Friday, November 11, 2011

Time... help... my way

I have to try very hard to keep my phone calls at work short enough to satisfy my employer.  It's always frustrating to end so many calls each day certain I haven't really done what I could or, on a personal level, should do for my customers.  I think many others find the same thing, resulting in all the calls where I have to stop and wonder what the last person who took the call from this person was thinking, or if they were even paying attention.  I just got a call today where the last agent had documented that he confirmed the account balance was the same as last month and significantly lower than the billing statements showed.  He reassured the customer really well, but left me with a very upset customer whose real bill was sprouting way above their budget.  My time stats were doing really good so I just said to myself "I give up I'm helping this person my way".  I credited the difference between his promised balance and what the bill had shown, explained how the discounts they had lost worked, explained in detail what their options were to save money (as in buying their own equipment, which of their favorite channels they could keep at what price, what their bill would be in a year from now, and more), and even identified and corrected a billing error where we were overcharging them for the services as is.  It took half an hour (about 5 times longer than I'm allowed per average call), but at least I had the satisfaction that I really had tried to help that person, that I took them one step closer to taking back control of their finances, that I did my duty as one human to another to help when life just goes wrong sometimes.  I helped them my way.  It was a good bet, my time stats for the rest of the day were good enough to make up for it.  I just wish I could feel I was spending more people my way

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Today in class we were supposed to write down the factors that were barriers or benefits we felt directed whether we walked, bicycled, carpooled, used public transportation, or drove.  When I stopped to think about it, my feelings about bicycling kind of made me laugh.

To put this in perspective, Bonnie Jean and I owned a car when we got married but didn't really feel we could afford it so we sold the car as soon as we could.  I ran all the errands for almost the entire time bicycling a week of purchases on my back every week.  The weight could become so intense I'd get headaches from supporting it on my shoulders and Bonnie Jean insisted I purchase a set of saddle bags which I was very grateful to own once I had them.  I would bike when it was sunny, when it was rainy, or even if it was snowing.  About the only time I didn't bike is if the roads were one solid layer of ice.  We would rent or borrow a car occasionally for out of town trips and special occasions, but only rarely.  Even with the saddle bags my grocery trips would become so extreme I'd often get comments on the way out of the store as I might have two saddle bags weighed down with heavy liquids like milk, cereals and other light objects filling a large backpack, fruit/bread and other delicate dangling from loops tied to the back pack on the back and shoulders, a frozen pizza wedged behind my back and the backpack, and maybe one or two bags hanging over the handle bars for good measure.  We were avoiding about a 150$ a month for the car payment, 150$ a month insurance payment, and 30$ a month in gas by living this way.  All in all that's 3960$ a year.  It contributed greatly to our ability to begin saving and investing money when we were making very little.  It was the only form of exercise I had but I made good use of it commuting to work, school, and running errands.  At my height of strength during the summer I was such a speedy cyclist I once left the front door of my apartment at the same time as one of my coworkers and beat them to work even though our route included a 50 mph highway.  Granted, I did some crazy stuff to do that like cutting through empty parking lots to avoid stop signs and honing my traffic pattern to avoid having to stop at as many stop lights.  While I walked into work I called out to my coworker, only then exiting her car, that she should go get a bicycle if she was in a hurry to go to work since I beat her there.  I only tried that once, I had such a bad asthma attack from the exertion that I couldn't talk properly.  I think my boss thought I was crazy.

Was I crazy?  In many people's eye's yes I was being completely crazy.  I was living married life with no car in a town with bad winter snowstorms and minimal public transportation.  We only bought a car when we were supposed to get temporary custody of my nephew because I couldn't imagine any way I could bike home a giant box of diapers along with what I was already trucking around town.

Now my biking isn't any where near as extreme as it used to be.  When it snows I drive.  Bonnie Jean does the errands in the car or by bus and I mostly bike the work and school.  The car is ours free and clear, our emergency savings goal of having all our insurance deductibles and three months of living expenses saved up is 50% funded, we have an investment portfolio far beyond what most people my age or at my income level could manage, and considering everything the student debt I have is growing a lot slower than it might because I'm using the tuition reimbursement program at work to pay myself back the large majority of those loans.  A part of this foundation was built by my asthmatic lungs puffed me along 50 miles per week by bicycle trying to avoid higher living expenses anywhere we could by visiting sometimes 2-3 stores per week searching out the best deals on food prices.  So how do I feel about bicycling?  I feel really macho.  Which is hilarious because that's not normally the way I view myself.  Just the sheer amount of physical effort directly contributing to our financial well being has always made me feel more like a man.  I suppose that's one reason to keep cycling.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Take me with you

Tailesen these days either becomes very upset when I'm trying to leave.  He's very adept at spotting when I'm getting ready to go and the other day when I was trying on new gloves to see how they fit with my coat he became very upset thinking I was trying to leave and insisted I hold him and read him a story to reassure him I wasn't going anywhere.  The other day when I was trying to gather things up to go he brought his shoes to me and sat down for me to get him ready to go to.  I think he'd really like to just come with me.

I think I've figured out a large part of why he wants to spend so much time outside, is fascinated by bicylces, and tries to get me to carry him to work.  Its the same phenomenon as when I can sometimes get more work done if I mostly close the office door than if I close it.  If its closed he knows he's been denied access and therefore tries his best to demand entrance.  If its open but mostly shut, he's more likely to think I'm just being boring.  Going to work or school with me is something he never gets to do.  Repeatedly denying access just reinforces that it is something special.  Also, he sees me bike away at one time of day and then hours later sees me come back still riding the bike.  I bet he thinks I spend the whole time at class zipping around on the bicycle.  If daddy loves the outdoors and bicycles that much, it stands to reason he should like them too.  Maybe one day we'll set up a bicycle trailer and I'll have enough time to take him zipping around town.  So far, its not happening.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Heritics of Dune

I think I've decided to give up on the Dune Chronicles.  Books 1-3 were pretty amazing, but I have trouble making myself really want to finish Heritics.  I mean, the earlier books had lots of misogynistic elements in them but the focus in the books wasn't on those elements and they could thus be more or less dismissed as a background or backdrop to a story that wasn't about them.  But in this last book its as if the author tried to pull every nasty female stereotype he could imagine and inflate them to explosive proportions so that some of our characters are apparently mind controlling seducing manipulative freaks who want nothing more than to rule the universe with ultimate power while devoting themselves to being breeding masters over a subjected male subclass who is there to provide sexual submission, sperm, and worship.  Oh, and did I mention this character class is only a slight variant of other groups who are long term members of the story world?  Bring on the bored worm emperor gods any day, Leto was at least interesting in a bored sort of way.  I have to be able to find some character I like and sympathize with or who have goals I can moderately assume to be moderately justifiable before I can find a story accessible.  Maybe if I read farther into the book I would find that magic moment where the story clicked, but I went fairly far into it without finding it, so I'm giving up.  New author and new books here I come!

That's why...

I finally figured out why there is so much broken equipment at my work compared to the previous site and why the place is so... dirty.

They don't have an onsite janitor or IT repair person.

You'd think, no big deal, they probably simply have someone come maybe once a week when the place is closed, right?  No, they really don't pay for janitorial services.  I saw the building cleaned a few weeks ago for the first time in the nearly year since I had been working there.  They took a bunch of team leads and even some ops managers and they dusted and vacuumed.  Given that my boredom routines at work had developed into a habit of scrubbing my work station keyboard and computer vents of  thick wads of dust and scraping the gum off the bottom off the desks so my legs aren't brushing against it all day long I shouldn't be surprised, but I mean really, aren't there people with dust allergies at the place?

And then all the times a computer goes weeks or maybe months with a sign on it saying "don't sit here, (fill in the blank) doesn't work" when new training classes come out and the floor is so crowded I get excused tardies because it took me 5-10 minutes to find a seat again I shouldn't be surprised that they wait till they have a good full days worth of important work before they attempt to call in an outsider to do repairs.  I think this might have something to do with the entire row of desks that is used as a stowage place for broken chairs.

Over the last few weeks as they have started installing luggage padlocks on the headsets to keep people from stealing headsets off the desk, it begs the question, does a dirty broken down environment encourage unprofessional behavior?  Might it have anything to do with the half eaten pop tart I found shoved behind my cubicle computer?  Or the guy I saw today who was resting his feet on top of the desk surface?  I know they care more about having a "low operating cost" than about improving work place intangible values just like on my calls I'm 'supposed' to focus on the tangible value of the service provided over the intangible services I might provide, but I really find my work place kind of disgusting sometimes.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ender's Game vs Starship troopers

I've been rereading the Ender's game books recently.  Perhaps these are books that I just can't experience the same way twice, but I'm enjoying them a lot less this time.  I'm quite familiar with the overall plot line now, so on reading it again I'm focusing more on smaller details and smaller subplots.  And there's only so much that I can read science fiction sermons on the glory of monogamy, the mysteries of marital oneness, the nature of God, and the speculative arrangement of Mormon cosmology into science before my head feels like its going to explode.  Card has written a unique universe and I can appreciate that.  I think he deserved the hugo/nebula awards he won for speaker for the dead and Ender's Game.  But Card is first an LDS fiction writer, second a science fiction author.  I'd like to highlight large selections of text and write in the margin "And now we interrupt this regularly scheduled plot line for a special report on why wives should be subservient to their husband's" or fill in the blank for whatever he is sermonizing on today.  Its led me to think why this bothered me so much despite having loved Starship Troopers which by any measure is a preachy book.  I mean, the main character in Starship Troopers spends a lot of time describing his childhood participating in government mandated ethics classes.  And frankly, Heinlein has a lot to preach about where I don't think he's even in the same ballpark as the truth.

I think part of the difference is that in Card a lot of the plot tension comes from overly contrived absurdities such as:
  • a sentient microscopic disease body, 
  • the proposition that one shipload of pre industrial aliens can wipe out the whole human race when presumably most of the inhabited planets they might try to destroy would shoot them down before they'd ever get near enough to land or deposit their viral payload, 
  • a virus that can wipe out the whole human race yet one isolated biologist in a backwoods community, limited facilities, and no networked system of fellow researchers can develop a bacterial antidote capable of eliminating the virus from a whole planet without undue difficulty
  • A husband whose body will dissolve if his wife isn't more cuddly and nice
  • An instinctive science search for ways to survive that involve killing as many people as possible instead of as few as possible
  • local sewer systems which are controlled by an interstellar computer network, that can be run independently without difficulty but only if the connection to the instarstellar network is blown to bits

Heinlein has a lot of moral tension as well and some of it is probably contrived.  However, I don't recall feeling any of it is being forced into black and white categories that don't fit them even remotely.  Heinlein also feels like someone I can have a good argument with-wheras since Card is more preaching than arguing so I can't have an argument with him about where's he's right and wrong.  He's not inviting argument.  So far, I prefer Heinlein to Card.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Laundry, toilets, and persistance

My son loves to play games where he takes objects in and out of containers.  A perfect opportunity for him to play these is when Bonnie Jean sorts laundry.  As a standard part of laundry clothes are taken out of the dryer, put into a basket, removed from the basket, folded, and put back into the basket.  If he's lucky Bonnie Jean will even put him inside the laundry basket as she empties the laundry from the drier so he gets to enjoy all the warm clothes as they come down and she'll let him ride inside the laundry basket as it moves to the living room for sorting.  Laundry, from his perspective,  means put things in, take them out, wave them around and rumple them, and put them back in the white plastic laundry basket.

So Bonnie Jean was doing laundry and he was doing his best to participate in the general taking in and out and waving around involved.  He noticed another white plastic container in the room that he hadn't ever used in this game before.  Mommy almost never made a fuss about him playing container games with the laundry, so it was a perfect opportunity.  He grabbed my white Sunday shirt and proceeded to try to stuff it into the kitchen trash can.  Bonnie Jean tells me he was being quite persistant on this point and really really wanted to stuff my white shirt in the trash.

Then again, Bonnie Jean often is telling me these days about how persistent he is.  One of his favorite things is running splashing water.  When we start running his bath water we can hardly keep him out of the tub.  I've given up and started putting him in the tub while its still filling so he can admire how water comes out of the facet.  I have to get him most of the way washed while the water is still running because as soon as its done he'll probably decide its time to get out fairly soon afterwards.  This is all fine and dandy, but we use a diaper sprayer to clean the poop off the cloth diapers into the toilet.  This means that several times a day we make running water spray and splash into the toilet.  Very few things rivet his attention so well.  Since he can pull up on furniture now and is learning to climb it can be a struggle to keep him out of the toilet water.  A while ago Bonnie Jean tells me  he learned he didn't have to give up just because she was between him and the toilet.  He even decided he didn't have to give up when he crawled around her and she blocked him with her leg.  He climbed into the tub, explored a bit till Bonnie Jean had forgotten to watch out for what he might do next, and climbed over the edge of the tub on the side near the toilet to splash in the toilet water.  Just like Mommy, who was still trying to squirt the poop off the diaper.  I got home and Bonnie Jean told me "Your son is very persistent."  Whenever she says that, I know I'd better ask what he did this time...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy 4th

Bonnie Jean and I celebrated the 4th by setting off our own fireworks.  I'm guessing we set off about 25 all told.  Not the up in the air kind that were just legalized here, but the cheaper smaller ones that stay on the ground.  Or, at least they are supposed to stay on the ground.  There were a couple that were supposed to spin more or less in the same place on the ground that decided to shoot off side ways and one which levitated onto my neighbors balcony (or at least that's where we think it was headed, never found it again afterwards).  It was fun.  Setting off their own fireworks was a family tradition for her growing up and I had never done it before.

This fourth hasn't felt as sunshiny for me as some in the past.  I've been studying American History post civil war and its harder to talk about being the land of the free when you understand just how recent our understanding of the idea of freedom actually is.  I read a document written by a black man looking back on world war one when he complained about facing the enemy guns abroad and the lynching mobs at home and how tempting it was to simply sit the war out and try not to commit to a nation that hadn't committed towards their safety and freedom.  Or the history of the migrant workers who faced violence, restricted civil rights, and absurdly dangerous working conditions.  Its one thing to speak nostalgicly about all the ethnic minority immigrant groups making up our melting pot nation and another entirely to read about how only about half of the melting pot people stay since they by and large came as migrant workers looking to save up some money to take home to europe.  They weren't very melty and its only later looking back you can talk about how wonderful their integration and naturalization went when at the time depending on the group, place, and time there were mobs that would form to drive ethnic minorities out of town to keep the land and the work available for the 'pure' white race.  Laws were passed so that these ethnic minorities sometimes couldn't vote, couldn't own land, couldn't testify in court, weren't allowed to intermarry etc...

Now, based on my studies the Holocaust completely changed our views of human rights and what was right and wrong concerning racial evaluations.  But once you know all the nitty gritty about how we got here, the surprising thing isn't that its a land of the free.  Its traditionally been a land free for specific groups at specific times.  There are other places you could say well if you only look at the empoered group then sure its a land of the free.  Closer to the truth I think is that the US is one of the first places were certain kinds of thoughts entered human consciousness about human rights and that those ideas have been expanding over time.  And that's a very different from saying it a land of the free.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Budgeting isn't something that is always easy with children around.  When the nephews and niece first came to live with us we tried to redo the budget as part of a park play trip.  Supposedly the two older children would watch the baby and play with each other while we worked the budget.  What actually happened was the two older children mostly ignored their baby brother and our budgeting was interrupted more or less continuously by making sure he didn't wander off the park and get lost and I think even (if I recall which day this was when it happened) by a prolonged search for a shoe which was thrown backwards into the underbrush of someone else's back yard as part of a game of catch.  So the finances were never reworked the entire time they lived with us.  Between me finishing off my first degree, both of us working, and taking care of our nephew even after the older children left we never had a chance to sit down and look at things.

When we took the leap to Bonnie Jean not working, we did so based on a financial analysis that was incomplete.  Basically, we made sure there was going to be enough money for day to day living expenses.  Since then we have redone the budget to include all those once a year expenditures like buying Christmas presents and found we were lacking.  Since Bonnie Jean not working has been an important improvement in our relationship health we have kept trying to figure out a way to make sure we had more money coming in than going out.  Some of the things we've done I don't think we ever expected to do.  Diapers and other disposable hygiene products including napkins have been replaced with cloth reusable.  We've changed cell carriers (lower rates), replaced my bike (avoid using gas), purchased a second freezer (to allow us to store frozen foods when they go on good sales), and aggressively purchased foods when they were on sale.  Assuming the interest rates from out bank accounts say similar to what they are now, we can finally say that including all of our yearly predictable expenses and meeting the savings targets we have planned for (which aren't as high as we'd like but they're something) we now have a predictable $15 excess cash per month.  And that's assuming we spend every penny we have budgeted and Bonnie Jean has been so aggressive on keeping food expenses low we're an entire week ahead in grocery costs.  We also have our crisis savings fund 3/5ths funded, which I think is the highest its ever been considering our 3 months living expenses prediction and all insurance deductibles goals are also the highest they ever have been because of having a baby.  Last I checked, our retirement investments are worth about 19k and Taliesin's college trust even has $90 in it.  It's taken a lot of effort to get to this point and honestly I'm thrilled.  Bonnie Jean is very relieved to finally see the numbers saying that even with all the money we were saving that there is enough money coming in to pay for what is going out.  Feels like we've finally done it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Talk talk talk...

I talk too much each day.  I think this evening I took 51 calls, all from people I will never meet and will never talk to again.  Since I can't manage to sit near the same people regularly I somewhat depend on this parade of strangers to keep me company.  I wish I talked less and communicated more.

Taliesin is just learning to communicate.  We've tried teaching him some signs to tell us when he is done eating at the table or things like that.  That one is to raise both arms above his head.  Today he tried raising my arms above his head and since he often does that to invite me to rub his head I couldn't tell till afterwards what he was trying to say.

It's very cute when I'm trying to do something and he crawls up to me and gives my foot a hug to say "pick me up Daddy!"

Its hard not to smile when getting him ready for the bath and he tries to pull up on the tub to crawl into the bath to say "I love splashing water."  He loves the bath, especially now that he has perfected the techniques he needs to play with the bath toys after throwing them all out of the infant bath tub.

We've started down the road to diagnosing and monitoring a possible language development delay.  He's about 3 months delayed on his speech development according to the initial assessment.  We'll see in time whether he takes after his father and keeps near silence until gems like "Oh Boy, I've got joy" and "Mom I want a peanut butter sandwich" can fall from his mouth.  In the meantime, he'll roar and growl at his toy dinosaur.  And then bite the dinosaur's head.  And smile.  I like that form of communication.

Memorial day

So I don't really have any memories of celebrating memorial day growing up.  I have no idea where any of my nearest related dead relatives are buried (though I'm certain I could easily find out).  I've enjoyed visiting the national cemetery before, but its different thinking that the person in the ground is connected to you.

It was a very different experience celebrating memorial day with my in laws.  The family dinner, well, lets say I was a little busy shoveling baby food into my son's mouth to be paying much attention.  But visiting the grave sides was very different.  I started thinking about what I would want on my own gravestone.  Probably an outrageous pun if I could think of one that would ease people's memory of me.  It tugs at the heartstrings seeing the little grave markers for children who died very young and thinking about my own son.  I hope he outlives me by a long time.  I'm glad to have had a chance to visit the grave sides.

Monday, May 9, 2011

USU vs GWC... which is harder?

This post rambles on quite a bit but I don't feel its important enough for me to write it correctly.  My apologies if this doesn't make the most sense.

At GWC they always bragged to us about how their freshmen program of study was harder than medical school and that students at their school studied harder than students anywhere else.  And GWC did make you study hard.  I think they wanted us to prepare for life crisis by making our studies one prolonged life crisis.  Very few students even tried to hold down jobs during the semester and those who did often took a lot longer to graduate.  Since you needed several internships to graduate you couldn't devote your summers to earning money without delaying graduation on those internships... say unless you just found ways to excuse your summer job as a learning experience.  But all internships were supposed to be unique and it starts getting harder to find 3 things that make enough money for a whole school year that still count as unique convincing learning experiences.

In any case, my feeling is that being a dad, a husband, a full time employee, and a half time student at USU is actually a lot harder than being a single full time student at GWC.  From the way GWC brags you'd think there was no way that would be possible.  GWC tries to take over your life, but when they overload you with work which is what they know they are doing, there aren't any consequences to simply failing to do the work that is overloaded on you.  I had a professor who by surprise threw a 600 page reading assignment for us to read over a holiday break.  I tried to read some of it but honestly it wasn't a book you could read that quickly unless you weren't paying attention.  I don't think any of the students succeeded.  I gave up and enjoyed my holiday.  There was no consequence except that if I had managed to fit the book in somewhere (remember this was a surprise assignment not on the sylabus which was overflowing with other stuff anyways) I could have gotten more credit hours out of the class.  Or there was the economics semester.  The professor told us up front that he had no intention that we'd actually learn economics but only that we would learn enough about it that some day we would decide we really wanted to learn it.  The readings were difficult and didn't build on eachother in a way that allowed you to grasp them better as you moved on.  Again, I don't think any of the students actually were any where near up to speed on the readings.  We'd get together for study groups and see if anyone knew anything about the readings for the next day and none of us had any idea.  The only students who passed the class with an honors on their oral exam were students who completely ignored the assignments and built their own plan of study.  There was one philosopher whose economic influence the text informed me had disappeared as soon as he died.  I didn't have time to read him so on my final exam I wrote down for his entry that since the assigned reading was about an author who was irrelevant to current economic theory I refused to read him.  I didn't get any points off for doing that and I still passed the class.  This kind of stuff happened all the time.  We would study like crazy, not have time for everything assigned, and not fail the classes when we didn't complete the work assigned.  The main point was for us to study hard, not to complete assignments.

At USU, on the other hand, assignments are given with the intention of being completed.  If you don't have time to complete them it isn't a virtue of an academic system of teaching you to study like a maniac, its your fault for registering for too many classes.  If you don't finish an assignment or give it a half baked effort because you ran out of time, you fail the assignment.  So even though I was only a half time student with a full time job I found myself routinely working absurdly long hours and running my health into the ground trying to get my assignments perfect.  At GWC I would have said, wow I'm sleepy I'm going to bed too bad they didn't give time on the syllabus to complete that absurd assignment and gotten away with it almost every single time.  In my final year we were supposed to be studying a narrow subject to the point of being a world class expert (I think within the top 40 experts in the field was what we were told we would become) and reading through almost all of the "Founder's Constitution" set at the same time.  The sheer amount of study required for what was supposed to be the capstone paper of the entire undergraduate experience was so large that almost all the students in my class were freely admitting they weren't doing the readings for the constitutional law section of the class and we flummoxed the professor my showing up day after day to his lecture having no idea what he was talking about and not being ready to discuss anything he said beyond our prior knowledge.  That capstone paper of mine I took so much effort on that I blew my circuit on it and told the professor that to be able to complete the rest of the studies in the class I couldn't finish it and handed it in as a rough draft that wasn't even coherently structured yet.  I got full credit based on my obvious extensive research on the subject even though by any normal standards I had flunked the paper.  And who would believe I am one of the top 40 experts in the world on UN reform when I can't even write a decent term paper describing it?  The only prominent exceptions to this system of abandoning or only half doing assignments that were beyond possible  were the mid term exams.  A typical mid term exam at GWC wasn't actually supporting the content of our reading or lectures.  We typically were supposed to memorize a large list of information only marginally relevant to our course material and then the teacher would pick a fact out of that list at random and if we knew what it was we had passed if we didn't know we hadn't passed.  It got you to study fairly hard, but I passed those midterms by doing a one day or sometimes several hour crash course memorization spree.  I can absorb a lot of information very quickly when under pressure.  Then as soon as the midterm was done I would promptly forget most of what we studied for that midterm.  Typical content was things like the 50 "principles" of economics that the professor came up with as his study notes for a prominent book, names and locations of every nation-state in the world, meanings of common investment terms, meanings of various mathematical phrases like "trigonometry," etc.  It was somehow suggested that memorizing these lists of information would give us some mastery over them.  About only thing it did was make it so if someone spouted vocabulary at us we wouldn't be embarrassed.

What it comes down to is that after comparing the two experiences, GWC was either joking about them being harder than medical school or reporting experiences of students who came to GWC after going to other colleges and were expecting that all those assignments were real, rather than motivational exercises to make us work hard at work loads the professors well knew we weren't going to complete.  Comparing USU and GWC in terms of the normal definition of a school as a place where learning environment are provided and then the learning of the students is certified to have or not to have taken place, GWC is an institution where assignments can be missed, skipped, turned in poorly done, and where mastery of the content advertized may never be achieved.  What GWC really shines as is a institution of motivational speakers who invite you to complete the impossible and don't criticize you when you don't achieve it, just encourage you to make learning a lifelong process so that you'll eventually master all the things you rushed past at the speed of sound.  As a result students at GWC still learn a lot because they spend a lot of time studying.  The school simply can't certify that the learning took place and in some cases organizationally didn't make any attempt to ensure we were actually learning or would be capable of learning the material presented.  I came out of the school knowing much much more than I did before, but there are entire areas that the school supposedly covered for me in a "world class" way producing results that were somehow the best that I know very little about.  The extent to which this was motivation speaking and not real learning is exampled by an assignment to write a business plan that would make I think it as 1-2 million dollars over a 7 year time period.  We were told that if we really felt strongly about our business plans the professor would actually show them to an actual investment banker to see what a real world business man would think about them.  He bragged about how he didn't know of any other institution in the world that provided that kind of real world feedback to business planning.  How good were the business plans presented?  There was one student who brought in a hunting calender his mom had mocked up that integrated information on the laws and regulations for different types of hunting year round.  He told us that this calender if it was taken to market would be purchased at a certain price by something like 90% of the hunting population and therefore would automatically make him a millionaire.  One of the other students pointed out that this was a high rate of market pentetration and the student presenting the plan said he felt that all hunters would want the calender and couldn't think of any reason he wouldn't get 90% of all hunters to buy it from him and suggested the doubting student just didn't know the market of hunters well enough to understand how that would work.  As far as I knew that student passed the class.

My own attempt wasn't necessarily that much better.  I hadn't even attempted to model what the costs of advertising and management would be or how to enforce quality control off of an extremely decentralized network.  Ignoring those issues, I was unable to build a model that would grow that much unless it assumed some sort of explosive growth pattern which I was unable to model in my excel spreadsheet.  Or in other words I had no idea how to make it work.

So about this claim that no other business schools actually got real feedback on assignments?  My roommate who attended SUU for a business degree showed a business plan to a local investment banker as a required part of his class.  Wheras my idea never even got to an investment banker because that was a special privilege for people who were particularly interested, not for everyone.  I knew my idea wasn't yet worth beans so I didn't bother trying to get a banker looking at it.  So either the professor was full of a lot of hot air or was completely ignorant of how business degrees at the mainstream university a couple blocks away actually worked.  Or the simpler answer is that he wasn't a professor, he was a motivational speaker.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

So How have I been?

School ran me ragged this last  semester so I never had much chance to post.

The semester itself went great however.  I know I got A's in two of my 3 classes and I am waiting for the stat's professor to post my grades for my final.  But given I got an A on every homework assignment and both midterms, I'm not excessively worried.

The English class was kind of annoying in that many students weren't taking it seriously and the course was almost designed to take that into account as a starting assumption.  I'm really not that scared of writing, so a class also designed with the assumption that I'm terrified of the process wasn't quite what I needed.  But testing out of it would have required figuring out a lot of stuff very quickly when I was very busy, so I just ran with it and figured I'd pick up on everything I hadn't learned elsewhere in my learning experiences.  Main papers I wrote were a paper on why my favorite songs were my favorites, a short presentation on land planning/use conflict regarding immigration, a review of cloth diapers (which I may end up posting here if I bother taking the time to get the pictures to show right), and a research paper on how a particular strategy used for immigration integration could apply towards the social integration of those with disabilities.

The Wildlands  class was a lot of fun.  The class was mostly designed to get me emotionally and intellectually engaged with the major, find out if I liked my department, and get to know the resources available in the department.  Only a 1 credit class.  I enjoyed it quite a lot.

The statistics class was very boring at the start and quite a challenge at the end.  For the first week or two I don't think we learned much of anything that I didn't know already or hadn't already seen before when I home schooled.  By the end we were covering subjects that I had only vaguely even heard of before.  I had to work hard at all my classes, but this is the main one where I felt I was learning something new all the time instead of just some of the time.

We switched to having me working full time and Bonnie Jean not working at all.  Since this stopped us from passing Taelien back and forth like a hot potato when my wife needed to work and I needed to study, this actually increased both the time Bonnie Jean and I could spend together and the time I could study.  But it was still a very hard semester.  I only had two good study days a week where I could depend on sitting down for a long period of time and studying without interruption.  It took both of those days typically to finish the statistics homework.  English homework was fit in around other classes and a lot of it only after I got home from work and Bonnie Jean went to bed.  So that means between midnight and 1 AM.  The wildlands class mostly needed me to do things and attend activities instead of sit down and write papers and read things so I was able to mostly push that one in wherever it would fit.

The problem with having to complete homework between 12-1 AM on a regular basis is even when there isn't any home work that needs doing that very moment you are still in the habit of staying up that late even if just to relax and have a few moments to yourself.  By the end of the semester I was so sleep deprived I had fallen sick with a cold threatening to turn into a sinus infection.  I had to make an effort to get more sleep in so I would be awake for my stats final.

We've tried getting me back on my bike to reduce gas prices.  Repairing my bike would cost 230$, however, due to rusty cabling, worn out tires, a stretched chain, and a worn out gear cog.  So I bought a new one.  Finally I own a road bike instead of a mountain bike that I only bought because it was the cheapest bike available for sale at the only bike store within walking distance.  I still bought one of the cheaper ones I could find so it isn't a perfect bike.  But unless I'm trying to bike up old main hill to get to class it seems to work perfectly.  I was planning on walking up that hill anyways its so large, so I'm not complaining.

Speaking in Church

I suppose I'm finally considered an adult, first time ever being asked to speak as one of the main speakers on a subject in a family ward on a special occasion.  In any case, the Bishop requested I speak to address the concerns and feelings of women who were not mothers on mother's day.  He recommended I use as a text the talk on The Eternal Blessings of Marriage by Richard G. Scott.  He requested I cover the subject from the subject material of who women are and how they should be treated.  I didn't end up using Elder Scott's talk much because its all about how to treat one another within marriage and part of my target audience is, shall we say, unmarried women.  And most of what he had to say was about how wonderful marriage was and how we should treat our spouses wonderfully.  Not specifically about the concerns of women without children.  Given that I'm a married man with a child the talk suffered from problems of me having to establish my authority to speak about such concerns and also from cultural balancing issues were I can't talk about the concerns and feelings such women have without brushing up against and possibly being somewhat critical of the cultural dynamics that create those concerns in the first place.  If I don't go far enough I'd be rather irrelevant to actual concerns, if I state the problems with too little delicacy it comes across as an offensive attack on LDS beliefs.

I was only informed of my assignment to write this talk a week and a half ahead of time and only 3 days of that time period were after my finals were done.  So lets say this was a rush production.  I'm very pleased with how it turned out, however, and several members of the ward thanked me for my comments profusely.  Since I figured getting this talk right mattered a lot more than my privacy, I included things that I normally don't talk about.  Several parts I actually changed when I actually went to say them, for instance I said "I think it was a miracle I married such a wonderful woman" instead of leaving it as stated in the original planned text.  This would have been more polished, but I finished it at 1:30 AM on Sunday morning.  So, here is the talk:

After five and a half years of being married, my wife gets to celebrate Mother’s Day today for the first time as a mother.  We had planned to start having children as soon as we had the medical insurance, but soon after getting married we discovered that unless we found a cure for some medical problems we had, we would likely never have any children at all.  With little money, even less medical care, and major life crises that repeatedly interrupted our progress, it was far from certain that Mother’s Day was ever going to be for us instead of just for our parents.  After three years of trying, a lot of prayer, and the help of an excellent doctor we were finally blessed with our little son.  I like to say he’s our little miracle.

There are so many ways he’s our little miracle.  Neither Bonnie Jean or I were likely to marry at all in the first place, the medical condition we faced is rare enough many doctors are unfamiliar with it, and the pregnancy was difficult enough at the end that the doctor had us coming twice a week just to make sure our son’s heart was still beating strong.  As wonderful as our little son is and as much joy as he brings to our hearts, it doesn’t change the reality that miracles don’t always happen.  We like reading of such miracles in the scriptures and there are many examples including the birth of Samuel, Isaac, Samson, John the Baptist, and arguably even Christ himself.  But there are some things I’d like to point out about these miraculous births.  First, those mothers weren’t blessed with children because they became more righteous.  The scriptures explicitly describe these women as being extremely righteous and several of them had lived long lives without children before the miracle happened.  Second, the scriptural pattern suggests that if the Lord hadn’t had in mind for them an assignment to raise a specific child to do a specific thing, they would have remained childless.

Though having children is something we yearn for, not everyone gets the same assignments in life.  Speaking of children in this way reminds me of when I applied for a mission call.  When they raised the bar they not only decided to raise the spiritual bar, but also the medical requirements so that mission presidents could focus on leading groups of missionaries and not patients.  Even though my medical problems are mild enough no one would have dreamed they’d disqualify me under the older rules, no matter how many months I spent trying to convince the missionary department otherwise, I was honorably excused from serving.  The Lord didn’t have that calling and assignment in mind for me and not because I had committed any moral transgression.  It was still difficult to live with at times because in the past we let serving a mission practically define what it meant to be a worthy spiritual 19 year old man in the church.  Similarly, I think we accidentally let motherhood be the definition of worthy womanhood.

No one would criticize the prophetess Deborah, who helped Barak to defeat the Canaanite King Sisera, because we remember her for something other than the children that we don’t even know if she ever had.  What matters is that she received assignments from the Lord and fulfilled them.  Today on Mother’s Day I think we should pay tribute not just to the women who have had the opportunity to be mothers, but also to all women who have touched our lives for good.  From my own life, I can still recall a seminary teacher I had who was so Christ like that it didn’t even matter what she taught or what she said in her lessons, I could learn how to be a better person just by watching her actions.  The compassion she would express in describing someone, the comments she would make about our spirituality, and the love she would express in describing some of the more disruptive students in our class would tell me volumes about how to love people.  I knew another woman who recently passed away as a consequence of an epileptic seizure who used to come to church wearing a bicycle helmet to protect her head if she fell during a seizure.  The helmet always had flowers in it.  If there was anyone who could take a problem in life in stride with grace and dignity it was her.  Her gentleness, happiness, and love she always seemed to be overflowing with brought happiness to those around her.  She and her husband were always ready to serve, as I can well remember when one of the major portions of the work we had to do for my eagle scout only worked because they helped me.  I can also remember an elderly mother and daughter in our ward who were probably the best geneologists I’ve ever known.  They used their own family names to send our ward youth to the temple for monthly baptism trips on a regular basis.  We had a good-sized mutual program and probably cleared through several hundred names each time.  When the trips stopped if I recall it was because the bishop felt some of us youth were too rowdy for the temple, not because we had run out of names.  I can remember my trombone tutor who said she always had wanted to either have a lot of children or teach a lot of children.  She never had the children, but made up for it with the many she taught.  She demanded excellence and enriched my life as I learned to appreciate music and play the trombone.  She didn’t only teach in public schools and in private tutoring but also organized trombone choirs and sponsored me into summer bands and competitions that I couldn’t have entered easily because I was home schooled.  We as a church have many opportunities to celebrate the goodness, the accomplishments, and the contributions made by the women in our midst married or unmarried, mothers or not mothers.  From the writing of the hymnbooks we use, the founding of the primary, the vital work of the Relief Society, and many other contributions that women have made we cannot forget the women in the church.  We honor women who sacrifice so much as mothers, but just like for Deborah sometimes God might have in mind a different kind of miracle in mind.

In Isaiah chapter 54 we read:
Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.
Though Isaiah was describing the house of Israel and the latter day church as a whole, this promise is a powerful reminder that no matter what seems to be the situation now, in the eternities God has not forgotten us and is eagerly and powerfully desiring to bless us. The future of the House of Israel couldn’t be predicted from how many children Abraham had when he was 85 years old, so God’s approval and future blessings of us can’t be guessed just by looking at whether we are married and blessed with many children.

When I was a teen, my mother sternly told me that if she ever heard of me disrespecting any girl that I would be in the biggest trouble ever.  My father was an excellent example in respecting my mother, so I tried to take the message to heart.  I started watching my leaders and teachers in the ward to see how they treated and talked about their wives and former girlfriends.  One of the most prominent good examples I saw was my seminary teacher and her husband.  I got to know them fairly well over the years because besides being my seminary teacher my father and I were their home teachers and their family company later hired me.  I never once saw either of them say a disrespectful word against the other or any moment where frustrations seemed to become more important to them than their affection.  I’ve tried to imitate the intense goodness and affection they showed and also the level of respect my father has shown my mother ever since I can remember.  While marriage is a marvelous place to build and polish the skills of love and self-control, we shouldn’t forget that the basic principles of treating one another with respect are the same in and out of marriage.  My mother’s admonition that I had to treat all women with respect wasn’t just proper because I might marry one of them or because it was practice for how I’d treat my wife later.  It was important because she wanted me to be the kind of person who didn’t feel that I could disrespect a woman just because she was a woman.  May all the women in our lives receive the courtesy, respect, and honor from us that they deserve as children of our Heavenly Father.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Academic disability

So I chose to do a research project on social integration and disability for my English 1010 class.  It's been interesting.  Learning more about disability dynamics from an academic perspective has put words to feelings that I've known for a long time.  It helps me think about how I think.  It helps me see the broader social dynamics so much better than before.  And I've found myself somewhat compulsively wanting to know more about it.  A really good idea has so many intellectual tangents that you can follow that it seems a shame to only spend a little time on it when I could spend hours devouring it.  I'm glad I picked the subject since I can see farther than I could before doing it.

Studying disability and experiencing the school has been interesting for me.  I think being at USU has been the most open I have been with people about my AS than I have ever been before.  The atmosphere is friendly, the institutional supports seem ready to function, and I'm finding friendly voices and people to interact with.  I know its not as connected in practice as my emotions put things together, but walking down the halls of professor offices and seeing Ally placards (you either know what I mean or you don't, I won't explain it) posted all about leaves me feeling comfortable that I'm in a place where a significant number of people have committed to interacting with and trying to understand people very different from themselves, so I've got a shooting chance to let some of these people know about my AS and building the strength of my network instead of risking destroying my network of supports.

I'm glad I'm taking the chance with this paper to reinvest in myself.  I just hope when its finished that my supposed target audience (my classmates) can understand it.  When I explained my core idea the responses I got were "good luck keeping that within 5 pages," and "I have no idea what you just said."

Thursday, March 31, 2011


In the short story "Scanners Live in Vain," there is a social elite who have had their access to their basic five senses removed surgically, only able to be restored at temporary stretches by another procedure.  Basic self awareness and care has to be done by using surgically embedded computer equipment to "scan" themselves.  This arrangement allows basic functioning and survival, but is inefficient enough that during a group meeting, they have to scan each other to detect day to day things like broken fingers.

So today my wife asked me how I felt or how I was doing.  I reported that I felt fine, but that me being me, I might not know for a while if there was any change in status or how significant it might be.  I tend to be somewhat blind to my emotions.  This can be true to the extent that sometimes I have to read myself by observing bodily symptoms.  For instance the other day I was running late to work and wanted to print off a practice exam so I could keep working on it during my lunch break.  The professor threatened that if we didn't do these practice exams we would flunk the actual midterm and the midterm was tomorrow.   I went to print, but the computer couldn't see the printer through the USB hub.  So after repeated experimentation I decided to move the usb connection out of the hub and into the computer directly.  Then I could print.  But the paper ran out.  So I had to get more paper.  The office floor was rather covered with stuff and I had to dance on tip toe around objects to avoid stepping on anything I didn't mean to.  Having crossed the floor, I had to remove a stack of objects from on top of the ream of paper to be able to get any out.  After reorganizing the section of the closet I needed to get at, I danced back across the room to the printer, removed a large stack of items in front of the printer tray so I could open it, opened it, loaded it, finished the print job, put all the items back on the shelf in front of the print tray where they belonged, and dashed to work having eaten probably only half the lunch I normally would and having a rather small dinner to cover me for the rest of the night.  I arrived on time, but only by a margin of perhaps 30 seconds.  As the phone calls begin, I wondered to myself, "odd, I am having the swelling in the throat feeling accompanied by a strong gag reflex that is characteristic of my bodily state when under extreme or chronic stress, I presume I must be stressed, I wonder why?"  After thinking about it for a few moments, I concluded my hurried meal and dance with the printer and office must have stressed me despite being free from any acute sense of aggravation or emotional conflict.

This is typical of my emotional experience.  For another example, I have gone through several weeks of significant depression before realizing with the help of my wife that I was feeling depressed.

So, its cancer.  How do I feel?  I don't know.  I'm feeling less worried than I might because I know the general category of cancer involved has a lower than most fatality rate.  But I also don't know the specifics of how this particular case compares to the typical and lower than most isn't exactly comforting because it still involves a significant number of fatalities.  Little comments and signals suggest a worry that she might not ever see my new apartment, when I presumed before that this would happen with the year.  That level of worry transmits itself to me, and I worry.  I've been hoping everybody would stay around long enough for my son to remember all of his grandparents in some meaningful way.  But will that happen?  I don't know anymore.

How do I feel?  I don't know, I'm still scanning in vain.

This post was written just after midnight of 3-27-11, but post dated to 3-31-11.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wood duck box... a box, made of wood, made for a wood duck

So today I tramped around a ranch and got myself thoroughly muddy.  And more than mud, there were cowpies every few feet.  I visited a ranch to help take care of some birdhouses a conservation group had put up on their property.  Other than the stepping in cowpie every few feet, it was actually a lot of fun.  The basic proceedure was simple.  Open up the birdhouse, remove all accumulated debris, replace with fresh wood shavings, close birdhouse.  In reality it involved coming face to face with an owl, climbing and bracing ladders, sneaking around barbed wire fences, avoiding camouflaged electric fences, pondering the bleached bones of bovines and rodents, and knocking birdhouses off trees and crossing my fingers that old rotten eggs wouldn't land on me as they fell.

Some of the birdhouses were placed so high on the trees that nobody could get to them to do proper maintenance, so we had to take them down and reinstall them and heights normal people could get at.  But the bolts used to install them had sunken into the trees so you couldn't get at them with a wrench.  So it involved a lot of wrenching, drilling, shoving them with logs, and levering them off the trees.  The Eagle Scouts who built these tree boxes deserve some credit, the bird houses took the abuse and survived to be installed at a new height.  But when it comes down to it, I like plastic wood duck boxes better than wood wood duck boxes.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sales and Reverification

I think I figured out one of my mental blocks with selling.  Just pondering why I find it so hard to convince people to buy home telephone service and it came to me.

In sales you have to very readily flow from one assumption with the person to the next.  You have to build energy, keep them flowing from one yes to another till it seems completely natural to accept the whole package.

But I don't tend to work that way with people.  At least not most of the time.  I tend to try to reverify understanding and agreement very routinely.  I can see a lot of different possible interpretations of many statements and I find myself having to ask clarifying questions to figure out exactly which one is meant.  I perceive possible interpretations of things that I say, leading me to give caveats, explanations, parentheticals, and clarifications all over the place.  I tend to expect people to want these from me.

That probably sound stupid that someone might want those from me, but given that I have trouble narrowing understanding to a socially perceived likelyhood, its what I have success using.

For instance, lets recall the cheese ball incident, or I think there was an apple cider incident.  Nobody was trying to charitably give me such a delicious snack to eat, but my perception of social intent was weak so I saw the possible solution to the problem that they were out with no one attending them because they were for me.  So I ate them.  In that situation trying to flow easily from one assumption to another in an energy building way till I accepted the whole package and the whole plate of cheese balls led to me eating someone else's food.  I would have had better social success if I had reverified meaning.  I recall the book I bought on autistic self advocacy recommended autistics and aspies not simply assume that they have a mutual understanding but to regularly reverify understanding because misunderstandings can multiply on each other so rapidly that there is no room for recovery until too late.

Granted I don't tend to accidentally steal cheese balls anymore, but that same sort of thing can happen just as easily with different consequences.  I could mention other incidents where a lack of reverification caused a problem or even a significant degree of pain.  So its something that by now has been fairly well conditioned into me.

So what happens when I try to sell?  I feel impelled to mention the non introductory price almost in the same sentence as the introductory price.  The installation and activation fees almost as soon as I get the first sign of agreement.  I emphasize real total price instead of the "as low as" that you'll never sign up for because you don't want the stripped down version.  There are so many pieces of information that if I don't reverify understanding then the misunderstandings will multiply till things break down.  So as a result I struggle to gather momentum towards a close.  I really feel a deep impulsion to make sure the other person understands all the details.

I don't know if realizing that will make me a better salesman, but it seems like a good thing to know about myself.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


So I suppose a few people might be curious about how school is going for me now that I'm back in the saddle?

Overall, not bad.  They've been keeping me busy but not to the point of instant life crisis mode that GWC always was trying to put me in.  The teachers simply show up expecting us to learn, I expect them to teach, so far this is going pretty well.  I haven't made up my mind on trying to go to the school to officially get notice or accommodation for AS, but the option is still there.  I keep worrying I'll have another one of those days where I regress my ability to track the structure of group conversations and will accidentally be disruptive to class or something.  That has actually happened to me once before when I was at GWC and it was quite memorable, I think my teacher wanted to kill me.

So far I haven't had any problems with switching between teachers.  That used to be a big problem at GWC.  You spent practically all your time with one teacher and at transition points during the semester, guest lectures or any situation in which I switched who was leading my class discussion and I'd struggle to switch between which set of nonverbal and verbal cues were used to run and organize class interactions.  I've had so much trouble with that in the past that on the first days of class with a new teacher I'll take notes on how they run their class along with whatever they are actually talking about.

My individual classes are each going well.  ENG 1010 is half boring me to death and half very interesting.  The textbook and methodology they are using to teach writing is very good and I'm sure I can improve lots using it.  However, the textbook and class are also aimed at an audience of people who are terrified of writing.  I'm not terrified of writing.  I broke my fears years ago with a lot of writing I did for my own use and haven't turned back since.  A few genres I still struggle with, such as creative short story, but this is a academic prose class, I don't expect to have to write fictional adventures.

Wild 2000 has only met once so far because its a once a week class and it was canceled last week.  So far I like the teacher and feel I will enjoy his class.  It's an advising class so I won't say I'm learning a ton of information about the environment, but I will say I'm learning a lot about the university and how things work inside the major.  Everything so far seems to suggest I did my research really well when I picked what I wanted to major in.

Stat 2000 is boring but promises to get un-boring quickly.  There's only so much you can learn about bar charts, histograms and time plots.  I now know more about them then I did before, but nothing note worthy.  The lecture material points to us moving beyond my field of knowledge pretty quickly, so I expect to hash out a good amount of real progress in this class.

I attended a trip with the Audubon Society recently to get credit towards my wildlands class.  Very fun.  Don't think I've ever spotted so many birds of prey in such a short period of time before.  And having a barn owl fly right over your head is amazing.  Those are beautiful birds.  No pictures, sorry forgot to bring the camera.  Owl's website is still without an owl.

Monday, January 10, 2011

GWC, a review. Version 2

I finally need to make a statement about GWC.  I know they are technically GWU now, but  I can’t bring myself to call them that because playing house in a hotel does not a university make.  They’re still simply a college, with perhaps some extension courses taught elsewhere.  Anything I say about GWC may only really apply to the semester I was there or to the specific teacher I had at the time.  One important thing to realize about them is that the curriculum and the methodology isn’t stable.  One moment they might be crowing about how they have discovered the holy grail of how to teach a certain subject, only to change how they do it next semester.  So if something I say seems overcritical to you with your experience of the school, keep in mind I’m only reviewing my experience.  I don’t know much about what is happening at the school these days, it hasn’t been worth my time to keep up on them.  They had their decade of my life to get accredited, and since they failed to deliver on that promise I’m not looking back very often to see what happens next.

The first question that a skeptic of GWC seems to always bring up is that it might be a diploma mill. states that a diploma mill is “an organization claiming to be an institution of higher learning but existing for profit only and granting degrees without demanding proper qualifications of the recipients. “

Diploma mills often conjure up images of paying a small or large fee to have some idiot somewhere print a nice looking certificate off their computer and mail it to you.  Though GWC has been such an organization in specific well publicized incidents, overall this doesn’t characterize what happens there.  Any typical GWC graduate has had to work their guts out to get their degree.  The interesting part of this question is how the people who aren't doing the work get handled by the system.  In a normal school, you start getting consistent bad grades which drag down your GPA till finally you are thrown out of the school.  GWC handled it by making the requests for you to work so insane that if you don't really want to do the work you'll eventually just drop out.  If you don't feel like dropping out they give you very small amounts of credit for your work so that the graduation process would take extremely long.  The variable credit system has been dropped due to pressure from the accreditation process, so their system of getting rid of poor students may have changed as well.  I've seen a lot of students drop out, so I'm not saying the system didn’t work, but its questionable.  I've seen students come to an oral final and not know the answers to any of the questions and openly state they don't think they are learning anything.  The professor would then say that based on his personal observations of the student, that he believed the student was learning and passed the student anyways.  The testing situation was designed to motivate further learning, not measure whether learning was happening.  And like it or not, part of what a school is supposed to do is measure whether learning is happening and provide certification for when it happens.  On that basis I’d say the academic rigor was poor while I was there, resembling a diploma mill.  Almost all students had almost perfect GPA’s because almost all classes were graded as A’s, just for variable amounts of credit.

There is another aspect to the academic rigor of the school, that being the academic strength of the professors who teach there.  Now, professors at GWC are often very inspiring and insightful men.  They often know more about the subject than you do, but are not necessarily masters of the subjects they teach.  The language instructors may not speak the language and may only be a chapter or two ahead of you in learning it.  The economics teacher might not understand anything except the one school of economics.  The history teacher may have gone through Durrant's Story of Civilization of few times where as you are doing it for the first time.  They are all generalists, not specialists, so some of this is to be expected.

However, within any given branch of study, you can never quite trust that the research and opinions of the professors have the same quality of academic review and rigor you'd expect.  So anything that a GWC teacher says you just have to take with a grain of salt.  It might be true, or it might not.  When we would ask Dr. DeMille for citations or sources for his more surprising claims he would always say that he just learned it from a book somewhere and if pressed he would explain that he had speed read or skimmed his way through the entire local university library and therefore couldn’t tell you which of the thousands of books he had looked at there that his fact came from.

But it was worse than that.  There are some subjects where the adherents of a viewpoint traditionally claim one thing, but all modern scholarship has proved something else.  Dr. DeMille would be just as likely to tell you the traditional version of the story as truth without telling you that there was a well known gap between the tradition and the truth on the subject.  If you hung out long enough you might get to know both sides of the story, but not necessarily from him.  Certain mystic religious texts, for instance, he would tell you were written in biblical times when modern scholarship has proved they were from the medieval time period.  Granted, he was trying to give what he was talking about more weight in the students eye’s and give room for claims that even though the text may have been from a later time period the system of thought may have been older, but in a school where you study facts you expect to learn all of that up front, not by stumbling across it by accident later. Other professors would do similar stunts with their personal interpretations of Aristotle and other things.  Essentially, it wasn't world class and you couldn't trust a teacher to really know what they were talking about on any given subject, though there was a good chance they did.

So onto specific subjects that were taught.  This will be a little disjointed, but again I’m not going to take a ton of time on this when I’ve got to be awake tomorrow, so here goes.

Language instruction-

If the language is living the method is short term Immersion if they have someone handy who can speak it, self study group if they don’t.  You get a real thrill of learning a ton in a short period, but nobody really learns much that they won’t forget by the time the next study block for the subject comes around.

If the language is dead (ie Biblical Hebrew, classical Greek, Latin) the method is to give you a short term hernia. Your teacher is almost guaranteed not to speak the language, to make a lot of noise about how they speak a ton of dead languages, but when pressed it will come out they have only studied a couple more chapters in the book than you have, so the entire thing is one big self study group where everyone agrees to go insane for short periods of time after which nobody will be able to recall anything but the basics of what was discussed.  You learn a lot in a short period of time, but their claims to be superior to other schools in the methodology are laughable.  I once heard Dr. DeMille state he didn’t care about whether we learned the languages, he just wanted us to get the extra brain synapses that studying the language would cause, because he read somewhere that that would make you smarter.  Since the school didn’t prioritize learning the subject, we didn’t, end of story.

Economics-  We were trained that without a doubt the Austrian school was the true economics.  I didn’t learn what the differences were between the Austrian school and the Chicago school were until I looked in up in an encyclopedia for my graduation exams.  Learning the Austrian school in the GWC method consisted of reading some Bastiat and then memorizing an inane list of principles that Dr. DeMille came up with when he studied an important book by an important Austrian economist.  Yay study the classics, but nevermind just read your school president’s study notes.  The teacher at best might have taken some time to study the opinions of the physiocrats, but would probably be unable to understand the statistical and mathematical methods used by actual economists today.  These methods were downplayed as econometrics that had sadly turned off millions of intelligent people from studying the principles of economics that were supposedly still accessible if you learned them from the Austrian school.

Science- The curriculum was completely unstable even while I was there. The science teacher spent half the time going over random scientific facts and the other giving his presentation on the "deep doctrines" of LDS doctrine. Proposed to tell the true meaning of the Endowment ceremony, synthesize big bang theory with the book of genesis, and find some way to insinuate that his teachings were already vetted for accuracy by a relevant church authority or that somehow church authorities came to him for information on scientific subjects. These two presentations alternated from year to year with little change except the course number kept changing to keep you taking it year after year.  I dropped the class out of boredom and disgust after the first round of it, never looked back.

Math- The teacher was an engineer who was fascinated with the possibilities of alternative fringe theory physics and number theory, which put him on good terms with the school president who also liked these subjects.  He had lots of information to share, but no structure in which to share it.  Like all mid school year side subjects, the teacher could assign no homework and give no assignments to keep him from interfering with the main classes.  Also, there were no minimum standards or remedial classes available to ensure the students were prepared for meaningful material.  The teacher responded to this by dumbing down his presentation to the point that by the time I stopped attending his classes they were fit for elementary school students.  We watched comedy education videos re enacting the lives of Copernicus, for instance.  Again, the material didn't change much from year to year and they kept changing the course numbers to keep you attending year after year.  The professors were always emphasizing to not be concerned with your transcript or with working the system for an education and I unfortunatetly took them literally.  I wasn't learning anything in these math and science classes and therefore stopped taking them.   I made up for it a little bit working with professors on my own, which is when I read Darwin, Hawking, Greene, and Kuhn.  But, in large place it took me so long to graduate because I stopped taking the official math and science classes and focused on my main classes.

The exception to this horrible scheme was psychology.  GWC likes to emphasize psychology for a variety of reasons, only some of which are valid.  But when you go to talk about psychology with them you discover pretty fast that they are more interested in how Frued impacted modernism than in how psychology exists in the world today.

As soon as I stopped attending on campus classes, they changed the entire structure of the math and science classes.  They brought in someone more articulate and focused on actual science/math and gave the section its own block so that the teacher could assign homework.

History Method integrated.  Course material, Durant.  You get out of it what you bring in.  Very rewarding.  Some of my best experiences were in history.  Its where I got to take a fresh look at all the theory I had been taught about the world and see if it actually held up against how the world actually worked.  Its where most of the prejudices I came into the school with disappeared because they had to face reality.

Simulations.  I can't say enough about how good these simulations were for me.  A great deal of the learning I did of theory came together in these simulations.  Also, I grew personally a lot because I learned to sense the structure of a conversation through practical application of Roberts Rule's of Order.  I know that sounds dumb, but with the Asperger Syndrome that was really important for me.  Unfortunately, many students never get a chance to really learn how to work in a formal meeting because the school professors emphasized that important decisions were made outside of formal meetings so if we wanted to get anything done we were encouraged to spend as little time as possible debating in a formal rules of order, preferring to break out into committees to debate or decide anything useful at all.

Political philosphy: Primary catcechism: Skousen.  Skousen isn't a bad place to start learning your basic government if you don’t mind having to relearn most of it later but if you stop there you are in a world of hurt.  I don't think everybody gets past there.  When I first read Skousen I worshiped him.  When I relearned him for my final exam I couldn't stand him.  That being said, the school in many ways managed to get past this starting point to discuss life and the world in a much more thrilling sense than you'd get just by reading Skousen.

Current events: Method: read political journals.  Quality, awesome.  Can't say enough for actually reading political journals from opposing sides.  My understanding of the world blossomed.

Law: Method, read a popular constitutional law textbook.  Quality, could be better but was an amazing eye opening experience.  For instance, I'll never see the separation of church and state issue the same after reading original case law on the subject as opposed to the rhetoric that is thrown around like so much poop.

Religion:  You probably didn’t know it, but GWC has or at least while I was there had a quasi official religion.  And it wasn’t LDS.  It is Christian Kabballah.  If you think I’m joking you should have attended the seminars where we discussed the sepheroit found in the book of Revelation, the amount of time we spent studying the mystic meaning of each Hebrew letter, the time we spent being brow beaten by Dr. DeMille that somehow there were only two possible ways of looking at scripture, absolute literalism and Kaballah.  You should have been there when Dr. DeMille gave a lecture talking about how the course of freedom through the world could be traced to follow the pattern of cultures bringing mystic studies of letters and syllables into their thought, how he proposed a education bill of right to allow private and public schools anywhere who would join him in studying Kaballah along with their algebra, how he proposed that we should rewrite number theory based on the equation that 1=600 because that was the equation he discovered by mystic mashing the phrase I am Alpha and Omega.  Oh, and that we would achieve universal field theory faster by doing such a number theory rewrite than we would by allowing scientists to do their thing on their own.

Why did we spend so much time on 13th century Jewish mystic thought?  Well, because Dr. DeMille said that he eventually got to the point in studying government that in order to understand it more he had to apply insights he learned from studying Kaballah.  So he wanted all of us to be able to share in his mystic insights by learning Kaballah like he had done.  I recall his wife dreaming about how one day students would spend their first few years of language instruction at the school learning Biblical Hebrew, and their last two years of language instruction in group study of medieval mystic texts in their original Hebrew.  Dr. DeMille claimed that the continued freedom in the US depended on successfully spreading the widespread study of such subjects and claimed a continuity of freedom between Hebrew and Druidic traditions to back himself up.  Don't ask his sources on that, I don't know and if you asked him I'm sure he would say he found it in a book somewhere in the SUU library but he couldn't tell you which.  I never found out what exactly it was he learned while studying a gematria of the Constitution or whatever it was he was studying at the time, but apparently he thought it was vital enough to try to get us all to study it and to advocate it to us as truth.  He felt to the extent Kaballah wasn’t true was because it was a dead system of thought that needed revitalization and to the extent that it involved what most would call magic the important thing was to learn the difference between black and white magic.

It may seem I have beaten that last point to death and I have.  I’m upset about it because one if I knew that I was attending a school from somebody who claimed to have gained important insights about freedom by messing with the letters in important documents, I would have run the other way faster than I could have blinked.  As it was, by the time we were talking about this in class and I had learned enough on my own to know what it was we were talking about it was an annoyance that I knew if I ignored long enough I could get past it to talk about the stuff that really interested me like public policy and things like that.  Also, I spent a long time with my graduation delayed because of not having met instructors satisfaction in my Hebrew studies, so I spent a longer time than I wanted to rehashing this stuff just so I could get a degree from GWC.  Whatever I do in life from now on, I’m never going to write another poem about Zohar just because I have teachers that fanaticize about it.

I have no idea whether GWC is still strongly affiliated with Kabbalic thought.  The DeMille’s were the main ones who talked about it or were at all interested, and they are kind of in the background now.  So, the school may have shed this past already, but its part of the school’s history.

All in all, I’m a better person for having attended and I don’t regret the personal development I achieved while there, but I don’t recommend that anyone take a degree in personal life enrichment studies unless they know that is exactly what they are getting.

I think the last point is whether they are teaching statesmanship like they claim.  Before trying to answer that, I think I should review a couple of statements I heard the school or the school's administrators make regarding the subject.

First off, Dr. DeMille stated at least at one point in time that the bachelors degree was only capable of preparing you to perform statesmanship at the local/community level.  Or in other words you could get a degree in being an exceptionally civic minded local nice guy who might some day get elected to mayor.  In order to be prepared to operate at the national level, he believed you would need to get their Phd.  Very few people have ever been awarded their Phd, mostly it has been school professors awarding it to themselves.  So if you think that your undergraduate studies are going to help you change the world in some way bigger than being a good local citizen, you need to re evaluate the life time commitment you are going to have to make to bank on the promise.  With no student aid available from traditional sources I can almost guarantee you getting a Phd from GWC is going to take you a long time.

Secondly, I also heard Dr. DeMille claim that as a result of a good conversation he had with someone about the school once, they decided that the school shouldn't be trying to produce people who could enter the current political elite establishments, but who would be ready to enter the next wave of political elite once the passage of time somehow removed the current establishment.  I also heard him once say that the school was interested in accredidation so it could take international students.  They didn't want to take international students because that would make the student body more diverse and therefore more stimulating.  They wanted international students because they felt that people with the sort of training provided at GWC were needed world wide.

To explain why he said this will take some explaining.  GWC takes as its model of history a book entitled "The Fourth Turning."  Very interesting book, definitely worth the time I spent reading it.  Essentially, the book argues that cyclically ango american culture has followed a pattern of breakdown and reformulation.  We're not talking necessarily about revolution or insurrection, but shifts in which the meaning of what it means to be in the society and how the mechanics of the society operate fundamentally change.  I know that sounds like a violent upheaval, but that's not what the authors describe by it.  Think more things like the difference of the US before and after the world wars.  The workforce is different, the international system is different, culture is fundamentally different.  The authors of that book proclaim that we are historically poised for another significant shift in social structure.  The authors only applied this discussion to British and American culture, and do not make claims that this model applies elsewhere, though they draw support for their arguments from cycles that happen in society as different elite groups age and pass out of social importance.

Dr. DeMille claimed that the essential points of the model did apply to basically all world cultures and that for some reason almost all of the world's cultures were synchronizing their cycles of breakdown and reformulation so that the entire world would change together instead all at different times.  I heard him claim that in response to this dramatic synchronization, many world governments perhaps hundreds of governments, would find themselves needing to rewrite their constitutions to match new social realities.  He hoped that GWC, international extensions of GWC, and international students who traveled to the US to attend GWC, would be able to contribute significantly to this reformulation.  I don't think I clarified at the time whether he meant literal rewrites of Constitutions or rather the revolution in thought about what a constitution means as it applies itself to transformed cultures, such as what Bobbit describes in his book "The Shield of Achilles."  The school liked to emphasize that what it talked about wasn't just applicable to political revolutions but applied to the normal passage of political power from one group to another over time.  Say for instance the Republican Party is still with us, but suddenly the Tea Party movement is significantly powerful, so as time passes the political power might shift to a significantly different group.

So, to get back to the point, graduates were not expected to have any significant impact on current affairs.  They were mainly expected to have impact if during the evolution of politics, the current establishment lost control or dissolved and a new group of people stepped up to the plate.  So, you can be fairly assured that as a GWC graduate, you will have no significant impact on the current structure.  You are being trained to build a new structure, not take over the existing one.  Thus the constant talk about needing to know forms and to not just be a constitutional groupie but to be the kind of person who understood the things that the people who wrote the Constitution understood.  That kind of training where you think about building new structures is not the kind of training for when you try to get in the drivers seat for evolving the current structure into something amazing.  It is training betting on a complete breakdown of the current social order, but willing to bide its time if that doesn't actually happen.  So despite always talking down the political revolution slant, the training is aimed at rebuilding from scratch political systems that are destroyed or decaying.  And the school's historical interpretation favored a bet that this was going to happen on a world wide basis.

That's probably why a typical GWC simulation block focuses not on transforming the cultural meaning of an existing institution which has happened over and over again in ango american culture, but on writing new constitutions for a situation where a nuclear war or something has already destroyed the current system.

I'm not much of a gambler.  If they had straight out said the education was for a bet that some terrorist would get a WMD and knock off the entire national government with it leaving the field wide open for outsiders to control the system, I'd have gone somewhere else.  They talk that possibility down because I think its a gamble in their eyes and they want to be ready for it, they just don't know when it will happen.  If you want to ask the question of does GWC train statesman for national impact and you define that national impact as a bet against national political dissolution and reformation, then the answer is a definite yes.  I trained for that scenario over and over again.  If you mean train statesman defining it by taking part in the existing political system, well, they don't want us to be completely ignorant of that sort of thing and we do train on what that might be like from time to time, but the focus is elsewhere.  Your typical graduate is, according to DeMille, probably only ready to be a statesman on the community level and really not prepared to do anything on national politics.  Yay, lets rewrite the city charter, what I always wanted to do with my life.  If your definition of statesmanship is just to prepare people to fulfill "their mission in life" as GWC teachers often put it, then its impossible to answer that question because its a moving target.  If your mission in life was to write a global constitution for a new world government that would be instituted by Christ at His second coming, then only time will tell.  I knew students who felt that might have been their life purpose.  If you feel that your life purpose is to be an exceptionally good dad, well, only time will tell whether the school helped you achieve it.  If you feel your life purpose is to start some non profit somewhere to help feed the hungry, maybe the school helped you by helping you to understand society.  If your life purpose was to have a job that required any professional degree of any sort, GWC completely failed you and you just walked away with a life enrichment degree.  If you wanted to be an entrepreneur who builds all the social systems they lead through, then maybe the school was for you.  The school would claim that a few years in the classics would make you a better scientist, doctor, or whatever.  Probably it would just make you a better civic minded community member while simultaneously being doctor or scientist or something else.

So I can't really answer whether the school makes statesman or not.  In the discussions on the subject outside the school that I've seen, nobody will agree on what it means to be one.  One moment people are defending the school as helping people become good dads, the next they will point to an obscure graduate who was elected mayor of some small town somewhere and say that is statesmanship in action.  The next moment, they might claim that being active in the ultra conservative political movement is all that is necessary to be a statesman.  But, as for whether the school produces people ready to lead and participate in the social and political systems that largely make the decisions for what it will be like to live life in this country and in this world, the answer is no unless a specific historical gamble comes true and leads to an even more unrealistic outcome of a bunch of fringe movement graduates succeeding in getting elected to a new constitutional convention.