Kids Coding at Silicon Valley Code Camp


Silicon Valley Code Camp is an awesome, free, 2-day event where thousands of programmers and would-be-programmers gather to learn more about development related topics. Beyond just programming languages, methods, and algorithms, there may be classes on

  • legal issues,
  • branding and marketing,
  • managing developers,
  • user interfaces,
  • interview skills,
  • and hardware platforms such as the Raspberry Pi and Arduino.

Mobile application development is usually a popular topic and there have been classes covering various business and development aspects of mobile apps.

SVCC by and for

It’s an event were “developers learn from fellow developers” and anyone is welcome to submit sessions for consideration. So the list of classes varies each year and the the level of experience varies between each class. Some are lectures and others are hands-on. There are people with lots of teaching experience, some with subject matter expertise who may not be the most effective educators, and others who are pretty green and standing up in front of a class for the first time. However, the atmosphere on campus overall is very positive and you’re bound to learn something!

The camp takes place at Foothill College, has been running since 2006, and saw almost 3,000 attendees in 2014.

Kids Trackbinary code 1 200x283

Last year, I narrowed my focus and there were only a coupe of classes in which I was interested, but our schedules didn’t line up. I was happy to discover that they had a kids track added and I registered Kaiden. Apparently there have been kids sessions every year, but in 2014 they organized it more and put kids in their own area.

In order to sign up a kid for a session, you must

  • Create a separate SV Code Camp account (login) for each kid
  • Assign a guardian to the kid
  • Make a minimum $25 donation to SVCC Giving


There were two back-to-back sessions on Scratch programming staring with a basic class and then a more advanced lesson. We arrived a little later than expected, but before the class was scheduled to start – and the room was packed! There were no empty seats and people were sitting on the platform at the back of the room and others were even sitting on the floor!

One of the parents at the back saw me scanning the room for a seat and quickly mentioned that there were parents sitting in chairs and I should ask them to move. So we got Kaiden a seat quickly and got our laptop set up while I crouched beside him. It was annoying that even after multiple announcements, some parents sat in their chairs at the front of the room partially blocking the view of kids behind them. Eventually, the ignorant adults made way for the children.


Kaiden had played with Scratch a couple of time before. We had gone through a few introductory lessons and then he created his own custom program called Lightning Blue Cat. So much of the session ended up being a bit slow for him, but that just meant that we had some opportunity to add extra functionality or browse through various sprites.

The class was fairly-well organized and taught with enough assistants walking around to provide 1-on-1 help with setup or coding issues.

SVCC Coding


SVCC Screen
Our view of the big screen


We would have loved to stay for the next, more advanced session, but like most of the other kids there, it was a long session and we needed a long break! Most of the room cleared out and I didn’t see too many more kids trickling in. Hopefully at the next camp they will run the beginner and advanced Scratch sessions with a good break in between, but still on the same day, so kids can eat and run around before going back to coding.

Either way, we’ll definitely be there!

SVCC Class 600
End of the session and time for a break!


SVCC Badges 600
A popular spot for parent-kid pictures


Get Messy at the Triton Museum of Art

SCUSD Student Exhibition at Triton Museum

Join Family Art Day this Saturday, March 14 from 10am to 2pm. It’s free for the entire family and in it’s 45th year!

The Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) student exhibition is a celebration of creativity, community, and collaboration with the Triton Museum. A pop-up gallery will work from SCUSD students grades K – 12, including a piece from Kaiden, which we are very excited to see! There are also hands-on art activities which encourage artists of all ages to get messy!

Kaiden has always enjoyed drawing and we’ll often sit and draw things together for fun. His art was selected for the student exhibition a while ago and we decided to give him some alcoholism more opportunities to explore his artistic side (since it’s also a nice break from all the math he loves to do). We enrolled him in an after-school drawing class which he loves (much more than Spanish class) and I suspect a big part of that is due to the instructor, who happens to be from the Triton Museum.

The SCUSD Student Art Exhibition runs from Saturday March 14, 2015 to April 12, 2015. It is on view Saturdays 2:30 to 5:00 pm and  Sundays noon to 4:00 pm. Admission is free.

SCUSD Family Art Day at Triton Museum

Explore the Universe at Lick Observatory

Last year my birthday fell on a Sunday, but my wife booked a session with one of her clients(!) So I decided to make the most of the day with my son and do something we would both enjoy. I packed a lunch and we drove to Lick Observatory at the top of Mt Hamilton (4209′) to check out some telescopes! We chatted for most of the drive, but about 10 minutes before our arrival, he fell fast asleep. Fortunately, I had a book to read… and about 45 minutes later, the fun began…

Kaiden’s favorite subject after math was astronomy so we were both looking forward to seeing the telescopes and we were not disappointed. There is a great free talk on the history of the observatory that’s presented in the 36-inch telescope dome where they house the Great Lick Refractor. The few, blurry pictures I remembered to take really don’t do justice to the experience, but neither do the high quality pictures on their website – you need to see it in person. The Great Lick Refractor is 57 feet long and weighs over 25,000 lbs!

Great Lick Refractor
Great Lick Refractor

There are some amazing pictures of Lick taken by Laurie Hatch and Debra and Peter Ceravolo.

We also hiked mans health over to the smaller observatories to learn more about the history, including the logistics it took to get the site built and the precision equipment set up. I think the video was playing in the Shane Dome where you can see the 120 Inch Reflector. I thought Kaiden might get bored by the looped video presentation, but after watching the last half, we watched it from the beginning.

You can find lots more info on the public information page, including details about the Summer Concert Series which looks interesting.

We ended up spending even more time outside enjoying the sunshine and great views!

Lick Observatory - K1


Lick Observatory - K3
Lick Observatory - K5
Hanging out at 4209′

Lick Observatory - K4

I would highly recommend this experience for any kid who is interested in astronomy. It further renewed Kaiden’s desire to be an astronaut and he like to be clear that he does not want to be an astronomer, but he still plans on discovering a star larger than NML Cygni or UY Scuti!

Tips for Planning a Trip

  • Click the links above to find out what events are schedule
  • At least read the visitor page
  • Have a full tank of gas
  • Check the weather
  • Take a jacket – it gets windy
  • Pack a lunch
  • Take binoculars and enjoy the view!

Have fun!

Celebrate Pi Day and Be Irrational!

Pi Day Celebration

Another great thing about living in Silicon Valley is that it is full of tech-geek-nerd-math-science-types – and events like this!

I recall being fascinated by this magical number when I was in school, spending hours in the computer lab tweaking algorithms to calculate as many digits as I could… and reprogramming our code on punch cards!

Who says you can’t have your Pi and eat it, too? Not us! Join us at the Computer History Museum Saturday, March 14, for Pi Day. Celebrate the never-ending number with Pi-themed activities and fun for all ages, including a children’s book reading, Raspberry Pi family workshops, and a Raspberry Pi showcase and after-party! Enjoy music in our lobby and delicious PiE, PiZZA, and PiNTS, available for purchase in our Cloud Café.

“?” is the symbol used in mathematics to represent the constant ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, which is approximately 3.1415926. To celebrate this phenomenon, math and science lovers everywhere have been joining together since 1988 to honor Pi on 3/14—an homage to the first three digits of everyone’s favorite number. The year 2015 brings a rare opportunity to celebrate on the month, day, and year of the first five digits of Pi—3/14/15.

Be sure to check out our special Pi Day hours and activity ambien schedule. Registration is required for workshop sessions. To reserve your spot, please see event website to register.

Early Hours and Admission Information:
9:26 AM—The Museum is opening its doors early in honor of the sixth, seventh, and eighth digits of Pi and granting FREE admission to eager partygoers who arrive before or at 9:26 AM.
9:27–10 AM—Enjoy half-priced admission.
5–6 PM—Free admission to the Raspberry Pi showcase and after-party.

And for those of you who want to see how many digits you still remember, I’m sure you already found “The Joy of Pi” online :)

We are also up to 10 trillion digits calculated by Shigeru Kondo, to which Kaiden’s response was “whoa!” And that was on a “home-made” computer.

IBM’s “BlueGene/P” supercomputer, which runs continuously at one quadrillion calculations per second, was used to find the sixty-trillionth binary digit of Pi-squared. The article here explains why we still bother to calculate these numbers, when a value of Pi to 40 digits would be more than enough to compute the circumference of the Milky Way galaxy to an error less than the size of a proton.

O.k. all this talk about Pi is making me hungry!

Robogames 2015 is Coming Soon!

Robogames logo

Robogames is the Olympics of the robot world where international teams compete in dozens of events. It’s ingenious, combative, educational, and inspiring!

My nemesis has been the micromouse competition and this year, I’m busier than I’ve ever been so I’m trying not to lose too much sleep over the mouse, but it’s again coming down to the wire to determine skin care whether I’ll have a functional robot to enter.

I started over scratch with a simplified design that uses continuous rotation servos, but Modest Mouse is way behind schedule!

Modest Mouse
Modest Mouse

Either way, we’re looking forward to the games since there robots, robots, and more robots!

See you there :)


Lego Exosuit Battle


One of the Lego sets that Kaiden talked about for weeks before we finally got it was Superman Vs Power Armor Lex. Exoskeletons and exosuits are popular in our house and the first Lego Movie sets I bought were the Fire-Mech (from the Rescue Reinforcements set) and then the Construct-o-Mech. And these sets are awesome, especially the Construct-o-Mech!

My favorite, based on looks, is still the LEGO Ideas Exo Suit and when I hesitated to buy it in the store, it was sold out everywhere a week later. I wrote to Lego and they said they weren’t making anymore, but a few months later, they did and now there are lots available.

The great part about the way we play with Lego now is that even before building a new set, we start formulating ideas about all the cool things we could build with the unique anti inflammatories parts in the set. And we’ll often figure out how to make our own version of what’s in the set. And exosuits were one of Kaiden’s favorite items for a while so of course, he built some of his own.

In the Epic Saturday morning battle below, there is even a custom “Super Mixel”. If you know your Mixels, you’ll know that it takes 3 regular Mixels to make a “Max”. The Super Mixel was built from the parts of 2 Max Mixels.

All of these creations existing in the same place and time, meant some epic Saturday morning battles.

Exosuit vs. T-Rex!
Exosuit vs. T-Rex!
Epic Saturday Morning Battle
Epic Saturday Morning Battle
Ultimate Battle - Exosuits and Robots
Ultimate Battle – Exosuits and Robots

These battles all took place before the Construct-o-Mech arrived so we will have to do this again!

Save The Date for the 2015 Robot Block Party

Block Party 2015

The Silicon Valley Robot Block Party is an awesome event for anyone interested in Robots.

Mark your calendar for April 8, 2015 from 12 noon to 4pm. The event is at WilmerHale, 950 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304.

This is a great event for kids since there are always some activities and robots targeted at a younger audience. I’ve taken Kaiden for the past couple of years and we wouldn’t miss it. See my brief review for the 2014 Robot Block Party. I’ll be sure to take more pictures this year, but if you’re in the area, you have to check it out for yourself.

The following antibiotics companies and clubs are scheduled so far:

Robotics Companies: SRI International, ABB, Puzzlebox, Krtkl, EandM Engineering, Ebotic, Berkeley Emergent Space Tensegrities Lab (BEST), Tempo Automation, Dash Robotics, GigaMacro, Fighting Walrus

Robotics Clubs: Stanford Robotics Club, Aragon Robotics Team, Bay Area R2D2 Builders, The Cheesy Poofs FRC Team, Prospect High School Robotics Team, Westmont High School Robotics Team, Vex Team 5369 “The Duckies”

You can more recent details here: Silicon Valley Robot Block Party and we’ll see you there!


Turn Anyone into a Lego Minifigure

Following the success of our Lego superhero costumes, we decided to combine the costume concept with figures that looked a little like each of us to make our Lego family!

The collection of minifigures we already had came in handy and we had short legs for a kid minifigure and hairstyles to (sort of) match Holly’s hair, but we still didn’t have any minifigures that looked remotely like me. Then I purchased a Nick Fury minifigure and, except for the eye patch, we were all set.

I took pictures of our t-shirts, put them on the same minifigure template I had created for the superhero costumes, and printed them out. The only reason this bit of craftiness is listed as intermediate is because you need a sharp knife to cut out the templates.

Our Family

Our Lego Family

Holly’s sleeves antidepressants were a little tricky and in fact are just tucked underneath so they don’t always stay in place, but we don’t want to Kragle anything. In the template, I left extra “material” and cut the sleeves round afterward.

Lego Family Costumes Template

Shrinking the images changed the appearance of the colors and some fine digital editing would have made the shirts look better, but playing with miniature versions of ourselves was more important.

We weren’t able to get a shot of the family (with appropriate attire) together with our cat, Furball, so we might have to Photoshop him in later.

Kaiden couldn’t wait to play with the his minifigure recently when he wore the same t-shirt again to school, he purposefully put on grey pants to match his minifigure. :)

Have fun!


Cheap, Simple Hyperdrive Lights for the Lego Millennium Falcon

Kaiden finally received his long-awaited Lego Star Wars Millennium Falcon from Santa. By the next day, all 1,254 pieces were assembled. Pretty good for a 5 year old who stopped to play while he was building.

As we flew the ship around the living room one evening, the blue Christmas tree lights gave me the idea to install some LEDs in the back of the Falcon to light up the hyperdrive. I remembered that I had some small, bright blue LEDs left over from a robot project and we got straight to work. Below is a walk-through of what we did as well as a few alternative options to consider if you plan to do this yourself.

Hyperdrive Lights

Stuff You Need

You may not need all of these tools and parts, but here’s what we used:


  • Wire cutterTools
  • Wire stripper (optional, but I love my wire stripper)
  • Crimping tool
  • Soldering iron and solder (you can get cheaper ones, I’ve had this Weller for many years)
  • Helping hands (mini-vise to hold parts while soldering)
  • Rotary tool (if you need to modify the Lego parts, my 20 year old Dremel still works like a charm)


  • 4×LEDs (bright blue or white)Parts
  • 4×2032 3V coin cell batteries
  • momentary push-button switch (or a toggle switch if your 5 year old always remember to turn it off… yeah, right.)
  • 6×2-pin header connectors (see picture)
  • 1×4-pin header connector
  • 4×male header pins
  • 12×female header pins

Notes on header connectors and pins:

  • You could do without the headers and pins and crimping and just solder wires and LEDs which would be much quicker. I like to build things so that I can re-use the parts later when (not if) my son finds something more interesting. My Railroad Crossing Signal is a good example and we’ll be leveraging the sound chip from that for some sound effects in the Falcon later!
  • You can buy 100 of each type of pin quickly with Amazon prime (male, female), spend 10× less on eBay (male, female), or buy a smaller quantities of connectors and pins at places like Futurlec. If you have a local electronics store, like Jameco or Anchor, please support them!)


  • I modified a couple of parts, but there a million options for securing buttons, LEDs, and batteries since it’s Lego!
Lego Parts
Parts to cut and drill
Battery box

How We Did It

  1. Decide on a layout. Choose whether you want the LEDs in parallel or in series. This determines what your battery pack looks like as well as whether the entire things stops working if one LED bites the dust (series). The blue LEDs have a typical forward voltage of 3.5V so to keep everything simple, I used 4 3V coin cell batteries in series with 4 LEDs. So the circuit is very simple.
    Thruster Lights schematic 1 You also need to decide how to connect the various components. Based on the ease of making a small, square battery box and the use of header connectors which let us easily replace individual LEDs, we went with the serial option. If you solder parts instead of using connectors, consider how you’ll make repairs. This is also a good time to disassemble the back of the ship and identify where everything will go.
    Falcon Hyperdrive
  2. Build the battery box. Kaiden designed the box out of Lego parts and we adjusted the height to fit 4 coin cell batteries with just a little space remaining. The parts shown include decorative pieces at the top of the picture.
    Our battery box parts
    Our battery box parts

    Click here for a video on assembling the battery box:

    Battery box video

    To attach leads to the battery, I just used the same 22 gauge wire, stripped off extra insulation, and created my own springs. Once the top panel of the battery box was closed, it created a tight connection that has not come loose since.
    Battery Box connector 1
    Battery Box connector 2
    Battery Box connector 3
    Battery Box connector 4
    Battery Box connector 5

  3. Crimp or solder the wiring. Measure wire lengths based on your decisions in the first step. You might consider soldering components or using fewer connectors, for example, on the battery pack and switch. The reason I put connectors on those parts is because I thought I might later add a microcontroller to flash the lights. I also have quite a few of these connectors in my parts box. Here’s my schematic with the connectors shown.
    Thruster Lights schematic 2Here is good video tutorial on crimping if you’ve never done it before. The video covers more than just one type of connector and pin and shows how easy it really is.
  4. Prepare the button. I used a single 2×2 brick to house a push button that could be easily attached to the underside of the ship and that worked out nicely. Choose a brick to match your button or switch or find another place to mount it. I had to drill out the middle of the brick a little so that the button would be flush with the edge. I also drilled a small hole in the side for the wire connecting the switch to the rest of the circuit. The momentary push button also ensures that none of us will forget to turn off the lights when we are docked at the space port at dinner time.
    Push button 0
    Cut or drill out some of the block so the switch fits inside and also drill a small hole for your wires to go through.

    Before and after cutting and drilling
    Before and after cutting and drilling

    Insert the wires and solder them to the button.
    Push button 1
    Attach the button to the ramp.
    Push button 2
    Push button 3

  5. Install the LEDs. We needed another “custom” Lego part to hold the 2 LEDs in the middle in place. It may be an actual Lego part, but we didn’t have one so I found a Technics piece that I could just cut in half.
    Lego Parts Modified
    These pieces are used to hold the 2 LEDs in the middle in place like this:
    LED holder
    A little more disassembling might be in order…
    Installation 5
    The 3mm LEDs fit nicely inside the blue tubes and here is how we assembled these.
    LED install 1
    Installation 3
    Installation 4
    We ended up having wires strewn about the ship, but if I recall, the Falcon was a bit messy inside anyway so we won’t waste time trying to hide any wires.
    Installation 2

    Final test before reassembly
    Final test before reassembly

I may change the configuration later when we add more lights, but for now, it’s a nice, simple and cheap setup. The next logical addition is to add forward flood lights so stay tuned.


Make Your Own Lego Superhero Costumes

Superheroes ready for action

Kaiden, like most 5 year old (and 45 year old) boys, loves superheroes. We don’t have a television, but he learned about superheroes from t-shirts, Lego, and comic book posters I put up in his room:

Comic Book Wall
Comic Book Wall

His first Lego Superheroes set was Batman: The Riddler Chase and after seeing Batman’s cape, I decided to make a Superman Lego guy out of a blue spaceman (yes, an original blue spaceman I had from the 80s).


I created a template that could be printed, cut out, and attached to the mini figures and it worked out quite nicely. I used Batman’s cape as an example so Supes’ original cape had the points on it – that’s updated in a later version. The only tricky part is cutting. Parents, use a cutting mat and a good knife!

Cut out and ready to assemble
Cut out and ready to assemble
Fold at the neck and legs
Fold at the neck and legs
It's Superman!
It’s Superman!

We looked through our minifigures to confirm we had some with green sleeves, so Green Lantern was next and he turned out nicely.

Old spaceman and new spaceman ready to be superheroes
Old spaceman and new spaceman ready to be superheroes
Green Lantern suiting up
Green Lantern suiting up
Green Lantern!
Green Lantern!

Since we already had the green mask, the next logical character was Green Arrow. The challenge there was the hooded cloak – or at least just the hood.

Test design for Green Arrow's hood
First test design for Green Arrow’s hood
First hood test design unraveled
First hood test design unraveled
Second test design for Green Arrow's hood
Second test design for Green Arrow’s hood
Final hood design
Final hood design

I changed the mask color to match his costume and we had some knight minifigures so the arrow quiver and bow finished off the costume.

Green Arrow suits up
Green Arrow suits up
Green Arrow!
Green Arrow!

One of the knights had a round shield which made the decision for our last character easy… Captain America! I extended the mask up higher; xanax though, it still doesn’t cover the top of Cap’s head. It didn’t matter, Kaiden loved it and couldn’t wait to play with it.

Captain America!
Captain America!

Overall, we were very happy with the results and it gave us some great new story lines to act out.

Red paper so both sides of the cape are colored
Red paper so both sides of the cape are colored

Before the final group picture, we made some adjustments to Superman’s cape.

  • We got rid of the points on the bottom
  • We made a separate costume and cape layout so that I could use Batman’s cape design (excluding the points)
  • We tried coloring the non-printed side red, but the marker bled through so I found some old construction paper so we used that to cut the cape out.

Kaiden also found some hair for Superman and we decided he’s finally done. Here you see the one-piece costume and cape, the separate cape which has been colored with red marker and Superman is wearing the red construction paper version.

Various capes
Various capes

Download the template here and print it out to get started: Lego Superhero Costumes

From a set of random minifigures, Kaiden found a guy in a black suit which made a perfect Lex Luthor and the battles began. Here’s Lex with stolen giant gold bar and a red Kryptonite laser!

Lex with a red kryptonite laser
Lex with a red Kryptonite laser

Not long after this project, we bought more real Lego Superhero sets. Kaiden was eagerly awaiting Superman Vs. Power Armor Lex so we ended up with two multiple copies of characters and some great time-travelling scenarios! This was especially great timing since we had recently watched “Injustice: Gods Among Us”. The version we watched with fight scenes is no longer available, but there are more here: YouTube Injustice Gods Among Us

If you make any of your own custom characters, let us know, we’d love to see them!

Have fun!

Super Family