Archive for July, 2013

Time Shift Your TV – Adafruit

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Adafruit’s Circuit Playground

Ate a fruit?

No, this isn’t about eating at all. We want to introduce you to an engineering video channel on YouTube designed to educate and enlighten.

MIT engineer Limor “Ladyada” Fried founded Adafruit Industries in 2005. Fried, who just last year became the first female engineer to be featured on the cover of Wired magazine, wanted to create an online place for learning electronics. The company has grown and Adafruit’s online offerings have expanded. And it’s well worth your time to check out Ladyada’s YouTube channel.

A particularly charming and informative series found there is called Circuit Playground. The first episode, “A is for Ampere,” debuted in April. It features a robot puppet character named “Adabot” who wonders why the electricity goes out when the blow dryer, toaster oven and boom box are plugged in at the same time. “Uh oh, did I break something?” asks the bot. Ladyada explains circuit breakers, electrical currents and amperes in a 3:51 video.

Episode 2, “B is for Battery,” debuted on YouTube in June. It explores how that little battery you stick in so many devices makes electricity.

The videos are easy to understand, the pacing is not too fast and not too slow, the Adabot has a playful curious nature and Ladyada strikes a perfect tone as host.

“Every kid seems to have a cell phone or a tablet, but they know more about SpongeBob than how a LED works on the device or TV they’re watching, and we wanted to change that,” she told FastCoDesign on why she created the series.

Adafruit videos go beyond Circuit Playground. Every week there’s an “Ask the Engineer” segment, there are many “Show and Tell” segments in which people share their projects, and the video library is filled with do-it-yourself projects such as light-up Chuck Taylor sneakers and LED Gummy candies. And those are just two of the simpler ones. You and the kids (of all ages) in your family are likely to find something to try, something that will inspire, something that will challenge you. And something fun!

A Touch of Whimsy

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Little Free Library No. 4289. Photo credit: Renée Adams and Elli Ludwigson

“Those who shun the whimsy of things will experience rigor mortis before death.” ― Tom Robbins

Guerilla Art isn’t about zoo primates painting on canvas. It’s more like a zeitgeist of creativity that has spawned out of  a new appreciation for crafting.

It’s as simple as spreading good cheer, whether by leaving prepaid bus tickets at a local bus stop, yarn bombing a tree or creating an elaborate piece of sidewalk chalk art. The Ponte Bridge in Paris is a famous example of an interactive guerilla art exhibit. Couples write their initials on padlocks, link them to the chain fence and then throw the key in the Seine as a symbol of everlasting love. In Verona, Italy, the lovelorn can write letters to Shakespeare’s fictional heroine at the Club di Giulietta (The Juliet Club) while Post Alley, under Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington features an entire brick wall artfully (albeit slightly nauseatingly) covered in chewing gum.

In our neighborhood in the DC area, we have a poetry fence, a fast-food garden as well as a Little Free Library, where folks can take or leave a book. World changing? No. Smile inducing? Most definitely. Inspiration is contagious and creating some sort of neighborhood talking point is a great project for a family to do. If you were going to art bomb somewhere or something, what would you do?

Mister Rogers Gets a New Sweater

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Mr. Rogers Yarn Bomb

Even as a statue, Mister Rogers still sports  his familiar bright red sweater. As huge Mister Rogers fans, we wondered whether there was a story behind this photo, which has been circulating online this week. That brought us to Alicia Kachmar, who knitted the zip-up cardigan in 2011 in collaboration with Outpost Journal, an independent publication that features a different city’s art and community each month. Their first issue explored Pittsburgh, the site of this statue and the city where Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was produced. As the Journal’s publisher Manya Rubinstein said, they hoped the sweater would make the statue “look a little more neighborly.”

The practice of dressing public statues and fixtures like light poles with knitted pieces is called “yarn-bombing.” Think of it as a cheerful form of street art intended to beautify cities. Often these installations are temporary, and though Mister Rogers has donned his new garment several times over the years, he is not wearing it at the moment. Kachmar says she hopes to dress Mister Rogers in the iconic sweater again, soon.

For more Mr. Rogers fun, see PBS’s Mister Rogers remixed songs “Garden of Your Mind” and “Sing Together.” We also recommend visiting the Fred Rogers Center’s Ele, an online learning environment offering learning resources and activities for families with young children.

Time Shift Your TV – What are your kids watching online?

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

To continue our exploration of the world of Web series, we turned to, a site devoted to understanding youth culture. YPulse recently looked at some of the most popular Web series with Millennials (ages 13 to 33). Here’s what they are watching right now:

Jenna MarblesJenna Marbles

The YouTube channel has more than 9 million subscribers. It’s obviously popular. But is it something you want your daughter or son watching? The New York Times profiled Jenna (real name: Jenna Mourey) in April and noted that 75% of her viewers are girls between 13 and 17. But even Jenna admitted at the time her videos aren’t always “appropriate” for that age group. What viewers get from Jenna are weekly rants about sex, boys, sports bras, applying makeup while drunk and more. One video showed Jenna simply figuring out what to wear for the day. Another was devoted to “being yourself.” You’re likely to hear Jenna drop more than one f-bomb during an eight-minute monologue. Not sure there’s much value in these for girls, or for anyone.

The Most Popular Girls in School

Barbie-type dolls do the acting in these stop-motion videos that have a funny look, but a very dark and adult humor. It’s so crass it’s hard to get through an entire episode. Every single character – and most of them are high school cheerleaders – uses the f-word, which is too bad because otherwise the plot has a Mean Girls feel that might make for amusing viewing. As is it now? Skip.

Lizzie BennetThe Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Lizzie Bennet is a grad school student and mass communications major who gives her series a Clarissa Explains It All feel. Her mother cares only about marrying her off. Lizzie started her Web series as a modern-day adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Eight writers worked on the 100 episodes of the series, which wrapped in March, but is still popular online. It’s worth checking out. Maybe it will inspire an adaptation of a classic work in your house.

Vlog BrosVlog Brothers

Nerd alert! The Vlog Brothers are real-life brothers John and Hank Green and they like to yell at the camera about whatever moves them (in the “17 Rants in 4 Minutes” episode, Hank disses American cheese at great length). Sometimes they sing. All the time they prize nerdiness. They close each episode with their catchphrase, DFTBA – “Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.” While we weren’t mesmerized by the videos, we’re all in favor of the catchphrase.


It’s easy to see why Vsauce is a behemoth online. The channel has more than 3 million subscribers and has already spun off VSauce2 and VSauce3 since starting in 2010. This web series is an interesting and intellectual exploration of, well, anything. “Why Are Things Creepy?” “What is the Shortest Poem?” and “Why Do We Feel Nostalgia?” are some examples of recent episodes. It’s not shouty, it’s not cutesy. It’s just good.

Summer Brain

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Summer Brain

It’s hot out. Africa hot. Like you could fry an egg on any surface hot. If the heat isn’t enough to drain you, the mid-summer doldrums are well at hand.

This is the time of year that parents begin the countdown to back to school. All of the summer plans to be active, engaged, and productive feel like the failed, wilted vegetable garden attempt in the backyard.  The “summer slide” is an actual condition that educators—and now employers—worry about. Kids, especially those at a disadvantage, lose skills and educational momentum over the summer. However, adults are at risk, too.

A national survey shows that employers believe workers are less productive over the summer. During the prime vacation season, shorter hours and frequent trips can also create a bottleneck of work for parents. Throw in changing schedules from camps and classes and summer dreams can go up in smoke.

A slower pace is important to recharge the mind and soul, but how do you go from hectic to hanging loose in a few short weeks? How do you try to stay sharp as parents over the summer? Do summer vacations and adventures lead to work backlogs? How do you balance work and play while the kids are home? Here are some brain games to get you started.