Category: Parenting

Squid Custom Error

We’ve been having a challenge with Anya getting her school work completed. Part of the problem is the school’s own fault — they provide a site where kids are encouraged to read, but don’t provide any way to ensure this reading is done after classwork has been completed. But, even if that site didn’t exist … the Internet has all sorts of fun ways you can find to waste some time.

So her computer now routes through my proxy server. I’d set up a squid server so *I* could use the Internet unfettered whilst VPN’d in to work. It’s really annoying to get told you’re a naughty hacker every time you want to see some code example on StackOverflow!

While I didn’t really care about the default messages for my use (nor did I actually block anything for it to matter), I want Anya to be able to differentiate between “technical problem” the site didn’t load and “you are not allowed to be using this site now” the site didn’t load. So I customized the Squid error message for access denied. This can quickly be done by editing /usr/share/squid/errors/en-us/ERR_ACCESS_DENIED (you’ll need to make a backup of your version & may need to replace the file when upgrading squid in the future).

 

On Questioning Science

While science is based on questioning, “questioning” means “questioning, then developing a plan to test your new hypothesis, carrying out your test, documenting and publishing your results, then discussing those results with the scientific community”.
Questioning cannot just stop with a gut feeling, some one-off event you witnessed, or something you’re neighbor’s dog-walker’s friend overheard whilst riding the bus. You cannot just believe that the acceleration of gravity on Earth is -1.5 m/s^2. You believe it, design an experiment to measure the acceleration of gravity, measure it, and … well, find out that you’re wrong.
I have a quip that I use with Anya — she knows you’re not supposed to break laws. And she knows there are “laws of physics”. So she put it together and announced proudly that we may not break the laws of physics. (And, I expect, that meant that there were some physics police wandering around ready to fine you). I tell her she’s welcome to break the laws of physics, but then she needs to publish her proposed ‘new laws of physics’ that explain what she was able to do in a peer-reviewed journal. Because they’re not laws like a group of random politicians decided something is illegal. They’re laws like the scientific community believes it is impossible. And most of us are thrilled to learn we’re wrong and gain a better understanding of the world around us.

Zombie Monster Invasion

Anya went almost eight years without developing any imaginary monster fears — right after she entered preschool, she thought there were generic monsters that might be lurking. But I invited them over for tea and cake, we’d chat with them, and she was OK with our new monster friends. She read The Last Kids on Earth series six or more months ago. Tonight, about twenty minutes after he went upstairs to bed, asked to come down and say goodnight again. She was worried that monsters were going to fly zombies into the house. She sat with me, and I explained that the best thing about imaginary fears is that you can come up with imaginary solutions. And eagles are great protection from zombies. And there are a lot of eagles in our area — big golden guys, even bigger bald eagles. Lots of eagles. And they all eat zombies (and probably monsters). She’d forgotten to take the compost out, so she took out the bowl. And realized she forgot to bring the chickens into their coop (which was really odd since she went outside with food and water specifically to bring the chickens in … and she did fill up their food and water. But left the chickens in the tractor). She apologized to the chickens, snuggled them all to warm them up, and came back into the house. I sang her a goodnight song and we chatted about the eagles perched on the top of her bed — a golden girl she named Goldie, a bald eagle she named Balder, a golden guy that didn’t get named yet, and Balder’s mate was over at the lake getting a fish for them (we told them to eat over the fish tank so they didn’t get fish guts all over Anya or her bed). Goldie had an egg that she gave to Anya to keep warm. There were a few zombies, and Goldie ate them. All of the eagles have kevlar jackets that prevent zombie bites, so there won’t be any zombie eagles. Then the egg hatched. Anya put fifty kevlar jackets on the baby eagle (and herself) to protect them  from zombies. And Goldie got some small fish from the lake to feed the hatchling. So Anya’s feeding her baby eagle while three grown eagles watch over them. Hopefully that’s sorted the zombies.

On Patriotic History

History is written by the victor. They can tell us how nice they were (or at least how necessary their not-niceness was). But the fact those who win get to write history in their favor doesn’t negate the value of ensuring people have a more robust view of what actually transpired. The good and the bad. Which makes Trump’s idea of a more patriotic history quite frightening.
 
In software development, we have “retrospectives” — a meeting where everyone chats about how the last project went. What worked well. What didn’t work well. It’s not meant to be subversive, negative, or blamey — it’s meant to get people thinking about how we could improve the things that didn’t work well. And to feel proud about the things that did go well. I’d love to see this approach taken to teaching history.
 
By focusing only on the good aspects, you lose important information. A tangentially related example: my daughter’s social studies book attempts to cover the concept of savings and loans. They talked about saving money to buy something bigger later and about the bank giving you money to buy something bigger *now* and you you give the money back later. And omitted the entire concept of interest. Elementary schools are telling kids that the bank will give you a couple hundred k to buy a house, you pay them back over time, and it’s all beautiful. I pulled up my credit card statement and showed her how the grand we spent last month could be paid back immediately — the bank gave me a grand, I paid them a grand back, and they gave me 30$ in bonus cash back for using their service — but that’s not a sustainable business model. How does the bank pay for the building downtown? The people who work there? The advertising? The computer systems? I showed her the “if you pay the minimum” and “if you pay more than the minimum, look how much you ‘save'” box where that grand could cost me three grand. Or I could ‘save’ 1500 by paying more than the minimum due.

Chalk Tightrope Race

Anya’s online school includes physical education — they provide ideas for games we can play, and we we tweak the idea. Last week, they wanted us to stand on one foot and play catch with a ball. That turned into a cross between volleyball and tennis. The activity this week was to draw a few chalk figures (circle, triangle, line, zig-zag) and pretend those are a tightrope. Anya turned it into a race — you start by running along the long line, leaping to the triangle, following it and then leaping to the circle, running along the circle, jumping to the next circle and running along it, then leaping over to a short line that gets you to the zig-zag. There was a lot of running into each other (especially when she added the “go either direction around the shape” rule), and it was really hard to win if you didn’t want to run over the tiny person. Which makes it one of Anya’s favorite games.

On art … 2

Art is a way of seeing something worthwhile in everything. A way of understanding and experiencing the world. I remember seeing a painting of an old barn next to an overgrown field. It’s something I’d have dismissed if I’d seen it in person — just a collapsing old building. But the way the artist painted it? The dilapidation and decay were stunning. That’s how I’ve viewed the world ever since — from urban slums to Queen Mary’s gardens, there’s something wonderful to be found if you try.
It’s also a gateway to learning. It’s historical (how did someone think to slice up the stalk of a papyrus plant, overlay them, wet them, and allow them to dry to make a writing surface!?! How different would the world be if we were lugging around cuneiform tablets), scientific (how your eyes perceive frequencies as colors are combined, how rocks break as you carve them, visualizing the head of a drum as a song is played) … I’ve taught my daughter a lot of more traditionally “educational” things by making or experiencing art.
And it’s enjoyable — something doesn’t have to have a practical utility to be worthwhile.

On art

All levels of school have wrong approaches teaching art. I got the “Art History” memorize-these-slides approach in Uni — it is a about as effective an approach to putting someone off art as I could conceive.
 
My experience with primary school art education has had a focus on semi-realist movements. Worse, in the lower grades? Art seems to be a fancy name they’ve decided to give “fine motor skill practice”. There’s no attempt to convey that art has historical meaning and purpose (think Hogarth Beer Street / Gin Lane), is emotional communication, captures energy … that there’s a LOT to experience in art, and there’s a lot of yourself you put into art for others to experience. And this approach leads to kids thinking they are bad at art … which, yeah, you can have difficulty expressing yourself. But that’s got nothing to do with hand-eye coordination.
 
The idea of collaborative art is interesting — and it’s something that’s completely missing in art education. I was shocked the first time I was at an artist’s studio and saw all of the people doing Chihuly’s glasswork. A second of reflection, I realized there was no way one dude made the giant tree of lights from the White House Christmas display or all of the glass bubbles at the Kew Gardens. But I totally never realized there was an artist equivalent of a sous chef.
 
I’ve seen some art clubs with large projects (mural on the side of the school) take this approach, but that’s been a more pragmatic thing based on the project size than any attempt to include collaboration in art education. With more mature participants, I totally see how a collaborative approach would be beneficial. I’m trying to think of some way to pitch it to kids my daughter’s age (early elementary school) where “Ken is good at trees” gets heard as either “you aren’t good at trees” or “trees are super awesome, and I’m letting Ken do them”. Maybe talking through it and seeing what everyone’s into — like draw a base scene and then have each kid draw their favorite animal.

Letter Monsters

When Anya was first learning her letters, I made a bunch of letter monsters. They had lots of sharp teeth and look very chompy.They also all had names, stories, and adventures … I was reminded of them when someone in a parenting group asked how they could encourage their kid to learn the sounds letters made. The stories for the monsters were all letter themed — Collette works as a cabdriver — her car has “CAB” written in a big chartreuse circle. When she is done working, she cleans her car and collects anything passengers may have forgotten. She enjoys a cup of coffee in the cafeteria before heading home. When she is at home, she cares for her cat. And, yeah, drawing a toothy letter monster snugging a cat is a challenge 🙂

Connections Academy – Planner UI/UX Issues and Learning Module Voices

I was surprised at the voices used for the cartoon characters in Connections Academy’s learning modules. Anya paused her maths lesson to tell me the lion is shrill. And proceeded to mimic the voice. I had her play a little of it for me and, yeah, it’s awful. The ladybug in the language arts module is better, but that’s a terribly low bar. I’d expected there to be a few voices from which we could select — not just because someone may well find a voice objectionable, but also because some people have frequency specific hearing loss — someone with trouble hearing high frequencies isn’t going to be able to use these modules. I set up an in-browser audio equalizer and dropped out high frequencies. Makes it usable, but I’ve still submitted feedback with my observation.

Then there’s the planner. I’ve noticed a few UI problems in the Planner —

  1. I am frequently unable to save an event – in cases where something is not populated, the missing item is highlighted in red. That’s not what I’m talking about – I’ve got all of the required fields populated, nothing is highlighted when I click ‘save’. It just stays on the item creation form. I am able to cancel item creation, try again, and get an event created.
  2. When the purpose is set to “Enrichment”, items cannot be opened/edited/deleted.
  3. When creating a new item, expanding the “Recurrence” section produces an overlap between the “Description” field and the top line of the recurrence selection. The description field is on top, which renders the top half of the check-boxes unusable.

And more of a UX issue … while the event items can include half-hours, the credit hours field appears to be an integer value. It is auto-populated with a float. Which leads me to expect

School Starts and a Math Game

It’s back-to-school time — at least for Anya! The local district put off starting school until mid-September in what I assume is an attempt to let other districts see how bad SARS-CoV-2 spreads … but we decided to try Connections Academy instead. It’s a dedicated online school, rather than a few local teachers using a third-party online platform (and going into school was right out). She’s bummed about “missing out” on a month of summer vacation … but August classes in our air conditioned house are a lot more pleasant than classes in the massive concrete block 60’s building with windows that open.

The school sent out info to use https://www.prodigygame.com — a wizard adventure game that Anya absolutely loves (even if casting spells requires solving math problems).

So far, I think Connections Academy are a little unorganized. They’ve got a calendar, but few of the meetings get populated into it. They’re using the first week or two of school for everyone to get themselves sorted — log in, learn the platform, make sure they’ve got their materials. The actual education platform is starting out the same place 1st grade did — using manipulatives to add. The teacher said Anya would take a placement assessment in early September and the education modules would be jumped to whatever is reasonable for the kid based on their assessment. Hopefully!

She’s been going through the educational modules quickly, so I’ve come up with a few experiments. I also signed her up for a Scratch class on Outschool — and I’m thinking about teaching more advanced Scratch classes since none seem to exist … essentially teaching programing concepts like variables — what they are, what scope is, data typing and loosely typed languages, and debugging by watching variable values. She’s really enjoyed the class, and she’s certainly learned to write her own game. We’ve also talked about the scientific method — using spontaneous generation as an example and designing an experiment to prove that mice magically pop out of rotting straw. Which points out something I’ve always liked about science. We’re medieval scientists who want to prove this generally known fact, we design a really good experiment, we meticulously carry out our experiment … and no mice. Even though our experiment failed to prove our hypothesis … we’ve still made an amazing discovery.