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The Salmon Khan Academy

Many of you have probably heard of the Khan Academy before. A few years ago I sent out an email about it when it was a lot smaller but still very cool. Today’s Khan academy could be one stop shopping for almost all your child’s math needs.  With over 2,000 videos teaching everything from basic addition up through calculus, and now videos in a number of other subjects as well. This video from a TED presentation shows the cool things Salmon Khan is now doing to integrate his very clear teaching style into classrooms around the country (and of course, homeschools as well). After watching the video, I strongly encourage you to visit the Khan Academy and click watch to see the video list, and then practice to jump in and have your child try it out. This TED presentation explains what he’s put together.

If you want to read some additional informative conversations happening on the video, visit the TED video site here and look below the video.

For another great math teaching video site visit

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World’s Coolest Software – Picasa 3.5

Last night we transferred a few thousand of my daughter’s photos (she’s a picture taker and filled her last hard drive–it was admittedly small and old) from a Windows XP machine to a Windows 7 machine. (This isn’t about Windows 7 but I am really liking it) We’d put Picasa 3.5 onto the machine and let it start cranking through the photos. It indexed the pictures really fast, but the amazing thing it has is the facial recognition capability built into it.

Within seconds it was cropping faces out of every picture and displaying them. After training the program by naming a few images, it would go find other images of that person VERY ACCURATELY and put them into special people folders. You then continue to teach the program about it’s guesses but they are mostly spot-on right. I can’t tell you what a relief this is to me to have a program do this and I’m just starting it up on my computer which has loads of pictures of our children and trips on it.

I have to say this is so cool to be able to look at one of our children and see their progression from baby to toddler to childhood to teen all in one folder with a minimal amount of effort. I also have to say that the second coolest thing is when the program makes a mistake guessing who someone is and puts the picture right next to one of the other children and you can see the similarity of features that it’s picked out that you’ve never noticed before. It’s truly amazing. I just can’t believe it can accurately choose childhood and almost baby pictures from adult and teen pictures of a face. Very cool.

On a core duo 2.6 mhz processor, it took about 12 hours through the night to finish tagging photos and finally completed finished this morning. There is now a directory with a lot of unsorted photos but for every photo you identify, dozens disappear from the list as it has matched them in the background but wasn’t fully confident to put them into someone’s specific directory.

All in all, I think this piece of software is probably the one program I can no longer live without. Get it here and best of all, it’s FREE.

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Halloween scavenger hunt activities

If you’re looking for a fun Halloween scavenger hunt activity, can I recommend a product I made and not have it sound like a self-advertisement? 🙂 Several years ago my wife and I came up with an idea for a product that would let parents have an easy way to do fun activities with their kids. We called it Riddle Me and came up with hundreds of objects and thousands of age-appropriate riddles (over time and with a lot of help) and got the software built. It’s a really easy to use program that lets you pick your settings and then print out a set of riddle clues you just cut out and tape into place. You hand the children the first clue and off they go. Almost every birthday party at our home has involved a clue hunt because our kids love it so much and there’s a lot of other people that have done some really creative things with it as well.

To get some ideas of your own, check out this link for Halloween Scavenger Hunt ideas.

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American Revolution Sacrifices

What a great short video about the sacrifices of our patriot fathers.  David McCullough has a great storytelling voice doesn’t he?  If you want to read some additional really cool stories about little known patriots of the Revolution, pick up a copy of Unlikely Heroes by Ron Carter from Amazon.  It’s an amazing book about people who rose to the challenges they faced at the peril of their lives and risked it all to help win our freedom.

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Model Rocketry

I loved model rocketry as a kid.  I got started when I was in cub scouts and my Boy’s Life magazine had ads in it for Estes and Century rocket kits.  I think my first rocket was the Alpha 3, a simple starter kit with the plastic fin unit so you didn’t have to clue any individual fins on.

I remember building the Mean Machine, a 6 footer, which I did poorly as a child and wound up using tape as an extra help for the seams between body tube parts.  It still didn’t act solid and I remember when we went to launch it, it came down with the tail on fire and was going to land in a corn field.  One of the adults with us went running in and all you could see was his hand stick out above the corn and catch the rocket.

My favorite rocket (after I got proficient) was the Omega 3.  It was a 3 stage D engine rocket and I owned at least 2 of them, maybe 3.  I lost one after it went so high into the air we lost sight of it till it was coming down and over 1/2 mile away.  We never caught it.  Those were great rockets.

I loved night flights too.  We’d stick firecrackers into rocket tubes upside down instead of chute wadding and when the hot gasses would fire to eject the parachute, the firecrackers would explode several hundred feet in the air.  Cylume sticks taped to the outside of the rockets allowed us to track them as they came down.

One time I even got a bad batch of rocket engines and one of my bigger diameter rockets was caught on film totally by accident, having a flame out on the launch pad with the engine splitting open on its side and instantly burning a hole in the side of the rocket and spinning it wildly in front of us.  That was great fun.

Oh and then the time we were at the church for scouts and thought we’d fire off a rocket in the parking lot rather than the field and for whatever reason (I’m convinced it was solely because of Murphy’s law) the rocket went up about 100 feet and then spun around and shot straight into the parking lot full of cars, hit the pavement and went screaming off toward some cars just narrowly missing them.

Nowadays, the hobby is so big you have to invest a lot more money than the old $0.99 Mosquito rockets.  Engines don’t stop at D any more, they’re up through E, F, G, H…I think I’ve seen M’s online somewhere.  That’s massive.  But this video takes the cake (at least for now).  Wish I could have been there for this launch.

(turn up your volume to feel the launch)