• Kano Computer Kit – If kids can put together Legos, then why not a whole computer?

    Confession: I know nothing – NOTHING – about coding. I'm still stuck in the glory days of the "if/thens" of my original Apple IIe, circa 1983. And I barely knew how to do anything past whatever I copied verbatim from Byte. I never got that right either. I don't think. Ever. I remember staying up all night to do a Thundercats hi-res game. Tried to run it at 4am. Nothing. No Lion-O, no Cheetarah, no Snarf… NOTHING. Thus began a life of failure. BUT. I did not want my kids to suffer that same fate. Especially because it is now a presidential mandate that all kids must learn to code. And code they shall.

    Kano is built on a simple idea: If kids can piece together Legos, then why not a whole computer? So they not only have a tactile experience in the building of the thing, but more importantly, they take ownership. Have a hands on experiece with their computer, and know it inside and out. My kids opened the cleverly packaged Kano box and had their machines up and running in about 45 minutes. The directions are sort of similar to Lego directions. Very simple, very easy to understand, and I'll be damned… these boys, ages 7 and 9, were coding within the hour.

    The computer itself comes with a Rasberry Pi brain, all the necessary cables, a keyboard, instructions and stickers to personalize the experience. It comes loaded with a bunch of different apps: Minecraft, Scratch, hack old school Pong, hack Snake, and many other great things, all with an eye towards hacking, coding and exploring. As I've said, I'm new to this, but the "come see this, Dada!" echoes that emmanate from their room is pretty incredible, and the stuff they're coming up with wildly surpasses my expectation (and abilities).

    You can use a TV for the monitor, or you can purchase a "Screen Package" which is a small, free-standing display, which they also build. It houses the Rasberry Pi brain. The keyboard and all the cables and odds and ends pack up right into the back for a really convenient and well thought-out piece of equipment. (The screen is especially great if your home has wall-mounted TVs. The provided cable is a little short to reach that high.) All in all, I'm amazed at how quickly they're picking it all up, but more to the point, how much they're enjoying themselves. They shall never feel the shame and disappointment of not being able to figure out why the "If A$="yes" then goto 100" line is not working. It was supposed to work! Byte said it would work!!!!!

    Kano Computer Kit

    by Kano

    Ages 7 and up

    $150 Buy one on Amazon

    See more cool things at Wink Fun.

  • How to help get guitars and instruction into the hands of inner-city and at-risk youth

    musack

    MUSACK's goal is simple: get guitars and instruction into the hands of inner-city and at-risk youth. It's not about turning kids into rock stars. If it happens, great… hope they remember us. Our foundation wants to afford kids a platform to say "I exist. I'm here. I have something to say." In a world where school systems are seeing record breaking budgetary shortfalls, we're trying to pick up the slack in a real, feet on the ground, grass roots way. You want to learn how to play? We'll give you what you need.

    Oddly, we started in Nantucket, of all places, 5 years ago when our charity founder, Donick Cary (writer on Parks and Recreation, The Simpsons, and Letterman), who was born and raised in Nantucket, noticed an alarming rise in suicide and drug abuse in the year-round community. Nantucket is a great place during the summer months, but in the off season, those that live there, largely an immigrant service population, suffer brutal isolating harsh winters. With little else to do, a large portion of youth on the island resort to drugs and despair. So Donick started MUSACK as a way out. More a community destination than a "school" per se, we made a deal with the kids: Show up regularly and we will give you everything you need to succeed. And it's been pretty amazing. In the 5 years since we've started, we've put some 150+ kids through our Nantucket program and this year marks the opening of four (working on five) locations in the Los Angeles area in inner-city areas that desperately need our help. Our goal is to have outlets in every major city by the end of the decade.

    So, how do we make our money:? You keep asking the right questions! Okay… Every year, Donick holds a giant concert in his backyard in Hancock Park, Los Angeles. We invite 500+ people to come with their families, sit on blankets, eat some great food and check out some amazing bands in an insanely intimate setting. This year marks our 5th show. It's like a tiny, backyard Coachella. Previous guests have included YO LA TENGO, JONATHAN RICHMAN, THE POLYPHONIC SPREE, SUPERCHUNK, MIKE WATT + THE SECONDMEN, CHILDISH GAMBINO, SHE & HIM, JOHN DOE, JODY STEPHENS of BIG STAR, HORACE PANTER of THE SPECIALS and many, many more.

    We're doing it again: This SATURDAY, AUGUST 22 from 12PM-11PM:

    MUSACK'S FIFTH ANNUAL ROCK AND ROLL CARNIVAL WILL REAR ITS UGLY HEAD AGAIN!!!! Who's gonna be there??! Oh, I dunno: JOHN DOE & EXENE CERVENKA? RANCID? THE BIRD AND THE BEE? Not satisfied yet? How about THE WRECKING CREW, who recorded every song you've ever heard ever (check out their documentary!) Still not enough? How about RICHARD CARPENTER, one half of the legendary "THE CARPENTERS"? Maybe you've heard of them? THE WARNING? NO AGE? DELUX? SHANE SPEAL, THE KING OF CIGARBOX GUITAR and HORACE PANTER (of The SPECIALS)??? DJ SETS FROM: SHEPARD FAIRY? DAN WILCOX? DJ LAWLESS? JANDISCO SOUND SYSTEM? WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! OH, and some other SPECIAL GUESTS…

    So, yeah… it's gonna be a killer day for a great cause. All these great bands in a dude's backyard in Hancock Park, Los Angeles? You need to go to this. It's gonna be an epic day.

    Tickets and information here

  • A campaign to place Little Free Libraries in police departments

    I first met Todd Bol, creator and head honcho of Little Free Libraries when I emailed him out of the blue to see if he'd be interested in working with another charity I do some stuff for. In all honesty, I've kind of been a fan of these things for a long time… as an avid reader, I loathed packing up my books and either donating them or taking them to my local used book merchant. I'd always wished there was a better way to dispense of the books I'd enjoyed so much, rather than just tossing them to the wind. They meant much more than that to me. And that's where LFL came into play.

    Around 2013, I finally got around to purchasing my own LFL. My family and I stained it and we planted our post right there on the front lawn for all the world to enjoy. We filled it with some of our favorite books. I remember going to one of our local used book joints and purchasing like three or four copies of Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth, as it's my most favorite book, graphic or otherwise, ever printed (if you've never read it, PLEASE stop reading and go purchase it right now. If it doesn't crush your soul, I will fight you.) My kids put some of their favorite Suessian books and my wife a few as well… And it was as Todd Bol had promised… the community came. They borrowed books, they traded books, they introduced me to new books I'd never heard of. It was sort of the hub that was promised. And the best part is that I found myself talking to neighbors I would never before have spoken to.

    Little Free Libraries has been called a "revolution in neighborhood conversation"… it continues to gain a groundswell of support from all forms of media because of how this simple idea – essentially a box of books on a stick – manages to bring people together to redefine the notion of what it is to be a community.

    And Little Free Library is trying to go beyond that. LFL has grown beyond small neighborhoods and aims to redefine the relationships between various police departments and the areas they serve. Using the simple idea that books begets community begets new understanding, LFL has developed "Libraries of Understanding," a new program that aims to establish and rebuild the relationship between police and the community. Todd and Co. have designs on providing Little Free Libraries available to each of the 18,000 police departments across the country, so that people in any neighborhood, anywhere in the country can gather, exchange books, exchange ideas and hopefully, extend the idea of what it means to be a community.

    So far, LFL has donated 60 book exchanges and LFL's to the LAPD as well as police departments in Detroit, Cleveland, New Orleans and El Paso. Minneapolis and New York are next.

    Now, since I am the steward of my library, it's up to me to maintain and curate what goes in and what goes out. But I have a stock of books ready to go. Most of these places don't. We need to get books into the hands of people who desperately want and need them. But doing this obviously come with a price tag. It costs about a $1,000 to build, ship and install a Little Free Library, and that figure includes about a year's worth of books. Is this the elixir that will cure everything that's wrong? No. Maybe not the ultimate answer. But it is an answer. And it's simple: I can tell you from experience it works. People gather. They start talking. They listen to each other. They laugh. They smile. Look, when you're talking about books, it's hard to yell and feel rage or scorn or divisiveness. You can have a difference of opinion, there can be critical chasms, sure, but hell, I'll take that any day over some of the things that are happening around the country at this very moment.

    So, yeah, this is a small change. But small changes beget bigger changes. And I, for one, would rather have a billion little changes than no change at all. Todd and Co are working their asses off trying to get these libraries into neighborhoods that really, really need and deserve this.

    Please visit littlefreelibrary for more info. They've raised over $50,000 to create the momentum necessary to light a fire under the "Libraries of Understanding" campaign, and set up programs across the country. Every donation helps them put books where they're needed and rebuilding communities and re-establishing healthy discourse.

    I think it's time. Sometimes, a little out of the box thinking can start a revolution.

    P.S.: I have no more copies of Jimmy Corrigan.