Harrison Farm

for now, the only thing we're growing on this farm is kids - not the goat variety

Author: marathon (page 1 of 10)

Seen ‘about the town’

Humanity has recently passed another amazing milestone: inexpensive phone cameras are now better than the human eye. In other words, most of us are now walking around with a tool that can augment our vision.

For me, this happened with the new phone I bought about 10 months ago. Slowly over those months, I realized the power of the camera. The phone is a middle-of-the-line Samsung.

It helps that I've been taking pictures, amateurishly, for about 15 years now. I've been squeezing my old Sony Cybershot for every bit of performance it could give me. So when I got a new camera, I knew how to push its limits.

It also helps that my work sometimes involves taking pictures of fine details.

With all that said, here are some of my photos from the last few months.

Neurons! (As seen through a glass bead.)

This is Hark. He's our local herald angel. Any guesses as to how we got this shot?

This mysterious photo of the Costanera tower was not edited. This is exactly how it looked.

On the left is my phone, with the help of a lamp from our living room. On the right is a professional camera taking a photo of a penny inside a "light box" -- supposed to be great for bringing out the detail for small object photos.

Bottom line: the magic is probably already in your hands. Go out and take some great pictures!

Thanksgiving and the Law of Cosines

Doodle told me this morning that he has been "really enjoying triangles", but he had some inquietude about the Law of Cosines ... he couldn't quite get why and how it works.

It is one thing to be able to use a formula, yet another to prove or derive it. But often far beyond both of those is the ability to internalize it -- to have a mental map of its operation.

We hacked around with it for a while, trying to get some traction on it. After about 30 minutes, we both felt satisfied that we had our heads around it.

It struck me that he is habituated to understanding everything he learns, and it is always a let-down to him if we have to just accept something, lacking the ability to see inside some "black box" of knowledge. I could hardly have formed such a habit in a school setting, because the proofs and formulas came on schedule -- too fast to internalize -- and no one prepared me for such a task.

I never even internalized the Pythagorean Theorem, yet supposedly I was one of the top math students in my state.

(Can you use the images below to do this? See here and here for more.)

"Other folks trying to understand the Law of Cosines would really benefit from a little visualization app, like you did for the eclipse shadow," I said.

He agreed and seemed to think it wouldn't be too hard. Then we pondered about how it would be for him to do a family of apps devoted to demonstrating complicated concepts.

With limited help from the local web goddess (Sudoku), he recently started into the long slog of setting up for coding Android apps. Many headaches and investigations later, he can make a smiley face app and send it to my phone.

Yet, I have no doubt that he will soon be blessing the app store with some little treasures. He has a calm persistence and a real love of creating these works. And he's eager to be working in a serious coding environment where he has good tools at hand. (unlike his current situation, pouring his work into the beginner-oriented Khan Academy platform)

What is the common thread of all of the above? It is that he is blooming in a low-structure "pull environment" where he determines his pace and has room for chasing his curiosities.

So, being Thanksgiving 2017, I declare that I am thankful to the modern pioneers of homeschooling (parents from the 60's and 70's who took big risks) who helped make our wild, wonderful unschooling world possible.

Thank You! ... and happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

 

 

Singing through Ralph Moody’s The Home Ranch

Tonight, just before supper time, 10 year-old Rosebud pulled up to the piano to play the song she had been working on today. It was "Yellow Ribbon".

After playing it, she announced the title of the piece and both Sudoku (17) and Doodle (12) got quizzical looks on their face.

"But Dad, that's not the way Zeb sang it!" they each said in their own way.

I was staring back at them like they were crazy.

It dawned on me that, in their memory, they had actually heard the big, calm cowboy Zeb, riding on his small horse, sing that tribute to Pike's Peak as the herds slowly wended their way through the ravines, in sight of the summit.

...when they were riding along with him back in about 1910.

Wow.

Though I've probably read only 1% as many books to the kids as their mom has, I make up for it with my energy and craziness.

When I come to a song in a book, I sing it! If I don't know the tune, I make one! I march along with soldiers, do one-person re-enactments of bar fights, throw things, bite myself ... okay, well, I've never actually done that last one, pretty sure. But you get the idea.

Anyway, when we were reading this a few years back, I did the best I could to sing the Yellow Ribbon tune, but I missed it by ... a fur piece.

Nonetheless, I sang with conviction, and I imitated the drawl that Zeb was said to have. And, since that song appears many times in the text, my kids became quite familiar with my version.

And, magically, the kids heard Zeb himself singing through me. Like they were going back in time.

As Hank, Zeb's crotchety old compadre would say in his geezerly whine, "Back in my day, ..."

 

[thanks to Flickr's brando.n for the shot with Pike's Peak in the distance]

On hard freezes and bursting water pipes

This weekend in Providencia we had snow and expectations of a hard freeze on the following night. We were closely watching the forecast for that night from as long as a week beforehand. At one point we saw a prediction of -9°C. I'm pretty sure that would have broken the record low temperature for Santiago.

As we got closer to the day, the forecasts moderated somewhat, and, the evening before the expected freeze, forecasts were saying -3 or negative 4 degrees Celsius. That's still quite cold for here -- probably would be the coldest temp of the winter.

We have an exposed laundry room (known here as a logia) that has a head-high concrete wall around it on the two exterior sides -- from there up to the ceiling it is open. The wall is 6 or 7 inches thick. The plumbing for our washing machine and an adjoining sink runs inside of that wall, so it was going to have the outdoor temperature on both sides of the wall/plumbing. I was pretty nervous about how to handle the situation. I could run a trickle of water from all those taps, but some of them like to "turn themselves off" when you walk away.

I was also concerned about needing to completely drain the washing machine and the hot water heater, and I would need to think about the vegetables and reserve water that we store in that area.

Doing this planning took my mind back many years to memories of a hard freeze we had in Chattanooga when I was a child.

We had just moved south. All of my family history comes from the great plains, the northern Midwest, and Canada, so my dad knew plenty about how to handle deep freezes. But it turned out that the waterline to our house was not buried deep enough. I suppose if we had been running a trickle of water inside the house (for all I know we may have been), that might have been enough to keep that main water line from freezing, but clearly that was not his fault.

I remember the hardships of digging and hacking at the frozen soil to pull up the burst pipe and then to bury another one deeper. I was too young to actually be a help, but I was too old not to be out there trying to help. Tempers were short. Icy mud was aplenty. There was a sense of urgency, for some reason, as I recall.

In thinking of this, I just realized it was one of the only memories I have of seeing my brother work or working with him. (I did see him play the piano for my Dad's evangelistic meetings, but that's not the kind of work I mean.) He would have been 13 or 14 at the time -- a lot older than me.

The memory instilled in me a healthy fear of freezing pipes.

My other big burst-pipe memory comes from about a year after Milkmaid and I were married. We were living in a basement apartment and we were about to walk out of the apartment and head to a family holiday gathering when suddenly water began to pour down through the ceiling into our apartment.

It turns out that the renters above us had made the mistake of closing their laundry room door. The consequence of this was that the warm air from the house was not able to keep the plumbing lines from freezing.

It seems like a very bad time to have such a thing happen, but of course there is never a good time for such things.

So, back to yesterday in Chile, I decided to do nothing and simply check on things as the night progressed. I felt that -4°C might not be enough to freeze anything in just one night.

During the night, I made a happy discovery. I realized that the “heat envelope” around our large apartment building was very significant, and our laundry room was not going to go below freezing.

Here is my rule of thumb going forward:

On the higher floors of a large residential building here in Santiago (this particular one built in 2000), it seems that you get a thermal bonus of about one half ° Celsius or 1°F for every floor below you. So if you were on the 11th floor, the temperature outside your windows on a cold night could be expected to be about 5°C above the street temperature.

These numbers would not work for a well-insulated building, but, because Santiago typically only drops below freezing a few times a winter, the insulation is poor and a lot of heat is lost from the windows (and walls?) on the lower floors.

I knew there must be some effect like this, but I had no idea it was so large. There must be great plumes of heat rising from all the large buildings on a cold night.

So for anyone thinking of living in Santiago, I recommend that you prefer the higher floors if you are on a tight budget like us. Locals  tend to dislike the higher floors because they get more earthquake action.

 

Three cheers for Moms who play (hard!) with their kids

Andinismo

Doodle is quite the enthusiastic outdoorsman

 

The locals use the word "Andinismo" to mean "exploring the Andes Mountains". So far our experience of the Andes has been limited to areas in close proximity to civilization.

I felt it was time to do something more, and summer was almost gone.

Following a two day scouting trip by Doodle and I a few weeks ago, Sudoku joined us this past Sunday for a three day attempt to reach the La Paloma glacier, the lesser of the two glaciers visible from downtown Santiago.

streams through needle-like tundra grass

We picked the warmest sequence of days we could find, but the temperature still dropped below freezing at night where we slept.

The 20 km trail toward the glacier was quite busy on Sunday afternoon, but once night came at our base camp around 9000 feet, it would not be until midday Tuesday that we would see another human being.

It's safe to drink the water at certain places along the hike. Here's a little log of that for those interested:

  • At 1.5 hours of ascent, you'll cross the potable Agua Larga, marked with a wooden sign.
  • At four hours, you'll reach La Lata, a marshy pasture area with horses. The water here is said to be safe to drink, but I didn't trust it because of the presence of horse and hiker feces in the area. However, just above La Lata, there is a stream much like Agua Larga which shows none of the copper/ sulfur discoloration indicative of the non-potable waterways. We took water at that stream.
  • At six hours, you'll reach Las Cascadas, where two major waterways join, but none of the water in that area is considered potable due to the high concentration of metals.
  • At seven hours, Piedra Carvajal appears to be a former glacier lake, but now filled with tundra and very clear streams of water running through it. This water is said to be safe, and it's your last chance for water before the glacier. [Sudoku: The grass here was so tough that some spots of blood appeared on my hand when I touched it!]

The hike was hot and dusty and we had some boot problems and other difficulties with our cobbled-together gear. Fortunately, the three of us are all fairly close on shoe size right now, so we were able to swap around to mitigate the effects of boot irritations.

[Sudoku: My toes only came within about 2.5" of the end of Dad's boots, but they were pretty comfortable.]

By the time we reached our intended overnight spot, La Lata, the air had grown noticeably thin.

The peaks ahead of us were amazing under light of sunset. The stars would have been great (Doodle saw five shooting stars on our scouting trip), but we had a dusk that seemed to last forever and a full moon.

Here in Chile, we've grown quite accustomed to having grazing animals around us when we slept outside in the countryside. Nonetheless, it was a bit unnerving to have horses nonchalantly grazing right up against our tent all through the night.

[Sudoku: I woke up several times to hear Dad shooing the horses away from our tent again.]

We woke feeling good on Monday morning and went for the glacier. It was clear and dry. (there was no dew on the tent.) I couldn't keep up with the kids, so I stopped about an hour short of the glacier's scree-field base and they went to the glacier without me. (And I had the camera with me. Hence no actual pictures of Paloma glacier. Sorry! Here are some.)

camping with grazing animals

On the way down we had the thrill of watching a pair of soaring/gliding condors -- practically stationary in the air just above us -- as we approached one of the steepest sections of the trail.

I never saw a mouse, but I did see a hole in a bag of cheese left inside a backpack we hid in the rocks back at the camp site.

the enchanted tundra field at Casa Piedra Carvajal

Here are some of my takeaways regarding Andinismo:

  • we form a route by connecting water points like camels in the desert and those water points are often glorious
  • the tremendous scale of everything boggles the mind, and the lack of vegetation makes it very difficult to tell how far way things are because there is no reference object
  • managing the sun and the cold is difficult but doable, even for lightly-equipped folk like us
  • appreciating the tenacious plants and sometimes invisible mountain creatures

a wall of ice, but not actually as vertical as it appears

 

The animals we saw over 3 days: Horses, cows, snakes, lizards, mice, foxes, toads, and condors.

[Sudoku: The boys did a great job making sure we had everything we needed for the trip. They have short hair though, and weren't able to warn me about the big tangle I had by the end of our trip!]

[Doodle: Once, when we were hanging out around some small pools of red water, I noticed that it wasn't the water that was red, but that there were hundreds of tiny, red bugs, all crawling over each other.]

He who teaches his own child

is twice educated.

Snapshot of a Saturday morning

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-7-41-05-amThe sun will be up soon, and everyone but Rosebud is up and at it.

Sudoku and I are coding. She doesn't have any freelance work this morning, so she's working on some of our family projects, as am I.

Milkmaid is cleaning up around the apartment and washing the produce brought yesterday by "Wonderful Man Jr".

Carman's off work today, as usual on Saturday. He's been working from home most of the time now, but spending lots of time on the phone with his boss. His freelancing is starting to click. He got the "rising talent" status recently on one platform. But no coding for this morning; he's working out the chords for "Downeaster Alexa" on the guitar.

Rosebud just woke up and gave everyone their morning hug. Let's see ... Yup, she got bigger overnight again.

And finally, Doodle is hard at work on the farm, trying to get in his chores before the sun comes up. Yes, we're starting to do some farming, right here in the city. Doodle is doing the physical work for our top-secret pilot project and, later today, Rosebud will be doing the data collection.

And now the room begins to brighten. Here comes the sun.

Max Ventilla on modern education

I would argue that youve had one big trick that humans figured out over the last 500 years. Before computers, it was fossil fuels.

But now were discovering how to pull free mental work out of the ground. Thats going to be a huge trick over the next 50 years.

The idea that you can pull free physical work out of the ground, that was a really good trick, and it resulted in all of these exponential curves. But now were discovering how to pull free mental work out of the ground. [using Artificial Intelligence]

Thats going to be an equivalent, huge trick over the next 50 years. Its going to create that same kind of inflection point, and its going to create even more opportunity and much more displacement.

I have a hard time understanding how the way that we best prepare the next generation for that future, is to have literally all of education policy, all of education decisions determined by folks that dont really have a foot in that world.

Im not saying that all of the sudden, Oh, its about software. The worst use of software in technology is in replacement of humans. This whole, Oh, I give an iPad to a kid, and I walk away. Thats craziness. AR and VR, thats not going to be it, either.

Its about human beings. Its about the relationship that kids have with their peers, with adults. Thats what creates the motivation that creates the learning, but it seems odd to me that the purpose of school is to prepare kids for the future, and you dont have people in the mix thinking about education or education policy, who are very familiar with the future at all.

[In a typical school setting] you say, OK, well, I cant grade 20 different demonstrations of knowledge that come back from 20 different kids, so Im going to standardize, Im going to say, This is the way Im going to test you, so that I can grade it quickly, youre essentially training kids to think like computers. Theres an irony ... youre training humans to do the kind of thinking that computers are getting better and better and better at doing.

You have an education system that was created for a mass production era, and now were in a mass customization era. You have a traditional education system thats all about turning generalist agrarian producers into specialized consumers of goods and information. Were entering an era where being a producer of knowledge, being a producer of goods, being a producer of jobs is the way to be successful. It is the way to be happy, and its possible because you have these unbelievable platforms that have been created that elevate the individual through the combination of digital technology and society.

Taxi battles of Santiago

The taxi battles are in full swing here in Santiago, including mass protests and even violence against some Uber drivers and, in a few cases, riders. What follows is an editorial from La Tercera (from around April 16th) that does a good job of capturing some of the nuances of the situation.

AGRESIONES A CONDUCTORES DE UBER

La ciudadania ha sido fuertemente impactada por las imagenes de taxistas agrediendo a conductores de la empresa Uber. Algunos de los casos reportados dan cuenta de altos niveles de violencia y amedrentamiento, que incluso han alcanzado a los propios pasajeros de estos servicios. Se trata de hechos inaceptables, respecto de los cuales se ha extranado una actitud de mayor firmeza por parte de la autoridad, la que se ha limitado a condenar el vandalismo.

No resulto apropiado que el ministro de Transportes calificara inicialmente de "piratas" a este tipo de vehiculos, porque con ello enlodo injustamente la imagen de estas empresas y dio pie para cuestionamientos que previsiblemente podian derivar en violencia. Es saludable que con posterioridad haya templado sus juicios y se abriera a buscar una regulacion para estos nuevos servicios. Pero frente al vandalismo el gobierno no puede ser indeferente, y cabe dar senales nitidas de que la integridad de la ciudadania no esta en entredicho. En tal sentido, es indispensable preservar el principio de que la protesta legitima no puede confundirse con la violencia.

El gremio de los taxistas debe asumir que este nuevo tipo de servicios basados en aplicaciones de ultima generacion, con un modelo de flotas flexibles y de altos estandares, con tarifas competitivas, no se podra detener, porque responde genuinamente a demandas de la ciudadania que el actual sistema no logra satisfacer. Su actitud amenazante de que estas aplicaiones "deben ser dadas de baja" en tanto no se alcance una solucion que las regule, solo contribuye a su propio desprestigio. La discusion debe orientarse hacia la apertura del parque de taxis y la incorporacion de las nuevas tecnologias que faciliten el servicio de transporte. Cualquier diferencia o reproche debe ser canalizado por las vias institucionales, ya sea ante el Ministerio o ante los tribunales.

 

My translation:

Aggression Toward Uber Drivers

The citizenry has been heavily impacted by the images of taxi drivers assaulting Uber drivers. Some of the reported cases include high levels of violence and intimidation, and have even been directed toward the passengers of these services themselves. These are unacceptable acts, for which is needed an attitude of greater firmness by the authority, which has been limited to condemning the vandalism.

It was not appropriate that the Minister of Transport would initially qualify as "pirates" these type of drivers, because this unfairly muddies the image of these companies and gave rise to questions that likely could lead to violence. It is healthy that the government subsequently has tempered its judgments and is open to seek a regulation for these new services. But against vandalism government can not be indifferent, and it should give sharp signals that the integrity of citizenship is not in question. In this regard, it is essential to preserve the principle that legitimate protest can not be confused with violence.

The union of taxi drivers must assume that this new type of application-based service, with a model of flexible fleet and high standards, with competitive rates, will not be able to be stopped, because it responds genuinely to citizen demands that the current system fails to satisfy. The union's threatening attitude, that these services "must be written off" as a solution, only contributes to their own discredit. The discussion should be oriented towards the taxi park opening and integration of new technologies that facilitate the transport service. Any difference or blame should be channeled through institutional channels, either to the Ministry or to the courts.

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