Monday, December 31, 2018

Goodnight Server Room Plushies!

One of the coolest parts of my Goodnight Server Room adventure has been seeing the reactions and creations of readers. One reader, Jenny Laaser, designed and sewed plushie toys based on Goodnight Server Room's "bit" characters. You might have seen one of these plushies on TPT's Almanac.
Jenny has now published the instructions for making your own plushies! You can find the instructions here and the pattern on Spoonflower!

If you're not as deft with the sewing machine as Jenny, you can also order one from my Etsy site!

They are fun to throw

Saturday, August 25, 2018

How to Build A Tree Fort

This summer my sons and I built a pretty awesome tree fort (technically it's just a fort near a tree, as we didn't want to injure the tree). Before building, I read through the tree fort guide in the Black and Decker Complete Guide to Outdoor Building. I love Black and Decker's guide books, especially their Home Wiring guide.


Figure 1: Posts and Rim Joists, Side View from the South
Figure 2: Posts and Rim Joists, Side View from the East
I opted to use concrete "feet" rather than proper footings, as the latter is far more permanent. I used Home Depot's cedar-tone treated lumber for all of the supports. I notched the posts to support the rim joists, as shown in Figure 1.

I wanted the fort to feel "up high" to my kids, so we put the deck about four feet off the ground.


Platform in progress. The temporary diagonals between the joists keep it square.

The deck is a six foot square platform built with a 2x8" rim joist and 2x4" joists. The joists are supported by a perpendicular 2x4" screwed to the rim joist, as shown in Figure 3. I opted to use this method instead of more expensive joist hangers as the span is short and the load is relatively small.

Figure 3: Joist Support, Side View from the South

Figure 4: Platform, Top View, North Up


I stick-built the enclosure from un-treated 2x4" lumber. The enclosure is a four by six foot structure, four feet tall on one side and six feet tall on the other. 

Figure 5: Enclosure Side View (From the South)
Figure 6: Enclosure Side View (From the East)
After erecting the  frame of the enclosure we sheathed it with plywood. For most of the structure I used 15/32 plywood, though for the rock climbing wall I opted for 29/32.

Enclosure with plywood sheathing


I ran 2x4" rafters from the west (lower) side to the east (higher) side, covered that with plywood, and then used tin roofing. 


My parents gave us some extra cedar shingles, enough to cover about half of the enclosure. The only place I could find additional cedar shingles was Fleet Farm. We stained them and stapled them. 


I used cedar boards for decking on the porch and treated cedar tone 2x2" boards for the railing.


I used 1" pine boards to build box windows, then I use a table saw to cut grooves in them for insect screen attachment.

Window with grooves cut for rubber screen attachment

Nuts and Bolts

For most structural connections I used GRK 2.5" star drive self-piloting construction screws. These are more expensive than most other screws, but the cost is absolutely worth it. Note that as the rim joists sit directly on the posts, I did not need to use lag bolts. 

The best screws in the universe

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Writing from Start to Finish

I'm teaching a course called, "Writing from Start to Finish" at Mercy Vineyard Church April 18th and 25th. For anyone in the class, or anyone else interested, here are the slides. I pulled out the references for quick access.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Points Don't Matter, Except When They Do

Update: The game is live at!

Over the last couple of months I've been doing classroom trials of the Goodnight Server Room app. I've tested the app with toddlers, second graders, middle school students, and even a few college students.  What surprised me most was how quickly the second graders caught on to the concepts in the game, but second most was just how much everybody loves getting points.

300 points, but I'm just getting started
The app lets students proceed through the games as quickly as they want - there aren't gates or levels like you might find in traditional video games. I wanted it that way so that my preschooler would not get stuck on the first page.

Usually when I have a room full of students playing the game a few of them race through it in a couple of minutes.

I see hands go up, "I'm done!"

"How many points did you get?" I ask.

"750!" someone shouts.

"900!" comes the challenge from across the room.

With this exchange the timbre of the whole room suddenly shifts. The activity is no longer about just going through the steps to move on to the next thing. Now it's about exploring. I don't tell the students how to get points, I just let them search. It doesn't take long for them to discover that they keep getting more points by solving more binary puzzles.

Students at Sauk Middle School playing Goodnight Server Room

Now they're not just engaged, they're actively seeking out opportunities to learn (though by now they've gotten that part, they're just having fun).

Thursday, March 22, 2018

My changing Facebook calculus

For years I lived in an awkward truce with Facebook. Facebook hosted my family photos, political rants, and updates on side projects. In exchange, I accepted that Facebook would use my profile information to show me targeted advertisements. I even made some of those advertisements myself to help market my books.

This week's revelation that Facebook's lax rules on app developers sharing profile information led to 50 million people's profiles being used for electioneering broke the truce. I don't know if my profile information was shared, but it's clear that millions of people had their information released to a third party without their consent.

Unlike other data breach cases, this wasn't a hack. This was just a clear illustration of Facebook's lack of concern for user privacy. This broke the truce.

I'm not going to delete my account. In an age of identity theft and imposter accounts, Facebook still provides a useful tool for asserting my identity. Quitting entirely would leave a Tyler-sized hole in Facebook that could be used to confuse my friends and relatives. Facebook still provides a useful way for me to foster confidence in my public key on the part of my friends.

What I am going to do is delete the majority of my content. Facebook broke the truce, so I'm taking away the content that helps drive traffic and generate their revenue.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Coloring Pages!

Emily Krueger made a couple of awesome coloring pages for Goodnight Server Room! Click on the links below for high resolution versions. Printing and copying for personal and classroom use is permitted.

High Resolution

High Resolution