Category Archives: Cultural Observations

Take a yankee, plop him in the south and…culture shock.

Kind Words From a Former Apprentice…and Also, a Coworker

This is another one of those posts that’s been sitting in “Draft Limbo” for about a week now, but something happened this week that gave me a little “kick” to publish it.  First, the older stuff:

Tonight I received an e-mail from a former student assistant of mine who is a now working for a major microprocessor manufacturer in California. (Hint: It’s probably “inside” most of the computers you use today.)

He started out by saying:

“Thanks for teaching me how to fish Yoda! Hope all is well -j”

I thought he was referring to teaching him how to fly fish for trout back in the day, so I asked him if he had caught anything.

Turns out he meant something different:

“…sorry, didn’t have time to finish the email. Thanks for helping me fish…aka learn linux with the rtfm comments…”

By way of explanation:  Back in the day at the University, we shared an office space.  He was eager to learn Linux, and I was happy to have his help with my projects and daily work.  Whenever he would get “stuck,” instead of giving him the answer so I could go right back to work, I’d take a little extra time to give him hints and guide him to find the answer on his own.  I can’t tell you how many times I would say, “RTFM, dude.  It’s in there.  I found it, so you can too.  Now, let’s start by looking here…”

Eventually, he was given some of his own projects and systems to design on his own.  At first he would ask me how he should build things. Eventually, as I let him have more space to spread his wings, I would turn it around and ask him “So, how would YOU like to build this?”  It was a great feeling to watch him grow.

He finished his E-mail to me with this:

“This has helped me a ton in my life ever since. :-)”

Wow.  What a great feeling.

Now, back to the coworker that got me thinking about this post again.  Earlier this week, my coworker took and passed his CCNA on the first try.  This is no small feat, especially considering he only came on board a few months ago.  I congratulated him on passing his CCNA, and as we we talking he stopped and said, “I wanted to thank you for something.”

“Ok…what?”

“When I first started, remember when I asked you [something about subnet masking within firewall rules]?”

“Sure I do, but…what’s special about that?”

“Well, you didn’t just give me the answer.  You told me where to start looking, and I learned much more from than if you had just answered the question, so thanks for that.”

I guess it’s like they say:  “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

GPS Detour Takes Me Back…

In what turned out to be some serendipitous scheduling, I decided to attend a conference this weekend just outside of Franklin, Tennessee.  My fellow conference partner and I came down the night before the main event so we could relax and not have to get up at the crack of dawn and drive down the morning of.  After a nice dinner at a little hole-in-the-wall place called “Thai Spice,” we decided to set the GPS for the address of the conference site and get a feel for the route and the drive time.  The GPS directed me out of town on kind of a zig-zag route, which at one time would have concerned me, but I’ve been in the south long enough now to know not to sweat.  This is just how the roads are in the older states.  There is no “country block/grid” system around here.

As we continued down one road, the GPS directed me to “Continue Straight on Old [Something] Road.”  As we got about a mile down this older winding road, I started to get déjà vu, but I figured that was a little crazy.  There was no way I had been here before…or was there? As we continued, I looked over to the left and saw a large concrete wall, part of some kind of round retaining basin up on a ridge, surrounded by a fence with distinctive warning signs on it. I knew I had seen that before.  I finally said it out loud: “I’ve been here before. I know it, even though that seems impossible.”

Further down the road, I began to notice some familiar-looking country and large estate-style ranches.  I still couldn’t believe that I was where I thought I was—even though everything looked so familiar. I mean, even if it was, I would have only been out this way maybe once or twice—three times, at most—how could I remember that?

Finally, we came to a “T” intersection with a sign that confirmed it.  I stopped for a bit and just looked at the sign, taking it in.

“Hello, Leipers Fork.  I haven’t seen you since…Thanksgiving?”

Editor’s Note:  I was going to link to the main Leipers Fork web site I found via Google, but it has background music.  I don’t want to encourage that nonsense, so no linking from me.  Google it for yourself if you’re interested, but turn down your speakers before you click on it–there’s no warning before the music starts blaring.

Automatic Pilot to Tennessee

This was a comment from one of my facebook friends about a book called “North Toward Home.”  I loved it, because it spoke to me as someone who drove back and forth to Tennessee so often last year.  The part about “automatic pilot” really got me:

“It’s the title of one of my favorite books – a perennial summer read. One of my favorite passages is the one I thought of when I posted my status last night: ‘In a fast car, a man can almost make it to Tennessee on automatic pilot, driving the straight, level road in a kind of euphoria, past the cotton fields and the tenant shacks, the big plantation houses and the primitive little Negro churches, over the muddy creeks and rivers, through the counties with the forgotten Indian names – Leflore, Coahoma, Tallahatchie, Tunica.'”

After I left law school, I could not drive to Nashville without feeling terrible…nauseated, even.  In fact, I only made the trip to Nashville twice in maybe six months afterward, in both cases to help Mike and Ashley with their moving process.  After that, I avoided making the drive to Nashville for years, unless I had to go to the airport.

After last year, I have a lot of practice making that drive.  Now, the trip to Nashville seems to fly right by–funny how that works.  All it takes is the right motivation.

Chuck Milam’s Seven Secrets of Academic Success at UW-Oshkosh

I wrote this shortly before I finally graduated from UW Oshkosh, and left it with my fraternity chapter.  Recently, Victor discovered it in his archives and sent it back to me.  It was fun to read this blast from the past, and I think most of this still holds true today.  I do come down on academic advisors pretty hard here, but at the time I had good reason to.  Looking back at it now, I will apply this disclaimer:  Not all academic advisors are horrible.  There was one advisor in the Liberal Studies department that really made all the difference for me in getting me credit for ALL my classes when I returned to school, and she got me on the track to graduation in the shortest time possible.  Some of the other advisors that were working at UWO at the time would have done well to have learned from her.

So without further explanation, I present:

Chuck Milam’s Seven Secrets of Academic Success at UW-Oshkosh

This was originally a presentation given in the fall of 1999 to my fraternity pledge class as part of the “Academics” component of The Journey. I speak from experience. I almost failed out of school in 1995, left school to take a job before they could kick me out, and then returned to complete my degree in 1998. Most of what is presented here was learned in my “second go around” from 1998-1999.

1. Go to class. Nothing is more important. No matter how hung over, sick, or just plain tired you are, go to class. Even if you are only semi-conscious, you can at least absorb enough through osmosis to pass the class. You cannot pass a class if you’re not there to learn the material or take the exams.

2. Your advisor is not going to help you. Contrary to popular belief, your advisor is not going to bend over backwards to help you plan your academic career and help you graduate on time. You advisor is most likely only concerned with getting you out of his office so he can get back to his game of computer golf or surfing to college-sluts.com. You are better off consulting with professors or fraternity brothers in your major. Which leads us to point #3:

3. Use your resources. Through the fraternity, you have access to brothers who have “been there” already. They know what professors to take, what professors to avoid and what classes are a guaranteed “GPA booster.” Make use of brothers in your major, especially–they’ll be happy to help you.

4. Don’t fall into the “GPA trap.” In many academic majors, if you drop below a certain minimum GPA, you won’t be able to take upper-level classes. If you can’t get into upper-level classes, you can’t graduate. So, you end up trapped in a vicious cycle, blowing tuition money, accruing useless course credits and not making any real progress toward graduation. If you’re following rule #1, above, this will not be a problem for you.

5. Don’t believe the “Academic Major/GPA Hype.” Since high school, you’ve been told that you have to have a “decent major” and a “decent GPA” (usually 3.0 or better) in order to have any hope of getting a job out of college. This is quite possibly the biggest lie told to students today. Major in something you really are interested in, not something that you think will get you a good job. After you have your degree, an employer isn’t going to care if you majored in business or art. He’s not going to care what your GPA was. All that matters is that you get that degree. After all, it’s why you’re here, right? Right.

6. Everything can be appealed and/or waived. Don’t let academic advisors convince you that you cannot get into the upper-level courses because you are missing one or two classes. (College of Business advisors are notorious for this.) Remember step #2, above? Your advisor could care less if you have to take an extra semester to meet some silly prerequisite requirement. These kinds of things can be waived. Ask for a waiver or an appeal. If you’re not happy with the answers you’re getting from your advisor, go to the department chair, to the dean of the college, the provost, whatever it takes to get what you need done. It is your right as a student (paying customer) to make steady academic progress and graduate on time.

7. Demand the same level of performance from your professors that they demand of you. Don’t tolerate professors who don’t show up for office hours or class, who don’t clearly explain their grading criteria, or who don’t grade consistently. Remember, everyone answers to someone. You can take your complaints to the department chair, to the dean of the college, right on up the chain, just as in step #6, above. Some professors are beyond hope. Avoid them by making sure you consult with others on who to avoid. See #3, above.

Remember these seven simple steps, and you’ll be on the road to graduate “on schedule.”

Why Do We Look For The Greener Grass?

One of my friends recently posted on facebook:

“Why do people ‘fall in love’ with things they can never have?”

She then followed up with:

“… I just think it’s wierd how “people” are so obsessed with things/people they can never have in their life and miss out on other things/people that would make them just as happy if not more… I do it too… I just don’t understand it…”

After some reflection, I responded:

I’ve often pondered the exact thought you pose here, especially when looking back at what “could have been.”

We have all looked past the person right in front of us while pursuing the unattainable shiny new thing standing on the greener grass in the next pasture over.  Why do we do it?  Human nature, maybe?  Fear of “settling” or making the “wrong” choice?  Why do we do it?  It’s hard to say.  Maybe there isn’t one answer.

Regardless of why, when I think, “I really shouldn’t have chased after Lady A, I should have paid attention to Lady B,” it starts to get me down.  I start to think I really screwed up and missed out—I’m sure we all know how that goes.  However, when I REALLY think about it, I come to realize that one of the main reasons I didn’t pay attention to the otherwise perfectly (probably more) suitable Lady B at the time is simple:  I just wasn’t ready.  She may have been, but I wasn’t.  Do I still wish I could go back and do it differently sometimes?  Of course, but I have to remember that life’s all about timing, and if you’re both not fully ready, it’s not going to work.

So, that’s how I make peace with this question, anyway.  Your mileage may vary.

Does this make sense to you, dear reader?  Or am I blowing smoke here? Comments welcome.

2010: Round Numbers Prevent “Decade Denial”

Ok, so we are now twenty or so days into the year 2010, and I’ve come
to realize something:

This nice round-numbered year is making it really hard for me to
engage in what I’ve come to call “decade denial.” Allow me to
explain: In previous years, let’s say…2009, for example…it was much
easier for me to imagine that “…2005 wasn’t that long ago.” Here’s
where it hit me: I was just looking at an article dated 2005 and I
was trying to determine if it was still fresh information…and a month
ago, I might have used it. However, with that big fat “10” at the end
of the current year, the easy math gets me thinking, “Holy crap,
that’s five years old already.”

I bet I’m not the only one seeing this. Subtracting from 10 makes
for easy math, which means I can no longer deny that time is marching on.

My YouTube Debut?

I think this is the first time I actually show up on YouTube, courtesy of Jane Q. Public’s new video camera.  I do wish it was something besides me in mid-rant over fashion choices, but some people think it’s funny.  Enjoy!

UPDATE:  Hmm…I wonder if it was bad form for me embed the video here, rather than link directly to Jane Q. Public’s original blog post?  I’m so out of touch with current post vs. link etiquette.