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Archive for April, 2013

Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine

We’ve had our strong disagreements with efforts to get more girls interested in science. While some feel the effort should not be made to appeal to girls at all (not out of chauvanism, but out of the idea that there should be no consideration for gender learning & play processes) our main issue has often been with the very poor execution of said efforts: from the utterly disastrous European Commision’s ‘Science, Its a girl Thing’  video  to several science toy companies very poor efforts to appeal to girls by presenting them with inferior versions of boy’s science toys.

The key problem in the past has been a lack of innovation. Slapping a pink label on a science kit, putting a pretty, pretty princess on the box, disguising the kit as something else besides science GoldieBloxcharacterare all things that have been tried before and hardly even qualified as ‘innovation’.  But now at least some efforts are being made to address the issue.

Goldie Blox is a case of  innovation that would not exist without the internet. The company is a start-up, not  a major toy company, and was funded via kickstarter, the famous home of armchair venture angel investors. The company was conceived by Debbie Starling, a Stanford engineer who has made it her life’s work to tackle the gender gap in science & engineering.

Starling’s idea was simple: do some actual research on how girls play & learn and then design a product that would be educational and fun. The research found that girls tend to ‘play with purpose’. In other words, they want an end to their means. While boys may take a construction toy and start slapping pieces together, girls prefer to have some reason to do so. (Note: we are grossly, grossly overstating the research here).

To that end the character of Goldie Blox was invented. Unlike the blonde princess of Be Amazing’s girl toy line or a Barbie Doll, Goldie has overalls and a tool belt.

For a toy with purpose, a story was made for the toy to be demonstrated: Goldie has a pet dog named Nacho (along with a lot of other friends as we shall see). Nacho wants to chase his tail, and Goldie wants to help out. To that end Goldie develops the Spinning Machine.

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The story of the Spinning Machine is told with a book included with the Spinning Machine. As children read they also build various parts and extensions to the Spinning Machine. The story does not just begin and end with a tail-chasing dog named Nacho, soon everyone is in on the act and the Spinning Machine gets quite complicated:

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While children work with the Spinning Machine they learn a lot of basic concepts about a system known as a belt drive, which is used in all sorts of machinery.

As indicated from the title, this is expected to be part of a whole series of science/engineering toys not merely aimed at girls, but designed for girls. Time will tell if it is a success but so far the pre-launch hype has definitely garner attention.

Do you want to buy Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine?

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

 

 

 

 

 

New Q-Men, Really, really small this time!

Q-Men! They are the little flexible people made of bendable plastic. That alone isn’t so much but when you add in the fun of them having little high-powered magnets in their feet and hands it becomes quite a fun little toy, actually.

Qmenpopulate

Q-Men that we carry are the standard 2″ size known as the ‘Mini‘. There are larger Q-Men but we haven’t really felt them to be worth carrying as they are not as much fun. Standard Q-Men come in a colorful transparent design:

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Or the also popular Solid Color Style:

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But now there is a new size that we are carrying. They are called the Super Mini Q-Men. They come in a pack of 4 super-mini-Q-men:

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These little guys are half the size of a Mini-Q-man. Just 1″ tall! They are sold in packs of 4 for just $9.99! Incredible!

But if you want something a little more unusual, how about a 4 pack of Glow-In-The-Dark Super Mini Q-men?

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These are the same size as the regular Super Mini-Q-Men, except that they glow in the dark! You get two blue and two green glowing super Mini-Q-Men.

Want to buy other Magnet Toys?

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

 

 

Video Tuesday

Tuesday. It is time for lazy. So here are a couple of time lapse movies we made.

First is a time lapse of the Crazy Aaron’ Strange Attractor Thinking Putty swallowing a magnet:

And we also have an artsy time lapse of the Drinking Bird we keep in the store window.

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

The Horizon Renewable Energy Experiment Kit

Alternative sources of energy are a big concern these days, and in the classroom teachers have desperately searched for ways to teach new methods of  generating electricity and other power sources. Most of their usual sources have come up short: a solar kit here, a wind energy kit there, but nothing that really engages the full spectrum of alternative energy generation.

But one kit we have carried does a marvelous job of doing just that, and not only does it cover many different methods of power generation, it also lets students experiment with the best technique for generation with each method of power generation. We are talking about the Horizon Renewable Energy Experiment Kit

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The kit is large enough and involved enough for an entire student program on alternative energy. The kit can be combined with the Horizon Renewable Energy Monitor so that results can be shown on a computer screen.

As you can see from the picture, this kit has a lot of different parts. It actually includes two different manuals: an assembly manual and an experiment manual. Let’s take the parts as presented in the manuals. We’ll start with the solar panel:

SoalrPanelREES

This panel is sizeable and can generate enough energy to power some LEDS, break water into hydrogen (more on that later) or drive a fan (the one in the lower right in the above picture – the tall thing is a wind turbine). Experiments students run have them not only powering these items but also testing the angle, heat, and shade on the ability of the solar panel to generate power.

The next crucial part of the Renewable Energy Experiment Kit is the Electrolyzer Module.

ElectrolyzerREES

This in and of itself does not generate energy. What it does is when hooked up to an energy source (the solar panel or the wind turbine) it converts distilled water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen can be used as fuel! Of course, you can’t just shove hydrogen into an electric motor and expect it to run, which is why there is a fuel cell, which is used to convert hydrogen into electricity:

FuelCellREES

This Fuel Cell can be hooked up to the LED module or the Fan and will power them by converting the hydrogen into electricity.

The Fuel Cell is one of the more interesting forms of alternative energy generation and the Renewable Energy Experiment Kit manual doesn’t fail to follow up on the subject. Various forms of hydrogen generation are discussed, along with the future of hydrogen generation, and much more.

Getting back to outright alternative energy generation we look at the biggest item in the kit: The Wind Turbine:

WindmillREES

The Wind Turbine uses wind the generate electricity. Like the solar panel it can be hooked up directly to the fan or LED panel, or can be attached to the Electrolyzer Module to generate hydrogen fuel. The windmill itself is very adaptable, with the students being able to adjust the pitch angle of the fan blades, as well as the number of blades to determine which is the most efficient method of generating power.

To say this description of the kit only scratches the surface is actually a bit of an overstatement. There are many things for students to study and learn, and loads of experiments to do. The kit is compatible with other Horizon Kits, so for example the hydrogen generated can be used to power the H-Racer Hydrogen Car or the Fuel Cell Science Kit.

The Horizon Renewable Energy Experiment Kit is probably the best alternative energy kit on the market for the classroom. No alternative energy cirriculum should be without one.  If your school is interested in buying kits for your program, you can contact us by email for a quote at <a href=”mailto:sales@spectrum-scientifics.com>sales@spectrum-scientifics.com</A>

Want to buy the Horizon Renewable Energy Experiment Kit?

Interested in other Alternative Energy Kits and products?

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

Astronomy Tips – Using & reviewing astronomy apps on your smart phone Part 1

So you got yourself a telescope. Great! But you couldn’t afford all those computerized doo-dads that everyone else has on their telescopes and like you see on that one telescope shown in the SkyMall catalog. Boo..wait, you don’t need that! You’ve got a Smart Phone!

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Now Smart phones are no substitute for experience with a telescope, but they can make your life a little easier during an observing session.

First up is the 800 lb gorilla of astronomy phone smart apps: Google Sky Map

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This app is very straightforward: you point your phone at the sky, and based off your location (determined by GPS or other methods) it shows what is in the sky in the direction the phone is facing:

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This is great for identifying what is in the night sky, for finding out where deep sky objects will be in comparison to stars you can actually see and so on.

It is not perfect, nor is it a substitute for a Star Map or Planisphere – for one thing it can only show a small portion of the sky (even when using a larger screened Pad. Another problem is accuracy – the Sky Map seems to often be off by an hour or so and it is not certain why.  It may just be the physical limits of the orientation of the phone. Nontheless, it is invaluable as an app

Verdict: Strongly Recommended.

Next up: SkEye

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SkEye is very much like Google Sky Map except it has a few other features, main that it has the potential to act with your telescope as an object finder!

On the surface, it starts as another planetarium program:

SkEyescreeen

It is somewhat less intuitive that Google Sky Map, starting off with the Red light setting on (astronomers use red light to night disturb their night vision). Some of the setup is a little bit more involved, and we can’t see. It also is not automatically set up to follow your path as you move it around.

On the plus side, at least for more experienced astronomers, you can use SkEye to turn your telescope into a push-to telescope. The process involves ‘attaching the phone to your telescope’, which is a bit on the vague side.

A pro version is available which has fainter stars and shows satellites. The cost is $9.00

Verdict: Better than Google Sky Map for Advanced astronomers – casual users should stick with Sky Map

Telescope Simulator by SUPANOVA

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Telescope simulator is not free. It costs $1.39 as of this writing. Its purpose is to give you a realistic idea of what you will see through any telescope. You can adjust the aperture, eyepiece size or pick from 50 popular designs.

The reason for this app is so you can see why there are differences in telescopes. As we like to tell folks buying a telescope: Any telescope will let you see Saturn’s Rings, but the question is how good do they look? This app hopes to answer that question.

By our own tests the appearances were accurate. Of course any such app will lack the real life effects of turbulence, floaters in your eye, and other unpredictable effects, but this is only a simulation, after all.

The major disadvantage is that there are a limited number of objects to view in the app.

Verdict: Planning on buying a telescope? Probably worth it. Otherwise not needed.

Telescope Flashlight

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There are actually quite a few apps like this, but this seems to be the most popular one.

Red flashlights are used by astronomers to preserve their night vision. What this flashlight does (unlike regular flashlight apps) is instead of using the flashbulb LED, it simply turns your screen red:

telescopeflashlightscreen

That’s pretty much what it does.

You can adjust the brightness of the light by using the volume buttons on your phone as even a red light that is too bright. It seems to work well.

The bad stuff: Ok, so if it is just a flashlight app, why does it need to access so much stuff on my phone? Does having access to my contact list make it a better flashlight? This stuff is a concern.

Verdict: Works as advertised, but be wary of its intrusive nature. There are other red flashlight apps out there.

Part 2 coming soon!

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

 

New Kites for Spring!

Its Spring! And that means the weather is nice enough to go fly a kite!

Kites area big warm weather toy for us, so we are sure to add a few to our line every spring.

First up we have a couple of new solid color Delta Kites. Deltas are probably the easiest kites to fly short of the Hi-Fly designs.

These Deltas are large – 56″ wide and 22″ tall. We carry them in Purple and Yellow solids. They include 100′ of #22 line and a handle.

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These kits are big and awesome, but this couldn’t be all we added. We also found a really neat 3D Pterdactyl Kite

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This dinosaur of old is 52″ wide and like all of our other kites is made of ripstop nylon. It is easy to assemble and uses fiberglass rods.

Finally, we have another 3D Kite, this one is an awesome Biplane:

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This Biplane Kite has a wingspan of 30″ and is ready to fly out of the box.

Get out there and go fly a kite!

Want to buy kites from Spectrum Scientifics?

www.spectrum-scientifics.com

 

Testing the iPhone 60X Microscope Attachment.

Recently we added a little gadget that turns an iPhone into a 60x Digital Microscope.

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Well, we wanted to make certain this item actually worked, so we got a friend with an iPhone 4 (this will not work with the newer, larger iPhone 5) and gave it a trial run.

First up, the microscope consists of 2 parts – the actual microscope and the frame that attached to your iPhone.

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Now here is the interesting thing: The microscope part will actually work on its own. You do not need to attach it to the iPhone if you just want to take a quick glance at something. It works just fine on its own as a handheld microscope – a bit tricky to focus but its still works just fine.

The frame must go over the iPhone, which means that you will need to remove any other cases or very thick stickers/attachments from your iPhone. If you’ve made your phone look like it was attacked by a BeDazzler you might have issue with the frame.

Before attaching the frame, however, it is probably best to attach the microscope to the frame first. We tried it the other way ’round and it was a little awkward.  In any case the microscope threads into the frame like so.

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There is one issue with threading the microscope into the body: The natural tendency is to grab the outside frame that attaches the light to the microscope and turn the microscope that way. Unfortunately, the attachment is free floating so that you can adjust the position of the light. This means you will be spinning the light, but not threading the microscope into the frame. It is best to pull the light out so that some of the shaft of the microscope is exposed and thread the microscope in using that instead.

Once you attach your microscope & frame to the iPhone it should resemble the top image above.  you are now ready to shoot. Click on your camera app and get started.

First thing you mat notice is that without any zooming you will see a lot of the microscope’s mechanism in the frame. This can be solved with a simple bit of zooming using your fingers until you have a better close-up. The camera in the iPhone is plenty powerful enough to handle this.

Now you need to focus – your iPhone camera will do a lot for this but you do have to make a few adjustments mechanically by sliding the light hold out. All this really does physically is move the target subject away from the microscope’s lens.

The microscope has two ways to light the subject, since the iPhone’s flash will be covered by the microscope frame. First is a pair of very bright white LEDs.

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These are very bright, perhaps a bit too bright as we will soon see.  In addition there is also a UV light on the microscope:

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This is advertised as a counterfeit fighting measure, but may also be useful for geological, chemical, and biological purposes.

Once everything was ready we just needed something to focus on and take a picture. We elected to use our finger:

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That is a human finger tip, magnified 60x.

Focus was a little tricky and we depended on the iPhone to do most of it. Some adjustment for positioning was needed however. The light was also very powerful and tended to wash out one side of the image. We did not try it without the flashlight so we are not certain how the iPhone’s camera would work adjusting for a low-light situation.

At present, we only carry the model that fits the iPhone 4 and most other older models of iPhone. If we have success with this model we may add other microscopes to the line to cover the iPhone 5. Android models may also be added but their rapid changes in both body size and camera position may limit the models covered.

Want to buy the iPhone 60x Microscope attachment?

Want to buy Digital Microscopes?

www.spectrum-scientifics.com