One night in Legoland

Every time we visit my parents, we drive past Legoland in Windsor. And, every time we drive past Legoland, Eve and I tell each other that we should visit it one of these days.

This year, on the way back from seeing my parents for Christmas, we did. The theme park itself is closed at this time of year but, seeing as we were only staying for a single night and the hotel itself offers plenty of activities, we thought we would risk it.

Everything was awesome.

I don’t think I have ever seen a hotel more or better geared for kids than the Legoland hotel. Everywhere you go, there are puzzles, activities, entertainments (I can heartily recommend the magic show) and bricks. Thousands upon thousands of Lego bricks in huge brick pits, everywhere. These are bricks with which anyone can dive in and start building and really do encourage the sort of limitless creativity that Lego, at its best, can provide.

The entertainment starts in the evening and, while you could spend the entire day playing with Lego, we didn’t. Instead we went for a post-breakfast swim in the hotel pool which, rather wonderfully, is 1.2 metres from end to end. There is no deep end and, in our case, all three boys could stop and put their feet on the ground regardless of where in the pool they found themselves. You wouldn’t believe how relaxing it is to know this.

After lunch we left and, two hours later, turned up at the ferry terminal relaxed, happy and planning our next trip. This will probably involve the theme park.

Kobo in my Pocket

I have, over the years, acquired a surprisingly sizable collection of eBooks and, after trying several cheapskate alternatives have finally had to face the fact that you really do need a dedicated eReader if you want to read an eBook comfortably. So I bought a Kobo. Specifically, a Kobo Aura H2O which I could (in theory, at least) read in the bath.

It’s a nice device and I am finding myself using it more and more. The text is sharp and clear and the backlight redshifts as the evening wears on so that you can read it in bed without disturbing your partner or straining your eyes.

The real killer feature for me, though, is the Pocket integration.

Pocket is not something I have really looked at in the past but, since the Kobo integrates with it I thought I would take a look. And this has proven to be fantastic.

With a traditional PC or phone screen, I find that there is a limit to the length of article I am willing to read. It doesn’t matter how interesting or useful the article is, I always reach a point at which I start scanning to the end of it — I’m not alone in this.

But now, rather than skimming, I save longer articles to Pocket so that when I get home they are all on the Kobo, patiently waiting for me to make myself a nice cup of tea before I sit back on the couch and catch up on the day’s reading.

Better than that, though, is that with a little IFTTT tinkering I have the RSS feed for The Observer coming straight into Pocket and direct to the Kobo. It’s not quite like reading a Sunday paper again, but it’s probably as close as I will ever get.

Drinkable science

A couple of months ago, Alex acquired a water filter. A small one, obviously, but a working one designed to demonstrate how water filtration works. The system has three layers — containing stones, sand and filter paper respectively — and when you pour the dirty water into the top, cleanish water drips out of the bottom.

A couple of weekends ago, we finally found the time to set it up. So set it up we did and I gave the twins a beaker of water and told them to dissolve a little bit of soil in it.

They excelled themselves.

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Then the time came to start filtering:

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Of course, there is only one way to test the results.

Cheers!

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And before anyone asks, I did cheat a little bit for the final photo. The filter certainly did a good job of clearing the water, but was nowhere near effective enough to clean the findings of a pair of determined eight-year-olds.

I removed that last bit of cloudiness by replacing the filtered water with tap water.

Automated philosophy

I am indebted to Crys for pointing me in the direction of InspiroBot:

[A]n artificial intelligence dedicated to generating unlimited amounts of unique inspirational quotes for endless enrichment of pointless human existence.

You know the sort of thing, those wannabe inspirational posters that people keep obliviously posting all over the internet.

What InspiroBot does is allow you to generate these at random by simply clicking on a button. The joy of it is that the program is a lot better at grammar than it is at content.

Here’s an example:

Are past lives the orgasm of a vacuum?

Quote of the Day: Toy Story or Rise of The Machines?

IBM’s Cognitive Computing Engine is, after all, the construct of a 100 year-old non-unionised American corporation. Its world view is bound to differ somewhat from that of a liberal European like myself.

Seamus Quinn on on Elemental Path, who are promising to connect your kids toys to IBM’s Cognitive Computing Engine.

I hadn’t heard of Elemental Path or CogniToys before, but I dop find the idea of giving large corporations such direct access to our kids more than a little disturbing.

First steps in programming

For those that don’t know, Big Trak is a programmable tank. It was popular (with me, at least) in the 1980s and reissued in all its retro glory a few years ago.

Big Trak, if you don’t remember, was an amazingly cool-looking 6-wheeled tank that you could program yourself to move around whilst firing its photon beam. Happily, not much has changed with this new version, which means you can not only relive the fun you had as a kid but, if you’ve got children of your own, pass it on through the family.

A few simple instructions can make your Big Trak go forward a certain number of lengths, fire, and then come back to you. The onboard memory will store up to 16 commands in one go, which means you can easily have your faithful tank-servant completing some complex manoeuvres in no time.

I have one and Alexandre is fascinated by it. So much so that he can now code up the basic manoeuvres himself…

Turning is still a challenge, but we’ll get there.

Not annoying at all

It’s incredible how the most popular toys turn out to be the cheap impulse buy picked up by the grandparents on the way over for Christmas. So it is for Penguin Race II, in which three penguins noisily climb a set of stairs and then slide down the slope. Over, and over and over again.

In other news, HandBrake is proving to be a rather useful video transcoder. I still need to read up on web video formats, but I will apologise now in case this blog starts to become a bit noisier.