STEAM Carnival by brent

I'm thrilled to report that we've launched a high-tech carnival to inspire kids about science, technology, engineering, art, and math! It's called the STEAM Carnival and we're launching it using Kickstarter to raise initial funds and generate awareness. You can see our campaign here.

Please support our Kickstarter today and tell all your friends!

Thank you!

Update: The response has been tremendous and the press responded well too! The wonderful folks at GOOD were kind enough to publish an article here. We've also been covered in: VentureBeat, USA Today, All Things D, Time, NBC's Nightly Business Review (around minute 11:30), Techcrunch, Mashable, SingularityHub, SparkFun, Mtv, Read Write Web, SFGate, myFOXla, Huffington Post, The Next Web, IEEE Spectrum, LA Weekly, TechZulu, LA Business Journal, SoCal Tech, Geekmom, InsideHook, CNET, I Programmer, RISD News, Patch and The Real Stan Lee!

We were fortunate enough to present the carnival on stage at the 11th All Things D conference! You can see the video of our presentation here and the KatieCam post-show interview here

We just got back from Jason Calacanis' Launch Edu conference and I'm thrilled to report we won the Best Presentation award, the Audience Choice Award and (pending due diligence) Launch wants to invest! Woohoo! More details are here. EdSurge covered the event here.

Here's our intro video:

My Xmas List Gift ideas for kids by brent

Some friends asked for holiday gifts for kids, so I figured I'd post here in case others found it useful.
For the budding electronics hacker: Little Bits are a sure win. MakeyMakey is also a lot of fun allowing ordinary objects to easily be turned into inputs on your computer.
For tactile play and an open API to make your own games (in Python!), check out Sifteo
For crafty building with cardboard and other household materials use Makedo. If you need hardware with more permanence, check out the "Legos for adults" by Makeblock
For early experimenting with robots a Thymio is a good start.
For the aspiring drone operator, a Turnigy quadcopter is a solid low cost solution. But you can also print your own quadcopter chassis and then make your own quadcopter.
Other solid fun is available from the folks at Makie Lab where you can design your own doll. There's also My Robot Nation where you can design your very own toy robot, Mixee Me where you can make your own figure and Figure Prints where you can have your Minecraft designs printed.
And for more fun, go to Fat Brain Toys!

Getting kids interested in STEM by brent

For the past few months I've been mentoring kids and presenting to classrooms on how fun it can be to work as an engineer. Earlier this year I took on an apprentice via the Spark program. For 10 weeks, Alex, a 13 year old from East LA, came to our shop and we programmed games together. In no time we had Pong and Breakout clones. We learned the limitations of Scratch (e.g. no programmatic creation of sprites) but it didn't matter, Scratch is an amazing tool for teaching kids how to program. Its all-in-one nature makes it easy for anyone to pickup. Next we started on PacMan. This proved much more difficult given the boundary detection and the logic of the ghosts. Alex did a great job and the whole experience taught me a lot about how to teach programming. I highly recommend this experience to any professional. Spark will hook you up with a kid who wants to go into your field and there is almost no substitute for direct mentorship.
NFTE is another great program that pairs professionals with kids wanting to start their own businesses. They provide opportunities to coach kids on business plans, present to them on steps to launch their project and many more! The time commitment is less than Spark and really great.
Tools to learn how to program MIT's Scratch: Cross platform tool that makes programming easy Codecademy: Easy to follow, online lessons PeepCode: Programming tutorial screencasts Drawbot: Mac OSX tool to to teach Python
Tools to learn electronics Modkit: A Scratch-like interface that makes it easy to program microcontrollers (specifically Arduino) LittleBits: A LEGO-like construction set to make simple electronics interactions
Resources for Robots FIRST: Middle and high school robot competitions Thymio: Small robot for teaching
Other interesting resources Institute of Play: A group dedicated to helping kids learn GameDesk: An organization using game play and game mechanics to rethink education Gamestar Mechanic: A tool that simplifies building your own games

Extreme Makeover: Home Edition by brent

After a decade in Los Angeles, "the industry" seems to have finally got its hooks in. Eric Gradman, Dan Busby and I were cast this year representing Syyn Labs as the new on-camera technology designers! We worked with Ty, Paige, Jillian, Ed, Johnny, Michael and the rest of the EMHE team to create custom inventions for each family. Our episodes start airing on ABC Sunday, October 16th!
Episodes to date:

Update: We got a mention in Variety! [nggallery id=27]

Google Science Fair by brent

Google has just launched a global science fair initiative to help encourage young kids to get involved with science and engineering. Syyn Labs spent the last few months helping to create some of the promotional materials for the campaign including a Rube Goldberg Machine made out of science projects (embedded below) and an RGM that was executed live today at the launch! It completed without a hitch so we can all rest easy now.
Tell a kid you know about the science fair!
My contributions were the laser table, the Lego hands typing on the computer and the low voltage electronics and programming for the live machine. Thanks to Adam Sadowsky for Lego hand programming, Jeanette Weinstein for Lego finger making and Adam Croston for Lego hand enhancements.
The live event video is here.

Notes on visiting China by brent

I've taken a few trips to China these past few years and have some favorites and tricks to share. This post is a work in progress.
Always get the business card of your hotel. The language is difficult and worst case you can just give your taxi driver the card to get you home.
China is a place where their food is so much better than it is in the states. Almost all Chinese food in the states is Cantonese, but there are so many other styles, some of my favorites include Hunan, Szechuan, Shanxi, and Yunnan. See a more complete list on Wikipedia
The great Chinese internet firewall blocks YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and randomly other things. The firefox plugin Cocoon is a nice way around it. So is Tor but it's a little slow. Be sure to download the list of bridges ahead of time.
Bring an unlocked GSM phone. A China Mobile card will run you $15 to have a number for a year.
Find places to go on MobileNative. You can browse in English and have your destination SMS'd to your phone in Chinese.
Beijing: Best dumplings ever: Bao Yuan in Chaoyang
Fubar: speakeasy behind Stadium Dog
Middle 8th: amazing Yunnan food

The Biggest Trackball by brent

After unending frustration calibrating an FTIR multitouch device Eric and I decided to take a different tack for a navigation game we were building. We took his giant circus ball and mounted it on casters, then pushed an optical mouse up against the bottom of it and voila! a giant trackball. So simple, but the increased size makes navigating gigapixel images much more fun than sitting at your computer. We paired the device with a few jumbo Happ Control buttons and a large projection to let players navigate around huge images. Thanks to the folks at Gigapan for use of some of their super high quality images!YouTube video [nggallery id=26]

DieHard commercials by brent

The Syyn Labs team had a good time helping DieHard batteries, Young & Rubicam, James Frost & Zoo Films with their latest commercials. In one video we obliterated a battery with an elephant gun and it still started a car! In the second, we turned 24 white and black cars into a huge piano controlled by a MIDI keyboard. Gary Numan played his song Cars on it, and the whole thing was powered by a single battery! The piano is embedded below and visit YouTube for the Elephant Gun.
Update: the video was covered by NY Times, Wired, BoingBoing, Make and Gizmodo!

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ArtWalk Spring '10 by brent

The Spring 2010 Brewery Artwalk will be taking place in downtown Los Angeles the weekend of 4/17/10-4/18/10. Artists will have their lofts open from 11am-6pm both days. If you haven't been, the event is a blast and a fun way to see much of the eclectic offerings of the Brewery residents.
Virsix will be open to the public too, but with a much more serious purpose. Finally revealing ourselves as the Virsix Institute of Counter Espionage (V.I.C.E.) we are dedicated to neutralizing current global threats without the restrictions of government intervention. We'll be evaluating the weekend's attendees, looking for the most promising new recruits. Do you have what it takes to join our ranks? The world needs you. Visit our location to learn more.

OK Go Rube Goldberg Music Video by brent

The minds (and bodies) of Syyn Labs spent the past three months building a huge, two-story Rube Goldberg machine during which a piano gets dropped and a TV is smashed with a sledge hammer. Why? It's the centerpiece for the latest music video from the band OK Go (remember... the guys who did the treadmill video). It features the song "This Too Shall Pass" and even after listening to it hundreds of times, it still sounds good!

Huge thanks to the band for this opportunity and to all the Syyn Labs and Mindshare folks that helped pull this together. Special recognition to Adam Sadowsky for orchestrating the whole thing like a pro conductor. Thanks to all the people that helped make my vision for the Legos a reality! Namely: Dylan Bushnell, Heather Knight, Liya Brook, Paul Grasshoff, Peter Svidler, Izumi Hamagaki, Wyatt Bushnell, Sam Leventer, and Mahdroo McCaleb. Hats off to the steady camera man, a major hero for his ability to capture this on film! Thanks to the magical eye of Josh Reiss for capturing photos of the whole thing too!

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UCLA Hammer Museum by brent

Tyler Bushnell and I spent Saturday at a party at the UCLA Hammer Museum in Westwood. We were slated to bring our Laser Maze but the fire marshall thought the particulates in the fog machine would anger the smoke detectors. We fell back to bringing the party table and 3D game. Despite the setback, I must say the attendees had a ball! There were some great other pieces onsite including a not-so-subtle twist on Rodin's Thinker. [nggallery id=20]

Puck Hunt by brent

Eric Gradman, Tyler Bushnell, and I have been collaborating on a platform for social gaming that uses a handheld wireless RFID reader and a bunch of RFID tags scattered around a venue. We tested an early prototype at the H+ conference the beginning of December and will bring the next revision to Mindshare this week. My favorite aspect is the flexibility. The number of sensors and outputs we put on the puck allows for a broad array of possible games including various scavenger hunts, puzzles and competitions. A video and more technical breakdown is available here.
Update: We were covered on Makezine, Hackaday and Engadget! [nggallery id=19]

ArtWalk Fall '09 by brent

Wow! What a weekend. The Virsix showroom was alive and packed during the biannual Brewery ArtWalk. We had five of our games available and people ages 5 to 70 competing away! Players tested their cat burgling skills in the Laser Maze, avoided traffic in our foot tracking Frogger-style game, contorted their body for human Tetris, and even flew around the galaxy in a space battle. Thanks to all involved for their help putting this on, especially the guys at H2P for a marvelous job filming. [nggallery id=18]

Modular Truss Solutions by brent

I've been on the hunt for a truss solution that could be easily reconfigured for different applications. It turns out the options are not immediately apparent, but with a little searching there are some gems. Here are the results of my research thus far:

Thanks to Troy, Richard and Eric for suggestions.

Party Table by brent

The party table has been a pet project and passion of mine for a few years now. It's a six player game table that consists of a screen (either LCD or projection) surrounded by trackballs and arcade buttons. The device is more of a game platform than just another arcade unit. So far, it has a few simple games including a 6 player ping-pong, a light cycle game similar to Tron, and a game where players race through a maze. A bunch of other games are in the development pipeline including a race car game, a tank defense game and shuffleboard. An important aspect of the unit is that it accommodates 6 players. Six is an interesting number socially. People will usually go out to bars and restaurants in groups of 2-4 so a game that allows 6 players usually means that the players are meeting someone new around the table. Stimulating social interaction and making new friends is a focal point of the table. [nggallery id=14]