Friday, October 28, 2011

Why does everyone want to ask the AI the meaning of life?

I have my new phone and the boys have taken it over to chat to Siri.  It had lots of trouble understanding me - perhaps its the accent or that my requests to find things were not commonplace.  Frost also finds it more successful on esoteric matters and ventures there.

He started off with the big questions "Siri, what is the meaning of life?"  Siri replied that it was 42 and then advised that the boys show kindness to living things and live a life of good intentions.

Wren then asked "What is the meaning of DOG?"

After thinking a moment Siri produced a fact sheet about dogs which included the information that:

"A domesticated carnivorous mammal (Canis familiaris) related to the foxes and wolves and raised in a wide variety of breeds. "

I have to go to the bathroom" Frost shouts to me.

"Sorry, I couldn't find any public toilets around here." Siri announces.

This started Frost off on another tangent.  "Mom" he shouts from the bathroom in an echoey way. "You can use this to FIND PLACES!  Where is Boom Noodle?"

It misheard him a few times and came up with odd misspellings of nothing.

Frost said: "I am going to kill you"

And received a sanguine: "Okay."

"Wanna watch TV."

"I have found a number of electronics stores close to me."

"I play the drum!"

Siri played music.

"Mom, mom!  You can make the phone play music!"

Wren is happy because it has Angry Birds.

I am still a bit confused by the thing.  It has imported my gmail contact list as my contacts which means I can txt everyone but have no phone numbers.  I am able to browse my new Audubon Mushroom guide wherever we go but am cagey about uploading my "sightings" as they are shared on a GPS enabled map, giving away location of any choice edibles.

I have taken some pictures of Wren and I and they seem crisp.  At least my blog will have pictures again if I can figure out how to synch iPhoto via the iCloud which is not yet interfacing with MobileMe.

I asked Siri for help with my contacts and she replied that she was not allowed to make contacts.

I am sure Siri could garble up a nice saying along the lines of "The road to hell is a cloud lined with good intentions."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Learning Math aka "Killing me slowly, with his ways"

Frost started his schooling at an alternative school which emphasized math creativity and understanding.  Kids sorted marbles into bottles representing 10s and 100s and counted macaroni threaded on yarn.  Frost was encouraged to form his own methods for adding and solving problems and generally thinking about math.  He did.  He figured out ways to move numbers around long before he was taught the established ways.  Even my Dad was impressed by his "mental math" with large numbers.

Fast forward to 5th Grade and these techniques are getting in the way.

He is doing story problems with decimal long division and multiplication.  The typical questions are about people buying items with sales tax and discounts.  They involve finding the new price by calculating 9.25% of $19.99 and stuff like that.   Josh and I both recognized that these problems are easily solved by doing the grunt-work of math - the layout, the algorithm, the carrying and solving.

Frost resents this.  He hates doing the straight long multiplication.  He breaks things up into funny simpler functions and adds them up - typically making mistakes along the way.  About half the time he solves the whole problem in his head correctly.  The other half of the time they are incorrect and either show no working method (ie, are just plain wrong) or use a contorted sequence of logical steps that he has devised.

NOT the algorithm.

Today, I dropped into the 'advanced learning' school to pick up some books.   I met a 4th Grade girl working in the corridor.  She came up to me in some excitement and said "look how much work this problem is taking me!"   Indeed, her lined page was covered on both sides with detailed, neatly laid out sums.   They all seemed to be a huge number subtracting 20.

"What on earth are you doing?"  I asked.

She was a bit confused by my lack of enthusiasm.

"I am solving a problem!  This is how much MATH IT TAKES!!!"  she asserted, waving the page at me.

"What's the problem?" I wondered, secretly thinking that we never did such long sums in 4th grade and WTF was she doing?

"Oh, these people have $10,000 and we need to know how many weeks it will take them to spend it all if they spend $20 a week.  SOOO I am subtracting $20 each time.  Look!"

I look, and indeed all the multitude of sums are subtractions, $10,000 - $20 = $99 980  $99 980-$20= for two whole pages!!!! 

"But why do it that way?"  I asked.  "Why not divide? Just divide it by 20!"

"No, I am using SUBTRACTION!" She affirms with mistaken confidence.

"What about dividing by 2?"  I ask, freaking out politely.  This kid is in advanced learning 4th Grade, she should rebel if being asked to break down $10, 000 by $20 doing the dum sum 500 times.   Even if she can't divide 10,000 by 20, intelligence demands that she rebel!

But she doesn't.  She prances off waving her pages of sums, committed to solving the problem using the alogrithm du jour, subtraction.

So, I don't want Frost to be like that.  I want him to say "this is dumb, there must be an easier way" but I also want him to listen to me when I tell him that he is in the hard way, that sometimes you have to exercise the brain to show it how to make something easy (like the classification of mushrooms or the mechanics of algebra).

Often we have to do a bit of hard work to get to the easy path.

Frost does not believe me, yet.

Mushroom Season

Its mushroom season in Seattle.  The season when I forage wild mushrooms for the pot, identify them and do botanical illustrations.  The season seems to be getting going a bit late this year, perhaps due to the later arrival of the rains and some unseasonal warmth in September.  

Still, I have already eaten 4 lbs of gathered chanterelles and frozen many more pounds from a sale on chanterelles on Vashon island.  (Mum, I picked in the same place we went on Vashon last year, there were fewer but we went on the last day before the park was closed for two weeks for hunting season).   I have also gathered boletes, Chlorrophylum Brunneum (shaggy Parasol), birch boletes (leccinum scabrum) and some others for the art rather than the pot.

Beezle has been accompanying me into the woods and has proven to be a great undergrowth dog.  He can squeeze under most logs and through ferns without impediment.  He hangs out with us and does not go far astray.  He sniffs at mushrooms and even tried to eat the boletes in my basket.  He has good taste!

Chanterelles for breakfast with some birch boletes and slippery jack

These coprinus micaceaus were a bit watery on toast.
Just today, jogging around Greenlake, I collected my first boletus edulis (porcini).  It had been disturbed by the lawnmower tractor which had clipped the button in the grass near a pine.  I found a few larger (still small) ones nearby with the distinctive white reticulations at the apex and am going to eat them for dinner.

I have advertised on the PSMS mycoweb list for companions to practice mushroom ID during the week in local parks.  I am failing to advance as much as possible due to lack of keen company.  Already, I have three people who would like to join me so I am anticipating a few more weeks of mushrooming before the frosts.

I believe this is Zellers Bolete due to characteristics and the wrinkled cap
I suspect these are porcini buttons.  From Greenlake area.  I have cleaned them
up after ID.  They were a bit damaged by the lawn-mower tractor.
Anyone interested, come and stay with us for Mushroom Season next year!

Monday, October 24, 2011

The third wheel has the most fun.

We are dealing with sibling-adoration issues  Wren (4) adores Frost (10) and believes that Frost's playdates are an open invitation for a group date.  He loves being the third wheel.   Today, he had a great playdate with Matthew (11) and Frost (10).  He watched Halo, played Lego, played Zombies, lazer tag and ran around in an imaginary game slaying zombies in the garden.

When I insisted he come with me to Trader Joe's to "give the boys some private time" he collapsed on the ground, hit the floor, threatened me with loathing and sobbed so long that his diaphragm jumped and he couldn't breath without hiccupping and sniffing.  I dragged him out in his pajamas still clutching his gun.

In the car on the way to the grocery store he waved his pistol in the air, each gesture reminding him of how he could be hunting zombies with the boys.  His dramatic monologue of misery went something like this.  Reading this, bear in mind that the therapist suggested we ask Wren to rate the strength of his feelings out of ten so he can convey their intensity:

Wren:  "You are SO MEAN.  I have never been this much sad.  Now, I am three hundred two billion, seventy thousand, one million and forty-eight SAD!  That is how much sad!  I have been one hundred ten million forty eight sad before but now I am that much more!!!!  The boys did not say they want me to go away!  They did not say "go away!"

Me:  If they had asked for some time alone, would you go?

Wren:  They did not tell me to go away!  I would go away but they did not tell me to go away.

[This is not quite true, Frost was mouthing silently to me to ask Wren to go away so they could play on their own a bit.]

Me:  Well, we must ask them to choose a good time to play on their own next time and you can play with me. So you can play the most important game.

Wren:  But zombie hunt is the most important game.  I can never never play that game now.  It will be finished.  I will never play it!  [sobbing piteously]

Me:  Can't you play it another day with Frost and Alex?

Wren:  But Alex doesn't know the rules!

Me:  You could teach him.

Wren:  No, I don't know the ruuuules.  It was a new game.  It was the best game EVER.  Now my heart is broken!    I am two million and five hundred and a billion sad.

He recovered a bit during our shopping trip.  He found Sam, the hidden orangutan and won a taffy from the service desk, he had a free cookie and persuaded me to buy dried mango and mixed dried fruit and to give money to the man with the sign HELP ME who was feeding his dog croissants.

By the time we got home he was doing okay but I talked to the big boys on the way to drop Matthew off and suggested that they ask me to help when they want time alone and try and make it on the screentime activities rather than running around in the garden playing Zombie Ambush because then Wren will be one billion percent happy.