Saturday, July 23, 2022

My dad graduated from the school of hard knocks

...but this post isn't going to be about him, it's going to be about me.

I had a good education, as far as it went. Most of the teachers in our local achool system were excellent, and with their help I wound up as valedictorian of the class of 1958. True, there were only 46 of us in the class of 1958, but it was a significant achievement nonetheless. I then attended four different institutions of higher learning in three different states but never received a degree, which fact brings to mind a scene from the 1972 screwball comedy What's Up, Doc? (it was supposedly modeled on Bugs Bunny cartoons) in which Barbra Streisand, after rattling off a long litany of universities she had attended and various courses of study she had pursued, answered someone's question, "What were you trying to do?" with a single word: "Graduate."

Well, so was I but life got in the way. I ran out of money, I left school, I joined the Air Force, I married Mrs. RWP, we began having children, you know, normal interruptions. As time went by, my desire to finish university simply became less and less important and the children's education became more and more important. I am happy to report that all three of our offspring turned out well (I would even say magnificently but I am biased, of course) and two of them have earned masters degrees.

On the strength of having more than three years of college credits (because the military gave me credit for two years worth of R.O.T.C. courses plus physical education) and three years of computer programming experience in the military, IBM graciously hired me after I received my honorable discharge and re-entered civilian life.

Near the end of the year at my second campus of higher learning, I concluded that a degree from some schools meant absolutely nothing or, to be more charitable, very little, chiefly because they were for all intents and purposes just diploma mills, churning out half-educated graduates year after year. So basically I ended up throwing out the baby with the bathwater but I did continue my never-ending education by following the very good advice written on signs at railroad crossings all over the country: Stop, Look, and Listen. In addition, I never stopped reading. By and large, my approach has stood me in good stead.

One thing having a college degree definitely helps determine is one's starting salary in many corporations. And not having a degree at the start of one's career but getting one later on seems to make very little difference to the powers-that-be in most Human Resources departments (formerly known as Personnel departments).

So I am that rarest of birds, a valedictorian who became a college dropout. Interestingly (I hope), I think I was the first person on my dad's side of the family who ever went to college and the first person on my mom's side of the family who failed to finish.

If you think I have painted too bleak a picture, tell me so in a comment, but please refrain from telling me about my lack of stick-to-it-iveness by not finishing what I started. I am well aware of that.

At least Tasker Dunham in Yorkshire and I both know what 65,536 is. Do you?

I have tried to keep snarkiness out of my writing, but it is an uphill and mostly losing battle.

Enough (more than enough) about me. Today our older son and his family are coming over to take us out to lunch in celebration of Mrs. RWP's birthday, which is four days away.

13 comments:

  1. Yes it's a natural number. Start pissing about with (i) and you'd lose me.
    I don't have to know its two or three to some power as computers do that bit. Like I no longer have to know that a spherical triangle has an included angle starting from 0° and going to 360. Real buggers to calculate long hand, lots of sines to the minus ones or sine plus 90° to the minus ones, same thing. In the days before Sat Nav we had to do those calculations in indelible ink so they could be checked later in case one fouled up with ones star altitude reductions. We were allowed a single line strike through before starting again. No rubbing out allowed. We quick sticks learned to do them on scrap paper then copy a respectable result into the ships log. It passed the day on at sea. Our mathematics may not have been Euclid level but it was far in excess of school teacher expertise or even understanding. Try and imagine the mental gymnastics of a submarine navigator before they had computers. Okay a few fouled up but they still got about. Most folk in Blog land would struggle to upload software. Many struggle to use it once it's uploaded.
    Thank heaven for Apps. They allow the stupid to look competent. That is until they are put in charge then they foul up big time.

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    1. Adrian, I must have hit a nerve. I'm sorry. You know a lot more about spherical triangles and sines and stuff than I do. The only thing I know about going to see is that an owl and a pussycat did it in a beautiful pea-green boat. That's not exactly true, as my dad was a Navy man in the Second World War and talked about it every single day of his life from then untl the day he died in March 1967. I don't know about "most folk in Blog land"; I only know about myself. Keep commenting!

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    2. I love the fact that even you, Bob, can err. I think the owl and the pussycat went to sea. I drew a picture of them doing just that recently.

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  2. Just looked it up.
    It's a programmers nightmare it's binary. Is it 10 and hundreds more tens to log 2. Hey programmers join the real world and forget that one silly number. Do what we all do with machine coding when the silly computer rejects G-code. We just add or subtract .001 of whatever. Governments would pay to have it sorted, it would take posh programmers five years to achieve bugger all and that's where money goes.

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    1. Adrian, binary is not a programmer's nightmare, it's the mother's milk of data processing. I'm very thankful for hexadecimal notation as debugging a System/360 dump would have been a hornet's next otherwise. I'm talking ancient history computer-wise here; I haven't programmed in decades.

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    2. Obviously I meant sea, not see!

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  3. I delayed going to college because I married instead. When I finally enrolled I had four children and a husband to care for. The husband left and I still had four children to care for. Finances are what kept many of us from continuing our educations. Now it doesn't really matter because a degree would not change my retired status. I can learn the things I wish by looking them up on the computer.

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    1. Emma, I don't think student loans had even been invented when I needed them, or if they had my dad had drilled into my head the absolute foolishness of going into debt. You're right, learning can continue up until the day we die thanks to computers and smart phones.

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  4. Some academics believe true ability is the ability to switch between different mental representations of the same thing. I won't quote references but I can also do binary.
    Which programming language did you start with? On my masters course we learned COBOL, Pascal and Assembler. I loved the logic of Pascal, hated the 'moving things around from shelf to shelf' approach of COBOL, and Assembler interfered with my life - I couldn't look at car number plates without thinking things such as "SNA = subtract number from accumulator".

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    1. Tasker, I used to make binary patches into object decks of IBM cards using an 010 keypunch. I am really, really old. My first programming language was JOVIAL (Jules Own Version of the International Algorithmic Language, Jules being Jules Schwartz of Scientific Data Systems, later Xerox Data Systems). We used it to code programs for the Single Integrated Operations Plan (SIOP) on the ITT AN/FSQ-31V computer at SAC Headquarters in Omaha. I'm talking 1962 through 1965 here. I never learned COBOL at all but was happy to discover that DO in Jovial corresponded to FOR in Fortran. For a couple of years I was an assembler--language programmer for a while on the IBM 1130, where space was at such a premium we used *-* (current address minus current address) instead of defining a constant for zero.

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  5. I did COBOL as a subsid subject in a post-grad business degree back in the early '70s. I remember absolutely none of it. I had no idea of the significance of 65,536. My late elder son taught me to programme in Basic when he was about 10 or 11. He went on to do a doctorate in computer science but died before graduation day.

    Frankly I have never judged anyone on the pieces of paper they hold but on what they have actually learned in life and what sort of people they are.

    I once gave the job of office manager (which actually involved a lot more than the title might suggest) to a former RAF officer who had never been to University and I was criticised because of it. Of course he was absolutely first class at the job (I'm quite good at choosing people for jobs and modest too).

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    1. Graham, I learned programming before there was such a thing as computer courses in the post-grad world, to say nothing of Computer Science departments in universities all across the land. We learned from the IBM Corporation in the military, and then I went to work for IBM after I left the military. In later years when I helped with project management in AT&T, all of the mainframe programs were written in COBOL by others.

      I conclude from your last paragraph that you are a good person. Boors with agendas of their own will always criticise, no matter what you do.

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  6. Bob, your last sentence about boors is true. If my parents criticised me for anything it was always kind and constructive. Both, particularly Mum, were very much against negativity. I have tried to be the same.

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