Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pirates Online

Avast, me hearties! International Talk Like A Pirate Day, September 19, is a wonderful way to introduce your kids to some colorful figures from history. will be the sixth an event your family will love celebrating. Started by John “Ol’ Chumbucket” Baur and Mark “Cap’n Slappy” Summers as a private joke, TLAPD has been celebrated around the world since 2002, when humor writer Dave Barry brought the holiday to the world’s attention. But if you need a little pirate prep before you don the eyepatch and hook, sail over to some of these Web sites:

Baur and Summers’ International Talk Like A Pirate Day site is a treasure trove of piratical fun and information. Although some humor leans towards the risqué, there’s a special section for Junior Pirates which includes a links page, lists of children’s books and even ideas for Pirate Math, Pirate Geography and more. You’ll also uncover links to pirate songs, art, videos, games, festivals and expeditions. Learn to parlay like a pro with the English-to-Pirate translators, and or use one of the Pirate Name Generator to discover your alter ego. The questionnaire at is my favorite.

Mark Summers ("Cap'n Slappy") and Jo...Pirate Guys Baur and Summers
If the end of the Pirates of the Caribbean series left you clamoring for more of Captain Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl, Disney has a free online “massively-multiplayer” game that lets you forge alliances, hunt for buried treasure, battle evil undead forces, and use cunning and strategy to outwit your foes. With the Sony online version of the Pirates Constructible Strategy Game (which sadly is no longer in stores). You can hear the roar of cannon fire and the crash of waves in 3-D and challenge privateers from across the globe as you amass wealth and fame.

Pirate history is fascinating, and the National Geographic Kids online high seas adventure is a game that also tells you about actual people and events. For more true tales, the New England Pirate Museum has educational articles on pirate lore such as the "Articles of Agreement" able-bodied prisoners signed to become pirates themselves. Rules were harsh: “If robbery took place between two crewmen, the guilty one had his nose and ears split and would be marooned.”
“Real Pirates” is the name of a traveling exhibit from the Expedition Whydah Sea-Lab & Learning Center in Provincetown. More than 100,000 artifacts have been recovered so far from the slave ship-turned-pirate vessel which sank off Wellfleet in 1717.

What to serve your hungry crew on Talk Like a Pirate Day? The Seattle Seafair Pirates’ recipe for Salmagundi (the traditional pirate stew) calls for corned beef, anchovies, goat, pickled vegetables, and dried mango and begins “Hack meat into gobbets.” I use what I have around, but it still comes out great. Yo ho ho and a bottle of ginger ale!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Robots (January 2007)

UPDATE: Learn about miniature robots at the NISE nanoscience website.

With self-guided machines roving across Mars, exploring deep inside the Pyramids, serving as advance scouts for military operations, and vacuuming our floors, you could say the robot revolution has arrived. In the Jan 2007 issue of Scientific American on the “Dawn of the Age of Robots,” Microsoft founder Bill Gates pointed out parallels between the start of the personal computer boom and the robotics industry today, and predicted a future in which the devices will become as common and useful as laptops. Will robots improve life for humankind? Or will the artificial intelligences try to take over the world, as they do in so many books and movies? For now it’s hard to say, but one thing is certain: exploring the world of robots online is highly educational – and buckets of fun.
For all the robot websites out there, it’s hard to find one that sums up all the information to be had (and that keeps its links page up to date). But for junior roboticists, a good place to start is the NASA Robotics Alliance Project. It has news about robots in space and other settings, information on school competitions like FIRST, and even archives of online courses. Another site to try is, a news blog that is updated regularly with links to stories of interest to robot geeks. Robot Magazine has one of the better links pages, which can take you to the sites of companies like WowWee, maker of Robosapien, Roboraptor and that creepy chimp head and iRobot, whose Roomba and Scooba floor cleaning robots are beloved by hackers who reprogram them to dance and sing. (In 2007, the company came out with iRobot Create, a pre-assembled programmable robot base for students and "serious robot developers" to personalize.) And Robot Cafe is a directory of robot sites for the home robot builder.
The history of robots goes back at least to the Victorian era and Boilerplate, a mechanical man, the hit of the 1893 World’s Exposition. While the Czech playwright Karel Capek first used the word “robot” in 1921, the father of modern robots – both fictional and real life – is generally considered to be the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. His story collection I, Robot was the basis for the Will Smith action film (which until recently had a nifty website tie-in that let you “order” your own model in the colors of your choice). But you can still design your own robot on the website of the Museum of Science in Boston. The site of a traveling exhibit which made a stop there a few years back is Robots and Us, with fun activities that show how robots can move, analyze and even show emotion.
ASIMO, the little humanoid corporate ambassador for the Honda Motor Co., has concluded his tour of the US and settled into a new gig at Disneyland, where he demonstrates what the future of home robots may look like. ASIMO’s development over the past 20 years, including most recently released version, which can run at 4 mph, are detailed on the Honda website. But for many of us the first robots we probably ever saw were toys. Before Robosapiens, Aibo, and Furbys became household names, kids had to play with tin or plastic toy robots that didn’t really do anything – but they loved them anyway. The site Jeff’s Robots has a neat gallery of one (former) boy’s collection, robot art from comic books to sculpture, and info on famous robots from TV and movies.
Yes, robots are our friends, but even robotics experts can get paranoid sometimes. Daniel H. Wilson, Popular Mechanics’ online Resident Roboticist, is also author of How to Survive a Robot Uprising, a guide to protecting the species from annihilation. (Among the useful tips for spotting a rebellious robot servant: “Run for your reinforced-steel panic room if your servant disobeys you, even if it does so in a very polite manner.”) But it’s important to know whether your robot is really hostile: “Your robo-vacuum may be bumping into your feet in a malevolent attempt to kill you – or just trying to snuggle.” In other words, Bill Gates is probably right ... but it never hurts to be prepared.

UPDATE: There are a lot of robot-related computer programming sites for kids. They include Logo, Robocode, and Guido van Robot.