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.
While I was washing the window just to the left of the entrance as an 18 year old student janitor in about 1951, I got stung by a bee, had an allergic reaction with immediate swelling, and had to be taken to the hospital which, fortunately, was just across the street to the south.
In September of 1956 I began studies for my Ph.D. in economics at the University of Michigan. I was 24, we had two little kids, including a two week old baby. I had a student seat in the 98th row in the end zone and was able only to go to two games while I was there since the study load had frightened the daylights out of me.
Commemorating the Sixth Anniversary of the Curmudgeonly Professor Blog: My second post in November 2007, with comments on the Kennedy assassination the day of my doctoral dissertation defense at the University of Michigan
When I was in graduate school at the University of Michigan in the mid-1950s the ultimate in calculators was the sleek little Monroematic which was deemed a major step up from the old cumbersome Fridens. By l963 when I returned to Michigan to complete my degree so that I wouldn't have to work for the Treasury for the rest of my life, the university had installed the wondrous IBM 650 computer which consisted of a large room full of flashing vacuum tubes. I was working on a doctoral dissertation on estimating travel demand for various travel modes based on survey results from the Survey Research Center, where I had a research assistantship. Data entry required copying numbers by hand on large spreadsheets, and then giving these spreadsheets to a keypunch operator. Skilled keypunch operators were highly valued people because you couldn't proceed without them. The IBM punchcards then had to be hauled to the marvelous IBM 650 computer to feed it the data. I remember hauling heavy boxes of IBM punchcards across the snowy and icy campus and needing to stop and put my load down several times before I arrived at the computer center. Then the 650, the marvel of the ages, chomped up the data and calculated all of my estimating equations and fed me the results. This beat the heck out of trying to solve multiple simultaneous equations on the Monroematic. Although one night I stayed all night for my results, since grad students were low priority users. Lightening shorted the computer at 4:30 a.m., and so another evening must be spent recalculating the results. For the annual Michigan economic forecast, at least 23 simultaneous equations had to be solved in a 23 x 23 matrix, more or less. I was told when I started my doctoral work at Michigan that the legendary Arty Goldberger could do this in less than 24 hours on the Monroematic and the lowly grad students brought the coffee to keep him going. One mistake and you're dead; you have to start all over again. It took me half the winter to code the survey results by hand on spreadsheets for my dissertation research, and even more time to recalculate equations which I had messed up.
Now it was time to write the dissertation. In high school I learned to type on an old upright L.C. Smith typewriter, and by the time I was a senior I bought a Royal portable, which was my pride and joy. When I arrived at Michigan to finish my dissertation in 1962, I bought a wonderful IBM Selectric II typewriter which I could type 80 or 90 words per minute on, not counting mistakes. Velna, my wife, typed dissertations for other students at night while our four kids were crammed into two bunk beds in our two-bedroom student apartment after she had worked all day on campus. We typed all of the dozens and dozens of statistical tables with the results cranked out by the IBM 650 computer and all of the pages of text. Then my esteemed committee picked it apart and we typed it all again. And again. And then, we thought it was finished and one of my professors got off the boat from a time spent in Greece, looked at the table of contents and said, "Put this here, and put that there, and what in the world do you think you're doing with this organization?" This situation was not a democratic one, so what choice did we have? If you have mistake on page 3 that changes the sequence of the following hundreds of pages, you crank the whole blasted thing out again. And not without complaints.
And then, I came back to Ann Arbor from Penn State, where I had accepted a faculty position, on November 22, 1963 for my final oral defense of my dissertation. I remember someone asked me the fatal question as to whether I had made an original contribution to knowledge. Holy cow. Someone else kindly intervened and said that if we expected all doctoral students to make original contributions to knowledge we would never award any Ph.D.s. So after I stumbled around for awhile with my embryonic knowledge of econometrics, I was excused while my fate was deliberated. When I went into the outer room, the secretary told me the President had been shot. I immediately went back to the examining room and told my faculty committee, knowing that some of them had been directly involved with the Kennedy administration. I had just spent a year at the Treasury, where I could watch Caroline ride her pony on the south lawn of the White House. No further deliberations took place. The orals were over. I was summarily told I had passed with no discussion. But there was no joy, no jubilation, no relief. Just sadness, long faces and teary eyes as a dark shroud covered the earth. I retrieved my eleven year old son who had come to Ann Arbor with me and drove through the brilliant autumn of the Pennsylvania hills back to State College, a palette of blazing colors lighting my way and reminding me that life must go on. I may have become a newly minted doctor of philosophy, but that accomplishment didn't seem to matter. To be continued.....
My first quarter of college at the University of Wyoming, I lived in a room prepared for two students on the second floor of the sheep barn at the University of Wyoming Livestock Farm. I worked at the University Dairy several mornings each week during the milking time, and Saturday usually had some glorious job like scrubbing manure specks off the walls of the milking parlor with a wire brush while all my fraternity brethren were busy going to football games, drinking beer, and having a blast. The building behind me and my friend is the original Wyoming Territorial Prison, used for a time by the University of Wyoming, and now restored to its original format as a museum. The date for this photo would be about 1950.
For forty-five years September for me meant going back to school. Not counting eleven years of elementary-high school classes (I was hauled out of the second grade and plunked in the third for making up stories about what I did over Saturday and Sunday every Monday morning, hence eleven years), four years of undergrad school, and four years of grad school. I retired thirteen years ago from teaching economics.
I still have moments of wishing I could still be back in school. I miss the classroom, I miss the college kids, I miss the atmosphere. I feel more than a little lost after spending a lifetime either attending or teaching school. The only time I wasn't in school during all those years was the time I spent nearly three years working as research director for the Wyoming Legislature and a year I spent at the Treasury Department in Washington, D. C. Those years were enough to convince me that I did not want to be a civil servant for the federal government and I did not want to try and withstand the political turmoil of working in state government. So I went back to Ann Arbor, wrote my dissertation, and stayed in school ever after.
Here are a few things I do not miss about no longer being a teacher:
Faculty meetings. Faculty meetings are held to inform people about what is going on, instill enthusiasm, share important information. I don't remember a faculty meeting in all my years in school that I was glad to have attended. Usually one or two monopolizers and hydraulic hand raisers take up the time to impress everyone with how much they know. The rest of us are twiddling our thumbs and hoping we can get our course outlines from the copy center in time for the first class.
Grade whiners. No one, apparently, ever gets a fair grade, except for those who score A grades on exams. Everyone else is unfairly graded, and we teachers have not recognized their brilliance. Nor have we recognize how unfair our exams are, daring to ask questions straight out of the lectures and the text that no one is prepared to answer.
Parents who come in to the office with Junior or Esmerelda to inform me about how brilliant their offspring are and how misguided and unfair I am to have kept them from getting their scholarship renewed or getting into med school or into the accounting program, etc., etc., etc.
Athletes who flunk and then blame me for being kicked off the team. Often followed by phone calls from their mothers. Of course, my class was the only one they failed.
Giving tests. BYU had a nice testing innovation called the Testing Center, so I rarely needed, in later years, to give an exam in class. Thus, I was spared breathing the heavy atmosphere of nervous perspiration in classes of 400 students and telling students not to ask me how to answer the question after I had warned them not to ask me how to answer the question. That, of course, is why they were being tested. To see if the could answer the question.
Grading tests. Over my years, I estimate I had well over 20,000 students in my classes in several universities. I remember many Christmas eves and summer days when I should have had a day off but spent the time agonizing over grade distributions, doublechecking grade entries, and making sure there were no extenuating circumstances that warranted special consideration.
Students who keep asking "Will it be on the test?", or "Do we have to know that?" after they have been warned, rewarned, and re-rewarned to never, never, ask this question.
I could generally keep my large classes under control, rarely having problems with smaller ones, but occasionally I would get some immature goofoffs whose only purpose in attending class was to make my life miserable.
I could probably come up with a few more miseries of teaching, but next time I'll tell you about the rewards and the things I loved about teaching. The Curmudgeonly Professor.
I am going to take you on a trip from St. George UT, in the southwest corner of the state, to the Salt Lake Valley along I-15, one of the major transcontinental routes linking to I-70 east to Denver in mid-state, and I-80 east through Wyoming at Salt Lake. This photo is of the landscape immediately north of St. George. All photos were taken through the windshield at a speed of either 76 or 81 miles per hour, depending on posted speed, since my sons allow one mph leeway to obey the law. They were taken with a Canon 7D with telephoto lens. I will be dragging this trip out for awhile. For those who drive the I-15 corridor often, you may gain a new appreciation for the scenery that we all tend to take for granted. For flatlanders and friends from around the world, you can visualize more clearly what it is like to live in a landscape dominated by mountains. Enjoy the trip.
Since the year is nearly one-third over by the end of March, and since today is about the middle of March, I thought it appropriate to inform my faithful blog followers of my accomplishments and activities of the past week, as follows:
I have quit my blog several times, thinking I was tired of posting stuff after nearly five and one-half years. Besides, all anyone does 24 hours a day now is stay chained to their iPhones and iPads and have forgotten that they are supposed to talk to other people and not spend all their time texting little cutesy messages. Then I took a batch of spring photos and didn't know what else to do with them, so here they are.
I lost my car keys yesterday when we went to lunch and then to the St. George art museum which puts on annual display of pink and white flowering blossoms. When I got home, I realized I didn't have my car keys and had a fit, so to speak. How could I lose my car keys? I have never lost my car keys in 80 and one-half years (almost). So back to the St. George art museum, not expecting to find the keys. Upon entering the museum and mentioning keys to the ladies at the desk, they gleefully produced them before the words were out of my mouth. I had dropped them while trying to untangle my seat belt with a few impolite suggestions, get my huge camera in the car door, and kick the junk out of the way so I could get in the car.
Of course, my camera battery died in mid-photo shoot, whereupon I said we might as well go home. At which time I spent an hour trying to find my camera battery. When my wife came home, I told her of my plight. She came in my "den", picked up some papers, picked up the box beneath the papers, opened the box, rummaged for a moment (I had previously searched self-same box numerous times in previous hour of disgust), picked up a Canon battery charger, and cheerfully said, "Would this be it?" Of course it would be "it." This was the third time this week she found something instantly I had been searching for forever and asked "Would this be it?". Now my camera battery is charged and I can go take some more photos of pink and white flowering trees.
I have spent about 2,000 hours trying to figure out how to format Microsoft Word 2013 manuscripts into Kindle publishing format. I bought about seven formatting manuals on eBooks from Kindle and found myself more confused than ever since everyone had slightly different suggestions and some left out rather egregious lapses in moving ignorant people to the next step. I have given up this project several times.
Other than the above, I have watched numerous episodes of the Duchess of York, which is hard to understand because of the accents, taken out the trash, given up on the Utah Jazz since the Jazz seem to have either stopped playing basketball or they have forgotten how to play basketball, watched BYU go down in flames in the first round of the West Coast Conference tournament to a team that had hardly won a game all season, and thought about cleaning up my den. The latter task remains in the contemplative stage. Meanwhile, my wife keeps hounding me to do my share of the taxes for this year, which would probably take me 15 minutes, max, but which is so daunting a task I can hardly bear the thought of doing it. I hope your year-to-date has been more productive than mine. Have a nice day.
Here we are talking about my undergraduate degree in agricultural economics from the University of Wyoming in 1953. My undergraduate degree was basically a science degree and, indeed, at least one of my classmates used his undergraduate ag degree to apply directly to medical school and was admitted. The majority of the classes were science--zoo, botany, chemistry, a dozen or more agriculture classes in agronomy, animal husbandry, feeds and feeding, etc. Since my interests were broader than ag science, I crowded in four classes in American History, a class in sociology (which I loathed), two required classes in poli sci (which I loathed, but mostly because of a tyrant prof who criticized me in front of the class for the fact that the window blind pull cord broke when he asked me to fix the blind), several courses in journalism (I loved writing and journalism, but could never have graduated in four years had I changed my major), and all of the required courses in education so I could become a high school vocational agriculture teacher. I thought the education classes were ridiculously easy and lacked substance.
I was lucky to graduate in four years, since I had worked 30-40 hours a week all through school to earn enough money for Van Camp's pork and beans and other culinary delights, buy my books, and take my girlfriend to the movies now and then. After we married my senior year, my grades sharply improved and I made all A's spring term, except for one B. Fortunately for that, since grad school reviewers looked at those courses and the grades, overlooking pitiful performance some quarters when I basically just gave up and plodded on in a stupor.
But, over my life, I have regretted not being able to expand my course work to pick up the following subjects:
Classical literature. I know nothing about the classics. I am trying to learn a bit in my old age, but my knowledge of the classics is pathetic.
Literature in general. My only literature consisted of a few measly, anemic, required readings in freshman English. I learned about literature at the Blue Front in Ann Arbor while working on my Ph.D. at Michigan. The Blue Front was a disorganized paperback and newspaper store where I went to pick up the Washington Post and the New York Times. The paperback books were partly in racks, but many were in boxes randomly scattered on the floor. One day, I began sorting through the boxes on the floor and found a copy of Thomas Wolfe's "You Can't Go Home Again." and I was hooked forever. Literature became my tranquilizer for studying economics and trying to pass exams and orals. Thank you Thomas Wolfe for opening the pores of my brain forever, regardless of what the critics keep saying about your book.
Math. My math education was pathetic. Economics, at the graduate level, is based on mathematical competence. I had high school algebra, high school geometry (which I goofed off in and didn't learn anything), and another course in college algebra. My math education wouldn't measure up to my grandkids' eighth grade math competence. And here I was competing with my close friend and fellow Ph.D. classmate who had an honors undergrad degree in math from Swarthmore. All my college and teaching and research career, I suffered from math inadequacy.
Art and art history.
Though I crammed in four courses in American History, which I loved, and partly because the professor, Gale McGee (who went on to become U.S. Senator and Ambassador to the Organization of American States), was as masterful a lecturer as I ever had anywhere in college, I knew nothing about ancient or European history or world history in general.
Logic and philosophy. Profoundly ignorant on these topics.
So, college kids, don't begrudge your general ed requirements and don't goof off when you take classes in art history, world and ancient history, classics, math, literature, logic and philosophy, and other social sciences. You may want to become an architect or an engineer or a physician or a farmer, but too many people have never learned how to think critically, how to evaluate evidence, how to discover reliable knowledge and information, and how to avoid living their lives from a fountain of fantasy and ideology. But, remember this: You have a lifetime to learn, and you can make up deficits in your knowledge by launching forth at an early age on a lifetime quest for expanding your horizons, opening new windows and doors, learning to think and reason objectively, and have something inspiring to accomplish besides watching TV.
While I was writing out a lengthy complaint yesterday after the fridge repair man was watching me intently, he asked me, "Were you a teacher?" I was amazed at his perception and thought I must appear immensely scholarly and knowledgeable for the repair man to figure out my career. "Yes," I replied, "for 45 years. How could you have known?" His reply: "Because you can write and talk at the same time. Most people can't do that." True, I was yapping about my unhappiness with my worthless fridge while writing out a complaint. And I thought, true, when you write on an overhead projector transparency or on the blackboard in a classroom, a teacher must keep his or her mouth going or lose contact with the eager 3-400 students, more or less, who are anxious for the next revealed truth about marginal costs and marginal revenues, or whatever. So, were you a teacher? Can you yap furiously and write voluminously at the same time without missing a beat?
Here's an idea of summer highway construction traffic between SL City and Provo UT
Yes, it did rain when we got to our destination in Hobble Creek Canyon, but we had an option of an indoor facility. We attended the annual fall retreat of the finance department of the Marriott business school at BYU from which I retired eleven (11? really?) years ago. I still miss the students but at this stage of life I am definitely not up to preparing course syllabi, exams, lectures, and enough jokes to entertain several hundred students for an entire semester. Entrance requirements continue to rise for admission to the Marriott School as GPA's rise and only so many students can be admitted. Sad for those who just miss the cutoff, but what else can you do?
Ever since we got back to Salt Lake, my internet has kept blinking off and on. And that was after making arrangements ahead of time to have it up and running, and assurances that it was doing so. Two long phone calls the first week did not resolve the problem. Then a two hour phone call Monday morning running through a bunch of idiotic "diagnostics" ordered by the techie on the other end of the line. Finally he gave up and said a tech repair man would be out the next day between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30. After sitting around all day, the repair guy showed up at 3:00 p.m. He twiddled with the phone line outside the house a minute, turned on the modem, and presto my internet is back.
Which leads to the question: Am I really better off with the internet? Does my status and eternal happiness depend on being tagged in facebook? Should I continue wasting two or three hours a day posting photos to the Curmudgeonly Professor Blog? Is it really important to read the latest comments by my sisters? Or should I find a new hobby? I do not notice any diminished levels of satisfaction from people who swore off computers after retiring and banished them from their homes. Perhaps I should stop cold turkey, stop my blogs, stop my attacks on the Tea Party on Twitter, discontinue my learned economic analysis on Twitter, discontinue comments on my grandchildren's posts on facebook, and do what? I can only listen to talk show bloviators for so long and my ears go numb, my brain is fried, and I long for the good old days of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and FDR. Then I remember unemployment was 25% then and the only entertainment was listening to the radio and the victrola by the light of a kerosene lamp. Have a nice day and never, never try to transfer your internet, your telephone, your tv provider, and your mail. Turn off your TV, turn off your computer. A daughter of a long-time friend came with her parents to see us the other day. She has eight kids and they are all reading stuff like the Iliad and the Odyssey and books of like manner. I asked her how that happened. She said "because we haven't had a TV in the house for 17 years." Go figure. I can see class is about over so I will let you out early today. There will be an hour essay exam next class period on the stuff I was supposed to cover today but never got around to so be sure you read Chapters 18-35 by tomorrow and be prepared. Nobody ever pays any attention to me in here anyway.
When I first went to (then) Colorado A & M, the Economics Department was housed on the top floor of the Administration Building. I started in the fall of 1954 with a master's degree in agricultural economics from Montana State at the age of 22 when I was assigned to two classes of 90 students each in introductory agricultural economics. I was hired to do research, but the first Friday I arrived in Fort Collins my department head gave me a textbook and told me to start teaching Monday morning. So I did.
This venerable building was the home of the economics department at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for several decades, including the time I was in school there from 1956-1958 and again during the 1962-1963 school year when I finished my dissertation. This building was a durable old lady which reeked of tradition and of the ghosts of famous economists who had been at home in this structure. Coming from the West, where we were used to having everything more than a few years old torn down and rebuilt anew, finding the reverence for old and functional buildings common in the midwest and east was a new experience. I had an assistanthip in the Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics in which about five students were housed in one big room with our professor in the basement, second basement window from the left. I had no idea how I ever managed to get admitted to such a prestigious economics program, but managed to compete with my classmates from the Ivy League with my University of Wyoming and Montana State academic credentials. My first class in macroeconomics was a required course in advanced macroeconomic theory. I had never had an introductory course in economics let alone beginning and intermediate macroeconomics. But I was in awe of my academic surroundings, the atmosphere, the tough and world-class professors, and my congenial fellow students.
After two years of course work, we took our "prelims" or preliminary examinations. Half of the class I entered with failed. How I ever passed is beyond me. The ghost of John Maynard Keynes took pity on me. Again, of those who passed their prelims, only about half ultimately completed a dissertation successfully and received a Ph.D. degree, including some I thought were incredibly brilliant students. Then, in the fall of 1963, after a year at the Office of the Secretary of the Treasury's Office of Tax Analysis convinced me to go back to school, I took my final oral exams for the Ph.D. in the basement room, again second from the left, where I had spent my first two years here. Following my questioning, I was excused, only to learn that President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed just a few minutes before, during my questioning. I didn't wait until summoned back into the room, but went in anyway to inform my teachers, since several of them had served or were now serving various positions in the Kennedy Administration. Having been in Washington working on the Kennedy Tax Cut bill just before I went back to Ann Arbor, my glee at finally getting my Ph.D. was forever dampened by the sadness of that day.
Unfortunately, this ancient building burned down a few years after I left Ann Arbor. But my memories of a graduate degree in economics and of the brilliant professors who taught me there are forever linked to this ancient and musty building.
In about 1956, I shared an office in the center of the top floor where the curve is. My office mate had cluttered his desk with stuff, filled the pulled-out leaves with piles of papers, piled high the table behind his desk. So one day I came in the office and he was writing on a yellow pad on his knee. He was a labor economist; maybe that had something to do with it. I spent 10 years at Colorado State, beginning when I was 21 and had just finished a master's degree in agricultural economics at Montana State, returning after I finished my Ph.D. prelims at Michigan, and once more after teaching at Wyoming for 9 years. This photo was taken when I was a visiting professor at CSU during the late 80s. But my office was no longer here. I always loved Colorado State and Fort Collins, though I finished my career at Brigham Young.