A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
I had no idea what I was going to write about today until I sat down at my computer and turned it on. Immediately I had several pop-up notices saying that I had updates for this and updates for that. Updates are what keeps us up to date with the latest improvements in software so that we take advantage of all of the new improvements as well as get rid of problems we may have experienced earlier.
Then I thought that we could apply the idea of updating to our own lives. Updating can keep us better informed, make our lives more fun and interesting, and send us off on new adventures. Here are some ways we can push the update key for our lives:
Listen to new ideas.
Try new food items not normally a part of your diet.
Learn to cook.
Start a new hobby.
Buy a new pair of shoes. Even little children get excited with a new pair of shoes.
Update your wardrobe. You don't need to wear your 20 year old dress or polo shirt for another 20 years.
Get rid of junk. How can you stay up to date if you are married to your junk?
Paint your bedroom or your living room. You may not have repainted for 30 years.
Hang up some new pictures on your walls. We're tired of looking at your old ones.
Keep your family photo album up to date.
Check in with your doctor to make sure you are up to date with your medications and health issues. Please.
Check in with your dentist and see if your teeth are up to date.
Check your car to see if you have scheduled maintenance on time. Don't get stranded on the Interstate.
Check your furnace now that fall has set in to make sure everything is functioning safely.
Check the expiration dates on your spices and the food items in your fridge and pantry.
Find out where to get rid of expired medications.
Read a book about what is going on in the world.
Repair and fix all of the annoying stuff around your house that needs repaired and fixed.
Keep up to date on your job skills.
Mend hurt feelings.
Set new goals.
Just think. If I could send you a pop-up notice to update each and every facet of your lives, see how easy it would be to remember to do all of the things you need to do to stay up to date. And if you forget for a time or just ignore the pop up, then you would get another pop-up-note saying something like, "Well, I can see that you have procrastinated and have not taken care of such and such, and here are the penalties if you don't pay attention and take care of it." And so on. And if you continue to ignore the pop-up promptings, then prepare to pay increased doctor bills, increased repair bills, stumble around more junk, and find holes in all of your socks.
On the other hand, if you follow my list of pop-up prompts, just think how fantastic you will feel if you are up to date on every important issue you can think of. The Curmudgeonly Professor would be happy to send you a certificate indicating that you are now, officially, and perhaps for the very first time, totally and inescapably up to date.
So instead of having automatic promptings, just tune up your to-do lists and post them anywhere and everywhere so that they will annoy you and cause you to have such a guilty conscience that you will take care of stuff just so you can eliminate the forest of to-do lists.
Task Number 279: Update your life. New stuff is usually more interesting and exciting than old stuff. Good luck, and keep going. Enjoy being up to date instead of forever behind the times. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
We are never too old to learn. But we can wither away and waste our years when we are not willing to take advantage of new opportunities to learn. We make a huge mistake if we assume that when we are through high school or through college that we are finished with our obligation to learn. Actually, learning is a process that must continue throughout our lives if we are to continue to grow and to remain challenged and excited by exploring the world around us.
My wife's Uncle Billy was a career newspaperman with the Sacramento Bee. Her uncle decided to finish his college degree and graduated from the University of Wyoming at the age of 83. My wife took courses in several universities and finally finished her degree in elementary education in her mid-30s. I was responsible for several independent study courses while I was teaching at Brigham Young University. Many young mothers took home study courses to complete their degree, never losing sight of their original educational goals and patiently continuing their education one course at a time.
We do not need to sign up for college courses in order to learn something new. Opportunities for learning are everywhere around us. Here are a few reasons why learning something new and pointing our life in a new direction can be one of our most rewarding experiences:
We never know when we will come across a new idea or a bit of inspiration that will open our eyes and send us down exciting new learning paths.
Learning is a strong antidote to discouragement and depression. When we occupy our minds with learning about something new and challenging, we no longer have time to dwell on our misfortunes.
Learning can be a never-ending journey of discovery. Learning one thing usually sends us off in many directions finding out more about the topic we originally knew nothing about. Now we want to know everything we can learn about this topic.
The more we learn, the more humility we gain and the more appreciation we gain for the process of learning.
Learning can provide us with the incentives and information we need to change careers, to find places where we want to live, to gain increased competence on our jobs, and to be of greater service to others.
Learning can enrich our lives through the inspiration and journeys that that we gain through the pages of great literature.
We may learn from tutors, by asking someone at work to teach us a technique we want to learn, by observing others, and by patterning our activities and our skills after those whom we admire.
We may learn from experience, from failures, and from successes.
The gifts of modern technology make it possible to overcome any learning deficit we may have, to achieve any educational goal still important to us.
Learning takes the blinders from our eyes, broadens our understanding beyond narrow bias and prejudice, and makes us more appreciative of the world we live in.
Some of my most important lessons I have learned were learned by following examples of others. My parents taught me how to work so that I was able to complete eight years of college without any financial support and without any debt. My mother inspired my teaching methods. My grandfather taught me perseverance. My best college teachers taught me how to teach just by watching them. I gained ideas and knowledge through the pages of hundreds of books. I learned more about how to teach from the students who patiently taught me how to do better.
Learning lifts into new worlds, into understanding about the world, into growth processes that continually amaze us. The alternative to learning is stagnation and the unwillingness to consider new ideas, to wonder if we need to bother to correct the errors in our thinking. Learning opens all possibilities, all avenues to gaining insights and improving our ability to sort reliable knowledge from false information.
Task Number 278: Learn something new and turn your life in a new direction. Find a book, sign up for a course, find a teacher or a tutor, find an online learning opportunity. But find some way to liven up your life and your outlook by learning something new. Good luck, keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
In a routine day crowded with work, chores, appointments, and more activities than we can manage, we are so busy that we may not give any thought to the longer-run implications of the choices we make and the things we do. Yet, if we can pause for a moment and think about what we are doing, we may see clearly how we can make one or more changes in a few seconds that will benefit us for a long time.
Let's start with eating. The media have been full of updates on the growth in the obesity rate in the U.S. Too many people are too overweight. Too many patients need medical care because they can't or won't watch their weight. Too many medical professionals are required to spend too much time taking care of people who have refused to take care of themselves.
The way I have learned to control my weight is to think about the next bite of food I put in my mouth. Will this bite of food hurt me or help me? Will my food choice set me on the path to long-run weight control or will it be detrimental to my weight, my health, and merely reinforce my obese condition? Will my bite of food be the start of my efforts to conquer my long-lasting obesity problem, or am I just giving up and prolonging the time when I will begin to conquer my food prison?
When you stop to think about it, we are involved in few activities each day that have so many immediate and long-run implications as the choices of food we put in our mouths. Eating may sound like a routine activity, but when we begin to take seriously the kind of food we eat, the speed with which we eat, and the amount of food we eat, we are well on our way to reaping immeasurable health benefits.
We have two basic choices if we are overweight and struggling with our ability to control our excess pounds: (1) We can continue the self-defeating behaviors that have brought us to the current dilemma we are in. We can continue consuming fast food, soda, too much sugar, too much salt, too few fruits and vegetables and too little fiber, high calorie restaurant food, prepared food loaded with everything we shouldn't be eating, and our favorite hidden snacks. We can continue taking large portions and second helpings.
Or, (2) if we are ready to think more seriously about the next bite of food we put in our mouths, we can ask ourselves if this is the bite of food that will send us on our way to begin the mending and recovery process from our obesity trials. And then we can think about the next bite of food. The more we focus on what we are eating in relation to what we should or should not be eating, the more likely we are to be conscious of the steps we need to take to get a grip on our weight dilemma and open the door to a wonderful new life.
Similarly,we can shape our future in many positive ways and in numerous negative ways depending on what we do next. A negative activity, when repeated and reinforced, becomes a nearly unconquerable habit. A positive activity, repeated and reinforced becomes a building block in repairing our problems and changing our lives for the better.
Task number 277: Shape your future by what you do next. Never underestimate the potential positive or negative effects of the next activity you undertake. Once you are on track to repeat a positive change that you initiate, your life will change for the better, and you will find that it is now possible to consider and undertake other changes you may have postponed making. Good luck and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
One of my most perplexing challenges as a college teacher was the dilemma facing my students who failed my class. One solution, which more than a few tried, was to come in to my office and plead with me to go ahead and pass them anyway. After all, they had tried hard, and some even felt they were entitled to a passing grade. After failing the class and failing to convince me that they should pass despite their miserable performance, the only real alternative was to take the class over again. Econ 110 was a required class for many majors and students who needed to have passing credits in the course had little choice but to repeat the class.
One of the big disappointments of teaching 110 was coping with the high rate of re-takes. In any given class, I had numerous students repeating the class either because they failed the first time or because they needed a higher grade to pursue some academic or career objective. Unfortunately, considerable resources were required to teach students the second time over and considerable time was wasted by students by not making more of an effort the first time they took the class.
Whether a student succeeded the second time they took the course depended on the following considerations:
Attitude. Students who were hostile about failing and professed to hate Econ 110 often did no better the second time around.
Diligence. Students who passed the second time around treated the repeat task as if they had never taken the course before and made an effort to learn everything from the beginning. Students who failed the diligence test assumed that they already knew a substantial amount from their first effort in the class and so they didn't bother to make sure they learned all of the material they needed to know. And so they repeated their sub-par performance.
Perseverance. Students who overcame poor study habits and made a consistent and persistent effort to learn the material the second time usually passed with flying colors.
To succeed after failing, students or anyone else must stop punishing themselves and beating up on themselves for lack of success. Making a mistake about effort required to pass a class is a human mistake that can be repaired and overcome.
Recognize that many successful people have had their share of failures along the way. The ultimate path to success for many people was achieved by overcoming failures in a positive and constructive way.
Accept the fact that you are likely to have more than one failure in your academic career and in your life. The failure may not be a failing grade, but rather lack of achieving the grade point average of your expectations. Not achieving the goal of your dreams is not a fatal illness. Falling short of the mark you have aimed for is perfectly fine as long as you don't let it get the best of you.
Be sure you understand why you failed. In school, review your old exams and see which questions were most frequently missed. If you fail on any project, analyze the reasons for the failure so that the mistakes can be repaired and won't be repeated.
Ask for help if you are having trouble. In Econ 110, we had student TA's who were available to tutor students having trouble and I was always available to assist. Students had only themselves to blame if they did not avail themselves of needed help.
Don't wait too long if you can see you are in trouble. Fix the problem before it becomes too big to repair.
After you have taken care of your failure, chalk your failure up to a life experience. You may have learned more from the failure and how you took care of it than if you had gone sailing through without a hitch. Failing and repairing failures are all part of growing and learning and progressing.
While my list of suggestions for dealing with failure have focused on repeating a failed class in college, the same general principles apply to any failure we may experience at any time in our lives. The only disgrace to a failure is if we cave in and don't do anything about it. When we treat a failure as a learning and growth experience, we have made the best of an unfortunate situation and may end up better than we ever thought we could. I knew many students who profited from their failure and their burdensome task of repeating the class. Many students raised their grades significantly and were able to achieve their academic and professional aspirations. Learning is not a sure-fire process. Stumbling is normal. Learning to deal with mistakes and failures can be one of the most significant growth processes of our lives.
Task Number 276: Be careful how you deal with failures. Good luck, fix your mistakes, and move on. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
I was sorely tempted to announce to my wife this morning that today is a rotten day. In fact, I think I did mention it. My wife has days that aren't so good, but I don't think she ever has admitted to having a truly rotten day. She defeats the idea that a day is bad or rotten by finding some small blessings and some good that comes even when we think we are not going to make it through a troublesome day.
In the first place, the sky is cloudy and dreary. Cloudy and dreary skies make it difficult to think about sunshine. In the second place, my leg hurts. My wife says it could be worse. In the third place, I had a hard time sleeping last night. I could keep going through the fourth place up to the umpteenth place and find more to gripe about, more reasons why today is really a crummy day.
I realize, however, that with all of my task writing this year I should know better than to get bogged down in a quagmire of negative thought. Besides, I need to follow the great example my wife always sets in keeping the glass half full and never seeing it as half empty. So what can I say that will make the clouds go away, the sun come up, and transform my disposition from sour to sunny?
Life is so full of tiny blessings that we may not see them, or we may ignore them, or we may underestimate their importance. Yesterday at the grocery store I bought a bag of bargain salt water taffy. When I got up to the cash register, the bag broke and I was beside myself figuring out what to do about it. The man behind me looked anything like someone who would be a Good Samaritan. He was scruffy, wore an outlandish T-shirt, and had tattoos up and down his arms. At first glance, I prejudged him. Then he came up to me, got an extra bag from the checker, and proceeded to gather up all of the scattered taffy from the floor and the counter and my grocery cart. Then he asked if he could do anything else to help me. So how do you think I felt after that unsolicited and considerate act of kindness? I kicked myself for coming to the wrong conclusion about people based on their appearance. I thanked him for his help. And I felt I had grown up a notch in the way I should think about other people.
Here are a few of the small blessings we may receive, even on a bad day:
We may have an opportunity to help some one.
We may realize that our situation could be a lot worse.
We may find a solution out of our predicament.
We may get rid of some excess mental baggage and readjust our thinking to the positive side.
We may realize that we need to set a better example for others instead of feeling sorry for ourselves.
We may see what is beautiful in our surroundings rather than just take our surroundings for granted and ignore them.
We may take the first step in making a small change that upon further repetition will turn into a big change.
We may learn something new.
We may pay more attention to others and less attention to ourselves.
We may say at the end of the day that we succeeded in turning what we originally thought was a rotten day into an absolutely wonderful and memorable day.
Task Number 275: Be grateful for small blessings on bad days. Good luck, may all your days be transformed into wonderful days, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
In the Sunday Parade Magazine, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the former NBA super star, said that the reason he liked Sherlock Holmes so much is that Holmes based his decisions on facts and logic. Both facts and logic appear to be in short supply in today's public discourse. Dissembling has become rampant as critics attempt to destroy their adversaries.
For those of us who make an effort to base our decisions on facts, we are always faced with answering the question, "But what facts?" The subject of statistics trains people to realize that an error term accompanies any statistical estimate or projection. Scientific investigation is an ongoing process as researchers double check the past and explore the future with new information. Scientific hypotheses are tentative explanations, subject to testing with available information and with logic. Thus, the best we can do when we want to base our decisions on facts is to find the most reliable information available.
The most valuable course I took in eight years of college was a course in research methodology. Research in any subject area is the quest for the most reliable information available, given current availability of data and test results. Unfortunately, too many people are willing to accept bogus information, false data, and illogical results. Some people just will not face up to accepting any data or results that do not conform with their biases and with their ideology.
Advertisers often use any ruse or carnival trick possible to convince people to buy their product. Deception is often the order of the day. Just take the shrinking toilet paper roll, for example. And ask yourself why sellers of products like cookies and crackers and candy sell their products in big boxes with pictures of large cookies and crackers so that when you open the box or bag you discover the bag or box is half full or less and it contains products a fraction of the size of the picture. And have you ever purchased a fast food hamburger or sandwich and found that your purchase matched the inflated image on the television commercial?
We have to put forth a little effort to track down reliable information, accurate data, and sort out the lies and deception that are the stock in trade for so many dissemblers. U. S. Government data on the economy are likely to be as reliable as any information you can find. As an economist, I watched for a half century as politicians and business people distorted the basic data and slanted it toward preconceived conclusions about what they wanted the answer to be. Most novice news writers and journalists haven't a clue about how economic data are collected and estimated, and have even less ability to explain what the data mean. So-called crackpot economics remains alive and well as people continue to promulgate false economic doctrine that has been disproven for decades.
Then we have to recognize that so called "reliable data" at one instance can be found to be highly unreliable in the next instance. Recommendations for healthy diets fifty or sixty years ago have often been turned upside down in recent research as food choices that were previously deemed unhealthy, like eggs, are now found to be good for us in moderation. Physicians are not usually well-trained in human nutrition, which means that we need to look elsewhere for reliable information. I like sources like WebMD and Mayo Clinic. Both have extensive newsletters with a wide variety of reliable health and diet information.
Finding reliable information and checking facts are among the most important tasks that we have. The process of searching for reliable information is an ongoing task, never completed. In days of yore, the body of knowledge was entombed in a multi-volume encyclopedia like Book of Knowledge or Compton's. Encyclopedias gave people a false sense of security because most data and articles in these volumes were out of date as soon as they were published.
We will never be able to track down all of the facts no matter how hard we try. But we can make more informed decisions by asking basic questions such as the following
What is the source of these facts or this information?
What sources of bias are contained in this information? For example, was this research on diet and beverages conducted by a soft drink manufacturer?
What is the track record of this source in terms of reliability of their information?
What is the objective of the person espousing a particular fact or piece of information?
What other facts are available that may refute the facts you are considering?
Could this information be wrong?
What are the possible sources of error in this information or in these data?
What other perspectives may provide a different or an opposing view to this information?
No easy answers exist in the quest for reliable information. We must continually extend our search for information we can depend on, checking accuracy through the best sources of available. Gullibility is a recipe for disaster, whether voting in an election, selecting a new product, deciding what to eat, or making any choice that requires that we assess the reliability of the information we base our decision on.
Task Number 274: Follow Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Sherlock Holmes in their devotion to facts and logic. Good luck, and keep going, and may you minimize your errors with careful attention to facts and logic. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
Welcome to the first day of October 2015. Just 93 more days in the year 2015. Just 93 more tasks to complete my marathon project. How can I ever come up with 93 more topics after writing 272 tasks thus far throughout the year?
The last three months of this year are a gift of a golden opportunity to make the best of the remainder of this calendar year. True, we can look ahead to next year, but think about how much better start we will have for next year if we actually make some tiny steps of progress throughout the rest of 2015. Some tasks on my do list for the remainder of the year, for example, include:Write 93 more tasks so that I can feel that I actually completed the task I set out to accomplish on January 1 2015. I don't know how many people have actually read any or all of the writing I have done. I wish I knew whether my task list has actually motivated or helped anyone. In any event, my task list writing has had a number of positive benefits for me, including:
My daily writing job has become easier.
I hope I have done a better job of writing as the year has progressed.
I have learned that instead of running out of ideas and stopping my project before the year is over that one idea leads to ten others.
My daily posts have given my wife and I something to talk about each day. My wife is my best critic and biggest supporter in encouraging me to keep going and finish my project.
I have tried to follow many of my own suggestions and admonitions, especially on weight loss. My writing and concentration on sound weight loss methods have helped my lose 60 pounds this year. That accomplishment may not sound like much, but I have been overweight for more than 20 years and my writing and thinking about weight loss have helped me do something this year that has escaped me for decades. My weight loss has benefited my health in multiple ways, improved my outlook, reduced my grouchy tendencies and, by feeling better, has made it possible to accomplish far more than I would have otherwise been able to do while carting around an extra 60 pounds.
I have often been amazed this year about how the creative process works. We start off by saying, "I can't think of a thing." Then we actually think for a bit and come up with an idea. Then we write about that idea. And while we are writing about that idea, a half dozen other ideas pop up. My four sisters make amazing quilts. One quilt is never enough because one quilt inspires them to make ten more out of even more difficult and challenging patterns. One idea or source of unexpected inspiration grows multiple ideas and inspirations.
My writing project this year has led me down numerous mental paths and through many thought processes about self improvement. I have avoided reading any of the numerous books that tell us how we can transform ourselves in anywhere from 24 hours to 30 days to whatever length of time from our lazy, clutter-plagued, procrastinating, obese, stubborn selves into a shining example of ambition, freeing ourselves from obesity, bad habits, and rotten dispositions. I wanted my writing to reflect my own thoughts and observations and not what I was parroting from anyone else.
I have become a strong advocate of simple rules, simple adages, and simple stories to provide our guideposts as we try to make changes and accomplish our goals.
As the year has progressed, and as I continued to write and think about weight loss, I have become routinely aware of everything I eat and drink, thus making eating choices almost automatic and making my weight loss task infinitely easier.
I have become more aware of how much good we can do with simple acts of basic kindness, plentiful smiles, words of encouragement, and by setting a good example.
My hope in writing about my reflections on writing my task list for this year is that my thoughts may enlighten others to see that progress in doing anything can start from small beginnings and simple ideas and then build into something permanent and life-changing. The ripple effect from continuing a small change, doing a kindly deed, or thinking creative thoughts can be worth more than anything we can buy with money.
Task Number 273: Continue your preliminary progress report for the year 2015. Don't overlook small increments to progress. Then outline your plans to make the most of the last three months of the year. Good luck and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
Thirty days hath September. We have no extra day in September to make up for all of the things we intended to do in the first 30 days but never got around to doing. So today is the end of September. I hate to see September go. September has the best songs--September Song sung by Willie Nelson, Falling Leaves, Frank Sinatra singing September of my Years, Pale September, James Taylor singing September Grass, and the list go on. I don't know of any songs for October and November that evoke so much nostalgia and a few memorable tears as do the songs of September.
Then again, September is my birth month. September is the usual month I started school all my life. Imagine the first day of school, 1938. New bib overalls. I would turn 6 two weeks after school started. Lucille was weeping and her big brother had to come and comfort her. Miss Shinn. Fifty five students in one room. Palmer penmanship scroll across the entire front of the room, a penmanship style I and my friend Dolores would both master so that 60 years later you could not tell our writing apart. After life 12 miles from town with my sisters, first grade was amazing. But what were we supposed to do? Color inside the lines? Read? I already knew how to read. My schoolmarm big sister already taught me how to read. So what else was there to do in the first grade? And then, and then, fast forward to my first day of teaching a large class of 90 students at age 21 on a September day with a shiny new master's degree and a textbook and class assignment given to me out of thin air three days earlier. How do you do this? Will I perish? Now fast forward through 45 more Septembers, thousands more students, as the song says, so many Septembers of My Years.
I thought this post was supposed to be about how to continue preparing your annual progress report. However, how do you think I ever got through thousands of lectures? With side trips, diversions, stories, bad jokes, and threats of pop quizzes and other evil instructional motivations, of course. Whenever you gaze out on 400 students that have glazed over eyes, nodding heads, some staring at the ceiling, you know you have to take remedial action to perk everyone up again. So that is what I tried to do. Take remedial action. Nobody teaches you how to teach college. I took all the courses required to teach secondary school and learned not one whit or scintilla, as they say, about how to teach. I remembered how my best teachers taught and I tried mightily to emulate them.
I figure about now that my readers are sick and tired of me haranguing them with two million tasks, none of which they really want to do and most of which they are bored with reading and thinking about. Thus, today's post is a diversionary writing. You're on your own today. You don't need a teacher, a counselor, a nit picker, a reminder-in-chief, a harasser, a nuisance, to change you from a negative thinker bound and determined not to make any improvements into a shining example of self-improvement.
You might, however, start thinking seriously about just what, exactly, you have accomplished so far this year, whether large, small, invisible, or just wishful thinking. And, you might think a little bit more about what, exactly, you plan to do about your state of procrastination and your inspired conscience to make the last three months of this year really count for something and make a difference.
Task Number 272: Continue your preliminary efforts to prepare your annual progress report. A little bit of progress counts. One tiny move in the right direction counts. An extra smile and word of encouragement count. Changing your attitude from woeful preaching to spreading sunshine earns you a major promotion and a pat on the back. Good luck, think about your year so far, then think about what you are going to do with the rest of the year, and keep going. The Curmudgeonly Professor.