Keep The Kids Entertained With A Time Machine

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.

Circuit to control ATX PSU

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.

We’ve seen several examples of hackers creating their own electronic gadgets to keep their children entertained. The line might be a little blurry, but we’d rather see kids use their imagination to “fly” a spaceship in their bedroom than play Roblox on their phone.

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Expert Says Don’t Teach Kids To Code

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.

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The Lichtspiel: Not A Simple Child’s Toy.

For his niece’s second birthday, [Stefan] wondered what a toddler would enjoy the most? As it turns out, a box packed with lights, dials and other gadgets to engage and entertain.

For little Alma’s enjoyment, three potentionmeters control a central LED, a row of buttons toggle a paired row of more 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.

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A Jukebox For The 21st-Century Kit Blends Raspberry Pi, Sonos, QR Codes

When [Chris Campbell]’s children wanted to play an album in the background over dinner, switching the outputs on his family’s Sonos sound system was perhaps too involved for their budding mastery of technology. This got him thinking about using kid-friendly inputs so they could explore his music collection. Blending QR codes, some LEGO, and a bit of arts and crafts, a kid-friendly QR code reader media controller comes out!

Working with a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B and a cheap camera, [Campbell] whipped up some code to handle producing and reading the QR codes — though he’s running the media server on another computer to maintain fast response times. Once [Campbell] had his QR codes, he printed them out and got his kids involved in cutting and gluing the double-sided cards. Additional cards access different functions — starting a playlist queue, switching output channels, and full album playback, among others. Cue spontaneous dance-parties!

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Usborne Release More 1980s Computer Books

Children of the 1980s who had an interest in technology were lucky indeed. As well as the first generations of home computers at their disposal they had the expectation to program them, something which the generation that followed had lost.

Traditional children’s publishers enthusiastically embraced the home computer boom, and probably for the only time in history there were books aimed at children covering subjects like machine code, or interfacing to microprocessors.

Kid's books were better when we were young! Usborne(Fair use)
Kid’s books were better when we were young! Usborne(Fair use)

If you are British, the most memorable of these books came from Usborne Publishing. Their format of colourful cartoons and easy to digest layout have made them something of a cult object among the now-grown-up generation who first received them, and Usborne themselves have cleverly exploited their heritage to promote their current offerings by releasing some of them as PDFs. And now, to promote their latest title, “Coding For Beginners Using Python”, they’ve released five more (scroll down to see). Titles are “Practice Your BASIC”, “Better BASIC”, “Computer Controlled Robots”, “Experiments With Your Computer”, and “Keyboards & Computer Music”, which join the fifteen they’ve already released.

Obviously they are heavily based around the microcomputers of the 1980s, but of course for most Hackaday readers that will be their chief attraction. Either way they’re an interesting read, and should you happen to have a few old micros lying around then maybe you could have a go at some of the projects.

If the BASIC listings are a little foreign to you, might we suggest some places to find BASIC information.

Why Buy Your Children A Game Console When You Can Build Them One?

[buildxyz] had no opposition to his kids playing video games, but wanted something that offered a bit more parental control, a larger game selection, and was maybe a little more contained than a modern game console.

So, in his multi-part build log, he goes through all the steps of making a Raspberry Pi into a kid friendly wall-mounted game console. The frame is made from Baltic Birch plywood, and the edges look cool when stained. The display is an old HP monitor, and the speakers are simple beige bricks from the thrift store. The controllers hook into a USB hub on the front. It’s not a complicated build, but it’s very well done.

The coolest feature, from the parent’s point of view, is the combination lock on the front. A rotary encoder surrounded by NeoPixels provides the input and feedback. Depending on the code [buildxyz] inputs his children can receive different periods of dopamine hits, and if he enters a special code for occasions like birthdays, unlimited play time becomes available.

We hope he’s prepared to have the only four year olds who can crack safes on the block. The build looks awesome, and there’s not really a commercial product out there to match it. Watch the video.

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“Bricking” Microcontrollers In LEGO Motivates Young Programmers

Back when he was about seven years old, [Ytai] learned to program on an Atari 800XL. Now he has a seven-year-old of his own and wants to spark his interest in programming, so he created these programmable LEGO bricks with tiny embedded microcontrollers. This is probably one of the few times that “bricking” a microcontroller is a good thing!

IMG_20150519_144818The core of the project is the Espruino Pico microcontroller which has the interesting feature of running a Java stack in a very tiny package. The Blocky IDE is very simple as well, and doesn’t bog users down in syntax (which can be discouraging to new programmers, especially when they’re not even a decade old). The bricks that [Ytai] made include a servo motor with bricks on the body and the arm, some LEDs integrated into Technic bricks, and a few pushbutton bricks.

We always like seeing projects that are geared at getting kids interested in creating, programming, and hacking, and this certainly does that! [Ytai] has plans for a few more LEGO-based projects to help keep his kid interested in programming as well, and we look forward to seeing those! If you’re looking for other ways to spark the curiosity of the youths, be sure to check out the Microbot, or if you know some teens that need some direction, perhaps these battlebots are more your style.