A-to-Z Challenge: Content Management System

A content management system is basically a computer program that manages content, and typically the content of a website. So… well… WordPress springs to mind. There are plenty of choices out there.

So, once upon a time, I had some grade school teachers who decided (or possibly were told) that computers were the wave of the future. And since they were teachers, clearly this meant that they would be teaching computers/programming/technology-a-plenty.

The not so obvious flaw in this thinking was that they did not actually know anything about computers/programming/technology-a-plenty.

So… about that…

The school board procured lessons.

By which, what I mean is a series of “programs” that were intended to result in a specific and recognizable outcome. So, if it was Christmas, you were programming the computer to draw a Christmas tree. If it was Valentine’s day, you’d be looking for a heart. And so on.

These programs would be handed to you–no assembly required–on a Xerox handout, and you would type them verbatim, letter by letter into the computer while the 4th grade teacher (A former Marine who raised twenty-seven of her own children on nothing but MREs and Communist tears) loomed over you, waiting for a Christmas tree to appear.

One typo… anywhere, and the result would be either a blank screen or a shamefully lopsided Christmas tree. And of course, you would have to find that typo in a page of code that neither you nor the teacher understood.

Suffice it to say, I learned how to type.

I probably wouldn’t have learned to program at all, ever, and let’s be honest, after an introduction like that, I would have been perfectly happy with that arrangement.

I wound up building my own content management system later on, when I came up with a reason to do it. (Apparently, Christmas trees that would take twenty seconds with a crayon are not particularly motivating.)

I didn’t have any idea how big the project was before I was actually doing it. If I did, I probably wouldn‘t have done it. But I had an idea, and I couldn’t find any out of the box software that would do what I wanted, and besides, how hard could it be?

Yes, I hear you laughing.

Maybe “hard” isn’t quite the right word. Maybe “big” is better. It’s a long project, and you work on it a little bit at a time, until it starts to do the things you want it to do. You learn as you go along. You learn the things you need to know, so there’s a lot more motivation to do it.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.

Field Trips to Nowhere

When I was a kid, school field trips were a matter of piling into cars driven by “class mothers” and going… somewhere… There were usually about eighteen kids in my class, and yes, that includes the year that was 5th and 6th grade combined. (Well, we only had three 6th graders!) The thing about “class mothers” is that they were actually, well, you know… mothers. And they had known us… most of us… since preschool, and longer, if you happened to be related, or went to the same church.

We had really good field trips, back then. You could go anywhere that was vaguely educational, and reachable in an eight to ten hour day.

Military cemetery. Historical Society. Museum someplace down the interstate. Up the side of a really big hill out in the middle of nowhere. You weren’t going with a stranger. You were going with someone your parents know well enough to know that if you don’t come back,  they had a darn good reason.

It was good for discipline.

Case in point… That time we had to stop on the side of the interstate to tell the new kid he’d better buckle his seat belt right now. Because the class mother knew my parents, and she knew (redacted and redacted)’s parents and our parents would let her take their kids to (really fun, life-altering activity) some other time. She didn’t know new kid’s parents.

Seat belt buckled, followed by complete silence, and even strikingly good posture.

Messages From the Bathroom Stall Door

I used a public restroom, today, and I snapped a picture of the stall door. Someone has written the words Suicide Club on the stainless steel in electric youth pink. I don’t know if it’s a plea for help, or a bid for attention, or just graffiti referencing a movie or manga. And I don’t know who wrote it. The response–also anonymous–reads, “Please get help. This, too will pass.”

Do you care? 

Yes, I care.

Women use bathroom stall doors as bulletin boards to communicate the things they wouldn’t or couldn’t say in real life to a person with a face. They talk to each other. Two way communication. Private. Anonymous. Deniable. No, I didn’t ask about that. I was just taking a dump.

The first real message I remember reading scrawled across a stall door was in high school. I must have been fourteen or so, and fairly sheltered. I was still getting used to **profanity** and sex was just something kids who smoked and drank did. That first message–in its entirety–read, “Someone in this school eats pussy, and it’s not a guy.”

Word for word. Cunnilingus, Lesbianism, and… someone actually wrote the phrase “eats pussy” in a public place.

At the time, I thought of it as graffiti written for the shock value.  Maybe… maybe I believed what it said was possible. And maybe I did look around and wonder for a second or two which girl it was.

But that message wasn’t meant for me. I read it as a piece of mindless gossip. Someone else might have recognized it as a confession, or an ecstatic shout of connection. And someone might have shouted back, or given a quiet sigh of relief.

I saw the same message (different words) in college, and by then, I did recognize it. The very last stall in the university’s “historical” women’s restroom was the “Lesbian Stall” (Labeled on the inside, black sharpie) and maintenance sanded the stall door down twice a year to remove the accumulated conversations.

I had something to write, then, and I didn’t write it, but the idea that I could have, and that someone would have answered… it mattered.

I’m afraid my bisexual boyfriend is only with me because he wants children, and because he doesn’t have to come out to his father, if he marries a woman.

I hit the ground hard with that one. I’m shaking, a little, and if I think about it long enough, there’s no doubt I’ll cry. Question for the stall door.

And there have been a lot of stall door questions from a lot of women, since then. A lot of topics, and a lot of secrets.

The stall door a safe place. A strangely self-moderating place. The “community” routinely scratches out unacceptable responses. And there’s almost always an answer.Whole threads of conversation, back and forth. Or solitary encouragement. Yes, I care.

Coding as a Foreign Language

Florida’s fine senate has approved making computer coding a “foreign language” that will fulfill the 2 years required to get into Florida’s public university system. The kids would be able to take coding instead of a foreign language.

Huh.

I took foreign languages–of a human, organic variety–in high school. More of them in college. I taught English as a Foreign language (briefly) after I graduated.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I value language.

In fact, when I started coding (not this website), I chose my first computer languages based on their similarities to human languages I already knew.

There’s a lot of overlap between human languages and computer languages.

But they’re not the same thing.

In an ideal world, I’d argue that it shouldn’t be an either/or proposition, and that every child should do both.

But we’re not living in an ideal world, and even high school kids are mortal.

I absolutely believe every child should have the opportunity to learn computer languages. And they should also have the opportunity to learn human languages. They should probably dabble at least a little in both.

But with more and more information in the world, it doesn’t surprise me that they’re beginning to split off into specializations  younger and younger.

The question that I have here… is how you ensure that children are on a path they have the enthusiasm and talent for, rather than the one their parents or the school system feel is important, right now.

The School Year is Coming…

And that means school supply lists and last minute shopping sprees.

I don’t even have kids, and I know that much. The terror of last year’s school supply lists is still fresh in my mind, and later on, I’m going spelunking to see if I can track down an old scientific calculator to loan a friend’s kid. I’m not sure it will be worth the trip. There’s a very specific model number they’re supposed to have, and I’m probably a model or two behind.

Not that math has changed all that much.

Last year’s list added up to a couple hundred dollars in things like a couple dozen red pens, crayons, pencils, and Kleenex, and included the admonition not to write the child’s name on anything, because… delicately worded, of course… we will share the supplies in the classroom hoard.

In other words, don’t get attached, ’cause you ain’t getting them back.

This year’s requests include the very same items the kids bought last year–many of which would still be perfectly good–and significantly angrier parents.

So, thoughts…

1.) The up front expenditure is memorable, and for a lot of families, a real blow to the budget. (Remember, this is one list for one child. Many families have more than one.) It’s ridiculous to have families buying an entire year of notebooks (or anything else) all at once, when the expense could be budgeted through the year.

2.) I’m a writer. I use a lot of red ink. I will not be exhausting twenty-four red pens this year. A ten-year-old certainly won’t. This massive over-supplying is a waste, and irritates the people paying for them.

3.) Not having personal supplies eliminates personal responsibility for those supplies, and also makes them a recurring, ridiculous expenditure.

4.) Not having personal supplies means the actual expense is double, because the children will still need the same supplies for homework. Children whose families don’t have money for this will be disadvantaged by the very system that was (presumably) intended to help them.

5.) It’s a lot easier to tell a parent “Billy” is out of red pens than to tell him that “the class” is out of red pens. (Particularly if they still remember spending money and buying twenty-four of them.)

6.) Teachers will not be able to figure out why they wind up buying supplies “out of their own pocket” when they run out of something halfway through the year. (It’s because kids didn’t take care of class supplies, and parents aren’t going to replace them.)