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Lesson from Mr. Feeny

Something recently reminded me about an old episode of Boy Meets World where Mr. Feeny gets upset about the behavior of Corry, Sean and Topanga on a educational quiz show. The show became watered down, and the questions became about popular culture, losing all real educational value.

Standing at the front of the room, he reminds us that in the time of the Gutenberg Printing Press, people thirsted for more reading material. They would have to wait several month for a new book, and now there is a new website every second. As the bell rings, the students start to
move to get up and leave the class; he says "Sit down. Everyday you walk out on me. Today, for the first time ever, I chose to walk out on you."

Why don't students in high school and most undergraduate programs take their education more seriously? Why do even people who have a college education lack a sense of intellectual curiosity? Why after the long fight for the ability to do research without threat from the governmental and religious authority have we stopped examining the world?

Someone I work with insists that there is strong and wide spread anti-intellectual sentiment in this country; but I disagree. Anti-intellectual would require active care, but instead the asses are apathetic. Most Americans have no time to care about the political issues that affect their daily life, they break on issues down party lines without considering the issue or are for and against legislation based on a cursory glance without considering the more widespread issues. This isn't just fighting the "educated elite" (that my co-worker thinks exists), but rather an intellectual laziness.

I think that everyone has two sides, one side that is motivated and curious, and the other is lazy and apathetic. Depending on topic, motivation, life goals and life obstacle attribute to any given person's drive. Modern technology, especially television and the Internet can attract our attention, become an obstacle and deplete our drives. We are a microwave culture, and true understanding is a Crockpot task; you can't understand in depth concepts completely from a quick Wikipedia page and short YouTube video.

American Finance: High School with Credit Cards

I'm currently reading Stop Acting Rich by Dr. Thomas Stanly (best known for The Millionaire Next Door), and something stuck out in my mind. The group who Dr. Stanley refers to as aspirationals -- those who act rich without having high net worth or high income -- likely learned the behavior in the social environment of high school popularity. Being different is criticized by high school students, your family shopping at stores like Walmart or K-Mart (i.e. less expensive products) is shunned and not wearing the latest shoes is "social suicide."

The problem is that high school students don't really understand money. They know what it is (a medium of exchange), they like to spend it and they may have a part-time job to earn it; but they don't really understand it. There are two math lessons that should repeated early
and often to our youth: probability and risk, and compound interest.

If people were to learn about the ideas of probability at an earlier, then, hopefully, less people in the lower income bracket would waste money on the lottery. You have a greater chance of being struck by lightening three times than to win the lottery. If more youth would learn about the way compounding works, then, hopefully, as they grow into adults they would be less likely to take on debt and more likely to save and invest.

Unfortunately, what they see around them is the product of hyper-consumption. I don't understand why even some lower income parents buy their children the newest shoes, coats, and/or gadgets. Perhaps, they remember growing up being the "poor kid" and being ashamed when other children would taunt them, or maybe it is tat by giving more expensive things to their children they hope to shape people's opinion of the families financial situation? I suppose that it's lower economic class acting middle class, instead of working and saving toward becoming middle class; just as Dr. Stanley describes middle class acting rich, rather than taking steps to become rich.

Ironically, Dr. Stanley's findings tell us that prestige items don't actually make us happy (at least as adults), but rather higher satisfaction ratings were reported by th financially independent than by the aspirationals. Money can buy things that are fun (at least in the short term), but it can not buy us true happiness.

Blog and site updates

As you may have noticed my blog's address has changed and it has been integrated into my site's design. The last theme was a blogger template, this is obviously the design from my site. Tell me what think of the new look for the blog.

I've also slightly updated the ColdFusion for Beginners guide that I wrote for Homer and Diane. I think I should revise it to cover basic HTML (which it assumed knowledge of) or write a basic HTML for beginners also.

While looking into the site, I also noticed most of my search driven traffic is to the C++ Twitter Objects using the Twitter REST API and the C Curl libraries. The objects could be used to write a very basic Twitter Client, and I suspect that is what most people are looking for; but they were really written to grab twitter information related to users after a facial recognition algorithm identifies a person. The idea being my robot (with remote communication to the "base station" -- laptop) will be able to know who is standing in front of it, and the image on the screen (or recorded) will show the time line or last post of the person the bot "sees". It might also tweet that it's seen someone, or suggest people it sees together in real space become "followers" or "friends" on Twitter or FaceBook. All that said, just so that I could say I'm thinking to rewrite the page, extending the libraries I've written for easier use in traditional clients, and switching to OpenAuth instead of the old REST API. Suggestions welcome.

Letter's From Dad

I mentioned in a pervious post that I was writing Letters from Dad. Over the last week, I've written and delivered the letters to my wife and my mother. I admit that I broke a few of the "rules." They were typed, not hand written. My handwriting is horrible. I delivered them in conjunction with Mother's Day, but book suggests that it not be a "special day." Both letters were well received and both letters evoked tears from both sides.

I liked my letter to my wife better than the one to my mother. I suppose that's because I'm practiced in writing love letters to my wife, but haven't written my mother to thank them for everything she's done foe me. What out of all the years do you write about to your parents? The time they spent sleepless when you were baby, the school years, the college years, or all the things they've supported you in? I hope that my next letter to my mother is better written.

I still need boxes for my mother and daughter. My wife has a memory box already; but I'm not sure if my mother does or not. The letter to my daughter, the reason it's called "Letters from Dad," shouldn't be terribly difficult to write and will focus on our praying for Grace, her birth story, and our hopes and dreams for her.

Three letters a year to three recipients, that's 9 letters. Not to bad, I need to add them to my calendar so I know when a third of a year (four months) is past.

To get the conversation started, here are two questions. Feel free to comment with your answers:
  • What would you focus a thank you or love letter to your parents on?
  • What would you write in a letter to your now three month old, to leave as a legacy when you pass away?

Good Debt...

Seth Godin (author of Linchpin, The Dip and other good books) wrote yesterday on his blog about good and bad debt, Trent at The Simple Dollar wrote a follow up.

Now, I respect a lot of the ideas Mr. Godin put forward in the Linchpin and do agree with Trent on a lot of the big ideas, but I disagree about there being a such thing as good debt. I think that there is no such thing as good debt, but that some debts are slightly less bad than others. I think under the right conditions, a mortgage makes sense; but, even then, it's debt. Whenever you take on debt, you take on risk. Moreover, the Bible tells us that "borrower is servant to the lender" (Proverbs 22:7). If your doing something that includes an element of risk with the money, like investing in real estate or opening a business then your only compounding your risk.

Seth's post opens with the statement:
Here's a simple MBA lesson: borrow money to buy things that go up in value. Borrow money if it improves your productivity and makes you more money. Leverage multiplies the power of your business because with leverage, every dollar you make in profit is multiplied.

This sounds like he's saying it makes sense to borrow to start a business, but some of America's greatest businesses Walgreens (one of the Good to Great companies), Panara Bread, Electronic Arts (alright, they aren't doing to well, but they don't owe anyone either), American Eagle Outfitters and Microsoft (until 2009) carry absolutely no debt. I know, your going to point out that they can afford not to have debt load, because they are rich. What's a small entrepreneur to do? Save money, start small and be Creative.

This also makes it sound like borrowing money for college is a good idea, but one of Seth other posts, just a few days earlier, make that sound like a bad idea. There is no guarantee that you'll be able to pay back the loans, or that your salary will increase enough to justify being beholden to a bank, or now the federal government. That said, I'm all for education, and think it's a worth while investment when you can afford it. What if you can't? Apply for scholarships, lots of them. This should take about the time of at least a part time job. Work and save. Don't rent an appartment, save money by living at home or in the dorms. Degree is more important than pedigree, unless you remain in academia for the rest of your life; what you know is more important than where you went to school. It will matter even less two years out of the gate when you have real achievements in the "real world" to hang your hat on. If you have children, start saving early.

Disclaimer: I have a mortgage, I have a plan for paying it back early, and have no plans to borrow any more money. I was blessed with a mother who could cash flow the cost of my education. I didn't know the dangers of debt when I started college, I made a credit mess but have cleaned up. Now, we were cash flowing the cost of my wife's education until the birth of our first child. She is staying home to take care of our daughter; but if/when she decides to go back to school we'll make sure that it is cash only.