Saturday, May 1, 2010

Horseshoes & Watch Springs: An Open Letter to a Struggling Computer Student

Grampas often have time to take Community Ed classes to polish computer and other skills.  My own late Uncle Charles got a one time only award from the University of Idaho for setting a record as the Senior Citizen who had taken more classes during a period of ten years than any other Senior in University history.  He really did--brushing up on his knowledge of fine literature, making jewelry, and stained glass just to name a few.

Debbie as of this post is studying Microsoft Office skills in one of the classes I teach at Highland Community Education.   I love teaching computer skills, especially to "more mature" students.  It's so much fun to see the "light come on" in their eyes!  Debbie is just on the edge of discovering how the computer can improve her value.  I love to write back to folks like Debbie.  Their emails provide a good benchmark for learning.

I  love to write back inbetween the lines and color my responses so we both have a record of the correspondence. (It also helps me cover every point)

Debbie's Letter

Jon - Thank you for your kind encouragement after the last community Ed class.  The class has made me less afraid to at least try and diminished tears....a bit.

Debbie- Congratulations!  You and my Rosie come from the same tribe.  She has now learned enough to buy things on line from and write emails to our daughter.  For now, that is enough!

Glad your husband was successful in helping you to attach the MS Excel budget onto this email.   When it came time for my sweet Rosie to learn to drive, I sent her and she was happy to attend a class at Utah Tech in Provo.  Husbands can only do so much before a couple tears out half their hair and walk away with steam coming out both ears!   Now and again, they can be useful (obviously here) I love the layout and the fun you obviously had putting this together!

Thanks for your patience with me.  Here's my attempt a budget of sorts.  Nothing to knock you over but it was kind of fun.  It still seems to me it would be easier for me to do it without the computer. 

Paper and pencil budgeting is easy because it's what we're used to.  A fun class like ours is designed to introduce you to new and better ways to accomplish the same task, for example, using a diminishing balance column that shows everything you've spent item by item, gives you as the budget OFFICER of your money a chance to see where the money is going before the money shows up.   With this simple little column, you'll be able to add things, take things out, substitute and quickly get an idea of what you can and cannot afford.  The good news is that the spreadsheet lets you keep a record of what you wanted but couldn't afford one month, and guide your savings or your planning for the months to come.   Don't worry!  I'll demonstrate in class!

I worry some that the computer is going to turn us all into mindless bloopers of sorts.  It seems rather lazy to me to have it add up stuff that I should do myself. 

Make that Mindful Bloggers.  Yes, it appears that computers will RULE THE WORLD.  Your comment brings to mind Lani Kazan's comment to her daughter in the wonderful little movie, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"  She was referring to her husband when she said, "Oh, yes, your Father is the Head of this family--but I am the neck, and the neck turns the head any way I want it to!"  LOL (laugh out loud)

Isn't that why you took this class?  Didn't you want to learn how to MASTER the wonderful machine?  When you go to get a job, doesn't your potential employer want to know that you, "know how to make the computer produce profit for him/her?"

Again a terrific movie reference.  The Indian Computer Engineer  in "Short Circuit" played by comic actor Fisher Stevens shouts several times (referring to the almost human Johnny 5 Robot)  "It's just a computer--and IT JUST RUNS PROGRAMS!"  Somebody must ALWAYS program the computer.  We call that software.  We still have to bring intelligence and experience to our side of that equation as operators.

Each of us have different reasons for taking this class.  Believe it or not I learn much from each of you.  I never would have written these words, except for your e-mail.  In the final analysis it's all about improving our skill sets and becoming more valuable to ourselves and others.  Consider what refining your skills will to to your bottom line:
A plain iron bar is worth about $5.00.
 If you make horseshoes, the value increases to $10.50.
If you make needles from it, the value increases to $3,285.
If you make watch springs, the value is $250,000.
The difference in the $5.00 bar of iron
and the $250,000 watch springs is creativity.
--Ripley's Believe It or Not

That's what we're about: working together to help make you a better watch spring builder.

It's the technical equivalent of teaching Debbie to fish so she can feed herself for a lifetime!
 Personally, I don't have the patience to fish--I would rather teach computer classes.  I can see near instant results--like to great beginnings you are feeling within you by fulfilling this homework assignment.

Look forward to the day when you can program a year's worth of "dream budgets--then scale them back to reality and actually save several thousand to take that cruise to Hawaii you've always dreamed of etc.  That's the power of mastering Excel.  Just like mastering that other machine with a keyboard--sucess depends on how often and how well you practice.  My job in that process is to get you started and approach this otherwise incomprehensible MONSTER for the great good it can do!

And by the way, I don't use an adding machine anymore!  I will pop open a spreadsheet, input the data, click the autosum tool and VIOLA!  I've got a record of the numbers, I can spot where I may have input erroneous information.  I can add other numbers without having to keyboard all the numbers over again etc. etc.  The list of good things about Excel goes on and on! 
But enough with my old fashioned thinking and see if I can attach this document to this lengthy e mail.

I'm reminded of a Post Script Thomas Jefferson added to a rather lengthy letter to a friend.  It read,  "Had I but more time, I would have written less."   Bless us with more lengthy letters and the insights they share about what we're doing and why!   Thanks.  As much as I enjoy our interchange in class, the emails are the frosting on my instructor's cake!   I hope they continue between us long after the class concludes.   I am delighted to make myself available as you report on your growing expertise on this marvelous invention!

See you in Class!  JRH 

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