Monthly Archives: October 2012

Halloween Is Better…

For most of my adult life I have pretty much not been a fan of Halloween. From almost being blown to bits on one of them (1986) to buying a butt load of candy to have precisely zero Trick or Treater’s show up, it got to be a drag and I really didn’t enjoy it at all. Toss out one good year when I was dating a gal who was, how should I say this? Oh yeah, she was really into Halloween. Otherwise it was a night that I usually tried to have somewhere else to be to avoid the whole thing.

Ben’s First Halloween (2010), one of my favorite pictures of him

But now I have a two year old for whom the whole world is a new adventure every day. Obviously he’s had two Halloweens already, but he wasn’t old enough to even know it on the first, and on the second he could barely walk, plus both Mom and I ended up having to work.

So this year is the first time he’s really been aware of it, really started to talk about it and understand that something special and different is going on. We decided to not go Trick or Treating with him this year, but to stay home and hand out candy, letting him see the costumes and give out the candy.

At first he wasn’t sure, but by the third group he is ToTaLly into it… Halloween is way more fun with a kid than without one…


Twenty-Four Year Old Teachers Are a Bad Idea

So the other day my co-host, John Considine, and I got into a slightly frank discussion (podcast here) about whether or not twenty-four year olds with no life experience should be allowed and/or hired to teach high school students. The whole discussion was a result of the arrest of yet another teacher sexting and making out with a sixteen year old student at a local High (Charter) School.

Putting aside – for the moment – the creepy element of ANY teacher hitting on his or her students, my questions revolve around the idea of letting a twenty-four year old teach high school students based on the fact that we are talking about people who have (a) no real life experience and (b) have accomplished NOTHING in life other than graduating from college. We are talking, certainly in this case, about a man who has done nothing in life whatsoever to justify letting him stand in front of a classroom and “teach.” This led me to advocate for the banning of people with no life experience other than school from teaching. I later softened that to teaching high school, but I am pretty much standing there.

John’s position – as I understand it – is that we cannot make broad judgments based upon a single individuals inability to work and play well with others. That the banning of twenty-four year olds from teaching would be analogous to banning guns because an insane person got a hold of one and went off. It makes no sense. I understand his argument, but I disagree with it. We didn’t really have time to go any farther with it on Thursday because of the impending breaking news from Modesto PD about the arrest of the Mancini Park rape suspect, so I outline it here.

First off, I am a graduate of Naval Instructor School and, of course, a fully qualified and certified Naval Instructor. Public School Teachers will naturally pooh-pooh that, but the fact is that teaching in a Military Environment is easily as challenging as teaching in Public Schools. Perhaps not the SAME challenges, but nevertheless, a major challenge. I served as a Navy Instructor for four years, including stints as a “Night Study” Instructor and as a Class Commander. During my time I started with one idea of what teaching was about and finished with a complete different idea.

In any case, drawing on my own High School experiences as well, IF teachers were simply regurgitating information, A+B=C, July 4, 1776, don’t end sentence with prepositions, it would be easy to agree with John’s position, but the problem is that – even in a Navy school – the transfer of information is less than the ToTaL package of “teaching.”

Teachers are not and never have been, simple terminals of informational discharge – at least not in the sense of the course material. My senior year English teacher (I was 16 at the time) took it upon himself to “expand” our knowledge and experience base by introducing us to Monty Python. Funny and entertaining it may have been, but is that what any parent would have expected us to be “studying?”

My Music Analysis teacher as a sophomore, used to regularly take us to movies and concerts, ostensibly to study and review the music involved. While it was both fun and I did see and hear things that I probably would never have otherwise, would it not reasonably be considered outside the bounds of what would normally be expected of a teacher?

And yet at the same time, do we not also idolize and lionize teachers who do “go beyond” the textbooks and documentary films? Do we not proclaim them as the truest of “teachers” for the very reason that they DO more than just transfer the basic information required? They go beyond the established limits and lead students into areas outside the boundaries of the book? This isn’t Star Trek. Uhura hasn’t simply had knowledge banks of her brain wiped clean needed only to be replaced in order to return her to duty.

Uhura re-learns the entire galaxy…

Teaching is about teaching life. All of it. The best math teachers are going to show a student HOW to use that math in what interests the student. Captivate their mind and show them how they can be even better at what they love with the knowledge that can be gained. I complain on a fairly regular basis about my 10th, 11th and 12th grade Algebra teacher. He simply did not care about the student beyond those who were on his sports team. To the rest of us, it was “Shut up and do the homework assignment.” Questions such as “Why does this work this way?” or “What can I do with this?” went unanswered and worse, unacknowledged.

To nobody’s surprise, I failed Algebra I all three years. I actually got a “D” the final semester because, and I quote, “I don’t want you back in my class.”

Fast forward two years. I am sitting in Virginia Beach, VA at Naval Guided Missiles School for the Strategic Weapons Systems Mathematics course. The course covers Algebra I, II and III, Trigonometry I, II and III and pre-Calculus in eight weeks and you MUST have a 75% score to pass. By the third day I was lost and buried under an avalanche of figures, formulas and fear. I clearly recall, to this day, getting back to the barracks one evening after class and just collapsing on my bed, in uniform, ToTaLly exhausted and depressed. Beaten. I woke up the next morning facing the day with dread and doom.

By now you know that my biggest escape and enjoyment in life – other than my family today – is baseball. And so it was that ET1(SS) Dave Smith approached my desk, seeing me struggle. For about thirty minutes he sat at my table and talked to me about baseball. Then he asked, how do they know how far a home run is hit?

I really did not know. I assumed that before the games they had measured things so they’d know or they were just estimating.

He took out a blank piece of paper and wrote upon it a series of formulas that pretty much every Trig student will know inside and out. He then walked me through computing how far a baseball had been hit. In thirty minutes I went from defeat to ToTaL victory. I passed that course with a 92% average and went on to finish first in my “A” School Class and later became the Targeting specialist aboard USS Michigan. Even today, if you watch me closely you will see me do formulas on my hands as I do the show.

All because a TEACHER decided to step outside of the “book” – all that he was required to teach, and spend some time in real life with a student.

At other times in my life, teachers taught me things that had little if anything to do with their courses of instruction. Mr. Lucetta Thompson, who taught creative writing, taught me how to look at things differently and not worry so much about what other people thought. Mrs. Ruth Darrington, my Senior English teacher, opened the door to Shakespeare. More than just an examination of language arts, she taught us life from him. Faye Patterson taught me to enjoy music, not just play it. Ray Miller gave me an appreciation for history far beyond what is on the written page.

Others chose to just do the minimum. “Here are the 10 most important things about Chapter 9 that you need to know for the test,” approach. And while that would seem to be the bare minimum for teaching, even in simple regurgitation of information, they were teaching more than that, weren’t they? Here were men and women who were, by example, showing us that just getting by, just do the minimum, just learn to parrot back the proper phrases and you’ll be fine approach to life was what worked for them.

The theory I have is simple: if you think that teachers – ANY teachers – are just there to recycle information and data, then you’ve missed the point. Everything that they do “teaches.” Attitude, behavior, actions and approaches all add up to the lesson, not just A+B=C.

Senior Chief Neal Petry once told me that if one of my students failed out, it was my fault. I argued with him for an hour about the laziness of students, the inherent aptitudes and intelligence of any given student and didn’t realize until much later that I was saying exactly what he was telling me – as a “teacher” it was my JOB to find out how a student learns and to make sure that they got that chance to do it.

And that’s something that a twenty-four year old right out of college is ill equipped to do, particularly with a close peer group of High School students.

It’s time to face reality and stop allowing people with ZERO life experience to “teach” students. Not because they are bad people or lack technical knowledge, but because they have nothing to actually teach, no life experience to transfer. They cannot actually teach, because they themselves have no experience in life to speak of, which they can really share.

Coffee: Today and In the 23rd Century

Have I mentioned lately that I love coffee?

My Morning Coffee (in my beloved Stockton Ports mug)

I am not one of those coffee snobs who have to have a certain brand or a special blend or only drink it from a certain place, frankly I like Starbucks but only because it is ubiquitous. I can just as easily drink a McDonalds cup as a cup of Starbucks Komodo blend (my absolute favorite) as I can go downtown in Modesto and stop by the local place, the Serrano Social Club and enjoy the coffee there.

The bigger point is though, I do not like coffee “drinks,” I like coffee.

Put anything in it and it is no longer coffee, it is some form of coffee flavored over sweetened “drink” that allows people to convince themselves that they are “drinking” coffee without having to do any of the work for it.

Don’t worry, I have the same opinion of tequila. While I do enjoy a margarita, the best way to enjoy tequila is by itself.

Anyway, back to coffee… Ben has this thing where he HAS to be the one who throws the switch on the Mr. Coffee in the morning. He calls it “making the coffee” and he thinks that he’s really taking care of Daddy. He even likes to pretend to take a drink from my mug, although the one time he actually got some he reacted quite… strongly…

Yeoman Janice makes coffee!

Of course the great thing is that in the 23rd Century not much has changed when it comes to making and enjoying coffee, as long as Tribbles haven’t gotten into it anyway. Yeoman Rand still makes it – even when the galley power is out and she has to use a hand phaser, “Zap!” Hot Coffee!” – and delivers it to the Bridge in Styrofoam cups.

Ahh… hot coffee

The Books of Samuel T. Cogley

Kim Komando, the Digital Goddess

I work in Talk Radio, so I hear a lot of what we call “Features” including the daily dose of technical advice from one Kim Komando who informed me this weekend of that which I knew about five years ago, Best Buy sucks. Basically Best Buy has become the showroom for Amazon, which combined with their legendary shitty customer service goes a long way to explaining the moniker but doesn’t explain how they are still technically in business although in fairness, it doesn’t seem like Best Buy is long for this world).

At any rate, I found myself this week not at Best Buy and their books, but at a local Barnes & Noble Bookstore, which with the demise of Borders has become something of a mini-vacation for me. I love bookstores, even though I tend to overspend in them and never manage to walk out without at least one book. It would not surprise me to learn that Samuel T. Cogley is a future descendant of mine. I knew the book that I wanted and I knew that for my beloved Kindle it would cost me a mere $14.99.

Lo, there it was on the shelf, in glorious hardback.

And now I own it, at more than twice the cost of the Kindle version – which I will also be compelled to purchase because, after all, the reason I have a Kindle is so that I don’t have to carry around ten pound hardback books.

Which is why, I realized after a moment, that so-called “brick & mortar stores” like Best

Ten pounds and $15 more than the digital version

Buy and Barnes & Noble are still in business. People like me for whom immediacy is more important than price. But I have to wonder in this economy if there are enough of us around, because even I have pretty much quit going to book stores except for the VERY rare day when I have an extra hour and a few extra dollars – not a usual situation – to browse the shelves for something interesting. Even then, I am more likely to hit the remaindered shelves than the new stuff, although for the first time in more than three years this weekend I did buy a full price, hard back, hot off the press book.

There is, of course, nothing quite like the feel, the heft, the pages of a real book, even if the information in the Kindle version is the same.

I think that one of the things that I most looked forward to in my Star Trek world was being able to carry a million books in the palm of my hand. Trust me, when I was on the submarine it would have been a great thing to be able to have Kindles and iPods and laptop computers and tablets. But now that they are here, I’m not so sure anymore.

Yeah, I love my Kindle and devices. But there really is something to the feel of a book. The bent pages to mark my place, the highlights to remind myself of something important. Of course you can do similar things on a Kindle, but it isn’t the same. Which is why – I hope – Amazon (which I love) will not drive every bookseller out of the world. Every now and then, I still like to buy a real and new book.

Just so I don’t forget.

History and Permanance

My Great-Grandfather, Frances Marion Holt, died in 1903. I, obviously, never met him and what I know of him is from his Civil War service record and what I have been able to glean from a few sources here and there. I do know from family records that he was illiterate and left no written records, no letters, no postcards, no writings behind. I can imagine conversations with him, but I have no real idea what he liked, what he thought, what he dreamed or what he hoped. I do know that he had a son, Charles Leonidas Holt

My maternal grandfather died in 1959, five years before I was born, and it wasn’t until I was well into my own 40’s that I knew much about him at all. I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with my Uncle Joe (of blessed memory) and talk about Grandpa. In the space of a few hours I learned more about who I am than I ever imagined came from a man I never met, who loved baseball, loved to laugh and who worked hard until an accident in a logging camp took away his ability to work. Which was why he and his family made their way to Oklahoma City where a few years later, broken and in pain, he passed away, leaving my Grandmother and her children to find their way in the world.

In both cases though, neither my maternal Grandfather or Great-Grandfather left behind anything in writing – certainly not that I have found. A few references to them here and there in family histories, one detailed account of his personality and an amazing afternoon spent with my Uncle Joe. That is the sum ToTaL of what I know of my Granddad and Great Granddad.

In a time when Americans in general seemed to write journals, letters, postcards, and even notes, the people I most wish to have done so, did not. Frances lived in southern Arkansas in 1862, and made his way in that summer to Missouri, where he joined the Union Army. As proud as I am of that fact, I do not know WHY he did it. I can guess, I can infer from local newspapers of the era and from the historical accounts of the Regiment and of many the many others who also did the same, but as for HIS reasons, I can only speculate.

I bring all of this up because my sister-in-law, Donna, was blogging the other day about her… well, lets just call it a mundane day. She was literally blogging about the music she was listening to (and I make no value judgments as to the music here) and wondering about the idea that time she spent enjoying herself was not really time wasted. She also mentioned her kids in the piece as she wrote about the times she listened to certain music and what thoughts it brought back to her memory.

Sometimes it seems like the internet, and blogs in particular, can be filled with the most trivial and mundane of thoughts and what passes for penmanship in the 21st Century. I think that is when I like it best.

Why, you may ask?

Someday, Ben and his children will sit around and wonder what I was like. What did I care about, what did I enjoy? What did I think about an issue or an idea? Between blogs, Facebook and eMails, all of which are permanent, Ben and his children and grandchildren will be allowed a view into who I am and was. They will never have to guess as to my reasons or my beliefs, they’ll have all of that at their fingertips through thousands of little bits of information and posts.

Like a Medical Log or Captains Log or even a pointed eared hobgoblin’s Science Officers Log, what I thought and felt will be here for them…

The Sky is NOT the Limit

Felix Baumgartner leaps from 128,000′

Five year old Cooper Fox says that he is going to be the second man to sky dive from the edge of Space, like Felix Baumgartner did earlier today.

The time was when the idea of Space, from NASA and Projects Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and even Shuttle, along with TV shows like Star Trek inspired an entire generation, if not three, to the idea that Space wasn’t just an unreachable place, it was the ‘New Frontier.’ At five years of age myself, I had no doubt that someday I will live and work in space, and in a way, I did. Maybe not in the outer atmosphere, but the same technology that drove the Shuttle into orbit was the same computer I used to defend the United States. Later I would teach the same computer that Neil Armstrong used to land on the moon to Fire Control Techs of the Poseidon missile system. I may never have left Earth, but I learned the systems and the technology and used it every day of my first professional life.

And so we watched today, after years of our Space program seemingly going dormant, as Felix Baumgartner rode Helium balloon 128,800 feet into the air and then climb out on the stoop, salute the world below and jump off. In the process, Felix broke the record that had stood since 1960, held by Joe Kittenger who made his jump with a rip in his pressure suit glove that he refused to tell ground controllers about because he was sure that they would cancel his mission.

Joe Kittenger’s jump in 1960

And that is how he saw it, as a mission for his country. Kittenger would go on to fly in combat and spend eleven months as a POW in Vietnam. He served as “CAPCOM” for Felix Baumgartner’s record breaking jump from the edge of space.

There once was a time when the inspiration of ideas led men and women to try things that seemed impossible, but with consideration, technology and testing proved to be within our grasp, taking us to the surface of the moon and back safely. Indeed, some of the idea of that time became the basis for our own technologies and everyday lifestyles, almost un-thought of anymore.

As a five year old boy, I remember the watching Neil Armstrong step onto the moon, and I remember how well it inspired me to reach for the heights of the heavens, the belief that there are no limits on human endeavor. For the first time in a very long time, I felt that again yesterday. Most importantly, five year old boys all over the world saw it and felt it again.

It seems like we have lost the spirit of exploration, of trying the impossible, not for daredevilish stunts, but for the learning of human limits and skills. For going just one step further into the unknown. For using such things to teach us how to go even farther.

And most of all, to inspire little boys and girls to believe that the sky is NOT the limit.

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