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November 28, 2012

This is just an amazing story about Ethiopian kids teaching themselves to be utter badasses

This is phase 2 of the One Laptop Per Child program. They found in their first test a few years back that teaching thousands of kids a bunch of facts wasn't super helpful. So they developed a new software, NEIL, inspired by Neil Stephenson's "The Diamond Age" that would interact with the kids and challenge them and teach them English. And boy howdy, it's been amazing. Ethiopian kids hack OLPCs in 5 months with zero instruction | DVICE
Miles from the nearest school, a young Ethiopian girl named Rahel turns on her new tablet computer. The solar powered machine speaks to her: "Hello! Would you like to hear a story?" She nods and listens to a story about a princess. Later, when the girl has learned a little more, she will tell the machine that the princess is named "Rahel" like she is and that she likes to wear blue--but for now the green book draws pictures of the unnamed Princess for her and asks her to trace shapes on the screen. "R is for Run. Can you trace the R?" As she traces the R, it comes to life and gallops across the screen. "Run starts with R. Roger the R runs across the Red Rug. Roger has a dog named Rover." Rover barks: "Ruff! Ruff!" The Princess asks, "Can you find something Red?" and Rahel uses the camera to photograph a berry on a nearby bush. "Good work! I see a little red here. Can you find something big and red?" As Rahel grows, the book asks her to trace not just letters, but whole words. The book's responses are written on the screen as it speaks them, and eventually she doesn't need to leave the sound on all the time. Soon Rahel can write complete sentences in her special book, and sometimes the Princess will respond to them. New stories teach her about music (she unlocks a dungeon door by playing certain tunes) and programming with blocks (Princess Rahel helps a not very-bright turtle to draw different shapes). Rahel writes her own stories about the Princess, which she shares with her friends. The book tells her that she is very good at music, and her lessons begin to encourage her to invent silly songs about what she's learning. An older Rahel learns that the block language she used to talk with the turtle is also used to write all the software running inside her special book. Rahel uses the blocks to write a new sort of rhythm game. Her younger brother has just received his own green book, and Rahel writes him a story which uses her rhythm game to help him learn to count.

November 27, 2012

How To: Cook beans in a hole in the ground

Who Needs an Oven? Just Bury Your Beans - NYTimes.com
Here’s how it works: Dig a hole big enough for the pot you’re planning to cook in, then build a fire of hardwood logs in it, dropping a dozen or so rocks into the fire once it’s well started. When the wood has burned down to embers, very carefully take out the rocks using barbecue gloves, put your pot of (presoaked and parboiled) beans into the embers, drop the rocks around and on top of the pot, cover everything with dirt and walk away. Come back in eight hours or so, and your beans should be ready. Of course, as with other folkway foods like barbecue or chile, there’s plenty of controversy about all this. Because it’s not really done right unless it’s done exactly the way your mama (or your grandma or your great-grandma) did it. And, while you’re at it, there’s lots of discussion to be engaged in about the particular beans you should use. The soldier bean is said to be most authentic, but we’ve found that most heirloom beans, like Jacob’s Cattle or yellow eye, work very well, as do more common types like pea beans or even kidney beans. Whatever bean you use, once you’ve cooked up a big pot of them, you can try the Maine tradition of next-day sandwiches of cold beans with raw onions on brown bread (or pumpernickel, if that’s easier). It’s one of those “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it” combinations. Chances are, though, most of us are not going to go out and dig a bean hole, even if we do have a backyard. So it’s fortunate that bean-hole beans can also be made perfectly well in the electric bean hole, a k a the oven. They won’t have bean-hole bona fides and they’ll lack that little trace of smoke, but they will still be very delicious.