Saturday, July 30, 2005


This past week was a blur of meetings—some usual, some unusual. This is the description of the out of the ordinary encounter.

Two men from Ethiopia named Teshome and Fissae came to visit our university to learn how to set up a career services center like ours. Imagine that. What do you think of when “Ethiopia” comes to mind? Mussolini’s crazy World War II adventure there? The war with Eritrea? Skeletal-looking children with flies crawling in their eyes? Probably any of these images pop up but certainly not one where any sort of “normal” life is possible. Evidently, it still is.

My job was to explain all the things we do with electronic tools in the office: web sites, on line databases, CD’s, Internet based assessment tools and career fairs. They were especially interested in all this and were excited to implement some of the things we showed them.

At lunch, we had invited an anthropology professor who happens to be the local expert on Ethiopia. He had just returned from another visit there in the spring. Our visitors lit up as he mentioned certain native foods he liked, for instance, a spicy chicken stew that he wished he could find here. The professor told a story of seeing people cutting up a cow which was not quite dead, and eating the still quivering meat. Nice little lunch time anecdote. It was good to have him there, since the visitors enjoyed comparing notes with him about certain shop keepers in a little town they all knew.

I asked them about how job searches were done in their country, and Fissae said that most students hope that the government hires them. If they don’t get a state job, though, they feel lost. Teshome taught me about the interviewing process. He remarked that he likes to “undermine” the candidates in interview situations. At first I thought he was misusing the English word, but no, he really meant what he said. He likes to put students through very stressful interviews because he feels that that way, he can see what they are really like. During our discussion, he seemed surprised that candidates were always so nervous during interviews, and here he was the cause of it all!

As we worked our way through the meal, the visitors would talk quietly to each other in their own language, and Yolanda, the other assistant director (who happens to be African American) was curious. Fissae took out a pen and since he was looking for a piece of paper, I gave him one of my business cards. He then wrote out our names in their language on the back of it.. It was kind of neat to see: The characters almost seemed to blend Arabic and Chinese. Draw a line one way it means one thing, another way, another thing entirely.

Privately, I later learned that Fissae had taken Yolanda aside and told her how happy he was to see that she had risen to such a position. It was kind of touching. I asked her how she felt meeting people from Africa, even though it’s a huge place and you can't generalize, I wondered if she felt the way I did when going to Ireland for the first time and seeing people who look like me. She said it was very exciting to have met them and learned a little about their culture.

One final note: along with their planned career center, there will also be an AIDS prevention office, since the disease is devastating the country with several million people infected. Here are some things I saw in the World Fact Book: the average life expectancy is 48 years, there are eight AM radio stations in the country (sorry—no FM) and there are 83 airports, 14 of which have paved runways.

How remarkable is it that these two men have such hope and such love for their country—a place most of us probably consider lost and quite without hope.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Back to work

So my five days of freedom are over, and it's back to work tomorrow. Kathy has been buying lottery tickets every week, and lately she has picked up the pace, eyeing the giant jackpot that has built up over the past months. Being the eternal optimist, she will keep collecting tickets, always in search of the dream. Did you ever know anyone who won a lottery? By all accounts, their lives are ruined, they lose all their money--they really don't find true happiness. See? So who wants to win anyway?

In 1988 I went to my 20th high school reunion. We were a strange group, I guess. It took us 20 years to have our first reunion, and attempts at a 25th fizzled. I supposed we were just curious about each other briefly. We checked some people out, gauged our success against theirs, and went away satisfied that we really didn't have to see them again. So anyway, back to the point. There was one guy there named Tom. He was a quiet, unassuming character, pleasant enough I imagine, though I didn't really know him that well. He played center on the football team--he was a round solid object, so that made sense. It turns out he was also centered in another way, content with himself.

Of course we were curious as to what professions we had all signed on to, and what career paths we had wandered onto and off of. Tom was a little circumspect about that whole career thing. He didn't really do anything apparently. Finally it came out that he had won the New York State Lottery a few years before and so he didn't have to work. I don't think it was a huge strike, maybe only four million or so. He didn't make a big deal about it because he was leery of people seeking handouts. His strategy? He and his wife had spent something like $100 a week on lottery tickets for a year and it paid off for them.

So I hope that Kathy and I will be as mature and understated about the whole thing once we strike it rich. No "taking this job and shoving it", no "nyah, nyah-I don't have to do this anymore", no demands for ring-kissing. We'll just anonymously slip away and live on Grand Cayman. Oh wait, I just revealed the secret plan! Or did I?

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Is there anything more delicious than a day off in the middle of the week on a hot summer day? And it’s a mental health day, to boot. Not a vacation day, not a “sick” day, just a day to chill and regroup.

The day is full of possibilities—all those hours laid out before you. What will you do with them? Any self respecting anal retentive Myers Briggs “J” type like myself will have a schedule for all this down time. Let’s see…what to do…what to do. Here we go: let’s stain the deck, clean the garage, weed the flower beds and wash the car. By the time we’re finished with all that, it will probably be lunch time, so we’ll actually sit down for ten or even fifteen minutes to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on toast (hey what the heck—we’ll go out today) and watch the last ten minutes of “The Price is Right” because the showcase is the only part that really counts anyway, and see if we can mentally add up the cost of all the prizes and figure out what we would bid while we watch the first poor sap pass the first showcase to the other contestant because that one didn’t have the car in it, and we all know that the showcase with the car in it is the only one anybody ever wants and then we’ll scream at the TV when the person seriously overbids and then find out that we really don’t know what a new bedroom set costs anyway and that’s what threw us off.

We won’t watch the noon news because it’s always just a rehash of the morning news and nothing much ever happens between 6am and 12noon anyway except maybe a police chase so, we’ll clean the basement, straighten up the living room and attack that rat’s nest in the corner of the bedroom. But we’ll get stopped at every little momento we find and sit and reminisce about where we got it and what was going on at the time, and we won’t get very far at all with that chore.

But wait, how did the sun get all the way over there so fast? It can’t be going down, it can’t because this is my day and I don’t want it to end just yet. Oh, I know—
Ice cream! Let’s go get ice cream: the end of a perfect day.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Please pray for this family

Just a quick note: this morning we learned that the three year old son of friends of ours died accidentally yesterday. His name was Joey Paoletta. His mom had left him alone momentarily and that was enough. The little boy drowned in a pond in the family's back yard. I can't imagine the terrible anguish they are suffering now. Please remember them in your prayers.

A few years ago, the dad, who is a paramedic, was the only survivor of a hospital helicopter crash. He recovered from severe burns and went back to work, and now they have been stricken again.

Thank you.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Let's Make Some Science!

You may have already seen this, but MIT is conducting a survey of bloggers. Go to to check it out. Jeff, I read a survey once that said the majority of bloggers are men, but you wouldn’t know it by the crowd we run with (Darlene, Tink, Revs Wife, Stacey, etc.). Let’s do the survey to beef up the male representation.

Every spring when classes end in May, I look at the long summer ahead and think of all the neat things I want to do with the time: write an online course, figure out ways to do things better in reaching students, dream up cool things to get us recognized by our national organization. Heck, maybe I’ll even clean my office. So what have I accomplished so far this summer? You got it—my office is looking great!

I am on the committee planning our big deal regional conference for the Midwest Association of Colleges and Employers (Midwest ACE), and one of the things I had to do was put together a budget for the Publicity Committee, since I am the chair. I can’t stand budgets. Never could. You would be amazed at how many things I found to do instead of working on the budget. I finally got it together on Friday afternoon and emailed it off to whoever wanted it. I did it a week early I hated it so much.

What else has happened so far this summer? I’ve read 24 books and have numbers 25 and 26 going right now. I think I’m a little behind my usual pace due to this 95 pound lump of dogflesh laying at my feet.

I used to get up in the morning and have half an hour or so to myself to read. Now that time is taken up by walking the dog.

I used to eat dinner and then plop myself into a chair outside and read until it was too dark to see. Now I’ve got dog maintenance to attend to. Walking a mile takes some time, then when we get back, he’s all “Are you gonna brush me now? Are ya? Huh? The brush is right in there—right on that shelf. See it? Are ya gonna get it now and brush me, huh? Well are ya? Huh?” There was an old cartoon where the dog would get a treat and he would float up in the air as if he were in heaven and drift back down to earth sighing contentedly. That’s Kodiak when you brush him. He could stand there till it got dark getting his fur all primped and smoothed.

This is seriously cutting into my reading time.

(And blogging time—don’t forget blogging time.)

(Now my daughter will read this, but don’t be thinking we don’t love him. We do.)

Hey--I really nice thing happened to me in the blogosphere. Someone I didn't even know listed my humble space in her "Clickworthy" list. Check her out.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


We were invited to a wedding last weekend, kind of a tangential relationship with the bride, as her brother was a high school and college friend of our son’s. The point was that several of the kids who all went to high school together were gathered together in one place for the first time in several years. They had flown and driven in from various cities and it was something that might not happen again for some time. I suggested to my son that we get everyone together for a photo op for the momentous occasion.

Miraculously, they all agreed and were eager to do it. I was afraid the whole enterprise would fall apart since it is a group of very independent people. Son Patrick herded the crowd into the lobby of the party center and I saw a couch against one wall and suggested a “Family Feud” photo, with the women seated on the couch and the men standing behind them. They all laughed and said yes, let’s do that.

As we arranged the furniture, three tiny digital cameras appeared and different people asked to have one taken with their camera. Of course I obliged them. There were a couple of new additions to the group, two women who became attached to a couple of the original males in the set.

Kathy and I both had the same reaction to one of the new young women we met that night. She seemed a little self absorbed. The first word that popped into my mind when I met her was “outsider.” She just didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the kids. It wasn’t just that she was new to the scene, because there was another young lady who joined the group recently and we didn’t get the same vibes from her. Now usually I give people the benefit of the doubt when I first meet them, but Kathy is able to immediately size people up and nothing changes her mind.

Can you do that? Are you able to read people in a few milliseconds and learn a lot about them in a short period of time?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, “blink”, he talks about the ability to “thin slice” people and situations. That is, he believes we all have the ability to read a person or problem in seconds and that those judgments are supported over time, as control groups study the problem for several weeks and arrive at the same conclusions. We can’t explain how we do this, we just do it.

There are problems, though with thin slicing, as he points out in several famous examples. For instance, Warren G. Harding certainly looked presidential, but that’s as far as it went. He also talks about what went wrong in some well known police actions, like the black immigrant who was killed in New York City because the police officers “thin sliced” the situation of a black man standing outside in the middle of the night and figured he was up to no good.

He talks about the “New Coke” debacle, how screened auditions led to having more women hired into orchestras, how psychologists can tell from a few seconds of videotapes of couples interacting who will be divorced and who will stay together, and how a war game was turned on its head by someone who didn’t play by the usual decision making rules.

Give it a read and see what you think. I think I’m going to start paying more attention to my initial impressions of people and situations and see if I can learn to trust them more than I do right now.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

I, Pod

My daughter showed me her iPod shuffle the last time she was home. I was amazed at how small it was and how good it sounded. I had thought about buying an iPod but was put off by the price until Kathy gave me some Father's Day cash and some pretty explicit instructions. I was not to save the money for the cruise (because she knew that that was what I would probably do) but I was to spend it immediately. Hmmm. What to do...what to do... Buy an iPod! And so it happened.

I now have an iPod mini with a six gig memory. It arrived last week and I started loading songs into it this past weekend. There are 1017 songs in it so far and I am almost done loading my entire CD library. I've only used about half the storage space.

For sentimental reasons, the first album I loaded was the first Beatles album--or a reasonable facsimile. (Music purists' note: The first Beatles album was "Meet the Beatles" on Capitol records. There was a competing label that came out with "Introducing the Beatles", neither of which I own.) I remember my two sisters and I each chipping in one dollar in order to afford the exhorbitant price of three dollars for the vinyl album. The idea was, we were going to share the album among our record players. I don't remember how well that worked, but our younger sister wound up with it in her college dorm room, I seem to recall.

Every year I imagine that I am done with hospitals and will not be admitted ever again, and every year I am proven wrong. When I do go in, I've learned it's best to have some earphones and great music to listen to while the rest of the infirm and those that would help them go on about their business. The last time I was in there I had a single room, but even that didn't save me from bustling hallways, loudly complaining hall mates, and inconsiderate health care workers on the night shift. Headphones did save me from having to hear all of that cacophony. The problem was that some of my music was on CD's and some on cassette tapes, which meant dragging lots of equipment with me. Now all I need is a little gadget smaller than a cigarette pack...which of course I wouldn't have with me in a hospital room anyway--the cigarette pack that is.