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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Trying to be profound can confuse people

The Google founders messed up too. Google isn’t real, it should have been googol (a 1 followed by 100 zeros).

Cindy seems to be having trouble defining herself in retirement. When we had to offer the information for FETC registration you are required to include a company affiliation. I still list mine as UND. Cindy decided to use our book web site – The lady heard and put that as an affiliation on our name tags.

fetcbadgeThe idea behind learningaloud is that learning results from generative activities. Hence, I blog to share what I know, but I also blog because it helps me learn. Learning aloud is a way to say I am learning out loud. Try explaining that to someone in a few seconds. I understand that some would interpret that as learning allowed which was ok and I have always enjoyed the play on words. I thought I was being clever, but perhaps I was being confusing.

I guess it worked for Googol.

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Rest stops I have known

Cindy and I attempt to turn our trips into technology learning opportunities. Since we have taken a significant number of trips, it can be difficult to find a new theme. I am still attempting to find a new focus.

Soon after crossing from North Dakota to South Dakota we pulled into a rest stop. The first stop in a state tends to be particularly impressive. I suppose if you have had little previous experience with the state this offers an opportunity to provide a good first impression. We are not new to South Dakota and so I am not fooled. Still, I have always been impressed by the outdoor art at the rest stops.


Some folks review museums. Some folks review eating establishments. I am considering a series of reviews focused on rest stops. I would have to work out my criteria – visual attractiveness, tourist information, availability and cost of refreshments, smell, access to towels, etc. I will have to give this some thought.

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On the road



First day of the first great road trip of my retirement. We are heading South. Moving was tough. During those many days cleaning out the basement of our long time home, it felt like this day would never come. The experience taught me a great deal about perseverance. I learned you have to take one step at a time. Step by step. Flight of basement stairs by flight of stairs. Plastic tote by plastic tote. Dust bunny by dust bunny. Dried up can of paint under the stairs by dried can of paint. ….

Time to go. I can tell when I begin slipping back into that dark place again. I will post from the road.

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The Innovators

I seldom use this blog for book recommendations, but I am making an exception. I encourage  you, especially you “digital natives”, to read Walter Isaacson’s “The Innovators“. I have read many, many books about tech innovators, but this book does a particularly good job of pulling together a reasonable history. The Innvoators makes an attempt to capture the big picture. The context provided should be of particular value to those who lack an appreciation of the role of digital technology in our present culture. The book focuses on key individuals and includes just enough personal color to make the book entertaining as well as informative.

Having experienced much of this history as a participant, I recommend this book because it seems to capture a romanticism we have lost. At a time when the technology tools were so primitive, the hopes of those developing and promoting the tools were expansive. The assumed potential of giving individuals the power to build and communicate was intoxicating.

We have pretty much created the potential that was imagined. The hardware, software, and online capabilities are likely more than the pioneers predicted. However, I wonder about the utilization of these possibilities. Would the pioneers have desired NetFlix and Facebook or Comcast and Verizon? Has the opportunity to increase the number of voices being heard been realized? I would suggest that vacuum of opportunities available will be filled by a narrow range or providers unless individuals are willing to invest more of themselves. The tendency for passive consumption in combination with even more powerful tools is a recipe for greater inequality.

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Lemons, garlic and skim milk

You can disregard the title. That is the stuff I have to get at the store on my way home and I do not want to forget. I thought if the title was visible while I was writing I would be less likely to fail in the completion of my assigned mission. I read somewhere that older folks have lower intelligence, but more wisdom. Perhaps writing things down so you don’t forget is an example of the latter.

I admit the title sounds like the list of ingredients from one of those chef challenges – you have 20 minutes to make an appetizer that contains lemons, garlic and skim milk. Now that I have you thinking about what you might make, I will write about something that is entirely unrelated. If you have suggestions for how to combine these ingredients, I will accept recipes and forward them to my wife ’cause she must need these things for something



I really like coffee shops. My definition of a coffee shop my differ from yours – a real shop is not to be confused with those chain places with only two tables one of which is occupied by a college student listening to Green Day and working on his first novel. I am most productive in a place with lots of space, interesting characters with varying characteristics of body type and dress, and good coffee. Many mornings I drive about a dozen mile to Webster. Webster has about 650 people but it has a coffee shop that meets my requirements. Fresh Start has great coffee (Kona and Blue Mountain if you want) and the equipment to roast individual orders in 20 minutes. The menu is exotic – I could have ordered a breakfast pizza with truffled bechamel (whatever that is), eggs, and lobster. I wonder what kind of pizza you can make with lemons, garlic, and skim mile – probably easier than lobster and truffled bechamel? The music, a requirement for me, is straight from Pandora with a large monitor on the wall so I know what is playing. This place is so cool they will even warm your cup with hot water before you add the coffee. I prefer a paper cup without the preheating.

I wonder why it is writers like to write in coffee shops. Why not in a quite and isolated library carrel or an ivory tower office with the door closed? I think it is the principle of what I like to call “productive distraction”. Left to our own meager cognitive capabilities we would like focus on something we think is interesting. In a coffee shop, the minor distractions disrupt our limited creations by randomly seeding our own message from parts of our memory we had failed to consider introducing creative elements into what we produce. I apologize for the complexity of the previous sentence. My theories tend to be difficult to capture in brief form.

You should be warned – my wife says she hates when I joke around ’cause it is not obvious when I am trying to be funny and she often believes the strange things I say. Strange is obviously a very personal perspective. Who could possible combine lemons and garlic to generate anything that is edible?

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Self Image


Self image is the way we see ourselves. Some folks struggle with self image and it taints their perspective on life. My self image is fine. I see myself as young, handsome, and pleasant. My grandkids like to draw pictures of me. I go along with this because I attempt to encourage their creativity. There is also the possibility one of them will produce something interesting or cute and I can use it to decorate my office or use it as a social media avatar.

This was the Thanksgiving offering from Olive.

I agree that there is some resemblance. I do wear glasses. I do keep my hair cropped short. I am still participating in movember. However, I also do have a neck and my frown is seldom this pronounced. Do I really look this scary to little kids?

My wife thinks this image captures me quite well and thinks I should use it for my Twitter profile. I don’t know. The image might take the edge off my cogent comments.

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Origins of flipping the classroom

Education is trendy. Cool ideas come and they go. This pattern can be good or bad. Some see this pattern as a form of fadism. The notion that education flip flops (to use a political term) seems contrary to the notion others advance contending that nothing in education ever changes and that the field in comparison to other fields does not advance. I think education is an easy target that everyone thinks they understand and can criticize. How about we focus on health care for a while. We all are participants in that field as well.

Old folks and curmudgeons in particular have a reputation for responding to new ideas by claiming “we already tried that and it did not work”. My position tends to be far more sophisticated. Often, it seems to me that a more accurate description would be we tried that and while it kind of worked we now understand why. As a cognitive psychologist focused on education, this is how I would react to my education colleagues who would cite Dewey (an historical figure in the field of education). By the way, this is the reaction I have to patents (to draw a distant comparison). Make vague pronouncements and you are likely to be given credit for similarities.

This is a long introduction to get to an example. Many educators have discovered “flipping to classroom”. It is often implemented by making a video of what an instructor might present in class and asking students to view this video before coming to class. This requirement allows more class time for discussion and addressing the needs of individual confused students. I might point out that we used to make reading assignments and then use class time to help students understand what they had read. If this sounds like the interpretation of an old person – I have already explained my position on this matter. Anyway, what we learned is that unless we started a class with a quiz we could not assume students had studied the ideas to be discussed.

I was thinking about flipping the classroom when the memory of a movie popped into my head. I have always liked the notion that the mind uses pattern matching to generate thinking and creativity. The idea is that an idea (flipping the classroom) offers a template and experiences that at least partially fit this template are more likely to be recalled. We then consider these experiences, try to understand them and in the process we form more sophisticated ways of understanding. You may have heard the expression “chance favors the prepared mind (Pasteur) – it works something like that. BTW – this is also why you cannot always Google it – you need a prepared mind.

So, as I was thinking about flipping the classroom, the recall of a movie (and a follow up television series) I viewed in the early 1970s surfaced. I do not watch many movies, but some stick with me. The movie was called the Paper Chase and described the experiences of first year students in Harvard Law School. You can get the movie from Amazon (or Netflix) for a few bucks ( and it is well worth the time. Key figures in the movie include Professor Kingsfield and first year law student Hart (a working class, but highly intelligent student among the rich kids). The first year seems to take a weed out the rich experience. None of this is relevant to my interests, but it does make for a good story.

What I recall about Prof Kingsfield classroom approach was what matched the flipping pattern. The prof assumed that students would come to class prepared and did not intend to use class time to present basic concepts. He taught by requiring students to stand and respond to his questions. Students who were poorly prepared were treated harshly. After getting beyond the basic “facts of the case” (the expected memorized details), the prof would begin to probe for understanding and insight. Hart, when he had time to prepare, was capable of going beyond the facts and this was often not the case with many of his classmates who seemed only capable of memorization.

Comments made by Prof Kingsfield during the first class stuck with me. After basically threatening the class with that old “look to your right, look to your left – one of you will not make it to the end of this class” thing, Kingsfield says “you will teach yourselves the law, I will teach you to think”.

There you have it – flipping the classroom, memorization, higher order critical thinking, all in a 40 year old movie about college life.

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Wood and Other Long Term Commitments

I made my living thinking, but now I like cutting wood. I like taking my saw and my Ranger, going into the forest, and coming home with the better part of a tree. I like my splitter and the satisfaction of turning large round chunks of wood into a neat stack of pieces the right size for my small stove. I like sitting here in my “lab” while I write looking out through the windows at the falling snow in the comfort of the fire built from the wood I cut. I like generating long, run on sentences when I write just because I can.


Like many things in life you have to be patient and build toward the good times. It takes a while to understand this important piece of the big picture. The tree you cut up today will not be ready to burn for a couple of years. You get to enjoy the fire from the wood you cut because of the work you did before. Be patient grasshopper – enjoy the journey. ;)



I am thinking for writing a series I will call deep thoughts from the deep woods. Too much work I think. Time to cut some more wood.

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