Scott Hanselman

The 2018 Christmas List of Best STEM Toys for Kids

November 28, '18 Comments [11] Posted in Reviews
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Hey friends! This is my FIFTH year doing a list of Great STEM Christmas Toys for Kids! Can you believe it? In case you missed them, here's the previous years' lists! Be aware I use Amazon referral links so I get a little kickback (and you support this blog!) when you use these links. I'll be using the pocket money to...wait for it...buy STEM toys for kids! So thanks in advance!

OK, let's do it!

littleBits

I've always liked littleBits but when they first came out I thought they were expensive and didn't include enough stuff. Fast forward and littleBits have dropped in price and built a whole ecosystem of littleBits that work together. This year the most fun is the littleBits Marvel Avengers Inventor Kit. At the time of this writing, this kit is 33% off at Amazon. You can built your own Iron Man (or Ironheart!) gauntlet and load it up with littleBits that can do whatever you'd like. One particularly cool thing included is an LED Matrix that you can address directly by writing code with the iOS or Android app.

littleBits Marvel Avengers Inventor Kit

Kano - Computer Kit and Wand

Both my kids love the Kano Computer Kit, now updated for 2018. It's a complete Raspberry Pi 3 kit that includes the keyboard, mouse, case, LED lights, and everything you'd need to build a Pi. This year they've branched out to the Kano Happy Potter Coding Kit that you can use to build a wand and learn to code. The "wand" is a custom PCB with codeable LEDs, buttons, and batteries that the kids put inside a wand. The wand is Bluetooth and includes lots of tech like an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, and a vibrating rumble pack. All of this tech is controllable with laptops or smart devices and code with JavaScript.

Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit and Wand

UbTech JIMU Robot - Unicornbot Kit

UbTech has a whole series of Technics-style Robot kits. There's the usual tanks and cars, but there's also some more creative and "out there" ones like this 400-piece Unicorn Robot. It includes color sensors, server motors, a DC motor, and a light up horn. It's also codeable/controllable via an iOS or Android app. Very cool!

I'd really like their Lynx Alexa controllable walking robot but it's way out of my price range. Still fun to check out though!

Unicornbot

Erector by Meccano Kits

We've found these Erector by Meccano Kits to be inexpensive and well-built. The 25-in-1 kit is great and includes a container and over 600 pieces. I like these metal kits because they feel like the ones I had in my childhood. Kids learn how to use motors, pulleys, and other explore functional motion.

Erector Set

Osmo Genius Kit for iPad

The Osmo Genius is quite clever and based on one deceptively simple idea - what if the iPad camera faced downward and could see the table in front of the child? It came with a base and a reflector that directs the front-facing camera downwards. Then the educational games are written to see what's happening on the table and provide near-instant feedback. You can start with the base kit and later optionally add kits and games.

Osmo Genius Kit for iPad

Elenco 130-in-1 Electronic Playground and Learning Center

I like classic toys and while toys with bluetooth and fancy features are cool, I want to balance it out with the classics that let you explore the physical world. These also tend to be more affordable as well.

I really like this classic electronic trainer with 130 experiments like an AM broadcast station, Electronic Organ, LED strobe light, Timer, Logic Circuits and much, much more. The 50-in-One version is just $16! Frankly all the Elenco products are fantastic.

image

Piper Computer Kit (2018 Edition)

I had this on the list last year but my kids still love it. We have the 2016 kit and it's been updated for 2018.

The Piper is a little spendy at first glance, but it's EXTREMELY complete and very thoughtfully created. Sure, you can just get a Raspberry Pi and hack on it - but the Piper is not just a Pi. It's a complete kit where your little one builds their own wooden "laptop" box (more of a luggable), and then starting with just a single button, builds up the computer. The Minecraft content isn't just vanilla Microsoft. It's custom episodic content! Custom voice overs, episodes, and challenges.

What's genius about Piper, though, is how the software world interacts with the hardware. For example, at one point you're looking for treasure on a Minecraft beach. The Piper suggests you need a treasure detector, so you learn about wiring and LEDs and wire up a treasure detector LED while it's running. Then you run your Minecraft person around while the LED blinks faster to detect treasure. It's absolute genius. Definitely a favorite in our house for the 8-12 year old set.

Piper Raspberry Pi Kit

I hope you have a great holiday season!

FYI: These Amazon links are referral links. When you use them I get a tiny percentage. It adds up to taco money for me and the kids! I appreciate you - and you appreciate me-  when you use these links to buy stuff.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Surface Book 2 Developer Impressions and the Magic of USB-C

February 15, '18 Comments [27] Posted in Reviews
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Surface Book 2 15"I recently got a updated laptop for work, a 15" Surface Book 2. It's quickly become my go-to machine, and I'm often finding myself using it more than my main desktop machine.

I considered myself reasonably familiar with the Surface product line as I bought a Surface Pro 3 a few years back for myself (not a work machine), but I am genuinely impressed with this Surface Book 2 - and that surprised me.

Here's a random list of a tips, tricks, things I didn't realize, and general feelings about the 15" Surface Book 2.

15" is a NICE size

After years of "Ultrabooks" I missed an actual high-powered desktop replacement laptop. It's just 4.2 lbs and it doesn't feel unwieldy at all.

There are TWO Surface Connect ports

Legit had no idea. You can charge and dock the tablet part alone.

There's a full sized SD card reader and a 3.5mm headphone jack

Which sadly is more than I can say for my iPhone 8+.

Having a 15" screen again makes me wonder how you 11" MacBook Air people can even concentrate.

3240 x 2160, (260 PPI) is a weird resolution to be sure, but it's a hell of a lot of pixels. It's a 15" retina display. 

The high resolution issues in Windows are 90% handled IMHO

I wrote about how running any DPI greater than 96dpi on Windows has historically sucked back in 2014, but literally every little Windows Update and Office update improves it. Only the oldest apps I run have any real issues. Even WinForms has been updated to support HighDPI so I have zero HighDPI issues in my daily life in 2018.

More RAM is always nice, but 16 gigs is today's sweet spot.

I have had zero RAM issues, and I'm running Kubernetes and lots of Docker containers along size VS, VS Code, Outlook, Office, Edge, Chrome, etc. Not one memory issue.

3.84 GHz or more

Battery Life and Management is WAY better

Power Mode SliderBattery Life on my Surface Pro 3 was "fine." You know? Fine. It wasn't amazing. Maybe 4-6 hours depending. However, the new Battery Slider on Windows 10 Creators Edition really makes simple and measurable difference. You can see the CPU GHz and brightness ratchet up and down. I set it to Best battery life and it'll go 8+ hours easy. CPU will hang out around 0.85 GHz and I can type all day at 40% brightness. Then I want to compile, I pull it up to bursts of 3.95 Ghz and take care of business.

HD Camera FTW

Having a 1080p front facing camera makes Skype/Zoom/etc calls excellent. I even used the default Camera app today during an on-stage presentation and someone later commented on how clear the camera was.

USB-C - I didn't believe it, but it's really a useful thing

Honestly, I wasn't feeling the hype around USB-C "one connector to rule them all," but today I was going to pull out some HDMI and Ethernet dongles here at the Webstock Conferences in New Zealand and they mentioned that all day they'd been using a Dell USB-C dock. I plugged in one cable - I didn't even use my Surface Power Brick - and got HDMI, a USB hub, Ethernet *and* power going back into the SurfaceBook. I think a solution like this will/should become standard for conferences. It was absolutely brilliant.

I have read some about concerns about charging the Surface Book 2 (and other laptops with USB-C) and there's a reddit thread with some detail. The follow says the Apple USB-C charger he bought charges the SurfaceBook at 72% of the speed of the primary charger. My takeaway is, ok, the included charger will always charge fastest, but this work not only work in a pinch, but it's a perfectly reasonable desk-bound or presenter solution. Just as my iPhone will charge - slowly - with aftermarket USB chargers. If you're interested in the gritty details, you can read about a conversation  that the Surface has with an Apple Charger over USB as they negotiate how much power to give and take. Nutshell, USB-C chargers that can do 60W will work but 90+W are ideal - and the Dell Dock handles this well which makes it a great flexible solution for conferences.

Also worth pointing out that there wasn't any perceptible "driver install" step. I got all the Dell Dock's benefits just by plugging it in at the conference. Note that I use a Surface Dock (the original/only one?) at home. In fact, the same Surface Dock I got for my personal Surface Pro 3 is in use by my new Surface Book 2. Presumably it doesn't output the full 95W that the Surface Book 2 can use, but in daily 10+ hour use it's been a non issue. There's articles about how you can theoretically drain a Surface Book 2's batteries if you're using more power than it's getting from a power supply, but I haven't had that level of sustained power usage. Haven't needed to give it a thought.

The i7 has a NVidia 1060 with 6 gigs of RAM, so you can install GeForce and run apps on the Discrete GPU

You can go in and control which apps run on which GPU (for power savings, or graphical power) or you can right click an app and Run on NVidia.

You can control which GPU on a program by program basis

or right click any app:

Right Click | Run with Graphics Processor

It has an Xbox Wireless Adapter built in

I got this for work, so it's not a gaming machine...BUT it's got that NVidia 1060 GPU and I just discovered there's an Xbox Wireless Adapter built-in. I thought this was just Bluetooth, but it's some magical low-latency thing. You can buy the $25 USB Xbox Wireless Adapter for your PC and use all your Xbox controllers with it - BUT it's built-in, so handled. What this means for me as a road warrior is that I can throw an Xbox Controller into my bag and play Xbox Play Anywhere games in my hotel.

Conclusion

All in all, I've had no issues with the Surface Book 2, given I stay on the released software (no Windows 10 Insiders Fast on this machine). It runs 2 external monitors (3 if you count its 15" display) and both compiles fast and plays games well.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Everyone should get a Dashcam

February 5, '18 Comments [33] Posted in Reviews
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A clean dashcam installationI've put Dashcams in both my car and my wife's car. It's already captured two accidents: one where I was rear-ended and one where someone fell asleep as they were driving a few cars ahead of me on the freeway.

After these two experiences, I will never drive a car without a dashcam again. Case in point - being rear-ended. I was at a red light, it turned green, and as I accelerated I got nailed from behind, pushing me into the intersection. The gent jumped out and started yelling and waving his arms, saying I backed up (!), and I said, "I'm sorry, but I've got a dashcam both front and back." He got really quiet, and then we exchanged information. When I called the insurance company on Monday and told them I had not only Dashcam footage but that the cam recorded date and time, gps coordinates, speed and 1080p video both front and back, including the face and license plate of the other driver...I had a check that Thursday afternoon.

I was driving at night on I5 from Seattle to Portland and noticed a truck two or three (long) car lengths ahead of me start to drift, drift, drift off to the side...and then suddenly jerk hard to the left, cross all lanes of traffic and slam into the median in a shower of sparks and eventually balance on top of the center median. While I wasn't involved in the accident, I pulled over and dropbox'ed the video to the cops right there. The officer on duty said that dashcam footage made things 100% easier.

A cropped and somewhat compressed version of this video is embedded below, and also linked here. Now, it was late at night and I've cropped it, but you can see the car get "sleepy" and slowly float across all lanes to the right, hit the right side, then overcompensate and hit the center. This contradicted the driver's statement that he was hit by another car.

Disclaimer: This is older DR650 footage in the dead of night that's been cropped to remove identifying info. Check out this example Dashcam footage of a DR750 for a better sense of what to expect.

411gAnMBbaLI've put Blackvue Dashcams in both our cars. I put a Blackvue DR750S-2CH with Power Magic in car. A PowerMagic will power the dashcam while the car is parked, and catch anything that happens even if the car is off, and it will shut off if it detects that it's in any way discharging the 12V battery below a set voltage. I like the DR750 because it's 60fps 1080p on the front, and it can optionally buffer the video to memory so it's not beating on the SD card and shortening its life. It also has g-force and impact sensors, so as you get in the car it'll say (literally speak) "an impact was detected while in parking mode."

My wife didn't care about these more advanced features so she got the Blackvue DR650S-2CH. It's last year's model but still does 1080p front and back. There's a main wire that handles power for the main unit (either from a 9V cigarette lighter or the PowerMagic), then there's a long, long wire that you'll fish though the plastic panels of your car that will power and run the back camera.

It only took about two hours for me to install the camera, per car, and installation consisted mostly of hiding wires in the existing plastic panels and pushing the wires out of sight. The final look is very sanitary and requires zero maintenance.

The camera has wifi built-in and there's a free app to download. You connect your phone (whenever necessary) to the camera's wifi and download videos as needed. That's why it was super easy for me to Dropbox the footage without connecting to a PC. That said, there are Blackvue desktop apps that will show you maps with your position and speed and allow you to stitch footage together. You can also stamp date, time, speed, and custom text to the footage so it's embedded in the resulting MP4s.

I've had zero issues with my dashcams, and as I said, I'm sold. It's a no-brainer and frankly, it should be built into every car. I'll be installing a dashcam in whatever car my soon-to-be teenager drives, count on it.

Maybe you won't get into an accident (hopefully!) but you could catch a meteor on your dashcam!

* I use Amazon links to products. When you use them, you're supporting this blog! Thanks!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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How to set up a 10" Touchscreen LCD for Raspberry Pi

December 21, '17 Comments [4] Posted in Reviews
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HDMI TouchScreenI'm a big fan of the SunFounder tech kits (https://www.sunfounder.com), and my kids and I have built several Raspberry Pi projects with their module/sensor kits. This holiday vacation we have two project we're doing, that coincidentally use SunFounder parts. The first is the Model Car Kit that uses a Raspberry Pi to control DC motors AND (love this part) a USB camera. So it's not just a "drive the car around" project, it also can include computer vision. My son wants to teach it to search the house for LEGO bricks and alert an adult so they'll not step on it. We were thinking to have the car call out to Azure Cognitive Services, as their free tier has more than enough power for what we need.

For this afternoon, we are taking a 10.1" Touchscreen display and adding it to a Raspberry Pi. I like this screen because it works on pretty much anything that has HDMI, but it's got mounting holes on the back for any Raspberry Pi or a LattePanda or Beagle Bone. You can also use it for basically anything that can output HDMI, so it can be a small portable monitor/display for Android or iOS. It has 10 finger multitouch which is fab. The instructions aren't linked to from their product page, but I found them on their Wiki.

There are a lot of small LCDs you can get for a Pi project, from little 5" screens (for about $35) all the way up to this 10" one I'm using here. If you're going to mount your project on a wall or 3D print a box, a screen adds a lot. It's also a good way to teach kids about embedded systems. When my 10 year old saw the 5" screen and what it could do, he realized that the thermostat on the wall and/or the microwave ovens were embedded systems. Now he assumes every appliance is powered by a Raspberry Pi!

Sunfounder Controller board AND Raspberry Pi Mounted to the 10.1" Touchscreen Booting Windows 10 on a Raspberry Pi for no reason

Take a look at the pic at the top right of this post. That's not a Raspberry Pi, that's

the included controller board that interfaces with your tiny computer. It's include with the LCD package. That controller board also has an included power adapter that points out 12V at 1500Ma which allows it to also power the Pi itself. That means you can power the whole thing with a single power adapter.

There's also an optional touchscreen "matchbox" keyboard package you can install to get an on-screen visual keyboard. However, when I'm initially setting up a Raspberry Pi or I'm taking a few Pis on the road for demos and working in hotels, I through this little $11 keyboard/mouse combo in my bag. It's great for quick initial setup of a Raspberry Pi that isn't yet on the network.

Matchbox Touchscreen Keyboard

Once you've installed matchbox-keyboard you'll find it under MainMenu, Accessories, Keyboard. Works great!

* This post includes some referral links to Amazon.com. When you use these links, you not only support my blog, but you send a few cents/dollars my way that I use to pay for hosting and buy more gadgets like these! Thanks! Also, I have no relationship with SunFounder but I really like their stuff. Check out their site.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The 2017 Christmas List of Best STEM Toys for kids

December 9, '17 Comments [14] Posted in Reviews
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In 2016 and 2015 I made a list of best Christmas STEM Toys for kids! If I may say so, they are still good lists today, so do check them out. Be aware I use Amazon referral links so I get a little kickback (and you support this blog!) when you use these links. I'll be using the pocket money to...wait for it...buy STEM toys for kids! So thanks in advance!

Here's a Christmas List of things that I've either personally purchased, tried for a time, or borrowed from a friend. These are great toys and products for kids of all genders and people of all ages.

Piper Computer Kit with Minecraft Raspberry Pi edition

The Piper is a little spendy at first glance, but it's EXTREMELY complete and very thoughtfully created. Sure, you can just get a Raspberry Pi and hack on it - but the Piper is not just a Pi. It's a complete kit where your little one builds their own wooden "laptop" box (more of a luggable), and then starting with just a single button, builds up the computer. The Minecraft content isn't just vanilla Microsoft. It's custom episodic content! Custom voice overs, episodes, and challenges.

What's genius about Piper, though, is how the software world interacts with the hardware. For example, at one point you're looking for treasure on a Minecraft beach. The Piper suggests you need a treasure detector, so you learn about wiring and LEDs and wire up a treasure detector LED while it's running. Then you run your Minecraft person around while the LED blinks faster to detect treasure. It's absolute genius. Definitely a favorite in our house for the 8-12 year old set.

Piper Raspberry Pi Kit

Suspend! by Melissa and Doug

Suspend is becoming the new Jenga for my kids. The game doesn't look like much if you judge a book by its cover, but it's addictive and my kids now want to buy a second one to see if they can build even higher. An excellent addition to family game night.

Suspend! by Melissa and Doug

Engino Discovering Stem: Levers, Linkages & Structures Building Kit

I love LEGO but I'm always trying new building kids. Engino is reminiscent of Technics or some of the advanced LEGO elements, but this modestly priced kit is far more focused - even suitable for incorporating into home schooling.

Engino Discovering Stem: Levers, Linkages & Structures Building Kit

Gravity Maze

I've always wanted a 3D Chess Set. Barring that, check out Gravity Maze. It's almost like a physical version of a well-designed iPad game. It included 60 challenges (levels) that you then add pieces to in order to solve. It gets harder than you'd think, fast! If you like this, also check out Circuit Maze.

818Ly6yML

Osmo Genius Kit (2017)

Osmo is an iPad add-on that takes the ingenious idea of an adapter that lets your iPad see the tabletop (via a mirror/lens) and then builds on that clever concept with a whole series of games, exercises, and core subject tests. It's best for the under 12 set - I'd say it's ideal for about 6-8 year olds.

81iVPligcyL


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.