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Archive for January, 2007

Carnival of Education!

January 31st, 2007

fountainpenWhat the heck is a blog carnival?!   Well, a blog carnival is simply that- a festive, fun-filled blogging and reading experience!  But it is so much more- truly a collaborative writing effort where bloggers and sites with similar interests host a “carnival” of content on a periodic basis.  The blog carnivals are a wonderful way to gather theme-oriented content in a single reading experience, with creative layout, graphics, and links to articles and other sites.   Last week I was browsing and found the “Home of the Carnival of Education,” a blog called The Education Wonks…  a really informative blog on current issues in teaching and education.  As it happens, I had written a short post about my son titled Kindergarten University a few days before, and although I didn’t even know blog carnivals existed until then, on a whim I submitted my kindergarten post.  And today it was included by Carol at The Median Sib , hosting this week’s  Carnival of Education, a wonderful mix of education content (thanks for including me!).  

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You can find out more about blog carnivals at the main website BlogCarnival.com.  Their About page is very informative. Who knows, maybe I’ll start or join a blog carnival and host it here!

Cold Day “On Frozen Pond”

January 30th, 2007

Wow… on days like today it’s nice to be inside.  Mostly sunny, but awoke to 8 F/ -13 C.  Electricity was off again last night… about 10:00 pm and “psss…zi…” a couple flashes and “poof!” back in the dark.    Built a roaring fire in the stove for the radiation heat, and being curious I put on the warm clothes and went for a hike to check the power lines around the property.  Hiked up to the pasture and down the lines by the road to below the dam, and all was well.  The half-moon came and went as the clouds raced by lending an erie fade of light and dark as the trees swayed.  I stood on the hill above the house listening to the wind and watching the shapes and hues of the landscape.  Lots of memories… standing there in peace, alone… but part of everything.   It was refreshing… yet late.  Finally asleep- in the morning the power was back on thankfully.  The wind may have blown a tree limb on a power line nearby after the ice storm this month. Young one was sick today… first time this school year and since I can’t remember when.  He really wanted to go… but had a fever.  The animals thought it was cold too… but for a while the sun was out on the south side, and they curled up against the house. The pond is frozen once again!  Amazing how it thaws for some time, then freezes again, and the reflections and light work their magic. 

pond ice refection

The stump at the pond edge (the young one loves to play on it!) was from a tall oak with a rope swing that hung for over 16 years. The tree was on the decline, and last year’s drought was too much.  I cut it down (and still need to finish “bucking” the log) and counted the rings… the tree was over 70 years old.  I estimate the average age of the mature trees at Fox Haven to be 75-125 years old… 

Belling the Cat

January 28th, 2007

     We have cats… two of them.  They were free cats, offered at a local feed store.  The young boy always dreamed of having his own kitty… and providence placed us in front of a basket of cute little kittens at an appropriate time.  Not being satisfied with one, we picked another and proceeded to raise them inside the home.  Being responsible pet owners, they have been spayed, neutered and vaccinated…  and as “farm cats” they have the run of the laundry room and two doors to take them wherever they please outside.  They love being outside… in fact they live for being outside.  Now I know some cat lovers believe one should never let a cat outside… Oh! They might be injured or eaten by another animal!  Yes, that is true.  And we might be run over by a car, or fall down the steps, etc, etc.  And we live in the country.  They still have their claws.   The three dogs know that very well.  They come in at night and we lock the door.  These are not suburban house cats… they were born and bred for enjoying nature in all its glory.  To deny them the joy of playing and chasing each other in the grass… climbing trees… lazing quietly in the sun, or chasing grasshoppers… here it would be to deny their nature. I am thankful we can offer them the opportunity while sharing our lives together.

sparkybell

     We had high hopes for these two lovely animals as “mousers.”  Sparky looks like a Tabby, and is warm and affectionate wherever he goes… he follows me around, jumps in my lap and embraces life with an abandon and freedom of style that shows he enjoys every day. Princess looks more like a Calico, and is wary, skittish, chubby, affectionate on her terms, and extremely capable at getting critters.  They are great with people and don’t mind the dogs a bit.  And yes, they have garnered moles and mice from the property to which I applaud.  But then too- they are skillful birders.  I have never seen them catch a bird, but they lie in wait, and when I least expect it- I find a small bird in the driveway… or somewhere else.  You see, one day I heard quite a commotion in the laundry room… tussling, thumping and wrestling.  I thought it to be two cats playing as they normally did.  I was not prepared later however to find the laundry room covered in blue and white feathers as if a great battle had played out.  Alas, the Blue Jay did not win that battle.  Surprising that it was caught because Jays are normally wary and capable themselves.  But because I love birds, feed birds and study birds… I could not embrace the hunting prowess of our lovely cats with respect to birds.  I admire their skills to be sure… I love the outdoors, fishing and hunting myself.  But after seeing the results of their handiwork, it was time to do something.   Cats are curious creatures- one is never quite sure why they stalk, hunt and gather their victims.  It is their nature.  Or perhaps one is absolutely sure that they do it because it is their nature… princessbell

     So with loving fanfare I finally bought two safety collars (they snap open if the cat is caught on something) and two nice sounding bells.  These bells are amazing… they don’t simply jingle occasionally, they tinkle, jingle and ring no matter what one does.  When the cats turn their heads… “ting….” and when the cats take a step… “jingle, jingle.”   Oddly- the cats don’t seem to mind the gentle noise or the collars- they play with each other, and roam around the outside of the house as before.  Yet a subtle difference can almost be seen… they don’t lie in wait quite so eagerly anymore.  They walk and sit looking longingly at the birds perhaps dreaming of days-gone-by.  I’m sure they will succeed at times simply because of their speed and agility. The cats are fun, and great companions.  But for now, they will have to learn a few more tricks… the birds will know they’re coming!

     The phrase “Belling the Cat” comes from Aesop’s Fables.   It’s a story that I think of with the expression “Easy to say, harder to do.”  

Long ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this, and some said that; but at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make, which he thought would meet the case. “You will all agree,” said he, “that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily retire while she was in the neighbourhood.”

This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: “That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?” The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke. Then the old mouse said:

“It is easy to propose impossible remedies.”

                                                                                                                                                    Courtesy of the Free Library

Colorful Flowers

January 26th, 2007

opentulipDigital photography is amazing… fast, simple and convenient.  I started using digital cameras in 1998.  Bought an early Kodak model that had “powerful” 1 megapixel capability!  Even so, it did a fine job.

I remember being frustrated by looking for more Kodak digital products at the time, not finding many, and then sending a note to the company about digital technology and how they needed to move faster with their products and components.  I received a reply from an executive VP that thanked me for my interest, but effectively said Kodak was sticking with film technology because it was too early for the digital market… 

Prophetic words that missed the mark. I think Kodak was left behind for several years and are still playing catch-up. They do make fine products though. I used a small Canon digital for several years that still does a nice job, especially for ease of use and portability. 

I currently use a Nikon D50 (excellent camera; 6+ megapixels), and edit with Adobe Photshop Elements 5, along with InfranView (free!). 


Now I think my Nikon, including an extra telephoto lens, cost less than the far less capable Kodak digital I purchased in 1998!  I’m an amateur hobbyist at best, but it’s amazing what we can do in a few minutes at home that was unthinkable a few years before.  I’ll continue to share what looks interesting through the lens.



Technosailor’s “10 Things You Should Know about WordPress 2.1″

January 25th, 2007

Aaron from Technosailor wrote a nice summary of WordPress 2.1 “Ella” and the “10 Things You Should Know…” and I thought it was helpful. While working in the “weeds” during an upgrade/install, sometimes we need to step back and look at the big picture for why we’re doing it! The big items include “autosave” of posts while you write- which I didn’t know only functioned when you put your title in the title box. Good to know… I’ll start putting a draft title in every post from know on. The new visual editor is nice with a “code” tab to switch back and forth, although the font/style comes out differently in some posts… not sure why yet?! Image handling is also more explanatory, although I found the previous capability just fine. Merging of links and categories is an interesting subject… many blogs are having difficulty with how their themes and plugins handle the differences. You know what I’d like? A blank link category…

Upgrade Tips for WordPress 2.1 “Ella”

January 25th, 2007

 Update – 2009: This is obviously an outdated post, but I’m leaving it here for archive purposes.  I’m currently running WP 2.7, and with the fantastic new tools that WordPress includes in the platform, upgrading should be fairly simple in the future.  Most web hosts now use Fantastico or Simple Scripts for installation, and they work fine as well.  Best regards-

 *****

wordpressicon hanttula1I finished the upgrade from WordPress 2.0 to 2.1 “Ella” last night.  Wahoo!  Not too complex, but took longer than I thought (Details and steps are on the next page, below. *Note: Some of my plugins caused broken pages/categories, but I have updated them- especially a quick fix from Moeffju.net for Ultimate Tag Warrior- see end of post). Mostly took longer due to my FTP connection, and the full backup of the database and installation of files…. and I went slowly!  (Hmmm… this text looks smaller?!) 

I use FireFTP within Firefox, and it is reliable yet can be slow… primarily because I work via satellite internet.  I think the latency present in the satellite internet connection does not allow a constant data stream and many FTP programs “time out” and attempt reconnection.  Normally it’s not a problem with a few files.  With a new installation or upgrade however, it can be very frustrating and takes more than 30 minutes for 15-20 files!  Maybe someone else knows a better way to configure my computer or FTP program to maintain connectivity while using satellite internet… but while I await further recommendations, I’ll tell you my quick fix! I thought… “Well, perhaps if I had a constant packet stream that would allow the FTP program to work efficiently?”  I tried chat and voip to see if that made any difference… nope. 

What about downloading streaming video or music?  Didn’t work with large files, too much coming in… Hmmm… what about YouTube?  It worked! I simply looked for various YouTube music shorts of 4-5 minutes in length… let them play in the background, and lo and behold the FTP program worked like a banshee uploading files in a fraction of the time it normally would independently.  Could there be a “normal” way to configure FTP or my computer differently to achieve the same?…  anyone?  Until I find the answer I’ll be visiting YouTube regularly… :)    Now about the WordPress upgrade…. with all due respect to those of you reading, I try to remember this quote by Douglas Adams (1952-2001):

“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof, is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”  

Okay, here’s how I completed the upgrade.  If anyone has other useful information, please comment!:

Remember: If you are using an older version of WordPress, earlier than Version 1.5x, you must upgrade to Version 1.5x first, and then upgrade from 1.5x to 2.0.x or 2.1.  Go here for WordPress instructions to upgrade older sites: http://codex.wordpress.org/Upgrade_1.2_to_1.5

  1. First- read, heed and become very familiar with WordPress Upgrade instructions. WordPress is the authority and reference for how to upgrade- so go there first!  The following information is simply a guide for how I completed my upgrade, in case it might be helpful.
  2. Plan for at least a couple hours (or more) of time in case something doesn’t upload correctly or you forget where you were in the upgrade process… if you have to leave and come back eight hours later, you may not remember and your site could be hard down!
  3. Complete all database backups as indicated, both within WordPress and phpMyAdmin. I like to save the backup files both to the web server and my local computer. WordPress has excellent database backup instructions here: http://codex.wordpress.org/Backing_Up_Your_Database
  4. Make a copy of the .htaccess file and the wp-config.php file in case they are accidently deleted. I also like to save a copy of my WordPress wp-content folder in case I accidently delete or overwrite those files.
  5. Do you have backups of all images and other customized content that you have uploaded to the webserver? Do that if you have not done previously.
  6. After downloading and extracting the file to my computer, I set up Windows Explorer to show the file tree of the new files and the file tree of the files on my blog (using cPanel File Manager) to see what was different.  I familiarized myself with the folders and files I would be adding to the webserver. WordPress recommends deleting webserver files first to ensure a clean install/upgrade. However I chose to overwrite the files as I went along, paying attention to exactly which files would be changed.  I am not familiar enough with every file used on my web server to simply delete them all.  Some of those files are used by other components, functions or plugins, and I wanted to ensure I kept them there.  Your choice.
  7. I have a duplicate functional localhost site of my blog (using WAMPSERVER) which helps in two ways:
    • First, it allows me to test and verify that certain components, plugins and upgrades will work on my blog.
    • Second, I can then reference exactly what files are used while I upgrade via FTP to my live hosted blog. So after first completing the upgrade/install on my localhost site to verify compatibility with my theme, plugins, etc. I was confident to upgrade my live hosted site. 
  8. I read the WordPress Upgrade  instructions a couple more times… “measure twice, cut once!”  Now I started the FTP program and went to work. 
  9. In my FTP program, I expanded the file tree of the newly extracted WordPress files, and once step at a time verified exactly which files and folders would be transferred to the webserver. Ensure that you don’t simply tell FTP to transfer folders without verifying what files are in them!  After you’ve done this a few times it will be easier, but you don’t want to overwrite (or delete) your wp-content folder on the webserver! 
  10. I uploaded the main/root WordPress files to my webserver root.  Follow the WordPress Upgrade instructions if your blog is not in your root directory.
  11. I uploaded all the wp-admin folders and files, then all the wp-includes folders and files.  Some of you may have other files or customizations here, but I knew I didn’t and simply replaced them. 
  12. Then I started on the wp-content folder files:
    • In the wp-content plugins folder, I only uploaded the new Akismet and “hello” plugin files to my plugin folder.  I have other plugins in the folder that I wanted to save.  
    • I then uploaded the new Classic and Default themes in the wp-content folder (making sure I left my own themes and files in the wp-content folder on the webserver!). If you are using the Classic and Default themes, you should know if you customized any pages or templates, and uploaded images- these “customizations” should be known by you, and the images saved as well in case you overwrite or delete them.  I don’t use the Classic or Default themes, so I simply replaced those folders with the new WordPress Classic and Default folders.
  13. That should be it!  Uploading everything took about an hour because I went slowly.  Now you simply add “/wp-admin/upgrade.php” to your site URL in your browser, (e.g. http://www.yourdomain.com/wp-admin/upgrade.php or http://www.yourdomain.com/wordpress/wp-admin/upgrade.php if WordPress is not in your root directory) hit enter and follow the simple instructions.  Remember to restart your plugins one by one and see how the site runs.
  14. Any Problems?  Lets hope not- WordPress has instructions to restore your backups if necessary here: http://codex.wordpress.org/Restoring_Your_Database_From_Backup
  15. One of the problems I did have on my localhost upgrade was that after everything was up and running, I went to update my permalink customization in the WordPress admin site.  Guess what?  I got a 500 server error… and then couldn’t go back or restart the site at all.  I was bummed but checked my log files.  I found in my Apache log file a list of errors with one commonality:
    • “.htaccess: RewriteRule: bad flag delimiters, referer: http://……./wp-admin/options-permalink.php”
  16. After a Google search, I learned there could be code errors, spaces, etc. in my .htaccess file.  So not having any php coding skills, I took a clean, basic .htaccess file with only “RewriteEngine on” and replaced that with the one in my root directory that wasn’t working.  And voila! Success!  WordPress modified the .htaccess as it needed.
  17. Some of you have many different .htaccess configurations, and that is why it is recommended to back it up before starting the upgrade.  My original .htaccess file had a php test configuration added to it, and that appears to have been the problem. 
  18. I did not have any file permissions issues after the upgrade. I have seen this happen with other files I have added to my webserver, so that is one area to look at if you do have problems.

Hope your upgrade goes smoothly… remember not to underestimate the process!  Again, with all due respect to those of you who have read this far…. Douglas Adams also said:

œThe major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair

We should probably remember to think of this process as something that “might go wrong”… !  But you’ve got to love WordPress…

Thanks to the WordPress team!

wp 2.0 button

 

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Kindergarten University

January 23rd, 2007

Kindergarten isn’t what it used to be… that is probably an understatement. I have few memories of my kindergarten experience, other than naps, playtime and snacks for a few hours a day. I must have been deprived!

Not any more… these days schools have robust and vibrant kindergarten programs to capitalize on the creative, intellectual and physical growth of children at an early age. Many programs differ among communities, but they share the common goals to help increase readiness for later educational attainment. Sometimes however, in our zeal to help our children grow and “be whatever they want to be,” I think educators and administrators are too focused on metrics, standards and programmatic curricula.

I am not taking anything away from our local school and teachers- they are wonderful. The learning environment is rich and the experience and social development our child receives is so important. He looks forward to going to school, loves his teacher and is learning everyday- what parent could ask for more? Well, how about sometimes… less? Within the rich learning environment of today’s kindergarten programs are assessments, tests and quizes, and a day to make any high school student exhausted. He is up at 6:00 to make the 6:50 bus, a 45-minute ride to school, then a myriad of classes to include recess, music and PE, and then back on the bus to arrive home at 3:20 (if the bus is on time.) For a 6-year old, an 8 and 1/2 hour day is a lot! I wonder if there is a national “norm” for what is expected from kindergarten, or the length of the school day at an early age? We are asking much of our children to expect attentive concentration and academic performance that only a few years ago was part of a 1st or 2nd grade curriculum.

But now is not then, and these children will be challenged to learn much as they grow and develop in our society. Be that as it may, we are wise to remember how much we ask of them. Driving to school is one method to shorten the day, and I am fortunate to be able to do so. He loves riding the bus, but sometimes when he seems a little tired, or the morning rush is simply not worth it, we slow down a bit- add 45 minutes to the day and ride together enjoying the morning. Today we shared a sunrise as he sang and pointed out the sights of the countryside. After school? He’s off to swimming lessons…

“Today… is gold that covers hills and dell, and rich are they who use it well. (Pearl Phillips)”

toschool

Snowmelt on the Pond

January 22nd, 2007

It did snow over the weekend… not much, but enough to appreciate winter instead of simply being cold!  Of course the boy’s excitement eclipsed that of his parents, and he had a chance to play.  The temperatures were actually quite warm, hovering right above freezing during the day, and the pond ice began to melt (it has only been frozen for a week, since the last round of cold temps). 

The pond is finally at maximum water level… last year’s drought took it 5 feet down, and it didn’t start to fill back up until mid December. But it’s interesting to see the ice melting, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why a few holes appear in the ice at different locations around the pond.  Anyone know?  They appear first as small circles, almost like there are warmer upwelling currents or some gentle temperature difference in the water at that particular spot. Who knows where that would come from.  A small spring perhaps? No objects were thrown, and no tree debris fell there, it just “happens.”  Then cracks spider out from the holes as you can see below. 

pondmelthole

Very strange, but my curiosity desires a scientific explanation… someone please render a few hypotheses! Ah well, the mysteries of nature.  If the ice were really frozen the last few weeks we would try a little ice fishing… but that doesn’t happen very often in Missouri!  Not cold enough for long enough… and that’s probably a good thing. :)

Go Pup Go! Field Retrieve

January 22nd, 2007

The pup is almost 16 weeks old now… he’s an amazing and gentle Lab with a wonderful spirit.  We started a puppy class this week for general obedience… he’s way ahead of the class!  No testament to his owner… he’s just a calm and smart Labrador. He loves to play and train… and I try to keep training as play for him. I’m reading a ton of books on retriever training; Some are better than others, but The 10-Minute Retriever provides a great overview- concise yet very readable while showing how to succeed with training in “10 minutes a day”.  Friday he made his first “field retrieve” from taller grass.  May not look like much to us, but just weeks ago he could only see the throw bumper in shorter grass, nor did he use his nose.  But two days ago, he took off after the bumper where he saw it fall, ran full speed past and abruptly turned around using his nose to find it.  When he saw it he pounced!  Came running full speed back… he didn’t even slow down to give the thing to me!  Ah well, first things first huh?  He brought it back after, but I was pleased with his eagerness.  Now the training gets a little tougher- and his owner needs to study hard to keep him on the right track.  May take some advanced training classes too.  But in all, he’s a family dog.  I have no illusions of heavy field trials or double-blind retrieves from a boat… We’ll see how it goes this year, and if he retrieves consistently that’s about all I can ask.  He comes not from gritty hunting stock, but quality English Labrador genes with both show and field champions in the line.  I’m not an everyday hunter either; I’ll go when I can, but I love the experience of being outdoors more than anything… the seasons and changing weather… just being there is reason enough.  There is only so much time each season for all we love to do, at home and in the field.  The pup will have ample opportunity to show his stuff though, and I look forward to it!

pupfieldretrieve

Time, Energy and “Going Fast”

January 19th, 2007

Have you ever felt that there isn’t enough time in the day to do all the things you need… or better yet, want to do?  Okay, a common feeling for most of us at times.  Perhaps it’s the new year that focuses our goals and efforts to achieving things we have put on the “back-burner” for some time.  Maybe it’s because winter progresses and we know spring is just around the corner, with a whole host of new things that need accomplished.  Maybe it’s simply that we are so busy, we find it difficult to stay organized! 

All of that and more…  yet being busy is a challenge I have always welcomed.  Frustrating at times, yet still welcomed for the focus it gives to our lives, and the energy we are able to tap into when needed.  Not necessarily physical energy, but also creative and psychological or spiritual energy that we may choose to direct in the areas that help us succeed, and grow, in our lives. 

“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they cannot find them, make them.” (George Bernard Shaw)

januarymorning

The young one awoke today and without prompting began busily dressing and getting ready for school.  When asked why he was moving in such a hurry today, he simply said, “I decided last night that I wanted to go fast this morning!”  It is challenging to have an intellectual discourse with a 6-year old, but in his words and manner I knew a change had taken place.  A change for him at some level of realization that he could make choices about how he approached his morning, and the events leading up to school- and hopefully, during school.  His goal was to “go fast” enough to get things done and make the morning bus that he loves to ride… He embraced the challenges before him, and one-by-one accomplished his tasks and achieved them.  Perhaps he will apply the same energy toward school and classwork as he continues to grow. 

We talked about the “Tortoise and the Hare” in an effort to frame progress and goal attainment in different ways… going fast doesn’t always foster a proper focus or attention, and sometimes “slow and steady wins the race.”  But (thankfully!) he was not to be dissuaded. Yet regardless of how we approach things, the simple recognition that our choices and “energy” can influence the direction of our day… and our lives, is an important aspect of growth.  In many respects, the manner in which we apply our energy is limited only by our imagination and desire.  Where is your energy focused today?



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