Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Today's happenings

Today (that is, February 26), I gave a videoconferencing demo to teachers in Alaska. Unfortunately, I was not able to see the other side, but the demo went fairly well in my opinion. After the demo I had lunch of hot blueberry mini-waffles with apple jam. I also had a juicy navel orange.

After my nap, my sister Adrianna and our friend Katie, who attends the same school as Adrianna, came back from junior high, played outside, and came in for afterschool. After Katie had finished her homework, we learned about American history from a website. We also learned about children in Victorian Britain and World War II on the BBC website, and memorized in order the monarchs of the houses of Plantaganet, Lancaster and York, Hanover, and Windsor.

Once Katie was gone I immediately went to my mom's room to watch news on the TV. This is one of my daily rituals--as soon as class ends at 5:30, I come upstairs to watch thirty minutes of alternating between World News with Charles Gibson and CBS news with Katie Couric. After those thirty minutes are done, I watch another thirty minutes of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams. My mom (with some reason) calls me a news junkie.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Snow, Sun, and slipping on asphalt

While winter storms batter New York, my sister Adrianna and I have been taking advantage of the warm and sunny weather here in Washington State to play outside on an apparatus called the skateboard. Since neither of us are up to actually keeping our balance standing up on it, we sit down on it and roll down our neighbors' driveway (which slants downward) at great speeds. We have another wheeled device that actually has a proper steering mechanism with handlebars, that is painted red. (I favor it personally.) I was going down our neighbors' driveway just this morning on the vehicle and, fearing that I was going to ram into a decorative wall, attempted to bail off unsuccessfully, leaving my knee dragging on the ground as I hurtled downwards. I managed to get off just in the nick of time but with a bleeding knee from the asphalt. Talk about wounded.

Creating a name

For those of you writing stories of your own (or maybe about to have a baby) here are three ways to find names:

1.) Create your own. You may already like the sound of a name, like "Anna." Now try replacing the "A" with other letters, like Z for Zanna, Y for Yanna, M for Manna, L for Lanna. Let's go with Lanna. Now let's take out one of the N's and change Lanna to Lana. Lastly, I'm going to replace the last A with an E, to create "Lanne." Another way to create your own name is to take your name or that of somebody you know. Let's say Martha, for instance. Martha backwards is Ahtram. Okay, maybe it's a little weird, but we can also try Thara or Mara, Mathara...

2.) Copy someone else. In the olden times, children would often take the names of one of their parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles. The tradition isn't as widespread today but if you particularly admire someone else's name you can always use it. There's no patent or copyright infrigement law on names.

3.) Use the Internet or other reference source. I personally find a lot of names for my stories from the Internet. There are some names that I don't use in stories, I just keep them in my head. Katenka, for instance, is one of my favorites. (I have a preference for Russian names.) Baby books are also useful. That's how my mom and dad found my sister's name.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Imagined scene from the life of Thomas Jefferson

“My dear, please pass the salt,” Mr. Jefferson said passively to his daughter Patsy, looking ponderously upon his ham and eggs. “First thing you come home and Cook makes ham without any salt! What will this house come to?” Sighing deeply, Jefferson took the salt from his daughter’s hand and dumped a great deal onto his ham.
“I thought Cook would be on vacation!” Patsy said with evident surprise.
“She’s on vacation as much as a Barbary corsair is going to kiss my feet,” Jefferson said. “Meaning, of course, that she’s most decidedly not.”
“I heard about that. Don’t those men have such funny names?” Patsy laughed.
“Patsy my dear, those “men with such funny names” have been attacking our ships and doing what they please,” Mr. Jefferson said sternly, wagging his finger. “I don’t have a taste for eggs today. Let’s take a walk around Monticello.” Patsy nodded and put on her pinafore. As they walked out, Jefferson tripped on a bust of his own head he had ordered and fell forward onto Patsy’s arm.
“Damn,” he swore under his breath, and tried to regain a proper composure.
“Your own head shall be your fate, Father,” Patsy said, laughing as she leaned back on a white marble column. Jefferson smiled grimly and they strode onto the lawn. Patsy surveyed the plantation with a smile. She could see the slaves picking beans and tobacco. Belle the cow came lumbering out to greet them with her wobbly-legged calf.
“Oh Father! You didn’t tell me Belle had a calf!” Patsy said excitedly, kneeling down to feel the calf’s sandy tongue and getting grass stains on her frock. “It would have been a nice distraction.”
“Exactly,” Jefferson said. “It would have been quite a distraction. You must concentrate on your studies for now, my girl, and when you’re older then I’m sure you’ll be married to some rich young man with a plantation of your own.” Patsy sighed and ran off to see the chickens.
“Wait, Patsy!” Jefferson shouted. His leg was still sore from tripping over the bust and he found it hard to keep up with his nimble daughter.

Food Part II

As I said in my previous post, we have too much food in our house. For some reason, we are (or at least I am) drawn to new things rather than the things we're supposed to eat, like leftovers. It's more exciting to tear open a brand-new package of cereal or oats than it is to eat the same old stuff you've had for weeks on end. This phenomenon (our desire to eat new things) has led to an overabundance of leftovers. And nobody likes leftovers, except for starving children in Africa. 

Starving children in Africa makes me think of an interesting Scientific American I read last year. It said that nutritionally, there was enough food in the world for everybody (or at least most of us), but that because of unequal distribution, we have a hunger crisis in many parts of the world. Even when we eat at restaurants, we are often not able to finish what's on our plate. So the restaurant throws it away and the food is wasted. When we eat out too much/have too much food/both, some percentage of our food is going to go bad. And that percentage is wasted.

I watch the news every night and I heard an interesting story about the dramatic rise in wheat prices. A bushel that used to cost $5.11 now costed $10.00, which led (or at least has the potential to lead) to a domino effect--prices of flour went up, prices of goods made of flour (bread, noodles) went up, customers can't buy as much. Who knows if this is a bad thing? Many of us have all the food we need. Unfortunately, the bakery that isn't managing to sell the high-priced bread probably isn't going to give the leftovers to starving children in Africa. 

Food (and too much of it) Part I

Americans are definitely big consumers of food, but we're also big wasters. Even our household (and we consider ourselves fairly good when it comes to eating our food) has a surplus of whole wheat pancakes. The root of the matter may lie in the fact that the pancakes are tough, and some of them are burnt. Of course, we have also been crazed over our new oats so we have obviously neglected the pancakes.

Tonight we're having pasta imported from Italy. You can tell that it's really Italian because 1) there's not a shred of English, everything is in Italian 2) it's small and 3) it's expensive. I look forward to eating it. Call me treasonous if you like, but in general, European food is much better than American. When we were in Europe, we had a good time eating. 

Andy Rooney has said, "I never eat in the restaurant of the hotel where I'm staying." In contrast, I often eat in hotel restaurants. In Hong Kong, it was nearly the only place we ate. Obviously, this isn't the best way to taste the local culture, but it is the best way to eat food you're familiar with. Then again, why not just eat it at home? That reminds me of another Andy Rooney quote--"I don't eat at a restaurant that says "home cooking." If I want home cooking, I'll eat at home."

Well, no matter how guilty I feel, I don't think I'm going to eat the pancakes tonight.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pros and Cons of the Videoconference Part 2

When I debuted the presentation "Essay Made Easy: Persuasive Writing," I talked about techniques of persuasive writing, like anecdotes and scenarios, facts and examples, and definitions and quotes. 

I noticed that the students (who were, I noted, teenagers) were talking amongst themselves when they were supposed to accomplish an assignment. Was I a little frustrated? To the contrary, these chattering students inspired me to create a new PowerPoint. I hope that a new presentation I plan to make about rules will stick in the minds of students.

Looking back on the persuasive writing presentation, I have to say that it's made me think a little more about the key parts to making a videoconference a success.

1. A good presenter who is able to manage the video conferencing unit and teach students effectively.

2. A working video conferencing unit that, to put it concisely, does just that--works. Plus good internet connection.

3. A receptive audience who listens carefully and makes an effort to understand the material being presented. 

These three things are key to making any video conference a success. I've seen stellar audiences in some of my presentations, but the video conferencing unit can backfire. Thankfully, we think we're mostly done with our problems now--the video conferencing unit is working consistently throughout my programs so far.  

If you are school teachers, administrators, or librarians interested in my video conferencing programs, you can check them out at www.cilc.org. Search for Adora Svitak.

Saturday, February 09, 2008