NIght at the Opera with teenagers

On dress rehearsal nights the San Francisco Opera lets school groups in free. Milo’s high school choir class came up to see La Cenerentola, armed beforehand with scripts and analysis and background about opera. I was super excited to get to go along because I can’t make it very often to Redwood City to his school events, which is sad….. I miss out on a lot. But I can’t drive — and it takes 5-6 hours of cab/bus/train to get there and back even though it would be 40 minutes one way by car. So, I can’t show up as a parent at his school very often. Bah.

It was a fabulous night out. A bit hard to try to keep up with everyone and manage wheelchair, crowds, elevator, stairs — winging it all the way, and it worked out well. Milo and Danny and I sat together with the kids and the choir teacher. I could tell Milo and I were both enjoying the music and you can see our excitement from the picture…. We were feeling inspired!

Milo and Liz at the opera

It’s been a while since I was at the opera house. We saw Nixon in China (which I loved a LOT). And some years ago a friend of mine took me to various operas because she had a box and season tickets. I can hardly remember which ones but do remember the fun of dressing up, the box itself being awesome, and thinking about all the books I’ve ever read where people go to the opera and have a box and a complicated social scene. Very fancy. I also have a lot of thoughts about how rare and splendid this kind of music must have been a couple of hundred years ago, and how amazing it is that there were beautifully designed music halls before there was electronic amplification. Imagining what the experience would have been like back then makes me feel like I’m traveling in time or am seeing eveything on more than one level at once.

Opera house curtains

The entire night was extra fun because of the energy of the whole audience, all the kids very excited to be there and commenting to each other on the theater, the show, their unusual formality (many kids were dressed up) and their commentary on the songs. I liked hearing from the cheers and appplause which characters and songs appealed to them. Basically anything that was comic. They were more fun to be in an audience with than the usual rather uptight overly quiet and suppressed/suppressive classical music audience!

Opera with class

My own favorite bits of the opera were the arias where there are 4 or 5 characters singing at once and the notes and lyrics interweave in a complicated way. This is one of my favorite things in any kind of music. I go into a trance trying to pick out separate parts and then add them all together, hearing them separately and together at the same time. I get very excited and want to bounce around in my seat. I may have done this and punched Danny and Milo in the arm a bit or squeaked with excitement.

A nice break to end my month and a half of arthritis flare-up, not going out except for doctor appointments or physical therapy. Could not tell if I was going out foolishly or if it was going to be ok. It was more or less ok!! With lots of painkiller though. It was physically gruelling but didn’t set me back any in my ankle rehab.

Just blogging a bit frivolously to break my trend of not writing anything because I feel like I have to say something super meaningful or well thought out. Screw that, right?

Noisebridge! Best thing ever!

On April 2nd and 3rd I am going to spend several hours teaching at least 70 high school physics students how to solder and some alluring information about contributing to open source software!

They are doing a project to design and build a solar home. If you know anything about electronics or solar energy cells please join us a do some teaching!

rowan learning to solder

I spent $250 of my own money to buy a crapload of little LED kits so they can have a conveniently teachable soldering project – that is how much I love Noisebridge, and geeky things, and teaching, and non hierarchical anarchist/mutualist community spaces!

I am thinking of the Hackability group that meets at Noisebridge to fix and mod their wheelchairs and mobility scooters! We take over a classroom, gank all the workshop tools, and get on the floor where none of us think it is weird that we scoot and crawl and roll across the floor to pick up a screwdriver just out of reach, laughing at all this solidarity! We bravely dismantle our cyborg leg-wheels and bolt them on again covered with LED lights, jazzed up with arduinos to measure battery voltage, then roll on out into the town!

potentiometer and its lever

And the fierce, fun feminist hacker hive that is a chaotic unstructured network of strength and curiosity and information sharing, that stretches from Noisebridge to sudo room and LOLSpace, and beyond!


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I am thinking of all the people I’ve given tours to who come in from out of town and are all starry-eyed and inspired, who meet people and go to Python and Ruby and web dev and Linux classes and eat the strange productions from the Vegan Hackers, the laptops that people at Noisebridge fix and give away, the cameraderie I always find there and the fabulous energy of young people just moving to San Francisco to do a startup or find some kind of freedom or empowerment and hope to find at least part of it at this weird ever changing junkyard coffeehouse-feeling co-op workshop. We made this place that isn’t anything like any other place and it can also be YOURS. Meddle in it!f

surface mount soldering

SUBSCRIBE to support Noisebridge’s rent, its freely provided wifi, its bins of electronics parts that anyone can rummage through and pillage, its beautiful giant robot, its classrooms and electricity, its ADA-compliant bathroom custom built specially by Noisebridge folk, its elevator, its devotion to support accessibility for all, all its copies of keys that I and others have distributed as Keys to the City, the library of excellent technical books, well used and loved and read!

Hacker moms visiting Noisebridge

Our rent went up this year, and our people’s job security and income went down. It’s exactly at that point, when the economy is hard on us all, that we need collectives and co-ops and hackerspaces. We have to band together in the best ways we can come up with.

me and maria zaghi at noisebridge

People visit Noisebridge and like it so much that they move to the Bay Area. They come to Noisebridge for education, to find peers and mentors, to teach, and sometimes to find as close as they can get to home and family when they are hackers down on their luck.

Noisebridge - looking west

They come to speak in public for the first time at 5 minutes of fame. They sound a little odd and then they turn out to be geniuses. They drudge to clean the floors and toilets and scrub the kitchen and buy toilet paper, doing the unglamorous physical domestic labor of maintaining this place that’s used heavily 24 hours a day 7 days a week.


We do good work together as best we can. We give a lot to our community! We give access, tools, skills, time, belief, trust, fantastic spectacles, beauty and humor and art. With a sense of wonder and playfulness people walk in and look around – I see it on their faces – like they have just had a million new ideas churn around in their heads – So many possibilities and they know they can be part of it.

Noisebridge table

circuit hacking monday

And we need widespread, ongoing support.

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If you can spare any, we need your exclamation points as I have used most of them in this post!!

Noisebridge tea cart

Being naughty for the substitute

“Our substitute teacher showed me a way to say something isn’t equal,” Moomin told me today as he did his homework. “See?” and with vast satisfaction he wrote ≠ on his worksheet.

When I asked him how the sub was, he said she was pretty good. “Mom, I have to tell you I’ve noticed something. In books, people are a *lot naughtier* with substitute teachers than they are in real life.”

We discussed this a while. Tacks on chairs! Elaborate tricks! And when have you ever seen this happen? I haven’t. It seemed so alluring, like midnight feasts in boarding school novels. Twins also have much better adventures in books when they switch places than they do in real life. Why do some people seem to think it’s a good idea to write books that are basically training manuals to teach kids how to be extremely naughty. I wonder if Moomin will think over that idea – the question of why you would write a whole book about kids being extremely naughty? Are they training you to be BAD? He found this hilarious, and appeared to be thinking it over.

What about books where horrible things happen to kids? A friend of mine recently claimed, there are just a lot of twisted people who want to write horrible books about horrible things happening to kids? I thought of her theory tonight at bedtime, as we began reading Harry Potter and I wondered how Moomin would react to the Series of Unfortunate Events. He is maybe not quite cynical enough to enjoy them.

Milo looking at Difference Engine

Well, back to the homework. Tonight’s homework took us less than half an hour. It was a bunch of not very exciting worksheets, which surprised me since this school is supposedly all about the non-worksheet-doing, but it may be an NCLB thing and they just *have to*.

I told Moomin I would be his “speed coach”. He faced this prospect with good cheer. At first he didn’t want me to say anything; “I know, I know, I can do it, I know how to do this!” but I asked him to pause and listen first. So, first, look it over and think what is on the whole page, and give a thought to how long it might take. It looked like a 2-minute worksheet to me, with some stuff about homophones and spelling words. So I set a little kitchen timer, an egg timer with a dial that ticks, and sat across the table reading a magazine a little while watching his progress. Whenever he got all stuck, I reminded him to skip it and move on. At just about the 2-minute mark I said he was doing well but that it was clearly a 3-minute worksheet, and dialed up another minute. Hey! Done! He is quite fast. I encouraged him to cross out finished answers (quickly without precison) and skip ones if he was not quite sure; and if he made a mistake and then catches it — for example writing an i instead of an e in a word – try to remember not to erase an entire word or line, but just write the e over the i a couple of times hard with the pencil.

It’s just like the authors who teach naughtiness! I have to encourage Moomin not to be perfectionist in his work, and not to mind being a bit of a slob. Lucky Moomin — there’s no one better to teach slovenly habits than his good old mom.

The next worksheet took 2 minutes. Then we did another one. Booooring! So much better to get it done quickly if it’s going to be that boring?

We moved on to math. More worksheets. They were things like (17 + 15) – (8 + 3) = ?? The problems were all crammed together with no room to do the working out. Moomin wanted to draw lines from each set of parentheses, one from the 17 and one from the 15, pointing together in a triangle, and then the minus sign, and then the other bit… I persuaded him it would be faster and less cluttered to jot the answer to 17+15 just above it. (Even though it was horribly crammed in.) And then the other bit, and put in the minus sign to remind yourself what you’re doing. Then the answer!

That went much faster.

There were a few unboring problems. One was: Glenn has 6 more books than Bob. Bob has 4 less books than Susan. Susan has 10 books. How many books does Glenn have? He worked it out very nicely with just a hint from me. Not for the first time, I thought to myself that he will really enjoy algebra and geometry.

After homework was done I showed him a book of math puzzles, which he enjoyed until he realized I was sort of tricking him into some kind of Learning Experiment when he would rather be reading his latest Dragonology book.

I think back to the times when I worked as a tutor. I was good at getting people quickly to the point where they realized they didn’t need a tutor, but could figure things out for themselves. It was mostly about teaching ways to think, or ways to approach a problem or a task, and of course, self-confidence.

When I need tutoring, it’s more or less the same. I get stuck on some bit of debugging and begin to doubt myself, or I need help breaking a big task down into stuff I can understand. It’s good to keep my own feelings in mind as I help out another person.

Moomin goes to snack camp

M. at camp
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry

Moomin: This camp is GREAT! This is the best camp ever! They had Honey Nut Cheerios!!
Me: Hahahaha! Awesome! Hahahaahah!
Moomin: AND they had raisins.
Me: No way. Hahahaha. Raisins!
Moomin: Yes! At the first snack time before the aftercare they also had Cheezits!
Moomin: Oh! I get it.
Me: Heehehehehehe
Moomin: You’re laughing because I sort of should be talking about the Marine Science part of the camp. And not the snacks.
Me: You are correct, my son. I do love good snacks. On the other hand did not pay freaking four hundred bucks for you to attend Snack Camp.
Moomin: Well, let me tell you about the sort of British things. They’re very tiny and live in salt ponds. I think, sort of British, but not really…
Me: Brine shrimp?
Moomin: YES! Sea monkeys! I learned about the ecology of estuaries! There’s this very, very bad thing, called acid rain. I petted a shark. And, we made a model of pollution, and then we smashed it!
Me: Oh well okay then, definitely $400 well spent.

Pledge for our Mathathon!

Through his school, Moomin is participating in the St. Jude’s Hospital Mathathon. He will have a workbook of math problems, and will have 1 week to do up to 250 problems. I pledged him 50 cents per problem!

playing "multiplication madness"

If you’d like to pledge, please send me an email and let us know how much you’ll donate per completed math problem. I think we would also need your full name. The sponsor form asks for 5 cents per problem as a mininum. You would have to then snail mail us a check for the amount in mid-April, with the check made out to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Moomin says:

You should pledge for my Mathathon because the school wants to raise money for the hospital for kids who have cancer. I pretty much really like to do all kinds of math problems, and I’m pretty much hoping that there will actually be some challenging ones. Like some challenging multiplication. I’d like that!

very nice park guy took our picture