Archive for November, 2009

Computer Literacy Program – Class 5 – Maintenance

Ryan will do more thorough posts about the curriculum, the activities, and the effectiveness of the program when all the classes are complete on These are just my own personal recaps and memories.

The fifth class for the Computer Literacy Program was on “Maintenance”. The day of class, Tropical Storm Ida came through Elizabeth City and flooded our street. Schools and events were canceled across the region. And yet, we still had 11 out of our 12 students show up! (To be fair, a majority of them were already over at the house precisely because schools were canceled).

This class was a pretty busy one because we had hands-on activities throughout. We started off by checking for and installing new Windows Updates. Next we showed them how to check their hard drive for errors. Check Disk took a while (particularly for the student who had infected his system with Malware two weeks ago by visiting some no-no sites), but while they waited the kids still managed to find stuff to laugh and smile about.

Computer Literacy Program - Maintenance - Check Disk
Check Disk

Believe it or not— the defrag section was quite fun. Ryan explained it using a collection of comic books. At first, his Atomic Robo collection was dispersed among his other comic books, making it slower and harder for him to find all the issues. After “defragging” his comic book collection, all the Atomic Robo comics were together and easier to retrieve.

Computer Literacy Program - Maintenance - Fragmented Comic Books
Teaching Defrag With Comic Books

Since their laptops are so new, there is very little on the kids’ hard drives and relatively few fragmented files. But they had just enough to see the process in action.

“I see it!” One girl yelled and pointed at a section that went from red to blue.

Computer Literacy Program - Maintenance - Successful Defrag

Next up we talked about virus scanning and firewalls. As continuing education on file types and extensions, particularly the ones they should not open via email, Ryan introduced them all to a batch file. It was a FORK BOMB! The kids opened it and watch as it recursively called itself over and over and over until their computers crash. I found great amusement in watching all their reactions.

“Oh SNAP!” one boy exclaimed.

Computer Literacy Program - Maintenance - Fork Bomb!
Helpless Against the Fork Bomb

During the hands on activities in class, I’m doing a lot of bending over and squatting and pointing to help the kids out. Sometimes when one student figures something out, they lean over and deploy that knowledge to the others around them. It always makes me smile to see them helping each other.

Computer Literacy Program - Maintenance - Tyrek Helps Jacal
Helping Each Other

Don’t worry about me becoming obsolete though– I’m still plenty busy!

November 27, 2009 at 12:36 pm 1 comment

Computer Literacy Program – Class 4 – Software

Ryan will do more thorough posts about the curriculum, the activities, and the effectiveness of the program when all the classes are complete on These are just my own personal recaps and memories.

The fourth class for the Computer Literacy Program was on the output of Class 3’s topic. Programming begets Software! To start, Ryan discussed operating systems. He covered the key functions of operating systems and then discussed the variety of the OSes that are out there, making sure to emphasize there are more options than just Windows and MacOS.

Computer Literacy - Software - OS Video
A Spoof of the Mac vs PC Commericials That Stars Linux

Before we purchased the 13 laptops for this program, the kids all had to share from a pool of extra laptops we had around the house. One of those laptops runs Ubuntu. So through their nightly visits to MySpace the past year, the kids already had been exposed to Windows and Linux systems. For class we wanted them to experience a new operating system. The easiest* way to do that was to have them all drop to DOS prompt and run some commands.

*If any of you Apple enthusiasts out there are disappointed, you can always donate your old laptops to us! 🙂

Everyone was able to follow along with the DOS prompt activity, but I’m not sure how well absorbed it was. It may have been a little like Cargo Cult Programming. The kids were running through their cd and dir commands, but I didn’t see anyone light up and visibly recognize that they were looking at the same files they were looking at in Windows. Ryan and I discussed it and we already have a slide idea for the future to help solidify the connection.

More effective was Ryan’s discussion on how software power increases with hardware power. He got help from Mario (of Nintendo fame). Over his 14 year career, Mario has appeared in over 200 video games…and was a great illustration of the changing technologies.

Computer Literacy - Software - Evolution of Mario

Near the end of class, Ryan discussed software applications and licensing schemes. Then it was time for another hands on activity! They kids got to install a program, specifically GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program. We walked through the install process together. Next up, lab time! The kids were tasked with learning and using their new program.

GIMP was a home run! All the kids had great fun modifying images and sharing their work with the others. A lot of laughter was had.

Computer Literacy - Software - Khalif, TD and Jacal Laugh at Their Images
Laughing at Images

When class was officially over and everyone was free to peruse the internet, a number of the kids continued to work on their images.

The Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Smith debate served us well during the Programming Class. The debate lived on as the Larry Fitzgerald fan made some choice modifications to a picture of Steve Smith.

Computer Literacy - Software - Terrace and Steve Smith
The Larry Fitzgerald Fan Shows Off His Work

steve smith the lady
Steve Smith by a Larry Fitzgerald Fan

All in all, another great class!

November 24, 2009 at 9:24 pm 6 comments

Code Hound

Last week I mentioned that Henry and Jimmie have been auditing the Computer Literacy classes. Henry is a bred pack animal, so he does fancy being in groups. Here are two shots he snuck into. One from our class on Software and one from our class on Maintenance. Enjoy!

Computer Literacy - Software - Henry Audits the Lecture
Henry the Beagle Listens to a Lecture on Software

Computer Literacy Program - Maintenance - Henry Among Windows Updaters
Henry the Beagle in the Middle of Computer Maintenance Lab

November 23, 2009 at 1:01 am 2 comments

Than I Can Adequately Express

Life has been going well. It has been going really, really well. Surprisingly, this positive phase has been accompanied by a frustration. I am so full of love and happiness and gratitude that I struggle to articulate my feelings. No matter the word choice, it feels impotent. Sometimes I try to prefix my sentiment with words like “very” or “really” or “so” (see above). Other times, I try to reinforce the magnitude of a statement simply by saying it again and again in succession (see above). Those tactics fail and everything I say still seems to fall far short of the feelings inside.

Last night I was watching Part I of the Project Runway Season 6 Finale. Over the course of the season, the field of 16 designers had been whittled down to 3 finalists. The remaining contestants get to fulfill a dream. They get to display their work on fashion’s biggest stage– New York’s Bryant Park during Fashion Week. Early in the finale episode their mentor, Tim Gunn, addressed the three finalists:

Designers, I am more proud of you than I can adequately express.

And that’s it! That’s exactly how I feel!

Tim Gunn is known for his vocabulary and is sometimes described as a walking thesaurus. Yet here words even failed him! By simply admitting the emotion exceeded his (albeit formidable) communication skills, he conveyed more than intensifiers and relentless repetition ever could.

I will never design a fancy gown or even a sassy ensemble of separates. Nonetheless, I still found guidance from mentor Tim Gunn. Now I know what to say!

“I am more thankful than I can adequately express.”

“I am happier than I can adequately express.”

“I love you more than I can adequately express.”

November 18, 2009 at 12:00 pm 6 comments

Computer Literacy Program – Class 3 – Programming

Ryan will do more thorough posts about the curriculum, the activities, and the effectiveness of the program when all the classes are complete on These are just my own personal recaps and memories.

The third Computer Literacy class was on a topic near and dear to my heart– programming! Since we are doing the Computer Literacy Program out of our home, both dogs have been auditing the classes. But this is the first time a dog has helped with a lecture. Our first stab at explaining Logic Gates produced some pretty confused looks, so we elaborated using examples of people in the room. When the kids got a hang of the concept, we used Henry, who managed to squish himself between the students on the couch, as a quiz.

In case you want to administer a self-test in the privacy of your own home, here’s a reminder of what Henry looks like:

Doggie Bath Time - Henry in Wool Sticks Out Tongue

“FALSE!” All the kids yelled.

I was quite proud. Henry, on the other hand, was confused. He couldn’t figure out why I was yelling his name. 🙂

To help demonstrate if statements, loops, variables and algorithms, Ryan had five kids each pick from a deck of cards. With a sixth kid acting as an index variable and another as a boolean flag, we walked through a live-action bubble sort in the living room. In the end all five card-carrying kids were lined up in order.

Neither of those activities were my favorite part of the class though! Each child copied a directory of sample HTM pages containing JavaScript onto their computers. We used those examples to explain some key concepts. However, we also wanted to give the kids the opportunity to tweak code for themselves. Lately, two of the boys have been arguing about which NFL star is better– Larry Fitzgerald or Steve Smith. Their banter inspired a very simple JavaScript example:

Computer Literacy - Original Page

Having seen Larry Fitzgerald play when he was at Pitt, I set the page up to use JavaScript popups to compliment a selection of Larry Fitzgerald (‘BOOYAH! You are smart!’) and berate a selection of Steve Smith (‘WRONG! Larry Fitzgerald RULES!!!!’).

As soon as we started working through the examples in the directory, the kids noticed there was a file named “02SteveSmithVsLarryFitzgerald.htm”, so it built up a bit of a buzz with the boys. Before long, we got to that example. The kids opened it up in their web browser and started selecting.

The boy who liked Larry Fitzgerald was one of the first to click. A popup box declared that he was smart. He got a smug smile on his face, sat back on the couch and waited for his nemesis to react. The boy who favored Steve Smith clicked and was not pleased when a popup announced that he was wrong.

Instantly he looked up at me, “Did you do this?!?”

I nodded and he was even more appalled.

“Did you even LOOK at the stats?!?!”

In a heated tone, he started to detail why Steve Smith was superior to Larry Fitzgerald.

The moment could not have been scripted better! Right then, Ryan swooped in and said, “Well, if you don’t like it– let’s change it!”

Everyone opened the source code into WordPad and [with some hints] found the code that was responsible for the taunts. Then each child typed in what he/she wanted to see (One girl who didn’t like football at all changed both of her prompts to read “Who Cares?!?”). They saved their changes, reopened up the page in Internet Explorer and [with some minor debugging here and there thanks to single quotes or inadvertently erased semi-colons….] each child got to see popups that matched his/her views.

Now the boy who liked Steve Smith was much happier.

Computer Literacy - Khalif's First Program


<SCRIPT Language="JavaScript">
function respondToAnswer(answer)
if (answer=='Smith')
alert('WRONG!  Larry Fitzgerald RULES!!!!');
alert('BOOYAH!  You are smart!');


<SCRIPT Language="JavaScript">
function respondToAnswer(answer)
if (answer=='Smith')

When I was in college and first dabbling in HTML, I remember how exciting it was to refresh a page in Netscape and see a change that I had made. Even if it was something simple like a background color, it was thrilling. I told the browser to do that. That was my doing!

Being able to watch the kids refresh their pages and see their handiwork come to life…

That was my favorite moment of the night.

November 13, 2009 at 1:44 am 17 comments

Computer Literacy Program – Class 2 – Hardware

Ryan will do more thorough posts about the curriculum, the activities, and the effectiveness of the program when all the classes are complete on These are just my own personal recaps and memories.

The first class on The Bit was so busy and hectic, I didn’t get to take any pictures. During this second class on Hardware, I was able to snag some shots.

For this class, Ryan started off with the history of computers and how the word “computer” used to refer to humans instead of machines. Ryan also talked about other types of computers– the abacus, the slide rule, the scientific calculator. And by no coincidence, Ryan had an example of each to pass around the class.

Computer Literacy Program - Reisha and Vick with Abacus
Girls with Abacus

Computer Literacy Program - Ryan Explains Scientific Calculator
Ryan Talks about the Scientific Calculator

The lecture then covered computer history from the ENIAC to the UNIVAC to today’s Kraken. To drill home just how far computers had come, Ryan pointed out how powerful today’s tiny cellphones are compared to the giant computers that used to take up entire floors.

The lecture ended with a dissection! Ryan took apart an old computer, opened it up, explained the various parts.

Computer Literacy Program - Ryan Shows Inside of Computer
Computer Dissection

Some parts of the computer were passed around and sometimes things don’t change. Despite explicit instructions, the hard drive was still returned covered in small, greasy fingerprints. I’ve had similar issues with my camera lens. 🙂

Computer Literacy Program - Armani and DJ with Harddrive
Looking at Harddrive

A wireless router made the rounds as well.

Computer Literacy Program - Khaliya, Armani and DJ with Router
Wireless Router

We finished up the evening session our hands on lab. We did some “Keyboard Karate”. It was a bumpy lab (we had technical difficulties demonstrating on the projector), but the kids got to learn and practice keyboard shortcuts including Alt-Tab, Ctrl-A, Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V and the very important Ctrl-Z (which I’ve already used a number of times authoring this post!!!)

Computer Literacy Program - Almost Entire Class From Front
Kids Ready for Lab

At least twice during lab time, I heard a “Vicky Look!” from across the room. I would turn around to see a child grin as they switched from Notepad to Internet Explorer using Alt-Tab.

They were so, so proud.

And me– even more! 🙂

More pictures of the Computer Literacy Class are on my Flickr site.

November 12, 2009 at 5:00 am 3 comments

Computer Literacy Program – Class 1 – The Bit

For some time now the neighborhood kids have been coming over in the evenings to use some extra laptops to get on the Internet. My fiancé, Ryan, decided to start an official and structured computer literacy program. After roughly a year of planning and research, Ryan developed a curriculum of twelve classes and we have started a pilot run with twelve kids (Ages 9 -18) from our street.

Ryan will do more thorough posts about the curriculum, the activities, and the effectiveness of the program when all the classes are complete on These are just my own personal recaps and memories.

The first class was last week. Ryan lectured on the bit and binary code. He also discussed the byte, the kilobyte, the megabyte, the gigabyte and so on. As hands on exercises, the kids explored the file system and looked at the sizes of various files and the free space of their brand new hard drives. At this point, I became jealous– their laptops have considerably more space than mine! 🙂

Since this was the first class, I wasn’t sure what to expect about the kids’ engagement level, but Ryan did an excellent job keeping them involved. Ryan routinely asked questions and the kids would shout out their guesses.

After talking about bit and 1 being on and 0 being off, Ryan asked the kids to look over at their new laptops and find the bit on the computer. This activity reminded me of a Dan Brown novel! My whole programming career, I have encountered this button and never noticed the symbol right in front of my face.

The Power Switch – A Bit! 1 and 0! (Photo by Fox Fotography)

Any doubts I had about the kids’ interest was fully squelched when Ryan, aided by a HowToons cartoon (see below), taught them how to count in binary using their hands.

Count Like a Computer!

The kids got a kick out of this! The number four seemed to be particularly popular. 🙂 My favorite part involved a quiet kid in the back. Because of his silence, I had been trying to gauge his interest level. Then suddenly I spied him, with his hands very low near the keyboard, configuring his fingers to count to ten.

When I walked the kids back home that night after class, I couldn’t help but feel excited about the eleven more sessions to come!

P.S. Counting in binary has proven to have some staying power. On Saturday, four days after our first class, I took three girls up to Virginia Beach for an outing. And on the grassy hillside of Mount Trashmore, one started practicing her binary counting. The practice continued in the car and I coached the best I could through the rear view mirror. When we returned to Hunter Street, she proudly showed Ryan what she had rehearsed.

November 11, 2009 at 11:36 pm 4 comments

Surprises at the American Museum of Natural History

In October, Ryan and I traveled up to New York City for a long weekend. During our visit, we stopped by the American Museum of Natural History.

This was my first visit to the city and thus the museum, but Ryan had been there numerous times before. He suggested the “New York State Environment” exhibit as a starting point. That man knew exactly what he was doing!

As I took my time moving from diorama to diorama reading about soil types and fauna and farming techniques, Ryan patiently waited, knowing a surprise was lurking ahead in the “North American Forests” exhibit.

Soon enough I went around a corner to find a 300 foot cross section of a 1300 year old giant Sequoia tree! It made me happy and giddy and at thirty-four years of age, I got to experience the same sense of marvel and discovery eleven year Jacal had the other week at Fun Junktion.

New York City - American Natural History Museum - Surprise for Vicky
HUGE surprise!

There was another surprise in the exhibit that Ryan did not anticipate. I spent a lot of time at the dioramas looking for familiar vegetation and reading the legends of what tree is what. I came to one display and as I was reading the literature, I saw there was an American Chestnut listed.

“What?!? Where?!?”

I looked back up at the diorama, but still didn’t see it.

New York City - American Natural History Museum - American Chestnut
Do you see the American Chestnut?

I consulted the legend again and found the tree. It’s in the background.

It’s the dead one. 🙂

New York City - American Natural History Museum - American Chestnut (Marked Up)
American Chestnut in the Diorama

And later there was another display that explained why the tree was dead.

New York City - American Natural History Museum - American Chestnut and Sac Fungi Display
Sac Fungi Display

Although they weren’t the happiest depictions, I’m glad the American Chestnut was not forgotten and still included in the museum. And I’m sure one day, the curators will have to revise their exhibit to accommodate a very different appearance from the tree. 🙂

November 2, 2009 at 11:06 am 2 comments

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