Monday, December 2, 2013

8 toys to help kids learn programming and engineering

As an engineer and a mom, I've been researching toys and kits that will help my kids learn programming and engineering early. Glad to say that there are a number of great toys currently in the market and more coming up in 2014. Check them out:

1. Snap Circuits by Elenco Electronics, $20.55 for the Junior kit, Age 8-15

Love this toy! I bought my 6 year old the junior kit and he has spent hours doing the projects. He proudly shows off his completed projects and is saving up money to buy the Snap Circuits upgrade kits.

2. Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine by Goldie Blox, $29.99, Age 4-9

This toy was created by a female engineer Debbie Sterling specially to get girls interested in engineering. I really applaud her effort as this is sorely missing from the arrays of toys for girls available in the market today. Check out the awesome new Goldieblox commercial below:

3. littleBits - building blocks to start creating electronics, $59-99 for the base kit, Age 6+

This kit was also created by a female engineer Ayah Bdeir to make creating electronics simple and accessible for everyone - think electronic legos. I did a group project at a Women Techmakers event using littleBits and it was amazing how fun and rewarding it was to build. This is pretty similar to the Snap Circuits but aimed at everyone, not just kids, but simple enough for kids age 6 and above to figure out.

4. RASPBERRY PI - $41 for the Model B (700Mhz, 512Mb RAM board), Age 10+

The Rasberry Pi was originally created as a tiny and cheap computer for kids by a group of engineers at the University of Cambridge, but it's been widely adopted beyond the intended audience. Although I would argue that it's still a little too complex for young kids to pick up on, its an invaluable educational kit to get kids exposed to programming and engineering early.

5. Robot Turtles - the board game for little programmers, $40 ($29 early bird special), Shipping December 2013, Age 3-8

See Robot Turtles in action:

6. Play-i - Starting $59 for the Yana robot, shipping Summer 2014, Age 5+

These are robots that teach kids how to program through a visual programming interface. I know one of the founder and I really love the idea! Plus the robots are super cute.

7. Kano - a computer and coding kit for all ages, all over the world. Simple as Lego, powered by Rasberry Pi, $119 for the Kano kit, Shipping July 2014, Age 7+

See how you can program a game of Pong using Kano:

8. Primo - a physical programming interface that teaches children programming logic while they control the movements of an Arduino-powered robot. Age 4 - 7, £55 for a starter kit, Shipping August 2014

And there you have it, 8 toys and kits to get your kids into programming and engineering. If you're looking for science toys and kits instead (e.g Telescope, Chemistry kits), be sure to check out Edmunds Scientific which carries a great selection of them.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Gadgets to help you get fit and track your sleep

I was tracking my sleep for awhile using the free SleepBot app on my Android tablet. Even though it did its basic job, it couldn't really use it to track my sleep pattern/movement. I wanted something that offers more and more convenient to use too. Here are gadgets I've researched:

  • Fitbit Flex  - $99. Tracks: Steps taken, Calories burned, Hours of sleep, Quality of sleep, Distance traveled and active minutes. Features: Wireless automatic sync, water resistant, with 2 bands included. Good battery life 5-7 days. App Platforms: Android, iOS and Web.
    This is what I use right now and I chose this mainly because of one winning feature - wireless automatic sync. I don't have to plug the band to download the data, it's just automatic.

  • Fitbit Force - $129, this the next generation to FitBit Flex. Tracks the same thing as the Flex with the nice addition of tracking stairs climbed. It also shows the time and offers call notification with iOS phone. The downside is that it's not water resistant.
  • Nike FuelBand SE - $149. Tracks: the intensity of your workouts with Nike+ Sessions, counts steps, enables sleep tracking, tells the time, displays your progress in real time, and keeps you and your friends motivated through Nike+ Groups. Features: Water resistant, ambient light sensors. Best community. App Platforms: iOS and Web. Downside: Poor battery life 2-4 days.

  • Jawbone UP - $129. Tracks: your weight, map your bike rides, access extensive food libraries and more, and that data will be seamlessly integrated into your UP feed, lifeline and trends. You can also view detailed UP sleep, movement, food and mood data within selected apps to make those experiences even better. Features: Longest battery life (10 hours), water resistant, best app. App platforms: iOS and Android. Downside: Quality is reportedly poor (often requires replacement, battery life inconsistent), no wireless syncing, so you have to plug it in every time you want to download data.

  • Atlas Wristband - Price TBD. The Atlas wristband is being developed by a startup and has not hit the market yet. It claims to be able to track pushups, squats, bicep curls and pretty much everything else. The most exciting feature is probably the heart rate monitor, super useful when exercising. Definitely promising but we'll see if all these claims holds true. You can reserve your Atlas wristband here.

    There are other fitness bands in the market that I have not researched. FixYa wrote a great report on these bands that you should check out. Having said that, I do think that smart watches may eventually replace all these bands as the features get integrated into the watches, but we're probably a year or 2 away from that.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Balance bikes: a faster and safer way to learn how to ride a bike

Bike buddies
For the longest time, I've been dreading the thought of teaching my 5 year old how to ride a bike. I was imagining cuts and bruises and lots of crying. Let's just say that my 5 year old is very risk averse. So I searched for a faster and safer way to teach him how to ride a bike.

When I read about balance bikes, I was really skeptical at first and I balked at the thought of spending ~$100 on a fake bike that doesn't even have pedals. But I figured I'd give it a try and I could always resell the bike if it didn't work out. There are many types of good balance bikes out there, but this is the one we bought:

The Mini Glider, by Glide Bikes
It turned out to be great for him. Since the bike is small and light, he felt confident maneuvering it. He also felt safe being able to use his feet to bike-walk and there was no accidents or drama. My only complain about this bike is the kickstand, which sometimes gets in the way and hurt my little boy's foot.

We found that the best way to have him learn to balance is to have him go down a small slope with the bike. My son used it around once a week for a month before we decided to also buy him a real bike with training wheels. He then used both bikes for a few more months.

This summer, we set out a goal for him to ride without training wheels. We thought it would take us a couple of weeks of "lessons" until he could actually ride, but once we took off the training wheels, he was able to ride his real bike almost immediately. I couldn't believe it. I guess those balance bikes really do work. If I knew it would be this easy, I would had taken his training wheels earlier!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Cleaning and Housekeeping made easy, 5 companies to check out

TLC Cleaning LLC

Keeping a house clean with 2 little kids and a dog takes a lot of effort and time, two things that I rather spend on something else. Recently I was researching for a new housekeeper and I found a slew of new companies trying to address this need with the convenience that the internet and mobile phones offers. Thought I share my findings. When you need housekeeping done, definitely check them out:
  • Exec
    Exec charges a flat rate based on the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and location. For a 3 bedroom 2 bath house in Silicon Valley, they quoted $187. They currently serve the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago.

    One neat thing about them is that they provide an iOS app that allows you to book on the go and see when the cleaners are on the way.
  • Homejoy
    Homejoy also charges a flat rate based on number of bedrooms, bathrooms, square footage and location. For a 3 bedroom 2 bath house between 1000-2000 sq feet in Silicon Valley, they quoted $120. I personally like their website design, it's cheery/welcoming and I can quickly get an estimate on the cleaning service + all the additional services that I want (laundry, oven cleaning, etc) before submitting any of my info.
  • Hipstermaid
    Hipstermaid rate changes based on the frequency of the cleaning service. For a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house in Silicon Valley, they quoted $139 for a weekly service and $179 for a one-time service. They provide several add on services, but unfortunately no laundry service. They service Brooklyn, New York, San Jose, San Francisco, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Mountain View, Redwood City and Cupertino.
  • Handybook
    Handybook as it names implies is a booking service of independent housecleaners or handyman. You specify the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, when you want cleaning done, and your email. They'll search their database of providers to match your request. The service currently only cover Boston, New York and San Francisco, so I couldn't get a quote.

    Handybook also offer a nice iOS app that allows you to book on the go.

  • offers housekeepers you can hire typically for 3 hours minimum. You can browse the profiles of the cleaners and book them. Their rates typically range from $10 to $30/hour. Most of them are not professional cleaners and are just looking for part time job. I think this is great for those who clean their own house and just need an extra hand. Hey, paying $30 to help you do household chores faster is a pretty good deal. However, it's not for those who like me who doesn't want to do the cleaning myself.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Produce & Groceries delivery services to save you time

Produce Rainbow

As a family of 4, we typically need to make grocery runs at least once a week, if not more. The good thing is that we live walking distance to a grocery store and we currently have a relative who does our groceries for us. Just like many working parents, we want our kids to eat well but sometimes dreads the frequent runs to the grocery stores. A number of parents at my work recommended the following services to solve that problem. I thought it'd be useful to share them more widely:
    Shop online at and get the items delivered to you for free. They said that their products are mostly sourced locally and organic. You can fully customize your order, with no minimum size or opt to create standing orders. Delivery areas: San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Los Angeles & OC, and Canada (Vancouver & Calgary).
  2. Farm Fresh To You
    With Farm Fresh To You, you can get 100% organic produce from local farms delivered straight to your home. You can choose the delivery frequency and the types of produce (fruits only, veggie only, eggs, etc). Prices range from $31 to $55 per delivery. Delivery areas: San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento area and Southern California.
  3. Full Circle
    Full Circle provides weekly produce delivery in 4 different box sizes that you can pick from. Prices range from $20 to $42 per box. All produce are organic and sourced locally. Delivery areas: Washington, Idaho, Alaska, San Francisco Bay Area and adding more.
  4. InstaCart
    InstaCart offers instant delivery of groceries from Safeway, Trader's Joe and Whole Food. They said the average delivery time is under 2 hours. Delivery for orders cost about $3.99. Delivery Areas: San Francisco, Palo Alto, Mountain View and adding more.
  5. Envoy
    Envoy is more like a personal grocer that delivers. They provide a mobile app where you can select your favorite local stores, select the items you regularly buy, then each week your envoy would purchase the items and delivers within 2 hours. Cost: $60/month. Delivery areas: San Francisco Bay Area
  6. Safeway
    Similar to, Safeway allows you to shop online and get it delivered to your door. The difference is that they charge delivery fees ranging from $3.95 to $12.95. Delivery areas: Greater Sacramento, San Francisco Bay Area, Fresno, Stockton, Bakersfield, Ventura County, San Fernando Valley, Greater Los Angeles, Inland Empire, Greater San Diego, Portland, Seattle, Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, Philadelphia and Baltimore/Washington Metropolitan Area.
So there you go. I hope these services can help minimize the time you spend doing grocery shopping. Perhaps it can even help you to buy healthier food, since you would be less tempted to buy unhealthy choices when you don't physically go to the store.