Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Swat a Day, Keeps the Gum Away

Last week my wife and I had a discussion that was quite heated and passionate. Because it originated with a statement she had made, she asked that I would let her blog about it first, and wait to write my own take on it. I agreed. Last week I posted a poem, whereas she posted "I'm So Tired". Today I'm giving you my take (and please, read hers first).

From what I can tell, the desire of public education today is purely nostalgic. By that I mean we want "the good old days", when kids behaved in schools, and results were good. (By "we", I mean the folks in Washington, D.C., who I will lambast later). Today's public schools are overwrought with disciplinary problems, and lowered results. Back in the good old days, we produced children of such intellect, that they helped beat the Russians to the moon. And the worst thing you had to deal with were kids chewing gum and talking in class.

Okay, you want the schools of the 1950s? I'll give you the schools of the 1950s. You ready to make some changes? Then, in order to have those schools, and their educational results: Segregate the blacks, keep non-English speaking children out, bring back the paddle, and take all Learning Disabled (LD) students and put them in the mental wards or special schools (remember the "short bus"?) where they belonged (or counseled to drop out and focus on getting a job).

Of COURSE today's schools have lower results than back then. For one thing, there is more to learn today. We are more technologically advanced, more "one world", than ever before. Two plus two will only get you so far. In today's world of computers, you need so much more to succeed.

Did you know that today, public schools are unable to refuse accepting ANY students? That war over in the Middle East? Produced a bunch of immigrants. You know, a bunch of kids whose primary language is NOT English? Guess where the kids go to school? They go to the public schools. You know what? That is a good thing! I love the idea of different cultures coming to America and merging together. Remember the whole "melting pot" concept? I live on the west side of Cleveland. One of the things I LOVE about here is that there is so much diversity when it comes to FOOD!! You can keep your Applebee's (no offense: I love Applebee's). Give me mom-n-pop places with names I can't pronounce.

Today's public schools have LD students. And today, more kids are diagnosed LD than ever before. What do you think happens to all of those test scores when you add in the LD students? Should we get rid of them? As the husband of a public school teacher (which I am telling you, if you didn't happen to read her blog article - shame on you!), I have had the opportunity to attend some school functions over the years, and have met some of her LD students. They are the most delightful kids I've ever met. Genuine, honest, and tend to "suck the marrow" out of life. By the way, LD also includes those with physical challenges. To watch the other students treat them as any other student, is a sight most bigoted adults NEED to see.

Who do we turn to then? Who will fix our problems with public schools? We need people with the wisdom, the experience, and the passion to reach into our educational system and provide solid, forward-thinking solutions. Unfortunately, I give you our political leadership in Washington (time for some good, old-fashioned, lambasting!)

(The below needs to be read out loud. Preferably while standing on a chair.)

Our benevolent leaders in Washington have made the issue of public education a(nother) top priority. So, what do these folks, who have never worked an honest day in their lives, who have never stepped foot in a public school (you know, private schools for them and their children), and who, as a bunch of failed lawyers (which is why they are in politics in the first place), who have no concept on how the education system works, do? They take money from lobbyists who represent companies that SELL tests and curriculum and force it upon the schools. They keep finding ways to punish teachers, the very people who you entrust with the education of your children, so that they will spend more time getting your kids to memorize the answers to tests, than actually educate them. Because, after all, they need to get good test results, and then PAY additional fees to access the data of the results. All so some lobbyist can have money to spend on politicians so that the politicians can sell out their responsibilities to the highest bidders.

Yeah, they suck.

(I told you there would be some lambasting!)

So, how DO we fix the education system? As I said above, we need people with the wisdom, experience, and passion to provide the solutions. I am NOT that people. I have the passion, but lack the wisdom and experience. Who then? How about those who have been IN the education system, for starters? How about letting them come up with ideas and ALLOW them to implement them? How about getting the damn lawyers off their backs, so that when a child DRAWS a picture of a gun, or (oh my God) makes a gun shape out of his fingers, teachers don't have to go off all half-cocked (pun intended) and make a bid deal out of it, for the fear of getting sued! Allow them to focus on YOUR kids and teaching them.

And another thing: you parents need to get more involved too. A teacher spends maybe 40 minutes with your kid. You have FAR more impact on their lives than any teacher will ever have. I challenge you: when a person reflects on who their biggest, positive influencers are, don't let it be a teacher they mention. Not that teachers shouldn't be honored, but a parent who works with (and not against) a teacher, will go a long way to influencing their child to succeed in their education and other pursuits far more.

I guess I am saying that yes, it's broke and it's time to fix it. It is up to us to make sure that it is fixed right. Punishing teachers is not the solution. Sure, there are some bad teachers. But the majority of them are not. They didn't take the job for the summers off. Hell, as a husband of a public school teacher I can honestly say, you couldn't PAY me enough to do her job.

And neither could they you.

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

No Costume Required

(The below was written and posted to a site long before I started this blog. I am (re)posting it here for your enjoyment. It includes the original description notes at the end. -j.p.)

You said the words:
"Good bye"
and my heart broke.
I could almost hear it shatter.
No last kiss.
No last embrace.
I miss your taste;
the feel of you in my arms.
The softness of your hair against my cheek.
I ache for you.
Tears have yet to dry.
I long to go into hiding;
run from everyone.
I want to be alone;
yet being without you makes me alone in a crowd.
I am disguising myself.
You wouldn't recognize me.
If we meet at a party you would pass me by.
I am going as a "broken heart".
No costume required.
J.P. Wiegand
© Emittravel 2003

Originally this started as a concept for a greeting card; sort of an "I Miss You / Halloween" type. The card would have had a picture of a person with a large heart (like those "The world is coming to an end" signs) on the front with the line: "This Halloween I'm going as a broken heart"; on the inside would simply be the words: "No costume required."

The person? Same lady as "Wrapped in Unconditional Love". In this case,
time does NOT heal all wounds. -j.p.

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Clothes Really DO Make the Man (or Woman)

So what, exactly, is the right thing that one should wear that presents confidence, and a well-adjusted self image? Is it an expensive suit? A red (power) tie? Polished shoes? Or a sharp hat? (I'm a wearer of hats, so I had to include that in the list.) As for the ladies, would the same items, outside of the tie, be on the list?

Any of the above would most likely work, but what if I told you that the one, sure-fire item that you could wear was your "birthday suit"?

My wife is the most beautiful woman on the planet. Of course, I'm biased: I'm madly in love with her. But what was it that drew me to her? The person I fell in love with was (and is still today) confident, beautiful, and enjoying life. It wasn't what she wore on the outside, but what she wore underneath her clothes. She was (and is to this day) what I would call "comfortable in her own skin".

She laughingly says that I came along and ruined her plans. She had no intentions of getting married until she was 80. We were acquainted with each other in high school, but didn't get together until our 20-year reunion. Two years later we were married. We halved her plans! But why me? She says the same thing: I was comfortable in my own skin. I've told my wife that I'm so glad we didn't try to get together 20 years ago. I don't think she would have liked the person I was. For one thing, I was not comfortable in my own skin back then.

So, what, exactly, does it mean to be comfortable in one's own skin? It doesn't mean you have all of the answers. It means you are okay with knowing what you do, and not knowing what you don't. It doesn't mean that you have reached the pinnacle of growth. It means you are comfortable in the position you are in in life, and are open to the changes to come. And it doesn't mean that you are necessarily happy with the way you look in the mirror. It means you are respectful of the image you see, but are not afraid to give it the T.L.C. that it deserves.

My youngest niece is 15 years old. I personally can't believe it. She is in her freshman year of high school, whereas I keep thinking she is just going into first grade. But that is my own hang up; her being my youngest niece. In reality, she is an incredible young lady. One of the coolest things about her is that she is her own person. She doesn't follow a crowd, nor does she see the crowd and "rebel" against it. She is, at 15, comfortable in her own skin. Do you have any idea how rare that is?

If you have been a reader of this blog for a while, you may be asking how I can say I'm comfortable in my own skin, after making the decision to go on this sabbatical from "intellectual Christianity" (see: "Oh to be Ignorant", "Hey, Babe: Take a Walk on the Quiet Side", and "Where Do We Go From Here?"). Please understand, it takes BEING comfortable in one's own skin to make a decision such as this. This was not the action of someone who was looking for something to make himself a "whole" person. A person who is "co-dependent" on something - even church - could not make such a decision. That type of person would simply be running away from things - or running towards something else. You know, looking for something to make them "whole".

Life brings many opportunities and challenges. With those opportunities and challenges come decisions that can turn out to be wise or foolish. The secret is, that no matter the outcomes, you have to be okay with who you are.

Learn to be comfortable in your own skin: it's the only "power suit" one ever needs to wear.

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Developers! Developers! Developers!

Some of you who follow tech news will undoubtedly recognize the title of this blog article as a quote from former Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer. I feel a kinship to Mr. Ballmer: we both like to rant. He, from the stage of Microsoft events - and possibly the sidelines of Los Angeles Clippers' games, and me, from the digital pages of this blog.

Rest assured, even though this particular article will deal with technology and developers, I have great affection for those who spend their days huddled in front of computer monitors writing line after line of code. My day job is that of Executive Assistant to the Chief Technology Officer, and administrative assistant to a staff of over 150 I.T. and business analytics folks. I also spend much leisure time listening to podcasts from the likes of individuals as Tom Merritt (@acedtect), Paul Thurrott (@thurrott), Mary Jo Foley (@maryjofoley), Patrick Beja (@NotPatrick), Jonathon Strickland (@JonStrickland), and a "digital Jesuit" named Robert Ballecer, SJ (@padresj). Sometimes, though, I think that what comes out of the keyboards of some developers leave the customer's best interests out of the mix.

This past summer, my wife and I had the pleasure of meeting a number of great folks at an event in Salt Lake City, Utah called "Nerdtacular". Along with some fantastic artists, musicians, and simply "geeky" podcasters, we got to meet people like Josh Freeman (@jdfreeman11) from San Antonio, Texas. His Twitter bio states: "Software Engineer. @thefullformat host. Netflix C-list horror connoisseur." He also tweets statements like "Design better software today than you did yesterday. Continue doing so until the day you stop writing software." and "If sleeping is the human version of rebooting, is dying the result of an uncaught exception?".  Josh is the inspiration for this article.

"Dear Developers. The removal of a feature is NEVER considered an upgrade. Signed, Your Customers." - me.

The above is one of my major gripes regarding technology. Here's an example why:

Back in the day, Microsoft came out with their iPod competitor: the Zune. I have one of the 30 GB brown "bricks", and I really like it. It holds a large chunk of my music collection, but not all of it. I have auto playlists that I use to dynamically go through my music collection. For instance, I have one that pulls all songs, minus genre:Christmas, with a play count of less than one, shuffles it, and limits the playlist to no more than 30 GBs. I sync that playlist and start enjoying the music. When next I synchronize it, those songs that no longer fall into the playlist criteria (for instance, a play count of less than one) will fall off, which updates the overall playlist, and syncs new songs back to the device. This way I can work through the 26k+ songs in my collection without hearing the same Billy Joel song over and over (not that THAT would be a bad thing!)

The desktop software the Zune used was also called Zune - a kind of iTunes. You could play music through your computer, or sync it to a device. This was built on Microsoft Media Player (11?) All was happy in the world, until Microsoft came out with its new Zune HD player. When this device came out, a "new" desktop software was released as well. Microsoft came out with their own Market Place, and the Media Player core was not sufficient to do it. So, they rebuilt it from the ground up. And, since they were under a deadline to get the software out there to match the Zune HD hitting the shelves, many of the features were missing.

"A fast approaching deadline is the most important reason to have code reviews, not to skip them." - Josh Freeman

One of those missing features was the ability to generate auto playlists. Yup! One of the most useful features - a carryover from Media Player - and it was "removed". Okay, maybe not "removed". Just not in that current build. After a time of many people complaining in the forums, missing features slowly returned. But that took time. (And don't get me started about the mainly-useless Xbox Music either!)

I understand that sometimes a program needs to be rewritten from the ground up. Sometimes the program becomes so large that it slows down your computer just running it!

"More code doesn't necessarily mean more better." - Josh Freeman

What's even more annoying, is when you install an update to software and it "breaks". One of the reasons TO update is to fix security holes. Not updating software can therefore be a risky proposition. Unfortunately, most updates do not let you know what is changing, until after you've updated and it becomes a mess. Let me give you an example:

You have replaced your refrigerator with the newest model. Not only does it keep the food cold, it has many adjustable shelves, an ice maker, a water dispenser, and a beautiful stainless steel exterior. Very nice. One day, overnight, an "update" gets pushed. When you walk in your kitchen you find that your refrigerator is missing all of the shelves (the food is piled on the bottom), the ice maker doesn't work, the water dispenser is missing, and the stainless steel exterior is now a vinyl-clad hot pink. When you go online you find many other people complaining. The only responses you get are "the shelves will be returned in a future update", "we are aware of the ice maker issue and are working on it", "what water dispenser?", and "the color is a UI upgrade." At least the food still stays cold.

So, please, developers, and those managers pushing the deadlines, keep us, your customers in mind when you make changes. The future of your products depend on it! (Remember Vista, Microsoft?)

"Feature - feature - break - feature - break - fix - break - test - fix - test - fix - break - feature - break - break." - Josh Freeman

(Special thanks to Josh for inspiring this post: looking forward to seeing you at a Nerdtacular again soon! -j.p.)

© Emittravel 2014

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Is This the Hill You Want to Die On?

There are currently about 121 people/things I follow on Twitter. By "things", I mean like @LHSRangers - the high school where my wife @lisamwiegand teaches. One of the people I follow, is a very intelligent young lady named Jedediah Bila - @JedediahBila - whose descriptions of her life in New York bring lots of laughs. Her Twitter profile says she is "TV host. Author. Columnist. Radio personality. Former Professor/Dean. Animal lover. Superhero wannabe. Was juicing kale before it was cool." Again, worth the follow.

I was going through my feed, when I came across her following tweet: NOM, you've embarrassed yourselves. Badly. "Marriage Group Backs Liberal Dem over Gay Republican": via @BrietbartNews

My brain immediately went, "WHUH?!?!?"

First off, for clarity, "NOM" stands for "National Organization for Marriage". They have stated that they will "actively oppose" the candidate for the GOP and will endorse the Democrat, even though they say that he is wrong on the issues.

Around the same time, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, announced that he was gay (I don't think there was any connection between the two events). Included in my Twitter feed were posts of a map of the United States showing in which states Mr. Cook would have lost his job for being gay. Most of the map was colored unfavorably for those who "butter their bread on the other side".

In a previous blog article ("D.O.M.A. is D.U.M.B") I make it pretty clear that "I'm not anti-gay. I'm not pro-gay either. When it comes to the world, I'm ambivalent-gay." Just wanted to make that clear up front.

Let me try to explain something here: when you are voting for a politician, what you are doing is playing the part of employer (or Human Resources) and are saying, "Yes, I believe this person is qualified to do this job," or not. When you are looking to fill a position you look for skills that show that person can do a good job. A good job. That that person can do a GOOD JOB. Does it really matter what color their skin is? No. Does it matter if they like football or not? No. Does it matter if they prefer dark chocolate over milk chocolate? No. (But, for the record, I do prefer dark over milk.) Does it REALLY matter what a person's sexuality is when it comes to doing a GOOD JOB? If I REALLY have to answer that …

But I guess I really do, since I'm writing this.

The thing about the NOM thing is that they would RATHER support a candidate whose stance on issues is considered "wrong" than support a candidate whose stance on issues is considered "right", but turned out to be gay. For people with this mentality, I think a voting booth is a dangerous place, and they should stay far away.

Maybe this will help: Imagine your house is in need of repair, and you need to hire the best carpenter you can find. You find out that the carpenter is gay. So you instead, hire the mechanic - because he isn't. The mechanic will make a mess of your house. But hey! At least you know he isn't gay!

But J.P., don't you know that presidents, and some governors, select judges? Yes, yes I do. Two things: First, judges aren't the supreme rulers (see what I did there?). There are checks and balances built into the system. The problem is that the other two parts of the government need to check and balance - and they don't. And second, the number of judges they can select is far smaller than the myriad of other things they do in their positions, having NOTHING to do with their sexual orientation.

For some reason, there is this mentality that if a Republican is gay, they will abandon everything else to push the gay agenda. That means, for instance, if they are for less spending, less government, and a stronger military, they will abandon those and only push for things that help place "rainbows" on everything. So instead, people vote for the person who will push more spending, more government, and a weaker military, but whose sexual orientation won't have any effect on doing the job.

So I ask you: is this really the hill upon you which you chose to make your stand?

© Emittravel 2014