Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What is kids' homework coming to?!?

You should read the homework problems my first grader is trying to do in just the fourth week of school:

Ben eats the most candy corn, Jen eats more than Len, Jen eats less than Ken, Zen eats less than Len. Put them in order from most to least.

Find the mystery number. If you add me to myself and then add 2 more, the result is 14. What number am I?

I hardly even know where to begin to explain to my daughter how to go about approaching these problems. It is so different than when I was taught where it was all memorization. I guess in a way, it is good to challenge their thinking. But Sheesh! Isn't this kind of a big leap from last week where it was just 'how many children have birthdays in September'?!?

Poor thing was obviously overwhelmed and frustrated. I would have been, too. Break out the popsicle sticks and pennies...I have a hands-on learner. What inthe heck is she going to do when it comes time for a math test? Pack her a roll of pennies and dimes? Or shouldn't I worry about that!?! And the biggest question: What are we going to get at the end of this torture... a bunch of geniuses that can define a 'quark' or a bunch of miserable frustrated kids who still cannot give proper change for a twenty dollar bill if the cash register breaks?

My real dilemma is this: Do I teach my daughter in the way I was taught... memorization, flash cards, times tables, etc just so that she can feel confident now, but maybe will be rusty on word problems later (like I was), or do I let her struggle through it, complete with crying outbursts and reminders to listen to the teacher during lectures, so that she will be able to think about word problems differently and better than I did?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Asus Eee Pc - a review

I do have a new netbook which I bought off eBay. The reason I was even looking to buy one is that the laptop was on the fritz and we were looking around in Best Buy and they had the little things everywhere. I tried to type on a couple of HP Minis and found that I made a dozen typographical errors due to the keyboard. Its not that the letters were small, its that the keys were not shaped well - they were flat and square like chicklets, so my fingers slid off. Also, the F and J keys barely had any raised dashes to help your fingers find the home position. Then I tried the Asus, and I could type a whole lot better. The screens, though small, were amazingly clear and readable, and I really loved the idea of carrying around a mini laptop rather than my bigger heavy Dell Latitude CPx which takes a full 10 minutes to boot up ubuntu.

A note on Linux. As far as operating systems go, we don't have too much choice. We can have the evil conglomerate that is run by Bill Gates deciding your every move. It is ubiquitous, its pricey, it is full of security leaks that they are only finally closing. I would never condone computer viruses, but I do understand how people can get so angry with Windows that they would be inspired to sabotage it. You should have heard my swearing sessions when I had to type a lab procedure into word, or compute means and standard deviations with excel. Plus, I never liked how Microsoft bullied and took over smaller companies to steal their good software ideas and make them under their own umbrella. Unfortunately, for a while, the only alternative was DOS or Linux Red Hat, both minimally graphical, and frankly difficult, with all the command prompts and the memorized obscure codes for doing things. But I like the idea of open source software, where people code together to make things better. I didn't see that it was a workable solution until the old laptop's Win98 OS expired (thank you Bill). Without the continued support of 98, there were still gaping holes in security and other software (like Adobe) that could not be upgraded. Rather than toss the laptop, I got enthused by ubuntu, a flavor of linux that is open source AND graphical, so I successfully installed Intrepid Ibex (8.04). And does work, but it really does take a looooooooong time to boot up and shut down, plus I shorted out my second battery, and the poor Dell may end up as a paperweight or landfill fodder soon. 8.04 is easy to use, reminds me of Win 98 which I was most comfortable with. The finding of drivers (so difficult with Microsoft) was immediate and intuitive with I.Ibex. The downside? Okay, this is really petty...I wanted to change the desktop background. Its really easy with Windows, but I can't figure out how to do it with linux. And I am tired of looking at the brown dirt painting, and the flat gray is not an option for me. See, even writing it, I can see that is such a lame reason not to like I.Ibex.

So back to the netbook: Dell laptop was having trouble getting power, battery was blown, so I started shopping on Ebay for an Asus. I figured I didn't need that much hard disk space, because I was NOT going to put all my music and photos on, I just needed a little pc for web-browsing, checking email, and writing documents. I found out that many Asus, especially the 700's and 900 series use a linux-based OS, so that didn't scare me. I found a netbook at a great price, got it home, plugged it in and quickly filled (overfilled) its 4GB of solid-state hard drive space. So much for being able to save a written document. Now, it had so little memory that I literally could not bookmark a website. Seriously!! Upon more investigation, I found out that this is a common problem with my model number (900a), and the best solution was to install ubuntu netbook remix. Why not upgrade the hard drive? Two big reasons: the first is that the solid state drive is soldered into the mini-PCMI card, so you have to swap out the whole card with a different card that has more SSD's soldered onto it. the second is that the bigger card costs as much as I spent on the netbook. However, I did not want to jump into UNR OS because I was having an easy time navigating the Xandros flavor of Linux that was pre-installed. I did a system recovery and found that the space required by this Xandros OX was 3.6 Gigs of my 4. In addition, there was an update that was forced to run, reducing my memory space to a mere 0.13 Gigabytes. On top of that there were 29 other updates, some of which were not meant for my model number, and others of which took up the remaining space. What about deleting things I didn't need? The Xandros OS made it impossible. You could delete it, but you didn't get your disk space back. The only way to get more disk space was by using a lot of code on a blogger's post to shrink the read-only partition and grow the usable partition. Too much for me. So I went with UNR and it seems to be working really well. I got the newest version of ubuntu which is the Jovial Jackelope (9.0), and I like the desktop a whole lot better. Plus it has the tabs (large style icons) that I liked with the Xandros OS. And now, I have a whole gig to myself for saving stuff, even after the updates. Presumably, I can also delete old documents and recover disk space if I need to.

Lastly, with all the researching into shrinking and growing partitions, I was able to resurrect, and make even more usable the old Dell laptop, so now I have Edubuntu for Brianna on it, again cool desktop background, and sufficient space. Still really slow booting up, though; the netbook boots up much more quickly, so it really is ideal for travel.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

things I have learned recently

1. If you are going to grout tile, it pays to buy the real rubber grout float and not buy the 'economy' foam grout float. I wish they had run that as a banner under the HGTV program. Now wouldn't that be cool? If they had a running banner of home tips while the shows were on? Like headline news, but only for home improvement? That would have saved me an hour of wringing out a wet sponge and the shocked trauma of my fore-arm muscles.
2. 4GBs is not a big enough hard drive no matter how much ram you have. Well, I didn't know until recently. In fact it is so obviously not enough, that manufacturers really should be spanked for making such hardware decisions. They ought to recall them and put in 8GBs. I am speaking of my new netbook which I love, but it has been fraught with space issues and it is going to be a battle that continues. I know I should quit bitching about it since I only spent $139 on it, but in my defence... I did think that 4 GBs would be enough at the time I bought it, not realizing that the OS took up 3.6 of that space and all the updates take another Gig. As you have now figured out 4 is not enough.
3. I need to do yoga or some hamstring stretching EVERY day to keep my hip/sacro/illiac/back from hurting. If I do it, I am fine. If I say, "I'm fine, I can skip a day" I am not going to be fine any longer. It is a testament to my stupidity or stubborn-ness that it took months to come to this simple conclusion. So ...triangle pose...breathe deeply...repeat mantra...."I must stretch every day of my life"

Okay, that's all I can remember for today. Back to watching TV...
4. Oh wait one more thing...iTunes now has iTunes U which is like college lectures and they are FREE. So you can learn stuff for FREEEE. Man do I love a bargain. Which probably explains 1. and 2.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day

Now that I do not have a regular hours job, I have a hard time figuring out when I should be working and when I should be relaxing. I have a whole list of chores to do, a long list of want-to-do's and of course, the competition for my attention among my daughter, husband, and cats. Don't underestimate the cats...they are as greedy for love as anyone else in this house. The sum answer is that I run around a lot getting many things half done, some things fully done half-assed and few things completely well performed. I know it is really no different from when I was working 8 to 5 elsewhere. In fact, it was much the same ratio of outcomes. Its just that when I had a place to go to be working, it divided my time better so that when I was at work, I was fully engaged in work. When I was at home, it was time for relaxing or home chores. Now, when I can't ever seem to be 'done' with anything (laundry always has to be done, cleaning, neatening, painting, and momming), I am less organized. Sometimes I even invent chores that are single jobs that can be completed simply so that I have something I can acoomplish and check off my list.
The other problem with this arrangement is that I seem to have no down-time. I don't have as much time for myself and my own interests. I feel a little guilty ignoring the other demands to carve out a little space. What I don't know is whether this is the normal state of being a parent or whether I am particularly poor at time management and planning. I have gone through the Franklin Covey what matters most series, and I think I am on-track in the big picture. But I do have times where I feel like my life is slipping out of me and I cannot control it, slow it, or even change course. Sometimes I wonder what the hell is wrong with me? How can I be so book smart and life stupid?
I think this must be where religion helps people, particularly when their faith encourages the giving-up of control to God. I sometimes envy those who do this, but then I think about how they also can't take credit for doing something well (after all, God actually did it). So I am stuck.