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Christmas Cheer Education Toys Build Technology

Merry Christmas - Be an Erector Engineer! 200

theodp writes: More than 50 years ago, lucky kids found an Automatic Conveyor Erector Set under the Xmas tree. And while President Obama lamented last year that kids — including his own — were done a disservice by an educational system that failed to introduce computer science concepts 'with the ABCs and the colors', Radio Shack advised 'Parents Who Care' to put a TRS-80 under the tree for their kids to program way back in 1978. So, to bring things up-to-date, what are the hot tech/science gifts that Santa brought children today?
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Merry Christmas - Be an Erector Engineer!

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  • Snap Circuits (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PvtVoid ( 1252388 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @11:09PM (#51184609)

    Snap Circuits [snapcircuits.net]. Yeah, baby.

    • Hate em (Score:5, Interesting)

      by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Saturday December 26, 2015 @01:02AM (#51184949)

      I dislike snap circuits because the block units tend to roll up too much of the complexity making them more magical and less electrical. I liked my ancient electronics kit that had discrete components with springs that clamped the wires you used to make connections. What was good about that was you could make errors or try shorting things out or removing things and see what changed. Plus they included some fun stuff like high voltage shock circuits you could build.

      Now the thing is I could be wrong about preferring discrete components. These days no one at all builds analoc circuits from scratch. You want a thermometer, well no worries, no need to bias a themistor or measure the voltage on a reversed biased junction. No just buy a thermometer chip with an SPI data bus and connect 3 wires to your arduino. Simple! And absurdly that hideously complex way of making a thermometer turns out to be cheaper and easier than the discrete component approach. No need ot learn any analog electronics.

      SO maybe I'm just old fashioned in liking discrete components. kids won't ever use that stuff, the magic bits will all be rolled up for them into block elements they can snap together on their SPI bus.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        I've used thermistors in s few products this year. They are great for things like monitoring battery packs during charging, because they are small enough to get right where you want to measure and extremely cheap. Micros have plenty of analogue inputs these days so a dedicated chip is a lavish expense.

        Adafruit has a tutorial and example code for using a thermistor with an Arduino. The Arduino is a good starter platform, as it's easy to connect analogue stuff to and get results from.

        • Thermisters? See, even the names of basic components are designed to perpetuate the male domination of STEM fields.

          Start a campaign the rename them thermadams. Start it now!

          • Thermisters? See, even the names of basic components are designed to perpetuate the male domination of STEM fields.

            Start a campaign the rename them thermadams. Start it now!

            No no! you see, that was a mistake, probably made by a testosterone fueld member of the patriarchy. We shal correct it, so that is like the others:

            Transisters, resisters, so we march on to remove sexist names, and replace them with ....other sexist names?

            side note - working with some female technicians, there are some awkward moments when dealing with male and female sockets and plugs. Though most of the ladies would get it out of the way by talking about the gender early on.

            And let's not forget the l

            • Thermisters? See, even the names of basic components are designed to perpetuate the male domination of STEM fields.

              Start a campaign the rename them thermadams. Start it now!

              No no! you see, that was a mistake, probably made by a testosterone fueld member of the patriarchy. We shal correct it, so that is like the others:

              Transisters, resisters, so we march on to remove sexist names, and replace them with ....other sexist names?

              side note - working with some female technicians, there are some awkward moments when dealing with male and female sockets and plugs. Though most of the ladies would get it out of the way by talking about the gender early on.

              And let's not forget the learning verse for the color codes of resistors!

              Bad

              Boys

              Rape

              Our

              Young

              Girls

              But

              Violet

              Gives

              Willingly

              for

              Gold

              or

              Silver

              Cannot believe my electronics instructor used that one. It was the 70's for certain, but sheesh.

              Remember when I first learned that code, i ended up in the hospital for a week after trying to decode the value of a coral snake.

      • This story is based on real life events. A small company I was working for was bought-out by another small, but out-of-state electronics company. The new owners were well versed in bit-banging and CPU. My former company was 99% analog. We used op amps and R/C circuits for timing/filtering. They used code on CPU's. The new owners flew me out to their facility on three different weeks, to help their staff incorporate this whole new product line into theirs.

        One interesting discussion I had with them involved c

        • I'm not an EE, but I'm at least peripherally aware of all that stuff you said.

          I'm somewhat baffled about why the takeover wasn't the other way round.

          • Because my former boss wanted to sell. He was ready to retire.

            The products we made are very reliable, solid, and well-made. He always had high standards, and insisted that any 3'rd party suppliers met those standards before he would accept their products. The new owner is keeping up that tradition.

            To answer another comment, the NEED for using analog was primarily for radio frequency energy issues.

        • This story is based on real life events. A small company I was working for was bought-out by another small, but out-of-state electronics company. The new owners were well versed in bit-banging and CPU. My former company was 99% analog. We used op amps and R/C circuits for timing/filtering. They used code on CPU's. The new owners flew me out to their facility on three different weeks, to help their staff incorporate this whole new product line into theirs.

          One interesting discussion I had with them involved creating a 0.5 second power-on reset signal for a USB interface chip, to allow the rest of the unit to "settle" before bringing up the USB interface. One guy said he'd just use a little 8-pin CPU and some code. I suggested an op-amp, some resistors, and a cap. They looked at me like I had two heads.

          I reminded them that because these devices were intended to be used in environments with high levels of radio frequency energy, and high sensitivity receivers, (transceivers) RFI ingress and egress were important! The op amp and R/C circuits were virtually RF immune, and generated NONE. A CPU generates some, and is sensitive to RF.

          Case-in-point: They had a high-current, DC switching system (multiple DC power ports that could be controlled remotely) that was driving them completely bonkers, because of random resets or other unpredictable behavior when they switched loads on and off. When I tried to explain current loops and grounding, they again looked at me like I had two heads. One even said, "But isn't ground, just GROUND??" (Insert FACEPALM here!)

          I had to briefly explain OHM'S LAW to them! Ground planes have a measurable (albeit small) resistance, and when you are passing a dozen amps or more, you start to see dozens of millivolts from the E=IR drops... sometimes, switching spikes were high enough to false-trigger CPU inputs or other circuits, because the CPU was "riding" up and down on those voltages! When I showed them one of our old ANALOG designs, with separated ground paths... and explained WHY those paths were separate... I think they finally "got it". Their next complete redesign didn't have the issues of the first.

          I summed it up by saying, "It is an ANALOG WORLD, guys!" ;)

          indeed. the difference between a hack and a talent is the ability to accept nonideal behavior from whatever it is you work with.

  • LittleBits (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 25, 2015 @11:30PM (#51184667)

    Considering buying this for my child in the near future.

    http://littlebits.cc/

    • LittleBits make Erector look not very impressive.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      It looks nice and teaches the modern skills. I had an erector set and it taught the skills that were in place at the time. I certainly used those skills, spatial recognition, using tools, hand eye coordination, structural elements, in high school, college, and throughout my life. Fortunately I had access to computers early enough, some of the Atari machines could be programmed from a keyboard, to get those skills as well.

      That said, there are no fundamental differences that when I was a kid. Just like the

  • When I was younger, I read the RadioShack catalogs from front to end. At one time, I lusted after the SSB CB Base station and 5/8 base antenna. I bought and assembled a couple of the kits with plastic bases, and even a couple of "surprise boxes". When they put a TRS80 in every store, I was even more surprised. I played with it and even got the moon landing to work out.

    I bought a different computer, but what exactly is the problem here?

  • Can you still get those 501-in-1 electronic kits they used to have? With door bells, radios, and whatnot. Haven't seen ads for anything like that in ages - mail-order catalogs used to carry those, but I guess kids aren't trusted to be thinking for themselves today...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Kids want only tablets and phones. Finding a way to program in these electronic devices is almost futile: Lame IDE kits, obsolete and broke ports of languages, webserves that cannot read local files... When I was kid I did carve for a C64 or Apple II, now I my tablets only drops birds and wait to hearts for recharge. Meh.

    And if you didn't got it: WANT KIDS TO BECOME CODERS AND ENGINEERS? PORT THE TOOLS TO ANDROID AND IOS!

    • Kids want only tablets and phones. Finding a way to program in these electronic devices is almost futile: Lame IDE kits, obsolete and broke ports of languages, webserves that cannot read local files... When I was kid I did carve for a C64 or Apple II, now I my tablets only drops birds and wait to hearts for recharge. Meh.

      And if you didn't got it: WANT KIDS TO BECOME CODERS AND ENGINEERS? PORT THE TOOLS TO ANDROID AND IOS!

      that's kind of an obsolete attitude, that kids are supposed to do things and build things. the proper citizen of today's world is a consumer. you don't build stuff, you buy it. you don't have experiences, you buy them. you don't even educate yourself, you just buy an education. free market 1, humanity 0.

  • by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @11:50PM (#51184725)

    Well duh, an iPad of course, because downloading and "installing" apps is all that any kid needs to learn these days.

    • My daughter loves ScratchJr on my iPad. And also Monument Valley (check it out). She got a quilling set today and searched on YouTube on instruction videos. She's 8 years old. So, yeah, really bad those iPads. You remind me a bit of my mother who at first got a bit upset with me because I was very often behind my ZX Spectrum.
      • My daughter loves ScratchJr on my iPad. And also Monument Valley (check it out)

        Well goody for her, not having to get her hands dirty actually doing something with physical objects (Ewwwwww!)

        Seriously, fuck off. Your whiny response just shows that you AND the daughter you think is yours are both going to grow up to be humorless fucktards with a pedantic streak as wide as Alabama. So please, go play with your new shiny toys and let the rest us of make a fucking joke in peace, you jackoff.

        • Maybe look up quilling set...
          • Maybe look up quilling set...

            Thanks for the suggestion, but I have stuff to do. Building cabinets for the downstairs room, fixing a lamp, and finishing some molding for a presentation case I'm making. I have some coding I need to get to later, but my point is that some of us actually do things with our hands besides masturbating and fondling our iPads.

            • Good to hear, I thought you had a hard on for me, which is OK, but I am not a height challenged bald old man ;-). Still, as an old guy who likes to do things with his hands you might appreciate quilling.
      • My daughter loves ScratchJr on my iPad. And also Monument Valley (check it out). She got a quilling set today and searched on YouTube on instruction videos. She's 8 years old. So, yeah, really bad those iPads. You remind me a bit of my mother who at first got a bit upset with me because I was very often behind my ZX Spectrum.

        i was just thinking about scratch... crayola now sells an animation studio for $30; a stick figure dummy thing with registration marks on it that you pose and take photos of with an app on your phone, then you pick a body to dress the dummy's image in and some backgrounds, and the software interpolates motion.
        and I used to think scratch was amazing.

  • by Gim Tom ( 716904 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @11:50PM (#51184727)
    By the time I was five or six I had an electric train set that my Father taught me how to put together and wire up each time I would use it. I wasn't much, if any, older when I had a chemistry set with chemicals in it that would get you on a terrorist watch list if you bought them today. Before I was ten my Father had taught me how to solder and I got a very nice soldering iron when I was ten and used it to assemble my first radio receiver kit. It used vacuum tubes, which took hundreds of volts to work. What would the parent police think or do today to the parents of a ten year old who was given a 300 degree C soldering tool and left alone to use it to build a radio with high voltages. Yes, I also had an Erector set, and toy guns and latter a BB gun and all of the other things that made kids from the 1940's and 1950's into the engineers and scientists that got us to the moon in 1969.

    To learn you have to do and try and sometimes you fail and sometimes things might have some risk but not to try and not to do is a complete dead end for society.

    The most hopeful thing I see on the horizon is the Maker Movement, although I think that sometimes it tends to candy coat real learning. Learning is not always easy or fun but LEARNING that is is almost always worthwhile and enriching is one of the most important lessons anyone can have and the earlier the better.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 26, 2015 @01:39AM (#51185039)

      Toy Train set at 7, along with an Erector Set.
      Getting the two to play well together wasn't easy, and I got more than one pretty cool blood blister by jamming an errant finger into the Erector Gearbox.
      By eight I was getting into Electronics, but with Solid State; a TRF AM receiver using two 2N170s and a 2N107.
      At ten, I built my first Heathkit- a HR10.

      But before putting all that stuff together, I was taking stuff apart, and I think that is what is mostly missing today. Not only the interest in taking stuff apart, but even the possibility. How is a kid going to take an iPad apart, and what then? Aside from the Battery, not much use can be made of the parts inside. (Even after five decades, I still have boxes of really neat Junk in my Garage. Need a 7360 Balanced Modulator Tube? I have several... I made my first Donald Duckifier when I was 13. My own design.)
      At the age of 14, Frank Oppenheimer took an interest in me, and I spent a Summer designing and making things for his new Exploratorium, out of whatever was in the Parts Bins. Gotta fill the Bins. But with what?

      For example, Quadcopters are a good alternative today. They crash regularly, and so repair parts are readily available. Parts that can be re-purposed. Cheap out-of-collimation Binoculars are full of interesting Optics, and Lasers are preposterously cheap compared to the days when we paid _$200_ for a small Ruby rod from Edmund's.
      An old broken down Laser or Dot Matrix Printer is full of Electro-Mechano-Optical goodies. Parts is Parts. Some might call me a Pack-Rat. I prefer "Technology Archaeologist".

      Of course, taking things apart takes some skill, but for every Tamper-Proof Screw, there is an Anti-Tamper-Proof Hammer, and optional accessories. This has been noticed at the National Labs; they often have Disassembly Fairs for Kids, and more than one Adult has been seen taking a Sledge Hammer to something too disinclined to be taken apart. (Wear Eye Protection, a step skipped in earlier decades.)

      We don't need to go back to the "And Easy Hobbi-Games for Little Engineers, complete with Instructions. Oh, easy for Leonardo!" days, (Note the very appropriate quote for Today...), since every sensible Household should be full of broken Stuff, a decent selection of Tools, well laid out Storage, access to the Internet, and at least one mildly destructive Child. (I _hated_ those "300 In 1" Electronics kits. Too limiting, and after a while, I had a _much_ better selection of Parts.)

      Santa was very good to this Little Engineer this Christmas. There were the Useful Presents, a Hawaiian Shirt, (In hideous taste...), a Sailing Jacket, a Waterford Biscuit Jar, an LCD Display Microscope, (I have a fairly well equipped Home Laboratory),... and then there were the Useless Presents- an old European Racing Bicycle with a busted Shifter, a Macbook Air Magsafe Power Supply whose DC Cable the Mice had gotten to, and a Tillerpilot, which acted much like the Wave Stabilizer used on the Queen Mary in that first week of April, 1958, and probably pretty much for the same reason.
      I've already fixed the Magsafe: RG174 Coax; and I'll finish up the rest fairly soon.

    • by Minupla ( 62455 )

      My (Canadian for the record, but who cares) 7 yr old daughter has been soldering since she was 4, was taught by some nice folks at the Defcon Hardware Hacking Village. So there are kids out there doing this stuff still, but it requires a bit more intent on behalf of the parents and the kids, because it is a bit counter culture now.

      It's getting better tho. Groups like the defcon r00tz group, kids-targeting maker groups, etc, are rolling back the crazy a bit. If anyone can tell me where to buy a real chemi

      • by Gim Tom ( 716904 )
        There are several Amateur Radio clubs in this area that have classes in soldering and basic electronics for kids of all ages. In November at the largest convention (we call it a HamFest) in the state there was an area called "The Student Shack" where children from pre-school through junior high and beyond were able to learn to solder and build a simple circuit (LED flasher I think) that they could keep. There were also hands on exhibits of radio and communications technology from old restored mechanical T
    • Yes, I had some erector sets as a child, but what was really neat was the RIVITRON set I had. It had plastic plates with holes in them, and a bunch of rubber rivets that were a teeny bit larger than the holes. You put the rivet on a tool that stretched it out so it would fit in the holes, and then released it so the rivet would expand, and secure the plates.

      Sadly, it was recalled due to too many stupid kids swallowing the rivets and choking on them.
    • So you think nothing of technological significance has happened since the moon landings? You think there were no dumb people in the 40s and 50s?
    • from "Forgetfullness" by John W. Campbell (writing as Don A. Stuart)

      "What are these people of Rhth?"

      Ron Thule's voice was a whisper from the darkness. "I come from a far
      world, by what strange freak we will not say. I am a savage, a rising
      race that has not learned the secret of fire, nor bow, nor hammer. Tell
      me, Shor Nun, what is the nature of the two dry sticks I must rub, that
      fire may be born? Must they be hard, tough oak, or should one be a soft,
      resinous bit of pine? Tell me how I may make fire."

      "Why---wi

  • by randomErr ( 172078 ) <ervin,kosch&gmail,com> on Friday December 25, 2015 @11:53PM (#51184729) Homepage Journal

    The TRS-80 and similar system have something no other system has:

    * A simple DOS like system (Linux is just a steep learning curve)
    * A solid Basic / JavaScript system at boot up
    * Simple IO communications
    * Easy hardware maintenance
    * Self-contained system

    Raspberry Pi is a step in the right direction but if something goes wrong I can't soldier in a new RAM chip or pull the processor. People really like a simple all-in-one unit. The wide range of choices and lack of uniformity makes it hard design a solid education program.

    • I got the boy a Kinoma Create - it hooks up to WiFi and he'll be using the Google block language on his Chromebook to get started (he's been using Lightbot to get the idea). There was also a GoPiGo under the tree for his next step.

    • by aquabat ( 724032 )
      Yeah, DOS was a great thing to learn on because it was simple and useful at the same time.

      tldr: wah, I want the '80s back.

      Say what you want about DOS, but it was simple enough that, as a teenager, I could read the printed OS manual and understand almost everything it could do. It was a great way to graduate from the VIC-20 at home and the TRS-80s at school, into "real" computers, whatever the hell that means. So when someone at University introduced me to Slackware and ftp.cdrom.com back in '95, I was a

  • I'm an Irate Erection Engineer!
  • Truly (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Saturday December 26, 2015 @12:20AM (#51184831)

    I'm also one of us that remember dicking about with electronics and designing/building/programming early computers at home...
    That culture of exploration seems to have died with us.
    I have a 10 year old son. Neither him or any of his friends or school mates are interested in anything that isn't completely pre-packaged, comes with full instructions, and is 100% convenient. If anything requires any creative thinking or even any slight effort on his part, it just gets left unfinished in a drawer.
    Sadly I think thanks to the sick liberal values in society and promoted by mass media, this level of laziness and total absence of scientific curiosity is completely typical of the current generation of at least middle class US kids now, and simple market demand explains the complete lack of electronic sets, chemistry sets etc in toy stores these days.

    • Sounds similar to my kids. They like to build stuff with dad, but don't have the initiative to explore and screw around that I had at that age. I think one issue is that it take a lot to duplicate, for example, a simple iPad game. Whereas I grew up playing Zork, and wrote my own text adventures (convoluted GOTO and GOSUB) in basic, which to me seemed like an achievement since it looked similar. Or, getting a robot to shoot a laser across the screen on my C64 as a tried to make a robotron type game. It
    • I understand exactly what you're talking about. When I was 15 years old I was designing and building expansions for the CDP1802 microprocessor trainer from the 1976 Popular Electronics article, adding a BASIC interpreter to it, extra RAM, serial interface, and fixing an old Teletype to use as a terminal and data storage device (paper tape). These days the most adventurous ones think that Arduino means they understand electronics, and meanwhile they couldn't build a crystal radio to save their lives because
      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        I actually see some potential with Arduino, but the kids may need to be lead beyond the IDE and the libraries. It actually reminds me a bit of the old days with the C64. It has less RAM, but you have 32K for program memory. Back in the day, if I could have afforded to blow up the C64 and have a new one in days (or on the shelf just in case) I would have done even more with it.

        The datasheet for the 328p is excellent and a careful read shows a good bit of functionality not offered in the Arduino libraries.

        Tha

        • There's a lot of interesting things you can do with it if you add some analog support circuitry.

          Yes, but: All I ever see is kids using it like Legos; they buy pieces and snap them together, and they think that's all there is to electronics, is snapping pre-made pieces together, which really isn't true. The same kids struggle to figure out how to light an LED without burning it up. I usually recommend to them that they at least go buy kits to assemble that will potentially teach them some basic electronics, or at least go build a crystal radio from scratch, because there's all sorts basic theory you le

          • by sjames ( 1099 )

            Get 'em a few pro-minis, a breadboard and assorted parts and a soldering iron. They'll need the iron just to get header pins on the mini so they can use it with the breadboard. Show them how to de-solder the pad that disconnects the regulator so they can run it on a LiIon battery such as an 18650. (they will get better results if they set the clock divider to get 8MHz operation). Perhaps also get them one of the Unos with the socketed DIP so they can pull the AVR and use it to program the mini over USB.

            It w

    • We built match rockets. I do agree that video crap has mostly ruined curiosity from children. In my day, "getting bored" actually stimulated creativity. Now it is replaced with meaningless time wasting.

    • by feufeu ( 1109929 )

      Anyone has tried to think why this is so ? My 2 cts FWIW:

      I think that the world today is so much more commercialized than it was when we were kids (I'm born in the early 70's) and the whole show only works with ever expanding market volumes. Which implies that the tinkering kid is not as nearly a good consumer as the one who never gets beyond the next and the next unboxing event of some premade stuff. And some of us are even shareholders of that economy... In short, we all are much more consumers than we we

    • by bungo ( 50628 )

      Sadly I think thanks to the sick liberal values in society and promoted by mass media

      Maybe.... or maybe it's just your son and his friends.

      My Son 12 yr old asked me for a soldering iron for his birthday. He now tries to fix any electronics that are broken. He pulled apart a Christmas penguin (with internal led lights) and tried to get it working again.

      He took the iron and some other tools to school to show his friends, so his friends have some level of interest as well.

      For Christmas I got him a number of soldering kits from Maker Shed http://www.makershed.com/ [makershed.com] , as well as a couple of Ardu

      • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

        Unfortunately I think your kid is rare enough to be considered an anomaly these days.
        Looking around at our culture, I honestly wonder where the next generation of "natural" engineers will come from. Sadly almost certainly not the US.

    • My six year old son has expressed interest in taking things a part to see how they work.

      It started over a year ago when I had to replace the screen on my Nexus 4 phone. Since then he is pretty interested in electronics and wants to know more about what is inside. Some of things he makes with lego (old fashioned, plain jane lego, none of the Kinects or whatever they are called) is rather impressive. He shows creativity with a nack for functionality... reminds me a lot of myself when I was younger.

      I think the

      • (Accidentally hit the Submit button. Touchscreens...)

        I've been trying to find a source for big lots of Meccano but I can't seem to find much more than the simple 3-in-1 kits with very few parts and too many instructions.

        Amazon has some bigger kits, but they are either stupidly expensive, or dont ship to Canada... rather frustrating.

  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Saturday December 26, 2015 @12:51AM (#51184923) Homepage
    As a child I wanted an Erector Set. My parents gave me Lincoln Logs instead. My childhood was ruined.
    • Meh, I did get one, but the fucking motor did not work, and I really wanted to build the elevator. Turned me off to erector sets. Had more fun blowing up capacitors and melting wire with a battery charger.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 26, 2015 @01:06AM (#51184963)

    ...a progression of professions. Start with an erector set, but mechanical engineers are the lowest paid engineers. Progress to simple electronic kits, but electrical engineering is a dying profession. Get a Raspberry Pi, but all software is now offshored. Sell all those used kits; now, sales is a lasting profession.

  • My Xmas wish-list this year was basically an Arduino starter's set (Arduino, breadboard, various LEDs and other components), in the hope that kids and I could have fun together trying to build stuff.

  • LEGO Mindstorms (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Saturday December 26, 2015 @06:32AM (#51185471)

    For kids who are into robotics (or parents who want to get their kids interested in robotics) LEGO Mindstorms is a good place to start.

    Its easy to assemble, usable with all the other LEGO bricks out there and easy to program with the LEGO supplied development environment.

    Plus the programmable brick runs Linux under the hood and every single thing running on the brick itself is open source (as far as I know anyway). The brick even has bluetooth for talking to the outside world.

  • Let's see...
    First electric train (Lionel) at age 6; played with trains almost daily for years. First Estes rocket at age 13 (I think); with Erector sets in between (temporally). I enjoyed the pace and care required to build balsa& tissue paper model aircraft -- which I then flew with the usual semidestructive results.

    My latest (gift from child this Xmas) is the ThinkGeek solar-powered marble kinetic sculpture kit. I hope I never lose the enjoyment of building stuff.

  • Why is everyone trying to force kids into a certain path? I know this article doesn't do that but does talk about wanting to introduce programming in the education system.

    How about introducing children to a wide range of activities and then encourage the ones that they like? Not everything has to lead into a career. Let children have some fun. Maybe what they discover will turn into a hobby. Maybe it will just be some fun. It could make them some friends. Or they could possibly find their calling.

  • There is an apocryphal story that Winston Churchill enjoyed playing with Erector set as a boy. While he did not become an engineer, he was technically astute enough to push for the development of the tank during World War I, and later the development of code breaking and radar during World War II.
  • there's still lots of science kits available at places like michael's which have lots of hands on: rock tumbling, astronomy, whatever. astronomy is particularly good, because a talented and ambitious and diligent (and/or just lucky) kid can still make actual discoveries just like a tenured prof.

We can found no scientific discipline, nor a healthy profession on the technical mistakes of the Department of Defense and IBM. -- Edsger Dijkstra

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