Coming Soon: A Harry Potter Wand That Teaches Kids to Code

Kano
Kano

If you've ever wanted to learn how to code but couldn't focus long enough to finish an online tutorial, then you might want to try something a little more … magical. As spotted by Fast Company, the London-based startup Kano has partnered with Warner Bros. to develop a Harry Potter Coding Kit, which comes with a programmable wand that lets you code your own spells.

It won't make your furniture float or turn your enemies into ferrets, but it will equip you with some fundamental computer coding skills that may come in handy later. While the kit is perfect for children as young as 6 years old, it's also suitable for Harry Potter-loving adults who are new to coding.

Using a computer or tablet, players use code to navigate six areas of the Wizarding World, including Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and the Forbidden Forest. Sensors inside the wand track users' hand movements and let them cast spells, all while using a block-based coding interface and JavaScript inspector to provide a fun introduction to programming.

Here's what that looks like:

The wand pairs with the Kano app and the software is compatible with iOS, Android, Mac, and PC. Speaking about the inspiration behind the coding kit, Kano CEO and co-founder Alex Klein said in a statement, "We're surrounded by technology in our homes, workplaces, and pockets, yet only a small percent of people, less than 1 percent of 1 percent, understand the happenings behind the screen."

Kano is backed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who has described the company's child-friendly coding products as "a way for anyone to stumble onto their affinity and passion for computer technology."

The Harry Potter Coding Kit, priced at about $100, is available for preorder on Kano's website and will be sold in stores starting October 1.

[h/t Fast Company]

Google Creates First AI Doodle for Bach’s Birthday

Google
Google

Although there’s some debate about Johann Sebastian Bach’s exact birth date, today is roughly the 334th anniversary of the famous composer’s birth. In celebration of Bach’s contributions to a genre that would later be called classical music, Google created a Doodle that lets users create a song in Bach’s signature style.

Google has created musical Doodles before, but what sets this one apart is that it’s the first-ever Doodle powered by artificial intelligence, according to Newsweek. In this case, users create a simple melody by choosing their preferred notes on a musical staff, then increasing or decreasing the pace (measured in beats per minute, or BPM) or changing the key, if desired. Once satisfied, all they have to do is hit the “harmonize” button and let AI create a more sophisticated tune.

Fortunately for Google, there was a lot of material to draw from. Bach was a busy man, creating more than 1100 compositions in his lifetime (while also finding time to father 20 children). However, for this Doodle, a machine-learning model called Coconet was fed a portion of his oeuvre—306 harmonies in total. In addition to being trained to recognize the musical patterns in Bach's work, the model is also capable of creating harmonies, smooth transitions, and compositions from scratch.

“So when you create a melody of your own on the model in the Doodle, it harmonizes that melody in Bach's specific style,” Google explained in a statement. And just for fun, there’s a feature that lets you hear what the harmony would sound like in a modern rock style.

For a behind-the-scenes look of how the Bach Doodle was made, from both an artistic and technical perspective, check out Google’s video below.

[h/t Newsweek]

What's the Difference Between a Router and a Modem?

iStock.com/Grassetto
iStock.com/Grassetto

Despite using it every day, the internet is still a mystery to many of its users. If asked to explain how your home internet connection works, you may start with your router and modem. Both devices are essential to setting up a wireless network, but they serve distinct functions. Here are the major differences between the two pieces of hardware that make home internet run.

What is a Modem?

Cable modem.
iStock.com/sambrogio

The modem is your home's gateway to the World Wide Web. It's often a skinny box with a row of LED icons on the front that tell you if it's on and connected to the internet. The name is short for modulator-demodulator—a phrase left over from the days of dial-up when modems worked by modulating telephone signals into frequencies that could send digital information.

Today, most modems use broadband connections like cable or satellite to transmit data. There are different types of modems built to fit different connections. If your internet service provider (ISP) uses cable or fiber internet, you'll need to plug a cable into the back of your modem, and if you still use a digital subscriber line (DSL), you'll have to plug in a phone line.

What is a Router?

Internet router.
iStock.com/farakos

You can connect to the internet with just a modem as long as you don't mind plugging your device directly into the Ethernet port. But if you want to provide internet to all the laptops, desktops, and smartphones in your home at the same time, you'll need a router.

Routers usually lie flat and have antennas sticking out of them. The router hooks up to your modem via an Ethernet cable and acts as a conduit between the direct internet and your home network. After connecting your devices, the router "routes" your modem's networking traffic their way, either through Ethernet wires or wirelessly through Wi-Fi (that's what the antennas are for). The router also works in the other direction by routing data sent from your computer back to the web.

Why Knowing the Difference Matters

When they've been sitting in the same spot in your home for years, it's easy to think of your router and modem as basically the same thing. But it's worth knowing the difference—especially if you care about improving your internet connection. Now that you know the router is what directs Wi-Fi signals, you can boost your home network by placing it in a central location away from electronic appliances. And as long as it doesn't interfere with the router, feel free to hide your modem behind a houseplant.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER