Monday, November 10, 2008

Redneck Fix for the US Economy - Part I

Dear Fed: For the sake of our kids, please raise the US interest rates at least to a point consistent with the growth of the world economy. It'll sound bass-awkards the first time you say it, but it is required for stability. As stated by Ted Turner this morning on Good Morning America, the American people have been overspending and going into debt for a long time. Eventually it catches up with you. He didn't offer a solution, only identification of the problem. With the problem identified however, you can figure out incentives to fix it. Whala! Raise interest rates annually until they are back where they should be. Our interest rates have been set artificially low to encourage spending. What's worse is that it forces people to invest in a broken Wall Street in order to gain any semblance of a return on their savings. In other words, every incentive is to be deeply in debt and highly invested in the stock market. An interest rate which reflects the true growth of the economy will help stabilize our markets because some people will "invest" in banks by saving while others will seek the riskier rewards of Wall Street. It might even prevent the need to give some overpaid executives the $700+ billion most of us have to work for.

Anyone have Bernanke's (or Greenspan's) number?

Next time we'll address how to fix Wall Street.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

ADED - Can we teach older learners?

Class tonight was about "the older learner." Of course older people can learn. In fact, learning helps rejuvenate the mind. Actively using one's brain helps keep a person sharp. From my own observation, it seems like those who actively engage in learning during their retirement years enjoy life the most. While no single, generic thing has been identified as the reason older adults seek learning, I'd offer that it might be they've figured out that learning makes them feel alive and connected. After all, learning is living according to some.

As the segment of our population which is 65 years of age or older grows, as is suggested will happen by some sources, the question of how to improve life for our citizens begins to shift its focus toward an older audience. What should we be teaching our older adults?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Glynn Smith Van Repair

Yesterday I took my wife's van to the dealer so they could fix the power sliding door. My description was that the door wasn't opening and closing correctly. While there, I decided to have them check out the digital thermometer and fuel gauge.

They called in the early afternoon to tell me that had fixed the door by cleaning the electrical contacts and re-programming. If I decided to do the rest, the thermometer replacement would be $175, and the fuel gauge needed a sending unit which would cost a total of $450 for parts and labor. I said "OK" and then the fun started. He tells me that I need to have that fuel gauge fixed or it will ruin the fuel pump. If he'd kept his mouth shut I was thinking I'd go ahead and take the beating. Instead I get the distinct impression he's trying to justify an expensive part by telling me a lie. It's going to take some serious proof to convince me that he's not a swindler. The gauge operates on milli-amps and the pump on other words, the pump needs at least 100 times as much current. One can also assume the circuits are *completely* separate, but I'll check the diagram later.

Why I didn't check the power door before I left the dealership is something I'd rather not admit. I was stupid and trusting. You always check your bag at the McDonald's drive-thru, so why wouldn't you verify that something as expensive as a car repair was done before driving off? Stupidity.

At this point I should admit that I didn't precisely describe the power door problem, because I thought any idiot would recognize what was wrong. I told them it didn't open and close properly. You could push the button and it would open, but if you tried to drive after closing it a buzzer would go off. So it was possible that the technician wouldn't have realized anything was wrong...until he drove it out of the shop. But he had. And he had then turned off power to the door so the alarm would stop buzzing. He couldn't have tested it with the power off so I am rather certain he turned the switch on and off.

This morning I took the van back and told them the door was still not closing correctly. The service rep called me after a bit and says I told him it wasn't opening and closing correctly, not that the alarm was buzzing. As long as I am writing the checks, he really shouldn't be making excuses. Whether or not we didn't communicate about the exact problem yesterday is of no consequence if I am the customer. He didn't seem to appreciate my response, which was "Well the door may be covering up the hole in the side of the van, but it either isn't closing, or it thinks it isn't closing because the "door open" alarm continues to buzz telling me it didn't close." I wanted to add some four letter adjectives, but didn't.

Some period of time later he calls me again to tell me the repair will cost right about $100. I told him he was welcome to do that if it would fix it, but he blew my confidence with the fuel gauge comment. Interestingly, the part (a switch) which needed replacing cost $10.70. The labor to install it was $85. I'll describe my economic philosophy and how this relates later, but I'm glad to feel like the power door is finally fixed, even if I overpaid (2 trips, remember?).

I think I've got a wiring diagram of the fuel gauge circuit so I can be prepared for their return call. They do follow up calls to find out your satisfaction level with the visit. It's going to be most satisfying to take that call.


Over the last couple of months it has become evident to me that people can't hear one another. We've all become so accustomed to tuning in/out of the conversation that we can't hear basic answers. You ask someone what time it is; they answer 11am and you still don't know what time it is! This is not strictly tied to co-workers, husbands, wives, or kids. I've noticed the phenomenon by all of the above...recently.

I figured I'd remind folks that we should spend less time talking and more time listening. Listening to the answer of a question you just asked is simple respect, but listening to what a person is really trying to say in basic conversation would be darned useful too.

Boy am I behind. I figured that out when I got the following twitter message from Barbara Nixon:

Tomorrow is deadline for proposals for Int'l Listening Assoc. conference in spring. Have you submitted yet?

Far too many of us have been doing more talking than listening. There's an association, a website, and a convention. Cool, eh?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Meaning of Adult Education

While Malcolm Knowles is widely known as the Father of Adult Learning, and the program I am taking will undoubtedly be largely dictated by his work, he is far from the first to study the topic. One of Knowles mentors was Eduard C Lindeman, whose 1926 writing "The Meaning of Adult Education" was described as so fascinating he could not put it down. It is a rather small book, so I set out to see what was so interesting.

It is clear from the start that this is an essay about life. Any reference to the book will almost certainly quote "Education is life." The more you learn, the more aspects of life you are able to enjoy. While the words were never printed, I found myself thinking over and over, "The journey is the destination. Enjoy it!"

Most of the book is quotable in some learning context, but I'll start with some more radical quotes to provide some critical food for thought.

p 170 - "The real distinction between educated and uneducated persons is not to be found in such superficial criteria as academic degrees, formal study or accumulation of facts; indeed, formal learning may, and often does, lead people into narrow scholarship and out of life."

Hang on to your hat. This could be a bumpy ride. I'm starting a degree in Adult Education by learning that someone agrees with my dim view of Academia?

p 195 - "It is perhaps true that no single group in modern life stands in greater need of adult education than experts, specialists: those who continue to know "more and more about less and less."

I chose these quotes not as representative, but rather as an expression that I'd wanted to make but didn't feel it my place. Having made that connection with the author, I'll point out that the majority of the text is NOT about the woes of Academia. It is a rather enlightening view of what makes people so special. "Human nature is predisposed to optimism" he writes. He identifies aspects that are needed for people to lead their most satisfying lives. He reminds us that we need to cultivate our own personalities and experiences in order to truly live.

He discusses the social aspects of learning and what an important role it plays. Then he drops this bombshell about new technologies (1926 remember?):

Does it not bring us closer together? And will we not therefore learn to have more respect and good-will toward each other? This naive manner of placing human relations upon the quantity-contact basis probably stands in the way of our making the best use of communication inventions. It undoubtedly causes us to overlook the fact that highly-developed means of communication are indispensable to highly-centralized forms of social control. Some important differences persisted in the various regions of the United States before we all read the same syndicated news, listened to the same radio announcers, witnessed the same motion pictures, ate the same food, wore the same clothes, et cetera. Rapid means of transportation and communication tend to standardize us and therefore render us easier of control by single authorities...Our personalities can be redeemed if we insist upon a proper share in the solution of problems which specially concern us. This means giving more attention to small groups; it means as much decentralization, diversity and local autonomy as is consistent with order.

I don't take this to mean he was at all a conspiracy theorist. In context, this is related to the fact that each person can and should be able to intelligently form his/her own judgement. It is a development of one's personality based on that person's experience. Advanced communications make it very easy to accept the judgement of another instead of living your own life and enjoying it for yourself.

Experiencing life, learning from it, and then experiencing that much more is likely a vicious circle Eduard C. Lindeman would consider key to the good life. If Adult Education is rooted in that type of philosophy, I guess it is time to learn how to better richen the lives of others.

(If you do read or have read this book, please let me know if you enjoyed it too.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Adult Education

In spite of (or because of?) my employment at a University, I have developed a rather dim view of Academia over the years. When the University announced that it would offer a Master's Program in Adult Education it was very hard for me to seriously consider it. The encouragement of one Adult Education professor and a program specifically designed for Extension employees have made the offer too good to pass up. As encouraging as anything is the realization that plenty of people in Academia share my dim view of the system. Adult Education researcher Allen Tough noted that as little as 10% of what an adult learns comes from any type of formal instruction. This doesn't say much positive about adults in Academia, but sheds a whole new light on the possibilities for Extension.

As long as I stick with this program, I'll most likely use this space as a place to post notes, quotes, and maybe even a challenge question for the reader. As always, the primary purpose is for me, but I suspect others will find some points of interest too. If nothing else you can amuse yourself with my constantly changing attitude.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Potted Meat and Crackers

In January of 1972 my family took a road trip to see the University of Alabama play football against Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. I think my Great Uncle had gotten tickets through his contacts at the phone company where he worked. Mom prepared for the trip by getting find-a-word puzzles, books, snacks, and all those other necessities Moms are so good at remembering. She knew I'd be bored to death on the car ride and she was right. I think I read some stupid learning to read book about a horse named Bessie about a hundred times. I guess we didn't take that big ole Pontiac Catalina we had for so many years, because I don't remember lying on the "hat rack" and watching the clouds that day (a Pontiac had to have been the best car in the world for a kid who liked to watch clouds and stars out of the back window). Instead, I recall being in a seat just like the poor kids of today who are forced to miss out on some of the finer pleasures of growing up. Anyway...
When we arrived in Miami we were welcomed by my Grandmother's Sister, my Uncle, a bunch of cousins, and other family friends. The whole lot of us went to see the Orange Bowl Parade, of which I remember very little. I think there were clowns but I wouldn't even guarantee that. When the tailing fire truck passed we piled in behind with a mob of people and followed the parade back to an area close to our cars.
On the day of the game we road a bus to the stadium. I remember talk of how nice it was to be able to pass right by cars which were stopped in bumper to bumper traffic. Looking back now, I assume the tickets & bus ride were probably part of a package deal of the type given out as a company bonus. I'm not sure if the game was really slow, or if I just had the attention span of a 5 year old, but I recall it being very boring and disappointing. As best as I can tell that'd be about right, as historical records indicate my home state's team lost 38-6. Riding in a car for what seemed like an eternity, just to sit through a losing football effort may well be what started my interest in Auburn, my home state's other well known University.
The most memorable part of the trip was the football party held at my Aunt and Uncle's house. I wasn't especially close to my cousins whom I'd hardly met (since they were so physically distant for the time) and I was hanging close to Mom and Dad. My Uncle attempted to make me comfortable and offered something from a plate of appetizers. "Here you go, son. Wouldn't you like to try an hors d'oeurve?" My response was one which our family has laughed about for years, since it cut right to the bone of his fancy sounding offer. If there were a way to bottle the innocence and sincerity of an 5 year old child I'd love to have a few cases of this to use on University professors. I answered, "What is it? Looks like potted meat and crackers to me."

Monday, June 23, 2008

"What Do You Call Work?"

Fictional character Tom Sawyer may have asked it while tricking his buddies to whitewash a fence for him, but his words are true to life.

On a recent trip to the beach I noticed people up and down the shore DSC00925 digging holes in the sand. Some were building sand castles and others were digging holes just for fun. I wondered if they'd dig a hole back at home with similar vigor and enthusiasm.

The choice of whether your work will be fun or drudgery is in your attitude. Just ask Tom.

“Like it? Well, I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”

Monday, June 16, 2008

Fishin' on Friday 13th


Captain Jeff Lassiter said he'd always had good luck on Friday the 13th, and that was the only day when our group of guys could go. My FIL (yes, I have the best in-laws ever) booked us a 12 hour fishing trip Friday 13, 2008 in the Gulf of Mexico. Getting up at 3:30am was a little harsh, but worth it. We began boarding "Catch It" from Port St Joe at 6am with a cooler full of water and a sack full of food. When deck hand Jim said "You can't come on this boat with that banana" we were worried, but food wasn't the was the banana. Bananas are bad luck on a boat, or so we were told. Funny to hear it from guys who weren't the least bit worried about Friday the 13th, but we complied.

We stopped on the way out to catch bait fish on rigs with 6 hooks each. The Cap'n would spot a school of fish on his finder, circle a time or two, then we'd "Run 'em down!" Nobody ever reeled in 6, but doubles were very common. It was interesting that 3 or 4 other boats were at this same spot in the Gulf. One could either assume that it really is a small world, or that there might be a Volkswagen or other such illegal artificial habitat dunked there in a prime spot. We were paying guests, and we were treated to something akin to fishing in a barrel. (I couldn't help thinking of "Fall Festival" where the 1st graders "fish" in a wooden box. Someone in the box puts a prize in the young fisherman's clothespin fishing rig and everyone leaves happy.)

Anyway, we left the spot with a live well full of various types of bait fish and headed farther out. We stopped at several spots catching a few fish at each one. I think I might have hung the first red snapper, which turned out to be quite a load. I didn't know what to expect, but red snapper and red grouper are quite a workout to reel up from 150ft down (or however far...I dunno...seemed like a few miles). For the first several spots we were in fairly close proximity to a couple of the same boats I'd seen at the bait fishing spot. I'm convinced the tour wasn't unique.

The crew got all excited when they spotted mahi mahi swimming around the boat. As it turned out, this was exactly like bream fishing with bread off the end of a dock. You'd bait up and dangle it in the water. Two or three would come after it and then there'd be a winner/loser.

We tried a couple of spots looking for some black grouper, but ran out of time and made our 3 hour journey back to shore. I was thankful to have just made it out and back without getting sea-sick, but the fishing was super. We returned with the limit of red snapper and red grouper, a nice catch of mahi mahi, and some white snapper. I wouldn't know large from small, but the snapper and grouper seemed quite nice. Apparently I've now been spoiled by having such great luck on my first and only trip to date, but that's just too darned bad. Life is good great. Thanks Captain Jeff and FIL Rod!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Fire: Handle with Care

Here's a story that only our colleague John Dorner (firefighter and scout master) is likely to believe. One week ago today I burned a pile of limbs and such in my back yard (ok, in the garden area). It burned down to a couple of small logs and a pile of coals just about right for slow roasting of marshmallows.

About 9pm or so I used a tractor to bury the coals in a heaping pile of dirt. I put lots of dirt on the pile to be sure it was safe. To give you an idea, it was barely warm on top of the dirt.

Fast forward 7 days...I scattered the pile of dirt tonight-a full 7 days since the coals were covered.


DSC00451Here's part of the bed of coals after having been underground for 7 days, through 2 rainstorms, and a few cold nights. Interesting that you can make out a hint of glowing red in the very center.

What? Could it still be burning after a full week? Don't you know it! I blew on it to see if it'd blaze back up. Yep. Here it is without the flash so you don't think this is just a picture of ashy coals.


The moral of the story: a smoldering fire can live for days and still be perfectly able to blaze back up. Be very careful with fire.

Thank You to Firefighters everywhere! Especially volunteers!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Why Network Redneck?

To co-workers and colleagues the "Network" part is obvious enough. I've been administering computer systems and networks for my whole career. The "Redneck" part is clearer to my closer friends. I feel quite at home discussing vehicles, cockleburs, hog breeds, or Grandmother's chamber pot. For many generations, my family has at one time or another made a living from sharecropping. Relative to many I've had it quite easy, but I am certainly familiar with the rural South. Familiar enough that I don't find anything derogatory in the term "redneck." Funny maybe, but not derogatory.


DSC00308 [Two old small block chevy engine blocks and a couple of pieces of pipe make one fine redneck log rack!]


Growing up I thoroughly enjoyed watching hogs root around in South Alabama creeks (before ADEM decided that was taboo). I enjoyed helping butcher a hog for the New Year's Day barbeque over a pit of coals. I enjoyed riding on the tailgate of a pickup with my feet touching the ground every now and again as we went from pasture to pasture. I enjoyed digging for worms around the kitchen sink drain before going crappie fishing. Most of the things I enjoyed about my youth would fall squarely in the redneck category. With a little luck I'll retire to a place which lets me relive those days and avoid being hauled off to jail by a "revenuer" or someone else who thinks I'm an old loon who belongs in an asylum.


In the meantime I'll continue to administer a computer network here or there, and enjoy helping people learn that technology and rednecks are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Maybe somewhere along the way I'll take time to share a story or two just for entertainment. Thanks for sharing in my journey.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Parent Guides to Internet Safety, Video Games, MySpace, Facebook, and more

Seldom do I agree with everything anyone has to say, but I find myself in complete agreement with the folks from the "National Institute on MEDIA and the FAMILY"...and they have *lots* of advice. I wish you didn't have to sign up for an account to download the parent guides, but they are worth it. As with any site that asks for a username and password, create a new one (not the one you use for finances/email/etc) and store it in a password manager if necessary. Look for advice related to Social Networking, Online Gaming, Cell Phones, Parental Ratings, Emerging Technologies, MySpace, Facebook, and other areas.

The Institute also has some "plans" to serve as a contract between child and parent for rules related to online activities, but I prefer the one from the Family Online Safety Institute. Its length makes it less reasonable, but it is rather inclusive...including a reminder for parents not to overreact when kids show them something bad.

I'll use a quote from the Parent Buying Guide to close this post.

When we buy our kids everything they want, they miss out on some of the things they really need to succeed - like perseverance, generosity and the ability to delay gratification. Some things you can’t buy at a store. Does this mean we can’t buy our kids anything, ever? Of course not. It does mean it’s okay to say no sometimes.

Spend twice as much time, and half as much money as you can afford, with your kids.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Electoral College and US Presidential Elections

At first glance one might think the map below shows that almost the whole US voted Republican in the 2004 Presidential Election.


Wikipedia's article about Red vs Blue states -


In reality, the vote was rather evenly split between the Democratic and Republican candidates. It is even possible that the candidate getting the most total votes could lose our Presidential election (it happened in the 2000 Presidential Election.) The reason is described in detail on that web page, but the bottom line is that the Electoral College takes into account population and geographic factors. From the population map below it is easy to see that a Presidential voting system based purely on popular vote would leave Montana and Wyoming with practically no say in the election whatsoever, while the New York area would rule supreme.



Our forefathers didn't establish the US without such considerations. It may not be perfect, but the US governmental system is one of the most successful ventures ever produced by a committee.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Why blog?

Hahaha. Here are 4 different blogs I created for 4 different reasons, not including the ones at . Delete this now and save yourself some time.  :)


A blog entry of my (little used) blogs=

There are lots of reasons to blog, and the penalty for "jumping right in" isn't as high as some will tell you. I rather liked jumping in and then abandoning what I didn't like. It works for millions of teens and it worked for me.

Broadband via Cell Phone

If you travel a lot, or if you live in an area without DSL or CableModem broadband possibilities, a product like the Verizon EVDO AirCard could really help you out...especially when teamed with the matching router which can broadcast a connection to several PCs or WiFi devices. It is also a very good solution for a rolling lab or mobile classroom.


The setup I've tested (thanks Jonas!) is a "PC5750" Verizon AirCard with a LinkSys "WRT54G3G-ST" wireless router. The AirCard normally fits in a normal PCMCIA slot of a notebook computer. It has a very small flip up antenna and a place to connect a larger external antenna. The tested router has a PCMCIA slot which accepts the card without any configuration whatsoever.

The AirCard picked up a signal and worked reliably in a remote location in Alabama where a voice call via cell phone is very unreliable, so the AirCard's external antenna port will likely be unnecessary.


The combination worked so well that a client VPN connection over WiFi, through the router and AirCard did not drop while traveling on an AL Interstate. The AirCard hopped from cell tower to cell tower without ever missing a beat.


The fine print of Verizon's agreement says that if usage exceeds 5GB/line/month they reserve the right to reduce speeds to a max of approx 200Kbps. I've not heard of that happening yet, but I guess it'll still beat the heck out of a 56k modem. I think it'd still be much better than a satellite connection too, since the satellite connection has a very annoying lag. Other than the high price and the possibility of a bandwidth restriction, I'd say this type of broadband connection is as nice as DSL or cablemodem. Congrats and thanks to Verizon for a network that really does work.

Monday, January 7, 2008

iPod Touch

(trying out Windows Live Writer posting to iGoogle here)


I purchased an iPod Touch mp3 player for my wife this past Christmas. It has a WiFi connection and uses a very nice touch screen interface. I was fairly impressed before I decided to do the "jailbreak" on it so that we could install other applications (like Google Maps which is on the iPhone by default). Since the "jailbreak" I'm more convinced than ever that Apple is a clueless company. The Touch is awesome if only they'd package it with applications, or the ability to add them. Once the iPhone is released from it's AT&T stranglehold I'll be in the market for one. I doubt I'd be so enamored with the Touch if we hadn't done the jailbreak procedure on it.

The basic overview for the jailbreak I read came from Jeremy Keith's Adactio blog. The only issue I had was figuring out how to do the procedure from a PC. The biggest difference was learning how to do the "Restore" from a file instead of using the default restore file. It was as simple as holding the shift key in windows while clicking Restore. The file required an .ipsw extension, iirc, but I think that was in the instructions too. I also referred to this howto on the instructables site.

Saturday while visiting my parents, I helped my (non-computer using) Dad use it to look up wiring harness diagrams for his 1950 Ford Truck. He had *very* little difficulty using the Touch. The interface is much easier to use than a PC. The biggest hurdle was how to get Wi-Fi access in Texasville, AL. Surprisingly, a Verizon Wireless AirCard worked great. I'll save details about that for another post.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Programming Not Deterministic After All

In theory, I could've just saved this link to Bruce Eckel's commencement address to my bookmarks, but since I agree so completely this one deserves a bigger star. Nice job, Bruce!