Finally – A Winner

I have this game I play. It is a simple game, but deceptively challenging. I frequently make the drive from Danbury, WI to Webster, WI to have coffee at my favorite north woods shop. I have been doing this for three years and have made this trip possibly a hundred times. Here is the game – I try to make it from Danbury to Webster without being passed.

To appreciate this challenge you need to consider some of the factors that are involved. These two towns are about 7 miles apart. This is not a heavily populated area and many times I see only 3-4 cars moving in either direction. This is a two lane highway with one passing passing lane about half way for maybe half a mile – slow traffic please move to the right.

What makes the game so exciting is that I never win. Today, victory was finally mine – another life milestone achieved. I thought I was going to make it a couple of weeks ago, but then a car entered from a side road. I did not see the car coming so I could not slow down and allow it to enter before I passed the entry point (this is allowed in the game) and I was passed just a couple of miles short of the goal.

You might suggest I invest in a faster vehicle. I suppose. I like to drive a truck up here so I kind of fit in. However, my Ford Ranger is likely the wimpiest truck in the county and something with more horsepower might improve my odds.

My disadvantage in this game is that by my rules I must drive the speed limit. I can accelerate as forcefully as I want, but I am not allowed to exceed 55. There is something about this combination of factors that makes it so exciting. In theory, I should never lose, but I never win. I keep trying because I find the challenge so exciting.

According to my scholar friends who study games, these experiences can teach us much. If I accept this position, I must now attempt to surmise just what I am learning. Losing when you do the right thing cannot be the lesson. I am thinking I have learned that “the journey is its own reward”. You do not have to win to enjoy the ride.

Think about that. One more life lesson from your friend – the curmudgeon.

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Big City Ways

We have actually lived in the Twin Cities for only a few weeks. However, we have had some unique first experiences.

A couple of days ago someone spray painted graffiti on our garage. This was a first for us.


This seems like pretty amateurish work. If someone wants to generate one of those really cool murals I would be pleased. This seems more like it is Spring break for middle schoolers and they could find nothing else to do.

The new experiences continued. We went to the local hardware store to see what we should do to fix the mess. We expected we would have to paint over the the painted area and were worried about getting the paint to match. Repainting the entire garage seemed like a lot of work.

It turns out that they sell graffiti remover. Who knew?



While I am grateful that a small hardware store carried this product, knowing that a small hardware store had the product and the clerk knew just where to find it is also somewhat of a concern.

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Why does this thing make me self conscious

We can’t resist cool technology. If we can think of nothing else, we explain our purchases by claiming we must investigate the educational potential of what we now own.

Here is the newest gadget. This is the Echo from Amazon. I know it looks like an insulated coffee cup (Note to self – be careful in the early morning), but it is a device connected to the Internet that listens to your questions and attempts to provide answers.

Last night I was having trouble getting the device to work. I had trouble remembering how to address the device. It insists on being called Alexa and I kept calling it Alexi. I have never been that good with names and Alexa seemed to take this personally.

Then I had difficulty getting a complete question out without stumbling over my words. Normally, I can speak clearly and intelligently, but talking to a coffee cup messed me up. If I slurred words, it (perhaps I should say she) would not respond. If I stumbled on a word, she would not respond. Trying to enunciate clearly seemed to make it worse. Once I become self conscious, I have to give it a rest. I let Cindy do the talking and all was well. I have noticed a strange type of technology phobia that degrades my speech. This is a known issue. I hate talking on the telephone and I walk into fast food establishments rather than having to speak into the box when driving through.

Alexa and I are getting along better this morning.

“Alexa, tell me a joke”

What is black and white and read all over?

A newspaper

“Alexa, will it snow today?”

It might snow in Platteville today. There is a 58% chance. You can expect about .8 inches.

[not exactly sure where Platteville is, but it must be close to here. The prediction sounds about right]

“Alexa, what is the time of the Kansas basketball game.”

Kansas jayhawks will play later today at 4 against the Wichita shockers.

“Alexa, play Somewhere over the rainbow by Iz”

Here is a sample of somewhere over the rainbow by Katharine McPhee


[I can’t pronounce Israel Kamakawiwoole]

“Alexa, play Somewhere over the rainbow by Judy Garland”

“Alexa, do you like me?”



All I need to know

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Curmudgeon’s cut and paste inspirational quote page

I have this love/hate thing with Twitter. I check Twitter nearly as often as I check my email, but I constantly lament the inane content I find there. I am pleased we have moved past the point of explaining what we have for breakfast, but I have other issues. I think I am presently most annoyed by those who offer numerous inspirational quotes.

My wife is a fan of inspirational quotes. While I could overlook this as a minor fault, she somehow feels she must read them aloud to me. I do what I can to discourage this practice but see persists. She seems to feel I would be a happier or a more productive person if I was more inspired. I tell her that inspiration is not my problem.

I have decided to make the best of this situation. There seems to be no way to block quotes. Since I can think of no technical solution, I will try to “turn lemons into lemonade”.

My plan is to try to make money on inspirational quotes. I will spend a little time collecting these quotes, accumulate the quotes on a web page which I will surround with Google ads, and wait for the money to roll in. I had this idea yesterday and I have already generated quite a few “gems”. I have two suggested applications –  1) visit my page and read the quotes to become inspired – make certain you click the associated ad as a thank-you before you leave and 2) copy and paste one of these quotes if you feel the need to add to the clutter on Twitter. Please add the hashtag – #dontblamethecurmudgeon.

In summary, to quote Mr. Gump – stupid is as stupid does.


Arrogance is the camouflage of insecurity. – Tim Fargo

Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?

“Be true to your work, your word, and your friend.” — Henry David Thoreau

Don’t exercise your freedom of speech until you have exercised your freedom of thought. – Tim Fargo

“Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better.

Fair isn’t everybody getting the same thing… fair is getting what each kid needs to be successful.

Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way” – Martin Luther King Jr.

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” — John Wooden

Knowledge is knowing what to say. Wisdom is knowing whether or not to say it.

“No” doesn’t always mean “never.” Sometimes it just means “not yet.”

“One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.” – Rita Mae Brown

“Only dead fish go with the flow.” — Sarah Palin

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. – Thomas A. Edison

“Pain nourishes courage. You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.” – Mary Tyler Moore

Surround yourself with the people who make you better, and you will have better outcomes.

Technology will not replace teachers, but teachers who use technology will replace those who do not.

“The time is always right to do what is right.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

“You have to teach students HOW to think but not dictate WHAT they think.”


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I could have been fined, jailed, or both.


I could have been fined, jailed, or both.

I got off with a “stern” warning. I must admit that the 40ish officer and his twenty-something partner using their best professional demeanor required that I exercise great care in not giggling. Something about their glorified golf cart and young age tested my mental toughness. Besides, I could have been fined, jailed, or both.

So, I was walking on the beach down to the pier. I had taken my camera this time with the intent of taking a picture of the pier with the waves breaking in the background. I could not find the angle that satisfied my photographer’s eye. I thought I would head up to the parking lot where the tourists left their cars and then I saw the dunes. Perhaps I could locate an overlook and come up with an image captured through the sea oats.

I walked along the parking lot searching for a path. I saw two women walking ahead of me through the dunes and headed in their direction. I found the “path” they were using. It lead out toward the highway so I gave up on taking a picture.

As I was heading down the highway – walking facing traffic – I sensed this vehicle pull up behind me. Since I was walking against traffic the vehicle kind of surprised me. This is when I met the sand dunes police guys. The driver gets out and said something that I thought meant I should sit in the golf cart. It turned out he wanted me to place my camera on the seat. The image of me sitting in the front seat of the cart while being questioned does seem kind of unlikely.

I was interrogated by the old guy. He wanted to know precisely where I had exited the dunes. I did not actually know, but my explanation of somewhere between here and the driveway was not precise enough. I finally admitted I did not know for sure. He went through a thorough description of the legality of walking through the dunes and explained that I had ignored the numerous signs warning against such activity. I did not see a sign, but this was evidently not sufficient. The dunes are very fragile and there is this rat or mouse the protectors of which prevent high rises from being built so I obviously could not walk there. I admit this was the one comment to which I could not resist offering a comeback. I told the officer that I had not stepped on any rats.

The officer asked me where I was from. I have no idea why I claimed Iowa. This is technically true if the question is where were you born. I am not certain if I was rattled or confused from talking with all of the other old folks who live down here about my history.

The officer asked for my identification and I thought I would soon be fined, jailed or both. Of course, my North Dakota license should have alerted the officer to possible conflicts in my story but he did not notice. Evidently, being from the midwest allowed me a break. I should have known better, but didn’t. He took a picture of my license with this phone. Now, I am in some kind of database as an evil doer.

I was released with a strong warning. One last time I was asked to explain why I decided to walk through the dunes. This time I mentioned I was just following the two women who could still be seen attempting to make their getaway up the road in front of us. The officers let me go and headed out in pursuit of the ladies.

I do know not to walk through the dunes. I did not learn this from the signs and it was the reason I did not deviate from the path to walk toward the crest of the dunes overlooking the beach to get a picture. Still, it was an interesting experience and I appreciate the work of the guys who stopped me.


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Finally, a positive way to understand Twitter chats

When a husband asks his wife “how was your day”, the question and the response are usually trivial. What is important is the unstated message that “I care about you”. Perhaps this is the way it is with Twitter chats. (not my insight – a comment I adapted from Mediactive)

Followers of my social commentary likely know that I am not a fan of Twitter chats (often described as edchats when involving groups of educators). An edchat typically lasts an hour and consists of group Twitter responses to a series of questions. The questions are often available ahead of time. I have attempted to participate in some and I have observed other Twitter chats and have formed my opinions based on these experiences. I find nearly all tweets are trivial – platitudes or socialization – nothing informative or original (e.g., links to resources I had not encountered). I blame a) the limited expressive potential of Twitter (140 characters) and b) my guess that few participants familiarize themselves with the questions before participating – in other words nearly all involved are shooting from the hip. Perhaps Twitter chats need to be flipped (another ed innovation). I suggest that 15 individuals spending one hour each represent a great deal of commitment that would be better spent if each read a book.

I really wish some grad student would investigate this phenomena. One could interview participants and create a coding system for the interaction (much like analyses of classroom discussions). It would be an important contribution if it generated conclusions that would lead to helpful suggestions.

When in a cynical mood, I also question the motives of some participants who seem to promote themselves through this communication model. In particular those who believe their expertise should demand a price should they be invited to share their wisdom face to face. This message contains an interesting internal contradiction if you consider it in depth.

My reading of Mediactive has caused me to mellow a bit. The Edchat probably does serve a social function among those who value educational applications of technology. I wish it would be represented for this contribution.

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Hangin with the hippie dippies

We are spending some time in Sedona, Arizona. We have visited this location a couple of times because Sedona is warmer than North Dakota at this time of year and also a very beautiful place. The unique beauty of the location comes from the unusual red rock formations that circle the community.


Like other similar locations Sedona appears to attract the very rich who are evidently willing to give in to the requirement that you fashion your cliff dwelling from adobe and glass. These are the folks who fancy boots, cowboy hats, and western clothes and keep real estate prices inflated beyond the means of those who actually understand why cowboy boots have pointed toes. There are the young outdoor enthusiasts who hike and ride thousand dollar bikes up and down the trails and then spend their evenings working as waiters or convenience store attendants. I can talk to these folks ‘cause I worked with college students for many years, understand their motives and need to find themselves, have eclectic musical tastes, wear Keen sandals, and happen, in general, to be one gnarly fellow. Dude!

There are also artists. I do not understand art, but I do like pretty things. For the most part I will have to take my own photos and do without the items fashioned from stone and steel. Too expensive.

The group that fascinates me are the new agers. I stare at them and wonder if they are true believers or just are unwilling to let anyone else in on the scam.


The red rocks are home to several vortices (I think that is the plural of a vortex). The locations are marked on the maps available to tourists.

According to Wikipedia – In fluid dynamics, a vortex is a region, in a fluid medium, in which the flow is mostly rotating on an axis line, the vortical flow that occurs either on a straight-axis or a curved-axis.

I don’t think these folks have physics degrees so vortex must have more than one meaning. I guess you do not want to fall into one of these. Beam me up Scottie.

Crystals are a big thing. I should buy a book to learn why. I think they are supposed to have healing powers.

I have also learned that you have an aura that can be revealed with a special type of photography. Skilled professionals are able to photograph your aura and then “read it” to tell you things about yourself that had escaped your awareness. Perhaps this capability is available to us all. There are some weird settings on my digital camera I never understood, but might be able to figure out if I read the manual. Perhaps the A setting stands for aura. I try this setting once in a while, but the pictures usually come out over exposed. Perhaps what I accepted as a lack of artistic skill on my part was really a missed opportunity to search for the inner truth in nature and in others. Now I wish that I had not deleted all of those pictures.

Finally, there is the matter of aligning your chakras. My understanding is that the mystics who practice this skill are kind of like chiropractors, except they fix you in other ways than twisting you into that weird pretzel position or determining if your legs are the same length. I hate that sound when your neck cracks. Perhaps I should give the chakra guys a try. Namaste.

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When my feet hurt I have walked enough

I am a data guy. I made my living, back when I had job, as a researcher and I analyzed data using fancy computer software. I made charts, tables and I wrote scientific papers. Data are truth.

Most people do not know that the word data is plural. But, I admit describing your recent efforts to collect a datum does sound really weird. Sometimes being grammatically precise is not worth sounding weird.

Now that I no longer function as a social scientist, my fascination with data (plural) seems to be focused on me (singular). I must generate data by the terabyte. The challenge is collecting this valuable information.

Somewhere along the line, I discovered the fitbit. The fitbit is great. You hook it on your pocket and it records how many steps you have taken, how many flights of stairs you have climbed and how many minutes you have been engaged in strenuous activities. I think the strenuous activity counter on mine must be broke, but it does show I take steps and climb stairs.

I read somewhere that you are to walk 10,000 steps a day. If you do, you get a message saying “goal achieved”. When you are getting close, you get a kind of “you can do it” message. The Fitbit relies entirely on positive reinforcement. You do not a get a “you are a loser message” if you only accumulate 1500 steps.

With the online site linked to your fitbit, I can generate charts and tables just like I did in the old days. There is no publication outlet for these data so I will post my most recent chart here.


I understand the Fitbit has something to do with being fit. How is this supposed to work? I guess you check your data each evening and if you have yet to reach 10,000 you put your shoes back on and  head out for a few laps around the block.

In relating the data from my Fitbit with other observable variables, I have discovered one important relationship. When I actually generate 10,000 steps my feet hurt. Hence, I have decided when my feet hurt I can quit walking. One scientific discovery achieved.


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Tips for old guys

Florida seems a great place to pick up tips on being a cool old guy. No matter your actual age, there seem to be experienced mentors everywhere. Here is what I have learned so far.

The hat – Do not wear the bill of your hat flat. Curved is best. The flat bill labels you as dopey or dope or something like that. Do not wear a plain hat. A John Deere hat will make certain everyone knows you are a tourist. I bet most of you thought it was John Dear (I add these insights just to convince you that I really do know these things).  I think hats with college logos make you look smarter. One more thing – you do not have to remove your hat when you go inside.

The shoes – White is not necessary and reflects too much light. Sun burn is always a problem. Wear the shoes that look athletic. Do not be concerned you will required to demonstrate the full potential of these shoes – the vast proportion of individuals who purchase them never break into a trot. Who can afford these shoes besides old guys and kids with wealthy parents? Someone has to keep the manufacturers in business.

The cane – The cool cane in the south seems to be a putter. It pretty much sends the signal, my other car is a golf cart. By the way, golf is not actually a sport that requires much mobility. If you can stand upright, your cart will take you to your ball  I am also thinking a golf club makes a great weapon just in case one of the local hoodlums attempts to steal that gold chain or fancy watch you are wearing.

Your car – If caught with your minivan, explain you left you main ride up north and you drove the van this trip cause the grandkids are flying down to see Mickey.

The hearing aid – Do not worry if you require amplification. Look for a model with a blinking light and everyone will assume you are using bluetooth. You can embellish the illusion by pretending to click a button on your device and then say random things as if speaking on the phone. If you are clever and think well on your feet (or while sitting), what you say may generate admiration in those within range of your voice. “Yeh babe, I did pick up the wine. I will meet you on the boat.”

Your bike – Bike has nothing to do with peddling or exercise. Bike means motorcycle. If you are ever cornered, just explain that your wife (old lady) will not let you ride without her and she took the key while on a shopping in Europe. To make such excuses more credible, it helps if you invest in one of those chains that secures your billfold to your belt.

You can see I have picked quite a bit in a week. Keep your eyes open – the possibilities for learning are everywhere.

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Consider motives

I am easily amused by technology, but I have been trying to figure out for most of the day whether what this innovation does is interesting, potentially quite significant, or both.

A 16-year old programmer, Nicholas Rubin, has created a browser extension that a) identifies senators or congress people (my personal gender neutral term) listed on content you are reading and b) if you decide to click on the highlighted name of one of these individuals, provides the funding sources and amounts supporting the last run for office.

This information is interesting without any further use. BUT, consider this. As educators we have made it a cause to help learners become information literate. We explain that you cannot simply accept anything one finds online, but must attempt to include the credentials of the author in evaluating the information. Is it likely the authors has a reasonable level of expertise? Does the author have ulterior motives that may explain the particular position taken.

Perhaps we should teach a similar skill – political literacy – to students. Shouldn’t we evaluate the positions taken to determine if the rationale provided is legitimate or if the politicians is responding to other motives. It this the best decision for constituents, blind obedience to the party position, or a response to major source of personal funding. Some, for example Larry Lessig (Republic Lost), argue that politicians are primarily motivated by reelection. Because the process is so expensive, the game of governance is unduly influenced by building up the campaign funds that are available. Taking money must comes with strings that reduce independence. Some of these funds can be identified and this is where young Mr. Rubin’s app comes in. For example, when issues of fracking or the Keystone pipeline are under consideration, how would you evaluate a pro position taken by your elected officials if you know the oil and gas industries are the largest donors to these officials?

Here is an exercise (perform on a source of your choice if interested). Use the link above to locate and install the extension in your browser. Here is a link to a recent story in the GFHerald concerning the Keystone Pipeline. This example was not selected with a great deal of work – it was the first hit on the search for Keystone. You should be able to learn about the funding sources for Senators Heitkamp (D) and Hoevan (R).

hoevenkey heitkampkey





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