Rainbow Loom Superheroes

Last summer, one of Kaiden’s cousins introduced us all to the world of Rainbow Loom. I could understand the appeal for little girls who could make colorful rubber band rings and bracelets, but the only thing I was interested in was whether the rubber bands would make good tires on a miniature robot. That was, until I searched online and found this: Rainbow Loom Avengers Series: The Amazing Spider-Man.

It’s listed as an advanced project, but I took it on as my first Rainbow Loom challenge. Fortunately my niece, Caitlin, had provided me with a good introduction to the basics.

I attempted to make my own version of the spider logo, but in the end my cousin’s premier-pharmacy.com wife saved the day with the perfect beads.

One small mistake can cost you a torso
One small mistake can cost you a torso

I still made one small mistake that required me to redo half of Spidey, but it came out nicely in the end. By the way, the metal hook makes a big difference over the standard plastic one.

Ready for extraction
Ready for extraction

The Avengers series by PG’s Loomacy is pretty impressive for some little rubber bands and I was planning on making the entire Avengers series, but it will have to wait until I’m on vacation again!


A Quick and Simple Superman Costume

As usual around Halloween, Kaiden went back and forth about what costume he wanted. For quite a while he wanted to dress up as Cyborg, but he finally decided on Superman which was great since it was much easier! We still decided not to buy a superman costume since we could just use his t-shirt and add a cape!

So with a few dollars of red fabric and some Velcro, this came together quickly. I decided not to alter the t-shirt and just connected the cape to itself. The material was very light so it mostly stayed in place and didn’t bother his neck. If it was heavier material, I would have buttoned or Velcro’d it to the shirt to keep it in place.

Here’s a simple hair loss template based on quick measurements of Kaiden’s neck size and the cape length that would hopefully stay out of the way at school.

Cape Pattern
Cape Final

I used my awesome new Janome sewing machine to hem the cape edges, but if you’re not concerned about the fabric fraying a bit, then this becomes a 5-minute project!


And the final result – a very happy Superman.

Superboy - front
Superboy - back

He finally decided he would be Superboy since I also dressed up as Superman. In fact, my wife went out and bought a t-shirt with an attached cape for herself and the entire Super Family went to school that day!

Super Family

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


Make A Pipe Cleaner Bumblebee

My wife and son were busy being crafty one afternoon and it looked like too much fun pass up. Part of the reason I wanted in on the action was the fact that, like paper mache, it was a medium I had not used for a very long time – pipe cleaners.
Kaiden and his mom were each making a pipe cleaner bumblebee from instructions they saw online and Kaiden was on a roll, cranking out bees in various colors and sizes.
It was a good thing I joined when I did since it was my job to glue on the eyes. Here’s the output of the bumblebee/insect factory. Yes, even the worm-looking things are bumble bees. We just ran out of wings.

bumble bee factory
Bumble bees and a pink spider

My son was recently reading his Explorers: Planet Earth book provigil which is one of a series of books he loves. The books are not lengthy, only 25 or 30 pages, but full of interesting information and colorful pictures – and several can be found for under $6 online which is a great deal. His favorites so far are: Planet Earth, Stars and Planets, Weather, and Big Cats.

In the Planet Earth book, Kaiden was fascinated by a mean-looking angler fish and its bio-luminescent lure. So I decided to make him “Angie the angler fish”. That was followed by a grasshopper which I don’t think we named.

angler fish and grasshopper
Angie the angler and a grasshopper

Kaiden was quite animated about explaining to me the steps to make a bumblebee and eager to make his own video explaining the process. It took a lot of editing, but here it is.

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

Tasty Stuff My Dad Bakes

I added a baking category knowing that we’d get here at some point; though, even the Railroad Crossing had a baked element:

railroad crossing signal cake
The letters are chocolate cookies :)

I love baking and Kaiden has as much fun eating the results as I do creating them. The default is still often banana muffins. Delicious banana muffins, and sometimes delicious chocolate chip banana muffins, but muffins those don’t justify the purchase of cool new bakeware.

Last Halloween, we invited some good friends and their kids over for cookies and cake. One of the children was allergic to dairy so it was a new challenge for me and I was paranoid about contaminating anything. I don’t think I’ve ever cleaned so thoroughly. I made the allergy-friendly stuff one day and then baked the chocolate cake that Kaiden requested the next morning, just to be sure everything was separated.

My wife insisted, and had to convince me, that I let her help since I was reluctant to hand over any control. I like to be in charge of all the baked goodness and Kaiden can vouch for why that is – in his own words, “Dad, Mom does most of the cooking, but you do all of the baking”. Yes my son, Dad bakes.

In the end, I had to acquiesce since cookies, cupcakes, cake, and allergy substitutions in a new recipe were too much for one baker with little time before the party. My wife helped decorate the cupcakes and did a great job on the eyeballs. Not exactly how I might buyambienmed.com have done it, but that’s part of my learning to let go. She used beets to make natural food coloring which is far better than the chemical coloring in the store. It is also far cheaper than the all natural coloring in the store!

Eyeball Cupcakes and Scary Cookies
Eyeball Cupcakes and Scary Cookies


Bat Cake
Last Minute Bat Cake

For the chocolate cake bat, I made two 9″ rounds and cut one for the wings. Kaiden happily helped “clean up” the extra pieces that had to be cut off.

The following is a New York style crumb cake which I’ve made a few time and which never seems to last long. I lived in NYC for a few years and had no idea that crumb cake was a thing there. It’s from The Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book which my wife bought me as a present. The book is great for baking geeks since it covers some of the science behind baking methods and explains the results of testing various ingredients, proportions, and techniques. You get the benefit of those results without requiring the time, equipment, and money it would take to experiment yourself.

NY Crumb Cake
NY Style Crumb Cake

There’s more baked goodness that I never bothered to capture on film because pictures of food are not my thing and posting pictures of food online less so, but here I am doing it anyway. This may just be the the delicious beginning.

Now back to some killer robots or something.

Control Panel with Buttons, Switches, and Lights part 2

Adding the lights and switches to the Master control panel.

First thing on the agenda, especially since Phase 1 of the Master Control Panel stretched out so long, was a second trip to the flea market for more buttons! We also scored a very cool “Video Commander” control station with a dozen buttons, a joystick, and a couple of rotary control knobs. That’s put aside for a future project since we’re moving right along…

All the buttons and a couple of the toggle switches required little more than the right sized drill bit, which Kaiden is now an expert at selecting. The rectangular toggle switches required filing and sanding and more effort than they seemed to be worth, but I quickly forgot about that when I saw my boy’s smile at the addition of the LEDs!

A few years ago, also at the Electronics Flea Market, I spent $10 to get a 30 drawer storage cabinet. The elderly gentlemen who sold it to me said I could keep any parts in side and he offered me a deal on a second cabinet, but I declined since it had a few cracked plastic drawers. Well, when I put the cabinet in the car and took a better look inside the drawers, I realized the value of the deal I had gotten. That cabinet was full of LEDs, sockets, connectors, and some parts which I have yet to identify. In total, it was worth far more than $10 and by the time I raced back, the second cabinet was sold. Anyway, we used several of the LEDs in this project.

The key switch is something I pulled off a broken healthsavy.com cash register many years ago so I hope it works! I have several keys to go with it and they allow the switch to turn either 2 clicks, 3 clicks, or 4 clicks. We decided that Mom would get the Level 2 key, I would get the Level 3 key, and Kaiden would get the Master Level 4 key. So Kaiden said to me, “Dad, if you ever need to use a function on level 4, but I’m at school, you’ll have to wait until I come back to turn it on for you.” I really hope that switch works and probably should have tested it before we installed it. We’ll find out soon enough.

When we first installed the key switch, it didn’t look that great. So I took an old lid and some tin snips and made a small metal plate to cover up the hole. Kaiden helped with the tin snips, but gave up after a while since it took so long to make any progress.

installing buttons and switches
Installing buttons and switches
key switch and tin snips
Tin snips at work to fix key switch

Now, it’s really starting to look like a Master Control Panel!

wrapping up phase 2
Phase 2 wrapping up!

We’re thinking about putting in a speaker in the lower center instead of hiding it inside and deciding what top secret instructions or codes to put in the blank space in the middle right.

The project list keeps getting longer so we’ll see how soon we can get to Phase 3.

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