Archive for January, 2010

Frozen Waterfall Season!

Greetings from Blacksburg, Virginia! I have meetings in town in the coming week and Ryan came up with me over the weekend to help me empty out a storage unit. When I checked the weather forecast, I got very excited to see the highs have been in the 20’s for some time.

Do you know what that means?!?!?

Frozen Waterfalls!

“Operation U-haul” finished much earlier than expected today. That left Ryan and I with just enough daylight to check out the waterfall at the Falls Ridge Nature Preserve. Enjoy!

Falls Ridge - Top of Falls
Waterfall at Falls Ridge

Falls Ridge - Vicky and Frozen Falls
Me at Falls

Falls Ridge - Ryan and Falls
Ryan with Ice

More pictures of our trip to Falls Ridge can be found on my Flickr site.

Falls Ridge Preserve

Length: You can make it as long or as short as you want

Elevation Gain: Flat, except for a hill to the top of the falls.

Driving and Parking: The final approach to the preserve is a flat gravel road. There is plenty of parking.

Directions from Blacksburg, VA

From Main Street, turn on Ellett Road.
Turn left on Jennelle Road and cross over railroad tracks
Turn right on Den Hill Road
Turn left on Northfork
Turn right on Falls Ridge Rd.
Turn left immediately after the railroad tracks and follow the gravel road to the preserve.

January 9, 2010 at 10:29 pm 4 comments

Computer Literacy Program – Holiday Thank You #1

Over the holidays, a number of our friends and families gave us items for the neighborhood kids. I’m going to try my absolute best to snag some shots as the items are distributed.

Thank You to Clint and Carolyn!!!
My brother-in-law, Clint, and my sister, Carolyn, gave the kids blank CD-Rs which have been proven to be quite popular. They also gave us a highly coveted laptop bag!

Computer Literacy - Thank You - CD-Rs and Laptop Bag
Carolyn and Clint’s Gifts

Thank You to Christina!!!
Despite suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum and facing a hectic cross-Atlantic trip with a toddler, my former high school classmate, Christina from An American Expat in Deutschland, brought along German chocolates for the neighborhood kids. They were divied up and devoured within days! All reports have come back that the chocolates are indeed delicious.

Computer Literacy - Thank You - German Chocolates

Ryan and I still have a lot of gifts to parse through and distribute including prized mice and headphones. We are certainly very blessed to know so many generous people. Thanks everyone!

January 5, 2010 at 12:27 pm 1 comment

Introducing… Qubit

After our final Computer Literacy class, I went outside with two of the kids to walk the dogs and harvest pecans. Before we got off the porch, a little black whiny kitten approached. It was rather cold out, so we decided to let the kitten spend one night in the house. When I took him inside, some of the students started to celebrate the fact that Ryan and I had a new pet.

Computer Literacy - Final Test - Jacal and Kitten
Jacal with Kitten

Ryan and I both spent time trying to squelch that notion.

“He’s just spending the night and then we are taking him to the SPCA”

“Don’t get attached. He’s just spending the night.”

“No– he’s just here for one night.”

Meanwhile, the kitten quickly showed he was fond of dogs. As Jimmie sniffed the newcomer, the kitten started to purr and rub his face on Jimmie’s snout.

Elizabeth City - Kitten (by Vick)

A few days later, nine year old Tyrek stopped by to chat. In mid sentence he stopped.

“Vicky,” he said, “That kitten is still here.”

Robotically I recited our standard response, “We’re taking to him to the SPCA.” Tyrek got a big knowing grin on his face. Heck, by that time, I didn’t even sound convincing to myself!

Soon after that, we succumbed and gave the kitten a name. Since he showed up during the Computer Literacy class on The Future, we named him after a concept discussed in the lecture. We started to call him “Qubit”.

A few days later, it Christmas time. We packed the dogs and the kitten up in the car and started making family visits. The kitten further demonstrated his love of dogs by curling up into a tiny, black ball in between Jimmie and Henry in the back seat.

I believe it was in Slapstick and possibly also Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut talked about an African culture where when a new baby was born, the parents would spend months traveling around the country, so the baby could meet all of its extended family. The little kitten went on a similar tour. First we stopped by Ryan’s family’s house in Virginia Beach where Qubit was ogled over and pampered. Then we went to my parents’ house in Occoquan… where Qubit was ogled over and pampered. 🙂

Christmas 2009 - Vic, Becky and Qubit, Clint and Lemonjello
Qubit Gets Pets and Attention

Christmas 2009 - Timmy, Qubit, Eggnog
Qubit Gets Eggnog

Qubit seemed to enjoy Christmas quite a bit. Still not intimidated in the least by dogs, he didn’t shy from my Mom’s giant yellow lab, Sunny, and he spent a lot of time playing with a miniature pincher named Willy. Willy and Qubit took turns chasing a laser pointer. Qubit and Willy also teamed up against the Christmas Tree. Qubit would climb up it and occasionally bat an ornament off. Waiting Willy would then snatch it up and run off with it. 🙂

Christmas 2009 - Qubit Attacks Ornament
Qubit in a Christmas Tree

By the time the holiday was over, there was no denying it.

Ryan and I had a new kitten!

January 5, 2010 at 11:47 am 7 comments

Computer Literacy Program – Class 12 – The Future

The final class for the Computer Literacy Program was on The Future. By this time, Ryan had caught my illness from Data, Information and Knowledge and needed to take a nap before class. The kids were amazing that day. Usually, the prelude to class is a loud, chaotic time. A hodgepodge of competing rap artists, animated discussions on local gossip, and arguments over who gets to sit in what chair. But this day, knowing that Ryan was under the weather, they all quietly took their places and got their slides loaded on their laptops. Together, we got everything ready to go, and Ryan was able to rest until class time.

Although he was ill, you couldn’t tell it in the lecture. Ryan kicked this class off by talking about Moore’s Law and computers getting faster. This was a great lead-in to quantum bits, qubits for short.  Remember the term “Qubit”.  It’ll show up in a future post! 🙂

From there, Ryan talked about computers’ accomplishments and how they’ve solved Tic Tac Toe and Checkers. He also pointed out how computers have their limitations and he gave some examples of games computers haven’t solved yet. With that, Nintendo’s Mario made an appearance in his third and final class (He previously appeared in Programming and Software).

Computer Literacy Program - The Future - Another Mario Appearence
Another Mario Appearence!

Next Ryan discussed Artificial Intelligence and telling the difference between a computer and a human. He discussed the Turing Test and then a manifestation the kids are very familiar with, thanks to MySpace and Yahoo– The Completely Automated Public Turing Test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. It’s also known simply as “CAPTCHA.”

On the subject of humans and computers, Ryan talked about computer generated humans. He pulled up as an example. It’s a site that features a CGI woman whose face responds to your mouse moves.

Computer Literacy Program - The Future -
Looking at

Computer Literacy Program - Freaky Girl
Looking at was well-received. On more than one occasion, the girl was declared to be “freaky”. Which was the perfect segue to Ryan’s next topic.

“There’s a reason why she’s freaky,” Ryan said and he introduced “The Uncanny Valley”. With James Cameron’s Avatar opening in theaters that same week, it was a well-timed discussion.

Computer Literacy Program - The Future - Uncanny Valley
Uncanny Valley

Next the kids got to chat directly with some AIs. They visited with Eliza and Alice. They played Cyc’s FACTory. Some kids found a link and started talking with an animated Captain Kirk. Off color questions and observations about each other’s mothers seemed to provide particular amusement. 🙂

The bots were definitely popular… perhaps a little too popular. Some children were so enthralled, they continued to chat through the rest of class. Next time, we’ll have to save that for last!

Computer Literacy Program - The Future - Girls Chat with Eliza
Two Girls Chat with Eliza (Of course, we are talking about a different topic at the moment!)

With a somewhat distracted audience, the next topic was the Semantic Web and its intent to help computers find, share and analyze data on the web. To demonstrate this, Ryan had the class pull up a copy of H. Res. 558 and view the source code so they could see the tags designed to help computers interpret the page.

Last up was WolframAlpha, a site that instead of just returning search results for *you* to parse through, tries to actually answer your question. We asked it “Where is the international space station?” and “How many calories are in a donut?”. I found the answer to the first question to be absolutely fascinating (It even includes a map!). The second answer– downright depressing. 🙂

Computer Literacy Program - The Future - Wolfram Alpha

With that, our very last class of our pilot run concluded.

But the adventure was not over yet and I have more posts to come! Over the next two days, we would do makeup classes, the kids would take a final exam on Moogle, and then each child that completed the program would be rewarded their very own laptop!

January 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm 7 comments

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