link to it 25aug05: hacking
Even though I'm not a programmer, I have a lot to say about hacking as the more generalized term for taking something and making it do what you want, sometimes by modifying it, always by messing with it. I have had several hacking-type exercises over the past week or so.

post office - you all know of my love affair with the post office. Greg went to the PO in town to mail a box to my sister. We're short on boxes here and I reused one of those Priority Mail boxes we had gotten from elsewhere. I covered up all the Priority Mail labels with tape and sent it off. Greg came back, still carrying the box. Apparently you cannot, in any way, use a PM box without paying PM rates. In fact the lady at the post office specifically told Greg it was "not legal" to do so. Of course nothing piques my interest like a new law I haven't heard of, so I called the USPS main number to discuss this. According to the woman I spoke with, you cannot, in any way, use even the cardboard from a PM box without paying PM prices when you mail it. Those uses include covering the box with tape, turning the box inside out, or even cutting the box up into smaller pieces and making your own box out of the pieces. Needless to say I'm fascinated by this line of reasoning and will be trying various box-obfuscation techniques over the next few days to test it. To Kate, sorry the router will be a little late.

car - as I prepared to go to work yesterday, my check engine light went on. I had no idea what this means. We got out the manual and it turns out that my car is on the cusp of those cars you just plug a computer diagnostic machine into. You CAN do that, but you can also find this little doohickey under the dash, plug a paperclip into it, and read the pattern of blinks on the check engine light and figure out what is wrong with it by checking that number against a list in the Chilton's guide. Mine's got some oxygen sensor problem, nothing mission critical. Go paperclip!

computers - two of the computers I maintain somewhat at my job had been completely brought to their knees with spyware. As I rebooted and removed more and more crap from the computers, I noticed a bad trend. Many of the truly awful spyware programs, while simple to install [often attached to shareware programs or installed when clicking to try to get rid of a popup] are hell to uninstall. Many require downloading and running an uninstall program, many require filling out some sort of an "exit interview" survey, a few even had questions to answer. In many cases, if you made an error in a step -- one question made sure you typed in all uppercase, lowercase responses wouldn't count -- the program would end, leading you to think the program had been uninstalled when it hadn't been. As a Mac user, I rarely encounter really debilitating spyware in my own home, and most of these programs were irritating but far from impossible to uninstall. However, with students who can just barely point and click, problems like this effectively render their computers unusable. It reminded me too much of the whole Florida voting fiasco. Taken at face value there is no way these companies can pretend that what they are doing is anything other than an attempt to maximize revenues through misunderstanding, manipulation and outright lying. It's shameful.

operating systems - this was going to be a long story about upgrading my student's ancient computer's ancient browser to 128 bit encryption so that she could access PayPal and take payment for some Beatles records she sold on eBay, but it's long and maybe you had to be there. Instead, I'll use the space to link to my Dad's patents which he was looking at when I went to visit this past weekend. I find these patents intriguing but ultimately completely opaque and mystifying which of course makes me wonder what they look like now, nearly thirty years later.
link to it 22aug05: family
[greg walking on the beach]
Some of Greg's family came to visit and then we drove down to see some of my family. Then his family left, we spent a little bit of time with my family, and now we're back up here in our little two-person family catching up on our exceptionally nerdy and seemingly hard-to-translate life. Some photos are here.
link to it 16aug05: talking about joe
I have been bugging my friend Joe to get a blog pretty much since I have had one. We've been friends since the first weeks of college, which is creepily now more than half a lifetime away. We were both underwhelming acadmically in high school. We both thrived at college. And now we're both pursuing what makes us happy [which we both know is not always what pays the bills] and have gotten some nice recognition for that work. Joe sometimes calls me up at night because he has read something in the paper or seen something on TV that is so blindly reinforcing of patriarchal hegemony that he just has to share it with someone. Joe will probably write me an email and tell me I've used the word "hegemony" wrong. He's had a blog for the past few months and it's a delight to read all the time, as I knew it would be. The latest post I relate to even more than most. Here's the list at the end, now go read the beginning. update: well you can't read it because Joe deleted that post in order to do some more thinking about the topic. Go read about Pedagogy of the Oppressed if you want to think about education for a while.
  1. I know from my own experience that some kids that don't really respond well to a standard public education can grow up to get Ph.D.s and become award-winning scholars (I won an award, man!).
  2. It's criminal how many people who have that potential never even know it, much less get the opportunity to fulfill it.
  3. All over the United States, at this very moment, there are people who see their own critical thinking ability as a character flaw that they should try to hide as much as possible. As an intellectual, this makes me want to puke.
  4. In virtually any situation (hip-hop scene, high school, U.N., etc.), actually listening to what people have to say in order to understand where they're coming from is good. It astounds me how often I feel the need to point that out.
This somewhat relates to something I wrote over at the other day in response to another blogger in my profession who declared the Digital Divide "a tired old cliche." I got all jaw-clenchingly annoyed at that flippant remark in my STOP IGNORING THE POOR YOU MEANIE way, until I thought "Oh, but she's just wrong. And it's okay for me to say so since I'm sort of an expert too...." High school was a lousy time to be different, especially smart and different. Being an adult and just getting to be me, neither different nor the same, has mostly been really great.
link to it 14aug05: talking about exercise
I had always thought that moving to a more rural setting would mean more exercise. This is sort of true when I'm in Topsham because I stack wood, mow troublesome lawns, hike around the backyard, and generally worry about the house. I also rarely eat out. However in metropolitan Bethel, lunch out is an option, most of the outdoor beautification projects are done by Ola or the neighborhood kids, and going anyplace other than the little downtown area means getting in the car. So, after a few years here, I decided I was getting slothful, and irritable. I haven't mentioned this too much, but Greg has been a ball of fire on his bike for the last year. Watching your boyfriend become buff while you balefully brood about becoming a blob bites. However, I'm such a control freak that I can't just sit around and watch myself not fix this. So, we joined the outdoor town pool. We walk there from where we live.

Despite the fact that I've gained some weight and am approaching what some call "middle age" I have no compunction about appearing in public in a bathing suit. I'm also a really good swimmer and swimming doesn't play hell with my asthma. Hanging out in the pool with Greg brings back rushes of memories from summers where our family would go to the pool in town together. It's one of the few things I can remember our entire family [Mom + Dad + sister + me] doing together, ever. I tried to teach Greg some of the dumb kid games my sister and I played, and he's been a good sport about somersault contests and jumping off the diving board. We fall into a weird niche in pool culture. The pool is really for kids. The only other group at our pool are parents of kids who are, usually, younger than me. There are no seniors, no hipsters, no teenagers and no young executive types, no matter when we go. I try to go 3-4 times a week and swim at least 1/6 of a mile each time, usually more. My goal is a mile a week. When I first started swimming two things became apparent 1. a lot of my free-floating irritable anxiety went completely away 2. I started sleeping 10-11 hours a night. The sleep thing is mostly stabilized and the irritability creeps back from time to time, but it's been great.

The pool closes this weekend and I'm somewhat at loose ends. We can join the pool in the next town but I'm already worried that it may be too far to travel, especially in the winter. We've been going on hikes, which I love, but that's pretty weather dependent [way too hot to go today, for example]. Even though I have an IOU for some snowshoes from last year, I still have a hard time not seeing snowshoeing as basically walking around somewhat aimlessly outside, though perhaps some of the littler hikes we've been on lend themselves to snowshoes. In any case, it's a whole new thing for me, to think "Where am I going to get some exercise this week?"
link to it 08aug05: talking about play
[bench on the hiking trail with the engraving Solace in Nature]

My goal is to try to update this page more than once a week in August. We'll see. Greg and I went for another hike this weekend, a short easy one, and even though the Upper Valley Land Trust has a pretty good trails page, I decided to make a little page of our own in addition to the pictures Greg took and the ones I took. Here it is How do you get to Rikert's Broad Brook Trail?

A weird thing about blogs, in a general sense, is that since they update so often, they are spidered by search engines often. Things that are linked to off of blogs, seem to get found by search enginges [Google, Yahoo] as well as by blog search engines like Technorati and Feedster. So, when we went on the Kent's Ledge hike a few weeks back, there were no pages I could find via any of these sites that told me how to get there. We made a page, and made sure it had good metadata, titles, and structure. Now when you type Kent's Ledge into Google directions, my directions, come up as one of the top hits. Same with Yahoo. Part of this weird superpower is just understanding how the systems work. Part of it is taking advantage of what I call the "tech shadow" that hangs over Vermont where a lot of good information hasn't made its way online yet. And part if it is just caring enough to fix a problem that you see. Fortunately, it's easier to put up good information where there is none than to remove bad information. Then I go back to my computer classes and show students how the Undo command works and they act like I'm some sort of a magician, but I know I'm just showing them how to find what's already there.
link to it 05aug05: talking about work
Now that I can't just say "I'm a librarian, I work in a library" I think it can be tough for people to understand what I do for work. In short, my job title is Community Technology Mentor. I work half-time, from now until December, helping people in the community with basic skills technology stuff. I am an AmeriCorps Volunteer, TechCorps specifically. I work for the Randolph Technical Career Center, but they're mostly closed in the Summer so I also work for the Kimball Library in Randolph, population ~4000. I take home a little under $500 a month, plus mileage, and in my job, mileage can be substantial. Since I have an extensive library background, I am working with area libraries to help them get up to speed with technology as well. I enjoy this job so much they could pay me in sand, as long as it was sand I could eat. This is what I did this week, as an illustration.

Monday: Met with a solo librarian who works in a library in a town of about 1000 people. They have two computers that that bought themselves because The Gates Foundation said the per capita income of the town was too high to get free computers. I showed the librarian how to use IM, said I could teach her how to make bookmarks and flyers, made a date for later in the week. On my way home, I took some pictures.

Tuesday: I do a drop-in time at the high school lab where people can come in and use a computer. I had three students. A middle-aged man who is looking for work and has a computer but has never used the Internet. We tried to learn how to navigate the Vermont JobLink site which waqsn't intuitive even for me. The other couple were longstanding students of mine who are 83 and 86 years old. They just bought a laptop and have never been on the Internet before this month. They want to sell their stained glass on eBay and I have been working with them. We looked at some Microsoft tutorials which were wretched and I showed them how to navigate the start menu.

In the evening I had class at the library. They have three Internet computers and all were full. There was my friend the job seeker from earlier, an activist older woman who I remember seeing at protests, and a young disabled woman. The younger woman has a computer at home but she's been getting horrible pop-ups and is worried about viruses and isn't sure what to do. I tried to outline a strategy but I wasn't sure I was successful. The older woman had bought a book online in my class last week and she brought it in with her today. It was a nice looking book and she says I can borrow it when she is done with it. We noodled around on Google Maps showing everyone satellite pictures of their houses and talked about how to cut and paste.

Wednesday: Met with another solo librarian in a town of 1400. They have one computer that is used by both staff and patrons. It has a dial-up connection to the Internet that uses the library's one phone line. It is a Gates Foundation Computer but TGF came through a few years ago and the town has had a few librarians since then. She's not really sure how the computer is supposed to be set up but it doesn't work right. I installed Firefox, Ad-Aware, CrapCleaner, the Win2K update and Spybot Search & Destroy and left her the install disk I brought with me that has all these programs on it. We cleaned the hard drive, install their cataloging software and the machine seems to work okay. They have the Harry Potter book on the shelf.

Next back to the library from Monday. We moved the computers around, installed a printer/fax/scanner. It didn't come with a USB cable but I happened to have one in my bag that I offered to lend the library. The librarian says she'd happily buy it off of me, so I sold it to her cheaply. We went through all the Internet Options on Internet Explorer and I explained what they all did. We spent 20 minutes getting all the Hewlett Packard printer crap installed. I had to head to class and I'm on my way out the door when she says "Sure you don't have time for a little ice cream?" Since there is always time for ice cream, we go next door and she buys me a creemee. We stand out side the gas station/creemee stand and say hi to all the people who come in.

I went to a low income housing development in yet another town where I teach a regular every-other-week class to a group of mainly single mothers. This week we learned: how to filter mail in Yahoo mail, cutting and pasting between applications, what a cookie is, and how to use the Undo function. Everyone felt good by the end of it. The lady who runs the Family Center where the three-computer lab is made us all scones.

Thursday: Big day today. My class which is usually two older couples has one additional adult student who is learning Word. She and her husband shared a laptop. He left, and now she has a computer that she doesn't really know how to use. She brings it over for classes sometimes. She is sure that the reason her documents open in Normal View instead of Page View in Word is because she unplugged it from the wall. We talk about setting margins and the template. Also in the class are four homeschooled kids whose mom drops them off. They want to find music on the Internet and one kid wants to find games. I show him how to get to Yahooligans and show the others how to navigate Yahoo Music. One kid wants a site that is "all clicking" and I suspect he doesn't write too well so we spend extra time on site navigation and looking for links.

The one older couple brings their laptop and they got signed on to AOL at home by their granddaughter [who is my age]. I pantomime how to get on AOL on the computer, which they've never done before, since I can't plug them into the library phone line without being extra confusing. The other couple is online looking up information on medical/health stuff and we talk about how to differentiate between a site that is trying to sell you something and one that is trying to provide balanced medical advice. I spend another hour or so talking to the librarian about the library web site that I am helping with, and what we'll need to do to get the online catalog.

Tomorrow I have the day off and I'm going to be talking to some reporter about the future of libraries. I'm sure I will have a lot to say.
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