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My idea of an ideal vacation includes time with my family – exploring and learning about some new part of the world, with a little time to play with new Maker toys. Last year, I took our Fireball HD pinball electronics to the beach along with a bunch of new connectors. We built all new custom cables, then we learned Adobe After Effects in order to create animations for the game. This year, we were flying to Cancun, so I had to reduce the Maker toys to something that would easily fit in our suitcase – AND wouldn’t look too crazy in customs.

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After some discussion, we realized littleBits are the perfect Maker toy to pack for vacation! We had a shiny new littleBits Deluxe Kit and a littleBits Arduino Starter Bundle sitting in the home office waiting to be explored, so I packed them (after adding some headers to the littleBits Arduino to connect the NeoPixels), along with an Adafruit NeoPixel matrix, ring,and strip – figuring that we’d find something fun to make once we got to Cancun.

We were quite busy in Cancun – spending time in the ocean and in the pool, visiting Mayan ruins, and even hitting the local zip lines. When we’d had enough each day, we’d retreat back to our room and spend some time relaxing while trying out the littleBits and NeoPixels.

Our First Project

Andrew (my 11-year old son) & I went through all the littleBits modules one by one learning how they worked. Many of the projects in the littleBits Deluxe Kit instruction book required craft materials – scissors, paper, glue, tape, etc. Ooops – I hadn’t thought to look at the instructions to see what else was required. Looking around the room, we found a few things and Andrew created his first littleBits project – a Maker Faire sign (we are part of the team that produces Maker Faire Orlando, so creating a Maker Faire sign was a very logical thing to do!).

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The next time we pulled out the littleBits, we built a Tic Tac Toe (also known as Noughts and Crosses or X’s & O’s depending on where you live…) game. I like using simple games to teach programming, as most people already know the ruleset.  We used the NeoPixel matrix as the gameboard, starting by drawing the gameboard and the existing moves for each player.

We then moved onto allowing selection of the first player (human or computer)…

…and for selecting the position of your next move using the same buttons.

We had a fairly functional game after two nights of coding, but the game wasn’t very intelligent. Andrew and I had a long discussion and documented the game strategy on the hotel sticky notepad, then improved the algorithm for the computer’s moves. We did such a good job, we can’t beat it anymore!

 

Continue on to the next page see how we lit up our room!

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Ian Cole

Ian is a founder of The Maker Effect Foundation, a non-profit group organized to study and amplify the effects of makers within their communities. Ian is very active in the Orlando maker community as a member of FamiLAB, Orlando’s Hackerspace, and as a founding organizer of Maker Faire Orlando. Ian blogs about his family’s maker adventures at raisinggeeks.com.


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