A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Monday, November 19, 2012

Stupid me

I cannot thank my friend Ricky enough. Ricky is one of my oldest friends from high school, someone I trust with the key to my house, and would personally recommend to anyone who needs an honest contractor. He renovated my parents basement in Arlington, (with a ceiling height of less than 7' in some places,) and changed a dark space with painted cinder block walls, exposed vents, and old pine paneling into beautiful office space. With space at such a premium, Ricky framed the basement for drywall in a way that minimized the loss of ceiling height to an absolute minimum, finding clever ways to transition around the many oddball shapes. Perhaps more importantly, he often stayed for lunch, and put up with my mom's many special requests. Last week, I called to tell him about a horrible investment I was about to make, and Ricky was kind enough to suggest that I "nip it in the bud."

On Thursday evening, I was playing around trying to understand how my computer network works, and clicked on a link that brought me to an offer from Network Solutions to get a domain name for $0.99, so I got one. On Friday, while I was subbing, I got a call from a salesman with an offer to build a website for me, that included a payment gateway and email. Considering that I didn't have a business plan since, as I told the salesman, I was only in the dream stage and did not have a business, I should have been firmer with my no, but the salesman answered my objection saying that I could cancel the website at any time, risk free within the first 30 days, with the exception of the Facebook profile they would create for me. Network Solutions was so sure that they could generate actionable leads, they were willing to accept the risks, so I decided to go forward even without a business plan, thinking I would figure it out as I would go.

Rick suggested I would probably be better off with a few local customers, because students who needed the special help would need me to be physically present, at least part of the time. While I can use Skype and Skrbl and messaging programs, there is no substitute for actually being there.

I thought about Ricky's recommendation, and agreed to "nip it in the bud."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Moment of truth: When the Baby Reads!

My friend Mandee is a military mom and Speech Pathologist who lived in the DC area long enough for me to work with one of her sons. Mandee was kind enough to let me observe her on her job working her magic when I was working on my Master's Degree. Mandee does a blog to allow her family to keep up with them as they travel around the world as a military family. In the video Mandee shared above, her youngest son Linc is now reading.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why an educated citizenry is so essential: Petitions to secede are filed for 23 states since election - Washington Times

Petitions to secede are filed for 23 states since election - Washington Times

The divisions between blue states and red states parallel the divisions in our classrooms between haves and have-nots. In the United States of America, education is compulsory. Reading is a national priority. Yet, despite vast sums of money, too often Johnny cannot read, and worse, Johnny does not want to read. But that is only part of the story.

Gunning cited Stanovich in identifying a root cause of reading difficulties, "the Matthew Effect," i.e., "the rich get richer and the poor get poorer," an allusion to Matthew 25:29. Gunning concluded that children who read well and have bigger vocabularies will read more, learn more, and read better. (Gunning, p. 543, 2010). In order to "read to learn," the major shift in reading instruction that occurs around 4th grade, students are expected to have already "learned to read." The national "achievement gap" is, in many ways, a by-product of students being herded into making the shift from learning how to read to reading to learn before they are ready. Like me, my son Joe learned how to read at age 3. Unlike me, Joe "hates to read,"

Last Sunday, my son Joseph, who is taking a 9th grade honors Biology class came to me after dinner and asked, "What is APA format?" At around 2 am, I finished helping him cite three journal articles and two web publications regarding his research question for his project for his school's science fair to be held this February. The research question he chose is similar to the one raised in the film Super Size Me. Joe was required to summarize journal articles and web publications to evaluate their relevance to his research question, which involves the relationship between the availability of sweetened drinks in school lunches and vending machines to childhood obesity. We have always pushed Joe when it comes to education, not to the extreme of the Tiger Mom I described in an earlier post, but enough to the point that he "hates to read." Joe never reads for pleasure, although I noticed him reading his Halo 4 instruction manual the other day, because he "needed" the information. Without parental intervention, Joe could easily spend 15 hours per day gaming. Without Joe's mom checking his school website for homework assignments, without her making him clean his binder every night, Joe would be totally lost, instead of earning straight A's.

Having worked with self-contained 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students in an English class during my internship last Spring, many of whom were reading at 4th, 5th, and 6th grade reading levels, and seen how lost they were as a group when it came to turning in their research papers and doing their citations, it became evident that the Nation has made little progress since Nation at Risk. The scary thing is many of these same students who I was teaching a unit on The Great Gatsby will be eligible to vote in a few years, eligible to vote on Constitutional Amendments, such as the one on Virginia's ballot regarding the restrictions on the governments ability to invoke "eminent domain." One of the students, Johnny, an 11th grader who had been assessed at a 4th grade reading level, with coaching, was able to read Tim O'Brien's novel about Viet Nam, and enjoyed working with me, having come to the realization that he was required to register for the draft.

The other day, I stupidly accepted a two day job with a Kindergarten class for 3 hours each day in the middle of the day, which made it impossible to work elsewhere that day. Another thing that made the job terrible was the way that the teacher was in the building, often in the room, and never bothered to ask my name, and all I did was observe. It was weird.

I accepted the job because it was an arts and science magnet school. The population was mostly children of hispanic descent of low socio-economic status, side-by with students of high socio-economic status. In those 6 hours over two days, these students were engaged by a master story teller, who comes once per year for her grandson, and by a dance teacher who taught the concept of vertical lines through dance. My notes are very extensive. Judging by what I saw in the student's writing journals on the second day, the story-telling "stuck." Having observed 5 and 6 year old children held to a high standard by the dance teacher as they acted out "vertical lines" with their bodies in various ways over a 45 minute period, I am quite certain that, despite a language barrier, every one of those children, who were engaged in a multi-sensory learning experience, came away with a "connected" understanding of the world vertical.

Lacking answers, despite universal access to education, after a divisive election, over 72,000 citizens in Texas have made the radical request for permission to secede from the United States. The constitutional question being raised, without being raised by name, is the "social contract," and the very basis for government. The purpose of government, the basis for a government, and the purpose of education are not the kind of questions routinely being raised in schools, because these are open ended questions, whereas all questions in standardized tests are of closed construction. Reality is not of closed construction. A high percentage of students nationwide are exiting schools unprepared to handle open-ended questions. Ironically, the fate of our nation rests on the ability of an educated citizenry to make informed choices every 4 years, and continue a tradition of peaceful transitions of power.


Gunning, T. (2010). Assessing and Correcting Reading and Writing Difficulties, 14th Ed. New York: Allyn & Bacon

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Conspiracy Theory

I sure miss Jack Bauer. That was some great conspiracy theory television. In order to share a calendar from Outlook to Hotmail or Google, there seems to be a requirement that it be made public or searchable. Welcome to the brave new world of the ubiquitous network.

Truly, I am not so concerned that "Big Brother" might want to have an interest in my schedule ... nothing to hide here, although it is not much of a stretch that some spook could turn on my laptop's camera if he were really clever and had nefarious purposes. What's the worst that could happen? Hmm, maybe I shouldn't go there.

What brought Jack Bauer to mind was the odd thing about how my Hotmail Calendar now works beautifully today, while my Google Calendar and Gog Tasks mysteriously became disabled inside Outlook, after I blogged about it and commented on a message board. While I was able to turn the Gog Task Add-in back on, so that my Outlook Tasks sync, whereas Hotmail, for some dumb reason hasn't stolen Remember the Milk's idea the way Google did, my Outlook seems to suddenly be missing some key components. Shocker, I have no way of syncing my schedule for the week that I inputted into Outlook to Google Calendar.

Considering the Calendar may be the "killer app," maybe my Jack Bauer connection isn't so far fetched ...

A few weeks ago, I was subbing in a 6th grade class and had to lead a discussion on the first chapter of A Wrinkle in Time. To avoid embarrassment, I read the forward, the back cover, and the chapter during independent reading periods and while students were at specials. It was fun using the character from Family Guy to clear up a misconception about the odd five year old who sounded nothing like a five year old.

A few days later, I dug up an old copy which I had never read and polished it off in a sitting. In this classic, the villain is a character called IT, which is a huge brain that controls an entire world. On some level, in describing IT, the author anticipated the shift to the cloud away from the desktop, and some of the more frightening aspects associated with the increasing intrusion of technology increasing into everyday life.

Technological Aggravation

I woke up falsely believing I had the answer to why my stupid handheld Windows Mobile 6.5 Pocket PC, (a basically obsolete piece of garbage, but my basically obsolete piece of garbage,) worked perfectly for handwriting recognition (amazing), was working great as a media player, and was storing all of my contacts, but was not syncing my calendar. Sure, I could retrieve my calendar on my obsolete piece of garbage using Google Calendar, but doing so would require an Internet connection. I wanted to be able to sync my Outlook calendar via Active Sync as seamlessly as Google handled the issue. I had read on one of the techie forums that Outlook 2010 "likes" digital certificates and installing a certificate solved a similar problem, so this morning I went to work getting a digital certificate (highly sensitive file containing personal information -- not something that you want bad guys to get ahold of), believing that installing the certificate (digitial ID) would enable my handheld to retrieve my calendar from Outlook. Seemed like a reasonable assumption! In the process, I learned how to get a free digital certificate and figured out how to import it on my handheld.

Unfortunately, the changes I made made my Outlook unresponsive and only resolved that issue several hours later.

I tried killing the partnership between my laptop and handheld and setting up a new partnership ... several times.

I give up.

I was hoping to avoid getting a new smart phone. All I really want is my stupid calendar. I was hoping I might ask for a new grill instead, so that I can cook that stupid piece of frozen salmon that has been sitting in the freezer for weeks. The lack of money breeds insanity. Maybe Freud was right, that the weak minded devolve into cavemen as cash dwindles to zero. If I don't respond to the train heading my way, maybe I will devolve into protoplasm ... Ha! (It's okay, I'm sitting at a desk, not standing on train tracks.)

Yesterday, I was handwriting notes in cursive from Brain Bugs, a really well-written book on neuroscience, lovingly using my obsolete piece of garbage. The handwriting recognition of my cursive was heavenly. The notes from my handheld even transferred directly into Outlook upon syncing. Ahh!

That little bit of success suckered me into believing that it was worth the trouble figuring out why something as simple as syncing my calendar was causing me so many bloody problems. There had to be an easy solution, I figured. Somehow, the memory of working on old cars while in high school just popped into my head -- I was never much of a mechanic. I am also reminded of how I felt like I was getting a bargain at the Asian Supermercado up the street recently by showing up at 6:55 pm and getting a real bargain on sushi and quesadillas -- half price! I left with a s-eating grin, falsely believing I had gotten over them. After I reached my truck and greedily digging in, I was reminded in the most unpleasant way that you get what you pay for. One of the problems predicted in my reading last night was that, since I know based on past experience that there must be a solution, I might not properly assess risks vs. rewards ... that's an ADD / OCD thing. Fell for it, hook, line, and sinker!

The obvious solution is just to print the agenda each week. I knew that, but was overconfident about my abilities to resolve an issue best left to the technological elite.

As I pump iron tonight at the gym, I will be listening to my angriest head-banging music. Nothing subtle, real caveman stuff!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Outlook, Google Calendar, and Hotmail

As somebody who struggles with organization, long ago, when I was in the logistics business, I learned to depend upon Outlook as a "cognitive prosthesis." Since events flashed when I needed them, I was able to avoid forgetting to place orders, call back customers, etc. My customers were blissfully unaware of any organization problems I suffered from, because I never missed a beat. When I started in teaching, I had not used a handwritten calendar in years and rediscovered that my brain got overloaded by visual clutter, particularly when my entire focus was on the students and delivering lessons, and especially when at my most sleep deprived, or after an Apnea episode. I missed a few important meetings. My need for organization as a teacher is what has driven my obsession to have my calendar and tasks at my fingertips, and having purchased an inexpensive second-hand Windows Mobile  personal data assistant, I thought all my organizational issues were solved. Outlook synched with Windows Mobile, but then it didn't.

After one of my numerous computer crashes over the years, I discovered that I could sync Outlook with Google Calendar, but my major problem Google Calendar was that I was unable to sync my Outlook Tasks. Another thing that happened when my computer crashed was that my little handheld pocket computer no longer synched, which meant I could not charge the battery. When I purchased my laptop before attending grad school last year, I waited a day too long and let my full version of Outlook expire, and purchased a Student Edition, hoping to save a few dollars. Hated it! Then, I had the hardest time figuring out how to upgrade ... eventually, I gave up, and settled for what I considered a disappointing Google Calendar.  After the crash, my Windows Mobile phone no longer synched. As grad school was coming to a chose, I discovered a College Edition of Office, and had my beloved Outlook again. Unfortunately, when I tried to sync my Windows Mobile Device, I was forced to upgrade the phone's operating system, and in the process lost all of my contacts. Horrors! After blood curdling scream, I got over it. Then, I figured out how to upgrade the operating system on my handheld device. Happy days again ... until they weren't!

Recently, I upgraded to Windows 8, because it will enable me to automatically back up my laptop to my son's Terrabyte drive, which I can't do now, but I will be able to do after I upgrade his computer to Windows 8 later today ($40). After I upgraded my laptop to Windows 8, I started getting "conflicts," which prevented the calendar on my handheld from syncing with Outlook. That's when I started getting serious again about figuring a more permanent solution to my problem of making my Outlook data more portable, in order to keep all my critical scheduling information at my fingertips, minimize cognitive overload, so that I can remain focused on the needs of my students.

Since my Windows handheld was no longer syncing with my PC's Outlook calendar, since my wife Karen has told me that she wants to buy me a new Samsung Galaxy III for Christmas, and since I had stupidly picked up a two day sub job that involved only 3 hours each day -- in the middle of the day -- I had a nice block of hours that I could devote to fixing my "cognitive prosthesis". First, I tried to figure out how to sync Outlook with Hotmail's calendar. In the process, I learned how to publish an Outlook 2010 calendar to the web and how to enable a web service to "subscribe" to a published calendar. When I subscribed in Hotmail, my events were listed as "busy" instead of showing any detail, and my event notes were not displayed. Useless!

Then, I tried Google Calendar's subscription service. My events synced perfectly, including all of my notes, such as driving directions to various schools. Ironically, Google Calendar handles Outlook data to perfection while Hotmail doesn't ... unless one wants to pay a $99 per year subscription fee to Microsoft.

Next, I searched for a way to sync my Outlook Tasks to Google Calendar. In the process, I discovered that GogTasks (free 30 day trial, $9 one  time fee) used the identical strategy of translating Tasks to Lists used by the Remember the Milk ($25 annual subscription). Although GogTasks process wasn't particularly intuitive, after fiddling with it for a few hours, I learned how to click on an icon in the bottom right corner of the to-do-list to display all of my "lists," which synced from Outlook, instead of merely the "default list." Problem solved!

Hoping that my Windows Mobile handheld computer might sync again, I turned off the partnership between my laptop and my handheld and reestablished the partnership. As a result, all of the contacts on the handheld vanished. Then, I learned how to export my Outlook Contacts to Hotmail and GMail via a csv file (comma separated value). After some tweaking, I was able to get my contacts to display on my handheld computer again, but I still was unable to display my information from Outlook on my handheld, except through Google Calendar. Google Calendar displayed my Outlook 2010 published calendar, notes and all. Google Tasks, however, did not include the notes from Office on the Mobile device, although the notes did show up on the laptop, just like they did on Remember the Milk. My handheld has wi-fi, but it does not have cellular service, so Google Calendar is not a great solution for keeping my critical scheduling data at my fingertips.

When my wife buys me a Samsung Galaxy III Smartphone for Christmas, once again all my critical scheduling data will be at my fingertips. I will have already have figured out how to sync Outlook with Google Calendar and Tasks. Truly, I will have no reason to go for a more expensive Windows phone. My handheld, despite its many shortcomings, still works great as a media playing device.

After using my handheld to listen to The Psychology of Winning again, by Denis Waitley, the other night at the gym, I've decided to get back to focusing again on putting the pieces of my life together again, i.e., get meaningful employment. According to Denis Waitley, the number one quality of a winner is "incurable optimism." Today, Joe came home with all A's on his report card -- first time ever! Since good things usually come in threes (an old wive's tale), maybe along with my Samsung Galaxy III, and the great news about Joe (a classic under-performer), maybe I'll be able to share good news about a new job for the new year. Lacking anything positive to say, my voice has been muted recently.

Having spent the night addressing my organization problem then blogging about it, I guess I should get a few hours of sleep. I'll need a clear head to remain focused on making sure that I'm fully prepared when the opportunity comes up for taking over a classroom. Oh, and by the way, the sub job that I picked up stupidly gave me some great stories to tell ...

Monday, November 5, 2012

She cried: November

She cried: November, herald of discontent,
Why bring the North Wind here, why seed despair?
You sow a bitter mood. You snap wills bent
By hunger, swoop on wings from branches bare

To prey upon the weak rapacious souls
And pick upon the bones of broken dreams.
Why mock the sheep, the meek who know their roles –
Sad actors drifting by on mortal streams?

November calmed: to fully feel content,
Appreciate the sting, the entire year,
Not just the birthday cake, the thrill of goals

Achieved. Accept the knowledge darkly sent
On winds that cold brings contrast needed here.
The price of warmth is tortured winter souls.

The springtime feast isn’t all it seems.
Embrace la difference which colors dreams.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dogwalk through November leaves

Love walking that dog,

Trudging through November leaves,

Briskly in the breeze.

Education Animation

I'll comment on this once I've watched the full show. No, I can't wait until the full show is over. This animation and its analysis is dead on about about everything that is fundamentally wrong about education today and why "Johnny doesn't want to read," a conclusion that I reached last spring in my case study of a reader with a Learning Disability. I'm going to keep watching this video after my son's baseball game.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Windows 8 Upgrade $39 through Microsoft

Yesterday, I upgraded from Windows 7 Home Premium to Windows 8 Pro Edition. The main reason I upgraded was because I had a "low level threat" virus called "Zero Day," which was virtually impossible to eliminate without reloading Windows. None of the solutions offered via the net, for which I think I invested about $120, eliminated the virus. The protection programs allowed me to clean up my "registry" on a daily basis, clean up the junk files that were continuously being created by the virus, and delete personal information that was at risk because the zero day created a "back door" that somebody could have used to steal personal information.  Everyday, I wasted 10-15 minutes checking and cleaning my computer, which I felt was necessary since I knew the virus and could not be eliminated. What a hassle!

Having read about Stuxnet, which was used by American intelligence officers to destroy Iranian centrifuges, and annoyed on a daily basis by how the virus ate up my computer's memory resources, I was reading to invest in a $39 download plus another $10 for a DVD to be mailed to me as an insurance policy. Having installed Windows 8, I cannot be happier than I did.

Microsoft's Upgrade Assistant worked seamlessly, although the process became confusing when the program demanded that I delete the antivirus and registry programs because of compatibility issues. Based on what I was able to see when I went to the Windows website, it seemed as though I needed to repurchase the program, when all I wanted to do was restart the installation process, but I played around with various options until I found my way back to the next step in the installation process. Very confusing! Good thing I am so persistent. I explored my way to desktop, where I noticed an icon for the Windows 8 Installer program positioned next to the recycling can in the top left corner of the screen. When I clicked on that icon, the installation restarted where I left off. From there, it was smooth sailing. Voila!

I'm not sure why anyone would fuss at the "changes." The look and feel of Windows 8 is not so different than other versions of Windows. Itt just requires a little getting used to. For me, upgrading to Windows 8 for $39 directly from the Microsoft website provided an easy way to rid myself of an annoying and potentially underestimated threat. Today, the upgrade price is artificially low. The price will rise considerably in
February, so I strongly recommend that any Windows user upgrade now! It is a no-brainer.