Tuesday, March 28, 2023


 I became a computer teacher because I showed up at a time when teaching technology to children seemed like a forward- thinking idea. My credentials at that time consisted of spending a few years wrestling with the machines that checked out tapes and VCRs at the video store where I worked. That, and a few weeks under the tutelage of a very wise family friend who took it upon himself to prepare me for a life in the late twentieth century that was starting to fill up with job opportunities that required a certain amount of tech acumen. I learned about C prompts and DOS and what was happening behind those newfangled "wordprocessors." My first regular experience typing prose into a computer was done through the auspices of Wordstar. I was careful to save all my work to the five inch floppy disc latched into the slot in the front of the machine.

After a stint in the furniture installation business where my contact with computers was primarily unplugging them so that I could raise or lower the workstations for IBM employees, I spent a few years lugging books around a warehouse where our inventory was meticulously inventoried via handy dandy barcodes, a new frontier in obscuring valuable information from end-users. It was just a hop skip and a few years between that and the moment where these bits of contact with what would become my job title brought me to The Computer Lab at Horace Mann. 

The first thing I got to do when I arrived was to untangle the mess of cables and more cables that connected a bunch of Mac LCIIs to dot matrix printers. And once I got all these little plastic boxes hooked up and humming, I invited groups of kids in to practice making blocky scribbles with KidPix and try their hand at avoiding dysentary on the Oregon Trail. 

I learned a lot on the job. One of the first tasks that landed in my lap was lashing a group of IBM 486 machines together with SCSI cables to push a ghost image onto them to make them "Internet Ready." I accomplished this by carefully following the pages of detailed instructions that were printed on someone else's dot matrix printer and I can only now remember the experience as a near-miss. 

It wasn't until we approached the turn of the century that a benefactor appeared to ask me what it would take to fill a room with "Internet Ready" PCs that would allow our students to reach out into the vast sea of information that was only a frontier not unlike the Oregon Trail at that point. He put together funding that became what he had suggested. And I figured out how to put them together. 

I don't play Oregon Trail with my kids anymore. I spend more time trying to scare them away from using the Internet when they aren't supposed to. We don't use floppy discs. Or CD-ROMs. We access the cloud in nonchalant ways that make me miss that blinking cursor in the upper right hand corner of the screen. The decades that have passed since I showed up ready to learn how to teach computers. 

Monday, March 27, 2023

Let's Play House

 I heard all the voices. Most of them were in my own head: 

"What if it gets broken?"

"How do we keep the kids from climbing on top of it?"

"Who is going to monitor who is inside it?"

"Whose bright idea was this?"

And so on. The focal point for all these questions was the playhouse donated by none other than Habitat for Humanity, part of a program that brings little habitats to the smaller bits of humanity in urban schools. A former teacher and good friend of mine looked us up when he started working with the group as part of his non-retired retirement. The cost to our school? A signature from our principal. 

Well, that and the attendant flood of worry about how we could manage this little wood structure when we are just barely staying ahead of the soccer balls kicked up on the roof. Our head custodian, who has seen and scrubbed her share of graffiti and hauled her share of misbegotten furniture and toys to the dumpster announced that she thought it was a bad idea. 

I had to check myself there. Because my reaction would have been to fall in line and complain if I hadn't known the genesis of the playhouse. I found myself on the defense, pointing out that the price was definitely right for us, and that if we kept our kids away from every opportunity to play like kids, we would be left with the crumbled asphalt on the playground for them to hurl at one another. Instead, I figured it was time to raise our expectations a little, and give them something they could care about as a community. Our house. They would be the ones responsible for it, and if the elements or bad people conspired to ruin it, then the moments we were all able to share in its wonder and joy were bonus moments. 

I thought of the Boogle House I constructed in my own back yard for our son. Scraps of lumber left over from various house improvement or demolition projects, cobbled together in the shape of a starship or frontier fortress or rebel hideout, whatever the imagination said it was that day. I wondered how many of the kids at my school had Boogle Houses of their own in their back yards. How many of them had a yard. I hoped that the new addition to our playground would stand the test of time. However much time that is. 

Sunday, March 26, 2023


 During a routine pat down at his high school, a seventeen year old Denver child shot two faculty members, wounding them. He then fled and was found dead a short time later from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. There are a few terms in those first couple sentences that I feel the need to dwell on. 

The first is the "child." I used this term to describe the fact that he was not in any way an adult. Except for perhaps in his own mind. By taking his own life, he was ensured of being always a child. 

The second is the phrase "routine pat down." I understand that I have been living for many years now in a world of metal detectors placed at the entrances of schools, and not just high schools. This particular youngster was being searched as a part of his "safety plan." It was during this interaction that a gun was found, retrieved by the student who shot several times and fled. 

He made it two tenths of a mile away where he ended up shooting himself. 

So here's my question: Did this safety plan work? 

Well, sadly I suppose the answer to the question lies in just how many lives were saved. Not the kid with the gun. We won't get another crack at that one. The lives of the administrators who conducted the search will probably not be signing up for additional duty in that area anytime soon. But they are alive. Prior to last Wednesday's shootings, the kid had never been found to have a weapon, so I suppose we can count the search as having a one hundred percent success rate. 

And a one hundred percent failure rate.

I would like to point out that this child who shot two adults and killed himself would not have been able to do any of that without a gun. I understand that a certain Colorado Congressperson would argue that children should be able to bear arms just like the rest of their family on a Christmas card, but when did it become commonplace for children to be patted down before the beginning of every school day? When did it become commonplace for children to know how to shelter in place during an active shooter incident? When did this become normal? 

Trick question: It's not. 

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Chew On This

 I've had enough of this cancel culture. When I was a kid, we didn't wear seatbelts and we all survived. Most of us anyway. And who really needs bike helmets? Get your big government hands off my skull! 

And now they're coming for my Skittles. 

California Assembly members Jesse Gabriel and Buffy Wicks' AB 418 proposes that California stop manufacturing, selling, or distributing foods that contain Red Dye No. 3, Titanium Dioxide, Potassium Bromate, Brominated Vegetable Oil, or Propyl Paraben. These items include but are not restricted to SkittlesHot Tamales candyDubble Bubble Twist GumWell Mister Gabriel and Ms. Wicks, I would like to suggest to you that Potassium Bromate is the very stuff that made California the place it is today. 

Hold on. Back up. Before I go too far, I want to point out to those of you who haven't fully appreciated or recognized the sarcastic tone of those first few paragraphs that I am saying all this with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. Which is not mean feat, I can tell you. 

That said, I would also confess to the foot I have in a previous generation. The one that invented things like lawn darts and pixie sticks. I spent my youth in a world that did not put stickers on record albums to promote their explicit content. It was a time that required little Mikey from the Life Cereal commercial combining Pop Rocks and soda to determine that these were unsafe food combinations. 

Okay. Let me back up on a few more points here: Record albums were physical media made of vinyl and they were the way we used to transfer media from one to another. Pop Rocks were a candy created with the sole purpose of inducing pain in the mouth of the consumer. And commercials? Well they were why YouTube was created, so they would have a place to grow old and die. 

Now back to Skittles. My son and I only recently celebrated to return of the original lime flavor to the standard package, ridding us once and for all of that miscarriage of candy malfeasance that was green apple. Finding out that other ingredients include poison? Well, that's just another great heaping disappointment on the road to adulthood. To paraphrase Robert Frost, "nothing with Red Dye Number Two stays." 

Friday, March 24, 2023

What Happens Next Year

 Okay, I confess. I was resigned to the idea that my school was going to be closed. I spent months putting on a brave face, pretending that I would march forward into the face of overwhelming odds and make the powers that be shiver in their boots. I made some mildly impassioned speeches, and carried my party's line, but inside I was terrified about what was going to happen to me.

After more than a quarter of a century on one spot, I could not imagine where I could set up shop with anything approaching the kind of respect and autonomy I enjoy at the place I have called "home" for all these years. Here being Mister Caven carries some weight. It means that I have institutional knowledge and wisdom that goes back to a previous century. I can remember when there were a different set of portables on the yard. I can remember when we all moved out of the school for a year while it was remodeled. That was a long time coming, and now visitors who come into our school see a building that looks like it's been through a few tough weeks, but at least the wiring for our network is safely tucked into the walls.

Wiring? Yes. Once upon a time volunteers came to our school on a weekend and ran CAT5 cable throughout the school in order to bring Al Gore's Internet to all the teachers and students. We had one long run that snaked its way out to those portables, not the old ones, but the new ones. That was the line that vandals routinely pulled down over the weekend. We asked if that might be a place where this newfangled "wireless" connection might be tried, and for years we were denied because of security issues. 

Now we do most all of our daily business without ever plugging in an ethernet cable. Teachers take attendance online. We project videos with projectors and share files in the cloud. Security? That's someone else's concern. 

I know that there are plenty of other schools in my district that experienced this same learning curve. I know that I can talk about "the olden days" because I'm old. And I've sat in one place for a long time, by our district's standards. Which is why I had that gnawing fear. The one that said I might go someplace else to finish out my career and not know everyone by name and not be able to trace back the history of that little corner of asphalt to the time the trash truck turned too abruptly and caused the chunks of playground to come up in pieces. And where the breaker for the faculty lounge is broken. 

And all the families and all the teachers and all the principals I have worked with all those years. 

I'm afraid of letting it go. 

There. I said it. 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Humor In Crisis

 I have to admire the wit of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In their most recent report, they suggested that our planet is "on thin ice." Figurative language in such a moment of crisis can be tricky, but I think you'll agree with me that they pulled it off. 

"Without urgent, effective, and equitable mitigation and adaptation actions, climate change increasingly threatens ecosystems, biodiversity, and the livelihoods, health and wellbeing of current and future generations," the report went on. Not quite as amusing, admittedly, but you can't expect every paragraph to employ those kind of pithy zingers. 

As a matter of fact, one might expect very little comedy in a report regarding what might possibly be the death knell of the human race. Of course, there will be those who will glance at the headline and laugh it off. Not because it's inherently funny but because it is so very far removed from their reality. Those oil and coal executives in their spacious and luxuriously appointed offices, stumbling over piles of cash on their way to their platinum commodes, watching their earnings reports and worried only about their annual reports, the one that says that they now have twice as much money as God. Those are the ones getting big yuks out of the United Nation's Climate Change Report. They are the ones living for today and leaving a dried out husk of a planet for their grandchildren. Which may be a pretty strategic bet, since their hope is probably that once humans are forced underground that their progeny will be the first ones in line for the really nice burrows. And of course by then, researchers at Shell will have perfected the water substitute refined from crude oil. Never mind the side effects. They'll figure a way to pay their way out of those too. 

The report does have a few bright spots. For example, it mentions there are many feasible and effective options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to human-caused climate change, and they are available now. But if we don't pull the pin on that metaphorical fire extinguisher, we'll all be toast. 

That last one was mine. 

So what can we do to get the folks in those high rise offices to change course? Maybe we should tell them about the billions of dollars to be made saving us all from global devastation. Wind turbines don't cause cancer. Really. Solar energy can be stored in batteries. Seriously. 

Saving the planet shouldn't be a joke. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Learning Curve

 I am currently sixty years old. 

I don't have a father. 

I don't have a mother. 

I have a lot of teachers around me most every day, but they are busy with the education of children much younger than me. 

How am I going to learn now? 

The good news is this: I have a pretty solid base upon which to work. I've been paying attention, especially over the past thirty years. Becoming an adult with all its attendant responsibilities and vagaries hasn't been the awful chore that I had anticipated back in my twenties. As it turns out, many of those peculiar habits I had like setting out my clothes for the next day when I was in grade school made the jump with me to adulthood and have set me on a path that finds me showing up for work early rather than late. Most every day. And all of that reading I did? Turns out that knowing things is useful, even if it's only so that you can make innocuous conversation while you're waiting for the meeting to begin. 

Part of me would like to head on down to the ASPCA and find a mature dog, maybe eleven or twelve years old, and bring them home with the expressed mission of teaching him or her to do new tricks. Because that's what I feel like the last three decades have been for me. Getting over my paranoid fear of calling strangers on the telephone, for example. Not in a telemarketing sort of way, but in that reaching out to customer service folks whom I continue assume will only laugh at my ridiculous requests for help. I should know better, shouldn't I? Doesn't everyone know that replacing a compressor on a refrigerator is an extremely complex and expensive operation and should not be attempted by anyone without advanced certification?  I wouldn't know unless I asked. That little snap of shame turns out to be totally worth it, and I have discovered that giving others a chance to unleash their expertise is a great way to make them feel good about themselves. 

And along the way, I get to learn more about refrigerators. And exhaust systems. And most anything else in the world that still evades me. Show up on time, ready to learn. 

I guess I didn't need to worry about it after all.