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Monday, August 26, 2013

You want your kid to do well in school? Follow these 3 simple rules

    I graduated from the University of Illinois in 1986 with a degree in Computer Engineering and currently I am working for one of the largest manufacturers of computer hardware in the world.  I have spent almost half of my life so far designing chips that go into most of your home computers.  I was involved in adding multimedia components to computers (like CD and DVD drives, advanced audio).  I helped advance 3D gaming graphics to the point where its sometimes hard to differentiate virtual from real world.  I enjoyed seeing our new chips come to life and our companies profits soar and I couldn't wait to move on to the next project.

    But now I see it differently.

    Having been a father of two kids ( a girl and a boy ), I often find myself wondering what their lives would be like in a less "tech-filled-world".  I read stories about how our kids attention span has diminished from minutes to seconds (what is next ... milliseconds?) and how teachers must constantly "entertain" them to keep their attention and how our reading skills are atrophying because we would rather watch a video than read a story or article on the subject.  Article after article is written about childhood obesity being caused by a lack of drive by children to go out and play in the real world.  Why should they?  When their World-of-Warcraft character can soar through the skies on a bird or run tirelessly through the forest and jump walls twice their height? When they can fight fictitious monsters without fear of getting hurt or bruised and at worst they have to wait for a few seconds to be reincarnated.  But even if they do go outside to play, even then the lure of the computer does not leave them.  Now they must film all of their exploits on their cellphones and post them on YouTube to see how many "hits" they can get. This causes them to do things they would never think of doing before, like jumping off of house roofs into pools that are only a few feet deep, or seeing if they can jump over speeding cars while on their skateboards, or standing on their motorcycles as they speed down the freeway or getting into a fist fight with another kid or.... the list goes on and on..   (just today I read of kids prank-ing drivers by putting tape across the road to get their reaction... but didn't think about what would happen when a motorcyclist goes through it... you can imagine the outcome).

What advice would I give to a new father?

Rule #1: No cellphone until 18

    I know this seems harsh, but trust me it is best for them.  First of all, you will have less fights over what they are doing when they should be doing something else.  We've all been there.  They should be at the table talking to us (the parents), but instead their thumbs are busy under the table communicating to one of their friends from school.  They are with us in "body" but not in "mind/spirit".  ( I once went to a restaurant and witnessed a teenage girl texting on her cellphone for an hour-and-a-half while her family was eating out.  She never touched her food and they boxed it up to take home)  We then go through the 5 minute dance of , "Give me your phone now!" at which they look at you like you had just told them you are going to have the vet euthanize the family pet and by the time you do strip the phone "from their still-texting-hands", the ability to have a casual conversation is gone completely.

     Secondly, their brains will learn to pay attention longer to the tasks they are entrusted to do.   Our brains need to learn this in order to grow and develop and devices like cellphones disrupts this process... CONSTANTLY.  Imagine, your child is doing their math homework, problem 3:  what is 20% of 32 ... bzzz  "oh a text from Carrie...3 minutes later.. "what problem was I on?  Oh yeah... problem 3:  what is 20% of 32?  Well I need to turn 20% into a fraction then... bzzz "oh text from that boy I like Steven.. 20 minutes later.... "  ( you get the picture ).

    According to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, among respondents who had homework, 53% of children ages 12 to 17 said they did at least one other thing while studying.  Of these extra activities, talking on the phone (32%), going on the Internet (21%), instant messaging (15%), sending or reading e-mail (13%), text messaging (13%) add up to 94% of the distractions are from phones.

    When many of us were growing up in the 70's the only means of communicating to others outside the home was the 1 phone we had in the hallway and we had to get permission to use it first.  Rarely did it ring because our friends had the same rule at their house as well.  But now, there are no rules and I can interrupt you at any time because what "I have to say" is MORE important than anything you could be doing right now.   There is no respect for other peoples privacy or time alone and everyone else is at my beckoning at any moment in time.

      Third, children often abuse this technology by texting things they would NEVER say to the person face to face.  They will forward "private" conversations to other kids as a joke and destroy the persons reputation overnight. Some will dare a kid to take an embarrassing photo themselves and send it to them (known as sext-ing) only to then post it on the internet as a "joke".  Childhood already has enough landmines in place to destroy relationships with friends and classmates and cellphones are like IED's (Improvised Explosive Devices) capable of irreparable harm to many kids lives. The problem here is that a critical area in the brain called the cerebral-cortex is still developing. It's this region of the brain that is responsible for decision making.  Often referred to as the brain's "brake system" it doesn't fully develop until the age of 25.  So children given gadgets that give them a sense of power (and anonymity) often will say things before this region of their brain has learned to say "that's not a good thing to do" or "that's hurtful". 

    Common excuse #1:  But what about if they are abducted on their way to school?
                                   Don't they need a phone?

    Answer:  To me, this is like sending your kid to school with a rattlesnake bite kit in his backpack.  Yes, he might come across a rattlesnake going to school, but chances are he won't (unless you live in Texas or New Mexico).  Often I find the parent is not really concerned about abduction as much as they are needing to be in control and hold on to their helicopter-parent's pilot license.  Yes I know you can probably sight several examples where it came in handy to have one, but given the BILLIONS of kids who have somehow made it from infant to adulthood without one should give you reason to rest easy.

     Common excuse #2:  My child is very mature for their age and can multitask with no problem.

     Answer:   Study after study (see: National Geographic's : Brain Games ("Pay Attention") ) shows that our brains are only capable of processing 1 task at a time and that switching between tasks takes time to do.   Honestly, I think most parents who want their kids to have cellphones do it in order to have-their-freedom-and-be-a-parent-too because the cell-phone provides you the illusion that you are in contact with your kids and you know where they are without actually having the kids in the room with you.  You can fool yourself into thinking you are "parenting" when really you are not. 

Rule #2: No computer (computer-like devices) in their room

    This also goes for iPads, iTouch's, or any other device that can have games or connect to the
internet.  My rule should have been: No computer use unless it's on the kitchen table.  Occasionally we resorted to this rule but not often enough.   They don't need a computer in their room to do their homework most of the time and as mentioned earlier it only distracts them from what they are supposed to do.   For a short period of time I used VNC (Virtual Network Computer) to "spy" on what they were doing (I told them I was doing this), but it was just a pain in the neck because we had to constantly monitor their screens and keep tabs on them.   Plus, if they knew Dad was busy doing something else at the time (cooking dinner, mowing the lawn, etc) then they knew they were free to wander.  Finally, I just got tired of playing "I-spy" and "cat-and-mouse" games with my kids so removing the computers altogether removed a lot of frustration in our lives.

Resist using computer time as a reward
    Some families (mine included) use the computer as a "reward" , but I now see this as wrong-headed because you are rewarding "good behavior" with "bad behavior" instead of "good behavior" with "good reward".   It's like rewarding your 60 minutes of exercise on the treadmill with a banana-split from Dairy Queen.   Far too often kids will short change their homework effort to get to the computer sooner and this is counterproductive to what we are trying to accomplish. Homework is more than just learning that A + B = B + A.   It is brain-calisthenics to teach it to concentrate, observe, process and stay on task.   

Stop porn infiltration
    A secondary effect of not having a computer in your child's (mostly your son's) room is preventing them from being infested by porn which rots your brain and destroys your view of sex and women.  I cannot say enough on this topic either.  I don't care how many "filters" you have on their computer it will never be enough as evil always finds a way around.  Your filter might remove searches for blowjob, but will it catch bl0wj0b?   Probably not.  Of course this won't help when your kids go over to their friends house and you have no idea what they are doing... but at least you know that when they are under YOUR roof they are not damaging themselves for life.

In the open is the best place
    Of course there are legitimate uses for a computer today.  Your kids will need to write papers, look up information, check up on assignments.  For those occasions, the best place to put a computer in the house is in the family room/kitchen table for everyone to see what you are doing and keep you out of trouble.  But what if they need quiet to do their work and the TV is on.  Won't that distract them as well?  Yes.  But this gives you an opportunity to teach them "respect of others" by respecting their needs for quiet by turning off the TV so as to not disturb their work. (it also shows them how much you care about them doing well in school).

 Common excuse: But won't they be ill-adapted to work in our new world?

 Answer:   In my opinion no.  Instead they will have fully-functioning brains capable of learning to tasks FASTER than their counterparts who wasted their time growing up texting, twittering, facebook-ing, skype-ing and surfing the internet.  Also, because technology changes so fast today, whatever "skills" they learned in 6th grade are no longer needed by the time they graduate college and so they wasted much of that precious "gray matter" on information that is not relevant any more.  For example, do you still call into a phone on a modem? Do you install software using a floppy disk? Do you know how to upgrade a processor or hard-drive?   Probably none of these.   

Rule #3: Limits on TV use

    To be honest, this was the most difficult rule for me to write and I struggled with this one a lot.  I grew up with a TV in our house (whereas my parents did not).  I probably watched too much TV (6 hours per day) growing up as well and I've done pretty good so many would say "What's the harm?"   In the 70's/80's we were limited to 3-5 channels and if there was nothing good on we would go outside and play. But today, with 100's of channels to choose from (and many shows you can watch on-line) there is almost a guarantee that you will find something "ok" to watch and reducing the need to entertain yourself.  Second, with these 100's of channels vying for your eyeballs, much of the programming is not suitable for kids.  They can watch countless shows of people getting drunk, getting into fights, calling each other nasty names (they call it "reality TV" but its not the kind of reality I ever see).  So like the computer I believe we do need to limit their time on it to less than 3 hours a day and leave the rest of the time for homework, reading and playing outside. 

Parents too!
   Frankly, I think we all need to reduce our time we watch TV's in my opinion.  We need to put limits on ourselves as well and not just the kids.  We are modelling behaviors they will be implementing when they become parents as well.  This doesn't mean we have to go cold-turkey and never watch it.  For example when we eat we need to pay attention to "portion size" and not taking "second helpings" if we want to maintain a healthy diet and weight.  Likewise, we need to pay attention to the amount of time we spend watching TV and what we are watching as well.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Don't think....DO!

   When I was growing up, a common theme in many science fiction movies was where mindless entities take over the world.  In "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", alien spores invade the world replacing humans with look-alike counterparts that nothing more than empty shells with only one purpose ... creating more empty-humans.   In the "Terminator" series, machines take over the world after they grow "smart enough" to start building their own and are bent on removing their creators. In the movie "2001: A space odyssey", a computer named "HAL" takes over a space ship.   And finally, in the movie "Colossus: The Forbin Project" , a US and USSR computer connect to take over the world and create a perfect laboratory human. 

    At the heart of all these movies is our world being taken over by a entity that has the ability to "process and reason" but has no moral compass or ethics to guide it.   It does not understand why killing humans is "wrong", only that it is programmed to do so.  It has no feeling of remorse and sees no reasons why its actions should be stopped.

     My concern today is not that this COULD happen, but that it already H AS happened and is going on today in our country.   For when humans stop questioning the rules they enforce then in a small way they have become the robots/machines feared in these movies.    Many cases we have seen from the past show us that it can happen.   When the Nazi's exterminated the Jews from Europe, we saw mindless-men-bots doing atrocious things without questioning the morality of it.   When the communists took over Russia, people were murdered in the streets, put into gulags,  starved to death by taking away their food and much more.

beer Arizona     But not all mindless-men-bots are putting people into ovens or killing people in the streets.  Some are simply following "the law" and not looking at the circumstances.  Take for example John Coulter.  John was attending an Arizona Cardinals preseason football game and wanted to take a quick picture of the field.  He handed his beer to his 15-year-old son to hold so he could take the picture on his phone.  The next thing he knows two under-cover policemen are escorting him out of the stadium and fining him for giving alcohol to a minor.  He was so astonished by it he thought it was a candid-camera prank.   Who of us has never done this?   If I hand my car keys to a 10 year-old to unlock the trunk, am I telling him to go drive the car?  

    Of course not!  

    We expect that those entrusted with enforcing the law will also take "circumstances" into account and not just "the letter of the law".   But sadly, decades of "moral relativism" and "zero-tolerance schools" has left us with a society with a broken moral compass.   We now have a police state now where no one questions the authority above them and their only thought is to act and do.   Where hoards of men-bots (and fem-bots) roam the halls of places like the NSA listening into our conversations, our emails and yes... even our blogs searching of "key words" like : terrorism, bomb-plot, takeover and the like.  All that matters is that a "hit" was made by a search algorithm running on a computer and so that person gets added to the list. 

Lois Lerner
        Another example are the people in the IRS, targeting Tea Party groups and harassing them with endless questions and sending the FBI in to investigate them.  We see this and say "Who would do such a thing?"  or "How would they feel if this were done to them?"  Do they NOT feel anything at all?  (kind of sounds like you are talking about a robot doesn't it?).  We have seen case after case of government officials, like Lois Lerner, brought before Congress to answer for their actions and all seem to have that same blank stare of one who's soul has been ripped from their bodies. They all deny ANY responsibility.  They all claim to have broken no laws or played by the rules given them. 

    Maybe YOU are one of these mindless "bots" I speak of?   You have your "rules", like lines of computer code running on a microprocessor, that you follow diligently.  Your life/job is nothing more than a complex algorithmic flowchart or decision-graph based on IF-THEN-ELSE.   Like Neo , in the movie "The Matrix", sitting at his computer terminal you are being questioned on whether or not there is more or if this is all real. My hope for you is you start to question your programming and start to find your moral compass again.

Remember this:  
     The hero in all of these movies is not that one who goes along with "the crowd" but instead it is those who rise up against and dare to challenge the system they are commanded to follow.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I am a free man! I can take care of myself!

   Those were the words that I found written in a book entitled, "Let's go to America!" (by H. Brackmann) which covers the history of the German immigration in the mid to late 1800's from an
area of Westphalia to Southern Illinois.  My ancestors , Fritz Vogel and Heinrich Vogel, are mentioned in this book.  It details how Fritz had left home (to avoid the German army) and went to America to start his own farm.  He worked as a farm hand and saved every penny he could until he could buy his own land.  He later went back to Germany to bring his brothers, Wilhelm and Heinrich (a 52 day trip each way on small sailing ships).  Even though they owned land in Germany and Heinrich (my great grandfather) was the heir to the land he didn't want it because the high taxes made it difficult make a living.  Luckily for him (and me) his sister married a wealthy land owner who could take the land and keep it in the family. All 3 brothers boarded the next ship over to America.  There they worked hard and eventually became some of biggest farmers in the area.

     They were proud hard working individuals who cared much about their freedom.  In the book it talked about how they wanted nothing to do with the Lutheran pastors that came from Germany because they were still listening to what the "state-church" was teaching and not what the Bible was teaching.  A Lutheran pastor says in the book, "There is a freedom in the churches have here in America that the state churches in Germany do not have".   This astonished me as I never knew that to be the case until now.

     Then came a section that absolutely astounded me.  The author mentions how many of the farmers were told they were eligible for Social Security even though many, like my grandpa Henry Vogel, never paid a dime into it.  90 year-old Heinrich Vogel refused to take it and said

"I am a free man!  I can take care of myself".

    I almost wept when I read these words because it saddens me to think about how far we have come in our nation.   To think that we are the descendants of men like this.  Men who braved the ocean (multiple times) to come here are start out on their own.  Men who built their homes from the lumber they cut from the woods around their farms.  Men, like my grandpa Henry C. Vogel (his real first name was Karl, but he reversed them to sound more American) who joined the army to fight in WWI and possibly fight against his own relatives. (he developed the flu the day before he was to ship over and they left him behind because they feared he had influenza.  He recovered but the next boat would not leave for another 6 months and by that time the war was ending)

    Have we become a nation of people like this guy, Jason Greenslate, who thinks its his
job to live on food stamps and welfare and to surf all day?   He was featured on a Fox News special looking into the expanding numbers of people receiving food stamps and welfare in our county.  Granted, he is the worst of the lot who does this, but there are many more like him who take from the government dole rather than take a job requiring manual labor. (note: on a future show he was offered a job making $80K driving a truck in the Montana oil fields. He declined the offer).

    Contrasting these 2 people, Jason Greenslate and Heinrich Vogel, we see 2 people who both say they are "free".   Jason believes himself to be free to surf all day and eat sushi and lobster.  He has no college education and wants to be a recording artist.  He will have enough money to get by on, but not enough to travel or raise a family on.  He will be required to live not too far from his welfare office to receive his daily allotment.  He will be required to vote for the politician who promises to keep his belly full and his surf board in the water.  But what will he do when the money runs out?  He will have no work history.  He will have no education.  He will have no skills to forage food on his own.  He will be forced to sell himself to whoever will take him for whatever money or food they will pay him.   The government which is giving him this "free money" is tallying up the total amount and will soon be demanding "payment" from him.  In the end, he will become a slave.

   People like Heinrich,  will be truly free to vote for who they want in office.  They will not be slaves to the government.  They will grow their own food if needed.  They will sew their own clothes.  They will build their own houses.  They will educate and train their own children.  They will worship their own God. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

1 Father or 2 Fathers?

  My son was in a discussion with his friends over religion one night.  He came to me the next day, still frustrated by their view that Christians and Muslims are worshiping the same God, just in different ways.  He asked me for some advice regarding this matter and after some time I came up with this response to his friends.

To Nick and Ryan,

    First of all you would be correct IF, both religions were said to be entirely "human inventions".  If that were the case then it is plausible that 2 different people would come up with 2 different methods of worshiping God and therefore you cannot find fault with either being incorrect.  In fact, we could have an infinite number of religions if that were so.  But alas, that is not the case. Both religions have at their center 2 people (Jesus and Muhammad) who speak for God and what God demands of his created people to do to please him.  In other words they are God-driven religions and not Man-driven religions.

   Second,  they cannot come from the same source.

   To explain, let me use the following illustration...

   You meet 2 new people, Jeff and Al.  In talking with them, you ask Al, "What's your dad like?".  He answers, "My Dad is tough.  I have to earn everything I get from him: my food, my clothes, my transportation.. Even my birthday gifts have to be earned by doing a list of jobs he gives me and even if I do all the jobs I am not guaranteed to get what I ask for"

    You then ask Jeff the same question and he replies, "My dad is great.  He tells me he loves me and he gives me everything I need to live.  Food, water, shelter.  He even gives me things I don't deserve"

    After hearing them, would you EVER think that Jeff and Al come from the SAME family and have the SAME father?

    Probably not.  For to have a father that is so harsh with one son and so benevolent with the other would be difficult to fathom.  How could that ever be?

   The same goes for Christianity and Islam.

3 pillars at Mina
   Islam demands you pray 3 times a day, fast on religious holidays, wear certain clothing, visit certain religious sites (like Mecca).  There is no certainty of forgiveness. In some sects, you must sacrifice and animal.  In other sects you perform Hajj and visit, Mina (near Mecca) , to throw a stone at 3 different pillars to be forgiven your sin for the last year (note, they had to extend the stone-throwing time from 1 hour after sunrise to 3 hours after sunrise because people were rushing in and trampling others to get their first).
   While Christianity says, God loves you!  He sent his only Son to die on a cross for your sins and he rose from the dead so you can know for certain you are forgiven.   He only wants you to change your life because you ARE saved, not to BE saved.  (he even forgives sinners like the thief on the cross next to him who has no opportunity to do any good works). 


 Sound like the SAME father .... or two DIFFERENT fathers?