Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Son of Depression Era Parents

I weigh at least twice as much as my dad did at the time he passed away and he was a severe diabetic and I'm not diabetic at all. So in those ways we are quite different. Nonetheless, I feel as if I'm turning into him. I'm sure that feeling is common among adult children. It is more pronounced now for me, having recently turned fifty.

One of the ways my dad showed his roots was through his cheapness in certain areas. Although he and my mom were quite comfortable financially, when he shopped he'd always buy the knock off or on sale item - we'd get the single ply paper napkins in the store brand, the kind that melts in your hands when you try to use it. His instinct was to save rather than to spend on himself. He was generous with his kids and grandkids.

As I said, I'm getting more like him. While I understand that it is total cost of ownership that should be minimizied, not purchase price, I'm also aware that you can define up needs or define needs down. Caring more about purchase price and trying to keep that minimal is a way of defining needs down.

We in IT who have gone through years and years of having expectations by our community exceed the services we could deliver and hence are used to defining needs up. But in the current situation where budgets are so tight, we have to become more like my dad. We need to be providing the single ply napkin version of our services. This will take some getting used to. My dad's generation survived the Great Depression. We can survive now, but our values need changing. We need to be more miserly and leave it to the next generation to spend more than we did.

We also need to think of ourselves as architects. The great architect is not the one who designs the beautiful building out of the best white marble. Conceptually, that is an easy task. The great architect is the one who in the desert builds a highly functional building out of sand. The economy of the effort is clear, to realze the result conceptually is much harder.

My belief about focusing on students as mentor/teachers and content creators is certainly in part motivated by the observation that the students are the abundant input, the human equivalent of sand in the desert. We have to learn to use what we have rather than spend all our time pining for what we do not have.

Another respect in which I'm more and more like my dad --- he didn't believe in doing most jobs perfectly (raking the leaves in the yard being the most obvious example). The job would have to be done over and over again, no matter what, so the next time around do what didn't get done the previous time. My analog here is that I'm quite willing to throw out ideas about using students to support insturction. I know I've not done a perfect job and a lot of needed detail for a full plan is missing. But I think throwing out the idea has value and repeating the idea so I or others can put more flesh on it also has value. I'm aware enough to know I'm not the great architect. But I think I'm onto something that could influence someone else who might be.

My dad had problems with his eyes - cataracts and Macula degeneration. I've got early stages of the latter and I've got floaters. Nonetheless we both seem to like sitting in front of the computer composing messages - even if there are a lot of typos and proofreading is a chore.

The philosophy behind the approach to this blog is my dad's. In that way it is a tribute to him.

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