Curmudgeon Eats

My son-in-law has decided I need some purpose in retirement. Knowing my fascination with coffee shops, he thinks opening a shop here in the North woods would be just the thing. He did locate an appropriate location near Target stadium, but that place was evidently sold before we could make an offer. A successful coffee shop located near our cabin has rekindled the idea.

We even have a name for the proposed establishment – Curmudgeon Eats. My role, as the curmudgeon, would be to show up at the shop from time to time and be grumpy. I would kinda be like those ex-jocks who now own bars or steak houses. I am not certain my reputation or persona would be sufficient to attract customers, but it sounds like a great part-time gig. I could slip behind the counter to steam some milk and complain about the other  shops that are all show and no caffeine. Who buys into the value of running some hot water into your cup before the coffee or pouring a little hot water over the grounds to release the oils before adding the full volume of water? We used to make coffee while camping using a Melita device purchased in the camping supplies section or K-Mart. Hard to find a $4 cup made with this device a taste pleasing value. I also plan to offer watered-down Folgers, for those who are not really into the coffee shop experience. I bet no one has thought of that before.

Anyway, I think I have the model for my business. A Valley City (North Dakota) entrepreneur has a coffee shop without employees. (I would make some sarcastic comment at this point about the strangeness of using entrepreneur and North Dakota in the same sentence, but I do admire this guy.) You show up, serve yourself, and leave some money. There is video surveillance and the owner evidently knows everyone so he can yell at those who cause trouble or freeload. I would not have this social knowledge, but I thought I could decorate the walls of my establishment with photos of freeloaders. It would kind of fit with the theme. I also think my presence at a small desk in the corner would add to the ambiance. I would not really have to talk to anyone, but I could write blog posts and stare at the customers. Like most coffee shops I visit, the wifi would only work occasionally and as owner I would deny any knowledge of what the problem might be.

I am seeking silent partners who share my vision.


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Amateur Archeologist

The first major task of my retirement has been the preparation for moving. Not much fun. If I did not believe the task had an end, I would have kept working.

Some people believe we should clean house in Washington every 4 years. I am starting to believe we should take the clean house thing more literally. What did I ever think I was going to do with all of this stuff. I have so much stuff I cannot even find the new stuff. I did find several pairs of pants and some shirts with the tags still on them. Unfortunately, I must have purchased this clothing with I was 30 pounds lighter and Hawaiian shirts were  in vogue.

I attempt to play mind games with myself to find some enjoyment as I do what must be done. For example, if I must make a large number of trips into the basement to carry up boxes of this and that, I use my FitBit to note just how many more stairs I have climbed than would be the case on an average day. All of that exercise must be good for something (see previous comment regarding extra weight).

I have also decided that I am discovering many interesting things from my past. I had more interesting experiences than I realized at the time. Digging through my desk, file cabinets, closets or basement is very much like an archeologist digging through the levels of time. The most interesting things are buried deep and give a glimpse into personal history. Some things even require a few minutes thought (which also provides a nice break) in order to remember what some object is and what it was used for.

For example, I found what I eventually determined was a PDA. At first I was puzzled because the object was obviously a technology tool of some type, but it seemed to have no way to connect to the Internet.

Regarding technology, I seem to have collected a large number of phones. I think I have unearthed half a dozen. The number confused me. Why would I collect this number of phones. This is one of those questions requiring an understanding of the history of the period. I decided the number grew because as I purchased a new phone, I learned that if I lost the phone I could use my old phone again and did not have to immediately purchase a new one. This was likely what I thought was a way to get by until the required delay had passed and I could purchase another subsidized phone. Of course, I did not lose any phones and the temporary storage location for the “just in case” phone was buried under additional layers of stuff resulting in the accumulation. I even had a Blackberry at one time. It must have been during one of my tours of duty as an administrator. The Blackberry was buried pretty deep, but I found a Treo in the deepest layer of debris.

Early on, I also seemed to have a fascination with paper. We all made use of paper and probably still have a legal pad around somewhere just in case we might want to use a pen or a pencil. This is not what I mean. I seemed to like specific kinds of paper. For example, I have several reams of what I remember being called engineering graphics paper. It is this peculiar yellow paper with lines going both vertically and horizontally dividing the page into a grid of sort. In addition, every fifth line or so was bolder than the rest. This resulted in kind of box within box pattern. I seemed to like to take notes on this kind of paper and I also seemed to always use a pencil rather than a pen. Perhaps this indicates I lacked confidence and felt I needed to always be prepared to make adjustments.

I found some onion skin (paper). Pretty wimpy looking stuff. This was for making copies when you entered text with a typewriter and needed to generate a second copy using carbon paper. The paper, carbon paper, onion skin sandwich got pretty thick so the onion skin was made thin. It would take too long to explain using a typewriter so I will skip the description. You can Google “typewriter” if you have an interest in history.


I found this other strange pad of paper. It also was ruled both vertically and horizontally with 80 vertical columns. I immediately remembered what this paper was for. My earliest tech experiences involved a mainframe computer and the need to enter data on punch cards. There were a limited number of punch card machines so you had to go to the computer center ready to input your program or data. To prepare, you first entered data on paper so you were ready to focus on data entry when a machine became available.

I gave the data coding paper away to a colleague who thought he might use it. I kept the yellow, engineering graphics paper. There was something nice about writing and sketching on this paper and I might give it a try the next time writing becomes a chore or I am experiencing a writer’s block.

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If I had some bailing wire

profconditionerI post this picture to dispel the unfair stereotype that we academics have no practical skills. For the third consecutive year, I was able to install this device without help. Note that the installation required I use a screw driver and also make creative use of duct tape. I did learn last year that it is called duct tape and not duck tape. I do have to stop watching so much reality TV. Anyway, not everyone would have had the creative insight to use duct tape as a way to keep rain and mosquitoes from disturbing scholarship.

I admit that not all academics have such skills. My colleague on the third floor – a distinguished professor even – dropped his conditioner when attempting a do it yourself install. Luckily the university had the fore site to keep all buildings away from sidewalks except for the necessary entrances. We are under strict orders to reduce drop outs. The maintenance folks have since screwed his unit into place preventing him from taking any independent action. They tried the same thing with me, but I found a screw driver in a secretaries desk and have been functioning independently ever since.

I had hoped to avoid this chore since I am soon to clean out my office and move on. However, the 85+ temps in my office made it rather uncomfortable when I tried to work. The brain power required to read and write must generate a lot of heat.

I grew up on a farm. My brother the engineer claims that the Iowa State engineering programs prefer to accept farm kids as students. Evidently, farm kids have practical experience from working around machinery that allows them to make sense of what they learn in class. What I got out of my farm experience evidently prepared me for certain aspects of my job in ways those city kids could not hope to match. I actually do not remember my dad using duct tape, but I do know he found many uses for bailing wire. I wonder how you get your hands on bailing wire now days.

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Bait (follow), then switch (mute)

Business types learn to describe practices in a way that makes them sound desirable even when on closer examination they might seem sleazy. For example, the “fair and balanced no spin zone” thing still gets me upset.

Anyway, Twitter has introduced a new way for connected Twitter users to avoid the content generated by those they follow. This may seem strange – you follow someone and you want to avoid what they say. Nope – I think I have it right. Instead of blocking someone, you can mute them. Translated, bait someone into following you by following them and then avoid their content while they continue to deal with yours by use of the “mute” feature.

Sounds like a plan.

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Retirement Festivities


This pretty much makes it official. The Psychology Department hosted a very nice reception to recognize my retirement. I had a chance to shake the hand of many folks I have known for a long time. Very generous gifts and kind words. There was also the opportunity for several colleagues to identify my eccentricities, but in the spirit of most roasts I had the last word and was allowed to return the favor.  This place has played such a major role in my professional and social live it will always be with me even when I live somewhere else. These are good people.

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Massages and therapy dogs

A cold rain is falling today. After my morning lecture on depression, I cut through the union to avoid the rain for a bit and get a cup of coffee. I saw a sign that got me thinking. Finals are coming up and evidently some students are experiencing stress. The Wellness Center is offering massages and therapy dogs to help students cope.

Wow. Talk about expectations, change, and not having to walk to and from class uphill in a blizzard both ways. I am sorry students. These are the good times. This is a semi-protective environment where poor performance because you did not feel like going to class has only minimal consequences. You do not lose your job – we need to keep you for the tuition. You only get a C. The idea is to ease you into the real stresses of life. Therapy dogs and massages may establish unrealistic expectations.

Anyway, the thought of a massage creeps me out. Whatever my level of stress, I would require several drinks before I could tolerate a massage. My wife says a massage is wonderful. Perhaps we are stressed by different things.

therapydogHere is a picture of my therapy dog. See if you can pick him out. He is kind of aloof with an attitude. He thinks he is special and does not like other dogs. He does not like people much either. You have to be careful when petting him. You are likely to get nipped. He also does not like his hair trimmed even when he gets uncomfortable. He bit the last groomer and after receiving an official notice from the county sherif I had to have him observed by a vet on multiple occasions to make certain he was not rabid. I could have told them this was just his way of expressing himself. It costs about $600 to have him sedated so his hair can be cut. His method of comforting is to allow you look at him while he sleeps. A curmudgeon therapy dog for the curmudgeon.

We all have our own way of dealing with stress. I think I will take a walk in the cold rain just so I can feel the sensation of the rain on my bald spot. This is a form of therapy that makes you feel alive!

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Pro envy

One of my junior colleagues was able to convince the university he needed more computing power and his Mac Pro just arrived. Sitting next to his coffee cup the Pro kind of looks like one of the insulated carafes people use to keep their coffee warm.

Anyway, I am experiencing some kind of technology envy. I think it was Oscar Wilde who claimed that “youth is wasted on the young”. To this insight I would add – So is a Mac Pro!



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Scholar emerges from under rock, discovers social

I have had multiple experiences within the last year or so involving my colleagues and their excitement over social media. First, it was my department and the effort to post content to Facebook. Then, it was my friends from AERA and their discovery of Twitter. The excitement is difficult to explain. Many posts with pictures and few words. I know these folks have more to say than can be captured in a few Twitter words.

My wife, in her morning survey of her sources, sent me this. BTW – the reality that I live with someone who reaches for her ipad before asking for coffee kind of explains my amusement with the scholars I know. Anyway, she forwarded this link to a post by a Stanford education prof making a similar point.

I would argue that educ researchers have a duty to share their work with the public and engage anyone willing to listen. Education is a field only partly driven by science. Politics and business interests play a significant role. As a scholar in this field you are making a trivial contribution if all you can manage is to send off your papers to journals read by a hand full of peers. Another publication or two makes no genuine contribution and is pretty much a selfish act benefiting your salary and your recognition within the small circle of acquaintances you think are important. Profs perpetuate the stereotype of being clueless when unable to communicate with the public in the ways that the public communicates. Keep up!

BTW – I have nearly the same reaction to those who move about the country making a living as paid presenters. I am not that impressed by your past history as a teacher or administrator. What you did a dozen or so years ago is hardly relevant to a rapidly moving field such as educational technology.

Balance is the key – be a researcher and allocate time to explaining why what you do matters. Be a teacher and explain the realities you experience.

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Geek fest

AERA and academics have descended on Philadelphia. I am here to catch up on the latest in the world of education. I keep getting distracted. First, there was the opportunity to attend the frozen four (note – this is not an autocorrect fix – it is hockey. I do know the tall guys in short pants are playing basketball.). The hockey tourney actually begins after the conference, but planning was required. Flights had to be rebooked and youtube lectures created (I still have a job). Then, it turned out to to be tech week. Philly claims to be a technology hub. New one on me, but I am certainly not an east coast guy. Anyway, the geeks were gathering last night to show off their indie games and to set the Guiness record for the largest Tetris game (pretty esoteric if you ask me).

Sure enough, the geeks were out in force. It was cold and drinking beer when it is 40, windy, and I am without parka is not my idea of having fun. With the exception of the cold temp, it reminded me of waiting for fireworks to start on July 4. It had to be dark and the supposed start time passed without any action. Not knowing what to expect or which building was to be transformed I kept scanning the skyline. Finally, I spotted it and took a picture so I could leave.

tetrisguinessWhat a week, first it was a record cold day (-5 on Apr. 1) in Grand Forks and now the largest Tetris game in Philadelphia. What could possibly top such experiences?

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3-D Maker

The opportunity to become a “Maker” seems to have captured the attention of many educators. Learning by making is assumed to offer more authentic experiences and technology is argued to allow many more individuals of all ages to have such opportunities.


I think I happen to know one of the more unique “makers”. One of my colleagues, Dr. Miller, is interested in how to assess the aptitude of individuals with visual impairments. A traditional intelligence test is not practical. Dr. Miller evaluates methods of assessing cognitive abilities based on the ability to determine the patterns in physical objects that can be explored by touch. I think of it as something like Raven’s Progressive Matrices, but I am not certain if Dr. Miller would describe his approach in a similar way.

joemakerThe challenge for Joe (Dr. Miller) has been how to create the various objects he uses in his research. Enter the 3-D printer. Now, as he learns more about how to create 3-D shapes, he can develop his sample materials.

makerpiecesHere is one story related to Joe’s learning curve with this equipment that I find amusing. Files for several sample objects came with the equipment – e.g., a nut and bolt. I walked into the room where Joe was exploring the capabilities of his new printer and found him “printing” several pocket combs. If it is not apparent why this struck me as funny, you might take another look at Joe and his machine.



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