Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Well-Trained Mind





BLOG DESCRIPTION: Reflections on classical education, home schooling, and educational innovation from a college professor, writer and home school parent

MY REVIEW: If you're thinking of home-schooling your kids, this is an excellent blog, and I highly recommend it.

I've been doing some research on home schooling, because I'm writing some non-fiction work which I'd like to get into the home-school market. I hadn't realized that most home schoolers are Christian-based, and do it because they want their kids to be able to pray in school, as opposed to because home-schooled kids don't have to deal with bullies, and can advance at a faster pace if they are so intellecually inclined.

Althought the author of this blog is a Christian, she deals with education, not with religion. (At least, from the entries I've read.) She writes well, she writes informatively, she has had decades of experience at this.l

Here's a sample post:
Third graders, Saxon math, and elitism
by susan on March 3, 2010

I just got back from my first speaking engagement of 2010 (which is why I haven’t posted for a week or so–the first engagement of the year always requires me to pull out all of my notes, organize them, update them, redo my PowerPoint or Keynote slides, make sure I have all my frequent flyer codes, get my clothes from the dry cleaner…you get the idea).

At this conference, a high percentage of the parents had their children in classical schools, and I found myself having the same conversation multiple times–a conversation that follows, in a way, on the gap-year posts of the last few weeks. The conversation had multiple beginnings:

“My second grader is in Saxon 3. So he’s doing OK, right?”

“My third-grade student is really struggling with the five-page book reports he has to write. What kind of remedial work should I do with him?”

“My thirteen-year-old is failing algebra. Should I talk to the principal about the teacher?”

“My daughter’s not reading chapter books yet and she’s seven. What should I do?”

After this, it usually went the same way: I said, “You know, kids develop at different rates…”

It distresses me when classical schools achieve an appearance of rigor by pushing skills into lower and lower grades. Yes, home schooling parents do this too, but when a school does it, there’s an appearance of authority that’s very difficult for parents to challenge. In most cases they’ve got the kids in the school because they think the teachers will do a better job (in some way) than they can, and when those same teachers tell them that the second grader should be able to do third grade math, they believe it.

This pushing skills backwards (Saxon 3 for second graders, the Aeneid for all seventh grade students, algebra at age thirteen without fail) is nothing new. Back in the 1970s, the private Christian schools associated with A Beka in Pensacola, Florida, started teaching cursive writing in kindergarten. There’s one pedagogical advantage to this–it’s harder to reverse letters. But that’s balanced off by a disadvantage: many children need to print because they need the visual likeness between what they’re doing and what’s in the books they read. The A Beka approach to cursive was governed by a more general concern: it appeared more advanced to teach cursive in kindergarten than to wait for the traditional second/third grade window. Private Christian education was relatively new; now, Christian schools could boast that their students, trained in these untested, unfamiliar classrooms, were ahead of their counterparts elsewhere.

The push backwards was for boasting privileges.

Excuse me for quoting myself: you can read the interview (a few years old now) here.

One thing classical homeschoolers really need to guard against is a devastating level of elitism: “We are doing the best homeschooling because our young children are doing such advanced work.” This kind of elitism is non-Christian, it is unloving, and it is unproductive. I was recently asked, “What do you think of third-graders doing Saxon 5/4?” I said, “I can’t think of a single thing you would gain by that. Some of them will be able to do it, but a lot of them aren’t developmentally ready for it. You are going to finish advanced mathematics by the end of high school if you keep them on the normal schedule. What’s the rush?” What do you gain by asking a seventh-grader to read the Iliad if that seventh-grader hasn’t developed the maturity to understand and appreciate what he’s reading? Nothing at all. You gain nothing in the way of emotional and mental development by pushing difficult tasks down to earlier grades.

I am not talking about the lowering of academic standards. I don’t want them lowered; I am just talking about extending the time needed for children to meet those standards. Children move from grammar to logic stage thinking, and from logic to rhetoric stage thinking, at different times in different subjects. We should focus on this, rather than focusing on age or grade level. And I hope that classical schools will also begin to think seriously about what is being gained in the classroom if immature students are being asked to do work that continually frustrates them. Is our goal to educate as many students as possible, or to identify a small, advanced, elite core of classical scholars? I hope it’s the first, and not the second. I think there is a very high level of achievement that all children can reach, given the appropriate amount of time. Keep the standards high, but give each child the appropriate amount of time for those achievements.

I spent a lot of time over the weekend reassuring parents that taking a little extra time to reach a goal is not the same as lowering standards. It may make you feel better if your kid is a year ahead of his cousins in math; it’s pointless if the child is not developmentally ready to do the work.

I should clarify that I’m not here addressing those kids who are ready to do more advanced work. Of course they should be allowed to progress forward as quickly as they want. But that’s much more easily done in a homeschool setting than in a classroom; classroom teachers in particular (and their principals) need to be very, very wary of announcing that all second graders should be doing third grade math.

And yet…too many schools do. And too many parents believe it, rather than carefully and thoughtfully assessing the developmental rate of their own child.

-An invitation (requesting guest posts)
-Third graders, Saxon math, and elitism
-Quick photo update on son's gap year trip
-The gap year, Part IV: resources for gap year projects
-The gap year, Part III: our personal experience so far
-The gap year, Part II: my own thoughts

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hoofprints (Equestrian)





BLOG DESCRIPTION: Get a horse fix on your Kindle! For horse lovers and horse owners alike. Hoofprints will take you to the real world of horses, their people and their dreams!

MY REVIEW: A blog that covers everything horse related from feeding horses to handling manure to exercising to local politics concerning stables to equine health and more. One of the more interesting features is following the release of the blogger's first book, a teen horse novel, titled, Winning Bet. The blog is interesting, informational, and personal.

It is well written with pictures in most posts. It does suffer from my usual complaint infrequent and inconsistent postings. Sometimes she posts two days in succession, sometimes it will be a week between posts or more. I feel certain her readers would be happy with more.


  • Horse operations : Agriculture?
  • Fencing Francas - Tips for Sanity
  • Clipping your cool
  • Stable Land use rules: We're back.
  • Manure happens . . . and it's good stuff

Ann Currie publishes My Life a Bit South of
and also, Silver Pieces: The Strange and

Monday, September 24, 2012

Pop Sci





BLOG DESCRIPTION: Popular Science has been a leading source of science and technology news since its inception way back in 1872. first came online in 1999. With up-to-the-minute tech news, insightful commentary on the new innovations, and even scientific takes on the hottest Hollywood stories, we're your first stop for what's new and what's next.

MY REVIEW: I enjoy the magazine Popular Science, and I enjoy this blog, for all that its similar to other "general" science blogs...I just like the content of this one more.

A few sample paragraphs
Drones can do just about everything autonomously these days, but most systems still require human assistance to land, refuel and take off again. Now, an aerospace startup, Aerovel, hopes to change that with its hover-capable Flexrotor drone that will come with its own automated docking station. No human ground support needed, The Register reports.

The notion comes from Tad McGeer, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who created the small ScanEagle drone for fishermen and U.S. Navy SEALS. ScanEagle relied upon a pneumatic catapult launcher and "SkyHook" recovery pole, but the Flexrotor would do away with either requirement.

Instead, McGeer envisions his new drone using VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) abilities. Tiny wingtip thrusters would do the same job as a helicopter's tail rotor and counteract the torque of the drone's main propeller in hover-mode.

That would permit the Flexrotor to land in its auto-base, refuel and launch back into the air with no human intervention. One human handler could then oversee an entire swarm of drones, which translates into big economic savings from the reduced manpower.

-The Future of...the Hot Dog?
-VTOL Drone Would Land, Refuel and Take Off By Itself
-In Blitz to Kill One Kind of Infectious Bacteria, Other Untreatable Strains Emerge
-The Map-Equipped Treadmill That Can Recreate Any Hike on Earth
-This Week in the Future, February 22-26, 2010
-MIT Stumbles on a Way to Print Flexible Coatings Made of Micromachines

Monday, September 17, 2012

Wood Cutting Fool blog

The artist sent me a link to his blog - specifically his wood cut of Boris Karloff's Frankenstein.

IF you're interested in wood cutting or classic horror movies (instead of the drek theyput out today) check it out.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Out for a Roll



AMAZON SUBSCRIPTION LINK: Out for a Roll, by Brian Hartman


BLOG DESCRIPTION: Brian Hartman's personal blog, discussing disability, technology, and writing. "Technology and writing, from a seated position."

MY REVIEW: For those people with disabilities, or those who are interested in technology under development for those people with disabilities, this is an excellent blog.

I must confess I was somewhat disappointed with it. I wanted a more personal approach. I wanted to get to know the author - what he does (well, he's a computer programmer, but what does he do all day long - what does he read, what does he watch, etc. etc), who he is...instead it's pretty impersonal. Just articles about new technology.

(I did find this comment interesting (from the post below): "For those of you who don’t know, if you can use a manual (non-motorized) chair to get around, you do use a manual chair to get around. Power chairs are for people without sufficient arm strength to use a manual chair." For myself, if I were in a wheelchair, even if I could use a manual wheelchair, I'd most definitely want a motorized one. WIth all the cool stuff that Blofeld had - rocket launchers, a sub machine gun, etc...)

In any event, new technology is interesting in itself. So check it out.

Sample post
Quite Possibly, the Coolest Wheelchair You Never Saw (or Will See)
photo not included
It’s a close relative to the Segway. Specifically, it has the same ability to self-balance. This means that it can, among other things, go up stairs (with a little guidance from the user) and elevate the user to standing level with their peers.

Unfortunately, those who could use one will never be able to own one (unless you can score one on Ebay somehow). Johnson & Johnson took it off the market in 2009, citing low demand (they apparently only sold ~ 400 of them in 2007), and the inability to get Medicaid or Medicare to pay for them. (Not terribly surprising. Read on.)

I worked for Johnson & Johnson from 2001 to 2007, and I actually saw the iBot in person. I thought it was cool technology, but I knew at the time that it wasn’t going to have a market. The article I linked to in / cites the exact reason I gave everyone who asked: It was a power wheelchair you needed your arms to take full advantage of. (Um, hello?)

For those of you who don’t know, if you can use a manual (non-motorized) chair to get around, you do use a manual chair to get around. Power chairs are for people without sufficient arm strength to use a manual chair. That’s it. The problem with the iBot was that in order to get up stairs (the really big attraction of the chair), you had to be able to pull yourself up with your arms. The chair provided the stability, but you had to provide the pull (at least, to some degree). This meant that in order to go up stairs unassisted (which would be the only reason to use the chair for stairs, after all), you had to have some arm strength. But if you’re using a power wheelchair, that’s the exact thing you don’t have. This doomed the iBot in two ways: First, the people who could use it to get up stairs wouldn’t be in the market for a power wheelchair, and second, even assuming they were (and apparently this fits some people, since they did sell 4,000 of the things), they’d be on their own paying for it, since in order to be covered by Medicaid, Medicare, and most insurance, you need to show medical necessity. The iBot wasn’t a medical necessity for anyone.

And so ends the tale of the coolest wheelchair you’ll never see. Hopefully Dean Kamen will work on a more manual version that only uses power for the balance and elevation.

--Voice-Controlled Wheelchair
--Toe Mouse for Upper Body Disabilities/Handicaps
--DARPA Seeking FDA Approval for Synthetic Blood
--“First Steps” Short Story Published on Kindle
--Quite Possibly, the Coolest Wheelchair You Never Saw (or Will See)
--Dean Kaman’s “Luke” Arm

Ms. Cairo writes several blogs including:
Seaborn: Oceanography Blog
Star Trek Report: Space Sciences
Topical Murder and Dated Death

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Longest Way Home - travel blog





BLOG DESCRIPTION: An overland journey around the world, now in its 5th year. From a rough upbringing this is the fascinating story of a guy breaking travel boundaries and pushing his limits to find something many are looking for. A place that truly feels like home.

Includes stories about people most tourists never get to see nor meet, stunning photography and a great ongoing real life travel journal from a remarkable journey.
This inspirational travel blog contains an overland journal from travels through Europe to Iran and Pakistan during emergency rule. Across India and high into the mountains of Nepal; before emerging into the riots of Lhasa in Tibet and going overland across China.

Now in Asia this live and current journey continues with an attempt at living in The Philippines. How easy is it to live on beautiful island? The answers informative, surprising; and things are about to change dramatically on this incredible quest ...

MY REVIEW: I absolutely recommend this blog. It's not my idea of travel - I prefer to be a tourist and travel the well-trod tourist byways. This author gets into the heart and soul of the countries he visits - at the moment he's in the Philippines.

Check it out.

--Welcome to Davao city, why are there so many foreigners here?
--Food from the Philippines: Lanzones
--Through the Bukidnon Highlands: rainforests, lost tribes and cool weather
--Back on the Road: Travel Blog Update & future changes

Ms. Cairo writes several blogs including:
Seaborn: Oceanography Blog
Star Trek Report: Space Sciences
Topical Murder and Dated Death

Thursday, September 6, 2012

John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Film/TV



AMAZON SUBSCRIPTION LINK: John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Film/TV, by John Kenneth Muir


BLOG DESCRIPTION: One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), an "accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock & Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia

MY REVIEW: Since I'm not much in to horror, I haven't read much of John Kenneth Muir's work, though I read an interview with him that The Thunder Child had.

He's a good writer. He's extremely knowledgeable about the horror and sci fi genres. So if you like those genres, give his blog a try.

--Now Available on DVD: Haunted (2002)
--The David Lynch Dossier: Dream States and Underneaths
--Now Available on DVD: Strange New World (1975)
--Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week

Ms. Cairo writes several blogs including:
Seaborn: Oceanography Blog
Star Trek Report: Space Sciences
Topical Murder and Dated Death

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

iFanboy (comic books)





BLOG DESCRIPTION: - The Place to Discuss Comics. By Fans For Fans. With Audio and Video Podcasts about Comics Weekly!

MY REVIEW: It always annoys me to hear teenage males referred to as "fanboys" - or heck, even 40 year old virgin fanboys. Girls and women are just as interested in comic books as guys are, although they might be a little turned off to see that the books do pander to the male of the species, giving superheroines large breasts incompletely confined in bustiers, usually, and wearing a costume with a French cut underwear to reveal as much leg as possible, and usually cut so the bellybutton is visible too. (What is this fascination guys have with belly buttons? Thank god they like innies rather than outies, but it's just a button in the belly, what'ts the big deal?

As a matter of fact I somewhat like the redesign of the new Wonderwoman, just because she's now no longer a sex object (from the legs down, anway, but they still give the viewer some decolletage) and more of powerful super hero.

I prefer the Kindle version of this blog to the web version... considering that it deals with comic books - a visual medium - the website isn't that nicely designed!

The articles are well written and informative. Anyone into comics will like this blog, so subscribe to it!

Sample post

I Can't Believe My Favorite Book Got Cancelled!21

This week we got the news that Atlas – the freshly re-launched Marvel series about a band of 50s do-gooders brought into the modern era – has been cancelled as of Issue #5. This isn’t the first time a Marvel series has suffered a quick exit in recent memory:
S.W.O.R.D. cancelled after the first arc
The Order cancelled after 10 issues
Doctor Voodoo cancelled after an arc
Captain Britain & MI-13 cancelled after 15 issues

In each of these cases, the books were (in my opinion) well written, deviated from the normal formula that’s so commonplace in mainstream superhero comics, and were beautifully illustrated. And in each case the sales just weren’t there to support the book.

Atlas is a title near and dear to my heart, and it’s my love for that band of characters that led to my becoming friends with Gabriel Hardman (the artist on Atlas) and friendly with Jeff Parker (the brilliant writer). I loved this series. I own several pages of original art from Atlas-related books (yes, this page is hanging on the wall of my comic room). This is a series I didn’t want to see cancelled. But I wasn’t surprised to hear that it was.

But no matter what the sales of a book may (or may not) be, chances are it’s a favorite of SOME group of comic book fans. And we fans have armed ourselves with voices. So when the news hit that Atlas was done after just one arc, it didn’t take a lot of work to find angry Tweets and disappointed forum posters and the requisite lamentations of podcasters. So the perception might be, to some, that these books had a stronger base of support than they really did. But here’s the thing folks (WARNING: I am about to put my “SUIT” mode on)…money talks. It’s perfectly natural to want to blame someone because your favorite books got the ax too soon, but if the sales aren’t there (and they weren’t in the aforementioned titles), it just doesn’t make sense to continue.

But what you rarely see is a writer willing to come right out and speak to the economic realities of a mainstream book. That’s why I need to tip my cap to Jeff who not only made the decision to end Atlas (yes, he wasn’t forced into it by the Marvel higher ups), but spoke to Comics Alliance about his rationale.


--Ugly Americans at San Diego Comic-Con!
Get yourself to the Ugly Americans panel at CCI, and check out their handy field guide comic here.
--Scott Pilgrim Invades San Diego
--The San Diego Comic-Con is next week and it looks like a little slacker bassist is going to be taking over.
--Going to see INCEPTION this weekend? Read the prequel comic for free.
--I don't know what it's about but maybe now I will.
--DC Announces New Creative Teams for TEEN TITANS and JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA
--DC plays a bit of musical chairs with some of its biggest titles.
--Swedish Invasion: Dark Horse Wants You to 'Let the Right One in'

Ms. Cairo writes several blogs including:
Seaborn: Oceanography Blog
Star Trek Report: Space Sciences
Topical Murder and Dated Death
The Rush Limbaugh Report