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My review of the Robot Revolution exhibit at the Franklin Institute

Last weekend, we attended Opening Day to Robot Revolution at the Franklin Institute, a new exhibit supported by Google.org and The Boeing Company. Robots are changing how we live, work and play. They are poised to become a visible and vital part of our daily lives.

A neighbor and her son accompanied us, and we set off for a learning experience.

I was intrigued to witness some innovative robots that are meeting human needs. From self-driving cars to surgical assistance, from scientific research to search and rescue missions—robots are here to help improve our lives. Robot Revolution offers 40 cutting-edge robots curated from innovative global robotics companies and universities, more than half of which can be interacted with or operated. #partner

Social robots show emotions. Researchers have analyzed how humans express their emotions and use these cues to program robots that simulate human emotions.

We met a robot that held our gaze. ROBOTIS-OP first has to recognize that you have a face. It sees you through its onboard camera; its software analyzes visual data to determine if the pattern formed by your eyes and mouth is a face. When visual criteria are met, the robot meets and follows your gaze. (See photo below.) Pretty cool, right?

Police and military use the Recon Scout Throwbot XT to explore dangerous environments before sending in their teams. This rugged, remotely-operated micro-robot travels through cluttered indoor environments and over dirt, sand and rocks. Once deployed, the robot sends video of its surroundings back to its human operators so they can identify threats.

Here are some highlights of the exhibit:

• Play Tic Tac Toe
My kids enjoyed playing tic tac toe against Baxter, an industrial robot that can battle up to two guests at a game of tic-tac-toe as he showcases his agility and task versatility.

• Make a Face!
We could smile, frown, or be silly with EMYS, a robot from Poland that uses a facial action coding system to mimic facial expressions and human emotions with its head and eyes.

• Watch A Soccer Bot Match
A must see–soccer ‘bots go head to head without any human input in a competition. See what team of robots wins in this fun game of autonomy.

The kids had the most fun when they got the chance to build their own code to move a robot forward, backward, left or right. Robots only do what they have been programmed to do. The Planning for Action area offers kids the chance to advance to a higher level once they master their current programming. We found this to be the most engrossing area of the exhibit.

Use promo code MBROBOT* to receive $5.00 off up to 4 adult, daytime tickets to Robot Revolution. To redeem the code, contact us 215-448-1200 or visit fi.edu.

*$5 off Daytime Adult Admission tickets to Robot Revolution. Limit 4 tickets per person. Includes General Admission to The Franklin Institute. Cannot be combined with any other offer or discount. Upgrades available on-site for IMAX and 3D Theater. Redeemable online, over the phone or at the Ticketing Desk. Processing fees apply when ordering tickets in advance. Excludes holidays. Valid through 12/31/16.

Robot Revolution runs through April 2, 2017. Plan your visit today! https://www.fi.edu/exhibit/robot-revolution

Giveaway for a Premium Family Pass to the First Annual Philadelphia Baby & Family Expo

Did you get your tickets to @achildgrows 1st annual #PhillyBabyFamilyExpo October 16, 2016?

We are happy to be a media partner for A Child Grows’ First Annual Philadelphia Baby & Family Expo in Center City. The expo will welcome new, expectant and seasoned parents and kiddos!

Exhibitors will showcase products and services covering all phases of life, whether you’re a new or experienced parent!

The First Annual Philadelphia Baby & Family Expo℠ will connect top local and national service providers with savvy expectant, new and experienced parents. This family-friendly event will showcase invaluable resources and products in an exciting and convenient location in the heart of Center City, Philadelphia.

The expo will have seminars, demos, crafts and awesome playroom happenings throughout the day. Be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to hear the amazing details as we get closer to the event!

We are giving away a Premium Family Pass to the expo (valued at $150). Enter your contact info below for a chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Summer camp trips with your kids

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of accompanying my kids on their camp trip to Clementon Park. Last year, I went on this excursion with them so I knew what to expect. With other city camps there, it would be packed. There would be long lines.

I know some parents keep their children home from these crowded events. I was game for another trek over to Clementon.

In my opinion, here are some benefits of taking time away from work and going on summer camp trips with your children:

• They’re only young once. I hear this again and again from other parents: “It goes by in the blink of an eye.” Nothing gives me greater pleasure than running around an amusement park with my kids. When they are older, I won’t have this opportunity so I can look back on these happy memories of their youth.

• You develop friendships with other parents. I have made friends with some other Moms by taking my girls on trips and to events. I like to get the girls together with their friends – and look forward to catching up with my Mom friends.

• This is their time to have fun and relax before the school year starts. When my kids start school again, they will have nightly homework, tests and some afterschool activities. There is a lot of pressure on kids these days. The summer is a chance for them to stay up later, spend more time outside at the pool or beach, for example, and just be silly kids.

As the summer winds down to a close, enjoy the last weeks with your spouse and/or partner and children before school is in full swing again.

The Science Behind Pixar exhibit encourages child curiosity in STEAM

A few weeks ago, my kids were off from school so I took them to check out The Science Behind Pixar at the Franklin Institute. It was the perfect activity to do on a non-school day. We were curious to learn how the Pixar wizards use science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to create their films.

The exhibition consists of eight sections to give both children and adults a “behind the scenes” look into the production pipeline used at Pixar daily. You get the chance to create your own short animations, light a scene starring Dory and learn how Disney characters are built from wireframes to finished animation.

What I found most fascinating was the opportunity to learn about the jobs filmmakers do every day and how they tackle problems. It was an enlightening demonstration of how creativity and imagination is involved in the STEAM concepts essential to the filmmaking process.

A few sections of the exhibit:

Modeling: Artists create sketches and clay sculptures called maquettes to design each character. A digital modeler creates a virtual 3D model of the character, sometimes digitally scanning the maquette. The created model is a virtual digital wireframe of points and edges that connect them.

Rigging: Riggers create rigs for models. Rigs specify the relationships between body parts so that bending a knee will raise the foot, but not move the hands. We learned that a rig defines a sequence of reactions. For example, when a hand clenches, muscles in the arm flex and the skin draws tight.

My kids enjoyed selecting a rig to define arm motion and using a rig to create expressions.

Sets and cameras: The setting of each scene and the way each image is framed convey the context, story, and emotion. Set designers build virtual environments from the ground up. Camera artists use virtual cameras to shape what is on screen. They select the composition, camera movement, and lens type to support the film.

We explored how cameras frame a scene. We selected a camera (focus distance and field of view) and used the cameras to tell a story. The order of a camera selection affects the feel of a scene.

Lighting: Light enhances the emotional feel of each scene. Pixar’s lighting designers define virtual lights in the computer. The color, position, and intensity of each light needs to be programmed to achieve the desired artistic effect.

We had fun adjusting virtual lights to change the feel of a scene.

My kids enjoyed coming face-to-face with re-creations of Pixar film characters like Buzz Lightyear, Dory, Mike and Sulley, and WALL-E. Before leaving the exhibit, don’t forget to take a selfie with Buzz Lightyear or Wall-E (#ScienceOfPixar).

If you would like to purchase tickets to The Science Behind Pixar, use discount promo code MBPIXAR* to receive $5.00 off up to 4 adult, daytime tickets to The Science Behind Pixar. #partner

Disclaimer “*$5 off Daytime Adult Admission tickets to The Science Behind Pixar. Limit 4 tickets per person. Includes General Admission to The Franklin Institute. Cannot be combined with any other offer or discount. Upgrades available on-site for IMAX and 3D Theater. Redeemable online or over the phone. Processing fees apply when ordering tickets in advance. Excludes holidays. Valid through 8/28/16”

Kids will love The Lost Egypt exhibit at the Franklin Institute

A few weeks ago, it was my daughter’s eighth birthday party. Family was here that weekend from out of town—it was the perfect time for us to all check out the new exhibit Lost Egypt at the Franklin Institute.

I was excited to have the opportunity to review this exhibit as my second grader loves science as a subject and both of my kids had been to the Franklin on summer camp trips and remembered the visits.

We walked into the exhibit and the kids immediately ran over to the replica of a life-size camel (see photo below) and climbed into the camel’s saddle for a photo.

From there we moved on to an interactive pottery puzzle, where my Kindergartner enjoyed piecing together the pottery, similar to how archaeologists reconstruct an object from broken pieces.

We learned that Egyptians worshipped a large number of gods and goddesses, and that each one was connected to an element of nature or human activity. Most of what we know about Egyptians comes from their tombs and burials. They believed that life continued after death, so they placed food, drink, clothing and other items in their tombs, where they were preserved for thousands of years. Fascinating!

My youngest was interested in learning about the different ceramic types—pot stand, bowl, etc. On a computer, my second grader explored items to pack for an archaeological dig. Fun!

Entering the dig area was pretty cool. Modeled after an archaeological field site in Egypt, this area explores the tools, techniques and technologies used at the Lost City of the Pyramid Builders site on the Giza Plateau. Stories from the archaeologists focus on life in the field, discoveries, and artifacts. Visitors are encouraged to find a site, identify material remains, and engage in scientific inquiry about the lives of the Pyramid Builders.

We learned that over 100 pyramids were built in Egypt; the biggest ones could take more than 20 years to complete. We enjoyed reviewing the steps to build a pyramid, with diagrams.

Most fascinating perhaps was viewing “Annie” the anonymous mummy and learning the history. A teenage girl’s body was found floating in the Nile; more than 2,000 years later, a researcher examined the mummy, discovering clues about her life and death. “Annie” was presented in an atmosphere of respect, and the kids were curious about her story from a scientific perspective.

The Lost Egypt runs through August 28th, so plan your visit today! https://www.fi.edu/lost-egypt

Gearing Up for Kindergarten

It was bittersweet to watch my five-year-old complete her homework packet for Kindergarten. She’s the baby and will remain so. Is she ready? You betcha! I’m preparing for the transition as well.

As we speed into August, I’m looking ahead to the school year for my two: marking teacher conferences on the calendar, reviewing what we need for the meetings and of course – uniform and school supply shopping.

It’s nice to be at this point (the kids will be at the same school in September) but it’s also a realization that our baby is growing up.

When my oldest started Kindergarten two years ago, it felt like such an accomplishment for her and myself. I’ll feel the same way when I drop the youngest off in September.

Do you have a child headed for Kindergarten? If the child is your “baby” or only child, it will be even more poignant. Just look back at how far you’ve come. You are past breast feeding, diapers, potty training—the early stages of life.

And it gets easier. What a transformation it is from five to seven years old! They learn to bathe themselves, take extra care in picking out outfits, clean up more around the house and can even make a small meal when hungry.

You’ll have to prepare your child for heading off to school—is their homework packet complete by the due date and have you reviewed sight words with them? You also may have to prepare yourself mentally for the “baby” or only child leaving for school.

This might not affect your situation but many moms will have more time during the day once they have a child in grammar school. It’s a good time to review your career stage and ponder: Should I return to work full time? Or work part time and line up after school activities for the kids? Continue the current business or start a new one?

What is best for your family’s financial situation, your career as well as your child’s growth? Talk it over with a spouse if you need to. You’re in this together, after all.

Remember to take lots of pictures and a video capturing their first day. It only happens once. Don’t forget to bring tissues because you may likely shed some tears. I know I will.

The Fight for a Higher Minimum Wage

The New York Times recently published a powerful opinion, Can We Finally Treat Food Workers Fairly? by Mark Bittman. He pointed out “how deficient our values are when it comes to the treatment of the lowest paid workers in our economy, the largest portion of whom are employed in the food chain.”

I take my kids for lunch at local fast food restaurants, on occasion – like many parents do. I’ve met or spoken with some parents who work in the industry, like you probably have. Mothers or fathers who work hard to support their families.

The Fight for $15 has become a successful labor movement in the country. Last month, the Los Angeles City Council set itself up to raise its minimum wage from its current level of $9 per hour to $15 per hour in 2020. While the bill faces a final vote, it’s expected to pass. This will be a major win for labor unions and liberal organizations.

Los Angeles followed Seattle and San Francisco in setting its minimum wage at $15 per hour. And last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he would establish a “Wage Board” that allows him to determine whether workers in a set industry in New York deserve a higher minimum wage.

“Through the Wage Board, New York can set fast-food workers on a path out of poverty, ease the burden on taxpayers and create a new national standard,” Cuomo wrote in a New York Times op-ed.

Many restaurant owners are accumulating wealth at the expense of their employees. Unfortunately, many employees nationwide–especially immigrants–accept horrendous working conditions in restaurants for fear of losing their jobs. So they are paid less than the minimum wage, work overtime without additional compensation and forfeit a portion of their tips to chefs and owners.

Let’s hope other cities follow suit and workers continue the Fight for $15.

As Bittman wisely noted, “But if you run a business that’s dependent on labor at the poverty level or worse, and that business doesn’t work if you pay workers something approaching a living wage, it isn’t a viable business, from either the moral or practical point of view.”

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pay It Forward

On Thursday, I took my daughters to Stations of the Cross at a church in the Italian market area. My first grader is in CCD, and her teacher encouraged the kids to attend the Stations of the Cross service, so I took the kids.

Walking home after the service, I decided to treat them to dinner at an Italian restaurant near my daughter’s elementary school for an early pizza dinner. I ordered waters, a small pizza and mozzarella sticks since I had a salad made at home.

Our server brought out coloring books and the kids had fun coloring on the pages. I checked my phone for new emails. I took my youngest to the restroom, and then my older daughter soon followed. When we returned, I asked for the check and the waitress told me, “It’s taken care of. A man paid for it, one of our regular customers.”

I was surprised by this random act of kindness. I posted this on my Facebook page, and a friend commented “Pay it forward.”

It makes you think. As parents, we often race through our days. We focus on making sure our kids’ needs are met and they are doing well in school. We may have work pressure, long hours and face burnout or exhaustion.

A small gesture of kindness can really go a long way. It can lift someone’s spirits if they are feeling stressed. It’s important to ask ourselves, “How can I help my neighbor or fellow parent who I see struggling?”

“Pay it forward” has wide interpretations. If you are a successful businessman, it could be creating a scholarship at your alma mater. If you in an executive position, it could be creating jobs for your community. If you own a restaurant, you could invite your neighborhood out for a complimentary meal. Think big.

Think of your unique situation and how you can best “pay it forward” to help someone else or others out.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Raising The Federal Minimum Wage Key for Struggling Families

This holiday season, many Moms across the country find it hard to be festive when they are struggling to put meals on the table for their children or pay their utility bills.

A single mother of five may work long hours in a restaurant for meager pay and need assistance from a local food bank to help feed her kids. This is just one example of a low-wage worker who has not – like many other Americans – seen the “economic recovery” reported in the news media.

Between 2009 and 2012, 95 percent of the income gains have gone to the top one percent of earners. The majority of new jobs created have paid low wages, and many middle-income jobs have been eliminated. Middle-class families saw about 30 percent of their wealth disappear over the past decade, while the cost of goods and services they rely on steadily increase.

In the 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.

Raising the minimum wage nationwide would increase earnings for millions of workers, and boost businesses’ bottom lines nationwide. In fact, 25 million Americans would get a modest raise if Congress raised the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour—where it’s been held since 2007—to $10.10.

New research on the working poor in the US released by Oxfam America and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that despite the stereotype that low-wage workers are teenagers, 88 percent are not. The report shows that more than 35 percent of low-wage workers, or nine million of them, are parents. These six million mothers and three million father care for 15 million children, and these workers are the primary breadwinners in families that include spouses, aging parents, siblings, and other relatives.

Restaurants across the Philadelphia area continue to violate employee wage and tip laws – even following a multi-million dollar settlement by Chickie’s & Pete’s, the sports bar franchise.

In February, Chickie’s & Pete’s agreed to pay out about $8.5 million to compensate employees for failing to pay them minimum wage and improperly taking a portion of their tips, federal officials and the company announced.

Many restaurant owners think they can get away with stiffing their workers, and they often do. The industry-wide practice of not paying employees the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, not paying overtime for working more than 40 hours per week or taking a portion of their tips and distributing among owners or chefs is a violation of state and federal laws. It just stinks.

Perhaps the Chickie’s & Pete’s settlement will make restaurant owners reevaluate their employee compensation plans. It’s time for hard working Americans to be paid a higher minimum wage.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Encouraging Mom Friends

Sometimes an encouraging text or note can make someone else’s day.

Two weeks ago, a friend sent me a “You are doing a great job…” text and it brightened my day. It was especially nice to get that note over a weekend swamped with kid activities.

For many families, the weekends become a whirlwind of activities for their children: lessons, birthday parties, carnivals, festivals, etc. If you are a working parent, free time for yourself may be scarce or nonexistent. You may focus on your children’s interests and neglect your own hobbies or needs.

When was the last time you send a mom friend an uplifting note? It only takes a few minutes to send a text or email, and your pal will surely appreciate it.

Next time you find yourself spinning your wheels or tearing your hair out, take a moment to send a Mom friend complimenting her non-stop energy, well-mannered kids, or another aspect you’ve noticed about her.

Motherhood is a demanding job, regardless of if you are working full time, part time or stay-at-home.

Moms, support your fellow mom friends! Remember there are others out there who are facing the same challenges you are.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net