Raspberry Pi Computer Board

I bought one of these a few weeks ago for use in home automation projects, the first of which is an RFID – controlled door lock to my shop. It is easy to use for anyone even sightly familiar with Linux, and is quite inexpensive ($29 for the Model B). Networking is plug-and-play, and there is massive support from its user community.

It is about the size of a credit card and is powered by a USB charger (not supplied). Many accessories are available from multiple suppliers.

This is an excellent learning tool for people who want to know more about computers than how to run common apps like Microsoft Office. It is cheap, small, and very well supported for users of all skill levels.

-- Jack Powers  

[I have a Raspberry Pi. The first thing I did was install Raspbian, a version of Linux, on it. Then I installed a Minecraft Server on it. I bought a $10 USB WiFi stick and a cheap SD memory card to make it more useful. It also has an HDMI port so you can use it like a regular computer. It's pretty amazing how much you can do with one of these. - Mark Frauenfelder]

Raspberry Pi Model B+ (B PLUS) 512MB Computer Board
$29

Available from Amazon



Looney Pyramids

Looney Pyramids (formerly known as “Icehouse Pyramids”) are a system of plastic board game playing pieces. They come in a variety of colors (10 are commonly available) and 3 sizes and are sold in sets. The pieces can be used like a deck of cards for boardgames with the rules for over 300 games utilizing them already published online.

The publishers, Looney Labs, also greatly encourage their fans and customers to create their own games using the pieces. I have created a few myself and entered design contests that are fan run and intended to expand the Pyramid game world. As a means for creating your own boardgame or just a versatile system to playing hundreds of games, they are a fantastic investment of your entertainment dollar.

-- Sam Zitin  

Looney IceDice
$15

Available from Amazon



Kaleidograph

I’ve played with the Kaleidograph Pattern Design toy for two years.

Simply: It allows me to be creative. It’s like a paper kaleidoscope. You can learn about composition, movement, color theory, pattern, geometry. It’s a design toy AND tool. It’s a quiet diversion. It’s open-ended. It’s relaxing. Almost meditative at times. It claims to make billions of designs with the 12 cards.

I don’t think there’s anything else like it. It’s for kids and adults.

kg

-- Amy  

Kaleidograph
$20

Available from Amazon



Tally-Ho Playing Cards

As a practicing magician, playing cards are just one of the many tools in our “magical toolbox.” For the causal card player any pack of cards will most likely do. But for anyone who practices card magic or just plays a lot of card games, cards might be a subject of interest. If you’re looking for quality long-lasting budget playing cards, I highly recommend Tally-Ho cards. They’re inexpensive and can be subjected to being bent and abused, while maintaining its ease of handling. Tally-Hos’ durability can be attributed to its linoid finish, which also helps prevent the cards from sticking together. Unlike most other playing cards such as Bicycles or Bees, Tally-Hos are rather resistant to warping after heavy usage. In fact, a pack of Tally-Ho’s I own for five years and counting, still springs and fans just like it did first out of the box.

 

-- Jefferson Deng  

[The magicians who hang out at The Magic Cafe message board seem to agree that Tally Ho cards are more durable than Bicycle cards. Another interesting thing about these cards is that the Circle back design is slightly asymmetrical, which makes the cards useful for mentalism tricks. The one negative thing about Tally Ho cards is that spectators are usually more familiar with Bicycle cards and unfamiliarity raises suspicions about whether or not a deck is gimmicked. -- Mark]

Tally Ho Circle Back Playing Cards
$6

Available from Amazon



Pley

Around my house, the best thing about a Lego kit is building it. When it’s finished, it’s fun to admire for a few minutes, but by the next day, my daughter and I have lost interest. We just want to build another kit, but they are too expensive to buy every couple of days.

Pley is a Lego kit subscription service that focuses on the fun part – the building. It’s like NetFlix. Pley costs $15 a month. You make a queue from over 250 kits, and Pley sends you the kit at the top of your queue. When you are done, take the pieces apart and put them in the supplied shipping box. Pley pays shipping in both directions. If you lose a couple of pieces, you won’t be charged.

Pley will then send you the next kit in your queue. Each kit is cleaned and sanitized before you receive it.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Pley
$15/month



Sport Rocketry * Rocketry

The next step up from boy scout model rockets is high power rocketry. This is real fun for adults. These things will go miles high. It’s a strictly build-your-own endeavor, requiring permits. The National Association of Rocketry publishes a bi-monthly magazine for sport rocketeers called appropriately enough, Sport Rocketry. But my friends who are avid amateur rocketeers scoff at Sport Rocketry as kid stuff. They want to make their own real rockets reaching the stratosphere. From their garages come complex computer-guided peaceful missiles. They struct their stuff in Rockets, the magazine of the Tripoli Rocketry Association.

bigrocket

BigRockMan

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 12.11.58 PM

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 12.12.48 PM

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 12.22.36 PM

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 12.24.38 PM

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 12.25.05 PM

-- KK  

Sport Rocketry
$62 (includes membership)

Rocketry
$42

Sample Excerpts:

High Power Rocketry, also known as HPR, is similar to model rocketry with differences that include the propulsion power and weight increase of the model. They use motors in ranges over “G” power and/or weigh more than laws and regulations allow for unrestricted model rockets. Like model rockets, High Power rockets are typically made of safer, non-metallic materials such as cardboard, plastic, and wood, however, construction and recovery techniques usually differ somewhat, due to the requirements imposed by the use of HPR motors. This means that these models must be constructed in such a way that they have the ability to safely fly under these higher stress conditions.

High Power rocket motors cannot be purchased over the counter by the general consumer and typically are not carried by your average hobby store. They can be mail-ordered or purchased at some launch sites by adult modelers who are High Power certified, which is a requirement to purchase and use them. The NAR offers a three level certification program for modelers who want to fly high power rockets. Also, High Power rockets must be flown in compliance with their own separate High Power Rocket Safety Code.

Launching High Power rockets requires more preparation than launching model rockets. Not only is a larger field needed, but FAA clearance must be arranged, well in advance of the launch date. There may also be local or state regulatory issues to be addressed before you can fly your first high power rocket. This is another good reason for joining a NAR Section — many organized clubs already have the personnel and experience in making these tedious arrangements, freeing you to concentrate on the actual flying.




TeamSnap

TeamSnap is the coolest tool I have come across in a very long time. I use this app to help manage my daughter’s high school tennis team. It does everything from schedule, post, update, change, notify players and parents about events. It builds rosters, keeps scores, lists directions, links navigation. Includes email and text messaging. It has player and parent forms. And fundraising and refreshment information for the whole team. The app doesn’t stop there — it also includes a record keeping task for billing and stores all of the team’s statistics in one place. It is by far the best tool I have ever used or heard of to help organize and maintain a recreational sports team.

-- Kristin Lawrence-Monroe  

TeamSnap
Free and paid version available



Useless Machine Kit

The Useless Machine was a popular contraption in the 70s that is making a comeback. It’s a simple mechanism with a two-circuit switch that inverts the direction of motion of a DC motor in the box, enabling a finger in the box to switch itself off.

It’s sold as a kit, and the assembly is a pleasant weekend experience. It should not take more than an hour to put together.

I customized mine by ordering a halloween costume’s hand, and rebuilding the plastic to more closely resemble a human finger. The first time one see it pop out, it is actually quite startling!

I use mine in demonstrations to another team — to illustrate what tedious repetitive work is all about.

-- Federico  

Black Useless Box Kit
$45

Available from Amazon



Plastic Dice in Bulk

I carry 3 red dice in my back pocket so that I can play a game called Cee-lo with people that I meet. Like most betting games, Cee-lo has a rough reputation. But played among friends, not betting for money, it can be rather wholesome.

I really like being able to play a simple dice game with people for a few reasons:

– it’s a really fun game!
– I’ve successfully played it with kindergartners and every age group above,
– I’ve gotten mixed age groups to have a GREAT time playing,
– It never runs out of batteries or needs to be upgraded,
– it’s very portable,
– it gets people to talk in real time,
– I don’t have to hand an expensive device to other people or count on them having one, or having one compatible to mine.

I’ve also found that the game itself is pretty simple, but with the betting aspect things get really interesting. And the world is full of trinkets to bet with. Collect a bunch of stones, or sugar packets, or tear up a piece of paper into bits that are all roughly the same size, or anything you can get a reasonable number of and you’re in business.

That said, my personal favorite thing to bet with is the little scraps that people have in their pockets: twist ties, tooth picks, vitamin pills, movie stubs. It is amazing to see how people will value these little bits of nothing while they are playing, but once the game is over, it all goes back to being little bits of trash. (I also like to see what people do to get that one important item back, that they really shouldn’t have played in the game…)

One thing about dice games: everyone plays them different. To paraphrase the Cee-lo advice U-God of Wu Tang in this NSFW (language) video: state the rules and save some fools. Better to spend a bit of time outlining the rules at the beginning then to get into any sort of fight later. (And not a bad rule in life in general.)

So, here is how I play Cee-lo:

Cee-lo – 2 or more players – 3 dice

Determine who is going to be playing and who is going to be the first player.

If betting, all players put in their bet.

The first player rolls all three dice until they get a recognized combination, or are otherwise disqualified

The combinations are, ranked from best to worst:

4-5-6
The highest possible roll. Instant win of the round for the player who rolled it. They take the entire pot, and the next round begins. This skips the turns of anyone who has not gone.

“Trips”
Rolling three of the same number is known as “trips”. Higher trips beat lower trips, so 4-4-4 is better than 3-3-3.

“Spare and a Pair”
Rolling a pair, and another number, establishes the singleton as a “point.” A higher point beats a lower point, so 1-1-3 is better than 6-6-2.

1-2-3
Automatic loss. Play forfeits turn, but the game continues.

Any other roll is a meaningless combination and must be rerolled until one of the above combinations occurs. It is also an automatic loss if a player rolls the dice 5 times without getting a meaningful combination.

If either of the dice roll off the playing surface, it is also an automatic loss for the player.

Play then proceeds around to other players, going clockwise.

The player who rolls the best combination wins. In cases of a tie for the best combination, there is a a shoot-out: the players who tied will play another round of the game until there is a single winner.

The winner gets to stat the next round.

And that is all there is to it! I also like it the way the game is explained in this video.

There are PLENTY of other games you can play with dice. But, Cee-lo one my favorite!

I usually buy dice by the 100, so after I teach people, I can give them their own set.

100 Red Dice
$13

Available from Amazon



Kitebuilder

This is the best site for learning how to build your own kites. Good tutorials, decent forums (quieter since the site’s founder died) and a great encyclopedia of techniques and materials. Their best asset is the stash of plans submitted by users for almost any type of kite.

(Kite making supplies can be found from the previously reviewed Into the Wind.)

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:

There’s no such thing as kite fabric! Just about any fabric will work… including the fabric grade Ripstop you chose. Was it difficult to sew? It is probably pretty stretchy eh?? The coated Ripstop often used by most builders on this website is coated with a finish that reduces stretch and porosity. It is also pretty light weight, probably about half the weight of the cloth you used. So… your kite will probably require a little more wind for optimum performance… but if balanced and bridled properly, it should still fly.

*

echo_2013

random


Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 3.49.00 PM