Sunday, December 27, 2009

My geekfest weekend

So how's your weekend been? Mine's been quite nice. Carla and the boys took a little trip to visit her Mom down at Coronach while I stayed home to look after the cattle and pets. So it's been quiet around here. And thanks to my sister needing work done on her laptop and Space (the Canadian sci-fi channel) showing all the Star Trek movies this weekend it's been a geekfest for me!

Saturday I sat down with the laptop in front of the TV to watch a day's worth of movies starring the original Star Trek series cast. This ailing laptop is a big HP machine. After Staples failed to fix an overheating problem my sister discovered the machine wouldn't boot anymore. Her husband cleaned it out himself but it still refused to boot. Being the 'computer guy' of the family, it often falls to me to try to fix things. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your viewpoint) I'm more of a Mac and Linux guy. I don't do Windows much.
This laptop had XP Pro installed and couldn't find "NTLDR" so I knew it was a boot problem. Now was it just Windows or the drive? I booted off the XP CD and tried to repair the master boot record and boot sector but got nowhere. Next was an attempt at a reinstall.

Now it appeared that a reinstall might work. The CD booted and began the process by copying the install files to the hard drive. Unfortunately when it came time to reboot to continue the setup the computer would reboot before Windows would finish loading. I tried this twice and got the same result. Now what...

I have a copy of the Windows 7 Release Candidate. Maybe it would work. So I boot that DVD and begin trying to install Win7. can't even see the drive. I'm beginning to suspect the drive is screwed and order a new one online just in case.

My next try is trying to boot my Linux disks. These fail, too, but I sometimes get an error message that I search for online. I try again with a Kubuntu 7.10 disk and add the 'noapic' option to the kernel boot options and the disk boots. Well, let's try an install. It works! I get a working Linux install that boots perfectly off the hard disk! The only problem I have is I can't get wireless networking to work. I know this is an older version of Kubuntu so I setup a download of the 9.10 version and go and visit my dad up in the care home in Central Butte.

When I get back the download is done and I perform an install of Kubuntu 9.10 using the same option as before. I download packages for the wireless networking and get it and running! This is when I call it a day and just relax with my Trek movies and some Christmas goodies.

The next day I work on getting the right software packages installed so my sister can do what she needs to do with the laptop (which is really just getting Firefox installed so she can Facebook right, sis?). Using the package management software on Ubuntu machines makes software installation pretty easy. There's very little of the dependency hell we used to experience in the old days. So while I watched the TNG cast in their movies, I fine-tuned the laptop and wrote out a page of things to help my sister get up to speed with Linux.

So I'm pretty happy that I was able to fix the laptop and just as pleased that it was Linux that came to the rescue. Perhaps if I knew Windows better I might have been able to work out why Windows failed in this case but having been a Linux enthusiast since 1997 I just know it better. If the hard drive keeps running happily I'll put the replacement I ordered into an external case for backup purposes. We should probably clone the laptop drive just in case.

Anyway, that's how I spent my weekend. It made for an enjoyable weekend for a geek like me! :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Is unschooling in our future?

Lately I've begun to think that we need to consider altering our homeschool method. Mitchell has little enthusiasm for any kind of school work and doesn't seem to want to put any effort into it. It's really quite frustrating to have to struggle for an hour to get through something that should take 20 minutes if he just tried. Lately Carla has taken over some of it and gotten some better results with getting him to do his math worksheets. Perhaps shaking things up a bit might help - a different teacher (mom), some different content.

But it got me thinking that maybe he's not suited to what I was trying to do. When I thought about it Mitchell might have a more comfortable learning environment, that being home instead of at public school, but maybe not a more comfortable learning style. Am I doing a little too much "school at home"? Would he do better following his own learning path? Could that even mean unschooling? Mitchell is quite intelligent and reads above his grade level. He can even tell you which aircraft have variable-geometry wings. He just hates having to do learn what I tell him he has to learn.

Right now it seems the boys prefer to just play computer games or watch TV. They do enjoy going outside to play when it's nice outside. But when I suggest doing some homeschool work all I hear is whining and it's the same battle every day. We had a lot of time off from schoolwork during October and November but I am fearing that that ruined things rather than helped. We got out of our groove.

Anyway, for now Carla will be able to help out more now that she doesn't have as many shifts at the gas station in the next little while, and I plan to start teaching some different things in the hopes that Mitchell will take more interest in his work. But at the upcoming convention I plan to attend the workshop on unschooling and perhaps take some ideas home that may help us out. And if anyone reading this has any ideas, please share!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

SHBE convention details

A couple of days ago we got the registration form and information regarding the upcoming Saskatchewan Home Based Educators convention. It takes place February 19 and 20, 2010 and this year it's in Regina at the University of Regina.

Last year's keynote speaker, Dr. Brian Ray, was an excellent choice as last year we took in the conference as homeschool newbies. In fact we hadn't actually made the choice to homeschool until the drive home from Saskatoon last February. Dr. Ray's studies had shown that anyone could successfully homeschool their children. As one-step-beyond-newbies this year, this year's speaker Andrew Pudewa will give us some guidance in writing, something we can apply directly in our lessons at home. I know we could definitely use some help here as Mitchell is a reluctant writer.

Mr. Pudewa is the director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing. He's also a father of seven homeschooled children. He will be giving two keynote sessons and leading five workshops over the weekend. I've picked out a couple of the workshops to attend, "Reaching the Reluctant Writer" and "Teaching Boys and Other Children Who Would Rather Make Forts All Day". With three active boys at home I know we really, really need that last one!

The other workshops cover a wide range of topics of course. We have a couple by the HSLDA. There's three lifestyle workshops - health/nutrition, budget, inspirational (I assume that's nonsecular). And for workshops more directly related to homeschooling, there's one on teaching gifted children, one on unschooling and a couple on homeschooling issues that are somewhat related "Why Aren't They Learning" and "Stress Free Homeschooling". There is also a "Teen Convention" with its own set of workshops and activities.

Now that we know what to look for we also plan to take more advantage of the used book sale this year. I plan to make a list of what to look for, unlike last year when I wandered around clueless. I plan to make some changes in math for sure and am tossing around ideas in my head regarding ELA as well. The exhibit hall is obviously a must-see as well. And since a lot of exhibitors give special convention pricing it's a good place to stock up on curriculum, too.

Something really nice to see during convention is the Homeschool Completion Ceremony. Grad for homeschoolers! I'm hoping someday my three boys will be up on stage for this.

Convention registration costs $85CDN for one adult and $135 for an adult couple. Teens are $35. Friday supper and Saturday lunch are included for that price. A number of hotels are giving special rates to those attending the convention as well. Hopefully this year Prime Minister Stephen Harper will not be staying at our hotel like he was last year so that we can check in at a decent time. It was cool to see him, though. Unfortunately he had to turn down a request to say a few words at the conference.

So if you're reading this and you're a homeschooler in Saskatchewan I hope you can attend. It's a great time and you can learn so much. Seeya there!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

My obligatory H1N1 post

Hey folks. I'm spending a quiet evening watching teevee and surfing around on the netbook. I've been watching some Aussie V8 Supercar racing I downloaded a while back. Speedchannel used to carry these races in the winter but don't any more so I had to find some torrents to download. It's really fantastic racing.

Anyway while sitting here I got to thinking I should write up a blog post about my thoughts on having our family vaccinated for H1N1. Up until a week ago it really wasn't possible anyway because the province of Saskatchewan was only vaccinating health workers and those with higher health risks. But a week ago they opened it up to the general public finally so I started thinking about it more.

I think Carla is the most exposed to infection of all of us due to her work at the gas station and Canada Post. She deals with the public and handles money and mail. In our discussions we've agreed that she could probably use the vaccination more than the rest of us, but for now she's uncertain about whether she would bother getting it.

The kids are not exposed very much being homeschooled now. Public school used to mean Mitchell was brining home a new cold or flu every couple of weeks. Thank goodness that's not happening now. Gymnastics finished last week and won't start again until February so they that's a little less exposure.

What about me? Well, I'm a hermit at heart and tend to stay home most of the time. I get into the city now and then but that's about it. Our family doesn't go out very often for social reasons. It's seven miles to town and there's not much there anyway. So we tend to just stay home.

So I guess what I'm saying is that we really don't feel the need to vaccinate ourselves. Even if we did get H1N1 it appears it's not much different than getting the regular flu. I even heard someone say their doctor told them the same thing. So far in Saskatchewan 12 people have died from H1N1 and all have had an underlying health issue. So I feel rather safe due to our lifestyle and overall health.

By the way, we do have our children vaccinated for the usual diseases through our provinces public health system. We've just never bothered with the annual flu shots. We're exposed to so many germs around the farm that there's probably little that could knock us down anyway!