Monday, February 23, 2009

The Joke's On Me, It Seems

Two Christmases ago, my mom gave Nate her old laptop computer. Nate was thrilled. Not only was it the first computer he could call his own, but it was also the only laptop in the house.

Over time, the poor thing began wearing down. A button came off the keyboard. The screen went black. When things broke, Nate would plug in an external version, and eventually his 'laptop' became the hub of a borg-like mass of cables and electronics.

Nate saved up money to buy a new laptop, and I promised to help. After all, he needs a computer for his schoolwork and it's nice to have a laptop around.

About a week and a half ago, though, I came home to find Nate's crippled but still functioning laptop had become a box of dozens of pieces! Trying to remain calm, I said, "Nathan, that is without a doubt the stupidest thing you have ever done. I am very disappointed in you, and what you have done is disrespectful to both Grandma and me. I will not be helping you buy a laptop since this is how you treat them." I know, that sounds really harsh, but his laptop still worked before he dismantled it. And I was absolutely appalled. Nate did not fuss at my proclamation, just asked me if I knew of anyone hiring 13 year old boys, and about a day later he told me that he would put his laptop back together in order to earn my trust back.

Still horrified at the jumbled box of pieces, I merely acknowledge his promise and went on, believing there was no way on this earth that this child could reassemble a laptop computer.

I was wrong. It is now functioning just as it did before.

I will never say 'no' to handy-down computer carcasses again. My basement can turn into a PC graveyard-slash-dr. frankestein's workroom. I won't care! Now my only question is what do I get this child that will help him, since he claims much of his success is owing to a computer science text that I used in college nearly a decade ago, and that was a very backward college indeed? I have already bought him a computer science program but it does not cover hardware, only programming and applications. Does anyone have any suggestions?


Cynthia said...

Had you considered sending him to Tri-Tech Skills Center? I am seriously considering sending my kids to New Market Skills Center for the same thing, because it is a great skill to have. I am clueless about computer problems, especially when it comes to hardware, but we all have computers and we all should have some idea of how they work and how to fix them.

Here's a link to the skills center:

I believe that homeschoolbuyerscoop may have had some kind of program they were offering, but am not sure if they have it now or not. You might check with them, if you absolutely do not want to take advantage of the skills center.

Jenny-Fair said...

Unfortunately, Tri-Tech only takes students aged 16 to 20 who have not yet graduated. It is very possible that Nate will graduate before he even turns 16, at the rate he is going. I have emailed them asking about an exception to policy, but have not heard back.

The other program is not one I have heard about. I will read up on it.

Cynthia said...

Hmm. Why do you want him to graduate so early? It might be good to hold off on having him complete all of his high school credits so that he can take advantage of the skills center. Some of the programs they offer give college credit and he could complete a program through running start for his AA and graduate from high school and community college at the same time.

Jenny-Fair said...

It isn't so much that I want him to graduate early as it is that he just seems to be heading that direction. There are downsides--not being able to go to the tech school and do running start, plus what does he do after he graduates? I don't want him going away to college at 16. So, I am trying to figure out how to manage it all. Holding back one class so he can't graduate or something. It isn't just that I can't award him a diploma-the rules are actually that he not fulfill graduating requirements prior to doing either of those things. It is very annoying.

Christina said...

Are you hoping he will get credit for it, you are you just wanting to help him pursue an interest?

If you're doing the latter, one thing you might look into is a site I just found (beware of spam and telemarketers, I haven't looked into them) is this site. The good stuff looks to be toward the bottom.

Free tutorials:

You can try Googling "pc hardware video tutorials" too. Then he could actually watch someone installing parts, etc.

If he seems like he might be interested in this type of field, you might see if Geek Squad (located at Best Buy) will let him come along with one of those guys for a day. Or, maybe he can shadow a person who works at Frys Electronics in the computer department.

Is there a community college in your city? Some community colleges charge less per credit for high school kids. Or, maybe a community college in your state offers online hardware and pc repair classes online. And, since he is still in high school, he might get a discount.

Sarah said...

:D...sounds like my brother. When he was Nate's age he hacked into the White House's web (this was before the net as we know it) on a homemade shoe box modem that my parents didn't even know he had, much less that he had made with garage sale items put together by my brother. My parents found out when the FBI tracked my parents down because of his hacking. Then they scared the you know what out of my brother, and sat down to have him show them how he got into their supposedly hack proof

Anyway, sounds like you have a very smart kid there!!! I will ask my brother if he has any suggestions for you for books or whatever.

Anonymous said...

Jen, I hope you don't mind me posting on your blog.
My son is into taking apart computers. Someone at a computer store told him to study for A+ certification. He found a website that has videos on it for computer repair.
It doesn't work well on our pc because we have dial up right now. If you have something that's faster, the website videos should work fine.
We got the book from the library. It's called CompTIA A+ Complete Study Guide published by Sybex. Authors are Quentin Docter, Emmett Dulaney, and Toby Skandier.
There is supposed to be a deluxe edition that has videos with it.
The book we got from the library has a disk in the back. The complete book is downloaded on our pc in pdf.
Ds wants to take the tests and become certified in computer repair.
The tests cost a lot to take. I contacted compTIA and they said that there are NO age restrictions on taking the tests!! I wanted to make sure that Ds could take them. He's 15.
Here is their website if you want more information.

Hope everything is going well for you. I miss seeing you on CW. It always seemed like the kids were doing the same stuff!!
Judy (judii1)

Cynthia said...

You're right. He cannot have completed his graduation requirements. My plan is to hold back on two important requirements for graduation and to then send my children to running start. Sure the rules are annoying, but this is what we have to live with. You could send him to the skills center and let him loose without meeting any of the academic graduation requirements, then have him finish the academic requirements off at the community college while completing his AA. I believe that a student has to be a junior in order to do running start and this can be proven with transcripts. I think they can be at least a year ahead and still do this. Maybe it's changed, but I have heard of it in the past. If this is still correct, he could graduate at 17 and wouldn’t have to do any further homeschooling once he got into community college, since he would finish off the academic requirements at the cc.

Jenny-Fair said...

You guys are great! Sarah, it's nice to know other mothers have been driven to the brink by too-smart-for-their-britches boys!

Judy, of COURSE you can post here!

I will look into all those suggestions...just not this week, as I am working long days. Take care!

Sarah said...

I didn't tell my brother your job situation or the single mom part, so that's why he suggested the computer specs at the end...but maybe your son can keep his eyes out for a good deal, or save some for it, or maybe God will open a door and one will fall right into his lap...I will pray for that!! Anyway, other then that, everything else he said was free resources. Since my brother is a programmer he is pointing you to some great programming resources though, not so much the building of computers...but I think Nate would do great with these (from what you have said of him). is what my brother said to look into for his age....

MIT's OpenCourseWare is the best resource I can point you to for a true classroom-oriented introduction to programming.

It's basically the same coursework given to MIT freshmen, but it is FREE (but, of course, comes with NO college credit and no support from MIT).

There are no videos of the lectures for this particular course, but it does include plenty of slideshows of the lecture notes, assignments, exams, etc.

This class teaches Java, which is a little outdated in the business word, but the concepts translate easily to C# and other, more current platforms.

There are a HUGE number of other classes available through OpenCourseWare, and most of them have nothing to do with computer science.

Four other tips:

1. The languages anyone wanting to be a computer programmer should learn:
- C#
- SQL (MySql or SQL Server)
- JavaScript
- Excel formula language (more useful than learning VBA macros)
- Objective C (used on Macs and iPhones)

There are a bazillion online tutorials for all of these.

2. Books by O'Reilly are generally very good, and are available almost anywhere.

3. I recommend anything by Edward Tufte. His books are about displaying data and information, not about programming, but most of what a programmer spends their time doing is making the data human-friendly.

4. Understanding computers requires variety. Ideally, students should have access to computers running Windows, OS X (Mac), and Linux, and learn all three. One small Macintosh computer can run all three, and used Mac Minis (must be Intel to run Windows, not PowerPC) can be bought online for probably under $500.


Jenny-Fair said...

Tell your brother thank you, Sarah. Nate is going to begin Computer Science Pure and Simple soon, which includes programming in Logo but I don't think this program will last him long, so after that we will move on to the others.

His dad actually uses Mac computers so Nate has some exposure to those. We have an old computer that he can use for Linux if he wants--I have said no in the past due to my own inexperience but I am seeing that he is capable of a lot more than I suspected previously, and needs more opportunities. So your brother's suggestions are not unrealistic for us ;-)

Maybe if I can keep Nate busy enough with all this stuff he won't have time on his hands to booby trap my front door. It isn't nice to be shot by a Nerf gun after a long day at work!

Sarah said...

:D...I know what you mean about being a bit apprehensive when your child wants to go into things you really aren't too knowledgeable about...but homeschooling is truly child led, and if that's his interest then this is a great opportunity for him to learn what may be the building blocks of his life's work.

I am glad he is able to have exposure to everything he will need to pursue sounds like he really will enjoy this journey now that you are on board and cheering him on to the next level.

Mrs. Pevensie said...

Okay, so correct me if I'm wrong but I believe it wouldn't quite matter what specific classes Nate has taken, you graduate him when you feel he has met YOUR requirements. For example, OSPI lists graduation requirements as English: 3 credits minimum, 4 credits recommend for college, blah, blah. It doesn't say if he takes a class on Victorian Novels at 13, you have to count it toward graduation. Although he may have finished a "regular" prescribed scope and sequence by the time he is 16, you do not have to graduate him. You count what you want to count, YOU say when he has graduated. Now of course it is rather late and I may not be expressing myself well but does that make sense? Clear as mud?

Jenny-Fair said...

It is worded ambiguously. So I don't really know!

Well, one of the men in my sunday school class found out about our dilemma and then went from family to family in church soliciting used computer parts. Nate should be rolling in them shortly! And another man directed us to a particular shop run by an older gentleman that might be just the ticket for hands-on learning. We shall see!