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Simple streaming telemetry

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Introducing gnmi-gateway: a modular, distributed, and highly available service for modern network telemetry via OpenConfig and gNMI

By: Colin McIntosh, Michael Costello

Netflix runs its own content delivery network, Open Connect, which delivers all streaming traffic to our members. A backbone network underlies a large portion of the CDN, and we also run the high capacity networks that support our studios and corporate offices. In order to design, operate, and measure these networks, we must collect metrics and state data from the thousands of devices that compose them.

Towards this end, we created gnmi-gateway, which we have released as an open source project. This article goes over some background on the project, why we created it, and how you can use it to monitor your own network.

Background

Traditional network management tools, namely SNMP and CLI screen-scraping, have been used for decades for this purpose, and there are numerous software packages, protocols, and libraries to choose from. As is common with mature technologies, any number of shortcomings have revealed themselves. The data itself is largely unstructured, untyped, and vendor-proprietary, and its format often changes between even minor software releases. The mechanisms by which the data is retrieved may not be inherently reliable (in the case of SNMP’s UDP transport) and always require active polling by the collector — which, for time series data, must be driven by a strict clock. Other shortcomings include a lack of source timestamps, support for multiple connections, and general scalability challenges.

Modern vendor APIs address some, but not all, of these shortcomings. For example, Arista’s EOS provides eAPI, a RESTful service using JSON payloads. Similarly, Juniper has its Junos XML API, utilizing NETCONF and XML. In both cases the data remains only semi-structured, both vendors format it differently, and collectors must actively poll.

To address the issues associated with polling, some vendors have developed implementations of streaming telemetry, a technology that pushes data from devices on a clock or when state changes rather than requiring polling. However, as with legacy protocols, different vendors implement streaming protocols and payloads differently, and the data is often still unstructured or untyped.

OpenConfig

A few years ago, an operator-driven working group, OpenConfig, was formed with the goal of solving all these problems. The result is a strongly typed vendor-agnostic data model that describes the state and configuration of network devices. The data model is arranged in a tree-like structure of various leaves. Here is a example of what some of these leaves may look like:

Tree example generated by pyang. Some leaves are removed for brevity.

This OpenConfig data model is defined in YANG and can be found on GitHub where the latest changes are published.

gNMI

While the OpenConfig data model describes the structure and state of network devices, the data itself is streamed from network devices at Netflix using the gRPC Network Management Interface (gNMI) protocol. gNMI is an open-source protocol specification created by the OpenConfig working group that is used to stream data to and from network devices, also known as gNMI targets. gNMI provides four RPC mechanisms:

  • Capabilities: Describes the services and data models supported by the target
  • Get: Allows clients to request the value of specific leaves in the tree
  • Set: Allows clients to set writable leaves in the tree
  • Subscribe: Streams state changes about the target to clients

Subscribe is the RPC that we’re primarily interested in to stream state from targets to our network management platform, and is the the RPC that gnmi-gateway supports today.

Here’s a diagram that will give you an idea of how OpenConfig and gNMI fit together:

At the bottom of the diagram is a normal gRPC connection over HTTP/2 and TLS. The gRPC code is auto-generated from the gNMI protobuf model and gNMI carries the data modeled in OpenConfig, which has some encoding.

When we talk about streaming telemetry at Netflix, we’re typically talking about all of the components in this stack.

Existing Systems

OpenConfig and gNMI streaming telemetry solve many of the problems that network operators encounter, but to date there have been no commercial or open source systems that provide scalable integration of this data into traditional network management tools. Where is Cacti for streaming telemetry? Although there are gnmi_collector, gNMI Plugin for Telegraf, and Cisco Big Muddy, none of these provide a distributed and highly available collection service that exports streaming data in a useful manner.

The Gateway

To fill these gaps — under the OpenConfig working group, Netflix has built and now introduces gnmi-gateway, a modular, distributed, and highly available service for OpenConfig modeled streaming telemetry data over gNMI.

Our goals in building a gateway to consume and distribute data from gNMI were similar to goals in services that we’ve built in the past for SNMP and CLI screen-scraping. We strived for a service that:

  • is tolerant to failure
  • dynamically loads/unloads metadata to form connections to network devices
  • can export data to our constantly-evolving suite of network management tools
  • uses existing code where possible

Additionally, we wanted to improve the accessibility of the gNMI protocol and OpenConfig data by enabling network operators everywhere to deploy the service with no additional software development (coding) required.

That said, we also didn’t want to limit the ability for network operators to further extend the functionality. Whenever possible, we enabled additional exporter and target loading plugins to be added with loose coupling and without the need to develop a complete gNMI client.

We chose to build gnmi-gateway in Golang given the first-class support for protobufs in Go and that much of the existing reference code for gNMI exists in Golang. Although we chose Golang, clients for the gNMI protocol can be generated for any language with Protobuf 3 tools. Network operators should feel encouraged to deploy gnmi-gateway to manage connections to gNMI targets and write consuming gNMI applications in the language that is most appropriate for their situation.

As mentioned earlier, we wanted to use existing code whenever possible. Within the openconfig/gnmi repo there are three specific components built by the OpenConfig community that we directly utilized:

  • gnmi/client: A fault-tolerant client for forming gNMI connections to targets
  • gnmi/cache and gnmi/subscribe: Libraries for aggregating gNMI messages from multiple targets and serving them in a consolidated stream

Addressing the Need for High Availability

One of the primary issues we found with existing software for gNMI was a lack of tolerance for failure. Most of the existing software was stateful and either required a mutable deployment or didn’t include any cluster awareness for failover or coordination.

To support better failure tolerance, we included clustering in gnmi-gateway that allows multiple instances of the service to coordinate and deduplicate connections to targets. We have many consumers interested in this streaming telemetry, but we only need a single connection to a target to receive it. By using this clustering functionality and replication, we’re able to avoid unnecessary duplicate gNMI connections to targets.

gnmi-gateway uses a shared lock per-target for coordinating these connections. We chose to build locking on Apache Zookeeper, which is included in Netflix’s paved road and provides all of the features necessary for cluster consensus. Although Zookeeper is the included clustering implementation, gnmi-gateway provides a Golang interface that can be used to implement connection coordination with systems other than Zookeeper.

After an instance of gnmi-gateway acquires a lock for a target and forms a connection, it begins to forward data into the local in-memory cache. To allow any instance of gnmi-gateway in the cluster to serve a subscription for any target in the cluster, gNMI messages are replicated from the instance with the lock to other instances in the cluster. This replication allows any clustered instance of gnmi-gateway to accept client requests for any known target.

With every instance in the cluster able to serve streams for each target, we’re able to load balance incoming clients connections among all of the cluster instances. The underlying transport for gNMI is, like most gRPC connections, HTTP/2 over TLS — so this allows us to use a simple Layer 4 load balancer between gnmi-gateway and our gNMI clients. Although we’ve chosen to use a Layer 4 load balancer, this could be substituted for a Layer 7 load balancer or an alternative load balancing solution, such as DNS load balancing.

Target Loaders

At Netflix, our network infrastructure is constantly changing. To allow network engineers to make changes on the network without needing to update the configuration of gnmi-gateway many times per day, we included a feature that loads our gNMI targets from our network management system (NMS) based on tags on network devices. Although our NMS (and therefore its API) is not open source, we included a Target Loader plugin for loading devices from NetBox as well as from watched files.

Here is an example of a simple target loader configuration file:

---
connection:
demo-gnmi-router:
addresses
:
- demo-gnmi-router.example.com:9339
request: demo-request
meta: {}
request:
demo-request:
target: "*"
paths
:
- /components
- /interfaces/interface[name=*]/state/counters
- /interfaces/interface[name=*]/ethernet/state/counters

Exporters

While gnmi-gateway allows us to form connections to our gNMI data sources (network devices) and serve gNMI streams to clients on the other side, we still need to integrate this data with our existing tooling, most of which does not support the gNMI protocol.

// Exporter is an interface to send data to other systems and
// protocols.
type Exporter interface {
// Name must return unique exporter name that will be used for
// registration and recording internal stats.
Name() string
// Start will be called once by the gateway.Gateway after
// StartGateway is called. It will receive a pointer to the
// cache.Cache that receives all of the updates from gNMI targets
// that the gateway has a subscription for. If Start returns an
// error the gateway will fail to start with an error.
Start(*cache.Cache) error
// Export will be called once for every gNMI notification that is
// inserted into the cache.Cache. Export should complete as
// quickly as possible to prevent delays in the system and
// upstream gNMI clients. Export receives the leaf parameter
// which is a *ctree.Leaf type and has a value of type
// *gnmipb.Notification. You can access the notification with a
// type assertion: leaf.Value().(*gnmipb.Notification)
Export(leaf *ctree.Leaf)
}

To enable this integration, we included plug-in components in gnmi-gateway called Exporters, which are able to present data to non-gNMI systems. Exporters were designed to be easily extendable with a Golang interface, but to help users of gnmi-gateway get started without needing to write code, we’ve included a few to start.

Here’s an example of gnmi-gateway being started with a Kafka Exporter enabled:

To see additional Exporter functionality, take a look at another example in the GitHub repo here that will get you up and running with a development instance of Prometheus and gnmi-gateway.

You can try gnmi-gateway right now!

With all of these great features, we bet you’re itching to try gnmi-gateway right away! Good news — you can go grab a copy of gnmi-gateway right now and try it out for yourself. To get started you’ll need to have installed:

  • Golang 1.13 or later
  • git
  • openssl (or another tool to generate certificate pairs)
  • A target that supports gNMI and OpenConfig (see list in the Appendix)

In a new shell or terminal:

$ git clone github.com/openconfig/gnmi-gateway && cd gnmi-gateway

The gNMI specification requires that gNMI connections be encrypted with TLS, so you’ll need to create a few TLS certificates before you can start the gnmi-gateway server:

$ make tls

Make sure that the .crt and .key file were created successfully:

$ ls -al server.*
-rw-rw-r-- 1 user user 717 Sep 1 20:50 server.crt
-rw------- 1 user user 359 Sep 1 20:50 server.key

Next, you’ll need to define the target and paths that you want to subscribe to. First copy the example .yaml file which will be used with the ‘simple’ target loader:

$ cp targets-example.yaml targets.yaml

Edit the file to match the details of your router. Here we have a few predefined paths, but feel free to modify them to paths that you’re interested in seeing.

$ vim targets.yaml

At this point, you should be ready to start gnmi-gateway. Run gnmi-gateway with the ‘debug’ Exporter enabled to see all of the received messages logged to stdout.

$ make build && ./gnmi-gateway -EnableGNMIServer \
-ServerTLSCert=server.crt \
-ServerTLSKey=server.key \
-TargetLoaders=simple \
-TargetJSONFile=targets.yaml \
-Exporters=debug

Congratulations — you’re now collecting gNMI data with gnmi-gateway!


Simple streaming telemetry was originally published in Netflix TechBlog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Gift Guide: 22 STEM toy gift ideas for every little builder

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In 2020, parents and guardians are super spoilt for choice in the STEM toys gift department — which is great news in the midst of a pandemic that’s supercharging homeschooling needs. The category has matured to offer an interesting range of options for children across a wide span of ages, shedding some of its earlier reliance on Disney IP in favor of more original ideas. Below, we’ve rounded up 20+ gift ideas to get the (robotic) ball rolling.

It’s still true the educational value of ‘learn to code’ gizmos remains hard to quantify. And some price-tags can seem tricky to justify. But there’s no doubt a lot of thought has gone on creating child-friendly product design and into chunking and structuring the learning. The short story is there’s plenty to intrigue and inspire developing minds, even if there’s no guarantee you’ll have a future Googler on your hands. (But that’s okay; maybe your kid will invent the next paradigm shifting platform?)

It’s also good to see attention continuing to be paid to encouraging children to explore art & design, not just get their heads around engineering & science concepts. Maybe in the coming years we’ll get a little STEM ethics thrown into the mix — to further round-out the learning potential. While there’s clear value in kids understanding how digital tools work under the hood, helping the next generation appreciate that connectivity can change people’s behavior and reshape the world around them looks no less important a lesson to learn.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

Arcade Coder

Arcade Coder targets budding game designers (Image credit: Tech Will Save Us)

UK startup Tech Will Save Us’ Arcade Coder is a STEM toy designed for budding game designers. It takes the form of interactive gaming ‘tablet’ with an array of LED-lit buttons rather than a touchscreen — preloaded with a few retro games. But hook it up to its companion iPad app and kids get guidance on how to tweak gameplay and design their own games via a drag-and-drop learn-to-code interface.

Age: 6-10
Price: $120 from Amazon
Made by: Tech Will Save Us

Boolean Box

The BooleanBox has Raspberry Pi inside (Image credit: Boolean Girl)

The Boolean Box is a build-it-yourself Raspberry Pi Model 3-based computer designed with the help of girls in coding camps and school programs run by its not-for-profit maker — though it’s designed for kids of any gender. The Pi-powered machine runs Raspbian OS and comes preloaded with STEM-friendly software, including Scratch, Python, and Minecraft, so little coders can get to grips with block-based and more sophisticated programming languages once the computer has been put together. The kit also includes a breadboard for building electronics projects. (NB: The basic box needs an HDMI-capable TV to act as a monitor for the computer, or there’s a $300 bundle that comes with a monitor.)

Age: 8+
Price: $150 from Amazon
Made by: Boolean Girl

Botley 2.0 Coding Robot Activity Set

The battery-powered coding robot, Botley 2.0 (Image credit: Learning Resources)

For parents looking for screen-free STEM toys Botley 2.0 is worth a look. The battery-powered rolling-and-sensing programmable robot comes with a remote control for coding directional sequences (of up to 150 steps) via simple button pressing. There’s also a loops button to introduce the code coding principle of recycling a previous sequence.

Botley’s maker, Learning Resources, has updated the robot for 2020 with new interactions, color-changing eyes and night vision so it can carry on line-sensing in the dark. There are also new programming sequences for kids to discover that transform the bot into fresh characters — such as a train, police car, ghost and frog — expressed via different sounds and movements. The kit also includes a 78-piece activity set so kids can devise obstacle courses for Botley to navigate.

Age: 5-10
Price: Around $70 from Amazon
Made by: Learning Resources

Botzees Go! – Dino Set & Color Sensor Kit add-on pack

The Color Sensor Kit add-on pack for the Botzees Go! — Dino Set (Image Credit: Pai Technology)

Pai Technology has been selling robotics kits with an augmented reality twist for a few years now. Newer offerings from the STEM toy maker are aimed at younger kids — offering a first taste of block-based construction plus a companion app to offer build instructions and simple visualization of the finished creation. The Botzees Go! – Dino Set extends the basic construction element by adding movement and a physical remote control so kids can bring the dino-bots to life. So a very soft introduction to STEM learning. An optional Color Sensor Kit further extends capabilities by enabling the bots to track lines and respond to different colors.

Age: 3+
Price: $80 ($40 apiece for the Dino Set and Sensor Kit)
Made by: Pai Technology

Circuit Explorer

Circuit Explorer space themed STEM playsets (Image credit: Educational Insights)

Circuit Explorer is a simple STEM toy that fuses Lego-style block building with snap-together electronic circuits for a range of space-themed toys — including a rocket, rover and Deluxe Base Station. Kids get to light up their creations with battery-powered LED lights and synthesized sound effects.

Age: 6+
Price: From $30 on Amazon
Made by: Educational Insights

Disney Codeillusion

Disney Codeillusion gamifies teaching kids coding (Image credit: Life is Tech!)

Edtech company Life is Tech! has licensed Disney IP to inject the latter’s branding magic into a gamified and interactive learning environment that’s geared towards encouraging kids to acquire coding skills by building their own games, websites and movies featuring some of their favorite Disney characters. The online educational game — called Disney Codeillusion — is billed as teaching four coding languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Processing), with a focus on visual arts thanks to the inclusion of Disney’s animated movie characters. The content features the usual cartoon suspects — from Queen Elsa and Aladdin to Mickey Mouse.

The web-based course is definitely not a cheap option — and requires an Internet connection via a desktop computer (not a mobile device) to work — costing $500 for a package that excludes any physical merch and also strips out some other digital elements (such as an RPG game). While the package with all the bells & whistles (aka the ‘Enchanted’ edition) weighs in at $900. But with 125 lessons (averaging 30 minutes a pop) kids should at least be kept busy working on their code creations for some time — which might be magic enough for parents stuck homeschooling during a pandemic.

There is also a free seven-day trial to get a taster of lesson content before committing to shell out.

Age: 8+
Price: From $500
Made by: Life is Tech!

Electro Explorers Club

The crafty Electro Explorer Club subscription box (Image credit: Tech Will Save Us)

Monthly activity kits have become a well established STEM toy niche that looks set to be supercharged as more parents take on homeschooling because of the coronavirus pandemic. UK STEAM toy maker Tech Will Save Us has been playing in this space for several years now. One of its most recent offerings to keep kids entertained and engaged is the Electro Explorers Club: A cutesy craft and electronics projects subscription box with a focus on story led learning. Expect plenty of squishy electro dough for character-building.

Each box covers a range of tech, science and design concepts — such as simple robotics and programs, electronic circuits, multi-line algorithms with conditions, character design and physics. As the months progress kids also build up a toolset of components to keep expanding their learning. Each box costs $20 a month via a recurring cancel-at-any-time subscription.

Age: 4-6
Price: $20 per month
Made by: Tech Will Save Us

Evo for Home and Homeschooled

Droid-based learning with Ozobot’s Evo (Image credit: Ozobot)

Ozobot’s programmable droid Evo can be paired with its block-based coding interface or used screen-free with the included color code markers as the sensing robots responds to different colors like a set of instructions in a program. The K-12 focused STEAM learning company sells plenty of kit direct to schools — and isn’t solely focused on teaching computer programming but rather it touts its tech as a teaching assistant for all STEAM subjects — but the Evo starter package is aimed at home learners, encouraging kids to use the bot to pick up coding by creating and playing with games and tricks.

Age: 5+
Price: $100
Made by: Ozobot

imagiCharm

Code your own tamagotchi? (Image credit: ImagiLabs)

Swedish startup imagiLabs is on a mission to get girls coding. The STEM toy they’ve devised for this inspirational task is a programmable Bluetooth charm — a sort of personalizable keychain/code-your-own tamagotchi. The connected gizmo works in conjunction with a companion mobile app that uses gamified tutorials to encourage tweens and teens to tinker with Python to change the look/function of the 8×8 matrix of colored LED lights. There’s also a social element to the app as girls can share their projects and check out what others have made.

Age: 9-15
Price: From $85 on Amazon
Made by: ImagiLabs

Kano PC

Not a Microsoft Surface — a kid-friendly Windows-based Kano PC (Image credit: Kano)

As we noted in last year’s gift guide, UK STEM learning startup Kano has pivoted from selling Raspberry Pi-powered build-it-yourself computer kits to a more convention ‘my child’s first PC’ proposition. The Windows-based plug-in-the-bits-and-play Kano PC is aimed at parents who want to set their child on the path to STEM learning in a more mainstream computing environment. At $300 the laptop-slash-tablet is hardly a ‘toy’ but the advantage of shelling out for a fully fledged computer is increased utility — and, hopefully, longevity. Kano touts the PC as capable of running “thousands” of applications.

Of most relevance to the STEM side, it comes preloaded with Kano’s Software Studio package: A set of learning tools geared towards teaching kids design, science, coding, and creativity “in simple and fun ways”, as it puts it.

Age: K-12 (from 4+ to 19)
From: $300
Made by: Kano

Kumiita

Even very young children can engage with coding concepts by playing with Kumiita (Image Credit: Icon Corp)

For very young kids point your peepers at Kumiita. The educational toy for kids who haven’t even reached their first birthday began as a Kickstarter side-project. Now its Japanese maker is selling the gizmo globally, via Amazon. The idea is to teach foundational programming concepts via screen-free (and Internet-free), tile-based floor play.

A battery-powered robot — Kumiita — responds to pictorial instructions on the tiles. Kids choose which tiles to place to ‘program’ the robot — getting immediate feedback on their sequence as the bot twirls, changes colour, plays animal sounds or moves off in a new direction. If the bot falls off the pathway there’s obviously a problem and kids have to set about ‘debugging’ by changing their choice of tiles. That in turn encourages problem solving and sequential thinking. Tiles in some of the packs also introduce conditional coding concepts.

Age: 7 months+
Price: From $200
Made by: Icon Corp

littleBits At Home Learning Starter Kit

littleBits kits offer guided electronics projects to spark young minds (Image credit: Sphero)

Sphero-owned littleBits makes introductory circuit kits with magnetic snap-together connectors to help children get to grips with basic electronics through interactive learning. This home starter kit promises to get children brainstorming ideas and tinkering to bring a variety of projects to life — with five guided inventions in the bundle. The learning activity can be entirely screen free as introductory paper guides are included in the pack. Additional learning resources are also available online via the littleBits Classroom platform.

Age: 8+
Price: $65
Made by: Sphero

MakeCode Arcade & a codable console to run retro gaming creations

Inspire kids with the help of a dinky codable games console (Image credit: Adafruit)

Budding game designers can have fun coding their own retro games in Microsoft’s arcade game editor, MakeCode Arcade — based on its open source learn-to-code platform. The free online project builder includes tutorials to create simple games using either a block-based coding interface, JavaScript or Python — building up to more complex types of gameplay. You can then turn this free STEM resource into a gift by adding a codable console that supports MakeCode Arcade projects. Such as KittenBot’s GameBoy-esque Meowbit ($40); or the Adafruit PyBadge ($35) which can also run CircuitPython and Arduino — both of which are stocked by Adafruit. The maker-focused and electronics hobbyist brand stocks a range of MakeCode compatible hardware and plenty more besides.

Age: It depends
Price: From $35
Made by: Adafruit, others

MindLabs: Energy and Circuits

Kids learn about electronics circuits via augmented reality (Image credit: Explore Interactive)

This STEM toy lets kids learn about electronics circuits virtually. This means no fiddling with actual wires, batteries or components thanks to augmented reality. Instead, the MindLabs: Energy and Circuits pack has kids play with a set of physical cards — viewing them through the screen of a tablet where they get to build out circuits that are brought to life digitally via the companion app. The kit offers 20+ interactive lessons with step-by-step instructions on basic circuit concepts. (NB: Children will need access to a tablet.)

The approach offers a relatively affordable way for kids to learn about electronics components and concepts through (virtual) trial and error — though clearly if it’s a screen-free toy you’re after this isn’t it. An added advantage is children are able to collaborate remotely with friends for group learning opportunities.

Age: 8+
Price: $25
Made by: Explore Interactive

NextMaker Box

NextMaker Box is a new monthly subscription box stuffed with STEM projects (Image credit: Makeblock)

Chinese firm Makeblock is getting in on the the monthly STEM activity kit action this year with its NextMaker Box. At the time of writing the subscription product is up for pre-order via Kickstarter with an earliest estimated shipping date of December 2020 — so the usual ‘risk of shipping delay’ caveats apply.

For parents willing to take a gamble on a gift not turning up in time for the festive season, the NextMaker Box is slated to deliver monthly hardware projects and coding courses designed to keep young minds engaged. The content focuses on robotics, coding and engineering concepts and design work. MakeBlock also says the boxes will follow a Computer Science Teachers Association standard-aligned coding curriculum.

Age: 6-12
Price: From $40
Made by: Makeblock

Piper Command Center

Screwdrivers at the ready for this Arduino project (Image credit: Piper)

The Piper Command Center is an Arduino project for teens to build and configure their own gaming controller — following instructions available via Piper’s online portal. The (beta) project offers a hand-held introduction to physical computing, hardware hacking and the maker movement. Requires access to a desktop computer with Arduino IDE installed for configuring the controller and troubleshooting the firmware.

Age: 13+
Price: $60
Made by: Piper

Raspberry Pi 400

The $100 Pi 400 bundle includes an official beginner’s guidebook (Image credit: Raspberry Pi Foundation)

The UK-based, STEM-learning focused not-for-profit Raspberry Pi Foundation’s latest bit of kit — the Pi 400 — houses its top-of-the-range microprocessor (Pi 4) inside a sleek keyboard in a retro throwback to how home computing started. Add your own TV or monitor — et voila! A powerful STEM learning device in a very affordable package, given the keyboard-computer can be picked up for just $70. For children in need of guidance and all the various accessories to get going with Pi there’s a $100 kit bundle that includes the official beginner’s guide book too.

Kids can cut their teeth coding on the Pi 400 via block-based programming languages like Scratch or by tinkering with Python in Minecraft Pi (a version of the popular 3D mining game that comes preloaded on the Pi’s OS, Raspbian). So there’s plenty to recommend the Pi 400.

Age: It depends
Price: From $70
Made by: Raspberry Pi Foundation

Robo Wunderkind Explorer Kit

The Explorer Pro kit now features an LED block (Image credit: Robo Wunderkind)

Austrian STEM toy maker Robo Wunderkind has updated its programmable robotics kits for 2020 with new sensor modules, including an LED display block that can show designs or display scrolling text; a line-follower block so the bots can detect and follow lines; and an accelerometer block to give them spacial awareness.

For those not already familiar with the STEM toy, kids snap together the magnetic blocks to build sensor-laden robots and program them via a drag-and-drop coding interface in the companion app.

Blocks can be combined in multiple ways to build different sensing objects — from rolling robots to smart flashlights. The cheapest kit comes with six modules and ten guided projects, while the top-of-the-range Explorer Pro kit ($400) has 15 modules and 30 projects. The blocks are also compatible with Lego pieces so children can augment the design of their constructions with additional elements if they have a few bricks lying around.

Age: 5-14
Price: From $200
Made by: Robo Wunderkind

ScoreBot Kit

A programmable robot for soccer-mad kids (Image credit: Ubtech)

Get soccer-mad kids into STEM with Ubtech’s ScoreBot Kit — from its JIMU Programmable educational robot series. This build-it-yourself, code-controlled robot exhibits ball-dribbling skills that children can hone via the companion app’s block-based coding interface. A memory programming mode allows them to record and replay an action to try to gain a competitive edge when battling against other ScoreBots in a game of competitive floor football.

Age: 8+
Price: $120
Made by: Ubtech

Sphero Mini Golf

Sphero’s robotic ball has rolled onto the green (Image credit: Sphero)

Edtech player Sphero sells learning wares for schools and home focused on its spherical, remote-controlled robot. This version of its programmable gizmo takes the form of a mini golf ball — encouraging kids to devise their own mini golf courses to remote-control the bot around. They can also turn the connected orb into a gaming remote control, making use of the embedded gyroscope and accelerometer. The companion Sphero Edu app is where the coding gets done.

Age: 8+
Price: $50
Made by: Sphero

Spike Prime Set

Lego Education’s kits combine plastic bricks and electronics (Image credit: Lego Education)

Lego’s education division has made some of its classroom kits available to the home market to cater to students who are learning at home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic — such as this Spike Prime Set. The STEAM learning kit is aimed at students in grades 6-8. The core piece is a programmable Bluetooth hub that can be used to power a variety of project builds — from robots to rovers — making use of the array of motors, sensors, components, bricks and pieces packed in the 528-piece kit. Programming the hub is done via a Scratch-based drag-and-drop interface or text-based coding with Python so kids will need access to a computer.

Age: 10+
Price: $330
Made by: Lego Education

Turing Tumble

Kids can learn logic concepts with the help of this mechanical computer (Image credit: Turing Tumble)

Build logical thinking into your child’s playtime with the help of a marble-based ‘computer’.

The Turing Tumble is a tilted boardgame plus an assortment of ‘logic’ gates for devising pathways to solve puzzles. The aim of the learning game is to guide colored marbles from top to bottom in the correct sequence. A cartoon puzzle book guides kids through the challenges, making this an entirely screen free way to approach STEM learning.

Age: 8 to adult
Price: $70
Made by: Turing Tumble

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The Things Inside This 105-Year-Old Time Capsule Have Hardly Aged a Day

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49802146686 8943a27416 k

Great piece on a recently recovered Time Capsule from Atlas Obscura. Definitely a bit more sophisticated than the shoe box I hurried in my backyard when I was 6!

Tim Frank was stressed out. Once conservators pried the time capsule open, he feared, they might find a mangled mess: a tattered flag, shredded papers, and a rollicking party of flies or silverfish. “My heart was racing through the whole thing,” he says.

Frank is a historian at Arlington National Cemetery, the military burial ground in Virginia just outside Washington, D.C. On October 13, 1915, when construction was beginning on the Memorial Amphitheater, a memorabilia box was sunk behind the cornerstone to fete the project. The copper box was stuffed with ephemera, including postage stamps and six coins; a U.S. flag; a Bible signed by the building’s architect; copies of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence; a photo autographed by then-President Woodrow Wilson, who was on hand to place the cornerstone; and a handful of local newspapers, including the Evening Star.

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JayM
21 hours ago
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Atlanta, GA
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Jeff Bezos: Here’s how I make Amazon’s highest-stakes decisions

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In an excerpt from a new collection of his writings, Amazon’s CEO says that his secret is making fewer, better decsions—and thinking three years out.

I like to putter in the morning. I get up early. I go to bed early. I like to read the newspaper. I like to have coffee. I like to have breakfast with my kids before they go to school. So my puttering time is very important to me.

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JayM
21 hours ago
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“And I’ll say, “You know what? I really disagree with this, but you have more ground truth than I do. We’re going to do it your way. And I promise I will never tell you I told you so.””

So important. Not that I am anywhere near Jeff Bezos, but I do this too and it always seems to shock the person. I mean how could I know the ground truth for every area, every person that is in my org. I can’t!

I can hopefully make sure they understand where we need to get to, and the primary paths I want us focused on to get there... but every decision needs logic, facts, and reasoning. I can’t have every fact - and big decisions as long as we can pivot with the decision, I might disagree and still approve.
Atlanta, GA
nocko
19 hours ago
This trust seems to be narrowly limited by class. There seems to be an abundance of ground truth about the necessity of unions from the warehouse workers, for example...
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Taiwan

jwz
1 Comment and 7 Shares

10,000 people attended Ultra Taiwan last week:

On November 14, Road to Ultra took place in Taiwan. No social distancing was needed, or any precautions. It sounds extremely unlikely and unreal for that to be the case in 2020, where most of the world is still battling against the pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus, but its true. How?

Taiwan has been Covid-free for over seven months now. With only seven deaths and 550 cases in total between a population of 23 million people who inhabit the island, the way that the government handled the virus is truly admirable. Closing borders early, restricting public transport, evenly distributing masks to everyone and having a strict pandemic protocol is what made the island recover so quickly, and this meant that large-scale events were deemed safe again.

thatalicewu:

A note from abroad: Realizing now that I've been 5 days out of US that many folks back home don't realize how other countries might be living with the 'Rona. Here is what it was like to come to Taiwan. I think we could maybe learn a coupla things...

Upon our plane touching down in TPE, we were immediately placed in two lines: one for folks with a working intl cell phone, one for the rest of us (to buy a very affordable local SIM card.) The government is then able to track us while we are in the country

Once through immigration and baggage, we are required to take govt-approved covid-safe cars to our quarantine hotels. (If you are a local, you can self-isolate at home.) No leaving your room (or home) for 15 days. Not for walks- nothing.

At the hotel: meals are left outside your door three times a day. There is no contact with anyone. Every day, you get a call from the health department asking if you have any symptoms. If so, they will immediately rush you to the hospital for care.

As a sidebar, I have discovered that I am weirdly okay having all my daily living decisions made for me. Have not yet gone crazy confined within four walls. Perhaps I would have made a good housepet.

Never mind about domesticity, after 15 days, you are free to go. For 7 more days, you are required to check your temperature every morning (they actually gift you a thermometer) and someone calls every day to make sure you're okay.

Because most local citizens have voluntarily signed up for contact tracing (and all of us foreigners are required to opt-in) should a case break out, anyone who was in significant contact would be notified, then required to self-isolate for a number of days.

At any point, if you break quarantine - which they can tell by the movements of your phone - you could be fined 10-30k. They are quite serious on this point. Then again, they haven't had a case in 200 days. And everyone has been living their lives freely since February.

A note on contact tracing: I'm no expert, and historically a proponent of privacy, but if you have a credit card, or downloaded any number of apps, it seems "they" already have your info. So in a gosh-darn pandemic: sign up for contact tracing!

Again, not an expert. But again: EVERYONE IN TAIWAN HAS BEEN LIVING THEIR LIVES FREELY SINCE FEBRUARY! I mean yes, people voluntarily wear masks in public places, but otherwise, restaurants, subways, etc are packed. So....

I guess this could have been our lives too? Food for thought...

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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JayM
1 day ago
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Atlanta, GA
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1 public comment
mkalus
1 day ago
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Can we stop comparing countries like Taiwan, New Zealand and to a lesser degree Australia and Japan with the rest of the world? If you’re an island with limited ports of entry it is pretty easy to make sure they know who comes and goes. The idea that the same could work on any large landmass is a delusion. Borders are artificial constructs, often with little physical representation.

That does not mean that there are things Taiwan et. al. are doing that we should be doing (e.g. BCs refusal to use the Federal COVID app is one example), but this pie in the sky dreaming about “living the Taiwan life” is... well, a dream.
iPhone: 49.287476,-123.142136
quad
20 hours ago
China, Africa, SE Asia are large contiguous landmasses.
mkalus
19 hours ago
Last I checked Africa still had COVID, see here: https://www.covidtracker.com. China did seem to “stop it in its tracks” but with measures that would never fly in the West. If you want a complete lockdown for two months with people being confined to their homes we could try that. I have my doubts it’ll work out.
quad
18 hours ago
I had a complete lockdown, for over three months. The measures we (Victoria) took to control COVID were the same as China. It's very early days, but it seems to be working out.
mkalus
18 hours ago
Again, Island nation. Australia does not compare to multiple countries being cheek to cheek with each other, people and animals freely moving around. That’s why I specifically also pointed out that Australia and Japan are closer to NZ and Taiwan than other places. And doing a complete lockdown when it’s already running rampant probably won’t work out. Not to mention, even NZ had at least two new outbreaks that couldn’t be traced back to anybody coming from abroad. Indicating that there is another reservoir in the wild for the virus.
quad
18 hours ago
Why do you think a high infection rate would blunt the efficacy of a complete lockdown?
mkalus
18 hours ago
Firstly because you will never get 100% compliance, regardless how stiff you make it. There are many areas in North America and Europe where you just could not enforce the lockdown completely. Secondly, unlike in Australia etc. lots of goods regularly move across land borders with little control / stopping. Case in point being the US / Canada border. Since May it’s been closed for “non-essential travel”, that means trucks etc. still move but the drivers for example do not have to go into quarantine. Even with testing, odds are good that some of them will slip through and re-introduce the virus. IF the whole continent (or continents) would have followed the Chinese example and shut everything down for two months then MAYBE that would have worked, but even there I have my doubts, though the effect / impact would have been greatly lessened.
quad
1 hour ago
We never had 100% compliance; lockdowns don't work under that presumption. Australia (and China) both closed their internal (states/provinces) and external borders to "non-essential" travel; drivers did slip through and re-introduce the virus. Under your model, why hasn't China… or even other countries sharing the Eurasia landmass… had widespread and uncontrollable reinfection?

Teachers say they are spending hours reviewing tests that were scored incorrectly by auto-grading bots, which try to match a student's response to an answer key (Julie Jargon/Wall Street Journal)

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Julie Jargon / Wall Street Journal:
Teachers say they are spending hours reviewing tests that were scored incorrectly by auto-grading bots, which try to match a student's response to an answer key  —  Auto-grading software often marks answers incorrect when they are right, giving teachers and families more remote-school headaches

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JayM
1 day ago
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Atlanta, GA
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