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Archive for January, 2010

Slicehost

Round about mid-November, email sorta blew up here. It took a good weekend of not so spare spare time to get it sorta back working, including some horrific hacks that really shouldn’t be necessary and turned out to have subtle bugs that would do things like drop paypal emails on the floor. And it all started because spamhaus put the entirety of slicehost into a policy block list. Slicehost is a virtual machine provider where people tend to start up a machine and leave it running, doing long term businessy or useful stuff until the need arises for something bigger. That’s ok, except that mail comes into my slice, then gets forwarded to a place that uses that policy black list. PITA really.

And after all the effort to go through and fix that, now I needed to update that slice from oldstable to current debian stable because clamav (the virus scanner) basically blew up on an update and wouldn’t run in daemon mode. So, it forks a process for each incoming mail, which kills the performance and makes Slicehost send me nasty emails about swapping and heavy disk access. So, I need two things: currentish code and updates and more memory. And the best way to add memory is to use less of it. And the image size of the programs that I’m using is a lot smaller (1/2-1/3) in the 32 bit distribution vs the 64 bit distribution. This is something that other people have noted with Slicehost vs other virtual private server providers.

So, Upgrading Etch (x64) to Lenny (i386). Or shall I say, how to install 32 bit Lenny on a 64 bit slice. The adventurous could likely do this on one slice, I’m building a new one so that I don’t kill services while I twiddle with things. There’s a really useful wiki article that covers the majority of what needs to happen. The only real changes are to use arch=i386 in the debootstrap command, and make sure that lenny is the distribution that you select anywhere there’s an etch in that article. Also, you need to delete the existing lib64 directory when you blow away the initial install.

After that, the important bits of making athe mail server play nice include merging all the old configs, which basically works. The Clamav user needs to be added to the amavisd group and clamav-daemon restarted. I also had to set rw permissions on /dev/null for everyone, I’m not sure if that’s a bug in the udev bits or in the copying of the devs over to the new system.

If I need more memory, I may move the one website off that machine and onto Dreamhost, as I see that they have started doing WSGI now, and that would make it reasonably easy to host this pylons site.

(edit: and then, just to make sure that I was paying attention, Dreamhost decided to deliver additional copies of all email in my pop account every time I checked starting 24 hours after I did this.)

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Rar

Rar

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Tonight’s Dinner

Somehow, Rose and I managed to both do some of the meal tonight, with a little help from an extra hand in the prep stage. It was Rose’s first attempt at rolling sushi.
Tonight's prep

Tonight's Dinner

Tamagoyaki and tofu, my contribution.

Tamagoyaki and tofu

Rice Cubes

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5/6 of Last Night’s Work

5/6 of Last Night's Work

Sadly, 1/6 of the product did not live very long.

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Braised Short Ribs

This may be a bit of a shock for those that knew us as vegetarians. That story may be told some other time. Saturday I spent about 5 hours with a recipe from Tom Colicchio’s Think like a Chef — Braised Short Ribs. I missed one little 10 minute browning step due to kiddo freakout, but other than that, it was perfect. Back in the dark ages of my cooking, I’d done ribs. These were nothing like those ribs. These fell apart. They were devoured. My only regret is that I didn’t get more of the fat poured off. The general outline is: Brown the meat. Brown veggies. Add vinegar and stock, and cook in the oven at a low simmer for 2-3 hours. Then pull the chunks out, skim the fat, reduce the liquid, and heat the rest back up. And yeah, I’d do that again, even though I started right after lunch and ran to a normal 6ish dinner.

In Progress:

Braised Short Ribs, in progress

Out of the Oven:

Braised Short Ribs, just out of the oven

Braised Short Ribs

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5 Months

5 Months

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When Squirrels Dine

When Squirrels Dine

This is the truck’s engine compartment. I estimate that this is a couple of weeks of dinners. On the air cleaner, cam covers, exhaust manifold, power steering, alternator, battery, and around the carb.

When Squirrels Attack

This was actually a week ago, when I moved the truck today, I found fresh deposits on the fan shroud and air cleaner. I’m going to have to do something about these squirrels. Though, I am lucky in one respect — I was talking to someone who had this happen to his Mercedes in Arizona, but it was pack rats and cacti. At least these aren’t prickly.

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Curriculum Notes (Reading)

The whole curriculum thing got started with reading. Reading is one of the fundamental skills without which self learning of more advanced things is nearly impossible and is of such a bootstrapping nature that it can be totally overwhelming to contemplate teaching. We tried a few disorganized things when the Ben got little bits of interest in reading, but nothing ever stuck or showed enough promise to continue. Until September when he decided he wanted to read. We skimmed a couple curricula, one that looked ok (and has since gone back to the library), one online one that appeared to teach how to click on portions of the screen, and Teach your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Engelmann, Haddox and Bruner. A quick skim of the lessons and reading of the justification and teaching methods from the front convinced me that it was worth a shot. It is a phonics method, SRA/Distar. I had a vague dislike of phonics, but I’m not sure from what.

What I like:

Repetitive. There’s variable ratio reinforcement of things to learn, everything is introduced, then returned to on the next day 4-8 times, and then shows up again for another couple of days. At that point, it gets into a slower rotation of things that are just part of the knowledge base
Directions on Praise and Correction. They go for correcting everything, patiently, after one or two tries. The praise follows variable ratio conditioning. Praise sometimes, and for things that are done well, but not for everything and not at the same point in every lesson.
– A word for word script for the lessons. 6 months ago, I wouldn’t have wanted it, but it was a great confidence booster. Also, it really helped to keep lessons on track.
– Phonics needs to regularize the language. They provide a different orthography to indicate different sounds, diacritical marks on the vowels, arcs or ligatures to indicate groupings, and smaller characters to indicate silent letters. They were all in a different font, and clearly differentiated from the ordinary text that started later in the series. This was clearly designed to be a couple month bootstrap, not a long term thing.
Writing. It’s yet another bit of the brain that can be pulled into the writing thing.
– They start with the utterly regular to provide a pattern, but they introduce irregularities soon enough that the pattern does not become a hard rule. There were irregularities showing up by the 12th lesson or so. The special calling out of irregularities faded gradually as well, so the orthographic cues provided a crutch, but didn’t become the core of the understanding.
– All the special orthography goes away by lesson 74. It caused a 2-3 day dip in understanding before the switch from the sans-serif bold special orthography to the times roman ordinary one took hold.
– It worked.

What I didn’t like:

– Some of the stories were really odd.
– They explained the disappearance of an sh ligature to denote the sh sound by using the word fish, which, when set in their serif ‘normal’ font, had an fi ligature.

We managed to do a 15-30 minute lesson virtually every day from September to the New Year, at which point Ben got his first library card, chose a book, then sat down and read it to me. Then another one.

Sometimes focus was the challenge, sometimes taking it seriously, but on days when I wasn’t quite up to it, he was, and vice versa. Words take 2-4 days to internalize, and I can see it happen. Going through the word list can be a bit rough, then once or twice in the story, and by the third or fourth time, it just flows well. Now that we’re done with the curriculum, we’re trying something similar on the beginning reading books. I pick out some words and print them out, we review them and then read a book. We’re at a solid 1st grade level after 3 months, and I’m still seeing that he can pick up words when we work on them, or he’ll just come out with ones that I really don’t expect him to know. (like Australia. read properly, the first time)

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Curriculum Notes (Math)

Now that the oldest boy is in a home school support kindergarten class, I’m starting to need to look at curriculum and figure out which ones are appropriate and which ones are worthless. Thankfully, I’m not alone in this, and there’s a ton of stuff on the web, some of it actually useful. For what it’s worth, I believe that kids have individual learning styles, and almost any style of learning will work for someone out there, and a subset of the teaching methods will work for any particular student. We’re not really pushing him, he’s driving most of the desire to wrk in workbooks or learn things. We’ll push through the occasional slow day, but most of the motivation is coming from him.

He’s got Math Expressions at school — it’s a fairly well regarded curriculum but we have individual issues with the at-home workbook stuff. He gets distracted in the non-math details and that derails the learning experience. For example, they’re working on numerical awareness, such as 5 is 5 things. Counting numbers, stuff that he’s pretty well got, but I don’t see a problem in reinforcing. The workbook could have something like “Draw 5 Bees” as a problem. Which leads to endless analysis and deliberation of how a bee should be drawn, and how complicated, and totally loses any thread of math, and pretty soon any thread of doing anything regarding forward progress. Not that I’m a real stickler for progress, but art is something that he does all the time, in volume and totally unprompted. Oddly, this doesn’t seem to be a problem at school, so it’s probably more of an expectation thing rather than something more fundamental. And, it’s not a problem with the of the other workbooks that we have around: Miquon, Singapore, and Jump.

Tabdump follows:

Cliff Mass is a professor in Atmospheric Sciences at the UW who is hammering on the math competency of the students coming into his 101 level class. In particular, there’s a diagnostic test here that I think I could have aced in middle school that incoming students collectively got a 58% on this year. He’s working on where’s the math.com a pretty deep website with a lot of curriculum reviews and overviews of what’s happening on the math education front these days. It scares me, not because it’s not what I learned, but that the math education seems so content and repetition free that there’s no way that the kids can learn the material. M.J McDermott, (a student of Mass’ and a Meterologist in Seattle) made a video demo of a couple of the current curriculum methods for multiplying and dividing.

Other links:

– A Comparative Study of high performing countries vs low performing countries.
– The California├é┬áMath Standard — regarded as reasonably good.
How the NCEE Redefines Math — That explains a few things, this happened right around the time I left high school.

It seems that curriculum changes are a continuous stream of overreacting to the perceived faults of whatever came before. I remember not ‘getting’ Tom Lehrer’s New Math song, as whatever math I had was some sort of a reaction or counter reaction to whatever he was singing about decades earlier.

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Someone woke Up

Someone woke Up

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