A few thoughts for improvement

When I filled out the survey recently I thought I was being given a chance to air some thoughts. Of course, I’m not labouring in any mistaken belief that my thoughts in particular will be considered – I know that surveys are taken as data en mass rather than individualistically. There is no single person – most of the time – poring over the carefully entered and edited loving comments and ideas submitted by survey participants. 

Knowing this, I’ve always intended that toward the end of my time in university I would leave a few salient thoughts for the university here. It seems as good a place as any. I’ve never seen an idea box on campus, so I guess this will have to do. 

So here we go:

  1. Clean clean clean! The University of Calgary is not a cleaned place. Read that carefully. It’s not cleaned – at all – as near as I can tell. There are stains on the floor in the brand new Taylor Family Digital Library that were there when I arrived in 2011! Oh, I know they empty garbages, but floors are not mopped, tables are not wiped, stains are not removed, and it’s all really rather unpleasant. Sad that this should be my first thought on completion of my degree program – such a small point, really – but important to the overall enjoyment of time spent on campus. 
  2. Reduce waste. U of C tells everyone it wants to be environmentally friendly, but there are things that they could do to reduce waste. For example, I can’t count the number of times I’ve written four-line answers in quizzes using a booklet of twenty pages! There just isn’t anything efficient about that! The booklets can’t be re-used and re-cycling is up to the student. I wrote an Email two years ago to the President, suggesting the Profs be given an option for single sheets of paper rather than a whole booklet. I never did hear back. 
  3. Weekend hours are strange. The library doesn’t open until 10am on weekends, and yet most students who want and need to get work done get up much earlier than that. 
  4. Renovations. Do I need to bitch about marble floors in the administration areas when students are always being asked to pay more?
  5. Quiet spaces. The top three floors of the library are designated quiet areas, but there are so many students in there rubbing shoulders that it really doesn’t work out that way. I would ask that students be provided with additional areas where they can work without having to enjoy their neighbours’ coughing and conversation. That would be on my Christmas wish list. How about the old Mackimmie Library? It’s closed right now, and has been since I arrived, but as near as I can tell it would be quite easy to gut most of the walls from it, put down carpet tile, throw in some chairs and desks and let people get to work. There aren’t any structural issues so I’m not sure why this wouldn’t be an option.
  6. Actual shelters at the bus loop would be nice. The way it is, people have to stand in the cold and wind and rain and snow to wait for a bus there. Bus shelters wouldn’t have to be heated, but they would at least keep folks out of the wind. Just because we’re young, doesn’t mean we won’t freeze when the bus is behind its time. 😛
  7. More choice in the Food Court. I know there are massive renovations coming, and I imagine that’s in the works, but – you know – Jeez!
  8. Smoking areas. I used to smoke, so I don’t ignore the need that some people have to tank up on nicotine in their breaks, but there are supposedly rules about smoking at entrances to buildings. Even so, if I wanted to start a ciggy-butt collection that is where I would go. Create sheltered places where the smokers can mill around away from the entrances and building air intakes, and thus keep everyone happy. No, really.
  9. Web system. Between My U of C and Blackboard, the whole set up is not intuitive. I was told every year that I could choose and book my courses online, but I didn’t because it’s too damn hard to figure out what you’re looking at. I always went in and sat down with the awesome, patient, understanding Maria in Student Services to make sure I got my courses booked without error. It’s true there way be an old fart element at work here, but I maintain it’s why I’m graduating soon – I’m on track because Maria kept me on track, all the way along. I spoke to at least three students who thought they were finishing but found out that courses they took didn’t count. So how does that make sense?
  10. More power outlets for devices. Honestly, the old lecture halls and even the newly renovated Social Science building are woefully deficient in this area. You have to get to class early just so you can sit near an outlet!
Other than these simple gripes my experience at U of C has been awesome. Almost completely awesome. Just the right amount of mind-blowing, head-numbing, eye-rubbing stress, and silliness in all the right proportions. The fact that I’m an old fart has been an issue in some areas, but has bought me some credibility in others. The fact is, even though the university guarantees they will get every student through it, there is nothing particularly easy about getting a degree. Oh sure, you figure out a method after a while, but you still have to do the work. It always comes down to the work. 
That’s what I’m dealing with now, working on my last ever paper. My feet are already in the exit doorway, but my mind keeps saying “hold on, I’m not done yet!” I still have work to put in to this final paper, and frankly, it’s being bloody difficult. As always, I’ll get it done, but a simple paper is being perhaps as big of a challenge as I have faced in my entire time at the University of Calgary. 


Now that there are only two and a half weeks left I would say that it’s time to start reflecting on the nature of this experience – to assess what it was all about, what it was worth, and what it might be worth in the future. 

I’m in the library now. I just finished rehearsing for a presentation with some very focused young students. They’re so indulgent of the old man – they put up with my foibles without kicking up too much of a fuss.

Anyway, it occurs to me that I’m now coming to the end of an experience which began in May 2011 as an effort to re-rail and  re-establish purpose after being laid off from my job of 23 years. 

September of that year saw a large number of firsts – the first class, the first test, the first essay and so on – and now I’m experiencing some Newtonian, equal-and-opposite lasts. 

This morning, for example, I came here on the train for the last time. I waited in Mac Hall for the library to open – for the last time – and right now I’m sitting in a library workroom which I booked in my name for the last time. Frankly, I’m probably in this library for the last time right now, because the rest of my studies can be done at home and other than a final, romantic walkabout there would be no reason for me to come back here.

It makes you think: about the passage of time, the meaning of events. It makes you wonder what the point is of using all our personal forces to develop when we’d probably be a lot more comfortable if we just stagnated. I hope against hope that I have the energy to keep learning right up until my last day – there is no emotional profit in being satisfied. There’s no joy in quiesence. Learn and grow, that’s my motto. Learn something new every day, or waste your life on the passive entertainments.

Anyway, here’s my last view of the library. It’s Saturday, so it’s not too busy – but that’s not how I’ll remember it. 

There’s a thing about lasts. The optimism of beginning is gone, but it’s replaced now by the nervous anticipation of satisfaction and success. 

And I have to say, I like the sound of that.

Cluing In

Who doesn’t like a tummy rub?

It has only taken me (mumble-mumble) years, but I think I’m finally getting it. 

My dog had a talkative spell last week – sidling up to a lot of other dog buddies on Twitter. He made lots of friends, followed lots of folks, clicked, read, commented, liked, favourited and retweeted to his little heart’s content. He put photos up, lauded others on their photos, commiserated, loved, licked and well – you get the picture. He was a very popular little guy for about two shiny days. He got responses to his responses – he had dialogue with doggies from all over the world – lots of mutual (virtual) nose-rubs and butt sniffs, and hours spent comparing the vaguaries of the ‘hoomans’ and their many well-meaning if mis-guided attempts at parenting. 

Then he quit. Well, let’s face it, I quit. Schoolwork called, snow-shovelling beckoned, the actual world trumped the virtual,  and the pixels just had to wait. For two days he was nowhere in sight, and do you know how many contacts he got from all his new Twitter friends? Not one. 

Anyway, it’s not really important whether Poopsie hears from his friends or not – frankly, he’s far too busy here eating chicken and licking the floor. But what this made me realize is that in our modern, technological world people only bother to look elsewhere when they think there’s something in it for them. As I sadly learned in the Co-op program at university – the answer to the job search conundrum isn’t talent or grades or experience or effort or intent. The answer is networking, rubbing elbows, socializing and social networking. So what we’re seeing in fish-eye sociological terms is that the name of the game, today, is reciprocity – that talent and ability aren’t as important as audience-building and marketing – that presence means more than ability; appearance trumps integrity. Who you know is more important than what you know.   

I’d better stop before you see sour grapes where there aren’t any. I don’t begrudge anyone the right to carve success out of nothing – I rather hope to do that myself. I just hope that success (mine or anyone’s) is ultimately a product of skill and talent, not just the construction of appearances, because a world – and a society – founded on the appearance of stability is a world that’s due for a tumble.


Ps: I’m handing in the next two papers today.

Full blown attack

The thing about school is that it just doesn’t stop when a student gets sick. If a paper is due, well, it’s due, and that’s all there is to it. Of course, there are exceptions (like a death in the family), but me being unable to see straight for most of the past week, being unable to tell the difference between my cheek and my eyeball due to an ugly sinus infection, and being unable to cauterize the constant stream of booger bags flowing from my face to the trash can is not an excuse that any self-respecting professor would accept for work not turned in. 

The ice remains decidedly uncut on consideration of the fact that it has hurt like the dickens for me to even look at a screen or a page this week, let alone read volumes of research material, compiling, rationalizing, sorting and organizing it all into a coherent whole. There will be no sympathy for me and my silly little tissue pile – no concern for how deficient I feel or for how the pressure is building minute by minute because truly this encounter with a less-than-healthy me is rendering my usual standards of work unreachable. As the bard said, Lo, how hardens the professorial heart, how stiffens the administrative resolve! Verily, though I toil and toil, my sickly sweat dripping unbidden on the page, I – oh, never mind. 

The last time I got sick at school it was the second week of the semester. That time there was nothing but reading to be done. This time there are deadlines and a standard to maintain. Am I going to be able to do it? 

Stay tuned. 

Now, a picture. 

Ah, school.



Remember the Vancouver trip? Well, here’s what happened:

We got there and it was raining – go figure. This didn’t dampen our spirits very much though, and we headed to the dealership before we even found a room. 

The car is ten years old, but it was in the showroom. We decided as soon as we saw it that driving it home, 600 miles in the rain would be borderline criminal, so the decision was made to put it on a truck. This, of course, obviated my purpose in making the trip, but I really didn’t mind. The car was worth it. 

The Reason

This, and the process of payment, checking the vehicle out, gabbing with the salesman and so on were all very important work, but I had other fish to fry and I set about heating the oil.

While the thorny details were being addressed I found whatever space I could and pushed the paper along. I started it, tapping madly away on my iPad, in the truck and finished it in the hotel room. Then, once I was home again, I tidied it up and fired it through the printer.

Rushing ahead now, my little submission managed to draw a 90%. The teacher’s comment was “You’re on your way” and I’m bound to say, when I saw that I remembered my 1,200 mile trip and couldn’t help but smile. 

Next up: Mid-term Madness.



Now this is what I call studying! 

My schedule this semester saves me ten hours per week of travel time relative to last semester, and allows me to greet the ceiling when it is light, not dark. As an old fart I’m very grateful for this. 

But, the first week of this fall semester is also giving me some wonderful weather to play with, so I’ve decided that I’m going to do my reading outside, not cooped up in my office in the basement, where I tend to spend most of the winter months. A little vitamin C and some memories of an all-too-short summer season to send me into the studying season. 

After this blog, of course. 

Studying hard


Daily Prompt: Turning Point

Checklist for the start of a new semester
  • Stuff
I’ve got my pens and pencils, my books, erasers, bag and such. I picked up a new phone (got to have one of those for a new school year) and my camera is fully charged. What could I possibly be missing? Oh wait – I’ve got to put the Aspirin back in the backpack, and I must remember to throw in some coffee money.
  • Attitude
I’ve been away from the books and the studies for so long now I almost feel as though I’ve forgotten what to do. Tomorrow will be another in a long line of firsts, though – and I’m sure I’ll pick right up from where I left off. Discipline is a sub-category of the Attitude main – without discipline none of this gets done.  
  • Creativity
At some point I’m going to need this so I’ll just go ahead and tuck it into my backpack right now. Creativity is a vital part of a solid education – without it the process, and so the result, of an education is academic at best. Creativity allows the research process to unfold more easily – search terms, terms of reference, all become more straightforward when approached with a creative mindset. Don’t ask me how this works, but it does.
  • Concentration
A healthy dose of concentration never hurt anyone, but it gets more difficult with age. I’m told that fish oil helps aid concentration and intelligence – but what on earth am I going to do?
  • Patience
Let’s face it – some patience is required when an old fart goes back to school. Is it me being patient with the young’uns, though, or are they being patient with me? I suppose it’s a kind of symbiosis, which – if properly managed – can be mutually beneficial. I bring maturity (hahahahaha) and calm (read, apathy or indolence), and the youth bring energy and enthusiasm and a willingness to accept delegation, no matter how reasonable.
  • Determination
This is it. This is the final push – for me, the final five courses which will hopefully propel me to greater things. Let’s face it – after this there’s nothing but the job search and the working world, and paycheques. And if that’s not an incentive to stay determined then I don’t know what is. 
In the spirit of the aforementioned creativity, here is a gothic view some of the old university buildings. Take a good look. These dark and dingy halls are the birthing place of a world of new discoveries. 
Here’s to education.