Built to fail
As a software teacher/trainer I am amazed by something. Every company and institution in the US apparently has the budget to subsidize ~65% of their employees being shit with computing…forever… but only a few of them can scrape a budget together for training. And when they do, it’s designed by middle management in a way that almost always misses the actual problem in favor of some oversimplified guess about what is wrong.
Whenever I have taught corporate groups I sense about a dozen issues other than the one I am there to teach going unaddressed. And if I try to get at those problems I’ll be seen as not teaching the right subject.
Usually, power users are mixed into the same class as the weakest users. The result is that the material will be wrong for part of the group no matter what… unless you teach “right down the middle” in which case it might be right for nobody. Also, the power users are forced to sit through such basic material that it wears out their goodwill and\or the “baby” users sit through advanced material that makes them feel stupid and hopeless. All of this crystalizes the idea of training as ineffective in the mind of management.
To get it right, do better research on the problem you are fixing.
- Don’t be superficial or complacent about imagining what the problem really is. Details matter.
- Identify your “power users” and find out what they need to know and why.
- While you’ve got them, ask what they consider to be the baseline skillset for the software in question in the context of this office. Compare notes on these assessments.
- Ask them (and any IT support people) what problems the focus group of employees seem to get stuck on. The power users and IT staff get hit up regularly for help and they have a lot more data points than you will get by asking the group what they need.
- The group doesn’t really know what it needs. The problem is concealed in the mist above their comfort zone.
- If it is possible to have the trainer come in for a chat with some representative students ahead of time, they will be able to target the actual need far better.
- “But the cost!” It’s going to be expensive either way. Do you prefer an expensive success or an expensive failure? Besides, if you do this correctly you will be saving real money and increasing real efficiency. Doing it wrong is mismanagement.
- Consider a break with form. If the trainer is open to it, propose working with smaller groups with a shared problem and consider doing this in the area where the work is done rather than a classroom. The trainer will almost always spot problems and growing out of local issues which would not come up in a classroom.
Like most parents Isaac’s Mom and I struggle with the question of weapon toys. Boys are drawn to them like crows to shiny pebbles or celebrities to cocaine. My intuition tells me that it’s healthy and natural for boys to play at fighting. Hell, not just my intuition, my memory. It was a tremendously powerful drive, a longing and a need. Playing war was one of the most deeply satisfying games I can remember. If I could run in the streets with friends pretending to shoot at each other without actually being hospitalized or jailed I would be doing it this moment. I believe playing with weapon toys is a way boys express aggression but that’s only a piece of what they are doing. They also learn restraint, teamwork, dealing with peck order, storytelling, and possibly nobility.
Isaac and I have fights as the centerpieces of all our stories. He demands it. Always we are good guys, always we show mercy and look for ways to mitigate damage. But always, we fight. I think he needs to explore this to figure out how to be good and strong at the same time. I think the Mommies and Daddies who shame kids away from fighting toys are doing harm – it’s as if they simply disapprove of this developmental stage and in the name of being responsible shrug off responsibility. They want their boys to be good but I think they overlook how much the boy needs to feel strong in order to feel like being good. I think they are turning their backs on the the animal soul of their boys because it offends their delicate sensibilities. Isaac’s Mom struggles with this more than I do but she fundamentally gets it – that it’s a part of boy nature that is inseparable from the boys inner life.
(Disclaimer: This is the opposite of news, most of these songs have been around a long time.) One of my favorite musicians of the last decade or so is Jonathan Coulton. His tunes are clever, infectiously catchy, piercingly beautiful at moments and funny. They are also beautiful snapshots of various pop genres.
For some reason he’s made a slew of songs about monsters, often from the monster’s point of view and these are some of his best work. They also seem to speak of the horror in ordinary life in a way that is chilling and witty.
Chiron Beta Prime – https://youtu.be/B3DyxaCYlfg
The best new Christmas carol in many years.
Skullcrusher Mountain – https://youtu.be/9jn1Gf4AGdY
An evil scientist’s love ballad. “Isn’t it enough to know that I ruined a pony making a gift for you?”
Still Alive – https://youtu.be/Y6ljFaKRTrI
This song accompanies the ending credits to the brilliant video game, Portal. Singing is GlaDOS, a passive/aggressive sociopathic computer who starts by seeming like a helpful guide promising cake as a reward and turns out to have already murdered everyone at this evil research corporation but you. Turns out you didn’t really manage to kill her.
RE: Your Brains – https://youtu.be/v04H7_fFC90
Your office manager and most of the staff have turned into zombies. They want to come in and he won’t stop talking in manager buzzwords.
I crush everything. – https://youtu.be/oJAlFyKHp_M
A sad introspective ballad about change, hope and loss sung by a giant squid.
Blue Sunny Day – https://youtu.be/PNuTEUUUZ4k
A vampire contemplates suicide
(rediscovered Cribsheet from age two – so out of sync)
Well, It’s Fall and the days have been beautiful cool jewels but they are growing foggy and soggy.
Isaac is a little sick today with a very minor temperature and he is droopy and sleepy as a result. I’m going to take advantage of nap time to say to you all and tell a couple of fresh stories.
It’s Thomas the – Goddamn -Tank Engine all day and night.
- That cheeky little engine and his minions have filled the house – and turned it into a rat’s nest of track and little grumpy trains. The Thomas stories are a little weird because they are full of grumbling and selfishness and frowny faces. There is one basic story line in Thomas series – they fall off the track or bump into something and there are dozens of these stories. As Isaac plays with the trains (He has two states of being right now, asleep or playing with the trains.) it becomes more and more about incredible disasters and pile ups.
- He comes and takes us by the hand and showing us the carnage says: “Are they OK? Are they OK?”
- Actually, I think I’m starting to understand Thomas better for a two year old – It’s full of adventures that go wrong and then “getting back on track”. It’s what he goes through all day.
- He isn’t two – he’s Very two. He’s violent and angry and tender and cuddly and that’s during a random 15 second period.
- He loves music and we play it a lot and sing a lot – he can sing all of the ABC’s and twinkle twinkle little star and Itsy bitsy spider – and lots of bits of other songs – I find it wonderful to hear him. I like a rather strange band called “They Might Be Giants” and frequently play a song called “Dr. Worm” and now I can occasionally hear Isaac singing quietly to himself: “They call me Doctor Worm, I’m not a real Doctor but I am a real worm, I am an actual worm…”
- I bought him a harmonica a while ago and we now and then do what I call the Strange Hillbilly Dance: He has me play what passes for a song on the harmonica while he does this weird little jerky dance. When I finish he says: “Yay!” and we return to whatever was happening before. For some reason we have to do it in the kitchen.
- Peanut of mystery: You know we look under rocks to find interesting bugs. Well I lifted up a big rock on our regular rounds and we found a fully intact peanut under there (where there had been no peanut before). Logic suggests it must be a squirrel who did it but this is a big, heavy rock half covered with earth. It would require 7 or 8 squirrels working as a team with a block and tackle to place that peanut under that rock and replace the soil around it. Or else a single seventy five pound squirrel lifted out the rock and daintily placed a peanut there before cleaning up and moving on. Either way I am disturbed.
- Isaac Ball: Some of you may remember Calvin ball from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes – kinda similar. When Isaac and his Mom went visit Isaac’s Aunt, Uncle and cousins. They introduced him to baseball which apparently Sam is really into and quite good at. At bat though, Isaac insisted on holding the bat by the fat end and tapping at the ball (on its T-ball perch) pool cue style.
- When they returned his Mom and I thought we better try to introduce him to sports a little more and bought some little guy baseball stuff. It’s a complete failure – the idea of rules everybody has to follow is clear to him it’s just that it means the rules as he see it – right now and subject to change when he sees it differently.
- I took him out in the backyard and set up bases and a batting post and Isaac tipped the ball of it’s perch with the skinny end of the bat – ran in a wacky ricochet pattern around the yard and back to where he started and shouted happily to me (as God is my witness)
- “Isaac a team player!” Which I’m thinking an amused relative might have told him back in Pittsburgh. All of our best to all of you,
Sooner next time,
So Mama & Papa are falling in love with baby all over again. We’re in the grip and we got it bad. Except for short excursions into raw and nasty toddler moods he’s just a tender, shining little person. We walk beside him trying to hold our guts in place.
Right now M is lying on the couch reading with Isaac completely zonked out across her, his head on her shoulder. It’s a strange communion when he sleeps on you, it’s like getting vitamins and warmth from sunshine after a long winter.
He is leaving certain baby words behind, Buttnee becomes button & Mimi becomes mouse and we are both impressed and suddenly wistful as another cute little stage waves goodbye in the rearview mirror dwindling out of sight. He’s undergone a growth spurt which makes him look more like a little boy and less like a baby though it’s hard to see what changed.
He is using full sentences at times now and picking up the alphabet and numbers with a particularly keen interest. When he wants to count things he points at them one by one while he says “five – six – five – six”. He loves to learn and it’s fascinating to get to be a teacher to him, watching him construct a universe piece by piece. He takes things in with such interest and attention to detail that I find I have to play the game better myself at times. He observes and talks about tiny details and I find myself looking hard at things he mentions and almost always finding his perceptions accurate. The other day he made a better word choice than I did. I took him out to Magnuson park to watch the kites flying at kite hill. As we were getting ready to go I saw an interesting kite with dozens of little dangly strips of cloth flying behind it and I pointed it out to him. I struggled for a word to describe it and I said “Look, octopus kite.” He looked and said “Jellyfish Kite!” and he was right, that was much closer to it.
The other day we took him out to a public playground in the park and suddenly came face to face with all the dark probing questions that arise from swings and slides and – those – other – kids. He has this odd, cautious quality I’ve mentioned before and to be fair he’s a little under the weather with another cold but at times he plays like a little Swedish philosopher. Swings leave him cold and slides are interesting but as worrisome as being asked to skydive. He walks over rough ground about as well as I roller skate which is to say uncertainly. We put him into this cool boat-like play structure where he carefully sifted and examined the tiny gray pebbles underfoot – moving them from hand to hand, throwing them over the side and dropping them through a little hole in the stern on the “ship”.
Another kid much bigger than Isaac came to play in the boat, spinning the tiller inches from his head. Cautioned by his Grandma to be careful he got mad at Isaac and when he thought nobody was looking he picked up a handful of pebbles and dirt and tossed them at his face. They missed, falling harmlessly but I yelled “Don’t do that!” and watched that kid like a hawk for the rest of our stay. I was thinking of that kid as a little monster when I remembered that Isaac has once or twice whapped a smaller baby at daycare.
I remember someone once said that children before they are socialized are 360 degree personalities radiating everything outward. Naturally and rightly we can’t stay that way. In a social world an adult radiating a 360 degree personality is a hour from prison or an insane asylum. It’s HOW that burning wick gets trimmed that concerns me. Isaac, keep as much of your fire and light and heat as you can while being a nice person, a trustworthy person.
Anyway, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon.
Talk to you soon.
He is vacuuming up information about everything as always, continuing to follow all the threads talked about in earlier crib sheets. He is getting very interested in letters and numbers. He knows many & points them out with excitement. Words become sentences. The first sentence I heard was a few days ago, looking at a picture on the computer screen “That’s a fish.”
He is more strong and agile and if he wants down and out of your arms it’s a little more powerful as an argument than it was. But he seems a little tentative about some physical stuff like walking on rough uneven terrain or getting down off M’s bed by himself. Neither of us knows what to make of it but we are just going to try to help him have more fun with rough-house play without making a thing out of it. He continues to be fascinated by bugs. Yesterday he found a little dead spider on a window sill and cheerily greeted it: “Hi Bug!” and pointed it out to me. I gently blew it away hoping he would think it just decided to leave. But he launched into calling out “Bug? Bug? Bug? Bug?” and after awhile sadly said:”Bye bye Bug.”We were at a coffee shop the next day, me having coffee and him cheerios when he noticed an ant on the floor and got very excited. We had dropped a cheerio (or ten) and the ant was inspecting it. He saw this and picked more cheerios out of the bag and dropped them deliberately around the ant. I’m sorry, coffeeshop employees, but in fairness, ants?
I give him something interesting to hold onto and look at when I’m changing a poopy diaper. I gave him a little shiny red “Hot Wheels” car and he was looking at it and said “Truck” so I said “Car” and he said “truck” so I leaned down at him and said “Car!” and he laughed and said “Truck!” and we went on and on getting more and more amused at our own silliness. When he says “No!” like a mad little toddler I find I can often change the tone just by being amused. Not mocking, just playful. Months ago we were watching an old movie with William Hurt on TV and Isaac looked at him and said “Daddy!” and I thought “Natural Mistake”. A week or two back I didn’t shave for a week and wore my glasses and my black baseball cap a lot. We were in the video store with him in my arms when he pointed at a video and said “Daddy, Daddy” I thought “Which handsome movie star has he mistaken for me this time?” He was pointing at a picture of Michael Moore on the cover of “Bowling for Columbine”. yOw.
He says “Please” but it’s pronounced “Peas” “Pick me up” is “UP-Peas”. He helps to put away toys and books at bedtime. It’s amazing.
I have to say I am proud of my storytelling self. I can extemporize a kid’s story that takes off, goes somewhere cool and lands on time. Some of my favorites: The Sunflower Seed Six about a bunch of jazz playing mice and their adventures.The Poo Poo Pirate Ship about well…um…just imagine. He came up with the name and idea. “The Bloops”, a race of round yellow aliens whose sun burns out so they go to the intergalactic hardware store to get another. These days because he loves 101 Dalmatians so much, he has me tell him stories about the Sunflower Seed Six saving the puppies from Cruella DeVil in a such a variety of places that I am now hard pressed to think of a single new location. We have saved puppies in the mountains, under the sea, in the desert, in deep underground bunkers, even on the moon! I’m sparing you the 15 or so others.Once in awhile when I’m telling stories I am so tired that I just start to drift off. What’s bizarre is that I continue to talk. The narrative thread gets a little shaky at these times however. Isaac will say “What?!” or I’ll sort of snap to attention and realize I’m doing the storytelling equivalent of driving off the road. It’s really weird.
Isaac is almost 5. It’s amazing. He was a baby just a minute ago. You’ve heard everyone else say such things, now it’s my turn. He is sort of tall and thin. His attitude is grumpy and sweet and playful and manipulative. I cannot believe the guilt inducing things he pulls on me at times. The other day he whacked me with a sword (small, plastic) and I read him the riot act about doing such things. He sobbed: “I thought my Daddy LOVED ME!”. I have never in my life voiced anything like this to him and I doubt his Mom has either (though I snarkily think it sounds more like her) . I think he came up with this entirely on his own. More and more I think people just are what they are from the very beginning and our stories about how “This happened and it changed me” are just fancy ways of rationalizing our peculiar and frustrating natures. He is sort of too clever in some ways. He forgets nothing, asks test questions to check my memory – makes up alternate words and answers with them waiting for me to translate. we read chapter books at bedtime and he loves them and lives very deeply in stories. 101 Dalmatians is a very big story for him. He is still challenged by large motor skill stuff (from his preemie days) and I can see him working these limits into how he does things and how he defines himself. I am doing what I can but I don’t know how much I can do. I get him out kicking the soccer ball – climbing hills – wrestling. He was sort of delicate about anything happening to him – one of those kids who says “ow” more often than they really should. I bought us some of those big foam “Noodles” the swimming flotation toys – and we whack each other over the head with them all time, we joust and quarterstaff with them and I am proud to say that my son can now be whacked in the head without becoming whiny and upset.
Well anyway, I just wanted to reach out to those of you I care about and hardly ever talk to, just to catch up a little. I guess I’ll finish with a lovely thing that happened with Isaac a couple of weeks ago. We had had a great day together and I told him that his Mom was coming to get him in a couple of hours. He said “Can I keep this day?” I said “I guess you can keep any day that you remember.”He said, “I keep all my days with you.”
Talk to you soon,Hugh