Category Archives: Annual Events

Yearly events, exhibitions, and competitions.

Kids Coding at Silicon Valley Code Camp

SVCC

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

Setup

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 imagineear.com/pharmacy/ 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.

Scratch

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
Concentrating…

 

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

 

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 :)

 

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!

 

Discover Science, Technology, and Engineering at AT&T Park

bay area science festival logo

Another week of local fun is the Bay Area Science Festival. The festival took place from October 23rd through November 1st and included numerous free science-related events in the area. It was a busy week and we only found time to get to one of the final events: Discovery Days at AT&T Park. I’d have to guess that this is the one event of the week not to miss!

As described on the Bay Area Science Festival page:

Experience over 150 hands-on exhibits and activities from leading science and technology organizations from across the Bay Area. Universities, science museums, research labs, after school organizations, and local companies join forces for an unprecedented opportunity to meet scientists and engineers. Topics include health & medicine, engineering, technology, biotechnology, climate science, and so much more. This year, every exhibit will be framed as investigative questions to encourage explorations and curiosity that we hope will continue throughout the school year.

Because we arrived late, we did a rapid assessment of the exhibits as we walked past the numerous tables to decide where to spend our time. We both got sidetracked by anything robotic, but physics, astronomy, and genetics exhibits were interesting as well.

astronomical society of the pacific

Despite having seen several FIRST Robotics competitions as well as displays of team robots, these still capture my son’s interest. Here is Team 841‘s robot:

team 841
First Robotics Team 841 from Richmond High School
future astronaut
Future Astronaut

It was very popular (i.e. crowded) and a bit chaotic for a quiet 5 year old to get to a table and join in the activities, but we also arrived late and everyone was trying to squeeze in their last 15 minutes of fun at the exhibits. There were dozens of various science related exhibits geared toward all age ranges which explains the event’s popularity.

tents 1

tents 2

tents 3

 

 

 

 

 

stealing third
Stealing Third

Beyond the science and discovery, we actually had the most fun just being able to run around on the field at AT&T Park! There is definitely something unique about standing on home plate, racing around the diamond, or chasing each other in the outfield. So despite the late arrival, we made the most of a beautiful sunny day in San Francisco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many of the other events and lectures during the festival are not geared toward children, but a few that looked like fun are:

  • Marin Wildlife Discovery Day: Learn about the rich diversity of wildlife in Marin
  • Explorer Days – Bioblitzing at Muir Woods: Learn about the forest’s history, how to identify common plants, and help identify and document as many different plant and animal species as possible.
  • Hands-on Science at the Farmer’s Market: Discover how plants live, how worms produce compost, or learn about solar beads and solar cookers, among other scientific investigations.

Next year, we’ll plan ahead and go early!

 bay area science festival banner

 

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) Open House

This past weekend, our family went to the MBARI Open House which was amazing. There was lots to see, do, and learn and we all had a blast. The free, annual event is held at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey.

There were several displays, many with hands-on activities building ocean-related crafts or examining various samples.

Examining rock formations
Examining rock formations

 

Microscopic remains in the sediment
Microscopic remains in the sediment

We got a close up look at several of the ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) as well as the the awesome Dorado AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle).

The Benthic Rover posed for a quick shot:

Benthic Rover
Benthic Rover

We spent quite a bit of time examining the Doc Ricketts ROV and asking questions about it.

Doc Ricketts
Doc Ricketts

 

Doc Ricketts 2

Doc Ricketts 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some important tips about visiting the MBARI Open House next year:

  • Go early – there is plenty to see and do and you don’t want to rush through it. There was also a section to build and test adhd your own ROV in a big tank, but we missed it because we arrived too late.
  • Stop at every station – what may look boring at first, such as a few rocks on a table, might just fascinate you and your child.
  • Check the list of presentations when you arrive so you can schedule them in – another reason to arrive early!
  • Pack a lunch and leave time to hang out on the beach afterward – it’s a 2 minute walk! We spent 45 minutes at the beach watching a big pod of whales playing in the water which was an awesome bonus.
  • Take binoculars – in case you see whales, of course.
  • Ask lots of questions – everyone is very friendly, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable and you get access to scientists and engineers who have worked on some very cool projects.

For the schedule and list of events, see MBARI Open House.

Finally, here is an interesting project found on the MBARI site: instructions to build your own ROV.

 

Combine History with Future Technology at the S.T.E.A.M. Festival

STEAM Festival dog tag

One weekend, my wife casually mentioned the Silicon Valley S.T.E.A.M. Festival. We’re all about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) and it’s billed as a “Family Friendly FREE Science and Aviation Festival” so we decided to check it out. It turned out to be a great deal of fun!

There was a very interesting mix of things to see and do. On one hand, there were rows of beautiful, classic cars all polished to perfection. Kaiden had no interest in seeing those so we got him to take a picture of us by the cars.

STEAM Festival cars

Then there were historic airplanes on display and we spent quite a bit of time looking at those. The planes were so fascinating to see up close that I didn’t even think to take pictures. Kaiden asked about the missiles on one of the planes so I explained what they were for. He then turned to his mom and asked her to manifest planes without missiles. There’s some hope for our future!

There was also a fire truck that we got to see up close and awesome with firefighters happily answering questions. Kaiden politely declined the cheap, plastic firefighting helmet he was offered, but had a blast looking at the controls up close.

Older children, I think 10 or 12 years old, were lining up for a free flight which was a very cool thing to offer. Since we couldn’t send Kaiden up in the air, we went to line up to sit inside the cockpit weight loss of airplane. Several people spent a very long time in the plane, so it was a long wait. I would suggesting going here first if you have a young child.

STEAM Festival cockpit

When we finally got to the display booths, I was happy to find all the hi-tech displays with robots, laser cutters, 3D printers, and science exhibits. Kaiden was fascinated by the laser engraving and mustered up the courage to ask the young woman running the machine if he could trade for a blue dog tag.

I recognized some of the displays from Maker Faire, but that didn’t stop Kaiden from stopping at each one again. There were a few hands-on exercises where kids got to build small contraptions with straws or Popsicle sticks to demonstrate basic scientific principles, but we were running out of time and after having been to Maker Faire and spending a couple of hours on similar projects, we moved on quickly. It was great to see a few biology-related exhibits and of course, the FIRST Robotics robots throwing large balls around.

Overall, this was a really fun day out, especially since it’s a free event and we’ll look forward to going back next year.

A few recommendations:

  • Arrive early, before it gets too busy or too hot
  • Go straight to line up for the free airplane rides (if your child is old enough), to sit in the cockpit, or to view the fire truck
  • Take food and water since I don’t think there was anything remotely healthy served there

 

Combine Art, Science, Technology, and Fun at Maker Faire

About a month after the last Bay Area Maker Faire, Kaiden asked me when we would be going back.This was despite the fact that much of the event was overwhelming for him (and for me) since many of the rooms were overcrowded and difficult to navigate with a 3 year old. Still, we both looked forward to going back since there are so many interesting things to see, do, and learn.

We parked at the Oracle campus and took the shuttle (highly recommended) and instead of waiting 45 minutes like we did the year before, there were two shuttles waiting for us and we were quickly on our way – a fabulous way to start the Maker Faire experience!

To avoid the crowded rooms, we started with the outdoor activities — and we could have easily spent half a day there. First, we made paper rockets held together with some masking tape and launched them using compressed air. Everyone’s rocket was based on essentially the same design, but some clearly flew much better than others and ours did great. Kaiden named it Jupiter 8.

Jupiter 8 Rocket
Jupiter 8 Rocket

If you don’t have Make Magazine Volume 15, you can read the online instructions for your own launcher and rockets here: Compressed Air Rocket or you can find the PDF here. If you prefer to spend more money and less time on this erectile dysfunction project, you can purchase version 2 at AirRocketWorks.com. It doesn’t look like there are instructions for creating version 2 from scratch. However, there is an updated paper rocket. And with this video on the compressed air rocket, there is really no reason not to build one, unless, like us, you have too many projects going already!

We also visited several tables where we built interesting gadgets such as a scissor lift out of Popsicle sticks and a manual water pump out of a plastic bottle.

Water Pump
Water Pump

 

This fabulous behemoth kept Kaiden’s attention for a while as it spat out flames in time with the music

El Pulpo Mecanico Maker Faire
El Pulpo Mecanico at Maker Faire

El Pulpo Mecanico is a 25 foot tall, propane-fueled, first-spitting mechanical octopus! You can find more on this character at: http://www.elpulpomecanico.com/

Kaiden also got a kick out of this huge cardboard robot:

 

Giant Cardboard Robot
Giant Cardboard Robot

There were hundreds of exhibits indoors including robots, lightshows, 3D printers and product displays, science shows, and lots of arts and crafts. It was a great way to be continually distracted and to get ideas for experiments and projects.

I think it would be impossible to visit Maker Faire and not find something that interests you so check it out. There are events all over! Maker Faires Around the World

Join the Kid-friendly Robot Block Party

robot block party banner

In addition to the sunshine and fresh, organic food, one of the advantages of living in the Bay Area is obviously access to tech events. A favorite of ours for the past couple of years has been the Silicon Valley Robot Block Party which is part of National Robotics Week.

In order to attend, I have to manage my workload a little so that I can have a few hours off in the afternoon, but it’s well worth it. I took Kaiden for the second year in a row and we both had a blast. There are a variety of displays sleeping aids from small, speedy bots fabricated from a laser cut sheet (dashrobotics.com) to NASA Ames Research Center’s large, 4-wheeled rover which is used as a platform to test algorithms for space missions.

We were busy watching and interacting with the robots (and the people!) and I don’t have pictures, but have a look at links above.

If you’re in the area, be sure to look out for this event in 2015 and also be sure to look for other interesting events during National Robotics Week. There may be displays, gatherings, talks, and competitions to watch or join – all across the nation!

 

National Robotics Week