New Keyboard

My obsession with mechanical keyboards continues.

My long-awaited 60% keyboard finally showed up (after the now-standard tomfoolery of DHS + USPS for delivery), and the first thing I did was rip all the key caps off install the set I got custom made from WASD Keyboards. It looks lovely now, and I’m very happy to be using it.

V60 w/ Custom Key Caps

I’ve not given up on my hand-wired monstrosity, either. It’s wired and has an “enclosure” and whatever, but I’ve been stalled for time with building out the custom firmware it needs to run. So it’ll wait a bit on that one. No rush.

 

obsessions.

The obsession with mechanical keyboards that I seem to have developed is… troubling. To the degree that I’m thinking about building a macro-specific keypad Keypad Layoutfor a number of the repetitive tasks that I handle on a regular basis. So, for example, one layer of this keypad would make the Mod 3 and Mod 4 keys the Edit In and Edit Out commands in FCPX, with the Mod 1 and Mod 2 maybe triggering transitions or media imports. Alt 1 would be to show video scopes, and so on. Then, with another layer, Mod 3 and Mod 4 would become Cut and Paste (in a single key press), with other keys (maybe) being mapped to insert small batches of heavily used HTML. Or something. Regardless, I’m figuring out parts lists and where to order key caps and switches and whatnot. AND how to get a Teensy 2.0 to act like a keyboard and handle all the macros and whatnot. All doable, mind you.

 

I bought a new computer.

Ah, so. The time had come.

My “current” computer is a very (10!) old MacBook Pro- it’s been great, but it’s gone all glitchy, and keeping it up and running has become entirely too time consuming- and inconsistent. I’ve written before about my affinity for Plex as a media serving solution, and this machine had been pulling Plex Media Server duty. It’s gone so flakey that it can’t be relied upon for that anymore, so it was clearly time for something new.

Or, I should say, new-er. I had planned to ante up and grab a 27″ iMac Retina of some flavor- by all accounts a lovely machine. It’s minimally user-serviceable, though, and the most you can really do is upgrade the RAM a bit. And: $1500 base price. So I also looked at a Mac Mini, but the price of those can be stiff, and they’re not user upgradable anymore, so… used? Nope- they hold value like crazy, and you’re effectively better buying a new one. So that’s out. And I don’t need the portability of a laptop.

Enter: Xserve. They dropped this line in 2010, but these were rack-mounted Macs meant for use in data centers. They are proper servers, too: dual redundant power supplies, lots of space for disks and RAM, dual gigabit ethernet, etc etc etc. I bought one on ebay, and it should be here early this week. Mine’s from 2008, and you might be thinking that I’m nuts to have bought an eight-year-old machine, but let me point out a couple of things:

  1. It’s faster than the iMac I might have bought- mine has 2x 3.0ghz quad-core Xeons, and the benchmarks for the machine are still pretty quick. It’s roughly a 6x improvement over my existing machine.
  2. It’s got plenty of RAM- mine has 16gb, but it’ll handle (at least) double that.
  3. It’s got space for 3 hard drives. Mine has 3x80gb, but I’ll eventually swap that to 3x2tb, so I’ll have 6tb of internal storage.
  4. It has an internal super drive (HA! well, useful for ripping existing parts of my DVD collection…)
  5. I paid $200 for it. Plus $90 for shipping, since the thing’s a TANK and is coming from the west coast.
  6. It’s entirely user serviceable. All the parts can come out and be swapped- it’s a industrial computer, after all.

Some downsides, of course:

  1. It eats power. It idles at 150W or so, but I’ll be running it on a scheduled boot/shutdown cycle to minimize that problem.
  2. Officially, it’s only supposed to be able to run 10.6.8 as an OS. Really, though, it’ll run 10.11.x without any real trouble- Apple dropped support for it’s video card, but I’ve got a much more modern card en-route that will fix that issue.
  3. It’s huge and rack mounted- but I don’t care, as I have a rack in the basement anyway.
  4. It’s loud under load- again, irrelevant, as it’s in the basement, and I’ll be managing it via screen sharing remotely anyway.

I’m excited. It’s been a very long time since I had a proper work-horse of a computer, and it’ll be nice to finally have my data and projects all consolidated onto one capable machine. The next stage will be monitors for it- the new video card will push 2650×1600 resolution, but I can’t figure out of that’s across one screen, or if that’s each on two screens. Whatever- it’s enough either way, really. I’ve got a 24″ 1920×1080 kicking around that’ll do in the meantime.

I figure even if I only get a few more years of life from it (which, honestly, seems unlikely- these were built like brick houses, so it should keep ticking along), it’ll still have been less expensive than an iMac, and I’ll have roughly the same speed and power, so that’s a bonus. And, given the price, if I want a “couch computer” for browsing, I can grab an iPad or Chromebook or whatever, and still have the total cost be less than an iMac.

Building a Game (Part 1)

I have young children, and for reasons I won’t delve into here, they need some special attention paid regarding their vision. As such, and in an effort to enrich their play, I’ve embarked on a project to introduce them to RPGs. Roll Playing Games are exactly what you think- you assume the roll of a character in a game and play from that perspective. The most famous of these is likely Dungeons and Dragons, but there are many, many others. Think of it this way: if you were to play Clue from the perspective and in the roll of Colonel Mustard¹. THAT’D be a RPG.

My kids are small, and even the most stripped down version of DnD has a rule book 100 pages long (the full version, near as I can tell, is 320 pages). So it should come as no surprise. Indeed, when researching what game I might introduce, the general consensus was that we should build our own. Fair enough. I wasn’t sure about their ability to grasp some of the more abstract concepts, so I chose to test the concept with a game structured around our house and our family.HouseGameProto(crop)

This is the first game board we made. The layout of based (roughly!) on the floor plan of our house, “x” on a spot makes it “special” (and you draw a card for that…), and mostly, you go about the tasks you do in real life- go to the living room or kitchen, walk around, make messes (lose points!), be polite (add points!). And that’s it. There’s no narrative or ending, but it was enough to gauge their interest in the format. Time to get more ambitious.

I wanted to keep a few things in mind:

  • These are little kids, and as such, the game should be of a finite length²
  • The game should be re-useable
  • The game should be adaptable
  • The game should be as familiar as possible
  • The game should be hackable

With all that in mind, I drew up this board:

GameProtoBoard(crop)

It’s not perfect at all- and that’s ok. It shouldn’t be precious, because I don’t want any hesitation to change it all around. I made it a fairly generic “maze” layout, and I added a coordinate system. That will allow me (as I run the game) to place obstacles and rewards in various spots, to be discovered as they play. It’s a sort of miniature quest. The complexity of the journey can be dialed up or down based on the nature and frequency of these additions- a few easy monsters with copious resources at first, then more monsters and scarcer resources. Speaking of resources…

I opted to stay fairly low-tech with much of this. That’s a recycled chunk of foam core for a board. The manipulatives- the pieces- needed to feel familiar to the kids, but also be versatile enough to function not only for this game, but for future variations and new games. So…

GameParts(crop)

This is the start of the collection. This will grow a ton in the next week or so, as some Amazon orders or parts come in. But for now, that’s a pile of Lego Minifigs, some counting bears, a handful of tiddlywinks, some small treasure chests, and a home-made die. I’ve got a bag of “pirate jewels” coming (for treasure…), 100 dice (D4, D6, D8, D10 (and percentile), and D20), as well as a couple hundred blank cards. Most of what that’s for is obvious, but the blank cards are key: those will get turned into set of stacks, each stack on a theme. For example, in the “Monster” stack, each card will specify what kind of monster and any other parameters (how strong it is, what kind, etc…). If you hit a “monster” square in the game, you draw a card to find out details.

I’m excited. From a learning perspective, there’s a lot to do here- the kids are not only going to play the game with me, but they’re also helping me to build it. That’s a lot of cutting and glueing and talking and making lists and and and. It’s a proper project.

Updates as we make progress.

 

¹ Why don’t we play Clue this way? Sounds WAY better.

² I’m looking at you, Monopoly. And Mousetrap.

Color Hints

So.

My dad wrote an app. It’s called Color Hints, and it’s a pretty nifty thing. It allows you to analyze the colors in a picture, and using that information find what colors will coordinate. You can take pictures or pull them in from your photo roll, but it also has a built ColorHintsin browser, so you can sample colors off web pages. That way, when you see a paint you really like, you can sample the color and save it. Not only will Color Hints help you find coordinating colors, but it will tell you all the values of the color you’ve sampled- and that means you can have matching paint mixed to order.

He wrote it for my mom, who’s been doing a lot of quilting recently. She uses it to log fabric swatches and know which go with which, but it’s just as useful in the hands of a designer (interior, industrial, fashion, take your pick…), and it’s a pretty decent tool for teaching color theory as well.

It’s in the app store now here, and I’d recommend it highly. I’ve been running the beta for a few months now, and when it comes to helping me pick what art to hang in the dining room to go with the carpet and table, there’s nothing else quite like it.

This. Is. Big.

Here it is: My new project.

There is sometimes the assumption in the educational world (heck, in the world in general…) that free is good. That things should be free. There has become an expectation on the web that things should cost nothing. But that’s not true- because everything costs something. Google is lovely, but it isn’t free. Your data and the onslaught of ads pay for that service. Facebook is free, except that it sells every ounce of data it can take from you. Be it ads or data, we pay for everything we use. Sometimes it’s not clear how we’re paying- at that, I think, can be the most scary option.

I’m not going that route. I’m going to be transparent. I am charging an up-front fee, payed by the month. For this, I will provide a weekly(ish) newsletter full of the very best links and thoughts related to education. There will be no ads. There will be no solicitations. There will only be awesome.

Each newsletter will keep a theme- and I’ll pack as much into that as I can. But realize this: I’ve called this “Experimental Education” for a reason. Much of what I’m writing about isn’t triggered by education articles- I don’t think it’s the fertile ground for new ideas. So don’t be surprised to see things start off with an article about graffiti in the UK. Or the genetics of narcasistic personality disorder. Or something stranger.

I can only promise this: I will do my best to provide the most fertile ground of ideas I can.

Let’s do this thing.

 

Premium?

I’m thinking about a new project for myself.

There’s a lot of content that I create- I try to keep re-blogging here to a minimum, and leave it for specific cases that I believe warrant it: Required Viewing and Research posts. Even still, there’s a lot of good content that I create and find that doesn’t make it’s way onto this page- maybe it’s spread across the other platforms I use, maybe it goes into one of my notebooks, maybe it’s left in the back of my brain. I’ve been looking for a better outlet for that data.

I made the deliberate choice a few years ago (around the time I started tweeting) to not spend much of my time aggregating information publicly. I viewed my role primarily as a creator of entirely new content. What’s been a little tough is that I’m prone to personal aggregation, and it can be frustrating to not share some of my best finds.

To that end, I’m looking into some options for producing a subscription-based “premium” feed from me. It’d include the content here (as a matter of convenience for readers, primarily), though I’d be expanding somewhat from my normally short-form writing in some cases. In addition, I’d be cherry-picking the very best of my finds and including them- a sort of ongoing annotated bibliography of what I’ve found. While the blog posts would share some of their content with my blog, what you will be able to read here will serve as a jumping off point for the content of this new project. It’s the stuff I couldn’t/wouldn’t post here. It’s the reasoning behind (and the thinking about) the Research List, instead of just the list of the links. It’s a closer look inside and. It’s less filtered and more experimental, and if you’re itching for more new ideas and sources of inspiration, it’s where you’ll find them.

What I’m not sure about is where to host it, and what to charge for such access. This represents a significant investment of time and resources for me, and I can’t offer this publicly. I have limited time, and where I spend time impacts other aspects of my life. There isn’t much in the way of “free time” for me, and as much as I’d like to offer this all free to everyone, those hours cost me.

I’m looking at the possibility of an iTunes-based magazine model, but I’m never sure about the intricacies of that. I’d rather stay device agnostic for something like this, though I’d like some ability to format and include some small amount of media in these releases. HappyLetter is a neat possibility, but I’m unsure about the formatting options it offers. I’m looking at weekly releases right now, and I think it’s unlikely that I’d go any more often than that- but I want each issue to be full and not have any fluff- and that may mean that every two weeks becomes more reasonable.

I dunno. I worry there’s not enough of an audience to justify the time and money. This blog doesn’t exactly generate massive view numbers (to say the least…), and I can’t write a magazine once a week for three people. I suppose it’s possible I won’t due this at all- though I’d like to, as I genuinely think it’d be a useful resource for progressive educators.