I Passed! Most of you will not.

A majority of Americans could not pass a recent citizenship test conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. This held true in every single state except one.

The survey was conducted Nov. 14, 2018-Jan. 3, 2019 among 41,000 adults, using 20 history-specific questions from the practice tests for people taking the citizenship exam. The margin of error was 1 percentage point.

Axios

In what passes for normal behavior for me, I immediately tracked down the test in question and took it myself. I wanted to know what kind of questions were on the test. Was this a realistic test of knowledge about American history?

That was no slouch of a test. Many questions required puzzling out exact years and distinguishing lists of names from other very similar lists of names. If every immigrant has to pass this kind of test, my hat is off for them. They have every right to be here. Come right in.

The rest of you? If you can’t pass that test, you better start studying, and you better pass it soon. Because as sure as day turns into night and back into day, there will be people who will tell you that you won’t be able to stay here if you can’t recite this kind of deep knowledge of American history.

The only state where a majority passed the citizenship test? Vermont. The socialist paradise of Vermont is the only state doing the job of educating people about their own history and government. Remember that the next time you laugh at Bernie Sanders.

h/t to David Buth on Facebook. He was top of the feed.

My First Hotel Review; or, How to Argue Unproductively.

For Sandra

We landed in O’Hare on the evening of Tuesday, July eleventh. It was a frustrating flight. The Son had lost his phone on the way to the airport and didn’t realize it until the gratuitous TSA screening, to which I always wear my easily removable shoes and pack everything I usually carry in my pockets into my carry-on. After an unproductive search of the entire Austin Bergstrom International Airport (the phone fell out of his pocket at home) we thanked the TSA agents for their free examination of our various bodily secrets and proceeded to the other end of the airport to board our American Airlines flight. Right out of the gate the pilot informed us it was going to be a bumpy ride, and it was. It was a two-Xanax flight, with Meclizine on top, and I still didn’t manage to sleep for more than 45 minutes of the three hour trip. At least I had decent music preloaded on my phone.
We embarked on this trip to review colleges for the Son and attend orientation. I was being dragged along because it was determined that I needed to get out and enjoy myself. Apparently one can get snippy when confined in isolation for too long. As enticement, relatives suggested that we stay at the Chicago Congress Hotel which they knew I would be unable to resist exploring. I have a known weakness for old buildings and especially old hotels.
When we got to the hotel, dusk was settling. Too late to do anything of merit, including eat much other than room service. We asked the front desk for the nearest pharmacy and ran two blocks to overspend for the necessaries that the TSA will not allow you to travel with anymore. Returning to our room and our well-earned rest, the Wife discovered that her latest movie project had imploded since she left Austin, and that she needed internet access to fix it  This should have been a clue as to how our first few nights would be spent. I should have been paying attention. We couldn’t find a working plug to put her laptop next to, a plug that was also in range of the wifi which for some inexplicable reason only registered near the door to the room.
Failing to solve her internet problem, the Wife decided to soak in the tub, only to discover the tub drain was without a stopper. She discovered that the lavatory drain cap was loose in the bowl. All of these deficiencies were reported promptly to the front desk, and we improvised a solution to make the tub fill anyway so that she could at least try to soak the travel frustrations away.
We used to travel a lot back when we had money that wasn’t being spent on keeping the lights on.  We’ve spent a lot of nights in truly questionable locations over the years of hotel bargain hunting. Some of these locations were little better than tents to keep out the rain and bugs. I do recall at least one location that failed to even do those essential things. A few minor bumps along the way towards winging our way back home were to be expected. 
The next morning started much too early. Because of the lack of internet connectivity, the college-bound portion of our little expedition didn’t know where they were going. The attendant at the closest train terminal, probably a wayward New Yorker, put them on the wrong train. This misdirection on his part made them more than an hour late to orientation. So they were both pissed for the rest of the day. The Son refused to speak to me and hid in his room when he returned. This was probably a smart move on his part. 
I, being the invalid that I am, was tasked with getting us better rooms while they attended to the business we were here for. After dodging overly-helpful maids and tamping down the urge to explore one more mysterious corridor, I arrived at the front desk to be informed that I couldn’t make changes to our rooms because I wasn’t listed as booking the stay. During the fruitless back and forth of conversing with the Wife on her six year old iPhone 4 with 45 minutes of battery life per day’s use, I managed to get in some more exploration.

The Wife insisted I was listed on the booking despite what the desk clerks had told me. In her opinion I should have been able to, and therefore should have changed our rooms. Nevermind that they informed me on my third visit to discuss this with them that yes, I could change our rooms now, having been advised by a manager who had the misfortune of arguing with the Wife on the phone that they had no choice but to get her the new rooms she sent me to request, however there were no rooms on the same floor that we had been assigned to, nor were there any rooms on the Son’s floor two floor below us. There were, in fact, no two rooms anywhere in the hotel that were on the same floor at this late time of the day. Try back tomorrow, was the parting advice I was given. I had failed at my one assigned task. It was going to be a rough night.

The Congress Hotel is a fascinating subject to explore, a nearly priceless historic heirloom. I could crawl through access panels and service corridors for a week in that place and never be bored. It is like an ancient beehive, ruled over by generation after generation of queens with conflicting goals to be met. Built and rebuilt and expanded and rebuilt again, it is an amateur archaeological dream come true. As a travel destination though, it kinda fails.

There was one bright note on that second day of our stay. Exploring the curious method that had been used to add this newfangled thing called electricity to the building, a method involving running a vaguely decorative square conduit along the tops of the foot high baseboards, I discovered one working plug set into the conduit for the room that put the laptop in range of a consistent wifi signal. I also figured out how to plug the bathtub with a washcloth, the helpful maids having thrown out the plasticware that we had plugged the drain with the night before. However the wifi signal even at the door to the room proved to be insufficient to make a spoiled high tech Austin resident happy, so I was not going to be getting out of the doghouse that easily.

It was at this point in the day that I started writing the above review. I was mad. I was being blamed for the first day being shit, tangentially catching hell for the Wife’s movie project disintegrating, catching anger for pretty much every bit of failing that had come along that day. So I latched on to the notion that I would write a scathing review of the hotel and post it everywhere, including on Yelp, just to prove that I was a customer that wasn’t going to take being treated like a stupid tourist.

The Wife hated this idea and proceeded to insult my writing ability in the process. This was perhaps one of the worst arguments we’ve ever had. Right up there with the time I destroyed a cabinet by tearing it off the wall. The time she broke doors off the cabinets slamming them. The many times I have punched a hole through doors or sheetrock. Even worse than the time I bent the stovetop griddle into a U shape whacking it on the sink edge and then storming out of the house wearing only a bathrobe and flip flops and embarking on a two mile hike just to calm down. Yes, we both have some anger issues. Since we were not at home this time, I could not take my anger out on the architecture around me without destroying property that didn’t belong to me and probably breaking bones on hidden structure. Old buildings are quite solid compared to new construction. Consequent to our being in a hotel, liable for any damage we did to the room, some pretty nasty things were said by both of us before we mutually decided that we needed a time out.

I retreated to the lobby to brood for hours, my phone plugged into a convenient outlet near one of the comfy chairs, working and reworking the review I was determined to publish. I was going to publish it, if I could just make it not sound so childish. After all, I had nothing else to hang my meager existence on other than my writing skills since becoming disabled, and she had definitely told me my writing sucked. At least, that’s what I heard. She went for a walk. Around Chicago, a town we had only been to once before fifteen years earlier. She went for a walk. In the dark. By herself. Since she didn’t run into me while out walking she returned to the room for her now recharged phone and texted me, querulously asking if I was planning on ever coming back to the room, and where was I?

It was at this point that zefrank came to my mind. Who is zefrank? On a previous trip to visit the Daughter in college in New York our children had revealed the magic of True Facts to us, their parents. Zefrank is a Youtube phenomenon that had gone right by us old people who had long ago dismissed Youtube as a place to post old home movies or stolen video or music that hadn’t been licensed from the authors. We had no idea that completely new content was being published to that website, or that our children were both watching this stuff all the time. I don’t even think they knew they were both watching the same things. When they realized we’d never seen True Facts, they insisted we watch hours of them while we all sat on the beds in our hotel room. It is one of my most cherished memories of us as a family. Grandma in the next room drinking whiskey and honey for the persistent cough that we later found out was Pneumonia, and the four of us piled on the bed watching True Facts and laughing our asses off.

Here he is telling couples how to argue.


Zefrank1 How To Fight As a Couple Feb 12, 2013

Those are good solid rules, all 900ish of them. It would have been nice if I had remembered them while arguing with the Wife, it might have been a much cleaner fight that way. What I did remember was Morgan Freeman. Not the actor Morgan Freeman, but the True Facts about Morgan Freeman and how we laughed at that video the last time we had been out traveling with the children, in completely different circumstances. Here we were traveling again, trying to help the last child escape the nest, and we were not laughing at all but were instead tearing our love apart. Being supremely stupid. So I reminded her of True Facts and the last time we had been out traveling. About how we were spending our last few days with the Son before he went off to college. Also, I told her the wifi was excellent downstairs in the lobby, and that there was a bar with decent alcohol down here. Working electrical plugs at the tables, even.

After a few stiff drinks in O’Hara’s corner bar, the Wife’s latest movie project was once again out of the ditch and possibly heading in the right direction. You never can tell with movies. Not until they are in the can and on their way to being screened are you sure that a film, any film, is a real thing. Up until that point they are all just dreams you hope to deliver with the help of hundreds and possibly thousands of people. Which means, they more frequently blow up and are never seen at all, than they ever get seen by anyone. That is simply the law of averages. The more complex the project, the more chances there are of its explosion and disappearance. She wasn’t ready to forgive me the failure of getting the room changed, even after a walk to the fountain and back, but she wasn’t quite ready to kill anyone at the moment. I call that a win.

We did go on to stay a few more nights at that hotel. We traveled around Chicago together with the family who had suggested the hotel and that we had agreed to meet there. We took in the sights, visited the Shed and the Navy Pier, wandered around the remains of the grounds for the Chicago World’s Fair. The next night we had dinner with friends I hadn’t seen in a decade, at least. People that I had known in my previous life as an architect. All of it was better than that first day and the argument. But I never did get that review finished. What is above is all I ever wrote on it. Perhaps I was being childish all along. It definitely wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time.

The Son didn’t go to Chicago State. He liked the idea of attending A&M better. Since the Wife graduated from UT, I expect that will lead to arguments sometime in the distant future. At least, I hope it does. I look forward to documenting those arguments, too.

Coping With Dysgraphia

For Gregory


When I was a senior in high school I had a friend who would borrow one of the novels I carried everywhere with me and casually doodle the most amazing cartoons on the flyleaf. His cartoons were better than the things published in MAD or Cracked. My memory of that time may be a bit hazy now, but they were better to me then. Funnier. I marveled at the effortless way the pictures just came out of his hands, at his ability to draw, to write. It struck me as such a wonderful gift, to be able to take a pen and have it just make the lines you wanted to make and to make only those lines in the ways you saw them in your head.  Freehand artwork, freehand writing, is almost magic in my eyes.

They didn’t have a word for my disability when I was in school. I was never quite like the other children. Teased frequently, I hid in books and stared at my desk, afraid of catching anyone’s eye lest I be subjected to more derision. I didn’t know what made me different, but I knew that I was different all the same. The teasing I was subjected to originated with my second grade teacher who thought it would be a good idea to have the other kids torment me to make me write faster.

In my mind the first and second years of elementary school seem to blur together. It’s hard to separate one form of abuse from another. One of my teachers thought that teasing me was the ticket to getting me to perform. The other one thought that daily corporal punishment was it. Both were dissuaded from their delusions by my parents. The corporal punishment stopped, but the teasing continued until I moved away from that town. I wasn’t to be free of the hangups that this teacher’s cruel methods of instruction inflicted on me until well into adulthood. To this day I remain a public school skeptic largely because of my experiences in school at the hands of the children and this particular teacher, evidence of just how much damage one wrong idea can inflict.

My problems in school were bad enough that the school insisted my parents take me to see a specialist. We went to see the same diagnosticians in Denver two times; once in second grade and again in 5th grade. The school insisted that there was something wrong with me; it wasn’t the teacher, it wasn’t the other children. There was something wrong with me. So my parents paid for the doctors and paid for the travel, and off we went on what was a grand adventure from the perspective of my seven year old self.

I remember the experience because it was such a rare occurrence to be in another place. The Rocky Mountains around Denver were about as different from the grassy plains of Kansas as you can get. It was the first airplane flight I could remember, and it made me love flying. I have a great love of Colorado largely because of the experiences I went through in Denver on those two visits.

The doctors were nice. They gave me various tests. Handwriting tests, drawing tests. Clearly they were looking at motor control in the manner after the time (late 60’s early 70’s) trying to figure out why I couldn’t write well. Writing really hurt. It still hurts. The stupid pencils never went where I wanted them to go. Lines were never straight. Letters were never legible. Cursive? Cursive was a practice in slow torture. Every assignment in school made me suffer in silence; unable to write and yet required to write. Homework went undone. Not because I didn’t want to do it, but because I literally would grow tired from the constant pain of writing and simply pass out on my homework.

My mother doesn’t remember the word dysgraphia being used at the time, but what I was suffering through was distinctly dysgraphic in nature.

I loved to read. Reading and writing are two completely different exercises in the mind. The words would sometimes get tangled up in my head, but the places I could go while reading were so much better than the reality I was facing that I just soldiered on through the occasional confusion. But writing? I flunked a semester of english my sophomore year in high school because half of my grade would be based on a term paper I would be required to write long-hand. The subject of the paper that was selected for me was of no interest to me. I asked the instructor for a different subject more than once, only to be told I would write the paper and to stop arguing about it. In one of my first acts of rebellion I flunked the class rather than spend a week or more in agony only to have the paper rejected because it couldn’t be read.

I have never taken notes in class. When told to take notes I would write a few lines and stop (a trick I learned early. If the page is blank the teacher will notice and scold you) Notes were pointless. By the time I had written down the first sentence I’d have missed the next three sentences. What I learned to do was listen and absorb so that I could repeat what was said almost verbatim, at least briefly. Eventually I learned to synthesize the information internally and was able to rapidly apply it to new problems without ever having to write anything on paper.

I only recently learned that the ability to synthesize data internally is itself a special skill. Most people cannot remember things, cannot apply knowledge, without writing these things down.

Few of my teachers believed that I could do this, that I could absorb and apply knowledge without first committing it to paper. They especially didn’t believe it because I failed so frequently to do anything demonstrative in front of the class. I was afraid to write poorly and so would take far too long at the blackboard to be able to demonstrate anything to anybody.

Even though the specialists who tested me in fifth grade issued written instructions, specific to each teacher about the challenges I was facing learning in a classroom environment, the instructions were discarded as lending favoritism to a child that the school teachers and administration frankly thought was the problem in the first place. My mother was livid at the time and still gets angry talking about the subject. Did they know how much all of this testing cost? Paid for twice out of my parent’s own pockets? At the insistence of the school? Testing and findings to be discarded as too much trouble to institute, to much trouble to turn into a different teaching model?

What they did instead was slap a label on me. They called me slow.

I carried that label with me from second grade through seventh grade. The label and the torment only stopped at that point because I moved away from my hometown in Western Kansas for a few years; and when I came back to Kansas for my sophomore year of high school it was to a different town, Garden City, and to a different school. I never did spend any significant time in Leoti from that point forward. My nostalgia for the place I long considered home is leavened with ambivalence and rebellion. Rebellion against the label slow.

My sophomore and junior years of rebellion in Kansas and the custody of my father got me sent back to Texas and my mother. The all too familiar plight of children caught up in divorce. Shuttle diplomacy and holidays with the other parent. Custody battles and missed child support payments. From Leoti, Kansas and slow to Stinnett, Texas and rebellion. Garden City, Kansas and missed opportunities to Sweetwater, Texas and make the best of what you have left.

My senior year of high school in the late, hot Texas summer of 1980. My friend and his artwork were also transplants to the town and the school. Since we were both new, we decided to navigate the terrain together. Watch each other’s backs. The counselor lined out the required classes we would need to finish the year and graduate. He and I would be in organic chemistry together. A class we both found so boring that I would read and he would doodle on my books. We also had a few other classes together.

This is small town rural Texas, education isn’t something they spend a lot of money on. In the Kansas high school I had attended the previous year I had automotive mechanics and welding and a virtual smorgasbord of other classes I could have picked through if I had wanted to test my abilities in other areas. In small town Texas I essentially had two elective choices; metal shop and woodshop. Home economics would not be offered to boys. There was an FFA group, but animal husbandry was not my thing even if we had a farm to raise animals on (we didn’t) When we were unimpressed with the first two options, the counselor did admit that they also had a typing class and technical drafting. These were clearly choices she didn’t think anyone should be interested in. When we went around to talk to the various instructors to see what we might be interested in, I had an epiphany.

An epiphany in the example drawings from the drafting class. Drawings that illustrated how to build things. I had been a model builder for years by that point, but it had never occurred to me that someone had to draw those assembly instructions. It was the drafting equipment. The drafting machines, boards, lead holders, straight-edges and triangles. The realization dawned on me. I didn’t need fine motor control as long as I had an edge to guide the pencil. I could focus on pressure and distance and not worry about direction. Writing? Slow, painful, tedious work; but block lettering gave me the ability to finally be able to communicate what I wanted to say clearly. Leroy lettering guides kept the hands moving, forming the correct shapes.

My mother could not believe I wanted to draw when I came home from school that first day. After everything I had been through, the problems I had writing and communicating all my life. Writing, she told me, was something I always wanted to do. I wanted to tell stories. She would write things down that I asked her to, and then I would meticulously copy each character onto another page. But drawing? She couldn’t figure out what the attraction was. If that was what I wanted to do, she wouldn’t stop me from doing it.

It was another senior class that finally showed me how to write painlessly. Typing. I knew touch typing would be a useful skill because I had already seen my first computer keyboard.

My uncle, Kenneth Zonge, was a genius. No two ways about it, the guy is hands down the smartest man I’ve ever met by several orders of magnitude. Smarter than I am by about the same distance. He did early research into electronic mapping of rock strata, using computers to analyze the data and produce results that would tell miners where to dig for various minerals. His company Zonge Engineering and Research still does work in various fields in countries all over the globe. Back in the mid-seventies we went to visit him on a family trip, and he wanted to show off his portable computer.

Still looking for an image of the “Red Baron”

The computer was built into a suburban; as in, it filled the entire inside of the vehicle aside from the driver and passenger seats. You had to open the side doors to get access to the input and output terminals, sitting outside the vehicle in the Arizona heat. As kids the science went right over our heads, but I do remember that he could type on a keyboard and the computer would print the clearest, most precise letters I had ever seen. It talked back to him. He played a text game for us and we were completely blown away by it.

Presented with the chance to learn how to touch-type as a senior, I took advantage of it. IBM Selectric III’s seem clunky and slow now, and error correction was a pain in the ass. But in the 80’s, for me, it was like being given access to electric light for the first time. I could type whatever I wanted on the keyboard and it would produce exactly what I wanted it to say almost as fast as I could think it. I had never had access to anything like it before. I asked to be able to do my homework in the typing lab, it was so much easier to just type it than it was to write it. I knew I’d never be able to afford a machine of my own, but if I could just be able to work in an office, there would be machines in the office I could use.

The pieces of my future were falling into place before me, whether I knew it or not. My intense interest in architecture could be accessed through drafting for architecture. My inability to write could be bypassed by access to a typewriter. After a year of drafting in high school, and a twelve month technical course at the local campus of TSTI, I took my label slow and my newfound tools and went out into the land of design and construction. Went out into the business world and was almost immediately flummoxed by the fact you have to sit still in an office. Sitting still drives me absolutely nuts. Give me some decent shoes and rugged clothes, and I’ll spend all day for weeks exploring every inch of ground around me for whatever can be found. I never really thought about it; but I imagine being cooped up inside revisited the torment of school, being asked to engage in rituals I found painful and to gauge facial expressions I found confusing at best, incomprehensible at worst.

Maybe I need the physical stimulation to make the mind work.

In any case, the first barrier to office work wasn’t actually the writing and drawing. No, the first barrier was getting over my own internal loathing of sitting still. That took years, longer than it took me to learn to type or to draw with precision. Eventually I learned to tap into what is commonly termed as flow now; and I could draw essentially effortlessly for hours at a time, longer and better than my peers. I had to be more dogged, more persistent. I had to be because I was slower than they were. That is an unpleasant, unavoidable fact.

My hand drawing production rate was much slower. However, because I had to take time to make sure the lines were exactly right, my drawings were also generally of better quality. This is not bragging, this is me relating the feedback that I got from dozens of years of work in the field. Yes, Anthony. Your drawings are beautiful. Can you turn them out faster? The same old label of slow coming back to haunt me.

“You are slow, Anthony.” Sounds like stupid in my ears, and it is meant to sound that way. Yes, I take longer to get there, but it will be worth the trip unlike some draftsmen I won’t mention. That is the line that ran in my head in response. I had to bite that retort back more times than I can count.

I learned to crib graphics as a method of timesaving. I would type or have someone else type notes and affix those transparencies to my drawings. I would draw details in such a way that I could duplicate them easily using a Xerox machine, or wholesale duplication of sheets of work. The whole industry of architecture was undergoing a change as I underwent these changes, but it was the echos  of “you’re slow, Anthony” in my own head that made it imperative that I cut every corner I could in order to turn drawings out as quickly as possible.

In the end, I did it.

Not because I got faster at hand drawing than anybody else. No, all of my peers can sketch rings around me. They always have been and probably always will be able to draw rings around me. The few times I’ve ever had to draw anything by hand in the field I was embarrassed to do so. My contractor friends, men who trusted my drawings implicitly, were always careful to assure me it would be fine, but I know just how childish my scribbles looked.

They were bad, and it was a barrier that kept me from advancing in the field of architecture. More than once I was offered promotion to supervisor or manager and I always balked at it. Why? Because supervisors and managers draw freehand right on the paper, and the draftsman just takes what they draw and cleans it up. I was really good at the clean up part of the process after years of practice. I was never going to be good at the freehand part. That was not something I would be able to do, and deep down in my heart I knew it was a barrier that I could not cross.

What changed things for me was the early exposure to computing at the shoulder of my beloved uncle. The exposure that made me understand the power of computers.

When you draw something in the computer, it can be duplicated endlessly without degrading the copy. The digital world allows you to be able to replicate whatever work you’d done previously by simply copying and pasting. Drawing guides are built in, so shaky handwork is irrelevant. The initial precision was the determining factor of replicability, and I had honed precision to a fine art already. It was just a matter of mastering the new tools.

Since I couldn’t get my employers to see the vision of my uncle’s suburban filled with computer gear, I took it upon myself to enroll in courses at Austin Community College so that I could gain access to contemporary PC’s of the time (386‘s probably) while the motor control problem makes me a klutz with hardware, software is just a matter of understanding the logic of the system in a way that allows you to utilize shortcuts built into it. Classes in programming were more than I wanted to deal with at the time, and programming itself means little to me still, but breaking security barriers on the simple GUI’s the school used at the time was child’s play, and I spent a year learning how not to get caught doing things with the computer that weren’t allowed, while learning the reasonably simple (for an experienced draftsman like myself) drawing exercises that I had to produce in order to pass the class.

When the classes were done and I felt prepared for what I saw as the inevitable future, my employers threw me a curveball and bought into a CAD program other than the one I had trained for. While I had spent a year learning AutoCAD, other CAD programs had made inroads in the architecture field and my employers purchased a program called CADvance and hired an operator from outside the firm to run the system.

Side note. It’s nice to know I was actually behind the times when I started my evangelizing for CAD and computers in the architecture sphere. I found this article over at Reanimation Library on Boyd Auger’s 1972 book, The Architect and the Computer quite interesting.  Quite interesting that in 1972 the trend towards digitization was this apparent to anyone, even if they were really only promoting the products they had created to digitize documents.  I really do hate to think that something that I thought was apparent was invisible to everyone else. Clearly, not everyone. /sidenote

Undaunted, I simply learned the far more straightforward command parameters for CADvance. The process took all of three days and I was already (unbeknownst to me) as fast or faster than the outside help my employers had hired. I mastered his system and improved on it before realizing I wasn’t going to be going anywhere in that firm and made the move to another firm. A larger firm that used both systems I already knew.

It was about the time that my new employers adopted a third system Microstation and I mastered that program (with the help of the Wife’s student software discounts, her then ongoing pursuit of an MLIS and her still invaluable proofreading skills. Love you too, dear) and then started helping my co-workers become proficient with this new third system that I began to realize that I wasn’t the slowest person on the floor. In the middle of a monologue of self-criticism about streamlining some process or other, the coworker I was talking to stopped me cold to inform me that you know you are the fastest draftsman on the floor, right? No, I hadn’t known it until he pointed it out.

Liberation from false constraints, from labels you never wanted, never accepted, is a feeling that is hard to describe. Hard to fathom. I will be eternally grateful to my friend and coworker who pointed this fact out to me. It was years of additional work understanding just what it meant to not be seen as slow and stupid. To not have to push back against a negative view, a constraint you internalized and never let go of until long after everyone around you had stopped holding the view and instead were puzzled by what continues to drive you to be faster.

A recurring argument that I had with a few of my supervisors and fellow architects (back when I had a license, back when I was one of them) was the common belief that people aren’t in nature when they aren’t working on a 2D paper surface. The misguided notion that the synthesis of ideas requires a fixed medium (paper) and a writing implement (pencil) to engage the creative brain.

Future architects are explicitly told by some college professors that they “cannot design in a computer environment.” This false limitation being taught to so many students appals me to my core. It invalidates everything about me, my experiences, my pain and trials and eventual triumph. Is it a good thing that I never went to college to learn architecture? Had I followed the traditional route, embarked on a master’s degree in Architecture, I might have had this additional bad information to wrestle with and put behind me. Computer design is wholly artificial and so it can’t be a place to design in.

Hogwash. 

If I accepted this falsehood as truth I would never have embarked on my journey in the first place. I’d be just as disabled and just as hopeless, but with no belief that I could ever be more than that. Paper and pencil are natural to the people who find them natural. If the characters will not flow from you hands using them, find some other medium to express yourself in. All of them are natural. Do what you can do and never apologize for having to take a different road than everybody else. None of them know what experiences you have, what disabilities you will have to cope with. What gifts you might have hiding inside.

This is the end of the story of Coping With Dysgraphia. It only gets me to the middle of my architecture story, a story I still haven’t told fully; beginning, middle or end. That story will have to wait for another muse, another time. My parting thought on the subject of dysgraphia is, I wish I could remember what the subject of that term paper was that I refused to write way back when. When I was a sophomore in Garden City in 1978 flunking out of english class. I could write a whole book on the subject now with the tools we have today. I wonder what kind of story that would have been then if I could have simply been able to do what I do now?

Listening to The Hero’s Journey on the TED radio hour inspired me to put this story into words. Specifically it was the story of Ismael Nazario who was convicted of a crime and sent to Rikers as a teen. There but for grace go I. The difference that the color of your skin can make.

When Government is the Answer

Please direct your attention to the image at right, one of those ever present internet memes that purport to offer valuable insight to the problems we face in modern day society. The problem is, they aren’t. The aren’t memes for one, and they aren’t usually clever insights for another.

Let me explain this image for the layman, for those not studied in the subjects of design or engineering.

What you are looking at is direct evidence of subsidence or compaction. The drain so ridiculously placed at the high point in the road in the image was actually installed at the lowest place in the road when the road was constructed. However, typical construction methods would have it installed at the top of a concrete shaft which is anchored further down on a concrete reinforced tunnel, the effect of which is that the drain opening will resist settling or compaction; settling or compaction which soils around the drain opening are vulnerable to. Consequently the road around the drain opening slowly becomes lower than the drain opening itself, making it appear that the installers simply didn’t understand where the water would go.

The solution to this problem is to understand the physical forces at play here, to make sure that the people who build roads and drainage systems understand how to avoid failings like this by instruction and certification and to make sure actual installations don’t fail in this fashion through inspection or hold the creators responsible through litigation.

It is also a good idea to have systems in place to make sure that all these things occur at the time and place they are needed, rather than decades later when the random passersby happens to snap a picture that they think proves some bigger point about systems and efficiency.

In other words, the solution is effective government. Effective government, which is only an oxymoron in the US and other areas dumb enough to adopt our systems as theirs. 

Journalism? General Education, That is the Problem

A comment on Robert Reich’s status went a bit long;

Trump is a manifestation of poor education in the US exacting its price on the US and the world.  The chickens have come home to roost. The wide-spread, wrong-headed notion that a strong leader is the way to get the change you want in a complex system, has manifested in the personages of Trump and Sanders, the demagogic “outsiders” who are believed by the uninformed to be capable of effecting change on a system by themselves.

While Sanders elected alone would fail just as Obama failed to live up to the dreams of the people who voted for him in 2008, Trump is quite capable of wrecking the system all by himself if he is elected. 

It is much easier to destroy than it is to create. 

At this point in this election all that is left to hope for is that the Democrats can pull out a win.  It would be nice to think that they could gain a sweeping victory that would bring in enough progressives to alter the system in a positive way.  It would be nice to hand the Republicans such a crushing defeat that they are forced to re-invent themselves into a opposition party that doesn’t deny science and embrace religion as its starting point.  The Bernie or busters are going to make that possibility as remote as they can, unfortunately.

The Bernie or busters are not interested in reforming the system any more than the Tea Party Trump supporters are.  They want to re-invent it, which is just one step more than simply destroying it.  They tell themselves they’ll be happy with a Trump presidency because at least the status quo will end.  Both the Trump supporters and the Bernie or busters don’t really understand the kind of misery bringing down the US system will create.  I’m becoming afraid we might just find out how deep that well of misery is.

The fix for this is so much more than just reporting.  Being able to predict what the population will go for in an election is beyond the capacity of polling and reporting when the citizenry is so woefully uninformed as to vote for a demonstrable liar like Trump is. That is not even scratching the surface of the problem. First you have to educate the voting public on just how blind this faith in a strong leader is.  The journalists who inform us on politics cannot be held responsible for the failure of the education system in the US to actually educate the population to the dangers of dictatorship.  As college educated people the reporters of course discarded the idea that the average American would fall prey to a demagogue like Trump.  It’s obvious he’s lying and has no clue what he’s talking about.  Why would anyone take this orange hate-monkey seriously?

…Unless of course you believe that a strong leader is what we need, in spite of the obvious fact that a system as complex as the US government cannot possibly be run by one person. Then all bets are off and the people who want a guy who pretends to have all the answers have control of the mechanisms of statecraft through the selection of the next head of state.

We’ve been so busy propping up dictators in other countries that we’ve forgotten we might be subject to one ourselves.  That fate is now just the flip of a coin away. 

The Dead Weight of Student Loans

Student debt is reaching worrisome heights ($1.2 trillion and counting) — soaring 231 percent over the last decade, far more than mortgage or auto loan debt. Meanwhile, the real wages of recent college graduates are dropping. As a result, young people are living with their parents, delaying marriage, and unable to pursue careers they want but that don’t pay well.

What’s the answer? The best solution would be to make higher education free, as it was in many public universities as late as the 1960s — when we understood that college wasn’t just a private investment but also a public good.

Robert Reich June 10, 2015

After we started living together back in 1987, the Wife quit working for the tire testing company where we met and decided to do more with her life than just keep driving the same tire testing route every day of the week. So she went back to college to finish her bachelor’s degree, switching her major to English because a degree in English could be completed quickly and she could put the fact that she completed college on her resume. With her not working it became too expensive to maintain the household without resorting to taking out student loans. We didn’t think much of it at the time. She finished her classwork as quickly as possible and was back out of college and back to work before we knew it. However, the student loans lingered on for decades. They were a shadow that loomed over all our plans for the future and hampered our ability to get credit when we needed it, costing us money that we could have used for other things that we could have bought outright had they not been a drain on our funds.

We finally settled with the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation for a lump sum, washing our hands of the whole business. When she went back to college to get her master’s degree, we were both in agreement that we would not make the same mistake a second time. It was tough going, getting her through college and raising a daughter at the same time, but we got through it. We got through it mostly because I worked my ass off drafting for a couple of different architecture firms. Luckily my health held out long enough to pull that off.

The experience of both taking on debt and trying to get an education without accruing debt soured us both on the subject of student loans and higher education from that point forward. I was adamant that the daughter not take out student loans when she went to college and I will do my best to keep the son from doing so as well. Student loans are bad. Just bad, don’t take them. Don’t take them, unless these conditions are met:

  • IF it was possible to have those loans forgiven at some point in the future, or
  • IF they weren’t subject to any interest at all,
  • THEN I might admit that they weren’t an active harm on our children’s future.

Until that time, student loans are one of the worst ideas ever conceived. They cost you money at the time in your young life where money is hard to come by. They influence you to take the first job you are offered rather than shop around for better prospects; because if you don’t take that job, you will have to default/postpone your student loan payments. Most of the time the loan company conveniently loses your requests to postpone and charges you extra for missed payments.

The education system as a whole needs to be restructured. There really isn’t a good reason for tuition to cost what it does now aside from the fact that student loans are easy to get and backed by the government. State universities all across the nation frequently had low or no tuition when they were founded. It’s only been a recent development that tuitions are set where they are, because states have cut funding to their universities.

This is why president Obama was talking about making community college free. Because expecting people to pay for an education discourages them from getting one. We should be making college education free for every in-demand profession. This will encourage people to become doctors or engineers, education paths that are long and currently very expensive.

Facebook status expanded and backdated to the blog.Image shared here.

Daily Beef: Missing Roll Call

I woke up at 9:00am this morning. Woke up at 9:00am on a morning that I had to get the children to school. On a morning that I had to have them at school by 8:30am. When we finally came rolling into the classroom, I had to apologize at school.

Writing 20 times on the chalkboard I will not oversleep on school mornings. Can you be Bart Simpson and be 40 at the same time?

Facebook status. This post is illustrative of what short status notifications are good for. You can zip them off and then forget about them only to be reminded of that time when eleven years later. No, I didn’t actually have to write on the chalkboard. But the teacher made me apologize to the class.

Does Fatherhood Make You Happy?

Time has once again proven why I don’t bother with their publication. Here’s a quote from the article in question:

Studies reveal that most married couples start out happy and then become progressively less satisfied over the course of their lives, becoming especially disconsolate when their children are in diapers and in adolescence, and returning to their initial levels of happiness only after their children have had the decency to grow up and go away. When the popular press invented a malady called “empty-nest syndrome,” it failed to mention that its primary symptom is a marked increase in smiling.

Time

OK, I’m not going to pretend that the wife and I don’t look forward to the day when the children are grown and out of our hair. But I’m also not going to share in the modern myth that you stop being a parent just because your children aren’t pestering you with “what’s for dinner” every night. Once you have ’em, you don’t get rid of ’em (if you do, it’s generally something they give lengthy prison sentences for) So I would highly recommend that people who don’t love children, not have children.

Yes, I am happy being a father. No, it’s not the bungee jumping ecstasy that is measurable through endorphins in the brain. It’s a lot like the question do you enjoy your work? Well, I don’t need to wear rubber lined underwear on the job, but I come back to do it every day anyway, if you get my drift. But then I’m weird like that; I actually enjoy doing housework, too.

Can parenting be tedious? Without question. Would I trade one moment of time with my children for anything else on the planet? Not on your life. You have to take the long view (something that is falling farther and farther out of favor these days) when observing things like parent/child interactions. The minute by minute chemical traces don’t capture what it means to see them born, learn to walk, learn to talk. Watch them go off to school, loose their teeth and grow them back; simply to change from the helpless tiny little things they start off being, to become people like…

…like you are. To know that, like your parents who nurtured you, you’ve added to the world in some small way yourself. You won’t find that recorded in the chemicals in my brain, but I assure you, it’s there all the same.