Parents, Kids and the Stuff We Obsess About

Archive for the ‘Projects and Activities’ Category

Rideable Electric Train and More Geeky Toys From the Shizuoka Hobby Show

Image from Francesco Fondi

Image from Francesco Fondi

One of the most amazing things about the growth of GeekDad has been making contacts all around the world with people who are into toys and geeky gadgets. One of those contacts is Francesco Fondi, an Italian ex-pat living in Japan, who writes the hobby blog Hobby Media (be discreet - he has some scantily-clad ladies on his sidebar). Frankie is a regular GeekDad commentor, and occasionally sends us cool stuff from the hobby shows he attends in other countries. This is one of those times.

Frankie recently attended the Shizuoka Hobby Show, and has been posting all sorts of updates on his blog. Be forewarned - you won’t understand anything there, because it’s all in Italian, but geekery has no linguistic boundaries, and you’ll enjoy the heck out of the images and movies he’s posted of stuff from the show, like:

The rideable electric train.

Image from Francesco Fondi

Image from Francesco Fondi

Some truly awesome-looking R/C cars.

Image by Francesco Fondi

Image from Francesco Fondi

And some very cool model kits.

Image from Francesco Fondi

Image from Francesco Fondi

Frank Lloyd Wright + Lego = Awesome

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Lego

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater in Lego

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Brickstructures and the recently formed Lego Architecture brand have come out with two new sets of the Lego Architecture line, The Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater. They are part of the new Frank Lloyd Wright collection. If you’re a fan of Lego, architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright like I am, these are very exciting new toys.. um.. I mean, educational opportunities for you and your geeklings.

The Lego Architrecture line was officially introduced in 2008 and already has four other building sets available (the Sears Tower, the John Hancock Center, the Space Needle and the Empire State Building). Lego is looking to inspire future engineers and architects by making great building design more accessible.

The Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum

Some of the Lego Architecture kits sell for about $20 each, but it seems that some of the fancier models, such as the Frank Lloyd Wright kits, will go for about $40. That’s enough money that you probably can’t afford all of them, but if you have your heart set on having your own Fallingwater, the price isn’t too high.

Both new Frank Lloyd Wright sets include booklets containing detailed building instructions, and they also include archival historial material and photographs.

The Guggenheim model was released on May 15, 2009 but no word yet as to Fallingwater’s release date.

As a big fan of architecture, I am very excited about these new products. I’m hoping they’ll do some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style homes next. One thing I love about Wright’s buildings and homes is that they are all interesting, all original. You aren’t building just another cube-like box with a roof, such as the kind I built every time I played with Lego bricks as a kid. The scale on these kits is pretty small, though, so don’t expect exquisite detail. But creating with Lego bricks is quite a fun way to pay homage to great architects.

Last October, GeekDad’s own Dave Banks built the Lego Taj Mahal and made a video to take you along for the ride. If you don’t have the patience or the money for such a huge endeavor, however, try the new Lego Architecture series.

(Images: Lego Architecture)

Also read Gadget Lab’s article on these wonderful kits from this last week.

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GeekDad Puzzle of the Week: Quickly Now, the Clock is Ticking—Solution

Spirit Illustration from Nasa/JPL

Spirit Illustration from Nasa/JPL

Congratulations to this week’s winner, Kevin Fortner, whose answer was randomly chosen from among the correct answers to this week’s GeekDad Puzzle of the Week.  Kevin has won a $50 gift code to ThinkGeek.  The rest of you geekdad readers can use the code after the solution to receive $10 off of a $40 or more purchase at  Kevin successfully solved Pedro Vex’s problem of how to get the Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit to its winter camping spot in the least amount of time.  Continue reading for the original puzzle and its solution.

Continue Reading “GeekDad Puzzle of the Week: Quickly Now, the Clock is Ticking—Solution” »

Sing a Song of Loch Ness

WikiMedia version of Robert Kenneth Wilsons hoax photo

WikiMedia version of Robert Kenneth Wilson's hoax photo

Not everyone will hear “well-known experimental poet” and think “fun kid’s activity!”–or if they do, it’ll be to think, “that’s not poetry: my kid could do this.”  But the new Edwin Morgan Archive might change that.  After all, what GeekKid wouldn’t love “The Loch Ness Monster’s Song“?:

Hnwhuffl hhnnwfl hnfl hfl?
Gdroblboblhobngbl gbl gl g g g g glbgl.
Drublhaflablhaflubhafgabhaflhafl fl fl –
gm grawwwww grf grawf awfgm graw gm.
Hovoplodok – doplodovok – plovodokot-doplodokosh?

Or, perhaps you’d like to hear from “The First Men on Mercury“:

– We come in peace from the third planet.
Would you take us to your leader?

– Bawr stretter! Bawr. Bawr. Stretterhawl?

(These poems are even more awesome when  recited in a thick Scottish accent: “Loch Ness Monster’s Song” & “First Men on Mercury.” If you have RealPlayer, you can listen to Morgan recite the former here.)

Morgan has a long-standing fascination with science and science fiction:

I do not share what is sometimes called the current disillusion with science and technology. I count myself lucky to have lived at a time of discoveries of such far-reaching potential as space travel must be. The poet, I think, is entitled to set up his camp on other worlds than this, and to bring back what he can in the way of human relevance.”

One of my long-standing interests has been science-fiction. I enjoy writing science-fiction poems, and try to give them some ‘point’, so that they are not merely fantastic.

The Edwin Morgan Archive has a variety of suggested activities that build from these and other Morgan poems.  These range from imagining translations for the Mercurian language to thinking of the sounds a pebble makes, and compiling them into a poem.  Your kid, too, can experiment with concrete and sound poetry!

Related links:

Digital Microscopes - Cheap Geeky Summer Fun

William Gurstelle is GeekDad’s current guest blogger. His new book Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously is on sale everywhere. Follow him on twitter at wmgurst

ant-head_mediumI loved to look at stuff under a microscope when I was young. In particular, I remember my dad taking a drop of water out of our aquarium and placing on a slide. There was a lot of stuff in that blob of water — fungi, microscopic plants, and a lot of unknown stuff. But the big deal was to find a paramecium. They are clear little, one-celled creatures with a lot of hairs or cilia with which they scoot around.

Recently I tested a new type of handheld digital and optical microscope. The new generation of digital microscopes are wonderful little devices for taking a very, very close look at stuff in the house and garden.  I hooked it up to my netbook computer and ran around the neighborhood annoying ants and beetles.

I spent the whole afternoon looking at stuff and taking pictures. Skin cells, fabrics, seeds, and of course, bugs, were just part of the wild menagerie of things I examined. Corny it may seem, but I was enthralled. moustache-hair

Click on the ant head above to see the  movie I made of an ant, or browse to While I was observing the ant, I noticed it seemed have an even smaller insect crawling over its thorax. So I zoomed in for a closer look. Yeow! I posted it to YouTube and then used YouTube’s simple editing tools to add titles, highlights, and a soundtrack.  The whole video probably took less than hour to record, edit, and post.

I made the video using a Celestron 44306 Handheld Digital Microscope . Incredibly, the street price is under $100. Better than any toy, digital microscopy is the perfect summer project for GeekDads and children.
This exemplifies a point I’ve often made in the past: On the whole, I’d rather explore things hands-on in my own backyard than to read about things, even great and wonderful things on the Internet.

Last Chance for Discount Tix to Maker Faire

Image: Make

Image: Make

Just a heads-up to anyone thinking about attending Maker Faire this year (less that two weeks away!): today is the last day to purchase advance tickets at a discount. Run over to and pick them up now, and save a little money to spend on all the cool stuff you’ll see there!

Of Hulks and Toilets


This post isn’t a review. It’s not a preview. Nor is it any sort of “How To Build Your Very Own Avengers Mansion Out of Marshmallows and Toothpicks” article. Nope. Instead, it’s a post about dedication, desperation and… well… the potty.

I think most GeekDads (and GeekMoms, and heck, even non-geeks for that matter) would agree that one of the hardest parts of being a parent is potty training. Sure disciplining your puppy-dog eyed little one can be heartbreaking. Running on 3 hours sleep for the fifth week straight is mind altering. And teaching a 3 year old the crazy concept of “sharing,” is just downright frustrating. But those all pale in comparison to training your little guy or gal to sit down on that potty and do their business.

So when we got around to trying to coax our oldest son to try sitting on the potty, he wanted nothing to do with it. We bought the little Elmo porta potty and no dice. Same went for the Bob the Builder mini toilet seat that you just put right on a regular toilet. He’d just scream, put up a fight and want nothing to do with it. Forcing him to do so would’ve just given the whole potty training a very negative vibe and we didn’t want him to go into it with a bad attitude or he’d never learn. We somehow how to coax him into wanting to sit on that seat.

“If only they made a Hulk toilet seat,” I said to myself.

He was only a few years old, but my big guy was really into the Hulk. Probably because of the purple pants. Don’t ask, but for some reason, purple is still his favorite color. Anyways, we had a few Hulk dolls, books and shirts for him. So if anything could get him on the potty, it’d be the Hulk. Yeah, that’d truly be a heroic act!

Thanks to the ever-helpful Internet, it only took me a few minutes to find a “Spider-Man & Friends Soft Potty Seat.” It was perfect. A blue seat with little Spider-Man spiders all over it, as well as Spider-Man, two pictures of the Hulk, Spider-Girl, Wolverine, Storm, and my personal favorite, Captain America. It was sold out at most of the online stores I was looking at, but I found one at Toys R Us’ website. Except… it was TRU Canada. And I live in New York. And they wouldn’t ship to NY. Curses! How could I be so close, yet so far away…

I tried everything. Contacting the site. Contacting my local Toys R Us. Contacting Cthulu. But I kept coming up empty. This sad little vinyl Hulk-filled toilet seat became my Holy Grail. Nothing else mattered except getting it. And while I wasn’t about to take an extremely long road trip to Canada myself to get this sucker, I was pretty much willing to do anything and everything else. If there was a way to get the Hulk to teach my son how to poop on the potty, you better believe nothing was stopping this guy.

I don’t recall exactly how it all went down, but somehow I was mentioning this major crisis to my older sister who lives upstate. And like some kind of magical fairy godmother, she mentioned that she had friends in Canada who drive down all the time to see them. She even said she’d ask them if they wouldn’t mind buying it and bringing it down next time they visit. And that’s exactly what happened. Once it got into my sister’s hands, I didn’t waste any time in visiting her and getting my hands on that spectacular Spidey seat.

But now that I had the seat, would it work? Would this cartoony cushion be the magic bullet to solve our perplexing potty training problem? Sadly, no.

While it did work to get the big guy to sit on it and at least give it a try… he just wasn’t ready yet. So we gave it a shot for a bit, then took a break. But just as this whole quest has taught me, you should never give up. We tried again about a year later and thankfully he did take to it.

Now, well… now we can focus our efforts on getting our youngest son to sit his butt down. Unfortunately, he seems to be taking after his big brother in the same stubborn way. Anyone know if they make Kung Fu Panda potty seats?

Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously

Bill Gurstelle is Geek Dad’s current guest blogger.

absinthe-and-flamethrowerI’ve spent the last two years writing my just released book Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously. It’s an exploration of a single, important question, which I think is relevant to GeekDads, or anybody raising children, for that matter.

Are people who take risks happier than those who do not?

It’s a simple question, but it took a while to come up with an answer.  First of all, I had to better define the question. Physical risks? Emotional risks? Monetary risks? All of them? I looked at it a number of ways and decided to focus on physical risk taking. Basically, I wanted to know if it was intrinsically better to be an Evel Knievel or a Caspar Milquetoast? Better to be Chuck Yeager or Niles Crain? Are lion tamers happier with their lives than monks?

The answer is a bit complex. Psychologists can assess and numerically describe a person’s  risk-taking proclivity. Risk-taking behavior can be summarized as a single number from one to 100. A one is a house-bound agoraphobe and a 100 behaves like a fire-eating crazy person. Not surprisingly, the distribution of risk-taking proclivity is described by a normal bell-shaped curve. Most people cluster around the mean score, as the graph below shows:golden-third1

But here’s the cool thing.

I found that moderate, rational risk takers, that is, those with scores between the mean and one standard deviation to the right are the people who are most satisfied with their lives. I call that area “the golden third” because it’s about 1/3 of the population. Studies show that people who take just a bit more risks than average, that is, those in the golden third, tend to do better than average. They tend to be happier and more fulfilled. To me, that’s a stunning conclusion. And it’s something for parents to think about, as well.

I also found that getting good at risk taking requires practice. So I researched and experimented, coming up with dozens of rather interesting projects to build risk-taking skills. For instance, if you know what to do, you can walk into a Home Depot and come out with everything you need to build a rocket – a real rocket. You can make gunpowder. You can throw knives, eat dangerous food, do all sorts of things that would make your mother shudder. But it starts with knowing what to do and what not to do.

So get out there, geek dads, and live life dangerously and artfully.

Run, GeekDad, Run

photo: Jonathan Liu

photo: Jonathan Liu

I’m a typical geek in that I don’t often get a whole lot of physical exercise, but I’ve so far had the advantage of good genes and a high metabolism. Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into a healthy lifestyle. So last February, my wife convinced me to try the “Couch-to-5K” program with her, and we decided to blog about the experience. Since then we’ve done a couple 5k runs, a 5-mile run, and most recently a half-marathon. Read on to see how I went from “you want me to run  for ninety seconds?” to “I just ran 13.1 miles without stopping.” Continue Reading “Run, GeekDad, Run” »

Vote for the Best of the Intel ISEF for the People’s Choice Award!

Gathering Genius

Gathering Genius

One final note on the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair: Intel is now running a “People’s Choice Award” where the public can vote for their favorite projects from ISEF on the Inspired by Education website. Voting begins May 20 and will include all the Top 19 “Best of Category” winners.  I strongly encourage anyone and everyone who has been following this event to go to the Inspired by Education website and vote for your favorite projects.  These kids need all the support they can get.

Click here to see my first and second posts on the fair.