to participate in Dr. Benjamin’s show last year (thanks Ontario Science Centre) and the kids still sing his song (and we have a signed copy of his pi to 60 digits that he wrote out).   We will probably also watch at least one of his lectures from his Great Courses where he focuses on pi too.

There are many crafts and activities to do for those with kids.  Drawing and cutting out and measure circles with paper and string is all it takes to get started.   Don’t be shy about working in some physical activity too — maybe do a 3.14km hike?

A new discovery for me this year is the Pi Search Page which instantaneously finds a series of digits in the first 200 million digits of pi.  My 8 digit birthday occurs three times in those first 200 digits, while my wife’s only occurs once.  Try it out with any other ‘special’ numbers to you and see what you find.  Irrational.

In your pi studies, don’t forget what many mathies consider the epitome of numbers, Euler's Identity (e^π*i = -1) aka Euler’s Identity.

Numberphile has a great playlist for all their pi related videos (1h25m worth of content).  Last year the kids enjoyed watching Calculating Pi with Real Pies.  And let’s not forget ViHart’s pi playlist either.

And for the whimsical here is FlippyCat’s contribution to pi day in dominoes.

Please share how you ended up celebrating this special day, and get ready for next year when in 2015 3/14/15 will be the Longest Pi Day of our lives when it goes to 10 digits at 9:26:53am/pm.

Here are a few additional links to drive your research and insatiable curiosity.

Cobra Weave Cover

Pajama Scientists’ Cobra Weave Stick Bomb

Thanks to a post by our friend Lisa, she  introduced us to the world of ‘stick bombs‘.  Think dominoes but with Popsicle, ahem, craft sticks.  Weaving them together to store up the energy under tension, you drop them, or in this case unleash them and away they go.  We did up a video showing it off and you probably just want to watch that, and only read on if you are ready to build your own.

Cobra Snake Spraying VenomWe had to acquire some wide, or jumbo, sticks as the smaller ones we had were just too stiff of a spring to do the ‘cobra weave’ style of stick bomb run.  Why is it called a cobra weave?  I’m guessing because it looks like a massive cobra snake is raising up out of the floor and spitting venom at you in the form of sticks.  It really is a sight to see.

If you’re going to try it yourself, get about 200 of the sticks (we had 225, but imagined using a box of 500, alas the local shop just had packs of 75) and give yourself an hour or two to get setup.  The hardest part is getting it started as all it wants to do it jump up at that point, and you need a bit of distance to get it settled.  We started with this instructable we found, but with the challenge of getting it started, and I was a little unsure it was loaded the right way (their video didn’t have a great cobra shape) I checked around and found a how to make a mini-cobra weave (who knew there is a more complex cobra weave too) by the domino dude which had you build some of the weave first, and then lock it off, instead of starting with the lock like the instructable did.  The kids were also anxious to see if it worked so after 50 sticks or so we set it off, and started again.  Warning, you might want to wear gloves of some sort as I found the wood really dehydrated the skin of my finger tips and if you’re really geeky protective eye wear.  There are smaller handheld weaves the kids can do too, this is what happened here as the repetition of building the long chain didn’t hold their interest the whole time.

Here are some photos of our progress as we went.  In the video he gives some special way to make a turn… I just grabbed it and twisted it a bit as needed, didn’t feel I needed to do anything special with the laying of the pattern.  Also, see how we added a bit of weight to the start of it, the lock was a tad slippy at first so I just stuck that on to keep it all in place until we were ready.

Oh, and some people will think it makes an incredible mess to clean up — it doesn’t.  The kids had the sticks put away in all of 3 minutes.  Have fun making your own.

I also tried a clip of just the ‘wow’ part of the video, but youtube’s slowmo logic seems pretty sloppy?  You can just jump to 45s into the main video instead of you’d like.

Check out some other Pajama Scientists videos too.

Vulnerable Toronto Public Library Computers

After 7 years of not letting the children touch the Toronto Public Library‘s computers with a 10 foot pole, yesterday we had made arrangements with another family to introduce them to Scratch and since we were already both going to be at the library later that afternoon I gave it a try.

Here, I’ll document the issues I had with the experience.

  1. One of the machines is in its semi-regular state (I’ve observed over 2/3rds of the machines in the Children’s Department being in this state at once before) of needing to do a forced restart because the timer software has crashed, other is reporting some sort of corruption and requires a reboot.
  2. The temporary code slip to get 30 minutes of time included a capital letter in the card #.  The terminal would not allow one to enter a capital letter.  We finally tried it with the lower case version of the letter and got in.
  3. Upon starting Firefox (at least they are no longer calling it Fire Fox), we see a screen where it is checking the addons, but it just hangs at that screen and didn’t seem to make any progress so we cancelled itDSC07132
  4. We were presented with an error-ish screen in firefox warning that McAfee is trying to install an addon but maybe we shouldn’t trust it.  DSC07133
  5. Presented with another addon install screen for Java Console.  Again, continue without any action taken.DSC07134
  6. One of the three machines we were using wouldn’t open one of the sites saying that the plugin required was vulnerable.  Checking the Plugin Status reported many issues.  For example the Flash player v 11.3.r300 was released June of 2012, and 18 newer versions have been released since (here are some of the dangers with that).  The Silverlight Plug-in was using version 5.1.10411.0 which was released May of 2012 and 3 newer versions have come out since (and Silverlight’s vulnerability database).DSC07148
  7. I tried to do a favour and upgrade it so we could continue our project, but of course they have blocked software installation by users.DSC07149
  8. The timer software they use is terribly intrusive giving multiple warnings that you need to save your work and be prepared to leave the machine, starting as early as 50% into the time.
  9. There was no obvious volume control on the machines, and the song my son programmed was barely audible so we just didn’t bother with doing any sound related activities (our theme for the day was music sigh).

The library has a fantastic collection, and wonderful branch staff, but their technology department continues to disappoint.  I have such little faith in their webteam, but feel I have little choice but to use their catalogue.   I feel sorry for the people who don’t have alternative choices for using computers and are only exposed to such a poor experience when interfacing with this technology.