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Fun Stuff Ideas

When People Can’t See What’s Right In Front Of Them

This is  the preface to Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman’s book Nurture Shock. It’s one of the best stories I’ve read about how people can completely ignore irrefutable evidence that’s right in front of them:

During the late 1960s, visitors to the Magic Castle— a private nightclub in Hollywood, California, run by professional magicians— were often delighted to see that the club had hired a Cary Grant look-alike as its doorman. As they’d step up to the portico, the door would be swung open by a dashing man in an impeccably tailored suit. “Welcome to the Castle,” he charmed, seeming to enjoy his doppelgänger status. Once the guests were through the lobby, they would titter over just how much the doorman resembled the iconic actor. The nightclub is mere yards from the Chinese Theatre and the Walk of Fame. To have the best Cary Grant impersonator in the world holding the door for you was the perfect embodiment of the magic of Hollywood in all its forms.

However, the doorman pretending to be Cary Grant wasn’t an impostor after all. It was, in fact, the real Cary Grant.

Grant, a charter member of the Castle, had been intrigued by magic since he was a kid. Part of the Castle’s appeal to Grant and many other celebrities, though, was that the club has an ironclad rule— no cameras, no photographs, and no reporters. It gave stars the ability to have a quiet night out without gossip columns knowing.

Grant hung out in the lobby to be with the receptionist, Joan Lawton. They spent the hours talking about a more profound kind of Magic— something Grant cared more deeply about than the stage. Children.

Lawton’s work at the Castle was her night job. By day, she was pursuing a certificate in the science of child development. Grant, then the father of a toddler, was fascinated by her study. He plied her for every scrap of research she was learning. “He wanted to know everything about kids,” she recalled. Whenever he heard a car arrive outside, he’d jump to the door. He wasn’t intentionally trying to fool the guests, but that was often the result. The normally autograph-seeking patrons left him alone.

So why didn’t guests recognize he was the real thing?

The context threw them off. Nobody expected the real Cary Grant would appear in the humdrum position of a doorman. Magicians who performed at the Magic Castle were the best anywhere, so the guests came prepared to witness illusions. They assumed the handsome doorman was just the first illusion of the evening.

Here’s the thing. When everything is all dressed up as entertainment— when it’s all supposed to be magical and surprising and fascinating— the Real Thing may be perceived as just another tidbit for our amusement.

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Fun Stuff Ideas

Online Learning: Udacity

Udacity is an Awesome Place for Online Learning: In order to review technical and coding skills and to learn new ones, I really like Udacity. Udacity was founded by Sebastian Thrun, founder of Google X and Google’s self driving car project. When Thrun wanted to have more of an impact he created Udacity — which is structured slightly different from other online learning sites. I’ve taken a number of great classes on Udacity including Hadoop and MapReduce (where I downloaded Hadoop to my PC), Intro to the Design of Everyday Things (a fantastic class led by Don Norman), and Intro to Computer Science (a good introduction to Python). They also do some very interesting online talks with thought leaders like Tony Fadell (Nest), Astro Teller (Google X) and Yann LeChun (Facebook’s Director of AI).

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Fun Stuff

Hacking an Echo

Hacking an Amazon Echo Isn’t That Difficult: This year I learned that it’s not that hard to play around with new technology. I built a little Alexa Skill to kick the tires and publish it. By using one of their standard templates, it only took a couple of hours but it gave me a much better understanding of how these things work!

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Kids

How to Painlessly Get Your Kids To Memorize Facts

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Kids

Kid Electronics

Another favorite in our family is Snap Circuits. We have the basic kit, the extreme kit (with case, learning guides and almost everything you can imagine — though missing some light and sound items) and the deluxe rover. The Snap Circuits Jr. (basic kit)  has plenty to get started. Snap Circuits Jr. Select looks even better but seems harder to find (it’s not available on Amazon).

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Kids

Placemats

We found it fun to have some reference materials for the kids to look at while they eat. Some of our favorites are: Addition and Subtraction, Presidents, sight words, map of the world, and map of the US . It’s not quite a placemat but I’ve found the the most useful thing for teaching kids basic math is a Hundreds Board (get 10 for $5 here).

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Books / Audiobooks / Podcasts / Articles Kids

Math Books

Hard Elementary School Math is a great book covering a wide variety of topics that are appropriate for elementary school. A Mathematician’s Lament (free abridged version here) is a great book on math education — focusing on how kids should be learning math. For those of you that want a more “adult” basic math book, check out , Steve Strotgatz’s Joy of X is quite good — you can also read a number of his articles in the New York Times. Bedtime Math is also fun — we like it but it’s especially for parents who aren’t so into math.

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Kids

Math Games

We enjoyed the Montessori math games from Enoki. There are some other good math drill games like Math Bingo, Madagascar Math Ops and YodelOh. But  we don’t play those nearly as much as Dragonbox.

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Kids

Learning to Read

Ari learns to read with Learn with Homer which is a pretty awesome interactive reading app. We also found it fun to make our own “word wall” with magnets.

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Kids

Preschool Games

For the preschool set, we’ve become a fan of the Monkey Preschool series.