Thursday, May 29, 2008

Building a Shed

I've been thinking about building a shed. I live in a suburban neighborhood and I don't want the shed to be taller than my fence as my neighbors already have to look at me in my summer cut-offs and sexy, stained TIE conference t-shirt during the summer. They don't need to have a shed in their line of sight too.

I looked at a few pre-built buildings and they are either too tall or too small for what I want. What I want is a place I can keep my mower and various tools. My garage isn't big enough for all the garden stuff, my power tools and two vehicles. Part of the reason this project has been on the back burner for so long is that the part of my yard where I want it is slanted and covered in rock. I hate moving rock!

Seeing this article on Make about a man who built his own shed has got me motivated to at least come up with a design. He has several features that I may adapt to my own situation. He uses four strong corner posts. I think I could do something like that and it might save me lots of time trying to level an area of ground and moving all that rock. He also has a lattice system for the floor that he then fills with gravel. I could do something similar and once again save some time in regards to leveling the area where I want to build.

Now I just have to figure out how to make something that isn't tall but is still functional. I am currently playing with the idea of a roof that can be lifted up. I guess rather than a shed, it would be more like a big storage box with a door on one side where I could roll in the mower.

If I actually do get any further than thinking about it, I will post some pictures.

[Image captured from]

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Egg Smashing Goldberg Machine

I'm a sucker for these Rube Goldberg machines. If you're trying to design your own machine, this video has at least a dozen possibilities you could adapt for your own contraption.

Catchy music too!

[Image captured from video: Creme that Egg:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

High school student isolates microbe that breaks down plastic

Saw a reference to this article and tracked it down at TheRecord.Com. Seems that a Daniel Burd, a high school student in Canada, got curious about how to deal with all the plastic he saw around him. He started experimenting to find the microbes that eat it. His thinking was if he could isolate them and concentrate them, then maybe he could speed up the process. (Anything that might shorten the 1000 year process would be helpful) He succeeded and won the Canada Wide Science Fair along with a $10,000 dollar prize and a hefty scholarship.

Read the article for a description of how he set up his experimental process. Interesting.

Share this with your students when they complain about not being able to do anything. Inspiring.

[Image captured from Youth Science Foundation Canada:]

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mars Lander

Here's one of the first pictures back from the Phoenix Mars Lander. A shot of the Martian arctic plains.

On Mars!

Another planet!

Come's a picture sent from another freakin' planet!!!

When did landing a spacecraft on another world become so.....everyday? I remember going to the gymnasium of my elementary school to watch one of the early space shots on a black and white TV. We gathered around and the principal told us that history was being made.

Now it's a short clip on the evening news and maybe your kids science teacher will mention it tomorrow.

Check it out and follow the mission at the NASA site.

[Image captured from NASA:]

Doodle Winner

Google ran a contest where students could design a new Google logo based on the theme, "What if..." A winner was picked last week and it is a 6th grader from California, Grace (Suryung) Moon.

Grace describes her Doodle:
"My doodle, "Up in the Clouds," expresses a world in the sky. This new world is clean and fresh, and people are social and enlightened. Every person here is treated as family no matter who they are. The bright sun heats this ideal place with warmth, love, and brightens everyone's day."

For more information on the contest and links to see some of the runners up go here.

[Image captured from]

Friday, May 23, 2008

Funny: The Tunstallator

KT Tunstall and animatronics. Who could ask for more? Possibly the Dylanator? I'm headed out to my garage right now!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

IM isn't destroying our language

We teachers who sit around the lunch room lamenting the language skills of our students and blaming email and instant messaging all have to take a step back after reading this article, Researchers: written English language will weather LOL storm and will need to find something new to blame.

"Everybody thinks kids are ruining their language by using instant messaging, but these teens' messaging shows them expressing themselves flexibly through all registers," Tagliamonte said in 2006 after completing the research for the paper. "They actually show an extremely lucid command of the language. We shouldn't worry."

Perhaps we can now blame teachers. about parents. No, I like parents. I know, the government. If all else fails, blame the government!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Are you Hyperconnected?

No off switch: "Hyperconnectivity" on the rise is an article recently posted on ars technica. It discusses a new kind of worker that is constantly connected to work via their electronic devices. The lines between work and home are blurring for these folks and their numbers are growing.
"These individuals were found in all countries surveyed, though China and the US have the highest ratios. Banking and high-tech industries contained a higher concentration of hyperconnected individuals who are found most often in management positions, and 60 percent were under the age of 35. Hyperconnected individuals don't view themselves as early adopters of technology; their lifestyle simply seems normal."
What are the implications to productivity and a person's level of stress as the lines between work and home blur? Interesting article.

I've often thought that teachers suffered this problem even before the advent of computers, cell phones and other electronics. As a group we are notorious for taking our work home with us. We grade papers and plan lessons on the couch while watching Star Trek reruns. We take pictures, read books and attend events with a part of our brain always wondering how we could use this information in our classroom. Back when outside phone lines were limited and caller ID wasn't so easily available, I did many of my parent contacts in the afternoon and early evening when I got home. (Usually grading papers while I talked.)

Sit outside a school and watch teachers walk to their cars at the end of the day. English teachers are identifiable by the the crate of papers they haul with them. Many have those little portable airport luggage dollys to which they can strap down a box or two of ungraded essays for easy transport from desk to car to kitchen table. Go to any meeting and you will see at least one teacher who is grading papers while participating in the discussion. Some teachers look like they are taking copious notes during the weekly staff meeting, when in actuality, they are planning their lessons for tomorrows sub.

Educators have been multi-tasking for years.

[Image: flickr: "My Laptop Bag-Work Version" Uploaded on September 17, 2007 by JaseMan: Creative Commons]

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Marble Adding Machine

Saw this Binary Marble Adding Machine on the Nuts and Volts site I posted about recently. I've watched the video several times now and am fascinated by the mechanical action.

Fun to show in a math class or a programming class. The author had this to say about how he designed the rockers.

"Also tricky was getting the rockers to consistently work. I spent a lot of time figuring out what dimensions to make them so that they would correctly work, even if two marbles arrive onto the rocker right on top of each other. I knew it was physically possible to build such a rocker, because the lego rockers I built into the original Lego marble machine had this property by a fluke. The trick turned out to be to make peak of the rocker, which divides the marbles, short enough, and the rocker shallow enough. That way, if a marble arrives before the rocker has had a chance to flip, the previous marble, which is still on the rocker, will deflect the next marble onto the other side, even if the rocker has not yet flipped. "
The web page has lots of closeup photos and design explanations.

[Image captured from]

Monday, May 19, 2008

Skills Revolution

Found this interesting article in New York Times by David Brooks called, "The Cognitive Age". Good discussion of globalization and how many politicians are missing the bigger issue. Here is a short juicy quote:
"The central process driving this is not globalization. It’s the skills revolution. We’re moving into a more demanding cognitive age. In order to thrive, people are compelled to become better at absorbing, processing and combining information. This is happening in localized and globalized sectors, and it would be happening even if you tore up every free trade deal ever inked."

[Image: Flickr: "This is my brain": Uploaded on November 23, 2006 by killermonkeys: Creative Commons]

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Nuts and Volts

While reading the latest issue of The Technology Teacher I came across a reference to this website, Nuts and Volts. The article referred to it being a good resource for teachers. So, I grabbed the URL and took a look.

First thing I discovered was that it's a combination print/online magazine. There were several projects I was interested in reading about but couldn't access because I'm not a member. To access all the content, you need to be subscribed. I saw several things I would of liked to read but couldn't get to. Enough to subscribe to the magazine? Not sure yet.

There is a lot of content here for the non-subscriber. They have an active blog that I enjoyed reading. I found a lot of tech related news and links to the source articles. There is enough here to bring me back even if I'm not a member.

You can sign up for a trial issue and subscription before laying your money down. I'm not sure I have time for one more monthly magazine? If anybody else out there is a subscriber, let us know what you think.

[Image captured from]

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fix your own bike

Saw a link for building your own recumbent bike posted on Make and since my brother-in-law keeps telling me I should get one of these, I checked it out.

The site is called How to Fix Bikes and the article on building a recumbent bike was interesting. The whole site is a nice little find. Lots of how to articles for working on your own bike. Now, I am not an avid biker and while I do own a bike I have to say I am not an expert on bikes or their maintenance and repair. Saying that, I found the articles I looked at to be clear and easy to follow. You can click on many of the photos to enlarge them. There are some video segments as well.

Check it out. You may not build a recumbent but you may be inspired to replace that rusty chain.

[Image captured from]

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Keyboard pants

These pants may be even a bit too geeky for me to wear. Now if you printed one on the left arm of a long sleeve shirt, I might consider that. After all I don't want to stand out too much in a crowd.

Or...I had a thought looking at these jeans. When I am running laps I sometimes keep track of the count by placing my thumb on the joints of my fingers. I start with the first joint of my pinky. If I move over each joint of my little finger to the tip I can count up to four. Four fingers lets me keep track of up to 16 laps.

Two hands gives the possibilty of 32 pointers. More than enough to create a keyboard using the possible two hand combinations. It wouldn't be any more awkward than some of the miniature phone keyboards folks use now a days. Also it would help you avoid some of the embarrassing keyboard pants jokes you'd be the brunt of if you wore these pants. Like:
"That boy is spending way too much time hitting the space bar!"
"All that touch typing will make you go blind!"
"Hands off the keyboards!"

"No hitting below home row!"
"Keep a cap lock on that or it's going to get you in trouble some day!"
"Men don't care about your keyboard, only their own!"
Adolescence is tough enough. Adulthood ain't always a piece of cake either. I think I will skip the pants.

[Image captured from website:]

Monday, May 12, 2008

Two Million Minutes

Two Million Minutes is a documentary that follows six students through high school in India, China and the United States. The title refers to the number of minutes a student spends in high school. I've embedded the trailer below. The web site has lots of interesting information on how our educational systems differ. I haven't seen the film yet but am going to try and make it to one of the screenings. It sounds thought provoking.

The executive director of the film, Robert Compton says in one of the related videos that American students say they "can't" do something when they score badly in a subject. Foreign students say they did badly because they didn't "work hard enough." He adds, "They don't set limits on themselves."

[Image captured from video Two Million Minutes: Trailer:]

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Dirty Keyboards and Sick Children

During one particularly bad flu and cold season several years back, my building had 3-5 kids missing from most of our classes due to a nasty virus that was going around. I was standing in the computer lab listening to the kids coughing and sneezing. I watched one young man sneeze. He shielded his face from the kids on either side of him and directed the stream of germs right onto the keyboard. He wiped his hands on his pants and continued typing. Besides getting grossed out, I started thinking about how germs are spread.

We started talking to the kids the next day in the technology department about washing their hands and explained that like their hands, the keyboard was one way to transfer the cold and flu virus. I bought some wipes and we started cleaning the keyboards daily. If I had a student who was actively coughing, I made sure that keyboard got cleaned before the next child sat down. I was lucky to have a sink in one of the labs and was always making the kids wash their hands. A lot.

I don't know if it helped limit the overall spread of disease in our school, but after that, I got sick less. I was reminded of this event by this post on ars technica: Study: keyboards make excellent homes for nasty bacteria. I love this quote from the article:
"...several keyboards were highly contaminated, and at least one was removed on the scientist's advice as it harbored four times the amount of harmful bacteria compared to a toilet seat"
I never used the toilet analogy with my students and staff before but I will from now on. I can hardly wait to put together my new graphic.

[Note: This story seems to have gained some momentum since I read it last week. Here are some related posts from ABC news.
[Image:Uploaded on March 9, 2006 by Lawrence Whittemore: Creative Commons]

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Robotics in the Classroom

The NXT STep has an interesting post with lots of pictures about Robotics Projects, a graduate level class for teachers on how to use NXT Mindstorms kits in the classroom. This picture is an example of one of the final projects.

It sounds like my kind of class. I looked into it and found the following links.

Link to the class wiki.
Link to the Wichita State Robotics in the Classroom site.
Link to Wichita State College of Education

[Image captured from The NXT Step:]

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Build an ornithopter

Make has a video posted on how to build an ornithopter. I saw this project in the magazine (volume:08) when it came out, thought "neat" and then forgot about it until now.

It looks fun. I am wondering if it could be scaled up and still fly? I may try this out.

Build an Ornithopter - video powered by Metacafe

Monday, May 5, 2008

Number of bloggers growing

I often wonder if blogging has hit it's peak? I wonder if it is just this generation's CB Radio and will fade away leaving only a few of us writing these online diary thinga-ma-bobbers? I wonder if anyone other than my sweet, supportive sister-in-law in Minnesota ever reads my blog?

This article from ars technica says no. Blogging is not dead. At least not yet. Here are a few juicy items from the post.

  • 45% of the internet users surveyed have started a blog (up 14% since 2007)
  • Asia has the fastest growing population of bloggers (over 70% in several countries)
  • 63.5% of us keep a personal blog and most write about their daily life
  • 82% of those internet users watch online video (50% increase since 2006)
  • Americans would rather read blogs than make them (72% read blogs regularily)
So, I guess I am still going to teach my students how to set up and maintain a blog next year. That's a relief, I thought I might have to plans a few new lessons.

"Thats a Four-Ten Good Buddy. It's time to Get Gone and then Get Horizontal. Over and Out!"

[Image: Typing hands-take two: Uploaded on May 20, 2006 by Tojosan: creative commons]
[Note: My CB is a little rusty...I either said I'm signing off and going to bed. Or that I am dead? My apologies to all you truckers out there...and I'm not dead!]

Thursday, May 1, 2008

DIY Photo Studio Product Lighting

Sweet little video from Make on how to set up your own product lighting for a photo shoot. Say you have a small object like a purse or a set of headphones or your action figurine of the Hulk. Here is a way to light it with no shadows on the cheap.

[Image captured from "Episode 2, DIY Photo Studio Product Lighting"; diy_photo_studio_product.html?CMP=OTC-0D6B48984890]