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All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

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My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

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EdTech Update





BFTP: Questions we will be asking before long

My books and blog posts will be a historical curiosity before the end of most current librarian’s careers. (Actually, many are now.) We oldies may remember a day before every child had a personal device - but vaguely.

I don't think this is far-fetched. My 33-year-old son does not know a world that did not have the Internet in it; my grandsons have always had iPads/iPods. Both have had school-issued devices since 6th grade.

Given the pace of change, what questions might educators be asking themselves in wonder and awe in not too many years?

  1. You mean there was time before all of us wore a computer everyday? 
  2. Does your grandma tell you stories about reading paper books when she was little?
  3. Students sat in desks facing one way in a classroom all day - and it wasn't called child abuse?
  4. The stereotype of a librarian was a scowling woman with her hair in a bun making people be quiet and guarding books?
  5. People sat at a desk when using a computer?
  6. Everybody who was the same age was in the same class?
  7. Kids didn't have schoolwork when school was closed due to weather?
  8. All kids didn't have personalized education plans and everybody took algebra?
  9. You had to be in a certain location to get on the Internet?
  10. Movies came on physical media?
  11. People actually drank soft drinks with calories?
  12. School buses had human drivers?
  13. You couldn't chose when to watch your favorite TV program?
  14. Your phone calls weren't tracked by the government?
  15. There were teachers who didn't like to use technology?
  16. Schools didn't feed anyone who wanted it - breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
  17. Students got letter grades instead of badges?
  18. Seriously, going to a technical college was not as prestigious as going to a university?
  19. People used paper outside the bathroom?
  20. ____________________________ (Your question)

Some of these questions reflect wishful thinking. But I guess I've never seen much wrong with that.

What questions do you hope or dread people will be asking before you retire?

Original post 2/20/14


The joys of a long book

If I have a complaint about the Goodreads social network for readers*, it's about their Reading Challenge. Goodreads encourages members to set a goal for the number of books they will read in a given year. My goal is 36 books and I have read 19. (Actually, I have read 17, one was counted twice, and I listened to audio version of another.)

What the challenge does not recognize is that books come in lots of different lengths. And this has been my year, it seems, for re-reading tomes:

  • Alaska by James Michener 1152 pages
  • The Journeyer by Gary Jennings 1024 pages
  • Winds of War by Herman Wouk 898 pages
  • The Stand (uncut edition) by Stephen King at 1348 pages

While I would not trust an English Major's math, I show these four books alone come to 4422 pages. The average fiction book is about 350 pages. So my 4 books are the reading equivalent of nearly 13 books.

This reading challenge is, of course, self-imposed. And no one but me probably sees or cares about whether I meet it or not. It is perhaps even ironic, given my long-standing criticism of extrinsic motivation in getting kids to read, that I even sign up. Even I admit that as complaints go, this is pretty damn petty. But it does kind of bug me that I cannot choose a total number of pages read rather than number of books. 

I will however continue to read long books. Why? Like a long hot shower or a week-long hike, there are some works that are so pleasurable, so engaging you really don't want to see them end. A good book has characters you know you will miss when it ends, places that are so interesting you wish to continue to explore, situations so intriguing you need a few more twists and turns. 

For those of us who read for pleasure, there are no deadlines. Perhaps book club members might disagree, but while I like checking off the "read" button in Goodreads, I relish the freedom to do so at my own pace.

Provided, of course, I am on track to complete my reading challenge for the year.

* Steve Tetreault has a great blog post about Goodreads on the AASL blog.


The endless bathtub project

For many, post retirement plans involve some kind of home improvement project. For me, it was replacing the shower curtain in my bathroom with a sliding glass door. On reflection, I don't know why I felt I needed to do this. But I did.

My small bathroom has a sink and commode on one side and a combo molded bath/shower on the other. The sink and all accessories (TP holder, faucets, wastebasket, drinking glass, Kleenex holder, mirror trim) are all colored what is commonly known as "oil-rubbed bronze." Which I like since it looks sorta manly. So when asked by the person who was to install my new sliding glass shower door the color trim I wanted, I of course replied, "oil-rubbed bronze." And that was what was very competently installed.

What I realized, now able to gaze through my lovely glass doors, was that the fixtures in the tub itself were chrome. How tacky to have half the bathroom metallic silver and the other deep brown. Simple enough to correct, I thought. Just replace:

  • Shower pipe and shower head.
  • Tub faucet and cover plate
  • Tub spout
  • Overflow cover
  • Drain
  • Grab bar affixed to the tub

I will tackle one piece at a time, basking in the sense of accomplishment as each task is completed!

I started with the overflow cover and drain:


Amazon promised they would be easy to install. What they didn't day was how hard the old ones were to remove. Nor did they say that if one did not tighten the new drain sufficiently, water from the tub would drip through the ceiling of the laundry closet downstairs. But after only a couple sleepless nights of worry, these pieces were successfully installed. (And after watching several YouTune how-to videos.)

Next I tackled the shower head and shower pipe:

This time I shopped at Home Depot. The pipe was easy. I only had to try two shower heads before I got one that sprayed at the right angle. Two trips to the store. For me, not bad.

While at Home Depot, I picked up a bronze tub spout. It looked like this and claimed to be universal:

It wasn't. The Home Depot plumbing guru suggested I go to a plumbing supply store with a photo of the pipe to which the spout needed to be attached. See below:

The lady behind the counter of the plumbing supply store laughed and informed me that that style of connection had not been used since the early 1980s. And good luck finding a bronze spout in that style - they didn't carry them. So I reattached the old chrome spout and tackled the faucet and plate next.

What you are looking at here are actually two pieces. A faucet (the round part in the middle with the handle) and a large plate that covers the holes left when the tub had separate hot and cold faucets. Neither Home Depot, Menards, Lowes, Target, Walmart, or Ace Hardware carried the cover plate in bronze. I finally found one used via Amazon. Surprisingly, once in hand, these were fairly easy to install. Except the handle. I eventually turned off the water, turned the spout upside down (open), and used gravity to help me insert and tighten the set screw. Thankfully I had the presence of mind to close the drain which kept the often dropped screw from being lost forever. And me from having to make yet another trip to Home Depot.

That left two seemingly insurmountable replacements to make. The tub spout and the grab bar that was a part of the tub itself:


Yeah, that irremovable bar like the one above. Just an FYI to other do-it-yourselfers, a vice grip will not budge these bars, but it will leave a nice dent in them. What to do...

Then one night during my 3am worry-fest, I hit on a solution: just paint the existing chrome bits! And Amazon even helped me find the right paint - first click:

So yesterday, I set the tub spout in a cardboard box and sprayed the dickens out of it - two coats. I carefully taped the areas around the grab bar in the tub and sprayed two coats of bronze on it as well. 

This morning I reinstalled a nice looking tub spout that now matches my sink faucet handles (in color if not in style) and the grab bar is nicely browned.

As is one streak where the paint got through the masking on the tub. Given that the paint is a dark brown, it looks like another substance commonly found in bathrooms - but usually not in bathtubs. I have faith Home Depot will be able to sell me some kind of paint remover that will not eat the tub as well. Although the can promises that the paint "bonds" to plastic. Ominous.

While projects like this don't really determine whether one is leading a happy, productive life, they certainly make one reflect on one's competence - not just as a handyman, but as someone who has any foresight at all. It's a wonder I kept a job.

I'm going to give it a week or so before tackling my next home improvement task.