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Computer Science Education Week Kickoff, Dec 8!

Design an app, program a robot, learn computer thinking outside the box and more at Computer Science Education Week in Boulder, CO, Monday, December 8 – Saturday the 13th! Best yet, swing by Boulder co-working and tech connection juggernaut Galvanize on Monday for a kickoff with Maker Boulder, co-sponsored by local startup 911 Labs Inc (which does development and operations for early startups). We’ll be running a radical computer scavenger hunt, all ages welcome.

“Computers are a part of everything these days. Not only in obvious places like laptops and phones, but in thermostats, traffic lights, and washing machines,” says Daniel Zacek, CEO of 911 Labs says. “Our display will show examples of how computer science is involved in everything from farming to flying, and include a scavenger hunt for computer science in and around Galvanize.”

You’re reading this on a computer. You depend on the computers in your car to transport you to places where you can buy food sources like kale and Slurpees. Computers are shaping the very folds of your grey matter in ways we’re just now starting to understand. Don’t you think it’d be kinda good to know just a little bit about how these computers work? Here’s your chance to get edumacated without the terribly painful process of actually studying.

“We are working together to inspire the next generation of coders, makers, and innovators to think about how computing is part of their lives today, and their future through a groundbreaking and town-wide week of programs,” says Galvanize.

Come on down to Computer Science Education Week events next week and have a good time! Full list of events at www.csed.co. (And while you’re at it, if you want to stay up to date with Maker-ish events and news in Boulder, please consider following us on Facebook!)

Kitables Kickstarts Automatic Rubik’s Cube Solver


The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that without the addition of work, the entropy of a system will increase. In other words, left alone a system becomes more disordered: molecules disperse, heat homogenizes, and if you drop a Rubik’s Cube, it ain’t real likely to solve itself. Instead, random processes applied to this best selling toy of all time tend to increase its disorder. Of the 350 million Rubik’s Cubes sold to date, how many do you think are sitting at the bottom of the toy box or even on the kitchen counter, unsolved? According to this lovely 2nd Law, the correct answer is lots.

The Boulder startup Kitables is out to change that. Currently being Kickstarted is its snap-together kit that in conjunction with a little Arduino board allows you and yours to put a Rubik’s Cube in a slot and watch the automatic arm solve the puzzle for you. They call it “every nerd’s dream machine.” And I don’t know about you, but the idea will definitely keep us here at Maker Boulder up at night.

The company is the brainchild of Arieann DeFazio, research scientist at CU Boulder using x-ray crystallography to study Alzheimer’s disease.

“I always had it in my head to create the perfect job, somewhere I could have a business and do science too,” says Arieann, escapee from a biomedical sciences PhD program in Florida. “After five or six years of searching and not finding it, I finally decided to make it myself.”

Arieann was surfing Instructables.com when she realized, “Here are all these great ideas, but nobody’s got the parts!” When she looked deeper, Arieann says she found that most existing DIY kits were just electronics or just mechanics or just science kits, “Most of what you get from Radioshack, is you do like five steps and you have a robot,” she says.

Arieann’s goal was to combine mediums to create a fully integrated home science experience. Working at CU and with another Boulder startup, Arieann started formatting her kits on the side. Eventually she hopes to have Kitables kits across STEM fields.

For now, there’s the Rubik’s solver. God’s Algorithm already existed for the Cube — the optimal path of action from any given state to the solution state. Arieann brought a friend with mechanical engineering experience into the business to work the machine side. And they’re hoping that Kickstarter will help take care of the business side.

“We have two Kickstarter goals,” she says. “The first is to make sure people actually want this thing. And the second is to provide a little seed funding, or I guess it would be micro-seed funding.”

Here’s a little editorial: as awesome as the solver most certainly is, you gotta visit the Kickstarter for the video’s comedic genius, which taps into the place within us all that knows what it’s like to obsess over Rubik’s. Be warned: the soundtrack for the solver video will make you want to get your Kojak on.

Consider this: by pledging for Kitables you can do you part to fight entropy and bring just a little more order into the world. Let this forever be known as the day that entropy was beaten back from the gate!

Roller Coaster Thought Experiment

You know those thoughts you have in the shower? No, not those thoughts…but the mind-wandering flashes of observation or brilliant insight that you can’t seem to get any other way? I was thinking last night about a trip we took last year to Knott’s Berry Farm, where Leif — then 48 1/4 inches tall — was just tall enough for the radical roller coasters. There were absolutely no lines and so Leif and I strolled through the gates and directly onto Ghostrider, where we seated ourselves in the last car of the train. With my continued assurances of a fairly mellow ride, we clicked toward the top of the first hill. And long before we crested, Leif and I were whipped over the top and down many hundreds of feet toward the cold, hard ground, pulled over by the gravity already working on the front seats. Now in hindsight and in the shower, I recognize a couple thoughts that went through my head at the time. Here they are in no particular order:

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Calculating the Effort to Spend on Thanksgiving

A couple years ago today, I was baking muffins with my son’s preschool class and set fire to the school. Okay, technically I didn’t set it on fire—it was only butter smoke from the tin that set off the alarm, necessitating the entire school of a couple hundred kids filing out to the basketball courts while the fire department arrived en mass.

After that, my wife took over the Wednesday cooking class and it was never NEARLY so exciting. Besides, Leif was line leader that day, and he was really, very proud to lead the class evacuation. (I remember standing there with my large metal bowl and wooden spoon, smelling of smoke and trying to look innocent.)

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Best. Animal Shadow Puppets. Ever.

Oh we think we’re so slick, sitting here in the present and looking back at the follies of the past. But the pace of innovation in which newness steamrolls oldness means that sometimes we lose things we really should have kept. Like astronaut ice cream. We really don’t eat nearly as much astronaut ice cream as we should. And what ever happened to the band INXS? Another great historical cultural achievement that seems lost or at least marginalized in the modern era is the art of hand shadow puppets. Today is the day we change this. Join Maker Boulder in bringing back the art of the shadow puppet. These should get you started:

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Calling All Makers!

THE FAIRE IS THIS WEEKEND!

If you are interested in being an exhibitor at the Faire, we may be able to accommodate your activity/exhibit.  To learn more, email Anne Fellini at Anne@MakerBoulder.com.

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About a year ago, we got in touch with the folks at Make Magazine to discuss hosting a little Maker event, maybe in an elementary school gym. We imagined a cardboard building contest, an egg drop, maybe a couple presentations by local technology toy companies. If we lived in Boise or Burlington or Bozeman that’s what it would have been. But that day on the phone, Make Magazine heard the word “Boulder” and lit up like an Arduino board when you click the upload button. They said something like, “Dude, you totally have to host a Faire!” (Except maybe with a little less Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.)

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Why You Need to Visit the New SparkFun Building in Niwot

I’m more science geek than technology geek, but lately I’ve been doing my best — learning how to solder and code by building SparkFun kits along with my kids (6 and 8), first the WeevilEye, then Herbie the little mouse kit and now into the world of Arduino. (My daughter, Kestrel, bounces off furniture and people and walls as if she were the cue ball of a billiards trick shot, but she’ll sit and solder for a straight hour.) What this means is that instead of looking at soldering kits from the perspective of an electrical engineer who, I’m sure, sees these kits as simple teaching tools, I’m completely flabbergasted along with my kids when Herbie hits a wall and his electrical whiskers make the mouse turn. Wow! When we reach the great moment of flipping the switch to “on,” my armpits sweat.

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5 Ways to Foster Innovation in Children

Last week, Maker Boulder published a series of short posts by Alice Kembel describing how to foster innovation in kids. She should know: her husband, George, is Global Director and Co-Founder of the Stanford D-School and Alice is a thought leader in maker education. The Kembels are new to Boulder and bring with them their three innovative boys. And after last week’s series a couple of you intrepid readers asked if you could pretty please just have all the tips in one place instead of having to click post-to-post and inevitably getting lost in the process. So here they are: Alice Kembel’s 5 Ways to Foster Innovation in Children!

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Calculate Best Bucket Size for Halloween Haul

Want a real Halloween nightmare? Imagine filling your child’s too-small bucket in the first three houses and going home with only a small slice of your kid’s potential rake. But if you allow your little monster (or in my case, blue whale with pink and purple barnacles), to carry a big bag, you should be prepared to spend the hours and hours (and hours) needed to fill it. Bad news: there are nightmares on both ends of the bag guesstimation spectrum.

So instead of playing the equivalent of Russian roulette with your child’s Halloween bag size, use the equation below to calculate—with the power of absolute mathematical certainty (wink, wink)—the bag size that’s best for you and yours.

•  T= Total time in hours you plan to spend trick-or-treating

•  A= Trick-or-treater’s age. If over 20 (or below zero…), shame on you. You’re stealing my kid’s goodies.

•  Hc= Hours spent on costume. If store-bought translate into hours at $20/hr.

•  Pd= Population density in trick-or-treat neighborhood. Enter 1 for “rural”, 2 for “open suburban”, 3 for “tight suburban”, or 4 for “Apt or dorm”

•  Ma= Estimated median age in neighborhood. For comparison, median age in the Gaza Strip is about 15 and in Japan about 41.

•  X= Your child’s ineffable, illogical, but very real lust for candy. Enter 1-10 with 10 being “has strategized since last Halloween”

Interpretation Key:

If Bckt is less than 1, your pockets are more than enough

If 1<7, use small-size, plastic jack-’o-lantern bucket

If 7<Bckt<15, use the standard trick-or-treating bucket

If 15<Bckt<25, use a grocery bag

If 25<Bckt, use a trash bag


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Why The D-School’s Alice Shi Kembel Lets Her Children Play With Trash (Part 5)

This week I’ve been writing about why I let my children play with trash (parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE). Here’s a hint: Not only will the ability to think innovatively help children develop a love for learning, but it will eventually prepare them to enter the workforce of a rapidly-changing world that faces complex challenges in the areas of technology, health care, the environment, and the global economy. Here’s the fifth and final suggestion in this 5-part series on how to foster innovation in children:

Praise the effort children put forth in the creative process, not their innate abilities.  

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