Category Archives: Diary

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.

 

 

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.

snowflake books

Learning about Snowflakes

A couple of years ago we got Kenneth G. Libbrecht‘s Field Guide to Snowflakes book out of the library and I was fascinated.  After a few failed attempts at capturing our own flakes and getting them under a microscope we moved on from the topic for that winter.

Last winter we augmented our usual kirigami snowflake cutting by doing up a large 3-d snowflake craft to help decorate for the holidays.Large Snowflake Craft

snowflake necklaceThis winter we’ve been participating in a homeschooler group that North York Central Library has been hosting (Wednesday afternoons 1:30-3pm for those who want to stop by — thanks Janet & Sharon) and for our first two weeks we picked Snow and Winter as our theme.   A highlight for me was when I made a giant kirigami flake out of some flipboard paper and my daughter wore it as a necklace, and then later as a skirt.  It reminded me of this ballerina snowflake craft (note: even though they said the craft was only for Moms, I looked past their discrimination) I had come across (which we’ve done too).

sample snow crystalsIf you haven’t seen any of Ken’s books, or his informative website over at SnowCrystals.com, I suggest you look into them, even if you just hit up his kids activity page.  I made a tumblr post back in Dec that included a bunch of animated gifs that their lab made showing the crystals forming too.  I’ll include below a list of some other books and resources that can further your journey on learning about snowflakes and the fun to be had with them.

A chart of commonly agreed upon types of snow crystals

A chart of commonly agreed upon types of snow crystals

Albert E Nolan

Remembering Albert E. Nolan, Squadron 435 Burma

remembrance day poppy lest we forgetToday is Remembrance Day in Canada and I was sharing a story about my Grandfather, Albert Nolan (deceased 2003-01-13) with the kids.  He used to talk very little about the war, but as a boy I knew he served in Burma (and I didn’t know where Burma was then, but I know now he was stationed at Tulihal near Imphal India over the border from Burma), flew airplanes, and once crashed the plane.  My cousins and I would make up stories about him dog-fighting or something exciting like we’d seen in movies, but as a teen I learned the plane had run out of gas and simply didn’t make it over a hill.  Prompted by an email from my Uncle, I’ve done a bit of research and here are some notes and photos I’ve found.

The “Burma Campaign” as it is known now saw 8,000 Canadians in India and Burma.  My grandfather was part of “The Dakotas”.

Nos. 435 and 436 Squadrons, two medium-range transport squadrons based in India which flew their first operational missions in December 1944 and January 1945. The squadrons were comprised of C47 Dakota transport aircraft (the military version of the Douglas DC 3). The “Dak,” as it was affectionately called, was tough, reliable, extremely stable and able to take considerable punishment from ground fire.”

435_Transport_and_Rescue_SquadronThe Chinthes (Chin-thay), whose motto was Certi provenhendi (Determined on delivery), ran supply missions, often kicking the supplies out of the plane as it flew over the ground forces.  The chinthe is a legendary leogryph creature which guards the temples in Burma. The motto refers to the unit’s activities as a transport squadron.  They continue today as the 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron  stationed at CFB Winnipeg.

Another interesting resource I came across was this VEMRA page which had over a hundred photos from scrapbooks of the time.  In the list I discovered my grandfather was part of ‘”A” Flight 12’, it seemed there were 16 ‘flights’ in ‘A’ group and some ‘B’ group flights.  I include a couple of photos from that page where they show a Dak being worked on, and the cockpit.  Review their slideshow for pictures of men at work and rest, and some of their living conditions.

I found reference to two books written about the 435 Squadron, one listed here is by R Pittet titled “Determined on Delivery” and another on a used book site with no authorship information.

ana álvarez-errecalde's Simbiosis

Where does a mother end, and her child begin?

Ana álvarez-errecalde‘s latest work, SIMBIOSIS/Symbiosis, shows a mother breastfeeding a child, linked at the hip.  So integrated are these two beings, they are a single identity, that of Spider-Man.

Does a mother retain her self when she has a child?  Is she so completely absorbed into the child’s world that she no longer has her own identity?  Can she find a balance, or should she wait until the child is grown?  Are mothers Superheroes?

Mothers of the world, how does this image speak to you?

ana álvarez-errecalde's Simbiosis

ana álvarez-errecalde’s Simbiosis

I recently shared another piece of Ana’s artwork, Birth of My Daughter, which has been getting a lot of attention around the world.  May her images continue to resonate in the hearts and minds of all who view them.

Birth of My Daughter

“I open, I transform, I bleed, I scream and I smile.”

In 2005 artist Ana Álvarez-Errecalde responded to a recurring dream she was having and decided to take self portraits of herself, and her newborn daughter.  The resulting images she has titled “Birth of My Daughter (or El Nacimiento de Mi Hija)

Ana Alvarez-Errecalde on the birth of her daughter says: "I open, I transform, I bleed, I scream and I smile"

Ana Alvarez-Errecalde on the birth of her daughter says: “I open, I transform, I bleed, I scream and I smile”

I am moved to share her photos because I feel birth is a monumentally inexplicable alteration of reality and in our culture it is too rarely revealed as such.  If you are having a child, please explore your options of how your family can truly experience the beauty of birth.

If you are curious about the origin of the images, please watch the short documentary “Umbilical Self-portrait” by MiNuShu.

To see some of Ava Álvarez-Errecalde current work, where she has created bodysuits  representing nude forms (called the More Store), review this article at Empty Kingdom and this piece at Elephant Journal.

Visitors to the "More Store" try on different body images.

Visitors to the “More Store” try on different body images.

Thanks to Brooke @ Violicious for bring my attention to Bauhauswife’s post sharing her thoughts on the work.

ana álvarez-errecalde's Simbiosis

ana álvarez-errecalde’s Simbiosis