Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Coach is Dead! Long Live the Coach!

It is a tragedy!  Enema U. has lost its beloved football coach, Coach Falter.  Somehow, a coachroach with a win/loss record that even France can best has been hired away by the NFL.  Not much work was done this week on campus as we all stood outside looking for a bright star in the east.

Truthfully, it was one of the worst NFL teams that hired him (and not as the head coach either) but still, he is gainfully employed and he is no longer on our campus.  Who knew that the path to promotion was abject failure and humiliation?  The rest of the university has always told our students that the correct method was hard work and achievement--no wonder our students neither believe us nor try that approach.

How will Enema U cope without the talents of Coach Falter--the innovator of the Hokey Pokey Linear Defense and the All-You-Can-Lose Tailgate Party?  And who will forget Coach Falter’s volunteer work as a safe driving instructor?

Now the university will begin the process of searching for a new coach.  Without a doubt, this means we will hire an expensive search firm, form a search committee, then hire the first yokel who will agree to move here and lose games for us while being paid the paltry sum of half a million dollars a year until he, too, can be hired away.  I’m not sure that I can remember all the coaches who have come and gone, come and lost, and lost and left.  As far as I can remember, we have not had a winning coach in the last three decades.  I wonder how much money we have spent over the years to lose.  It has to be hundreds of millions of dollars.

Naturally, I have several suggestions.  Let me be the coach.  I’ve thought this over, and I am willing to sacrifice—I’ll do the job for only a quarter million dollars a year.  Why not?  As an alumnus, it is the least I can do for my alma mater.  And I think I can safely guarantee to lose at least as many games as my predecessors.  What was Coach Falter’s win/loss record?  3 in 1100?  Something like that.  I live in a house that was formerly the home of an Enema U football coach.  According to the neighbors, he had a losing record so bad that one Saturday night someone stole a pickup and deliberately drove it through the garage wall.  I promise, if I can’t equal that losing record, I’ll drive my own truck through that wall.  Remember, I’ll do it for half the money.

While we are making changes, it is time to re-brand our team.  We need a new image and a new name. Hell—the team needs to go in the witness protection program.  A colleague of mine (and I will not reveal Jon’s name) suggested that the team rename themselves the “Zombies”.  This name would allow a new motto:  “We get killed every week and we keep coming baaaack!

While we wouldn’t have to change the rules much, the referees could be dressed as undertakers and every penalty would be a death penalty.  Yes, our football program is dead, and if we aren’t going to bury the moribund, then we must give it life—or perhaps just label it the undead. 

I think the students would enjoy dressing up as zombies.  (Some already do.)   I think students would be positively dying to attend the game.  I have to admit that I am getting tired of our present mascot: the Eneman.  Our new cheerleaders and mascot could be the Walking Dead.

Besides, I would attend the games myself just to hear the student body chanting from the stands, “We want brains!  We want brains.”

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Are You Lojacked Tonight?

For decades, my wife, The Doc, carried a voice pager.  At all hours of the day or night, the little box would screech and then loudly announce, “Dr. Milliorn, please call the ICU.”  She was never out of reach from that little black box.  I loved it, being always able to find your wife was a great luxury.  I can remember thinking that pagers should be surgically planted behind the ears of brides shortly after the wedding ceremony.

Once, The Doc was shopping at the mall and I called that voice pager.  “Honey,” I said loudly.  “Don’t pass any more of those twenties.  The Feds are onto us.”

The Doc, like every other surgeon in the country, was an early adopter of cell phones.  And that, too, was a blessing for me.  I could always find her when I needed her—usually to tell me where I had lost something.  And other similarly incredibly important trivial nonsense.  I loved her cell phone.

I did not, however carry a beeper.  I liked my privacy.  I can distinctly remember the first time I went rabbit hunting and my damn cell phone rang.  There I was, miles out in the desert, enjoying the bright clean summer sunlight while I was getting very close to assisting a few bunnies in passing away from induced plumbism—WHEN THE DAMN PHONE RANG!  I should have shot it and been done with the damn things forever, I didn’t, and the infernal devices multiplied like, well, rabbits.

Now, we all seem to be as tied to our little electronic devices as if they really were surgically planted behind our ears.  And they are finding ever more intrusive ways to enter our lives.  With Google Maps and Google Earth, you can look into the driveways and backyards of every home in America.  Apple has an application built into every iPhone and iPad that will let you see where every device your family owns is located 24 hours a day.  I wonder how many divorces a year happen because a spouse can see where their partner’s phone is located.  Did I really intend to tie myself to a GPS device that tracks and records my movements? 

This constant communication and tracking has led to new profitable enterprises.  Since my movements are tracked, companies can now determine exactly how often, how long, and where I shop.  The census could never collect data like this.

Look at the ads with this blog.  (And please click on them--that’s what pays for the beer that fuels this blog.)  Do the ads have anything to do with a recent search you made on Google?  Are they trying to sell you something similar to what you recently viewed online?  Did you think that was an accident?

The government recently announced that it is spending $3 million on a pilot project to monitor Facebook to see if they can predict epidemics and possibly guard against biological warfare attacks.  So, it is your patriotic duty to post every sneeze and sniffle.  And rest assured, your government is truly concerned about your health.  At least digitally.

Large research companies are partnering with game companies to do online stealth research.  Marketing choices will be hidden within free online games where the player’s choices will be carefully recorded.  Why hire a small focus group when you can secretly exploit millions of people all over the world?

I thought the future was supposed to be flying cars and space stations.  I was promised colonies on the moon and robots.  How come all I got was a rechargeable leash?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Education Unplugged

It has been an interesting week at Enema U.  The students and the professors are still MIA, but the nuts and bolts of the university continue to loosen as the university carries on.    University work is done in committees, and a committee is a life form several notches lower on the evolutionary scale than Congress.

I think I have figured out the flaw in meetings.  The sane people are full of doubts while the crazy people are full of confidence.   Not only is there no shortage of crazy people on campus, but it seems to be a competition.

At one of the meetings this week, I listened raptly while people who do not teach for a living told me in great detail exactly how teaching should be done.  “The Sage on the Stage is dead,” they said.  “Lectures no longer work.”

This was followed by hours and hours of being told that the pedagogy of teaching has changed.  Somewhere along the line, I have really developed a dislike to the word ‘pedagogy’.  The people who use the word the most often, seem to teach the worst.  For those of you with honest jobs, if you don’t know what the word means, it is Greek for the act of having an intimate relationship with a poodle.

Theories of teaching seem to change faster than Kardashian boyfriends, but I have noticed something along the way:  as the methods of instruction improve over time, test scores and graduation rates keep dropping. 

I took classes from quite a few really good professors, scholars who taught me to love history.  Somehow they managed to do this without modern teaching theories or technologically advanced classrooms.  The difference, I am told, is that the student of today was born with technology, is used to technology and demands it in the classroom--and technology demands new methods of teaching.  Personally, I think the problem is that students need to put down the smartphone until they master the technology of books.

Somehow, technology seems to drive just about everything in education today.  Online teaching, digital textbooks, distributed learning… the list of new—and as yet unproven--methods of instruction grows regularly.  And I confess to using many of these techniques myself.  But I think that somewhere along the line we have come to value the technology more than the teacher who enjoys teaching.

Several years ago, I developed a media-intensive lecture on the Jim Crow laws and the slow birth of Civil Rights.  The lecture included scores of PowerPoint slides of Southern Blacks being denied access to the polls and more than one graphic image of a lynching.  Less than an hour before class started, I got word that the projector had been stolen from the classroom and there was no possibility of obtaining a spare.

The class was not cancelled.  From my pickup, I took fifty feet of good 1-inch rope to the classroom.  While sitting on the table at the front of the room, I gave my lecture.  At the same time, as slowly as humanly possible, I tied a hangman’s noose.  I never mentioned the rope or the knot, just tied it glacially slowly as I talked.  I don’t think those students blinked until the lecture—and that knot—was finished.  I have never given that lecture with the PowerPoint slides.

Socrates, some 2400 years ago, said that a school was a log with a student on one end of it and a teacher on the other.  That method still works.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Elevator Races

The university this week is as quiet as the required textbook section of the bookstore.  Since it is snowing (it does that even in southern New Mexico every now and then) and it is two weeks until school starts, the only people hanging around the university are the staff and the unhappily married.   You would think that this would be a great time to get a little ahead in the new semester’s work, but logical thinking is so rare it should be categorized as a superpower. 

One of the few people working on campus today was the elevator repairman.  Every building on campus with more than one floor has—legally must have-- an elevator.  We had an interesting conversation—I must confess that I have long had a fondness for elevators dating from when I worked at the Flagship Hotel and took a short course on emergency elevator maintenance.  When the hotel’s insurance company offered a small discount on our premiums if we had someone who worked the night shift qualified to work on the elevators, as the resident manager, I was immediately sent off to class.

I love elevators and loved learning about them.  And I learned a few secrets about the kind we had in the Flagship Hotel.  Eventually, I took a few of those secrets, and a set of keys, back to the hotel where they turned into a new game for the amusement of a few members of the graveyard shift.

The hotel was seven floors tall and had two elevators.  Somewhere about one in the morning, an off duty policeman the hotel employed as security and I would make our way to the seventh floor of the hotel.  We stepped out of the elevator, and as soon as the doors shut, I would insert a small round key into the upper left corner of the elevator door.  If you look, quite a few elevator doors have this inconspicuous keyhole, particularly on the top, bottom, and middle floors. 

When you turn the key, you may slide the outer door of the elevator open.  This immediately stops the elevator car—if you time this just right, you may step off onto the top of the car.  And if you allow the outer door to slide shut, the elevator car immediately starts moving again with you on top of it.  Or in my case, starts moving with my friend and me on top of it.  Elevators not in use are programmed to move to prearranged floors.  In the case of two elevators, usually the cars will automatically return to the first and middle floors.  

As I said, the Flagship Hotel had seven floors, so the elevators naturally parked themselves at the first and fourth floors.  As we allowed the doors to shut, the elevator cars immediately began to move to one of these two floors.  Riding on the top of an elevator car through a mostly darkened elevator shaft is incredibly dangerous--the type of activity that would only be done by drunken fools.  A single misstep and you quite literally can fall to your death.  We loved it!  It was an intoxicating and wild rush!

The next step was to flip the switch on the control panel on the top of the elevator car.  Not every brand of elevator has this, and the later models have a hand held control panel that plugs in, so it is really doubtful that you will find many elevators still equipped with a control panel.  This is a pity, since flipping the switch took the elevator off automatic control and put it on manual control.  To be specific, the car was controlled by a joystick—you could send the car up and down from where you stood on top of the elevator car simply by moving the joystick up and down.

Elevator cars have multiple speeds depending on the height of the building.  If you started off or stopped a car in the highest speed, passengers not suitably braced for the sudden movement would most likely be lying on the bottom of the car.  If you were on top of the elevator, you could select any speed you wanted.  My friend and I always operated the elevator as if it were stolen and we were making our getaway.  In other words, that elevator car moved through the dark shaft like a stabbed rat.

Once the elevator was under manual control, we could manually send the elevator to where the other car was parked awaiting a call.  Carefully, one of us could step the four feet over to the other car.  This was simple if the other car was parked on the first floor—a little more “stimulating” if the car was parked on the fourth floor.  Elevator shafts aren't totally dark, light comes in around the cracks of all the doors on every floor.  The elevator cars leak light, too.  Still, there are a lot of shadowy dark places in an elevator shaft.  Stepping from one car to another is definitely crazy—hell, the other car can start to move just as you make you step across.  Don’t try this.

Now, once you have someone on both cars under manual control, you can race them.  If either one of you possess a single ‘Y’ chromosome, it is probably mandatory.  If you race them to the top floor, remember to squat down a little.  The movie Die Hard has it wrong, there is actually a little space at the top of the shaft even if the car is all the way to the top—say about three feet.  If you run the car too far up or down the shaft, the electric motor will automatically shut off.  If a car traveling upward at top speed stops suddenly, the momentum can actually lift you off your toes for a second.  And if you standing on the top of the elevator when this happens.…well, don’t do it.  This is stupidly dangerous.  Don’t lose your head over the game.

Even if you aren’t afraid of heights, racing elevators in the dark is a little frightening.  There is a certain amount of screaming going on.  This is especially true if you took your elevator car down to the first floor just as the hotel bar was closing and patiently waited until both cars had passengers before you switched the car over to manual control.  Every good race needs fans to cheer and yell.  NASCAR would be a lot more exciting if they took the drunken fans out of the stands and spread them evenly among the passenger seats of the race cars.

Actually, now that I think about it, everything I have written above (and quite a bit below) is a lie.  I never did this, and this is not the way elevators work and even if they did, it is dangerous and stupid and cruel.  And fun.

At this point, you are probably expecting a moral or some point to the story.  Something moving, uplifting, and down to earth.  Sorry, this is the way my mind wanders when it is between classes and it’s snowing.