Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Table for Two!

Well... kinda.  It's really more table for two purposes than it is two people.  Although if we work it right, I'm sure we can fit a two+ people around it.  Right.  What am I talking about, you ask?  The new office space I'm trying to dig out of our large, oddly shaped living room!

We left off with a half done storage tower and a mostly finished table and under cabinet.  Now we can welcome Thing 1 & Thing 2 Monitor 1 and Monitor 2!  My company was having a computer sale and we were able to pick up two monitors for $25 each.  Both of the monitors we currently own we found a the dump for free, and both have had a few problems with them (as well as not being able to use them together as dual monitors).  I've been dying to put in dual monitors since... well since I had these exact models at work three years ago....  which work has since replaced with some insanity large monitors about 2 years ago.  Wonderful for work, but overkill for home. Still dual monitors help with productivity, even at home, sooooooooooo much. 

Also awesome, we figured we'd have to order a new graphics card to use dual monitors. Jon looked up our current cards specs and  found out that the card can handle two monitors for only one instance - with one VGA monitor and and one DVI monitor.  And lucky us, these monitors can be hooked up as either DVI or VGA.  I don't think I could have planned it better. Added bonus, the monitors have USB ports on the side, making our computer way more awesome, because our older case only has USB plugs in the back, and it was always a pain to plug them in.

Add in a new mouse (Target coupon + sale + carthwheel = cheap!) with buttons that click consistently and our computer set up has been the best it's been in years!

Back to building stuff...
Look closely and you can see I screwed one on upside down!  Whoops!
 So the original plan was have an extension table as well as the table above.  An 'L' shaped desk really, with one corner holding the cabinet.  I could have done a way better job at the seam if I had constructed them together, but I wanted the extension to be removable if we needed the long living room space.

I won't go into too much, but making the table base was a lot of pocket screws. I'm slowly learning woodworking patience and I'm pre-painting before assembly now.  I guess I'm getting all learn-ed.

So there we go!  An L shaped extension table.  Notice the lack of storage tower.  That's getting its finishing work done on it.

Notice the two openings at the edge.  Once I order the slides, I'll be putting in two drawers.

This one will eventually hold the keyboard and the mouse.

All ready for some work!

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Cake Is A Lie...

...unless of course, you're eating your 1st birthday cake.  Portal is such a good game.  Portal II is also a good game.  One of my favorites.  If you haven't played, you won't understand this post at all.

Quick post, no photo editing...

I however, have played Portal I.  And thanks to my odd sense of humor, find a bib with the quote on it really, really funny.  Especially when the baby wearing it is around cake, eating it or not.  And knowing that the combination of playing the game, finding the quote on a baby bib funny and actually having procreated is a rare one - I jumped at an opportunity.

An avid gamer friend's baby turned one this last week, and I had to get my sew on.  Their bib looks a lot better than ours... not just because it's new, but I did do a better job with it. I'm really happy with the way it turned out.  Kinda rare for a perfectionist like myself.

(I updated my pattern size not long after I made ours... a long time ago)
 I forgot how satisfying sewing can be.  Kinda wish I had more time to do it...

You find it at least a little funny... right?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Singapore Math Manipulatives App - Tangible Math! Being All Thrifty!

....Skip way down if all you care about is the app....

I'm going to divert from writing about all the house/wood working I've been doing lately.  One project that has been filling my 'downtime' is a new app that my husband and I are working on together. 
Two years ago...
It was something I had looked for our Kindle when I started using Singapore Math for Eve in 1st grade (about two years ago). Wow, time flies.

Eve's now in 3rd Grade, Eli in 1st, and Isaac is in preschool.  I can't resist putting the occasional pictures of these cuties on here.  These are from the end of the last school year.

We've tweaked our homeschooling a little bit since that post I referenced above. (If you're just joining in, I work full time out of the home, and teach math and art after work.  My husband Jon works [very] part-time at home, and teaches the other subjects, although we cross into eachother's subjects all the time).

French: Powerglide French didn't even last a month, so that was out.  We've been slowly increasing our french children's books with some good ones.  The Duolingo app has helped Eve come along well, and recently we bought Rosetta Stone French 1 & 2 used, so we'll be trying that out soon.  I have an app idea for teaching French too... we'll see how this app does before I try to make another one.  But it could be awesome!

Language: For Eve, A Beka was replaced by Bob Jones for 2nd Grade, and for 3rd grade we've replaced Bob Jones with... nothing.  Long story short, after looking at them year by year, it seems the curriculum barely changes.  So we'll skip the seatwork this year, and formally teach grammar once at an older age.  It's not worth the battle.  We'll be focusing on spelling this year instead, which seems more important to us at this age.

Eli used McRuffy for Kindergarten, and he'll use him again for 1st Grade.  Besides all the gluing required, the program worked well for teaching Eli to read.

Science: Still a mix taken from from books on hand.  The intro to biology and chemistry were covered in 1st grade and beginning 2nd.  Now with an Apologia book and a middle school science textbook in the mix we're getting into some ::awesome:: physics and engineering concepts.

History: Story of the World is still a big hit with my husband and our kids, so they've been taking their time and going through that.  They're somewhere in the second book now.

Math: Singapore Math is still my favorite.  I've checked out a few other math curriculum at friends houses and curriculum fairs, but I still love Singapore Math the most of all I've seen.  I love that the program teaches 'number sense', which gives the child tools to understand how math works in real life, rather than always teaching to writing numbers down on paper (which of course, is taught as well). I love that I haven't run into any 'rules' that we teach one year and obsolete the next. I love that the program repeats concepts, but with increasing difficulty.  So problems are challenging and familiar.  For example, the skills learned when adding numbers 1-10 are some of the same skills used to add numbers up to a hundred.

Finally, I love that the program is manipulative based, but I didn't know that at first...  which brings me back to the point of the post.  Man, I'm long winded.

Back when Eve was in 1st grade, I learned really quickly that I was teaching her math out of order.  I would go to the text book right away, skip any hands on activities and then give her the workbook to do.  That method was nothing but tears.  She hated it.  She hated math.

Heartbroken that I was squashing Eve's love of math, I changed it up.  I thought about how she liked to learn, starting slow, lots of examples and encouraging words to give her confidence to solve the problem before she's asked to solve.  Then I went to the home instructor guide.  You know, the one I was ignoring.  Yeah, the curriculum is set up to teach with manipulatives first, and then head to text once the concept are already learned.  Whoops. 

Adding manipulatives was the first big hurtle to overcome teaching Eve math.  As a sidenote - There were also two other things that has really helped us.  The first was to use two chalkboards (one for each of us) instead of a dry erase.  The slow writing really seemed to help focus on the problem.  The second works well for us, as I work during the day. I would teach at night and then circle the pages to be done the next day while I was at work.  I allowed for the concept to have some time to sink in, and gave Eve more confidence. 

Oy, the point of the post.  I'm losing it again.  I grew to love using manipulatives... but hadn't actually bought every single one Singapore Math had listed.  And they listed a lot.  Adding up everything they suggested just for first grade is well over $75.  We did buy these mathlink cubes (Love them!  Buy them!) and base 10 cubes.  They're still not exactly cheap, but you can get them at rainbows resources for about $25 total.  We've found them well worth the money.  I recommend them in every homeschooling family's house.  Even public schoolers would do well to have them.

Handmade balance and weights - 1 base 10 cube = 1 oz and ~10 pennies = 10 oz

For the other manipulatives, we did what we could. We made up some ourselves (base 10 cards, number cards, place value strips), scanned some that came in the back of the book (hundreds charts), grabbed what I could from around the house (clocks, scales) and skipped others altogether (counting bears, place value disks).

I really didn't mind using a handmade balance or just grabbing a clock off the wall... but there were times I really wished I had some of the extras.  And then there were other times I had handmade something, like place value cards, and still didn't use them much.  I didn't want to go digging around for them and then take more time setting them up.  Often we teach math on a bed or on the couch, so setting cards up so they don't fall over isn't easy.  Sometimes with a toddler around, it's impossible.  So of course, I thought, "This would be so awesome to have in app form."

I couldn't find anything like this for Android or even the iPad. Kinda surprised, I started thinking about how I would do it.  And then planning it out. And then sketching it up.  And then that all halted when I came to asking Jon about making it.  We were in the middle of making another app (Boardgame Apprentice) so our time was limited and my idea was put on the backburner. Skip a year and a half ahead, and after lots of begging I got my husband to whip something together for me.  (I convinced him by saying it was an instant 'sale' of  $25. If he didn't make the app, I was going to break down buy $25 of the extra manipulatives I didn't have).   The first version was crude, of course, but it showed me it could be just what I wanted.

So, after a lot of development time we're almost to the point of releasing the app.  Jon (my hubby) does the programming and I do the art.  I've mentioned it before, but my preferred weapon of art is inkscape, an open source (ie, free) software.
Yes, Jon can actually spell.  He's all too good at scrabble.

We're calling the app Tangible Math: A Teaching and Manipulives Kit.  Yeah...  We, uh, still need to make a logo for that splash screen.  This would be what the app would look like if I let Jon do all the art :D

We're going to be releasing it on both Android and Apple.  It'll be our first Apple App, and we're planning on releasing our other two apps (Gladiator and Board Game Apprentice) for Apple at the same time.  We needed to have a mac to develop for Apple, which we've put off for a bit, but got one a few months ago.  That's why we've had the Mac Mini sitting around in some of my other recent posts.

So, this is what we have so far.  I know, I know, you love it already.  But don't get too attached as there will be several more changes to both design and art.

There's really so much I could go over step by step, but that would be far too much work for this 'little' post.  Plus, there's a few big things we still have to add, that I don't want to sell it too short. I'll just leave you with some pictures of what we've got, and you'll just have to buy the app when it comes out :D

The basic premise is this - There's a bunch of backgrounds to choose from and a bunch of objects you can place on the background.  There's also a drawing tool, so you can use the whole screen as a whiteboard. 

The app isn't intended to do any teaching for you.  It won't make up problems, or grade your child if they're correct.  It's a tool to be used by an instructor (for for a child to use to work out homework problems).  Plus, the open-nes gives the app the flexibility to be used with other curriculum (or no curriculum at all - great for preschool!).  I made it for my personal use with Singapore Math, but I also added anything big I saw used in Horizon's 1st grade curriculum too.

Several backgrounds have snapping points so that numbers or objects snap in a natural way.

And just a few more...

So there you have it.  We're hoping to have a tutorial in the app before its first release, we'll see how that goes time-wise.  We'd also love to have demo boards, or a guide of some sort to help give ideas of how the different boards available could be used, but that will have to wait until a future release.  Likewise, it would be cool to have an explanation of the different 'new' concepts, like number bonds. I could see this exceptionally helpful for parents of public school children who miss out on what the teacher is teaching in the lessons, but still need to help with homework.

We're hoping to have this out October 2014-ish.  A free trial version might be released, but we still need figure out the details for that.  It's a such strange phenomenon that no one wants to pay for apps.  I won't rant about it again.

Beyond that, I'll want a 2nd/3rd grade version next.  I've got more math to teach to these big kids!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Gimme Some Office Space...

I'm in the midst of a quite a few projects right now, but I wanted to get the first part of this one up.  Thanks to our laptop burning in our spontaneous minivan fire, we were lacking in any sort of computer set up for blogging for a while... which, despite wanting to backpost a bit, brings me to this post.

I doubt I have any good pictures of the area before, but you can see the gross office space we had going to the side here in a picture taken a bunch of months ago.  We didn't actually have any computer set up yet for the picture, but you can sort of see what we're working with.

Edit:  I did find a picture that I took with a little more detail in the office area after it's been lived in a bit.  

The shelf the right is where we keep the homeschool books, papers, science, fine art (crafts are elsewhere) and math supplies.  The bookshelves are crammed with books and papers and I wish I had a more space, and fewer college books.  

The papers on the floor are the recent 'we need to file or sort' papers.  The boxes are about 70% filled with Eve's artwork we need to sort.  Not kidding.  We've 'laid down the law' and now she needs to ask before she get paper, and date what she wants to keep and after a few days, recycle the rest herself.  It seems to be going okay, except recycling is usually inconsistent.

The blue bin on the floor is electronics.  Behind the chair is a beat up filing cabinet, that I've had since I was 12.  Even then I wanted to hide it's scratched top, so I kept gray foam over it.  On top of the filing cabinet is our 'office storage' and it holds pens, calculators, envelopes, highlighter, protractors, etc.  It's a mess and the drawers stick.

And the computer desk holds everything else, but not well. Note the purple computer on the bottom. It's not actually hooked up.  Being programmers, we'd love to have dual monitors at some point... but this little desk can't handle more than one.

Here's a closeup of the old computer stand, taken a few days ago (hoping to give it away soon). My Mom bought it at Ames when I was about... 10.  That makes it almost 20 years old.  And it's made it through at least 15 moves.  Honestly, it's held up super well for being made of particleboard and something not thicker than contact paper on top of it.  Crazy.  The blue thing on the side is a folded piece of paper to hold our SD cards.  Best idea ever.

Anyway, it's ugly.  And it didn't suit our needs anymore.  We really really really need more desk space and storage.
Which is funny to say we need more space, because the computer we kept there (in this house) is super tiny.  It's an older used Mac Mini that we bought recently for app development. (You can see the little white box next to the monitor in the new pic above.)  We had it here for when we needed it for app stuff, but it hadn't been much competition for our [burned] laptop.  Because of the OS we had to load to develop apps, it runs really slow.   So while it worked okay for facebook and gmail, it was a pain to do much else on it.  (Like blogging)

I digress...  Again. After our car fire, we were able to successfully pull the hard-drive from the laptop, buy using our old desktop.  To step back, about 2 years ago we stopped using the desktop because the monitor barely worked, and the computer shut down randomly with no warning.  After trying a few things we were stumped as to what it was, and we sort of left it sitting there unfixed for a while. Like two years.

But, to get the laptop hard drive hooked up, I disconnected every extra thing in there (mostly hard-drives) to give the computer the best change of staying alive long enough to get our data off.   Not only had it stayed on the whole time getting our data off, we found it wasn't shutting off at all.  Must have been something with the old harddrives.  Mystery solved!  So that leaves us here.  No laptop, not much money to upgrade, and not much room for our existing stuff.  So our computer sat here next to the TV for a bit. It doesn't have a wireless card and was too far from the router where it sat, so we didn't have web access on it either.

So I focused my efforts back on the computer stand, which honestly, most of the plywood has been cut for a long time.  Long long time.  I actually cut most of the pieces while I cut the boys lego shelves and table (to be posted about soon).  The lego storage (and a bunch of other things) jumped the gun though and I finished those first.

Anyway, I finally got the first part kicked out about two weeks ago.  I'm so happy even with this little change.  The tabletop is maple plywood, edged with routered maple.  I'll get better pictures eventually.  I'm so glad I went with a hardwood for the table. I can already tell it will hold up well to the abusive keyboard and office chairs deliver.  The cabinet is birch plywood with poplar trim, painted white. A little cheaper and easier to work with than maple.  Once we have floors, I'm planning making it built-in with molding wrapping the bottom.

But that's not all!  About a week ago, I got the first part of the storage tower done. 

And just tonight, I got more of the storage tower up!  It's really coming to together now! I still have sanding, painting (outside), staining (inside), and a few more trim pieces to buy.... but I can see it now!


Added bonus, you can see one of the other projects I've been working on.  Our friends are taking a year long boat trip, and I've been making cushions for their bunks.  These are the last two, so I'm hoping to get some on-boat photos taken and posted soon.


Monday, August 18, 2014

A Slightly Better Deck?

Hard to call these improvements, because we know that our deck is going to need a complete overhaul one of these years, and this didn't even touch what we'll have do to it.  Still, these are changes that should help with our pool use for now.... although the weather has been unseasonably cold :(  I hope we'll still have some time in it this year.

Here's a refresher to our deck layout, taken just after we moved in.  Take note of the plastic storage box and pool ladder.

First up, we had a rotted hole in our deck.  It used to be under a plastic storage box with our pool chemicals and pet hornets in it.  But since we moved the storage box to the ground to try to free up some space, we were left with a rotted hole for kids to fall through.  Long story short, a little bit of destruction and I got that rotted board out.

Yay, no more hole.  You can barely see but I actually replaced the stair tread that aligned with this board earlier this spring.  At first I couldn't think of a connection, but I realized when the retractable awning is fully extended it would drip right there.  Mystery solved.  We keep it closed most of the time, unless it's sunny out.  No point in risking it taking up kite status in a thunderstorm (it's almost happened once, even while Jon was actively it trying to roll it up... in a storm).

Next up... a really ugly gate. Money's tight, so I'm just glad this ugly thing was made completely out of scraps.  I had the gate hardware already, so all I needed to by was some supporting braces.

As you may remember from some of our other house pictures, we had an unmobile 'gate' the previous owners had put in.  I decided a 4' foot wide opening to a pool with a two year old in the house was a bad idea.   We decided that it would be best to just detach the rusted broken gate hardware, and turn it back into deck railing.  Insurance required some barrier, so it was win-win.  Kind of.

It meant, of course, to get in the pool you need to... climb the railing.  Everyone.  Us. Grandparents.  Guests.  Guest's Parents.  In bathing suits no less. Everyone.  It made us slightly more hesitant to invite anyone over into the pool.

But, time for a change!  With some kid helpers, we cut the old 'gate' in half...

 attached the gate hardware...
 and installed a new post.
I figured this was a short term solution, so the post isn't at all secured in a long lasting way (ie, up to code).  I bought a post support and screwed it down.  That's pretty much it.  I also decided to reinforce the other post with some L braces, since it had gotten a little wobbly from everyone else climbing on it.  Seems to have done the trick for now.

The last 'fix' we made was to the pool ladder.  While planning the gate, we decided the pool side deck would flow better if we moved it.  Plus, the ladder was unnecessarily taking up the widest place on the deck, which was the only place that  gave us enough room to put in a pair of lounge chairs on that side. So moving it seemed ideal!

I kinda stunk at taking pictures, but it was there....

And now it's here!

So that's it for our recent 'deck' improvements.  Now hopefully the weather warms up enough to use them!