My son is growing up with computers. He’s in first grade, and had to list all of the things that he knows how to do with them. The list included things like mousing around, drawing ghosts with the paint program, and — sign of the times — muting and unmuting the microphone when he’s in teleconferences. Oh yeah, and typing emojis. He loves emojis.
When I was just about his age, I was also getting into computers. But home computers back then were in their early years as well. And if I look back, I’ve been getting more sophisticated about computers at just about the same pace that they’ve been getting more sophisticated themselves. I was grade school during the prime of the BASIC computers — the age of the Apple II and the C64. I was in high school for the dawn of the first Macs and the Amiga. By college, the Pentiums’ insane computational abilities just started to match my needs for them to solve numerical differential equations. And in grad school, the rise of the overclockable multi-cores and GPUs powered me right on through a simulation-heavy dissertation.
When I was a kid, they were playthings, and as a grownup, they’re powerful tools. Because of this, computers have never been intimidating. I grew up with computers.
But back to my son. I don’t know if it’s desirable, or even possible, to pretend that computers aren’t immensely complex for the sake of a first grader — he’d see right through the lie anyway. But when is the right age to teach kids about voice recognition and artificial neural networks? It’s a given that we’ll have to teach him some kind of “social media competence” but that’s not really about computers any more than learning how to use Word was about computers back in my day. Consuming versus creating, tweeting versus hacking. Y’know?
Of course every generation has its own path. Hackers older than me were already in high-school or college when it became possible to build your own computer, and they did. Younger hackers grew up with the Internet, which obviously has its advantages. Those older than me made the computers, and those younger have always lived in a world where the computer is mature and taken for granted. But folks about my age, we grew up with computers.
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It’s easy to spot recent parents, they are the people who look as though they haven’t slept in months. Sometimes the little bundle of joy responsible isn’t even a babe in arms but a toddler; old enough to wake up and find their parents for some solace but not old enough to understand that not everyone is up for being woken at 3 am. [Eyal] approached this problem in some style, by modifying a rabbit night light to indicate the time by changing colour, reminding the youngster when it’s a bit early to be rousing the grown-ups.
The bunny in question is a plastic moulding, sold with a white LED providing illumination, This was removed, and replaced with a rather nice custom PCB sporting a ring of addressable LEDs surrounding a Wemos ESP8266 board. In the darkest hours of the night, it is lit as a soft red to indicate sleep time. When an appropriate wake-up point is reached it bursts into a vibrant light show of many colours. Thus the recalcitrant early-riser can be taught to give Mum & Dad a little rest through the medium of light and colour.
This article was meant to be finished up before Christmas, so it’ll be a little late whenever you’re reading it to go and prepare this for the holiday. Regardless, if, like me, should you ever be on the lookout for something to give a toddler nephew or relative, it could be worth it to look into your neglected old parts shelves. In my case, what caught my eye was a 9-year-old AMD laptop catching dust that could be better repurposed in the tiny hands of a kid eager to play video games.
The main issues here are finding a decent selection of appropriate games and streamling the whole experience so that it’s easy to use for a not-yet-hacker, all the while keeping the system secure and child-friendly. And doing it all on a budget.
This is a tall order, and requirements will be as individual as children are, of course, but I hope that my experience and considerations will help guide you if you’re in a similar boat.
The MP3 player is known as a Jooki and works by using small figurines (and a few buttons) to control the device. Different figurines cause the MP3 player to change playlists, for example, but it turns out that the device is capable of communicating over MQTT. This means that [Sebastian] was able to use the MQTT messages from the Jooki to do all kinds of things beyond its intended use with openHAB, an open-source home automation system, such as dimming the lights and closing the blinds when he puts his son to bed.
This platform has considerable potential for hacking thanks to the lightweight communications system it uses under the hood. The Jooki is a little pricey, but if you happen to have one around, it’s an impressive tool that can go well beyond its original intended use.
We often hear it said that today’s kids don’t go out and play as much as they did in the past, but honestly, it’s hard to really blame them. Have you seen some of the games they have now? It’s going to take something a little more exciting than a game of stickball to get them off the couch when they’ve got 4K and VR game systems to play with.
Which is exactly why [Bobek] is building his kids a time machine. Not a literal one, of course. The Flux Capacitor technology required has yet to be mastered. But it does allow the player to “travel” through time through videos which are played by punching in specific codes they have to unlock by solving puzzles in the real world. Then again, keeping keeping kids active and mentally engaged might as well be “going back in time” in some people’s eyes.
By the looks of things, [Bobek] still has a little work to do on the project, but it’s far enough along that we can get an idea. Inside the bottom of the heavy duty plastic case he’s installed an ATX power supply and a Raspberry Pi 3, and an top of that, there’s a metal plate that holds the power button, an RGB backlit keyboard, and a Vacuum Florescent Display.
After powering on the system, the kids punch in the codes they’ve earned on the keyboard. If accepted, it starts the corresponding presentation which goes over the sights and sounds of the time period they’ve unlocked. In the video after the break you can see [Bobek] test the device with a small display hanging off the end of an HDMI cable, but presumably the system will eventually get an integrated display. The kids could also plug it into the TV, but at that point you might be going full circle.
I was a little surprised to see a news report about Andreas Schleicher, the director of education and skills at OECD — the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Speaking at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Paris, Schleicher thinks that teaching kids to code is a waste of time. In particular, he seems to think that by the time a child today grows up, coding will be obsolete.
I can’t help but think that he might be a little confused. Coding isn’t going away anytime soon. It could, of course, become an even deeper specialty, and thus less generally applicable. But the comments he’s made seem to imply that soon we will just tell smart computers what we want and they will just do that. Somewhat like computers work on Star Trek.
What is more likely is that most people will be able to find specific applications that can do what they want without traditional coding. But someone still has to write something for the foreseeable future. What’s more, if you’ve ever tried to tease requirements out of an end user, you know that you can’t just blurt out anything you want to a computer and expect it to make sense. It isn’t the computer’s fault. People — especially untrained people — don’t always make sense or communicate unambiguously.
For little Alma’s enjoyment, three potentionmeters control a central LED, a row of buttons toggle a paired row ofmore lights, a rotary encoder to scroll the light pattern of said row left and right, and some sockets to plug a cable into for further lighting effects. Quite a lot to handle, so [Stefan] whipped up a prototype using an Arduino — although he went with an ATmega 328 for the final project — building each part of the project on separate boards and connected with ribbon cables to make any future modifications easier.
[Stefan] attempted to integrate a battery — keeping the Lichtspiel untethered for ease of use — and including a standby feature to preserve battery life. A power bank seemed like a good option to meet the LED’s needed 5V, but whenever the Lichtspiel switched to standby, the power bank would shut off entirely — necessitating the removal of the front plate to disconnect and reconnect the battery every time. The simpler solution was to scrap the idea entirely and use the charging port as a power port instead — much to the delight of his niece who apparently loves plugging it in.