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Programming for Kids


In the past few months, I’ve seen this topic come up several times from friends and parents wanting to introduce their children to the world of computing.  To be fair, programming is only one aspect of computing but it is a great tool building math skills and cognitive thinking.  First, I would tell you that your child needs to have basic computer skills; keyboard familiarization, mouse control, and understanding basic concepts like typing are a must simply because a lot of the programming tools are going to assume that this is already known.  Second, programming is not for everyone.  If your child shows no interest or becomes bored, don’t force it.  Programming can be fun and exciting, but forcing the concepts won’t help.  Like most things, we as humans need to have an interest and desire to be driven towards certain aspects in our lives and this is no different.  Our kids are just little humans trying to find their way in the world too.

Enough of that.  Let’s get the juicy stuff!  I’m going to try and make this as easy as possible for you and your child to decide which tools are best for you.  Each have their benefits and likewise, their faults, but they are just mere stepping stones into the world of programming.  Also, each programming language is like Apple vs. Android; we all have our favorite flavors and each one serves a different purpose for reaching and end goal.  Try things out and if it doesn’t work for you, try another, but give them each a chance and see what fits your style best.

Computer Tools

Tools best suited for Primary level school children are growing everyday but here I’m going to list some of my favorites and explain why I’ve chosen them.

Scratch offers an online community that is great for both sharing ideas as well as getting feedback and learning from others.  The team at Scratch is also committed to making the online community user friendly, by not only encouraging constructive feedback, but by also policing the site with CleanSpeak and following up on reports of others who do not follow the rules.  As with all online services however, also do your own monitoring to be sure kids are safe while on the site.

PROs:  I can’t speak enough about the community, but if you prefer not to join in, there is also an offline version of Scratch available.  I should point out that Scratch is maintained by a group of MIT folks called the LiFELONG KiNDERGARTEN team, whose mission is to build technologies for all children to learn design.
CONs: If I had to point one out, it’s that Scratch isn’t for all ages.  Older kids 
may find it boring and it’s good for introducing coding, programming principals, but I would suggest quickly moving on to more detailed concepts
PRICE: Free

Kodu similar to Scratch, Kodu offers online communities and forums for getting help and sharing ideas.  Kodu is backed by Microsoft and uses visual programming to help teach creativity and problem solving.  Where it differs from Scratch, is that the concepts are built around games, so the while the learning is similar, the end goals are not as broad.  I chose Kodu though, because of this.  Sometimes FUN is what we need to get value out of things and seeing a game you built come to life is amazing.  Also, Kodu extends from the PC to the XBOX game system and while not necessary, provides additional outlets for your creations.


PROs:  Community based, backed by Microsoft, so you know it’s going to be around a while and support is good.  What I think is best however, is that anyone can help teach Kodu and they even have prebuilt curriculums for home school or public school settings.
CONs: Requirements for the computer are a bit higher than most, simply because you’re building games.  Kodu is a great tool, but depending on the age of your computer, you may be pressed to look elsewhere.
PRICE: PC is Free; XBOX Marketplace ~$5

Alice teaches programming using an interactive interface and allows you to see immediately how the programs run which in turn, allows you to understand the relationships between the language and the objects on screen.

PROs:  Community based, and backed by software giants such as Oracle, EA Games, Sun Micro, Google and Disney.  Oracle even provides further resources using Alice at their Oracle Academy.


CONs: Some of the teaching content is limited to brick and mortar schools, which I think is a shame.  While I understand their desire to keep the integrity of the source material, it defeats the purpose of providing a free learning tool for parents who home school.  That said however, there are other resources made freely available for teaching Alice.  One of my favorites is provided by Kathy Menchaca at Duke University, which also provides workshops for teachers.  You can find the Duke Resources here.
PRICE: Free

KidsRuby Ruby is becoming a big part of today’s programming, in part because of the natural flow of its language, but also because of its power.  Ruby is my favorite of the programming languages, due in part to how easily it can be modified to suit your own needs.  It can do everything from simple web design to more robust Windows, MAC OS and Linux fully functioning programs.

PROs:  Visual guide allows you to write, run and see the output all at once in the same window and because Ruby language is built more on simplicity, the code is easy to pick up.
CONs: The one downside to all this is that while Ruby is gaining popularity, Ruby tutorials and kid friendly programs are still very rare and sites like KidsRuby are just getting started up.  There is a silver lining and thankfully KidsRuby is the successor to Hackety Hack, which is still around and has some good tutorials.  The best part; the Hackety Hack code works in KidsRuby so you get the best of both worlds.
PRICE: Free


Code Kingdoms JavaScript has been around for a while, but it’s still very much alive and kicking, which makes it another great programming language to learn.  Here is where Code Kingdoms comes in.  While the site and tools are still under development, the kids who are currently involved are actually helping to write the code with the developers of Code Kingdom.  How cool is that?!?!  The concept is simple; play games that help you learn programming concepts from the very basics.  The site also grows with your child’s progress.  Where you start out with dragging and dropping, you later advance to actual text based coding.  They guys at Code Kingdom keep it fun by “leveling” your skills and discovering new content as you progress.

PROs:  Code Kingdoms is my favorite of all the kids coding sites and tools, so I won’t lie to you when I say I’m biased.  The concept is great, the folks behind it are clearly in tune with what makes learning to program fun and the tools just work.  The best part is that it’s web based so you do everything from a browser window.  While this may not seem like such a great benefit, think about this: most other tools need a PC to run on or a tablet device for on the go fun, but rarely both.  Code Kingdoms is one of the first to cross that barrier and because of it’s web friendly design, it works on PC, Linux, Mac, Android and Apple iOS devices.  Essentially, if you can open a browser on it, you can run Code Kingdoms on it.
CONs: Sadly, Code Kingdoms is currently free, but will likely go to a paid structure at some point in 2015 when they officially launch.  There may be some perks to early adopters to get in with a discount or some other bonus, but expect that you’ll be paying something in the near future for continued use of the Code Kingdom tools.  What is great, is that the developers maintain that they will always keep it free for schools, but it is still unclear if home schools will be included in that statement.
PRICE: Free (during development) Suggested to be “paid service” at a future date on launch.


Apps for on the go learning

We covered the tools that are great for use at home on your PC or MAC, but what about taking the learning on the road?  Here are a few suggestions for the traveling coder in your class.

Daisy the Dinosaur Great little programming app for the iPad that teaches the basics.

PROs:  Fun and cute entry level programming for the little guys.
CONs: Very few options to keep kids engaged for long.  Daisy really is geared toward the much younger kids (4-6), but even then, they will be left wanting to make Daisy do more.  There hasn’t been much development or updates to Daisy, but the developer Hopscotch may have meant for this to be the stepping stone to their flagship app.
PRICE: Free

Hopscotch The programming app that just keeps getting better.

PROs:  Where Daisy leaves off, Hopscotch picks up in a big way.  I’ve been playing with Hopscotch for a year now and the updates just keep getting better.  There is even a new iPhone version that lets you play the games you design in the iPad app.
CONs: You really have to dig deep to find something wrong with Hopscotch on the whole.  My biggest complaint and it seems like I’m not alone, is that there isn’t enough sound.  Music, or sound effects would make this app a 5 star rating for me.
PRICE: Free

Move the Turtle Another great app for iPad with fun “tasks” that help kids learn

the basics by moving your turtle to draw shapes or pictures.

PROs:  Great fun, visually appealing and simple to use.
CONs: With other up and coming apps like Hopscotch, the developer for Move the Turtle needs to brush up the app and fix some current issues with the new iOS 8.  Aside from that, it’s still a great learning tool, but one that is getting outdated and comes with a price tag.
PRICE: $2.99



Beyond the kid stuff

There are a myriad of tools out there for learning, even beyond the children’s tools.  I won’t go into great detail here as many of these sites are already well known, but if your child excels at programming and is eager for more, try some of the following as the “next step” in their programming adventures.

CodeAcademy – Great site with easy to follow steps.  All the classes are free and broken up into small chunks to make learning easier and at your own pace.
udemy– While somewhat new to the online learning scene, Udemy is making a name for itself with its ease of entry and mobile apps for on the go.  While not all of Udemy is free, there are some really great deals for learning programming (or even other skills).  I recommend checking out “Fractus Learning” and their Programming for Kids course.
KhanAcademy – Like a cross between CodeAcademy and udemy, Khan offers a lot of great courses for free.  Their Computer Programming line will take you through several modes of programming starting with Into level and ending on high level development.
Pluralsight – Normally a high end paid computer based learning vendor, Pluralsight has done something really amazing by offering some of its courses FREE for kids.  Not only do they have their own programing course, but they’ve also offered up some beginning courses on many of the tools I’ve talked about; Scratch, App Inventor, Kodu and Hopscotch.

Honorable Mentions

Stuff that isn’t free but may be worth looking into.

Other resources

For educators, both home and brick and mortar style, having a good website to get feedback from is always a plus.  While I’m not an educator, I was very involved in my children’s schools back in the day and I found Graphite to be a great resource.

Lastly, never forget the power of the written word.  We live in a technological society and it’s easy to forget how much impact a book can have on our learning and development.  For this reason, I also wanted to include a few great examples of books geared toward introducing programming to your kids.


Happy Coding!!

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Bathroom Etiquette 101 – For Men


So first off I want to say that I look damn sharp today.  I feel good and I look good.  See?  Even a fat guy can be handsome.  Next, I want to get into something that bothers the crap out of me and that’s Bathroom Etiquette.  This one is especially dedicated to the men out there, but some of them may apply to you gals too.  Ready?  Here we go…

First things first.  I don’t care how manly you, when there is more than one urinal open, take the one farthest from the guy who is already peeing.  That’s AT LEAST one urinal over from the guy who is already doing his business.  If possible, leave another urinal available for the next guy, but under no circumstances do you stand right next to each other.  No one wants to see/hear your junk and we don’t want you looking at ours.  This isn’t peek-a-boo, this is business.

If, for any reason there are no urinals available, or you cannot use the “rule of one space”, proceed to the next available stall.  That’s right, pee in the bowl like a big boy.  No one will laugh at you.  Close the door if you’re really conscious about it.  And please make sure you aim correctly.  Bring Cheerios if you need to and aim for those, but don’t leave a mess for the clean up crew or worse, the next guy using the stall behind you.  It’s gross and it makes you an asshole.

Speaking of stalls, remember that this isn’t your personal confession booth.  We don’t need to hear your phone calls to your darling wife or girlfriend and it’s a bit unnerving that you’d call them from the bathroom anyway.  And *Newsflash* the stalls aren’t sound proof.  We can hear your grunts and groans and while sometimes it’s understandable, please keep it down.  It’s bad enough we have to hear your Taco Tuesday flashback, we don’t need a play by play of that hard to push poop.  And for God’s sakes, FLUSH that puppy!!  We’re not comparing lunch menus in here.

Moving along to our most important tip of all; hygiene.  Wash your hands people, even if you just came in to pee, you touched yourself and I don’t care how clean you think you are, I don’t want to go putting my hands on the door knob after you’ve just finished a round of pocket pool.  More importantly, washing after a poo.  That’s right, you aren’t the crafty wiper you think your are.  Unless you’ve got a surgical glove you keep for these occasions, make sure you do us all a favor and wash up before grabbing the exit door.  It just keeps us all a little bit healthier.

That’s my public service announcement for the day.  Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll make the public restroom a much better place for all of us.

Tick, Tick, Tap


Ugh Monday.  Back at work and listening to the incessant tick and tap of fingers on keyboards.  For whatever reason, I can’t find my focus today.  I feel like I’ve been hit with a sledgehammer and I’m just two stars short of a full circle around my head.  I’m ready to just kick back and pass out so I’m loading up on caffeine today.

So I posted something on facecrack today about finding a minute to mediate.  The method seems to work so I’ve been trying to use it and wanted to share it for others.  Just not today, which is why my post is rambling.

Anyway, on my drive in to work this morning I started thinking about some of my favorite things; music, photography, boobs, books, movies and not necessarily in that order.  More importantly, why I’m not able to find any peace in doing things that make me happy.  I’ve read book about it, been to a shrink about it and seen a therapist about it…still no love. It’s like I’ve hit a roadblock where my mind wants some escape, but but my body just won’t let it climb out.

So in an effort to get the creative juices flowing, I’m trying to write something, every day if possible, but at least twice a week.  At least my therapist agrees that if I do this, it might work out the kinks in my brain and slowly ease me out of this deep freaking depression that I can’t shake.  It also helps that a close friend made me this awesome journal to write in as well.

Let’s start there shall we, because I’m about as sick writing that word as I am feeling the associated “Debbie Downer” moods that go with it.  Depression.  It sucks and I’m more tired of it than anyone can possibly stand.  It takes your energy, your love of things, life itself and just stomps the shit out of it.  It’s been a couple years now since my Dad, Uncle and Cousin passed all in rapid succession.  So why can’t I get BEYOND all of that?  What the hell is holding me down that I just can’t get past?  Slowly, it’s releasing it’s hold over me, but there are just these remnants that are stifling me and I’m beyond being over all of it.

Starting today, it ends.  I’m done with it.  Come hell or high water, I will not allow this thing to consume anymore of my precious life I have left here on Earth.  I may not know exactly how, but I’m kicking the shit out of this thing and getting on with being me again.  I think this coincides with my decision on Sunday to never buy another 3x article of clothing in my life ever again.  It all just happens to be on this “Spring Forward” weekend that I came to this decision to stop screwing around and get my shit in order.  Maybe I needed that fresh change in the time and the crisp cool weather to slap me in the face.  Maybe it was the awesome night out with friends and the wife.  Maybe I’m just over that hill in the slump and I’m on my way to recovery.  Moreso, I think it’s been the wonderful support of my family and friends.

I’ve been eating better, less and more conscience of what goes into my pie hole.  I’ve been exercising and walking to the point that my poor arthritic knee thinks I’m out of my freaking mind.  I’ve been reading more and sleeping less.  But that was just the beginning.  Big Papa’s got a brand new bag of tricks now and it’s about to get ugly up in here.  By this time next year I plan to be lighter, happier and funnier than ever.  I plan to be me again.

There has just come a point to where I can’t do this anymore.  I can not be without “me” and live my life.  I’m tired of people feeling sorry for me.  I’m tired of having no ambition.  I’m tired of feeling like I’ve been beat to death emotionally.  I’m tired of being tired.

Bring it on.

Red


Today I’m going to post with fewer words and some images.  Nothing special or particular about the color red, or the images.  Just a color that stood out to me today and some quick snaps I took to capture them.

I kind of liked this exercise so I may do it more in the future with different colors throughout the week.

And a small quote about writing that mentions the color red to round things out.

“The only advice I can give to aspiring writers is don’t do it unless you’re willing to give your whole life to it. Red wine and garlic also helps.”
~Jim Harrison 

Places…


Places is an exercise in defining the perfect place for me. Where I want to be, spiritually, financially, and physically.  So today I’m going to take a little journey and lay the ground work.

Spiritually, I’m lost.  I thought I knew what I believed and why, but all of that has recently been challenged in the past couple of years.  I am no longer sure about afterlife’s and living against a certain set of preordained rules.  All I do know is that I’m here, I can make a difference for myself and others and that I do things (my actions) are centered around doing good for the sake of being the person I want to be treated as.  I don’t live my life as in I may burn in hell for not doing certain things or living a certain way, but rather I live like the universe as a whole gives and takes from us, only what we give or take from it.

Is that to say I don’t believe in a God?  No, not necessarily.  I do believe in some higher being, but I don’t believe he’s puppetting us around like dolls on strings.  I don’t believe my destiny is selected for me; I believe I make my own destiny with the decisions I make and each path is new and unexplored until I make those choices.  I have no ill will to people who believe in one thing or another.  I don’t try to convert them and ask they respect the same wish from me.  I just choose to believe that we are all here in this universe together, making our own way, learning as we go.  Some choose to find comfort in religious methods; I simply find comfort in the world around me.  I could write two blogs to cover all this content so I’ll stop here and get on with it.

Financially, I’m OK. I’m not great, I’m not rich but I’m also not poor.  I have a roof over my head, we survive with food, water, heat, and other luxuries some do not have.  For that, I consider myself fortunate and never complain.  Sure we’d all like to be better off, never worrying about this thing or that when it comes to finances.  Realistically though, most of us will just “get by” in life and that’s OK for me.  I have started researching things for my future such as investing and retirement, but even there, I’m not looking to be a millionaire.  I just want to be comfortable within my own home with my family surrounding me.  That is both spiritually and financially satisfying.

Physically, I’m out of shape and I need to do something about it.  A good friend of mine said the most important 5 words I’ve heard from anyone about my weight and my physical being; “You are now a statistic.”
Plain and simple.  No malice, or intent.  Just simply that I have become a statistic like so many other Americans today.  I’m over weight, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, migraines, and at just 40 years of age, low testosterone and osteoarthritis.  I’m the poster child for how not to be healthy.  I can blame it on a lot of things, depression mostly, but what good does that do?  It just delays the inevitable; a slow but early death.  It hurts to type that.  It hurts to re-read it. But the truth does hurt and sometimes it takes pain to get motivated.  I’m doing what I can to make a difference in my life in more ways than one, but becoming healthier is a number one for me now.  I have kids that I need to see grow up and I expect to be a damn good grandfather one day.  I have to make those changes or I’ll never live to see it happen.

One of these days, I’d like to move out of Florida.  Simply put, I hate the state, the weather, everything about it.  I’d like to live in the mountains somewhere in my future, but still be close enough to the beach to see the ocean once in a while.  I mention this because I think it fits within the physical category as well.  Your surroundings have to be pleasant and calming or you will never find peace within yourself.  Right now, I can find only so much peace.  It may be enough, but the mountains call to me every year and each year it gets stronger and harder to resist.  So, at some point, when I’ve straightened out other aspects of my life, I plan to make a life changing move to somewhere more peaceful.

These are the places I’m going.

Depression and the universe


This post will be less of a fun read because as of late, I’ve been feeling a bit down.  To be honest, it’s been more like 2 years straight, but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.  The problem is, I don’t know how to get out of this funk.  I’ve been to a counselor, a psych, talked to friends and family and I’ve been on drugs to help enhance my mood.  Nothing seems to be working.

But I mentioned a light at the end of the tunnel.  I’m feeling better, just still not “me”.  I want to do things that I enjoy, but when I set out to do them, I have no interest.  Nothing lately brings me any joy or contentment.  It’s a shitty place to be in, I can tell you that.  Still, it gets a little better every day.  For instance, I haven’t felt like writing in a long time and have a look at me now!  Yay.  That’s simply because I’m tired of being this way and I want out, so I’m having to force myself to do things, even when I don’t feel like it.

A good friend of mine has been giving me insight in how to start turning things around and it’s working.  It’s a simple little thing really; Be positive/Receive Positive.  It’s how the universe works and skeptics can check their hat at the door, cause I’ve seen it working first hand.  Your outlook on life really does change the way universe receives you and gives back to you.

For instance, the other day I was working on a problem at work.  Long story short, a computer I was working on was giving me fits about installing a new OS.  I tried all the tricks in my book and I was frustrated beyond belief.  I walked a way for a few minutes, came back and said out loud, “Enough of this crap dammit!  You’re going to work this time.”  Well, it worked.  Why?  Because I came back with a positive reinforcement.  I did nothing different from the numerous other attempts before.  I just choose to stop letting it affect me negatively and turned it around.  There are other instances but I think you get the idea.

The hard part, is being this way every day.  Some days I’m hit with the depression so hard first thing in the morning, that it’s difficult to change over to a positive outlook.  But I’m trying and that’s what’s making things better for me.  It’s a slow, sometimes painful process, but I’m getting there.  Hell I’m talking and writing about it so that shows some improvement anyway.

The take-away here kids, is to not give up and keep at it.  Be positive, think positive and positive things will come to you.  It’s really that simple.

Hopefully you’ll see me back at it and up to my old stuff again soon.  Peace.

Best of Mac 2012


Addictive tips has a great year end review of the best Apps of 2012 for Mac.  Head over and get the apps you’ve been missing.

Best-Mac-Apps-Of-2012