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Kano's Pixel Kit is a fun way to learn how to code, but it needs to crash less

Kano's Pixel Kit is a fun way to learn how to code, but it needs to crash less

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I spent some time recently with Kano's Pixel Kit, a successful Kickstarter project from the same people who made that Kano computer for kids. The $79.99 Pixel Kit is basically a low-resolution display, composed of 128 super-bright color LEDs, but it's powered by a built-in computer you can program from your desktop of choice. It also has a microphone, tilt sensor, joystick, and two input buttons.

In the true spirit of Kano, you assemble it yourself, but it's just snapping a few plastic parts together, so nothing very advanced. Where the learning begins is when you plug it in to your computer over USB and launch the Kano app. It's one of those drag-and-drop coding interface, similar to what kids use in Hour of Code. I'll be honest: I usually hate these puzzle piece coding environments, but this one was really good. You can easily click a tab to see the actual JavaScript you're generating, which is honestly more readable to me than colored blocks, and could potentially be a way for kids to transition over to text programming when they're ready.

To add functionality to your coding project, you introduce "parts" like a microphone or a rectangle or an animation. There are even internet-connected parts (the Pixel Kit has Wi-Fi). These are basically like the concept of "classes" in programming, and they bring along methods you can compose with the basic built-in code blocks like math, variables, and per-pixel lightboard control.

I finally gave up and actually did some of Kano's tutorials

I knew exactly what I wanted to do: I wanted to program a birthday cake for myself as a joke. I quickly cobbled together something that worked perfectly on my computer — blow on the microphone to make the candle flame pixels disappear — but when I loaded it onto the Pixel Kit, it wasn't interactive. I double-checked the JavaScript, and everything looked perfect. I finally gave up and actually did some of Kano's tutorials, which were wonderful. I ended up using a method very similar to one of Kano's tutorials, where I just covered over the flames with microphone-sensitive black rectangle. For whatever reason, that version worked when I loaded it onto the Pixel Kit.

There were a huge number of crashes of the Pixel Kit throughout my experience, and it wasn't just my own programs that seemed to be a problem. The Kit has built-in games, like Snake, and other built-in functions like a light show, and sometimes it would crash when I'd try to browse through these apps. But when I turned it off and on again, everything worked fine.

Overall, I'm really impressed with Kano. The company put a weird hardware project on Kickstarter, shipped it, and has a great programming environment to support it. Once a few more bugs are ironed out, I would recommend Pixel Kit to anyone interested in coding. By making your code respond to analog inputs like a microphone and a tilt sensor, and output to such vibrant LEDs, your code ends up feeling a lot more tangible and "productive." Which, as someone who is bad at programming but keeps trying, is a real rarity in the coding journey.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 24 Striking out

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Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

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Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

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Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.

A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.

Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.

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If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.

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Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

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