Archive for December, 2009

December Diversity in Science Carnival is Up

This month the Diversity in Science Carnival requested “posts about successful, ambitious and inspiring diversity programs for youth and general audiences such as after-school programs, summer institutes, and citizen science programs sponsored by museums and universities.” I went ahead and submitted the posts so far on the Computer Literacy Program!

Ryan and I are just two people– if you’d like to see what other bloggers have come up with on the topic, be sure to check out the full issue at STEM-ology!

December 29, 2009 at 1:34 pm 3 comments

Computer Literacy Program – Class 11 – IT Jobs

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 11th class of the Computer Literacy Program had twenty-five slides in the presentation. Ten of them were about Michael Jordan. Inspired by an email forward (not debunked by, the slides talked about how much money the former basketball player makes. Stuff like:

Michael Jordan makes $178,100 a day, working or not.

If he sleeps 7 hours a day, he makes $52,000 while he sleeps.

If he went to see a movie, he would make $18,550 while he was there.

This year, he’ll make more than twice as much as all the U.S. past presidents for all their terms combined

Once all the kids were sufficiently awed by Michael Jordan’s wealth, Ryan pulled up the next slide:

If Michael Jordan saved 100% of his income for the next 250 years, he’d still have less than Bill Gates does today.

Computer Literacy Program - IT Jobs - Khalif Raises Hand
Talking About Michael Jordan

That’s definitely an attention grabber! From there, Ryan went on to discuss some examples of computer jobs and what they entail. Help Desk Technician, Systems Administrator, Network Administrator, Web Designer, Software Engineer/Programmer, Web Developer/Programmer, Database Administrator and Quality Assurance were all discussed.

Any of those positions are attainable. In fact, some of the occupations had already been mimicked in class! When one child helps another child burn a CD, print a picture, or sign up for Facebook, he/she is performing the duties of a Help Desk Technician. They were mini-Web Developers in the Internet class. In the Programming class, Ryan showed the kids an unbeatable Tic Tac Toe game… which they promptly beat. By exposing a bug in the logic, they were contributing to Quality Assurance!

Computer Literacy Program  - IT Jobs - Ryan Shows Database Structure
Ryan Explains Why DBAs Make So Much Money

I had thought the Bill Gates slide would be the most thought provoking part of class, but it could have been something more subtle. As Ryan went through the different occupations, he included the salary range at the bottom of each slide.

In Elizabeth City, the mean income for a family is $28,037. With 25.1% of families in Elizabeth City living below the poverty line, even the salary range of a Help Desk Technician is not a trivial number.

When Ryan showed the slide for “Software Engineer” he pointed out, “This is what Vicky does.”

“That’s how much you make?” one high school boy asked.

I looked up at the slide and admitted, “I’m…uh… I’m in that range.”

I felt awkward at the time. I make a great deal more than the average family in Elizabeth City. I get to travel to neat places and when I’m not, I pick my own hours and work from home. It’s quite a different life than the one my neighbors lead.

Looking back though, I should have pounced on the moment. I should have enthusiastically answered, “YEAH! AND SOME DAYS I DON’T EVEN CHANGE OUT OF MY PAJAMAS UNTIL THREE O’CLOCK!!!”

Bill Gates has billions and billions of dollars, but how cool is it that I get to work in comfy fleece? : )

After going through the occupations, Ryan listed other industries and positions that use computers– which nowadays is pretty much everything. He talked about opportunities for self employment and then resources for finding jobs.

Computer Literacy Program - IT Jobs - Smiles During Lecture
During Lecture

The students in class range from age 9 to age 18. Although it is early for some of them, Ryan and I reminded the kids that if they ever need help with resumes, college applications or applying for financial aid, we’ll be more than happy to assist.

Our offer is regardless of their chosen field. They don’t have to grow up to study computer science or author revolutionary algorithms. The main goal of this class was for them to leave aware of possibilities that are out there.

If they do happen to be interested, who knows! Perhaps one day they too will be working in pajamas. : )

December 28, 2009 at 12:04 am 8 comments

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays everyone! I hope 2010 brings you health and happiness and… that you have absolutely no need to make a trip to Walmart on Christmas Eve. 🙂

Christmas 2009: Christmas Eve in Walmart
Vicky in Walmart on Christmas Eve 2009 (Photo courtesy of Brian Nenninger)

December 25, 2009 at 11:01 am 2 comments

Computer Literacy Program – Class 10 – Data, Information and Knowledge

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.

For the 10th Computer Literacy Class, Ryan spoke on “Data, Information and Knowledge.” He started the lecture off with Mindshare and the differences between Push and Pull Media. For something fun he talked about Internet Memes. He shared a number of examples including All Your Base and LOL Cats.

Ryan and I do try to throw in examples that the kids would recognize. On the slide full of LOL Cats, the kids spotted and pointed out a familiar face. Ryan’s cat, Mollie, made it into to presentation.

Mollie’s Appearance

After Memes, Ryan tackled a tough topic. He explained the differences between Data (raw facts), Information (data relating to each other) and Knowledge (internalized lessons and conclusions about the world around us). The boundaries between the three are sometimes ambiguous which makes it a trickier concept than Class 3’s Logic Gates. Unfortunately there isn’t a good way to explain it involving Henry. : )

But with trickiness came good discussions from a variety of contributors. Ryan shared a number of slides and asked the kids if it was Data, Information or Knowledge. They had different answers, but they all had reasons behind their answers which was impressive.

Computer Literacy Program - Data, Information, Knowledge - Directions to Port Discover
Directions to Port Discover – Data, Information or Knowledge?

Computer Literacy Program - Data, Information, Knowledge - Keyboard
Keyboard – Data, Information or Knowledge

With nine other classes under my belt, I am well accustomed to being beckoned to help. This particular class, a young lady waved me over. Instead of the usual questions about how to spell a URL or which file to copy, she whispered, “What is wrong with you?”

I was ill. Perhaps a few key observations caught her attention. Maybe she noted my decreased energy, the extra hoodie I wore over my sweater and my pasty skin. Together, she saw a pattern forming, a possible relation between the three. My answer to her question confirmed it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I may have watched Data being converted to Information right before my groggy eyes.

This class was the very first class that ended early. I can’t say I was upset, I was rather anxious to go to bed. But for the future, Ryan and I have a few activity ideas we can add to this session to make it longer. A spreadsheet exercise, for example, would fit in well.

December 22, 2009 at 1:00 pm 8 comments

Computer Literacy Class – Glimpses of Vicky

During the Computer Literacy Class on The World Wide Web, one of the high school girls took a few pictures with my camera. Nine classes in she caught the very first glimpses of my involvement in the class. She captured three of my most common activities:

1. Adding on to the Lecture
Computer Literacy Program - World Wide Web - Vicky Talks (By Vick)
Vicky Talks

2. Helping with the Hands-On Activities
Computer Literacy Program - World Wide Web - Vicky Helps (by Vick)
Vicky Helps Someone

3. Getting Plugs for Dying Batteries
Computer Literacy Program - World Wide Web - Vicky Getting Plugs (By Vick)
Vicky Carrying the All Important Plug

December 22, 2009 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

Computer Literacy Program – Class 9 – World Wide Web

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.

A great big shout out to my boss and co-workers who let me miss a team dinner in Virginia Beach so I could attend this class!

The ninth Computer Literacy class was on “The World Wide Web” and it turned out to be my favorite of all twelve sessions.

Ryan started off by talking about delicious and the advantages of storing your bookmarks remotely. As an example, he pulled up his own delicious site.

Computer Literacy Program - World Wide Web - Henry and Tyrek with Delicious
Looking at Delicious

While we were there, Ryan spoke on the concept of “tagging”. It didn’t look like Ryan’s tags of “photosynth”, “cloudcomputing” and “webdesign” connected all that well with the kids, so we pulled up another example– my sister’s Christmas Wishlist! Anytime she sees something she wants, she simply bookmarks it to delicious and tags it as “wishlist”. The ability to catalog all the different things you covet– that related better with the kids!

Computer Literacy Program - World Wide Web - My Sister's Wishlist Makes a Cameo
Wish List via Delicious

Next up, Ryan took everyone through a number of tools in the Google arsenal. The obvious starting point was searching and then we looked at Google Translate. The kids seemed to have fun with this, especially when they realized if you translate to English, you can play the pronunciation.

One kid got Ryan’s attention and with a mischievous grin had Google Translate make an announcement:

“Ryan is a punk.”

: )

Then we took at a look at Google Maps. They had a great time with this activity as well, particularly with the Street View.

Computer Literacy Program - World Wide Web - Couch Looking at Google Maps
Kids Looking at Google Maps

Ryan talked briefly about Yahoo and then we moved over to Flickr to search for images. Apparently my PhotoStream and I were popular targets.

“Oh my gawd, this girl looks CRAZY!” one boy said. I took a look over his shoulder and I found he was looking at a picture of me from kindergarten.

Vicky in Kindergarten (Photo from ClintJCL)

Immediately afterwards I heard a girl exclaim in the back, “WHAT…did…you…DO…Thanksgiving?!?” I ran over to her and discovered that I no longer had a monopoly on sibling cameos in class.

Thanksgiving 2009 - Rachelle and Thad React to Darin
Ryan’s sister and her boyfriend watch Ryan’s brother

Next we all went to Wikipedia and pulled up the entry on Barack Obama. Ryan demonstrated how to access historic versions of the article and how to view all the discussions/debates that go on behind the scenes.

After Wikipedia, Ryan talked about all the public domain books on Project Gutenberg, online dictionaries and online thesauruses.

The grand finale of the class was an Internet Scavenger Hunt! The class was split into two teams and we gave them 20 minutes to find the following items:

  • A blogpost by Vicky Sawyer TGAW Posted on 01/23/2009 (15 pts)
  • A creative commons photo of a giraffe (10 pts).
  • The revision made to the wikipedia entry on Richard Stallman on Sep 25, 2009 at 05:12 (15 pts).
  • The “Everyone’s Bookmarks” page from for the “Ubuntu Home Page | Ubuntu” link (20 pts).
  • The definition of “defenestration” from (10 pts).
  • The entry for “” for’s waybackmachine on January 24, 2002 (20 pts).
  • Entry at Project Gutenberg for Abrose Bierce’s “The Devil’s Dictionary” (15 pts).
  • The entry “One Minute of Science Per Five Hours of Cable News” from (15 pts).
  • The Blue Ball Machine with the Classic GIF from You’re The Man Now Dog Dot Com (15 pts).
  • The “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” video by user zuchini at YouTube (10 pts).

The hardest part of this activity was, by far, picking teams. Originally, we tried let the kids pick their own teams. That didn’t quite work out. “Fiasco” might be a good term. Ryan ended up counting down the line of participants, “1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2” and that’s how teams were chosen (and probably will be in the future).

Computer Literacy Program - World Wide Web - Scavenger Hunt Begins!
The Scavenger Hunt Begins!

There are a number of moments during the scavenger hunt that made me proud. Our second youngest pupil kept asking for my help.

“I can’t help you,” I told him, “but you have very knowledgeable team members who can.”

Again he asked for my help and again I declined.

The next time he spoke was to announce, “I found it!” He was the very first person in the room to find the Blue Ball Machine and he did it all by himself.

For the most part I stayed neutral between the teams, but I did assist one competitor. I lent him my glasses so he could see the screen.

Computer Literacy Program - World Wide Web - Jacal Uses My Glasses
Vicky’s Glasses at Work

Just like the class on the Internet, I got to reminiscence. In high school, it was Brian Nenninger who taught me the word “defenestration”. Nearly twenty years later, I got to watch the definition be introduced to new minds. I had similar happy memories watching the kids discover All Your Base Are Belong To Us, though I don’t think they found the song as catchy as I do.

Computer Literacy Program - World Wide Web - Khaliya Looks Up Defenestration
Looking Up Defenestration

Everyone did well in the activity, but one team had a couple of setbacks. They found a picture of a giraffe, but it wasn’t licensed Creative Commons. They found the Wikipedia entry on Richard Stallman, but didn’t pull up the historic version. That was enough leeway to give the other team the win.

Computer Literacy Program - World Wide Web - Winning Scavenger Hunt Team
Winning Team

It was then I realized why we had such trouble picking teams. One young man on the winning team single-handedly found six items. Everyone wanted to be on HIS team and it wasn’t about popularity.

It was about knowledge.

December 21, 2009 at 11:42 pm 5 comments

DIY Driveway in a Day

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but our new driveway was! We had been talking about a driveway for a while and this past month the mud has been worse than ever. One morning Ryan woke up and decided it was time. He went out and prepped the area and then had a dump truck deliver a load of sand (most of the sand is for a different project).

We shoveled sand to drive out the swamp that’s encroached in our yard.

New Driveway - Ryan Shovels Sand (Far)
Ryan Shovels Sand

New Driveway - Sanded Driveway
Sanded Driveway

And then the dump truck returned and gave us a load of gravel.

New Driveway - Big Ole Pile of Gravel
Gravel Arrives

Our neighbor Alvin lent us extra rakes and shovels and from then on out we were moving gravel. For hours…and hours… and hours. The project drew a lot of attention. Cars would slow down to look at us and pedestrains and cyclists would make comments.

“That’s what I call ‘Git er done!'” one guy told us.

Another man passed by twice and reported that our gravel pile was definitely getting smaller. It was good to hear, but my body was still tiring.

At one point I paused to wipe the steady stream of snot off my face and I saw a familiar silhouette walking down the street. It was Jacal. I could not have been happier to see him.

“Can I help???” he asked as I knew he would.

Then there were three of us shoveling and raking.

New Driveway - Help Arrives!  Jacal With Ryan
Jacal and Ryan Raking

Still as the afternoon light started to dwindle, bodies ached, and blisters bled, it looked like the project would have to be completed a different day. Suddenly more reinforcements arrived! Three more neighborhood kids came over to help AND a neighborhood adult!

New Driveway - Teamwork Completes Task (Adjusted)
Bobby, Ryan, Khalif and Tyrek Finish Up at Dusk

That night I parked in the brand new driveway. For the first time in months, I did not have to leap from my car to the grass. The mud has been eradicated.

It was thanks to a lot of hard work… and wonderful neighbors.

December 20, 2009 at 12:25 pm 6 comments


Circa Tuesday, this blog passed 500,000 views. It took over 8 months for this last 100,000 so traffic has slowed down just a tad. But my feelings aren’t hurt as I haven’t been posting that much lately (sorry about that). Here’s an updated table:

# of Views Date
0 March 3, 2006
100,000 July 16, 2007
200,000 March 5, 2008
300,000 September 26, 2008
400,000 April 12, 2009
500,000 ~December 15, 2009

Once again, thanks for reading!

December 18, 2009 at 10:14 pm 3 comments

Computer Literacy Program – Class 8 – The Internet

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.

I flew home from Wisconsin and was able to get home in time for Class 8 of the Computer Literacy Program. This was a fun one! Ryan lectured on the Internet. He started off by showing a diagram of ARPANET, a four node, hand drawn flowchart from 1969. Then he showed a map of today’s Internet which was colorful blob that looked like a mixture between a far away galaxy and closeup of neurons.

Next Ryan talked about routers and asked the kids if they knew where the router was in the room. Immediately a flurry of hands pointed to the northwest corner of the house. Yup, that’s exactly where the wireless router resides. That shows how testy it is. Each and every one of the kids has seen it unplugged and plugged back in. : )

Ryan told the kids about how before there were routers, one computer had to call another one over the phone. Ryan and I both ran BBSes as youths, so we got to recall and banter about all the fun that could be found with 300 baud modems between busy signals.

At this point, we dropped to DOS prompt for our first hands-on activity. We introduced the kids to tracert and ping. The kids had a little more fun with the next activity– a visual trace route illustrated by Google maps!

Later in class, we had the kids download and install Firefox and the Firebug Add-On. Aided by Firebug, Ryan talked about HTML and the Document Object Model (DOM).

Class ended with everyone opening up Notepad and authoring their very first web pages! I found myself nostalgic. The kids’ discovery of HTML in our living room was very much like mine in college. You start with a simple page, then you tinker with the fonts and background colors, then embellish with an image and then possibly add a link!

Although the exercises we were working through were simple, some very different pages were produced.

Trashawn's Web Page

Dada's Web Page

Khalifs Web Page

Terrance Web Page

I didn’t discover the most impressive web page until two weeks later when I was gathering screenshots for this post. When we were doing links, due to time constraints we ended up having everyone link to Yahoo. One student, however, took the initiative to follow the PowerPoint slide. He created a second webpage in his directory with a different background color and he linked to that page. He did this without asking a single question. Way to go!

From BBSes and DOS prompts to <FONT> and <B> tags to <IMG> and <A HREF>, the eighth Computer Literacy Class was a bit of a reminiscence recapitulation for me. I got to relive my early evolution as a web programmer.

I think the kids may have gotten something out of it too. 🙂

December 18, 2009 at 12:22 am 6 comments

Computer Literacy Program – Class 7 – Field Trip [Fail]

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.

I was on a plane to Wisconsin during the 7th class. To celebrate making it half way through the Computer Literacy Program, Ryan wanted to take the kids on a field trip. He planned a virtual field trip to the International Spaceflight Museum in Second Life.

It turned out I didn’t miss much while I was on my business trip. The field trip didn’t work out. Second Life only permits five user accounts to be created in a single location. Alas our class has twelve students.

The field trip had to be aborted. : (

International Spaceflight Museum *sigh*…would have been cool
(Photo by janet.powell)

December 17, 2009 at 10:39 pm 2 comments

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