Make: Paper Inventions – A fun how-to book for kids and their adults

 

 

 

Make: Paper Inventions

Kathy Ceceri

Maker Media, Inc. – paperback

Don’t just hand this book to your kids, say “Have fun,” and then go off to play with your computer. Get out the glue, scissors and paper and join in.

You might enjoy seeing what happens  when you (1) cut all the way around a Möbius strip or (2) fold a single strip of paper into a versatile and surprising trihexaflexagon, or (3) try your hand at quilling. That, the author writes, is “the art of creating 2-D and 3-D designs out of thin paper spirals and curls.”

Make: Paper Inventions opens with a nice, succinct overview of the history of paper and the fact that it was not made from the hard interior of trees until the mid-19th century. Before then, paper was made from many other materials, such as linen, cotton, the inside of certain tree barks, and the flattened stalks of papyrus plants.

The first project in the book is the messiest, and you may not want to use your favorite blender. But it will provide good teaching moments for kids (and their adults). The text and photographs show how to make new paper from several sheets of recycled copy paper. You will not want to run the homemade paper through your laser printer, but it can be used for art projects.

Kids can handle some of the paper projects in this book by themselves. However, the more complicated ones, such as building a large geodesic dome from newspaper pages, definitely will need adult guidance and encouragement. And certain materials may need to be ordered.

Meanwhile, the final chapters of this fine book offer projects that mostly involve folding pieces of paper. And they provide some focus on mathematics, such as how to fold paper in such a way that just one diagonal cut will result in a five-pointed star.

Make: Paper Inventions can help put more STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) into the lives of your kids–and into your life, as well.

Si Dunn

Will “Smart” Device Dependence Make You Increasingly Dumb?

I strolled into my favorite Austin Starbucks recently and noticed a startling sight. Every person standing in line or sitting at tables simultaneously had their head down as if in group prayer. All at the same moment were staring at their smartphones.

I pulled out my own phone, dramatically flipped it open, held it aloft, and waved it in silent protest. No one got the joke, because no one noticed.

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We’ve all seen people become panic-stricken and helpless when they realize they have lost or forgotten their “smart” device, or had it stolen. “Everything—my whole life—is on there!” one friend wailed recently. “All my pictures, my personal information, my contacts. And—oh, god–work emails! I don’t know what to do!” She kept frantically digging through her big purse, which also contained “everything,” including papers from work, so she could keep working at home after she got off work. When I called her phone from my phone, we found her “smart” phone buried deep beneath makeup containers and assorted other purse rubble.

Many people now use their smartphones for “everything,” from paying a restaurant check (after using the calculator function to split it and calculate the tip) to hailing an Uber ride and remotely controlling their home air conditioning. And, anytime a question is raised in a group, several people will circumvent natural debate or brainstorming by immediately going to Google and reading off some article titles and paragraphs.

Meanwhile, a few unrelated videos also will pop up and be shared:  Cat attacks python! Man sets shoes on fire by standing on hot coals! Ha-ha-ha!

The smartphone video distractions are only going to get worse. As AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson recently told Fortune magazine: “…mobile video…is the real deal,” adding: “Half our mobile network traffic is video now, and it’s really growing fast.”

So, recent statutes banning talking or texting on a digital device while driving are now far behind the curve of progress. (“Sorry, officer, I was not breaking the law. I was watching Game of Thrones while paying no attention to the traffic and scenery around me.”)

Perhaps it is time to ask yourself two serious questions. Are you losing touch with the real world as you become increasingly distracted by your smartphone? And will your growing dependence on its “smart”-ness make you correspondingly “dumb” over time?

Si Dunn

Jump Start Node.js – A well-written guide for learning Node.js quickly – #programming #bookreview

 Jump Start Node.js
Don Nguyen
(SitePoint – paperback, Kindle)

Don Nguyen’s well-written Node.js book has been in print for a few months and is an excellent text for learning how to put Node.js to work in fast, scalable real-time web applications.

You should have some experience with JavaScript before tackling Node.js. But Nguyen says a “server-side engineer who uses another language such as PHP, Python, Ruby, Java, or .NET” can pick up enough JavaScript from his book to get a good feel for its syntax and idiosyncratic features.

What I like most about the book is how it  jumps right into developing a dynamic working Node.js application that you deploy to a production server. The project is a real-time stock market trading engine that streams live prices into a web browser. Along the way, you learn how to set up and use a NoSQL database (with MongoDB), you learn some functional programming techniques, and you work with Ajax, Express, Mocha, Socket.io, Backbone.js, Twitter Bootstrap, GitHub and Heroku.

The author covers a lot of ground, with clear code examples and good explanations, in just 154 pages. “The main goal of this book,” he notes, “is to transfer the skill set rather than the actual project into the real world. There is a narrow domain of ‘hard’ real-time applications such as a stock exchange where specialized software and hardware are required because microseconds count. However, there is a much larger number of ‘soft’ real-time applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and eBay where microseconds are of small consequence. This is Node.js’s speciality, and you’ll understand how to build these types of applications by the end of this book.”

Note: If you are a Windows user, you will have to install Cygwin before you can start using the Mocha testing framework on page 23. If you use Mac OS X, you will need to have the Xcode Command Line Tools installed. More information related to the book can be found at this SitePoint forum.

Si Dunn

Introducing Erlang – A gentle, effective guide to a challenging programming language – #bookreview

Introducing Erlang
Simon St. Laurent
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

Erlang has come a long way since it began its odd life in the 1980s as a programming language for telephone switching systems, specifically Swedish-made, Ericsson telephone switching systems.

Today, the language and its Open Telecom Platform libraries are gaining new converts among serious practitioners of functional programming. Many of them likewise are drawn to the built-in support for concurrency, distribution and fault tolerance.

“The broad shift from single computers to networked and distributed systems of multiprocessor-based computing gives the Erlang environment a tremendous advantage over practically every other environment out there,” author Simon St. Laurent contends. “More and more of the computing world is starting to face exactly the challenges that Erlang was built to address.” Yet, as he concedes in his preface, “Erlang has long been a mysterious dark corner of the programming universe, visited mostly by developers who need extreme reliability or scalability and people who want to stretch their brains.”

Brain-stretching indeed is one reason why Erlang has stayed in that dark corner for more than two decades.

The language’s learning curve, St. Laurent notes, “starts gently for a while, then it gets much steeper as you realize the discipline involved, and then goes nearly vertical for a little while as you try to figure out how that discipline affects getting work done—and then it’s suddenly calm and peaceful with a gentle grade for a long time as you reapply what you’ve learned in different contexts.”

In a world where everything seemingly must be done in a hurry, you won’t learn Erlang in a hurry. But the payoff for learning it can be rewarding. Erlang, it seems, now is on a roll and experiencing growing demand. The language has been showing up in many different places, from Facebook to CouchDB to the Costa Rican Institute of Technology, to name just a few. Numerous package managers, such as Debian, MacPorts, and Ubuntu, also include a version of Erlang in their default installation.

I run Windows machines, and getting Erlang onto them has proved pleasingly easy. Indeed, Windows users apparently have some of the easiest times getting started with Erlang. Just go to http://erlang.org/download.html and click on the correct link – 32-bit or 64-bit – for your PC.

The book’s code samples can be downloaded from a link provided in the book. And it’s easy to work with the Erlang shell, its command-line interface. The newest version now provides numbered lines.

But, if you’ve worked with other programming languages, Erlang’s syntax likely will seem awkward and strange for a while.

“Punctuation is different and capitalization matters,” the author emphasizes. “Periods even get used as conclusions rather than connectors!”

To display the current working directory in the shell, for instance, you type pwd(). And do not forget to include the period.

To move up a directory, you type cd(“..”). And do not forget to include both the quotation marks and the concluding period.

Indeed, almost everything you enter in Erlang seemingly must end with a period.

Also: “Forget classes, forget variables that change values—even forget the conventions of variable assignment,” the author cautions. “Instead, you’re going to have to think about pattern matching, message passing, and establishing pathways for data rather than telling it where to go.”

Introducing Erlang takes a slow and gentle but effective approach to learning this powerful and difficult language. Simon St. Laurent spends a lot of time trying to help readers “get comfortable in the sunny meadows at the bottom of the learning curve.” Still, his well-written book effectively and efficiently meets its stated goal of helping you “learn to write simple Erlang programs.” It likewise shows and explains how to get started working with the OTP, the Open Telecom Platform’s libraries.

The book and its numerous code examples offer a solid grounding in the basics that you can then use to “understand why Erlang makes it easier to build resilient programs that can scale up or down with ease.” And, if you decide to continue learning, Simon St. Laurent’s new book can make it easier for you to move on to the really brain-stretching, and shadowy, inner workings of Erlang.

Si Dunn

Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot – #diy #bookreview

Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot
Michael Margolis
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

Technology now makes it relatively easy to build simple robots that can be controlled remotely or can control themselves autonomously using built-in sensors and software.

This engaging how-to guide focuses on how to build and program a small robot that can roam around, sense its environment, and perform a variety of tasks, using either type of control.

Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot is an excellent book for teachers, hobbyists and experimenters who like working with software and hardware. The book’s simple robot moves about on a chassis that has two-wheel or four-wheel drive. And its heart is an Arduino Uno or Arduino Leonardo microcontroller running programs (“sketches”) provided in the book and available at a link for download.

Some basic assembly is required, including gathering parts and circuit boards and doing some soldering and mechanical assembly, following the book’s instructions. The robot can be built on small platforms from DFRobot or platforms of your own creation. And devices can be added, including distance sensors, infrared reflectance sensors, and remote control receivers.

The book is “not an introduction to programming,” however. If you have no experience with programming or programming Arduino microcontrollers, the author recommends two books: Getting Started with Arduino, 2nd Edition, and Arduino Cookbook, 2nd Edition.

Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot has 11 chapters and six appendices. The chapters are:

  1. Introduction to Robot Building
  2. Building the Electronics
  3. Building the Two-Wheeled Mobile Platform
  4. Building the Four-Wheeled Mobile Platform
  5. Tutorial: Getting Started with Arduino
  6. Testing the Robot’s Basic Functions
  7. Controlling Speed and Direction
  8. Tutorial: Introduction to Sensors
  9. Modifying the Robot to React to Edges and Lines
  10. Autonomous Movement
  11. Remote Control

The appendices are:

  • Appendix A: Enhancing Your Robot
  • Appendix B: Using Other Hardware with Your Robot
  • Appendix C: Debugging Your Robot
  • Appendix D: Power Sources
  • Appendix E: Programming Constructs
  • Appendix F: Arduino Pin and Timer Usage

Whether you love serious experimentation and invention or just tinkering for fun and mental challenge, Make an Arduino-Controlled Robot opens up many possibilities for individual, family, and classroom activities and learning.

Si Dunn

Make: Volume 32 – Zany and practical projects and articles for DIY builders – #bookreview

Make: Volume 32
(O’Reilly, paperback)

Make: is a science, technology, and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects magazine published quarterly in paperback book format. Volume 32 not only has intriguing articles about private rocketeers, flying motorcycles, and human-size replicas of videogame costumes and weapons. It also has about two dozen “complete plans” for a wide array of useful and zany projects.

One of the projects in Volume 32 is “The Awesome Button,” a big red desktop button that you can hit when you can’t think of a synonym for the totally overused word “awesome” while you’re composing email or a letter or a manuscript. The project uses a $16 Teensy USB Development Board made by PJRC, plus some downloaded code. When your fist hammers down on the big red button, the board generates random synonyms for “awesome” and sends them to your computer so you can quickly accept or reject them in your document.

Another project is a catapult launcher that will send a tiny balsa wood glider zooming 150 feet into the air. Beats the heck out of a rubber band looped around a Popsicle stick.

And another DIY article focuses on the joys of salvaging perfectly good electronic and mechanical parts from discarded laser printers, so you can use the parts in other projects.

Make: Volume 33 is due to appear in January. In the meantime, Volume 32 is full of fun reading and intriguing projects, such as how to transform data files into synthesized music.

Si Dunn

Practical Computer Vision with SimpleCV – ‘Seeing’ with Python – #programming #bookreview

Practical Computer Vision with SimpleCV
Kurt Demaagd, Anthony Oliver, Nathan Oostendorp, and Katherine Scott
(O’Reilly, paperbackKindle)

SimpleCV, or Simple Computer Vision, is “an easy-to-use Python framework that bundles together open source computer vision libraries and algorithms for solving problems,” according to the authors of this useful and informative how-to book.

The subtitle is “Making Computers See in Python,” and the codes examples require Python 2.7.

Why learn computer vision? “As cameras are becoming standard PC hardware and a required feature of mobile devices, computer vision is moving from a niche tool to an increasingly common tool for a diverse range of applications,” the authors note.

Indeed, cameras and computer vision now are being used in everything from facial recognition systems and video games to automobile safety, industrial automation, medicine, planetary exploration, and even agriculture.

“The SimpleCV framework has compiled installers for Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu Linux, but it can be used on any system on which Python and OpenCV can be built,” the authors state.

Practical Computer Vision with SimpleCV shows how to use the framework and simple application examples to get started toward building your own computer vision applications. The 240-page book has 10 chapters:

  • Introduction
  • Getting to Know the SimpleCV Framework
  • Image Sources
  • Pixels and Images
  • The Impact of Light
  • Image Arithmetic
  • Drawing on Images
  • Basic Feature Detection
  • FeatureSet Manipulation
  • Advanced Features (focuses on optical flow)

The book also has three appendices: Advanced Shell Tips, Cameras and Lenses; and Advanced Features (deals with advanced segmentation and feature extraction tools).

Practical Computer Vision with SimpleCV provides a good overview of computer vision basics and shows, using simple but effective examples, how you can put them to work.

Si Dunn

LED Lighting: A Primer to Lighting the Future – #bookreview

LED Lighting: A Primer to Lighting the Future
Sal Cangeloso
(O’Reilly,
paperback, Kindle)

Sal Cangeloso of Geek.com and ExtremeTech.com wants to warm you up to some really cool lighting: light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.

His new book, LED Lighting: A Primer to Lighting the Future, encourages readers to start using more LEDs and let loose of the incandescent bulb’s 130-year-old technology, as well as the curly, tricky-to-recycle compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs that last longest when they are not turned off and on and off and on and.…

Lighting and lighting choices are not actually simple topics, and Cangeloso packs plenty of information, both practical and technical, into his helpful 58-page book. He includes a couple of simple, do-it-yourself experiments involving small LED lamps, resistors and batteries, as well.

LED Lighting delves into matters such as color quality, power consumption comparisons, and prices, as well as the sometimes “off-putting” fact that LED bulbs often look like yellow bug lamps, even though they produce white light. The author also explains why highly efficient LED bulbs have built-in heat sinks, while other types of light bulbs do not. “The main reason is that LEDs don’t give off heat in the form of infrared radiation. This means cooling must be handled through other means, such as conduction through a heat sink.”

LED bulbs also don’t give off ultraviolet (UV) light. So that’s one more practical reason to consider using them. As Cangeloso notes: “LED bulbs don’t attract insects, which are drawn to UV light.”

Si Dunn

The Sony SLT-A77: The Unofficial Quintessential Guide – #photography #bookreview

The Sony SLT-A77: The Unofficial Quintessential Guide
Carol F. Roullard and Brian Matsumoto
(Rocky Nook,
paperback)

The Sony SLT-A77 “single lens translucent” digital camera is a remarkably feature-rich device for shooting still photographs and HD video.

Unlike a digital SLR camera, which must move its mirror out of the light path to its sensor, the A77’s “translucent mirror technology” effectively splits the incoming beam, sending part of it up to the viewfinder and allowing the rest of the light to pass through the mirror to the sensor.

The A77’s many capabilities make it a complicated camera to master without help from a good manual. This 255-page “unofficial” guidebook was written by photography experts who use A77s. They clearly love the camera, yet they are not hesitant to point out A77’s occasional shortcomings and drawbacks, as well.

The new Sony camera has a 24.3 megapixel sensor, and its translucent, fixed mirror provides at least three key capabilities. The camera can fire multiple fast shots (up to 12 frames per second) with a single button push. There is almost no vibration when the shutter button is pressed. And the camera’s automatic focus responds much quicker than older methods while shooting video.

“The Sony A77 works effectively for all users, regardless of their level of expertise,” the authors state. “It can be used with automatic setting, so beginners can take pictures by pointing and shooting. As you become more proficient, you can alter the A77’s exposure and focus settings. Eventually, you can take full control by setting the camera to manual and disregarding its recommendations.”

The book is organized with chapters for beginning, intermediate, and expert photographers.

  • Chapter 1: Getting Started
  • Chapter 2: Photography Basics and the A77’s External Buttons
  • Chapter 3: Managing Your Images
  • Chapter 4: Automatic Settings
  • Chapter 5: Customizing the Camera
  • Chapter 6: Taking Control of the Camera
  • Chapter 7: Manual Operation of the Camera
  • Chapter 8: Additional Features
  • Chapter 9: Using Accessories
  • Chapter 10: Flash Photography
  • Chapter 11: Recording Movies
  • Appendix A: Menu Commands
  • Appendix B: Common Error/Warning Messages and Resolutions

If your interests include specialized photography, the authors note that the A77 can be mounted to many types of telescopes, and it works very well with certain small telescopes “that can double for terrestrial field work.”

The A77 also offers several advantages for those who currently use single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras with microscopes. “Its live preview solves the problem of accurate focusing, giving you a bright image that can be magnified,” the two authors point out. “Because it previews the image, errors in color balance can be corrected.” Also: “Perhaps the A77’s most important feature for the microscopist is the absence of camera vibration during image capture. A fixed mirror eliminates mirror slap, and the electronic first curtain shutter is vibration free.”

One of the “additional features” described in Chapter 8 is a built-in GPS receiver. “The A77 can be set up to capture GPS information and store it with still pictures recorded at the site,” the two authors note. “The camera’s software goes further by also correcting date and time information that may have changed due to entering a different time zone. So, when you return from trips where you see a new location every day, you don’t have to try to reconstruct which pictures came from where. The saved GPS information does that for you when you view your images through Sony’s PMB software.”

The Sony SLT-A77: The Unofficial Quintessential Guide includes numerous photographs, viewfinder shots, control close-ups, menu screens, menu steps, and other illustrations.

“The Sony A77 camera is complex and can be daunting with its scores of menu commands, functions, and options,” the two writers concede.

But their new guidebook can help you master the Sony SLT-A77, one feature, one choice, and one click at a time.

Si Dunn

Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network, 3rd. Ed. – Has info for new AirPort Utility 6 – #Apple #bookreview

Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network, Third Edition
Glenn Fleishman
(TidBITS Publishing, Inc., ebook [ePub, Mobi, PDF], $20.00)

Attention users of Apple’s 802.11n gear in Wi-Fi networking. TidBITS Publishing recently has released a new edition of Take Control of your 802.11n Airport Network.

Its author points out: “If you’re setting up, extending, or retooling a Wi-Fi network with one or more 802.11n base stations from Apple— including the AirPort Extreme, AirPort Express, or Time Capsule— using AirPort Utility 6 on the Mac or AirPort Utility in iOS, this book will help you get the fastest network with the least equipment and fewest roadblocks. This book also has advice on connecting to a Wi-Fi network from older versions of Mac OS X and Windows 7.”

If you are still using AirPort Utility 5, pay attention.

“This third edition,” TidBITS notes, “has a significant change: it replaces its former coverage of AirPort Utility 5 in favor of focusing on AirPort Utility 6, which was released in February 2012. AirPort Utility 6 runs on 10.7 Lion or later. AirPort Utility 6 has many of the features that are documented in previous editions of this book, but it omits several options designed for mixed 802.11g and 80211.n networks and it can’t configure 802.11b and 802.11g AirPort base station models (any base station released from 1999 to 2006). Also, it supports only iCloud, not MobileMe, for remote connections.”

If you are caught in the middle and need to support both AirPort Utility 5 and AirPort Utility 6, purchasers of this ebook are given a link where they can refer to the previous edition, at no extra charge.

Says Fleishman, “The big new feature in AirPort Utility 6 is a graphical depiction of the layout of an AirPort network. This is terrific for visualizing how parts are connected and seeing where errors lie. This third edition also discusses AirPort Utility for iOS, which has a similar approach to AirPort Utility 6, and makes it possible to configure and manage an Apple base station without a desktop computer. That’s a first for Apple.”

The book is well-written, with text presented in short paragraphs for easier viewing on portable devices.

Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network, Third Edition also offers a good number of uncomplicated illustrations, screenshots, tips, warnings, and lists of steps.

— Si Dunn