Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mini Cinnamon Sticks - Yummy!

Warning:  These do not fit the clean eating category!

I'm in the middle of preparing for Squirts birthday 'sleepover'.  

Two of the things she wants to eat are sandwich bread based, and require the crusts cut off them.  In order to save some time tomorrow (because of course it's a Friday and I have a meeting that doesn't finish until late afternoon), I'm prepping the bread now. 

I'm left with what seems hundreds of cut off crusts!  

What to do, what to do....

Hmmm minature (and not so healthy shhh) cinnamon sticks!!

Can't be that hard, and I'm sure I've read somewhere they are tasty wee snacks.  

Here's what I did - and yes they were yummy!  Gobbled up in moments by an aporeciative Squirt and Techno man who were back from 'trick or treating'. 

Mini Cinnamon Sticks 

You need:

Left over crusts cut off bread
Melted butter (about 100grams)
Sugar/cinnamon mix (you need around 2 tablespoons of this mixture - use as much or as little cinnamon to make it to your taste - mine was about 2 tablespoons sugar, 2tsp cinnamon) 

Pre heat the oven to 160 fan forced 
Place the cut off crusts in a bowl and pour the melted butter over them, tossing and coating them.  

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the cinnamon sugar mixture and toss again. 

Sprinkle the remaining mixture over the crusts and ensure they are well coated.  

Place on a baking tray and bake for 5-10 minutes, turn and repeat.  Baking times will vary depending on the size of your crusts.  Mine were about 5 a side because they were 'frugal' off cuts.  Thicker crusts would take a little longer. 

The finished product! 

Incidentally these would be scrummy with a dip - my choice would be a cream cheese/brown sugar/vanilla mix hmmmm

My next adventure with left over crusts will be to do a savory stick.   

Low-Profile Controversial Change Campaign

Sounds fascinating doesn't it?

Sounds exciting and a little on the 'dangerous' side, the 'Low-profile Controversial Change Campaign', makes you wonder....

Let me elaborate.  Its more 'thats appalling but not that surprising' than fascinating.

Treasury, which is the Governments lead advisor on all matters relating to economic and fiscal policy, has advised the Minister of Education to implement changes with less attention and to scale them back.

According to a report by the Herald, information obtained under the Official Information Act outlines how Treasury advised the Finance Minister to ask the Education Minster to 'scale back' and not attract 'significant profile'.

Furthermore, the Treasury report goes on to say;

"Communicating change across a broad front is difficult," Treasury officials warned. "Overseas experience in education reform suggests focusing on communicating a positively framed 'crucial few' at any one time."
This can be done "while making smaller incremental changes in a less high profile manner across a range of fronts".
Themes such as "supporting quality teaching" and "measuring performance to focus support" can be used to help communicate change, the Treasury suggested.
"More harder-edged changes could be pursued in parallel, incrementally and without significant profile."
source 'Herald article'

What is interesting is the Minsters office quickly rushes in to distance themselves from this advice.

Well, duh.  Of course they would.  Its part of 'minimising profile'.  Working hard to communicate change in a palatable manner.

I have to say, I wish I was surprised by this advice from Treasury and I wish I was surprised by how much of the report is claimed to be blanked out.  Suffice to say I have had enough experience with OIA to know how it works - or doesn't.

It all adds up to build a bigger picture.

It was good to see PPTA and NZEI had a response, but I wonder where NZPF were?  A quick look on their site and there is nothing.  Perhaps I have missed it.

I was particularly pleased that NZEI spoke of the research that shows transparency being important in change and this appeared the reverse of that.  No surprises there.  Recent policy changes over the last few years appear to have very little to with research and more to do with ideology.  

Transparency breeds buy in.  It may also breed discontent and start robust debate on policy, but It would seem to me that robust educational debate by the profession on any policy that is to be implemented by the community has to be a good thing.  We are charged with protecting the interests of our students.  It is why we are in education.  Hiding agendas is underhand and automatically makes one question the motive and ideology.  If you have to hide it, it can't be that great.

I worry that the community and some within the profession have been, and continue to be, caught up in a maze of smoke and mirrors.  As with all 'magic tricks' and 'swindles', one must be wary, on guard and maintain a healthy and robust scepticism.  The warning here is to not get caught up in the 'trick' and to continue to watch both hands.   When official advice is to 'hide' things, you do have to question why.

Finally, I worry about what other 'ambitious' changes there are, still waiting to be unveiled.  I can only imagine, and if they were to come true, it is stuff educational nightmares are made of.

Sleep well my friends, but sleep with one eye open and your back to the wall, for who knows what is next in the Low-Profile Controversial Change Campaign.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

High Stakes Testing and Privatisation as a Means For Money Making

"Thank you for all the high stakes tests you gave me at school, said no student ever"

What a sad world we live in.  

Education has - for some - become a means of exploiting children in order to make money.  

The business of high stakes testing has become big business indeed.  It has nothing to do with improving educational outcomes for children and everything to do with making a buck.  

If it was about success for students it would be based on solid best practice, good research and profit making wouldn't ever enter the equation.  

Which money grabbing 'Scroge McDuck' ever thought of exploting children, I wonder.  Is this the modern day equivalent of workhouses and sweat shops?  Where the 'product' is the child, and the money making device the 'test'.  Where Charter schools and privatisation of education allows for corners to be cut and profits to be maximised?  

I have to ask - how did people get sucked into this elaborate ruse?  

Its an 'Emperors new clothes' syndrome.    The carefully manufactured 'crises' in education have been so well crafted they have taken on a life of their own.  Communities believe the spin and trust in educators has fallen.  As more money is siphoned from the public education coffers it acts as the catalyst to become a self fullfulling prophecy.  Fail to maintain a system and it will slowly degrade.  

Meanwhile 'Scroge McDuck' and his cronies sit back and reap in the profits.  

Parents and students all the while, are merely the pawns.  

I do wonder what this will leave us with in ten, fifteen or twenty years time?  What will become of these students and what will our society look like?  Huge sigh.
Best illustrated by Signe Wilkinsons cartoon
(c)Signe Wilkinson and the Philadelphia News

Auckland - Top Ten Lonely Planet List of Cities to Visit

Whats not to love?

I appreciate that I live here so I am a little biased, but don't forget I lived most of my life down in the South Island, so I know a great place to live when I am living in one!

If you have not been here - then I would say you should put it on your bucket list.  Last Summer we played tour guides to 3 different groups who came to stay with us from the South Island.  All left 'gobsmacked' at the wonder and beauty that is Auckland.

Great places to eat - from the cheap and cheerful to the more expensive wine and dine, there is something fabulous for everyone.  As for beaches - some of the best are to be found here, along with national parks and marine reserves.  The harbour is a highlight and if you are into water sports of any kind you can not get much better - it is a marine paradise.  There are lots of fabulous attractions, things to see and markets to explore.

Don't forget the beaches!! You could say we are spoilt for choice in this regard!

Overall - Auckland is a wonderful place - but don't take my - or the world famous Lonely Planets word for it - come and see it for yourself. 

Auckland Harbour Bridge 

A great video link that has some kiwi personalities from Auckland explaining why it is such a fabulous city!!  Video News Link  

Read more about this from the Herald   Auckland TOP 10 Article 

Just so I can show I do know what I am talking about, here are a few photos of Auckland in all her beauty.

From the window of the little lighthouse
overlooking the harbour entrance 
From Chelsea Sugar Factory - a cute little
bay to explore


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Principals, Pay and Politics - An Uneasy Tale from Across the Ditch

I was busy digitally dancing through the web (I would say surfing but its a bit overused these days) when I came across an article posted by someone on Linked In.  'Principals in Catch-22 over pay'.  

Suffice to say, it grabbed my attention straight away.

"PRINCIPALS claim to have been told their own pay rises will be on the line unless they fail up to 40 per cent of teachers eligible to move up the salary scale."

Initially I was concerned it was from here and I had missed an important memo.  When did performance pay hit our shores, I wondered?  I read on.  I hadn't missed a memo - it wasn't us.

It was our collegial neighbours across the ditch.  

  "One principal, who wouldn't be named, said school leaders were told they would not get a pay rise unless they failed 20 to 40 per cent of staff - including administration workers and librarians - in their annual performance and development assessments."

Could this be true, I asked myself?  Surely this seemed a little far fetched.  Then I reflected on the 'stories' I had heard where certain industries gave employees incentives for denying a particular amount of claims.  I just never thought it would be an issue Education would face.  It seemed ludicrous to even contemplate such a thing.  But, I stand to be corrected.

I read on.

"In a typical school, the Government expects 60-80 per cent of teachers to achieve a successful performance assessment, leading to progression for eligible teachers, under a rigorous new assessment process. It stresses the figures are indicative and can be challenged by principals believe their workforce is over or under the range."

Surely not, I continued to wonder.  I continued with my reading, despite being a bit sceptical and incredulous. 

"Principals have discretion within their school and, where performance assessment outcomes differ from the expected average, they will have the opportunity to discuss their rationale with their senior adviser.'' (From a Ministry Source)

Wow.  Still incredulous and wondering if it was a hoax or some kind of bad joke, I let my fingers do the walking and went looking for more information.  It really does astound me that a Government would suggest something like that - and it astounds me that the public and schools would accept such a preposterous idea.

A quick google search, and alas the original article was backed up by recent media reports from Australia.
stressed principals feel the pressure

mixed blessings as principals get power to sack teachers

principals in catch 22 over pay

And so the articles went on.

In a nutshell, heres why the concept concerns me.

  1. The goal should be 100% of teachers doing well - saying you expect 20% - 40% to fail is unacceptable to me and our communities deserve higher aspirations than that.  Where is the plan for lifting underperformance that will actually work?  Ten dollars says they did not ask the profession - and I can guarantee you now - if you were to ask us we would give you the solutions and they would be effective.  It is my experience that Principals are a smart group of people with good ideas.  
  2. I have no issues with not paying performance bonuses to those who do not measure up ASSUMING the measuring stick is accurate, transparent and fair.  For example if it was in NZ, it would be based on the Teachers Registered Criteria.  (which we do here already)
  3. Asking schools to fail a percentage or lose your own bonus is a disgusting abuse of ministerial power and nothing short of holding Principals over a barrel.  How is that different to extortion?  Any Government official that has the audacity to suggest such an appalling thing should be ashamed.  
  4. It is a rediculous way to save money.  Instead of blackmailing Principals to 'fail' a teacher, they should be upfront with the Educational community and tell them they either don't have (I suspect this is not the case just a neo liberal agenda driving home to break the backs of educators) the money or they need to save a particular percentage and all bonus's will be off the table.  That approach however, takes couragous leadership and requires transparency.  Both of which appear to be missing.
There are alarming trends facing education systems all around the world.  From untrained teachers and bizarre practices based on the business world, to experiments like 'free/charter' schools.   All of which do little to lift student achievement, strengthen underperformance and lift educational systems to reach success.  Instead, these cost cutting experiments do nothing but undermine and tear down the very fabric of what good educational practice is.

This ludicrous pay debacle is just another example of how politicians with ill informed agendas are systematically rendering educational systems to the level of stagnation and ruin.  If you are not concerned about this - then you should, as educational success is a key determinator of a societies success.  

Let us hope this madness does not cross the ditch.  


Armageddon Expo Auckland

What self respecting Sci Fi Fantasy geek would pass up the opportunity to attend the Armageddon Expo??

Not this one!  

It was fabulous.  Plenty of interactive activities, famous (ish) stars and people dressed up to satisfy fans of all ages.  Add some attractions on the outside, some overpriced hotdogs and chips, and you have yourself a great day out.  I particularly loved the PS4 section - great music and some fabulous new tech to get the most unenthusiastic gamer excited.

I would have to say that any main gamer company you can think of was represented there today - the tech on display was simply fabulous.  Add to it the big screens, chances to game and fabulous costumes - it just 'buzzed'.

Squirt loved every minute of it - proclaiming every 20 minutes or so "best day EVA!!".  You know as a parent its good value when kids under 12 are free with a paying adult and they don't moan about wanting to go home!

Even the pro wrestling was good entertainment - I would add however, that to be up close is ofactory experience - and not necessarily of a positive kind.  Men flinging themselves around a small arena tend to get a bit sweaty.

The ques for signing autographs were quite astounding - who would have thought so many Sci Fi fans lived in Auckland.

It was a great days entertainment and good value for money - a good 4.5 out of 5!!  We will be there next year!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Tall Ships Festival - Auckland Harbour Excitement

Today we took a trip down to the Viaduct to have a look at the Tall Ships Festival.   WOW.

8 amazing ships, and over 600 sailors have descended into the Auckland Harbour, open for the public to have a look through.
They are here over the long Labour Weekend, having participated in the Sydney to Auckland Tall Ships regatta, which Auckland, for the first time, is hosting.

With Squirt busy for the day painting, it left us with a few hours to spend together.

Stunning Auckland weather, and a chance to wander around without Squirt asking 'how much longer' - how could we not go and see them?  Whats more, it was free, an added bonus.

We chose not to climb aboard any of the ships - not because we didn't want to - but more because the queues were long, the sun was hot and the time limited.  We were content to wander around and look from the outside.

It has been touted as a once in a lifetime event - a must see.  Some of these ships are over 100 years old, and as they sailed into our harbour, they were flanked by the Navy Frigate and two wakas.

The 'Cloud' was open as well, and had a variety of displays and interactive areas for busy children.

The 'Cloud'
One of the displays in the 'Cloud'

The Navy Frigate 'Wellington' was something we would have liked to have had a look around but unfortunately the quite was very very long and our time did not allow.   I was a bit disappointed - I had hoped it would be much bigger.  Oh well - maybe its a case of 'objects in the mirror appear bigger than they are' type of situation.  

One of my Favourite things was the little miniature Steam Boat - I had visions of 'steaming' my way across the Harbour.  However, when I say it is small - I do not exaggerate!!  It was high on the CUTE factor!!

Overall, I would give this event a 4.5 out of 5 - in that it was facinating to see the ships, the weather was condusive to wandering around the Viaduct and the weather was stunning.  Well worth the visit.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Principally Mused's 'How To Create Gif Animations and Upload to Blogger' for the Not So Techie Minded

As promised, here is how I went through the process of creating the Gif and uploading to Blogger.

So, what is a Gif Animation?

Firstly - what is this Gif thing?
'type of image file supported by an image module', as described by the Web.
Well thats not very helpful.

Further research shows that a Gif is short for Graphics Interchange Format.   Gifs are image files that are compressed to reduce transfer time. This changes their format.  If you compile a series of them in a file and set it up like the old fashioned flip books, then the multiple images appear to be moving.

How are they made?

They are made with a variety of different apps and programmes, and these vary in difficulty.  Suffice to say that anyone can make them.

The issue I had was that when I researched it, I found so many different ways of creating them that it was tricky to sort out which way was going to be best for me.

I run on a Mac platform and in the end I chose to use Easy-Gif-Maker.  It was a $1.29 (NZD) - which is, in the big scheme of things - cheap as chips.  You may recall from my last post that my Mac wouldn't allow a 3rd party application that did not come from the Mac Store - so to some degree I was a little restricted.


Just as its name suggests - it is easy.  Really its a point and click kind of programme - so if you are after some kind of fancy editing and bells and whistles - then this is not for you.  But if you are after short, sharp and sweet then this is for you.  You can find it from the Itunes Mac Store easy-gif-maker

1.  Open Easy-Gif-Maker and you will see the below screen.
Drag and drop the photos into here - OR - use the
+ add button - to remove an item use the - remove button
It is a pretty basic programme.  There are no fancy buttons or tricky instructions.  Basically you drag photos into the 'drag image here' part of the screen.

When you click preview this pops up and the animation will begin

From there - all you need to do is press the 'export' button and viola - you have a newly designed Gif!

Uploading to Blogger

There are two ways - one is more effective than the other.

1. Simply use the Insert image button on Blogger, and it will appear in your blog.  BUT, expect the quality to be more grainy with some degradation of the picture.

2.  If you want a clearer Gif then you need to be a little more tricky about how you upload your new animation.

How to Upload from an External site:

  • 'Host' the Gif on an external website then link to it using HTML.  (sounds far more trickier than it is in reality)
  • Just follow Photobuckets instructions to upload your Gif or photos
  • I used Photobucket - Photobucket makes life super easy.  You just need to follow the directions by dropping and dragging your gif into your account.  You will need to set up an account in order to 'host' your pictures and Gifs - but the good news is that this is free.
  • Once you have downloaded your animation, click on the picture and 4 boxes with a heading 'Links to Share This Photo' will pop up on the right hand side of the screen - the 3rd box down will say HTML.  Click on this. 
  • It will say 'copied'.  
  • Go back to your blog - click on the HTML link on the left hand top side of your blog, beside compose.  Scroll down the page (it will look like its typed in gibberish but this is normal) - 'paste' your HTML link on the page.  Once you go back to Compose mode, or preview, your Gif will be there.  

 photo sunsetwithtree_zps2d55a50d.gif
No 2: This is the Gif uploaded via Photobucket
and HTML

The Results:

Well, I think that the Gif loaded via Insert Image is not as good as the one I uploaded from Photobucket with HTML (No2).  I can see degradation of the animation at the bottom of the picture, so, whilst it is a more complex process to use the Photobucket and HTML, I think it is worth it.  
No 1: This is the completed Gif and uploaded
via blogger pic