Category Archives: Education

A Topic! A Topic! My Kingdom for a Topic!

I try to focus on the upbeat or at least the intellectual. Lately, that has been difficult. I have a wonderful blog written about my failure to get my Lowe’s extended warranty Whirlpool dishwasher working on a more than occasional basis, but who wants to read about that?

Then there’s politics—enough said . . . .

Don Quixote–Pablo Picasso 1955

So, it’s not that I’ve been ignoring everyone, it’s that I, like Don Quixote have been seeking something; he sought dragons in the windmills. I seek humor in today’s world. Cervantes gave Don Quixote Sancho Panza and the Golden Helmet of Mambrino, but alas, I have neither plucky comic relief nor magical accoutrements to find the humor in today’s world.

But, then again, Don Quixote saw Dulcinea—the perfect woman within Aldonza. Maybe, as we approach Hanukah, Christmas, and the Winter Solstice, we are being called to find, if not perfection, at least that glitter of gold in one another.

Now THAT would give me something great to write about.

It’s Different for Some People

Nice shirts!

I noticed that the story about the UCLA jocks who were arrested for shoplifting in China disappeared pretty quickly. Some stories stay on the Internet news sites as “Breaking News” for weeks, but not this one.

I wonder why.

You had to love the press conference that was arranged for their public apology where they were all wearing matching UnderArmour shirts with the UCLA logo.

Do you think they all might have stopped to buy those shirts together at the campus bookstore? I’m not saying the company gave them to the school, who then gave them to the ball players. But, then again . . . .

What if, instead of jocks, this incident had involved science, technology, engineering and mathematics students? Would the President have gone to the Chinese leader and asked for them to be released?

Silly question:

  1. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba would never invite boring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students for an all-expense paid trip to China.
  2. Those are the kind of people who know that it’s wrong to steal sunglasses from anybody on any continent for any reason.

Good Old Virginia Politics

Greetings from post-election Virginia, the state commonwealth where gerrymandering isn’t merely a despicable political ploy, but a lifestyle. But then, when you’re home to the longest continuously running political fiasco legislative body, what do you expect?

Some of us wonder if the English who disappeared from the lost colony of Roanoke did so on purpose. They likely moved in with the Croatoan nation when they found out that these Native Americans did not engage in political campaigns. It can’t be proven, but no one has ever seen a Croatoan political poster, billboard, or campaign button.

I’ve enjoyed several days of not having to listen to negative campaign ads–Alleluia! The weird part is that all of these ads seem to be recorded using the same female announcer. Is she just so angry at the world that her voice is perfect for negative ads? Maybe she’s pissed off because negative political ads are the only type of gigs her agent can get for her? Maybe she’s angry at the world because she wanted to be an actress, but instead, the best she can do is to record negative campaign ads.

I think her friends ought to take her out for a few drinks and help her sort through her feelings; of course, that presumes she has friends, which, given her demeanor, may not be true. Now that I think of it, it may not be a good idea to take her drinking, anyway. She might be even more obnoxious after a couple of skinny margaritas.

In any case, the negative ads are over until the campaigns for the 2018 elections start cranking up.

In a week or two.

In the meantime, the worst I’ll have to listen to are those ads that run every three minutes for the personal injury lawyers as they promise to get the victim every dollar possible from the insurance companies. Less their cut, of course, and after tax, title, fees, and the dealer preparation charge.

Maybe that’s why I listen to so little radio and watch even less television. Give me a book; if I don’t like it, I can take it right back to the library—neither the book nor I any the worse for wear.

(Yes, I know the picture is of Huey Long from Louisiana–but he just so perfectly embodies the spirit of politics, yesterday and today.)

Educational Cause and Effect

I realize that people in general, and Americans in particular, have never been genteel when it comes to discourse. Throughout history we attributed it to our pride in rugged individualism and the Protestant work ethic. Anyone can be president; I can achieve anything I set my mind out to do; we celebrate Edison, Bell, Fulton, because those individuals invented things to change the world.

We claimed territory, as our right under “Manifest Destiny,” without regard to who or what stood in our way. Passenger pigeons? Bison? Native Americans? Forests? These speed bumps were quickly removed.

We settled our differences by swordfights or pistol duels. Our politicians—those we elected to represent us—settled arguments by shouting, spreading lies, and even bludgeoning one another with walking sticks in the very halls of Congress.

Not much has changed. Today, if you disrespect me, there’s today’s version of a duel—I drive 60 miles per hour through the neighborhood blasting away and hope that you are one of the people I hit. It doesn’t matter that: a) the bullet most likely will hit someone other than the intended target, and b) there’s a high likelihood that one (or more) of the gazillion security cameras will catch me and be used to send me away for twenty-five-to-life.

Today, there’s a lot of shouting, with nobody listening. It’s far more important that I get my position clearly stated—”I’m right and you’re not only wrong, but also an idiot—not to mention that your mother was ugly and you have terrible taste in clothes!”

Although I just clearly stated my position (the paragraph above, you buffoon!) you can’t tell me what it is. I can’t either, but that doesn’t matter, does it? The fact remains that I’m right and you’re wrong.

[Okay, let’s all take a deep breath, grab a cold one—if you like, and smoke ’em if you got ’em—assuming you can afford to pay eight dollars a pack.]

A theory—presented for you to think about and challenge in a professional, factual manner. Perhaps, when we began to focus on standardized testing, the school systems were forced to teach the correct answers, not how to arrive at a correct answer. What to think, not how to think. Ideas are no longer the raw material used for thinking; they are pre-packaged and ready to serve. No human interaction required.

There are parallels—in a world in which our youth do not know how to interact with others except via social media, we no longer teach etiquette or how to write a letter. They are not taught to introduce their friends to their parents or when a thank you note is appropriate. Civility is at the bottom of the required skills list.

Teachers didn’t make the rules and probably dislike them more than anyone although they have to abide by them.

But we all can teach. What if each of us added the following to our more contentious discussions:

  1. “Why?”
  2. “Tell me more.”
  3. “How would you solve it?”

Then listen—actively, intensively listen.

This just might prove interesting.


If you’re reading this, you probably have at least a basic understanding of computers—whoa! Don’t leave! Bear with me for a minute.

I used to communicate with others on NetZero dialup and write articles on a DOS (that’s disk operating system—pre-Windows for you youngsters) word processor. The first spreadsheet program I recall was Lotus 1-2-3, once a powerhouse, but now an answer to some stupid question on Jeopardy. We’re so used to spreadsheets that we have no appreciation as to why they were the first “killer apps.”

No, really! That’s how it was done!

Prior to the 1980s, complex production was tracked on the manual equivalent of spreadsheets. Seriously. We’re talking about blackboards (yes, real chalk boards—not whiteboards; you never got a buzz from chalk dust, just a nasty cough). Businesses would have huge blackboards mounted on the walls and/or wheeled stands—not one blackboard, mind you, but many. The blackboards were set up with grids, and if a change occurred in one variable, the person tracking it would go from blackboard to blackboard, updating the appropriate sections.

Maybe it’s easier with an example. If chairs usually cost $10, but the price changed to $12 and the company had orders for 15 rather than the usual 10, the human Excel operator would go to the place on the blackboard where chair costs were written and change it from $10 to $12. He (the male to female ratio of geeks was even worse back then) would then go to the place where quantity was tracked and change the 10 to 15; it could be the next blackboard or one in a different room. Next, he’d replace $100 (10 chairs at $10 each) with $180 (15 chairs at $12 each). A small mistake (is that 180 or 160? I can’t read my own handwriting) in one part of the blackboard jungle would cascade throughout, and might take days to correct.

Today, almost every computer seems to have Microsoft Office, which includes Excel, an extremely powerful program. I’m told that over 80 percent of Excel users are only able to utilize about 5 percent of its capabilities, but still are able to accomplish almost everything they want to do.

All that on one screen with no chalk dust.

My Life in Guitars (Part 3) – the Desert

I’d been quite happy with my Peavey Predator, so although I looked—and occasionally drooled, I didn’t seriously plan to buy another guitar. I became a geo-bachelor in Oakland, California, and had my Peavey, but no amplifier. In my teeny-tiny one room apartment, I could hear my playing well enough to keep my sanity.

Then I got the word that as a reservist, I was being recalled and would soon be in Southeast Asia. Obviously, the military pretty much dictated what would go on the plane, so the word was—mail yourself the survival gear you’d need in a plastic footlocker, with the fiberglass reinforced packing tape in every direction. Contents included books, electronic games, civilian clothes (sometimes referred to as “mufti”), and, in my case, a small ham radio station. If the footlocker was shattered, the tape would keep everything together.

What? No guitar?

No guitar. I did not want my Peavey damaged, and, besides, the military exchange system was there to take our money and send us whatever we desired. I’d just order a new guitar once I got there.

I did.

The order was cancelled.

I placed a second order with AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange System)—the store for our men in women in uniform who are deployed.

Cancelled again.

I called the AAFES command—I mean, why be a senior officer if you can’t call the military’s retail headquarters? As a civilian I can call Radio Shack headquarters—never mind.

When military are deployed their mail is routed through a system to an FPO (fleet post office) or an APO (Army post office) so that mail to overseas bases is treated—and costs—like it’s within the continental United States. However, AAFES claimed they didn’t ship to APOs or FPOs.

Huh? Isn’t that why the Military Exchange System exists?

I suspect that items like musical instruments are “drop-shipped” from the manufacturer directly to the customer. If the manufacturer was not located in the USA, then it couldn’t be sent as US mail to a US APO/FPO address. (Damn bean counters!)

Fortunately, I realized that the horse was dead, so I should stop whipping it, and went over its head, straight to . . . . . .


Peavey Acoustic

I found a nice used acoustic guitar in the “Buy it now” section. I even talked with the seller (if you could dial back to a US base via the military system, you could then use your prepaid WalMart 5 cents-per-minute account to make a prepaid call elsewhere within the US). The seller was a nice guy who told me that he had changed out the bridge from white to black for a customer who changed his mind. Did I want it changed back?

No—just send it to me.

The vendor was either Music 123 or Musicians’ Friend—it doesn’t matter, they’re all part of the Guitar World now. The neat part was that for deployed military (you know, those with the dreaded APO and FPO addresses), these vendors, replaced the shipping cost with “Thank you for your service.” (To this day, they’re still my primary source for anything and everything musical—thanks, folks!)

For my new guitar, oddly enough I had picked a Peavey acoustic (imagine that). It arrived in short order in perfect condition. When I was “home” I tried to practice regularly and I also played at church. St. Augustine said that “He who sings, prays twice.” If you sing at a service at which I’m playing guitar, your prayers are probably worth a hundred-fold. On the other hand, one could always count dealing with my playing as penance.

After Mass one evening, Rubin, a fellow officer, approached me and asked if I wanted to play in a Beatles band. I laughed and pointed out my general (if not total) lack of talent, but Rubin (and I’m spelling his name the way I THINK he spelled it) said, “No problem, it was just for fun.” I thought about it, and figured that at the very least I’d get free guitar lessons out of the deal, so I agreed.

We didn’t get a lot of USO activity at our location, and what little we did always happened when I was on the road. There was a fair amount of excitement when a women’s volleyball team stopped by (so I hear) and Charlie Daniels performed, after which he autographed the guitar of one of the other Beatle band members. He had a black guitar with a mother-of-pearl Statue of Liberty inlay on the fretboard that had been custom made when he was stationed in Korea. Charlie signed it with a bold silver marker of some kind. The final result couldn’t have been more awesome.

But I digress, although I’m digressing about guitars, so it’s okay.

Just before Christmas, after weeks of rehearsing in a warehouse, WE became the USO show and did about 30 minutes of Beatles music for a crowd of fifty or so (after all, there was not much else to do if you weren’t on duty). However, a good time was had by all, and I had my 30 minutes of fame.

Next—a different guitar for an encore presentation.

Autumnal Equinox

Throughout the year, the time allotted to daylight each day changes. Longer times of daylight coincide with summer, which is different north and south of the equator. Summer is when the earth’s tilt favors one hemisphere or another.

Near the poles, summer daylight gets so long that at its peak there is no night; the sun just makes a circle above the horizon. Of course, in winter, that means that there are l-o-n-g nights. Even here in North America, within the lower 48 states, the difference between sunrise in Maine and sunrise in Florida on any given day can be significant. Add the difference at dusk, and you find that sunny Florida gets a shorter amount of daylight than chilly Maine.

But there are two days a year, the vernal (spring) equinox and autumnal (fall) equinox during which the amount of daylight and dark are approximately equal—approximate because you have to allow for variations due to refraction, etc. It doesn’t happen on the same date each year; the autumnal equinox, for example occurs anywhere between 21 September and 24 September.

Incidentally equinox is constructed from the Latin words for equal and night. I have to wonder why they didn’t call it equal day. Perhaps day was time for work, but the parties and other fun happened at night.

Friday, 22 September, is the autumnal equinox, when light and dark are pretty much equal. Maybe we should take some inspiration and focus on where we could be pretty much equal. For example, spending the same amount of time listening and thinking about what was said to match thinking of what we’re going to say and talking. (Don’t forget to include the time to think).

If everyone did this, it could be a celestial event of astronomic proportions.