Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Multi-Talented Wife

I married an amazing woman. She has musical talent in spades - plays violin, piano, and various percussion instruments. She's a natural cheerleader - she loves to encourage others in whatever they are pursuing. She takes beautiful photos - we decorate our home with her pictures. I love to read her writing. She's a wonderful mother, of course. But finally she's pursuing one of her true passions: she's applying to law school. I'm really happy for her, and definitely proud she's doing it. Good for you, sweetheart!

-- Robert

Saturday, December 19, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different...

I must have heard at least three academics try to pull off that line in the past few months. One of them might have managed, but most managed to change it enough to mess it up. In any event, now that classes are over, I still have plenty of work to do over the break. I need to create a word list, get it boiled down to one agreed upon by "experts" regarding the topic I'm writing about, and use it to analyze a bunch of text samples. And that's just to get started on a paper. I also have a theory paper (or two) to edit by January 15 to submit to conference in time. Then there's another project whose deadline I am not completely clear on, but I need to learn to use another program to analyze text. And if I'm interested (which I am), I can join yet another project analyzing business school mission statements with the first textual analysis program.

And break is how long? There are only twenty or so days left? I best get a move on. At least I got over my illness of the last two days. I'm glad my semester ended well, and I look forward to getting a lot done between terms. Next semester will be pretty different, but I'm interested to see how well I learn the subjects (organizational theory, research methods II, and statistics). I'm also excited to continue working with my classmates, which might include as many as three new members next term. We just rearranged our desks to allow a fifth person to come in, and the office at the other end of the hall will take in two more people to make four. It'll be awfully cozy.

That's as much of an update as I can manage. We're getting some last minute Christmas preparation done around here. Merry Christmas everyone, in case I don't manage to write again.

-- Robert

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Done With First Semester Classes

It's still hard to believe, but I have completed the first semester of my program. It has been a wonderful experience, both from a learning standpoint and from the way our group has come together. The Ph.D. students, both my cohort and those who were here before, have become good friends to me (and to each other), and some of us even joke that we're like siblings. I could not ask for a better group to be working with for four years than the people I have here right now. We have several applicants who may be starting in the Spring semester, and we just rearranged our office a little to accomodate one of those people. We would rather have the new peope on the same floor than force anyone to go to the basement. Our group is even having dinner together tonight before we all spread to the four winds over the break.

Now that classes are done, I still have work to do. After all, the classes are to build our knowledge, but our research is what gets us jobs when we're done. I may be involved with threee or four projects over the break, though most likely I'm only looking at running data analysis on one project while helping edit a paper for conference submission. The other two projects are either very preliminary from what I understand, or they're ramping up to get to publication stage and I'm going to be brought in for some of the data analysis. It's exciting to have so many things going on all at once. Hopefully I can get some things finished over the break before jumping into three more classes. One class is somewhat of a continuation of this semester, as we'll be turning our proposed project into an empirical paper. Another is organizational theory, which is one of the more mature fields of management. The last class will be our first statistical methods course, which can be quite intense by all accounts. It's hard to think that these new courses will be any easier than this semester, but time will tell.

I appreciate the various requests from friends to update this blog. I know it's been very neglected these last few months. It probably wil be again.

-- Robert

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Closing Quickly on the End of First Semester

And yet... there's so much left to do. I won't even list it all. Somehow I feel sure I can accomplish it, but this next week will be a real test, I think. Still, I am learning a lot all the time, and I am amazed at how much I'm able to read and comprehend from these articles and books in a short time when previously I got less from longer reads.

It is possible that by the end of the first year, I could have two articles headed into the publication mill - not that it means they'll ever get published. It would be nice if one did, at least, and I'd love it if both did. The ideas I'm considering could possibly lead to more articles on each "stream" in which they'd fit.

We're also already looking at what we're taking next semester and this summer. Everyone in the first year group is taking a statistics class, organizational theory, and research methods 2, along with our colloquium meeting (where everyone in the program who hasn't passed comprehensive exams comes together to discuss something). Then in the summer I'll most likely be teaching the entrepreneurship 1 course (unless I swap with my classmate who is set to teach family business), possibly taking a two week course on analysis using something called HLM, and definitely taking an entrepreneurship seminar that will go into the fall (if they get that course set up). I'm also most likely taking a qualitative methods course, though I'd rather take it the following summer, if possible (( think I'd get more out of it).

And while I'm at it, I might as well mention my fall courses: strategy, philosophy of science, and another statistics course most likely (plus, again, colloquium). I'll probably be teaching family business that term, unless I stay teaching the entrepreneurship 1 class. My goal is to teach each of those (family business mostly for the experience of teaching such a class), plus an innovation/change management course, and possibly something like leadership or another entrepreneurship course. My spring of 2011 will involve taking organizational behavior, but I'm not certain what else just at the moment. Probably another statistics class, and maybe a modeling course, but that's so far away there's not much need to nail it down perfectly right now. Then, if I can swing it, I'll take qualitative methods that summer, but if not, I'll have to figure out something to take right before I might be taking my comprehensive exams.

Somehow, charting out what is ahead has always helped me, so maybe it is good to have that written down. For now, though, I need to keep my nose to the grindstone and get this semester's work done. I'm really fortunate to be working with such great classmates and professors. Each of them brings something to the table that has helped me in some way. I am excited and hopeful that we might bring in another new person in the spring, and hopefully bring in another great group next fall. If anyone out there is looking to start a doctoral program right away, Texas Tech is a great place to consider.

-- Robert

Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Ocean of Knowledge

I have probably told half a dozen people my analogy for how I feel at this point in a doctoral program: I am drowning in an ocean of knowledge, and I don't have gills. It's not that I am trying to get my head above the "water" - I am actually trying to learn to breath it. That's the best way I can come up with to describe it.

And yet, here I am, not dead, with nearly a month in the program. I have had a whole range of feelings about myself in this process, but I have mostly decided to push forward as far as I can on everything I can manage and accept that everything is adding to my progress. I feel sure I will disappoint someone - a professor, a classmate, myself, my wife, my children - almost weekly, and possibly all of those in the course of this semester. Yet I believe in the process enough to have hope that on the other side of each obstacle a new perspective can be achieved.

I have read more in the last month than I did in all of my undergraduate and MBA classes combinedm, I am almost certain. If not by now, it won't take more than a week or two more to pass that mark.

And maybe, just maybe, I have started to learn to take it in without drowning. I feel like I took my first breath this past week. I am also glad that my classmates and I are doing what we can to help each other to leverage our efforts and work smarter instead of harder. A human being can only work ninety hours a week reading material for so long before it becomes abundantly clear that simply having viewed a page once is not really worth the effort expended. I cannot express how utterly grateful I am to be working alongside such brilliant students and faculty. I have no real way to know what I might have experienced elsewhere, but this group is just what the doctor(ate) ordered for me. I will owe them all a huge debt of gratitude when I am done. I hope somewhere along the way I can be of similar service to some of them.

And before I conclude this post, I have to again thank my wife for even being here. She is suffering the brunt of everything I am going through, and she's holding up better than I could ask anyone to. Her love and support, her understanding... it's beyond comprehension that she is sticking by me. I love her, and don't know if I could do this work without her. I don't think buying her the sports car of her dreams when I get my first chair will cover it - but maybe I'll find some way to show her how much she means to me. I just wish they could print the diploma with both of our names on it, because she'll certainly have earned her part of it.

Well, it is time to dive back in, or to sleep now so I can do so in the morning.

-- Robert

Friday, September 4, 2009

Eating the Elephant

After one week in a doctoral program, the metaphor definitely fits: the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. If I look at all I have to do all at once, I could easily be overwhelmed. Instead I have to take each article, each book chapter, and each assignment and work through it. At this point, I am enjoying the "flavor" of what I am consuming. Truly, my mind is more engaged than it has been in a long time - if not ever. I am extremely grateful to be surrounded by such wonderful people, both among the students and the faculty. So far I have felt very supported by the rest of my cohort and find the free flow of advice and information among us all to be wonderful. I could not have designed a better program for myself.

-- Robert

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Oriented And Focused

This week, my cohort had our orientation. There are five of us, four men and one woman. Two of us are married. One is Chinese and the rest are Americans. I am the oldest, then it goes 30, 29, 26, and 23 years of age. One of us comes from a psychology background, one from sociology, and the rest have business degrees. In all, I am impressed by the group I have the privilege of studying with, and I look forward to getting to know each of them better over time. I know their strong work ethics and keen intellects will encourage my best efforts. I couldn't ask for a better cohort.

The orientation itself made it clear from the beginning what our goal will be in this program: in fourteen years we should each be full professors and chairs (not department chairs, but endowed chairs). That achievement is completely possible, and it is good to hear our professors have set the bar high from the beginning. We had a great discussion that laid out what the program we will go through is designed to teach us (how to research) and where our focus needs to be (on topics that excite us). The classes are important for teaching us methodology and familiarizing us with the literature out there, but research takes precedence. I especially liked that our coordinating professor made it clear that he doesn't like the distinction between teaching and research: everything we do should be focused on teaching. Classroom teaching is focused on our students but research is focused on teaching (and learning from) our colleagues in the "guild" of researchers.

Classes begin next week. We will be taking an organizational economics class that will show us a lot of topics so we can begin to find subjects we might enjoy working on. We will be taking a class on research methods to help us understand the process of academic research. We will take a class from the professor who teaches instructors how to teach better. Last of all, but perhaps most important, we will have a colloquim where we discuss what skills we need to build during our time here and how to build them by looking at best practices and award winning materials. By the end of the term we should be well on our way to having our first two research papers begun. We will also have quite a few research proposals written for potential future projects.

In short, I am very excited to have begun. I've read over a hundred pages in academic articles this week, and I have plenty more to read both for class and because of suggestions by professors. I feel confident that I can handle myself so far, and I look forward to finding out.

-- Robert

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Passed!

I passed both my tests, despite the peculiar questions on both. I did really well on linear algebra "for having never taken the class" (my wife said that). The calculus was not as great, but getting it over with was all I wanted at this point. Now I have several reading assignments for one class and the textbooks purchased (except one) for two classes. I even know the rest of my schedule, which is a nice step forward. Wednesday is my orientation, then school starts Thursday, though two of my classes don't actually meet for the first time until September. We'll see how it all plays out.

-- Robert

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If Yesterday Threw Curves...

Today was knuckleballs. It was never clear where the next one was going. There was a multivariate derivative (that is, f(x,y), find f ' (x,y)/dy) and half a dozen limits. Out of all the tests I practiced, there might have been two limit questions total, and then it was half the test this time? Definitely peculiar. Here's hoping I passed it. I feel confident I passed yesterday, but after today I'm wondering if I showed enough work on either. Here's hoping.

-- Robert

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

One Down, One to Go

I took my linear algebra test, and I feel confident I did well enough to pass it. I don't think I got a perfect score, but I think I answered every question with enough right on my answer to get at least partial credit, and I suspect full credit on the vast majority of them. Tomorrow I take the calculus test, which hopefully won't throw the curves that this test did. Still, I feel pretty good that I can manage it: each time I practiced either test, I took less than an hour and there are three hours alotted for each. I took about thirty-five minutes (even taking my time) on the test today. Many thanks go to my brother-in-law who spent hours helping me practice and learn. I also have to thank my wife for her consideration in those hours of practice and study (and for having such a brilliant brother).

Next week is orientation and then classes begin. My daughter also starts kindergarten. I am excited to see what new patterns form in our lives. I'm also excited for what classes and work will bring. Who knows when I'll next be able to write a blog post. Thanks for anyone still reading. I appreciate the interest.

-- Robert

Friday, August 14, 2009

Relaxation

This is my last week without school. Possibly ever. Technically last week was, I guess, since I chose to study this week, but I've mostly relaxed and focused on getting the house in order. My wife and I have built five bookshelves now in the last two weeks. Yesterday we spent about six hours building a swingset for our daughter's birthday. So what am I doing right now? I am sitting in my back yard in my folding chair listening to this great jam on YouTube writing this post while monitoring the steaks on the grill and watching the kids on their new swingset. These days are special. We even got to swim today. I'm not sure if there will be many days like this in the future. I'm glad to have had this one.

-- Robert

Monday, August 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Old Man

For the record, I started calling my father "Old Man" as a term of endearment at least a decade ago. He knows it is not a disparagement - he told me when he turned 51 to tell my friends my parents were a hundred years old (my mom was 49). He wears his age as a badge of honor, so this post is not a knock on my father.

I hope you have had a wonderful birthday, Dad. You deserve it. You have stood by me through decision after decision that you did not fully agree with our appreciate. You have respected me enough to be a man and make my own way. For that, I am eternally grateful. I know you struggled with your own father when you chose a life other than what he had in mind for you, so perhaps you understood it was not easy for me to decide to leave the business world to become an academic. You have taught me so much that I hope to bring to my classrooms and perhaps even my writings: the value of keeping one's name clean, the price of doing what is right, the grounding that faith brings, and the importance of learning from failure. Most of all, though, you taught me the importance of loving your family more than your hobbies, and the importance of doing quality work. Hopefully one day my career will honor your name. I know you have sacrificed a lot for sis and me to have the wonderful opportunities we have enjoyed throughout our lives. With great opportunity comes great responsibility, though, and I have a responsibility to be the best I can. This tribute to you has turned into being mostly about me, but that's how you always seem to want things (no attention on you). So this year, instead of a gift you don't want, I'm writing this post.

I love you, Old Man.

-- Robert

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Good People

Today I went to see a student defend his dissertation. If he succeeded, he walked out a Ph.D. It was fascinating to observe, and it gave me hope that I could get to that point some day in the not-so-distant future. I also got to see the students that are just ahead of me in the program (started last year) that I met at interviews. Each of them said hello, remembered my name, and even said they were glad to see me. Sure those were just respectful gestures, but they took it further to show how genuine they were. They offered for me to email with any questions I had, one made sure I actually knew her address, and another took me to another floor to ask questions to the appropriate office for a question I had.

The professors, too, were nice to stop and talk to me - the one who hopefully will be my mentor even had me up to his office for a few minutes and let me look at some of his work when I asked. I wanted to talk to another but he clearly was busy. Still, he let me stop him in the hall for a moment.

Simply put, I am looking forward to working with some good people.

-- Robert

Sunday, August 2, 2009

August Is Here...

In August, we/I need to:


  • register our daughter for school

  • get her started in school

  • get me registered for school

  • get me a parking pass

  • get me on school insurance

  • take the tests to exempt calculus and linear algebra

  • start school

That's the short list of big items to accomplish. There's still the day to day - cooking, cleaning, yardwork, finding things we've unpacked, grocery shopping, etc. etc. etc....

All in all, though, I'm glad to be at this point. I get to find out if I'm cut out for this career. Am I really as good as I like to believe? Will I make any difference at all? Will I be the low man on the totem pole right from the start?

Hopefully I will do well. I believe in myself. I like to think that the people who let me in and seem to respect my abilities know something about evaluating doctoral candidates. Next month may be the hardest thing I have ever done - at least academically - but I still feel ready. I am excited. I am here.


-- Robert

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thanks for the Memories

Six years ago today, in this town (Monticello), my wife and I stood before her father and God and became a family. I was the happiest man there that day, and I had only begun to know how fortunate I was to join this family. In the time since - through three reunions, various holidays, and other occasions - I have come to appreciate that I had married into the perfect family for me. My brothers-in-law are all much like the friends I had in high school, though they're mostly nicer. I love hanging out with any or all of them. My sisters-in-law are kind, generous, and gifted as well. My mother-in-law is wise, but good to share her experience in ways that are not at all judgmental. My father-in-law inspires me more every day. Truly, they are all a wonderful family.

When I married my wife, I knew I had found a diamond in the rough. She thinks so little of her many talents - herself in general really. I grow to love her more every day as I see how those talents effect the lives of our children and our friends, not to mention my own, for the better. She has a huge heart, and I am glad to know her. Getting the bonus of a wonderful set of in-laws is almost more than I can believe at times.

So on this, our sixth anniversary, I say thanks to all of my wife's family - especially my wife - for the wonderful memories. I look forward to many more.

-- Robert

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Authentic Leadership

I spent some time this week delving into the research on the subject of leadership. The focus of two articles so far has been the idea of "authentic leadership". What does the term mean? Much like it sounds, it means a leader who is real about himself, his expectations, and his desire for his group. It also goes a step further, though, at least in this literature, to mean someone who is genuine AND positive - someone interested in the growth of his team members, interested in being open and honest about strengths and weaknesses, and interested in building an environment where everyone feels comfortable to be ethical, work for personal and organizational improvement, and who upholds the importance of accountability.

In short, authentic leadership extends very logically from the area of positive psychology and positive organizational behavior. I could see arguments to the contrary - someone can be genuine and still not be positive. Yes, but those people do not tend to remain leaders. The great point raised at the end of the article was the long-term nature of building an environment of positivity and trust. What can be built over decades can be destroyed in minutes. It is only in continuing to put forth an open, honest, positive image that a person can rise above and stay there.

I can think of quite a few examples of people in my life who have stood tall amidst the crowd as moral and ethical giants. Those men and women remain etched in my memory, and I find they tended to be very successful. Perhaps they did not have large material wealth, but they were happy in life and enjoyed their work. That defines success for me. I hope to bring these ideas to future students, hopefully by example as well as by my words. I know I owe a huge debt of gratitude for those who have been such examples to me.

-- Robert

Monday, July 13, 2009

Texas, My Apologies, I Never Knew You

To the state of Texas (this section of it at least),

I apologize completely and whole heartedly. I had no idea living here could be so nice. I saw people leave the driver's license office smiling here. The tag office gave me my choice of four agents to work with, and when I didn't have my wife with me, they filled out everything so she just had to sign her name a few times and I could bring it back to get tags and titles for our cars.

This state - at least this town - has been very welcoming. I am not saying it's Heaven on Earth. I've only been here a few weeks. Still, it's very nice to feel so comfortable already. I'm even beginning to connect in my head where places are despite using a GPS to go everywhere.

We have a drive in theater here. We have plenty of stores to meet our various needs. It's just a great little town. It doesn't hurt that there are a lot of people in similar places in life at our church - or that there's a temple right behind said church. This town just has so many things we could want and so little of what we don't. And it's in Texas, so again, I apologize. This state has at least one little slice of Americana that I will cherish for the rest of my days. I look forward to getting to know it better in the days, weeks, and years to come.

-- Robert

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Does This Mean I'm Fired?

My last official act as an employer was to let an employee go. She was hired to help with back office processing, but let's just say it never worked out for her. On her last day, I explained what the duties were that we had hired her to perform, pointed out that she never had really shown a desire to execute those duties in a timely manner, and let her know she needed to look for other work. I then put her on the phone with my father so he could make it clear that I was not acting on my own. After he said, "You're either not understanding what I need you to do, or you don't care, and either way I don't need you." she asked, "Does this mean I'm fired?"

I thought it might be fun to ask if anyone else out there had ever worked with someone who had said something so poignant - so perfectly descriptive of the problem being presented to them - either as they were being shown the door, or at any other point in their employment.

-- Robert

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Three Great Writers

In reading Schumpeter, he explained that the work of Adam Smith explained reasons for colonial expansion better than Marx. I did not recognize the name, so I googled him here. I had heard of his Wealth of Nations but have never read it. It amazed me to see how many ideas that seem so "modern" can be attributed to that five-volume series published in 1776. He expounded the benefits of specialization, self-interest as a proponent of economic well-being for a system, and the differentiation of wage rates. Somehow when I studied those concepts as an undergraduate, I took them to be fairly new, at least from the last fifty years. I might some day seek a copy of that series to enlighten myself further.

On Adam Smith's page, I saw a reference to Milton Friedman, someone I had heard of (there were also pages on Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes, who I'd heard of but didn't choose to click on). I got a kick out of how many ideas from Keynesian economics - which is still taught in many undergraduate courses as a logical method for governments to curtail depressions - he shot to pieces. He showed that the Great Depression had more to do with poor government policy than to do with rampant capitalism, and so offended the Federal Reserve that they commissioned a defense of their efforts from another economist (they also quit publishing the minutes of their meetings). I almost laughed out loud (yes, I probably do belong in the ranks of nerds and professors) at how many times he inspired the revision of a Keynes disciple in his textbooks over the years. Any time someone can compel the competition to literally change their point of view, that is success in my view. So I might be looking for the works of Milton Friedman as well in the future. My stack grows without any real shrinkage resulting from my having completed any of these texts. Still, I can see I am learning, which is what matters (hopefully).

-- Robert

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Seen While Driving in Lubbock

My wife and I decided to stop at the Far East Market to see if they carried some Thai food she likes to make, but the placed looked a little... scary. As we were looking around at the surrounding stores, next door was "Crossroads Ministries" which had a small sign next to it showing that "Jesus [named omitted] Tax Preparation Services." Our immediate thought was a cross between "Interesting to see what Jesus is doing these days" and "Wow, I guess he really does want us to render unto Caesar..."

We really don't mean to blaspheme, but the two signs together made for a funny moment. It also helped us feel better - but not better enough for either of us to enter the market.

-- Robert

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tagged!

No, I don't have someone tagging me for some must-do post. I simply wanted to say that, after all the hullabaloo I heard about how bad it was to get tags in Texas, today was probably the easiest trip to a government office I've made, certainly to a new town. There were no lines - I actually had my pick of four or five deputies (I believe that was the title), and except for not having my wife with me, I'd've left with tags within half an hour. I came back and in another twenty minutes I had them (the second woman had to review everything the first one had done). I'm hoping the driver's license is that easy next week. Now if we could just get someone on the phone from the school district to enrole my daughter, we'd be just about set.

As for other moving in news, I spent the day in the garage doing an inventory of what exactly is out there (we had the movers put most of the boxes there). I was able to empty half a dozen boxes and sort many more (no idea how many). I filled an entire "wardrobe box" (as movers call it) with paper we wrapped fragile items in and started on another. That would be the third such wardrobe, and that's not counting the dozen or so empty boxes I've broken down to throw away. Things are moving along. Tomorrow I'll finish my inventory of the garage and start unpacking the ones I've brought into the house, probably starting with our closet and moving to the kitchen, or vice versa. Maybe by next week we can park one car in the garage again... maybe.

-- Robert

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Walking in the New Neighborhood

Last night we went for a walk as a family around 8:30 or so. It felt like it was about 75 - very pleasant. I cannot describe how much nicer it is to feel a cool evening than South Georgia's swelter. Our neighborhood was already getting settled down for the night, since we were one of only two families we saw walking, and very few people appeared to be coming and going. It was a very peaceful experience.

I told my family I thought I might get up for a morning walk because it was so lovely out. My daughter said she wanted to come with me every day. I hadn't said I would walk every day, but I told her we might consider it. I asked if she wanted me to wake her up for it, or leave her in bed if she was asleep when I went. She wavered, but she seemed to settle on me leaving her in bed if she wasn't up yet.

I got up this morning, not really thinking about walking so much as getting myself up. I was just about done with a bath (we need to put our shower curtains up but haven't found the rods in our unpacking yet) when she came in to ask, "Am I up early enough?" I was so proud of her for remembering and asking so nicely, I decided I definitely would go on a walk.

She and I had a lovely morning walk - and it wasn't too slow of a pace for exercise, either. She kept up very well, and we discussed how nice our new neighborhood is. She reported to me on all sorts of things, but it wasn't at all bothersome. I enjoyed it. And the temperature? Not much warmer or cooler than the night before - right about 75. There's nothing lovelier, I have to say, than living somewhere with cool mornings and evenings at this time of year. I look forward to more walks with my family or my daughter in the future.

-- Robert

Monday, June 29, 2009

We Have a House With Stuff In It

We made the trip to Texas, despite our mover - Sky Movers, who we will never use again - being two and a half days late and still not getting everything on the truck. We got to Lubbock in plenty of time for the walk-through, which the builders were clearly worried about. After all, the sod wasn't down, two windows needed replacing, and the shiny finish was not yet on the concrete floors. We were just so glad to see the house, we didn't care at all - as long as the closing went without a hitch. Which it did. The next day, we were signing away our debt freedom with great gusto. In the midst of the signing, one of my professors called to ask me to work on a project with him, and my wife said, "I guess that was the reason we needed to get here two weeks early." So immediately upon arrival, I had work to do, which is very exciting.

The movers then let us know the truck had not left Florida to get to Texas - again, NEVER use Sky Movers - and our stuff would arrive Monday at the earliest. We had to figure out how we might manage on the few things we'd brought in our rented Uhaul trailer and two cars, but we mostly enjoyed camping in our new home. My professor and his wife were gracious enough to invite us to their home for dinner, and then lend us a few things to help us get by while we awaited our things. They're both wonderful, warm people, and I look forward to getting to know them better.

Friday we got our fridge - we had to rent a Uhaul truck to get it home and avoid waiting a week - and we clearly out the garage in preparation for the movers arrival. Saturday we hung out with the family that hosted us during our visit in February, and then we did it again Sunday. They watched our kids for us Monday while the movers came - did I say they were wonderfully nice people? - and kept on watching them while we unpacking things. I have felt very welcome here. We even received a thank you from one couple just for finally building on the lot at the entrance to the neighborhood. We met a few people Sunday at church and the kids are adjusting well to being in a large ward instead of a small branch.

In short, we have loved our new home a lot already. We are looking forward to settling in over the coming days and weeks (we already have unpacked more than a dozen boxes today alone), and making a life for ourselves. I suspect it might even be harder to leave here than it was Cairo when we're done. Everything is so convenient and everyone is so warm and welcoming. I am enjoying working on this paper already, and I look forward to it bringing more opportunities to accelerate my learning curve.

So if this blog languishes, my apologies. We simply have much to do, and there are only so many hours in the day. I appreciate all who have kept up with us through this whole exciting process, and I hope to continue to make periodic updates. If this week proves at all typical, though, I don't know how frequent they might be.

-- Robert

Friday, June 19, 2009

Back From Vacation - On to the Move

We had a wonderful vacation in Orlando. As much as anyone can, at least. On day one, I pondered writing a daily journal of what we did and advice I might have for anyone going to Orlando, but I was exhausted when I got back to the condo. With that out the window, I never even tried to get email until the day before we left, and then only because we were online trying to find an email to call the movers and see what time they would be coming on Friday.

Which they weren't. Not Friday. Now Saturday's up in the air, which reads more accurately as "they aren't coming". I now get to go down to the wire and have movers come on a Sunday. The same Sunday when both my wife and I will be speaking, and I will be in charge of all the meetings of the day. I believe it qualifies as my ox being in the mire - but I still hate the whole idea. I feel pretty betrayed, but I won't defame the movers at this point because they're about to have most of my valuable possessions in an undisclosed location for about a week. It's like complaining about food at a restaurant - don't do it.

Still, we are packed, or we have things in a situation where we are ready for movers to begin loading a truck. There may yet be a few boxes to tape up or tubs to put the tops on, but we're as ready as we can be until they actually appear.

Add to that the fact that the loan officer I've been working with is going on vacation with some elements of the closing still up in the air, and well - let's just say we're driving west on faith. We've made this whole journey on faith - prepared, thought out, and prayerful faith, but still faith. So, here we go...

-- Robert

Friday, June 12, 2009

Checklist

Packing done? - Check. My wife and some friends did a wonderful job of getting it all ready.



Orlando trip planned? - Check. We have a decent condo and our printed Ridemax list of how to hit the most things at Disney each day.



Movers scheduled? - Check. They will come either Friday or Saturday of next week.



Road trip planned? - Check. We'll be going through Vicksburg, MS, then Irving, TX, and on to Lubbock by way of Sweetwater, TX, just past Abilene.



Closing scheduled? - Check. We will tour the house on the 24th and close the 25th.



House complete? - Last item on the list, but based on the most recent pictures, this check should be added very soon.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Interior Pictures



As you come in the

front door.

You can look at

the fireplace.


Continuing on and looking to the left, you'll see the

kitchen.

Then you can look down at the newly installed granite countertops.

I believe my wife has pictures of the bedrooms on previous posts on her blog, but if not, I might be able to get those together. They're not as interesting, though, I imagine. What remains to be done in the areas shown is the floor: stain in the kitchen/dining room and carpet in the living room. We also need the appliances added in the kitchen, but that doesn't prevent us moving in. Still, those should be in soon as well.

-- Robert

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together


Another picture? Just like that? Yes, just like that. The difference in this picture: no work van in the garage, and the awnings are on. The countertops are in, so now it's down to floors and sodding the yard, from what I can tell, basically. It's looking great.
-- Robert
P.S.: If I get requests for it, I'm willing to post interior pictures, too.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

First Time - a Picture on This Blog

Since my wife is actively packing our house, she did not get the picture posted, as I thought she would. It is my fault, though, that she didn't, so I decided to post a picture on this blog for the first time. Enjoy.

Monday, June 8, 2009

It's a Brick... House....

At least, that's what the picture shows. My wife will post the picture later today, but we got photographic evidence showing the brick is on, the fireplace is in, the doors are hung inside, and the cabinets are in. Painting, stain of the concrete, carpet, and countertops are all that remain. Well, and some door knobs need to be put in, I think. I'm guessing those were just taken out for painting, though. The outside only needs the part where the roof hangs over the edge of the brick to be covered. Okay, that and the yard needs to be sodded, but really, I'm excited to see that's such a short list to be finished.

As for moving plans, we made a list of what needs to be done, and we're executing it all this week. We expect to make it to Orlando next week. Things are going at warp speed, but we work well that way. Tomorrow should be a very productive moving day.

-- Robert

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ender's Game

Last night, while we starting packing in earnest, my wife and I listened to Ender's Game on audiobook. Our local library has this great service that allows us to 'check out' an audiobook online - download a file that will only work for a certain amount of time - and we decided we would love to hear that book while we worked or when we hit the road in a few weeks.

As we listened, I realized it had been years since I read the book, and it was great to revisit such a wonderful story. It helped that the narrator was the same one Card had used on another audiobook we enjoyed, Empire, and that there were lots of voices for the characters instead of just one person trying to make up twenty voices. Having read the rest of the books (except the most recent addition, Ender in Exile), it was fun to remember how the different character entered the whole story. Card writes so masterfully. I can't recommend the Ender series highly enough. It helps the packing go by faster to have such great stories to listen to. It probably also reminds me of listening to stories as a child to go to sleep. I regularly listened to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and various comedy tapes of Bill Cosby. Now my daughter is enjoying listening to stories while she goes to bed, too (not Ender books, though). It's neat to watch.

This post has no cohesion, I'll grant. It has several different thoughts in one place, and none of them well developed. Still, I simply wanted to remember the moments briefly, and so I wrote a post.

-- Robert

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Countdown

We now have three weeks left here. We got the call from the builder that the house will be done in three weeks, so we set a closing date, and we will proceed to lose our marbles organizing everything for the move at warp speed. Okay, we won't really lose all our marbles. They'll be packed in a box that will take us weeks to find after we've gotten everything moved. Generally they're in the bottom of the last box that gets unpacked.

In the meantime we have two musical performances for my wife to prepare for, our daughter's birthday party to plan and have, and we're taking her to Disney World for a few days, since she has a ticket she won't have much chance to use once we've moved to Texas. Piece of cake, right?

Right?

-- Robert

Monday, June 1, 2009

Where Marx's Pricing Theory Falls Apart

Karl Marx believed that all things could be priced based upon the hours of work input in their creation. So, for instance, a wooden cabinet is worth the hours a person put in making that wooden cabinet. He might have made some arguments that the hours it took to build the machines used for making the box would also go into the cost of the good, but he still primarily focused on the idea that the cost of something was related to the work put into it.

The idea sounds great on the surface. It ignores the different values of other inputs - the raw materials being worked on - as a predictor of value. That's one of the more glaring flaws. He also assumes that all goods are, in essence, commodities. One wooden cabinet is the same as another, in this example. So a cabinet made of press board sold at Wal-Mart only differs in value from a handmade, custom-built oak cabinet by the number of hours a person (or persons) took to build it. Certainly, one might argue that more hours go into the oak cabinet - but only if the person putting together the press board is generally good at doing so. If the same number of hours are used in the end, then the value of the two is the same, according to Marx.

The difference in the value of those hours begins to appear in my comparison. Is the value of an hour of work by a trained carpenter the same as the value of the hour of an untrained (in relation to carpentry) purchaser of a Wal-Mart do-it-yourself pre-fabricated cabinet? Certainly not, at least not in the eyes of consumers. Marx may have tried to account for the difference by suggesting a multiplier be used for skilled labor versus unskilled. Whether he actually did make such a suggestion is unclear. The problem, therefore with Marx's theory about pricing stems from his own misunderstanding of the marketplace. Goods are not commodities - one good is not the same as another, in many ways. Certainly a desk is not the same as a lawn mower or the same as a computer. Nor are people commodities, or their skillsets - the worker who can build a computer might be able to be build a desk, but not at the same speed as someone skilled in carpentry. In other words, he ignored specialization, the value of training, and - quite frankly - the value of human ingenuity. So many of the rest of his theories built on this sameness his pricing theory relied on, that the whole idea of Marxism falls apart. Since Marx was one of the father's of socialism, it begs the question, is socialism equally flawed as a theory? If the theory is flawed, then should we plan our government around it?

I say no. I leave the rest of the world to decide for themselves.

-- Robert

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Marxism

When a book grabs me before I have read the tenth page, I know I am in for a treat. I began reading Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy by Joseph Schumpeter just yesterday. I have only been able to put it down because I knew I had other obligations. Still, I am captivated by the insight of this great economist. He realized before WWII was over that the Soviet Union - not Germany or Japan - stood as the greatest threat to democracy (and, one might argue, to freedom). He realized before the war ended that Germany and Japan needed to become allies to the US in order to hold off Soviet expansion. These truths seem obvious to the detached observer looking back over the six plus decades since he published his book, but at the time they were so controversial that he had to mask them cleverly throughout the book. He masked some of it so well, in fact, that many readers took him to be a defender of (and believer in) socialism.

His ideas are still groundbreaking today. As one article put it in 2000, "The greatest economist of our time died fifty years ago." He understood that facism, socialism, and capitalism could not stand together, but none of the three could destroy the other. In short, the man had a keen grasp of the dangerous future the world had in store. The introduction to this latest edition explains how visionary he was.

His first section of the book, however, would have grabbed my attention without the introduction. He explains the doctrine of Marx - yes, Karl Marx - and calls him a prophet of a religion. When I compare his words to the attitude of most socialists I have met, I see exactly what he meant. Socialists see an ideal world waiting for us all - if we would all agree to follow socialism together. Those who do not agree are heretics, sinners of the worst kind. Having argued with many socialists, I can see where Schumpeter got such a notion. Socialists have their doctrine and - in most cases - it does not matter whether it agrees with logic, disregards human nature, or calls upon irrational behavior. It is simply right. How true it is that socialism becomes a religion. As I continue to read the book, I may feel inclined to write more on this subject, but the first chapter already has me nodding my head so vigorously that I couldn't help but put up a post about it. I am excited to read the section detailing how socialism can work (or how it doesn't). I am sure I will want to post about that one.

-- Robert

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Family, Like Olive Garden - Part Two

Today my wife gave our daughter her choice of restaurant while we were on a shopping trip. She picked Olive Garden, so we agreed to go there. Our table was right next to a couple who we used to live around the corner from in our old house - and who just so happen to be LDS. We chatted between tables here and there, and something about the church came up in our conversation. They left before us, and a couple seated at the table in the opposite direction got up shortly thereafter. The wife of the couple leaned over and said, "I picked up from your conversation that you are Mormon," then paused just a beat before saying, "We are, too."

Then in the brief conversation that followed, we even realized my wife knew them. So in the course of just one week, we proved that the LDS Church is indeed family - and we did it at Olive Garden.

-- Robert

Friday, May 22, 2009

Graduation Day

Today is graduation day for the high school here in town. It reminds me of various graduation days past. I remember my high school, when people stood up and yelled "we survived!" meaning no one in our class died (first class to survive all four years without a death in about a decade). I remember my undergraduate graduation with Ted Turner's speech, "Hey, look at me: I've made millions with cable companies, I own the Braves, and you could do that, too... except we're all going to be blown up by the North Koreans before you get the chance! Happy Graduation!" (I swear that's a paraphrase of his entire speech). I remember my Masters graduation when my friend we all elected to give our speech used conference talks to give great advice to us.

Graduation days have a way of making a profound image in our lives, "Something big happened there." The fact is, though, it happened in the preceding days, months, and years. The date itself is simply a marker of completion. It stands as a demarcation, "Before this date, I did not have..." and "After this date, I had...." whatever recognition was received. They are beautiful moments in many cases, truly, but they are not where the achievement happens. They're mile markers in the road map of life. After school, such mile markers become more vague, or at least more personal. Wedding dates, the births of children, passing important tests... those all stand out to the few people involved, but they hold little importance to anyone else.

Lives begin to take their own paths. Certainly roads can occasionally cross, or even merge for a time, but each family - and within it, each individual - begins to cut its own way through the world. My mind has been on such things a lot lately, as we prepare to leave this familiar road we've been on for so long and head off into the great unknown. Our little family will quickly be on five different paths - me at school, my daughter at school, my wife possibly at school, and my sons continuing to progress at home until they start school, too. We will each find new milestones on our own, some of which we will share and care about together, but many of which will be extremely personal. I look forward to that future. I also realize we must take great care not to lose each other along the way.

-- Robert

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Roof's On!

It sounds a lot like "soup's on" in my head. Seeing a picture of our new house with the windows in and the roof on made it feel a lot like we could move on in. I realize the inside is the slow part, but still, it's nice to know things are coming together. And fast. My wife's blog shows a picture here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Family... Like Olive Garden

Last night was Family Night at Chick-fil-A, so we took the kids to let them play while my wife got her hair done. I was happily holding the baby while he watched the zoo going on through the glass - obviously, other families had a similar idea to ours. Off to my left I kept hearing something I have learned to pick out of almost any crowd: a Utah accent. More accurately it might be called a Utah-Idaho accent or Wasatch front accent, but I associate it primarily with Utah because that is where I first heard it. I can tell when a customer service agent is from Utah. I pegged one of the loan agents in Texas for having grown up in Utah - and he left fifteen or twenty years ago. In a strange way, it makes me think of home, probably because so much of my wife's family lives or has lived out there.

So I kept hearing that accent. I kept cocking my head to see who it was without being overtly rude. I'm just a curious person by nature. I figured out it belonged to the woman at the table beside us, but I didn't think I should just blurt out, "What's someone from Utah doing in south Georgia?" After all, that reminds me far too much of a popular phrase my wife and I both hear far too often, "Ye ain' from 'roun' here, er ya?" (okay, it is rarely said with such distinctive backwater tones, but it still has that ring to it).

Instead, I thought I would let the moment pass without comment. Then she and her family were preparing to leave and she said, "He is such a happy baby." or something along those lines. My son is indeed a very sweet natured child, and I said, "This is about how fussy he gets," he was not even making a sound, "I think that's just the way third children are."

She picked up on what I said and told me she and her husband were both third children. She pointed out her third daughter happened to be sitting there when I said it. I said, "I'm a third, but that doesn't count because I'm the baby. My wife is the baby, too, but she's the youngest of nine." Again the woman noticed what I said and mentioned she was third of eight and her husband was third of nine. I said, "You probably hear a lot of 'Are you Catholic?' then 'Are you farmers?' and finally 'Are you Mormon?'"

She said, "Are you Mormon?" and I said I was, so she said "We are, too!"

As it turned out, they were a couple that our friends had been telling us about for weeks. We had several common connections beyond just being members of the church. It turned into a thirty-plus minute conversation of how we all came to be where we are, how we each met our spouses, and how we'd met our common friends. In the course of that chat, the husband said, "The church is like one big family... like Olive Garden." I got a kick out of that line. How true it is, though. I didn't assume they were Mormon because they were from Utah. I didn't even presume to say anything to them just because they sounded different from the locals. Still, just because of a common bond we share, simple chit-chat about children turned into something much more. I have had more wonderful conversations with people in even more random locations because of a shared faith. Just such a conversation led me to find the school where I am meant to finish my education. I feel blessed to be a part of something like the LDS Church.

-- Robert

Friday, May 15, 2009

Vibrance of Youth

Last night, I had a wonderful conversation with a young man I haven't seen in a while. He is about to start taking piano lessons from my wife. In his eyes, I saw something I hadn't seen in him for a while: hope. A vision of the future, perhaps. Whatever it was, it clearly had changed his coutenance, and I was glad of it. He has always been a "good" kid, so it was hard to see him going through a rough time, but now he seems to have decided to do some things for himself instead of for "the crowd". Instead of playing every sport available, he wants to focus on becoming a musician and acting with the drama department at school. He even has a plan for where he wants to go to college and what he wants to do when he gets there. I was glad to hear it. I told him that a sailboat on the water without a plan will go whichever way the wind blows, but if its captain has a plan he knows which way to trim the sails. So many people wander aimlessly through life, letting forces outside of themselves dictate their paths. Clearly this young man still has a lot of years ahead of him before he can accomplish the plan he has set in place, but I hope, and more importantly believe, he can. Focus of purpose is powerful, and desire is even better.

How did I conclude he was serious about his plan? As we were about to part, my wife's friend mentioned a book in our presence, How Full Is Your Bucket, and I told him a little bit about it. Then I told him about another book written by the same author, Strengthsfinder 2.0, and then another one for youth called Strengths Explorer. He said, "I would love to read that book, and with summer coming up, I've got plenty of time to do it." Someone who really wants to accomplish a goal tends to look for resources to do so. When I suggested he might find some insights into his plan by reading those books, he jumped at the chance. That's how I knew he was serious, and that's why I feel confident he can achieve his goals.

He also invigorated me because that conversation is just the sort I hope to be having with future students when I become a professor. I know that is my calling in life, to inspire others to greater heights. I am excited for that future.

-- Robert

P.S. Yes, I realize this is the longest period I've had without a post on this blog. I've had a lot going on at work and in life as we prepare for our move. We've got less than two months before we leave, and I've got a lot to accomplish in that time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

True Tech Support, And the Power of Blogging

This past week, I found the power of the blog affirmed mightily. Within hours of writing this post about Norton 360 and my problems with Symantec Tech Support, I had a comment from a Symantec Public Relations agent hoping to resolve the matter. Wow, who knew the power of a simple grievance post. I first made sure the post was legitimate - someone would have to be very bored to impersonate Symantec PR, I imagine - and then waited for the promised tech support contact.

I had an email from a senior tech within a day. I did not feel like going in to work on the weekend to work on the problem, so I asked him to contact me Monday or Tuesday. He said he would call me at 2:00 PM EDT on Tuesday, and he was punctual. I explained my problem, and he quickly initiated a remote control session on my server to diagnose it. He checked the version of the product (something the prior tech's never even asked) and discovered it was not the latest available. He explained that anyone with a subscription to a Norton product could upgrade to the lastest edition of that product for free, and then he downloaded the upgrade I needed.

Voila, within thirty minutes of the initiation of the call, I had a resolution. The latest version did not have any of the conflicts the prior version did. It almost seemed too easy, but before I even had a chance to cast any doubt, he assured me he would check back in a couple of days to verify that I was still satisfied with my situation. He made some additional suggestions to help my server's performance and let me know he planned to follow up on those as well.

I retract any complaints I had about Norton, save one: I am sorry it took me writing a blog post to get this kind of help. If I could have had that kind of help from the beginning, the post would never have been necessary. That said, I am highly pleased with Norton 360 and with the tech support agent who helped me with my problem.

-- Robert

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tech Sup... Well, Maybe Support's Not the Right Word

So my server's back in place, but with a very different problem. We can't leave the firewall on and still get to the files on the server. At first, I thought it was being caused by a change in some settings that my software provider recommended to work with their software. They spent two hours trying different ways to fix the problem, and in the end they determined the firewall was causing the problem and it had nothing to do with settings they created (for the record, I agree with them, so I am leaving their names out of this rant... I mean post).

So, I went to the "contact us" link on the Norton 360 product, which runs the firewall in question. The first tech support agent - using lots of hot-keyed phrases with my name inserted to look like he was really paying attention - suggested a couple of ideas before offering to remote in to my computer and change the settings "while [I] sit back and watch." Before I could even try to say yes, though, he'd closed the chat window.

So I tried to use the link he provided to get him back in case we got disconnected. No luck. So I went for tech support agent number two, one Priyadharishini Mohan (I saved his name for posterity... or for a future complaint filing). He offered the same remote session - with the hot-keys again, because it was if I didn't log on and immediately ask "Hey, your other agent was about to remote in, and I would really like you to do that." Which, of course, was exactly what I had done.

This tech did get the remote session going. He changed some settings on my computer, which was not the one causing the problem, and said "Check the issue now." I showed him I still could not reach the files on the server. He said he would need to reach the server, so I tried several ways he offered, only to finally suggest, "How about I remote in to my server from this computer, then you can control the server here?" I did and he proceeded to do exactly what I already knew how to do: he turned off the firewall. Then he said, "Check the issue now." So I turned the firewall back on and showed him the issue was still there. He said, "You still have the issue with the firewall down." I said, "No, I don't, I turned the firewall back on because I already know how to turn the firewall off to get in. You just watched me do it when I created this remote session. I don't want to have to take my firewall down every time I want to log on to my server's files from another computer." The next phrase I saw, I swear (I can even copy it from the transcript as proof) was Priyadharishini Mohan is rebooting your computer...

Rebooting the computer solved the problem for him very simply: it got rid of me. He did not ask if he could reboot the computer. He did not suggest it first. He simply did it, and then his connection was severed. I had unsaved work on my computer. It was lost as a result of his reboot, but no matter. At least he no longer had a problem to deal with.

So I got on my server to get tech support agent number three. He changed various settings, fortunately he made no effort to reboot my computer or just turn off the firewall to solve it. He actually tried to change a few settings. I realized as I watched him that he left several things undone in his process, so he was sloppy, but he at least tried. Still, in the end, having started at ten that morning, by three I was still not able to do the one thing I needed: to leave my firewall in place against everyone but the computers in my office. If my co-worker had not given me some of her lunch I might have been in really bad shape, but instead I was just very annoyed. I gave up for the day, since I actually had other work to accomplish (no, seriously, I had work to do, honest, I was not playing "prank the techie" or anything). I got a case number and a phone number to contact Norton again, and I logged off. Nothing having changed about my problem. Well, that's not exactly correct: I now had a deeper problem than just not getting to my files without turning off my firewall. Now I have a problem with the firewall creator not even knowing how to set it up correctly to protect my server.

In short, I'm not sure when I will ever buy another Norton product again.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Superiority

A I started to title this post "Why aren't we all one color?" or perhaps "White Man's Burden." It would get attention, I'm sure. What I am referring to here, though, runs deeper than race or color. The idea behind "white man's burden" was that whites felt (or feel) superior to non-whites and tried to civilize them. This concept was carried out by militaries and missionaries to Africa, southeast Asia, and parts in between. My problem with it, though, as I still see it today is simple: treating anyone as if they are too stupid to accomplish a task for themselves denies the opportunity to grow and learn.

Sadly, many of the philosophies I see in socialism are based on the idea that some people are incapable of helping themselves. The fastest way to make them incapable, though, is to do it for them. As I have reflected on the book my wife and I have been reading, I see so many truisms that relate to my own philosophy of life. I believe that people, barring extreme handicap, tend to be capable of providing for themselves. I have seen the blind, deaf, and dumb work quite proficiently. I have seen those in wheel chairs, with down syndrome, and those without limbs outwork those with no such infirmity. I have also seen people with capable minds and bodies claim they couldn't work and instead take assistance from others. What I generally see in that latter case is someone dejected, who looks and acts like someone with no self esteem or sense of self worth. Is that person truly being lifted up by the aid being given him? I say no.

I see many of the philosophies of "helping the less fortunate" as "I am better than these fools." I am glad to help those who are down on their luck. I do not see the accompanying need to treat them as incapable of eventually helping themselves. I would much rather "teach a man to fish" than bring him his daily bread for eternity. How much better would our world be if we quit looking at those who don't have something with pity (i.e., from a perspective of superiority) and focused instead of what they do have, what they can do, and how we can all move forward with their skills and ours working together.

Rodney King's phrase, "Can't we all just get along?" comes to mind. Perhaps a better version might be: can't we all just be brothers and sisters in the human family and work together? Can't we quit trying to look out for others' needs as if they are children and instead help them meet those needs themselves?

Oh, wait... I quit talking politics here. Forget I said anything.

-- Robert

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Server Crash

This work week did not start well. That is to say, Monday morning, I came in to find I had no access to my main files. After repeated attempts to resolve the problem - okay, I'm oversimplifying, after an entire day of doing my own checks and finally calling tech support for my main software - it was apparent that the server was not well. Fortunately I had the foresight to back up the file with all the day's work sometime before the last crash that seem to completely disable it.

Seemed is an important point here.

For all the problems I was having, each time I attached a monitor to it, it would appear to go down. What I discovered when I had a more capable computer tech work on it, though, was that the problem was not the computer itself, but the video card. I had a blown DVI video card. Because of that blown card, though, I had been repeating rebooting a computer, unaware it was probably booting fine - just without a picture. The repeated reboots slowly corrupted my mirrored hard drives, which led to the other problems I was encountering. The computer tech also helped me learn that I actually had a VGA card that worked on the server, but it was disabled early in the boot process (before my monitor would wake up) when I did not "press F1 to run in VGA mode". Without the DVI card in, though, it automatically booted with the VGA working, and now it should be fully recovered and back in place tomorrow.

What have I learned? Even triple backups can't automatically overcome something as simple as a blown video card. At least not right away. Within a day or so, I could have a new server in place, or this server with new hard drives, and have all my files restored. But the triple backups did not help me realize the real problem.

I feel myself beginning to wax philisophical, pondering what I might learn from this experience. What we see is not always as it appears, for one. I thought I had a blown server, when all I had was a computer that wasn't showing me a picture. Sometimes we have to look deeper. I might not have caused the other problems with the computer if I had considered the video card.

-- Robert

P.S. My wife did think it was just a video card after I took the computer to someone else. Hat's off to her for considering what I didn't. Important lesson number two: men, listen to your wives.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Insatiable

This weekend, as my wife and I were driving to Atlanta, we were having a discussion about the parenting book we've both been reading. Being the introspective (some might self-absorbed) person that I am, I commented on what I saw in the book about my own childhood.

And I had an epiphany. Before I explain, I want to be clear: I am not trying to pass judgment on my parents for what I'm writing. I simply realized that one of the ways my mother responded to my efforts had a profound influence on my entire character. I was, and in many still am, insatiable. One reason this book would suggest as to why was the way my mother was never complimentary to my grades. If I got a 93, she would ask, "Do you understand what you missed?" If I got a 100, she asked, "Was that the highest score possible." These were neither preceded or followed by any form of of the phrase "job well done."

I have no sour grapes over what she helped make me. I became a child who wanted to always do my best and even then I wasn't necessarily pleased. I was a very successful student as a result. I looked for new and better ways to improve myself and my outputs. I was able to use what I learned and what I became to pay my way through my Bachelor's on scholarships, and then get paid to get a Masters and now to get a Ph.D. I see no reason to complain about my psyche in this regard. I would say I did teach myself to deal with doing less than my best, but it still involved coping rather than being satisfied. I have never liked grades below A for myself. At least not in subjects I care about. So yes, I am grateful that the desire she instilled helped make me a success.

The problem is, my insatiable nature was not limited to school. I am overweight. One reason I am overweight is I do not have something in me that says "I am no longer hungry." I wonder if one reason for that is the fact that I was treated as a disposal by various family members (not always my mother) as a child. If there was just a little left of something, I was expected to eat it quite often. If I had not broken my leg at four and been more involved in sports in my early years, then it might not have resulted in my becoming overweight. Still, I can see how some elements of my weight stem from the same insatiable personality. If I had learned to stop myself, I might not be so big. It's something I will struggle with for the rest of my life, I am sure.

So what am I saying? No, I am not saying "it's all my parents' fault." What would I be blaming them for, exactly? I have a wonderful family, I am generally successful in life, I am a happy person most of the time, and I am about to pursue a lifelong dream with the support of a wonderful wife who has urged me to do it. So maybe it is my parents' "fault" that I love education, and their "fault" I am so successful. They certainly deserve a lot of credit for the good in me, so this is not a negative post. It was just something that I've thought about many times in the past - how I was raised - and I realized a lot of who I am could be tied to that one word. I'm not sure I'd change it, either. I just need to be aware of it, and manage it wisely in the places where it can hurt me. As for it helping me in my career... I can't say I will try to rein it in at all.

-- Robert

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Be All You Can Be

In the comments of my last post, I had a request to make a full post on something we were discussing. It has been a while since someone actually asked me to blog on a topic, so I am glad to oblige. We were discussing human potential, for lack of a better simplification: what can people become? I believe, as an integral part of my faith, that human beings have the potential to become like God. The scriptures show us that the Savior taught us in Matthew 5:48 to do so, "Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect."

To be clear, we can never become Heavenly Father. We can never be him, no more so than I can become my father here on Earth. I can follow in my Heavenly Father's footsteps, take his guidance and teaching, and in the course of eternity I have the chance to become a god. I believe it, but I admit that even as I write it, I struggle to comprehend it fully. It was the last great stumbling block for me in accepting my faith. Yet again, I read the scriptures to find that in John 10:34 Jesus quoted Psalm 82, when he said, "Is it not written, ye are gods, and children of the most high?" In other words, he made it plain that he understood and believed what human beings are, and his teachings reflected that.

Human beings, simply put, are therefore gods in embryo. No, we will not become gods in Earthly life. Mortal life is a testing ground, a chance to learn and grow - in a simpler way, like school is to a child - before we reach beyond this life into the next, into eternity. To those who question the possibility of becoming a god, I ask a few questions (and have asked them of many and have not found a satisfactory answer short of what I believe): what do we do after we die? Do we reach our full potential in life, and in death we can never grow? If we can grow in eternity, then at what point do we stop growing? If we are not held back, then why can't we reach a point where we are a god?

The most typical answers are blunt: because that's just not true, because that's not possible, or because that doesn't make sense. I know because I had the same answers to those questions once upon a time. But then there is a simple follow up question: if God wanted us to know that we could become gods ourselves, how would he tell us? Or better yet, what more could he say than is said in those verses already quoted?

I agree that it sounds quite amazing, even beyond reason. But everything is possible with the Lord. And he wants everything for his children. So what can we become? His children in every sense of the word, since that is what we are.

When I look at history and mythology, I see so much that clearly came out of this truth: the pharaoh's of Egypt believed they became gods (and some believe their gods were in fact early pharaohs). Greeks had stories gods and demigods that seem clearly linked with the idea of the human potential to become a god. Many cultures had divine kings who were believed to be gods among their people.

So many Christians have come to believe that Christ taught of a monotheistic religion. It is true that God the Father is one being, but Jesus Christ is another being, and also a god. The Spirit is another god. At the very least, Christianity is a belief system centered around a triumvirate of gods. In truth, though, there is a clear message in the gospel: we can be all He wants us to be, which is to become gods. What an amazing opportunity, and what a great goal. I know I am a long way from being worthy to even be considered for such a lofty state, but knowing what I can be helps me believe more in myself in this life, which really improves my state of mind. Each trial is a chance to learn and grow, and if I follow the guidance of the Spirit - which comes direct from the Father - I can get closer to what my Heavenly Father wants me to be.

-- Robert

P.S. My post about potential kept coming to mind as I wrote this, and I see my calling to become a professor as very linked to helping people find their full potential. I hope I can help people realize all they can be in that process.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Common Interest

To my post yesterday, my wife asked, "What about on a small scale, such as each family? What if a family ran for what is best as a whole instead of just each for himself?"

Certainly, I think certain elements of society can definitely run for the interest of a subset group. A family is a great example where individuals sacrifice their wants and needs for the sake of the group - such as a mother sacrificing career goals for the sake of being home with a child, or a husband working fewer hours at the office that might advance his career so he can be more available to his family. I think that's a fine example where communal interest can be worked toward to achieve a greater whole.

The problem not addressed in socialism in general, and not addressed in Galaxia effectively, is the need for a common goal or cause. Simply wanting a better world doesn't work for a lot of people. If that better world means that someone must have a smaller house, drive a smaller car, eat less, work harder, or myriad other things, then that someone is likely to shirk. Shirking, simply means failing to do one's best in this context. If working harder (or generating more, however that is best described) will not directly benefit the person putting for the effort, that person is less likely to continue the extended effort. Karl Marx certainly overlooked the key element of the society he based the Communist Manifesto on: he studied a monastery and how well it functioned by working for the sake of the whole, but then he removed faith from the equation, which was the glue that bound their efforts together.

In the novel, the reason for Galaxia was to create a system that removed waste as much as possible, or more correctly removed excess. By removing the waste, the system would achieve a higher state (I believe the scientific term is entropy). At the very end, a reason that might justify the need to work together is presented, but it felt very tacked on to me (not to criticize a master, just my observation). Removing that onerous threat from the equation - a threat which most would deny or ignore anyway - I have trouble believing people would subjugate themselves to such a system willingly.

So, once again, socialism sounds wonderful in the ideal. "We're in this together!" is a great slogan. Or Rodney King's famous "Can't we all just... get along?" The problem is, the selfish nature of humanity is involved - and I am not convinced that it is a bad thing to have in the equation. Throughout the series, the characters acknowledge that society begins to decay when greatness reaches a level at which no one feels compelled to strive for "more" - whatever more might be. Scientific innovation tends to come from a need observed. If society is perfectly satisfying - or extremely satisfying with few shortcomings - then why would anyone worry about improving it? Certainly the world today is far from perfect, so people will continue to work for a better tomorrow. But if they cannot hope to reap the benefits of that "better" and that "more" then why should anyone expect them to try for it?

So returning to my wife's point, I can absolutely see sacrificing my own needs for the sake of my children. I can eat less to provide more for them. I can drive a minivan for their comfort instead of cramming their little legs into the back of a sports car I might want (or in my case, perhaps a small pickup). I just have trouble believing anyone else will necessarily sacrifice for them, and I have trouble asking them (my children) to sacrifice for someone else who may or may not be putting forth their best effort. I have trouble believing anyone else is willing to sacrifice for me and for my family. Instead, what we get is a lot of shirking.

Pure capitalism may not be an answer to any of these problems, but from an academically economic standpoint, it is hard to argue for socialism in practice - at least when practiced on a large scale, and whenever it is put in without a common goal. Correction: a commonly accepted goal. Without the agreed focus, the smaller players in the system are more likely to work in their own interests (to quote Seinfeld, "not that there's anything wrong with that...").

-- Robert

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

When Academic Reading And Pleasure Reading Mix...

I have been reading the book A General Theory of Competition around the Asimov Foundation series. I noticed something as I was reading Foundation And Earth, where the concept of "Galaxia" is discussed. The idea of all parts of the galaxy working together for to remove waste and improve the whole. That theory sounds somewhat like an idealized socialism, but it mostly reminded me of the theory of perfect competition, which is all through the first book I mentioned. The idea is that the market reacts to any changes with minimal costs related to changing the equilibrium price of the market.

Imagine, for instance, that the market being discussed was corn. If the market responds perfectly, then when a late freeze destroys a large percentage of a given area's crops, the equilibrium price would move rapidly - if not automatically - to a higher price given the decreased supply and continued demand. That tends to happen in commodities markets like produce where products are generally the same. If, however, the market being discussed were the automobile market, or the small sedan market (a lot of discussions could be brought up about how a market is defined), then how might news of a strike at one automaker's facility effect that price? It is hard to believe that it would respond rapidly in some obvious way. The information is fairly ambiguous, for one thing. The problem, though, is if it's not even clear HOW a market should react, how can we believe it will react immediately without costs? Will there not be a momentary confusion?

And that brings me back to how I saw Galaxia tied in. If society truly knew what was "best" and everyone reacted accordingly, that might mimic perfect competition. The problem, though, is that what is "best" is never that clear. As such, the expectation of sacrifice in a concept like Galaxia, or in socialism, ignores human nature. In Galaxia, everything (humans, animals, plants, even non-living things) communicates to convey all that is known by the whole so that some equilibrium state can be met, which sounds wonderful until it is actually applied. Even if people know that someone else would benefit more from their possessions than they would themselves, it is hard to imagine most people simply giving up what they own. A lot of people share with the less fortunate, and I'm all for doing just that, but the idea that everyone must do what is best for everyone... it simply doesn't pan out.

This post is quickly spiraling out of control, I can see. I'm simply trying to formulate my opinion about these ideas in practice. I have trouble believing humanity - at least in this life - could ever approach something so close to Galaxia, or a perfectly competitive marketplace in all ways, or a socialistically ideal state. I also have trouble seeing that approaching those - not even achieving, but simply trying to get there - would actually be a good thing. What I see in those ideas is stagnation. If no one is trying to get ahead, then who is trying to improve things? Who is bringing about transformative change for the better if everyone already believes they are living in what is "best"? And that is what it all comes down to: I have trouble believing a society run by mankind that is all for the "common good" will ever work - nor should it. Better that we communicate ineffectively, struggle, obfuscate, strive, persevere, share, judge, help, learn, grow, and generally find our own way in the world.

-- Robert

Monday, April 6, 2009

Focus

This weekend, my church held its semi-annual General Conference. On Saturday night, one of our leaders, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, himself a retired pilot, told a story about an airplane accident some years ago in the Everglades near Miami, FL. Then plane crashed despite fully functioning engines, wings, and landing gear. It was not out of fuel. The pilot and co-pilot were both alive and well. In short, nothing was wrong with the plane that kept it from being able to take off, fly, or land properly.

So what went wrong? A single green bulb had burned out: the one that signaled that the nose landing gear was down. Because the pilot did not see that bulb burning, he put the plane into a holding pattern while he investigated the bulb. He did not have anyone check to find out that the gear was down (which it was). He became so obsessed with the bulb that when someone noticed they were speeding toward the ground, it was too late to pull up. He let his focus get off of the important task of landing because he was obsessed with something that, in the end, was unimportant and even incorrect.

How often do we do that in life? We obsess over a television series, the next American Idol precedings, Spider Solitaire, EA Sports next new game,blogs (oops), or whatever else. Meanwhile, important things like spending time with family, accomplishing work, exercise, prayer and scripture study, and so much else in life goes by the way side. I am as guilty as the next person of letting little things distract me from what truly matters. I just appreciated the reminder to reconsider my focus and to make sure I find balance, even with the good things of life, so I don't crash and burn.

-- Robert

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sunshine Again

The last three days here it has rained. Let's be clear: it has rained to the point that people preface most phone calls to this area with, "So, have you washed away yet?" We haven't, but our quicksand driveway seemed like it might. The today school was cancelled because some bridges were taken out or made unsafe by flooding - and the sun came out on Spring Break for the kids.

What a lovely metaphor for how my days have gone. I was sad and gloomy over my favorite laptop's demise. Instead of enjoying the prospect of a new laptop - which we had budgeted and saved for and planned for over a year to buy right before heading back to school - I had to buy because my computer was broken. I started to see a taste of sunlight when I optimized a machine through Dell and then a different one through HP that would positively blow away any computer I've even been in the presence of. But I decided it was not wise to spend that much one computer that in a year (or may be two) might seem pedestrian by comparison. So, instead I decided to scrap the idea and work with my laptop as a desktop. It's much harder to do that when children want to watch Bob the Builder for the 95th time on the same screen I need to use, though, but I could make due. I actually let the HP phones salesman help talk me down from wanting the super laptop. Then towards the end of our conversation - having steered me to a much more economical machine that could still perform quite nicely - I commented on one of the "accessories" laughingly.

"Why would anyone get a Mini along with a laptop?"

"Oh they're very nice if you don't want to carry your big notebook around. They're really nice, actually."

"Yeah, but my big hands wouldn't be much use on one."

"Oh, their keyboards are 92% of regular keyboards, so they're quite comfortable."

A light came on: what if just got a Mini? So I batted that idea around for a while and another email came from Dell: get a Mini for $50 with a Dell Latitude. So I checked into it, and a great Latitude was reasonably priced, and with two upgrades that made the Mini slightly more expensive than a big external hard drive might be, I had my deal. I bought it, feeling at peace with my decision.

And then my brother-in-law showed me a $99 new LCD that would fit my broken laptop! It was like seeing a rainbow after the storm. Suddenly, instead of every computer in our house being on crutches (my wife's power cord broke the day after my laptop took its dive), we could have three working computers! So I practically leapt for joy. It will be nice not to see my HP turn into a paperweight. Who knows, it might be my daughter's computer some day. The Mini might be hers or my son's. Whatever the case, I've gone from wanting to cry for my laptop to seeing a chance it will work again. How wonderful.

Yes, as I said in my last post, I am a nerd.

-- Robert

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Amazon Recommends...

Yes, I have arrived as a geek. Sure, I got accepted into a great doctoral program. Yes, I can use "exogeneity" in a sentence and know what it means. But the moment I truly knew I had arrived as a complete nerd?

When Amazon started recommending books on probability and economics to me. I guess that's what happens when you buy about a dozen academic texts in a span of a week. Barnes and Noble does it, too, for the record. Yep, instead of "Check out the new Mary Higgins Clark" I get "Amazon recommends Principles of Economics, Abridged Edition." Sadly, I think at least one of the books they recommended like that, I now already own!

Ah, this is the life. At least I've found my calling. And apparently, I can buy books for it for as little as $10.35. Who knew?

-- Robert

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Farewell, Old Friend

Last night, I lost a great friend. We shared a lot of memories, watched a lot of movies, and played a lot of games together. We travelled across the country several times, avoided many pitfalls, and survived a few bumps and bangs. But not this time.

Yes, my laptop's screen broke. It landed on the corner of the screen and slapped shut, never to show a pretty picture again. Some might laugh. Some might say, "It's only a computer." But they don't understand. It was my favorite laptop ever. I liked it enough to ignore the missing arrow keys my son ripped off in Texas on our road trip. I knew that was the beginning of the end, I guess, but I was still holding out. I didn't want a new laptop. Certainly not yet. I had just bought the third or fourth power cord for it, I liked it so much. Now.... now I have to get the data off of it, and then hope to somehow turn it into a desktop computer. Or more likely, simply recycle it somewhere. It was a sad day for me.

Okay, so yes, it's April Fools, so I wrote this a little tongue in cheek, but honestly, isn't that how it feels when a great computer breaks? It's how I felt when someone broke the one before this one, but this truly has been my favorite laptop ever. It was light, fast, functional, and had a great screen. What more can someone want? I just hope... OH HOW I HOPE... I just hope I can find an adequate replacement. Preferably without Vista.

Goodbye, my little HP.

-- Robert

Monday, March 30, 2009

Reading

No, I'm not suffering from writer's block. I'm suffering from "I know no one is interested in my thoughts" block. Or at least, "I'm not sure even what I want to write down here" block. I'm loving Asimov, and I've continued to find the academic reading I've gotten into pretty fascinating. I'm becoming, well... an academic. I'm finding more and more as people ask me what I want to accomplish, I can explain it, and I can refer to examples of what I've seen in research that might lead me down my own topical paths in the future.

So yes, I have plenty on my mind to write about. I am just still formulating the thoughts too much and reading too much to really commit those thoughts to the Internet.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Communication

"Speech, originally, was the device whereby Man learned, imperfectly, to transmit the thoughts and emotions of the mind. By setting up arbitrary sounds and combinations of sounds to represent certain mental nuances, he developed a method of communication - but one which in its clumsiness and thick-thumbed inadequacy degenerated all the delicacy of the mind into gross and guttural signaling." - Isaac Asimov, Second Foundation

I must say, that passage (along with others that are similarly insightful), jumped out to me even as I read it. How clearly it describes the human condition. He goes on to explain that essentially all the misunderstandings in history from small squabbles between friends to full on wars could be traced to this very problem: we don't understand each other. If we could read each other's thoughts, the need for subterfuge - the need to be deceptive - would be eliminated as moot. Instead, we are left with ambiguity, uncertainty, confusion, and so much more. Would the world be a better place if we could see into each other's thoughts? I'm not sure, but I can at least see why Asimov admired the idea of telepathy as an improved form of communication. I wonder if that was what it was like before the Tower of Babel confounded the language of man. Indeed, is that what it will be like in the afterlife?

Perhaps this post begins to show why I am loving these books. They are very insightful, and extremely thought provoking. Certainly, there are some anachronistic elements given the era in which the books were written, but I am amazed at how well his story holds up even with fifty years of scientific development in the interim that would change the way he saw the future. Again, I regret having taken so long to join his fan club, but at least I'm there now.

-- Robert

Monday, March 23, 2009

The 300 Club

No, I have not hit a little stitched leather ball with a stick three hundred times, but I am now writing my 300th post. No, it will not be "300 things about me" or even "what were the first 299 posts about". I just felt like pointing out I was writing my 300th post.

There. I did it.

Whew, now with all that fanfare out of the way - please stop blowing the party horns - we can move on to more important things. Whatever those might be.....

Drawing a blank, too, eh? Well, okay, my problem is I probably have four different subjects going on in my head all at once, and they don't make for one post. At least two of them are very retread type material - moving and school - but I have a legitimate question for the moving one: anyone with advice on movers, I'd love to hear good and bad. Horror stories always make for a great comment stream at the very least. Feel free to use it for posts on other blogs, but point me to them at least. School, well, yeah, I know people are somewhat tired of hearing about it.

I'm also thinking about these great Asimov books I've been reading - well into the fourth book of the Foundation series - Second Foundation - and ran across a great passage I want to write a full post about. So people can ignore that one, too.

The last thing I am thinking about is my lovely weekend, as well as my wife's. She went to a great conference with a friend while we husbands watched the friend's daughter - my wife had the baby and my parents had our two older kids - and mostly relaxed at a nice condo. I love to see how these conferences help my wife because they are so edifying. I would love to write about one of her takeaways, but I won't steal her thunder.

So, for those keeping score: I could write four separate posts, and I might still make two from this one, and I have to wait on a potential third... but at least I wrote a fresh, original post.

-- Robert

P.S. No, I am not at all bitter that people aren't commenting. Truly, I'm not. I don't expect it on my "same song, twenty-fifth verse, this one's bad but so was the first" posts about my own reflections as we prepare to go to Texas. Those are for me. Any comments are welcome, but not expected.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Problem Solver

A few weeks ago, I posted about the book Strengthsfinder 2.0, and I listed my five strengths. The accompanying book Strengths Based Leadership breaks all the strengths into categories - executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. One of my strengths was influencing - maximizer, my strongest, which basically means I love to find my own strengths and the strengths of others and maximize them. Another was in relationship building - individualization, which means I see people distinctly and not as a stereotype. The other three fell into strategic thinking - strategic (seeing solutions), context (learning from the past), and futuristic (looking to the future). Basically what that says to me is that I look at people individually, and at problems individually, I find the people who can best meet it given their skillset, and I organize a group to create a solution based on past experience and future desired outcomes. Basically, I solve the problem.

I have always been a problem solver. I loved solving logic problems, crossword puzzles, and math quizzes since I was little. When it came to people, I was the friend who people came to for tutoring, help with relationship troubles, or suggestions of how to deal with a teacher they were not seeing eye to eye with. I have diffused countless squabbles between peers just because I saw a way to find peace, or at least resolution. The biggest problem with being a lifetime problem solver: solving the problem of wanting to solve the problem.

I really have been working at being a better listener. I can be a great listener, and when I choose to use that ability, some people even think it's one of my greatest abilities. I think it is because I have really worked on it in my life, not because it necessarily comes natural to me. Lately, though, I find myself overtalking people again far too much. I want to "solve the problem" in what they're saying - even if they're not presenting one. I also tend to over-personalize: I have an amazing ability to make almost any story about me. I hate that I do it, sometimes even as I do it. Yet I see the connections between other people's stories and my own so readily, it's hard not to want to say, "Oh, this is how I dealt with that problem." Again, I do it even when they're clearly not asking how to solve it. It's especially annoying when they're not even talking about a present problem, but something from years back.

So I am writing this post as my personal pledge: I am going to do my best to stop overtalking, stop making the story about me, and stop solving problems without being asked. If I come close to that goal, I'm sure I will learn from the exercise. Who knows I might even learn to solve another problem.

-- Robert