Friday, February 28, 2014

Teach a man to fish...

EDITOR’S NOTE: When Bert Marshall wrote this column in 2006, it fell on deaf ears. Not a single comment.  All folks wanted to talk about was the downgrading of the football programs at RSS and REL because the new school (Goose Creek Memorial) was pulling students from RSS, or the new football uniforms and mascot. Now we are two years behind on preparing young people to enter the labor force. The issue remains important.

Originally published Thursday, June 29, 2006

Teach a man to fish...

Remember the old adage of feeding a man a fish for one meal, versus teaching him to fish and he feeding himself for a lifetime?

If GCCISD would promote the Vocational-Technical agenda of old instead of a general knowledge prepare-kids-for-conventional-college-type high school, wouldn’t there be more people exiting high school with above minimum wage skills?

Most high school students never complete their first semester of college. Why don't we help them early on, to enter the work force with skills that pay much more than minimum wage?

Baytown is in the process of building another High School and we have a smaller VoTech school, the Stuart Career Center, but it is not viewed as a primary option. This school is almost invisible to average Baytownians. If you ask around, folks will tell you we have 2 high schools period.

I suggest we take a hard look at pushing general knowledge (diploma) students with certificates of trade AND a high school diploma. An exiting student would have an actual trade when they graduate, which they could augment at Lee College for a full degree. This could start as early as the 9th grade and all the classes they need would be located at one school.

Baytown could become famous for graduating people who go into young adulthood with success and actual marketable trade skills. Many times a young person exits high school prematurely and finds the job market is dismal to say the least. This sets up a couple of options. One, work for minimum wage and this becomes their life. Two, pursue a life of crime. Three hang out. Four, join the military. Five, live off the government.

As a process operator of 30 years I am shocked at how few craftsmen are available without extensive on-the-job training. When my Plant has an extended turnaround, or new construction we have the hardest time finding craftsmen. What we get are boiler-makers. People hire in on turn-arounds as ‘boiler-makers’ that are not the true craftsmen that the title implies.

In this day and age we have a huge blooming population of young people whose only skill is video game related. Ask the average 18 year old boy to point out the alternator on their new car and they’ll stare at you with a blank look. My Dad could disassemble a car motor at 18 and at 18 I had half that knowledge.

A VoTech Mecca is what this city could become for young people and it’s time the City of Baytown began working to make it a reality.

“Oh! You were trained in the Baytown VoTech? Come in, we’ve been searching for someone with your skills”

Friday, February 21, 2014

PC Passion - but Never Saw It Coming

I bought my first PC computer in 1981 or 82 if I remember correctly and it was love at first sight.  It didn’t matter to me that it was already obsolete.  I owned a computer!  It was made by Radio Shack and was officially named the Tandy TRS-80 or unofficially the Trash-80.  My long time mentor Don Trumps was our church secretary and sold it to me when he upgraded the unit.  It came with a massive printer weighing close to fifty pounds and would print two foot-wide sheets of paper running both directions.  It was as amazing to watch as it was deafening and my bride was appalled when I set all of this up on the dining room table.
I am an outdoorsman to be sure, but also one of those nerdish people who are fascinated with computers.
When I say this, I do not mean that I am a gamer who needs 128 gigabytes of RAM memory on my video card to be happy, or an Angry Birds addict.  Holy hard drives, I’ve never played Pacman, Mario, Frogger, or Duke Nukem for more than a couple of seconds before I became bored.
I am however fascinated by how they work and the vast amount of applications and programs they can run at my command.  I am just as intrigued in 2014 as I was in 1981, so much so that I learned to take them apart and put them together.  I’ve built a bunch of them from scratch, tuning them to the machine I felt I needed at the time.  I can remember when RAM chips were $40 a megabyte and how amazed the guys at work were when they learned I was running an astounding 4 megs of RAM in my machine at home.
My home location is what I facetiously call the OCSC, or the Orbiting Command Ship Central and everyone who knows me, knows I call it this.  It’s where I make stuff happen.  At any given time I’ll have as many as 6 laptops, notebooks, and desktops in various states of maintenance stacked on the giant table with hard drives spinning.
My real passion like I said is not in gaming, but in utilities.  I love to root out virus’.  Recently I got my grubby computer-mitts on 3 dead lap-top’s that were stuck back in closets (because it is too expensive to get them repaired, so I just use my Smartphone).  This is a most common refrain, by the way.  I’ll just use my Smartphone, even though I’m still making payments on my computer.
All 3 lap-tops were dead in the water, so to speak.  They had the dreaded blue screen of death, or wouldn’t boot past the Windows screen.  Now I look at an infected or malfunctioning computer the same way other folks look at a blank crossword puzzle.  I am drawn to it like a fly to the hamburger you are fixing to bite into at a picnic.  I find it irresistible.  I’ll swoop in from work with an infected laptop owned by a coworker, tell my bride I’m going to take it to the OCSC before I shower, and an hour later I’m pecking away at it, while still in my Nomex uniform.
Over the years I’ve had about a 90+% success rate and I figure this is very high, based on the machines I’ve received and repaired after someone else deemed them dead.  I figured after I retired I would supplement my fixed income by doing what I love – cleaning virus’ and repairing computers… or so I thought.
I never saw the Smartphone displacing the personal computer as the default go-to device.
To clarify my statement, I am not ignorant of technology and understand that there will be countless iterations of Internet access devices on the horizon, but please explain to me how staring at a little 2 inch screen and pecking on it can possibly be more desirable than a full-sized monitor and equally full-sized QWERTY keyboard for home use?
Plasma TV power supply repair
I have an Android-based Smartphone with a large screen and use it often, but it is no substitute for the real thing, not even close.  I run two 24 inch and one 26 inch monitors to keep everything where I can see it when I’m writing, reading, building, running, or streaming audio/video.  I can’t imagine doing it on a 2 inch screen – well, some of what I do would be impossible to do on my phone to put it bluntly.
I love computers and will always have one, but I can walk away from my PC and go off on an adventure totally unplugged, which I often do.  Smartphones make this almost impossible, unless a person simply shuts it off and disconnects.  After all, who is in charge, you, or your computer?  
Geeze, Bert, you’re mean!
Smartphones should come with a warning on the side in my opinion, which would read “Caution:  Frequent use of this phone when friends are around will make you appear disconnected and anti-social if they do not have their own phone.”
The bottom line is this.  Dig that PC or laptop out of the closet, get it repaired, and when you are out socializing with friends, shut your phone off and disconnect for an hour or two.  You will be amazed what they look like in person.

PC Repair Done Dirt Cheap Facebook page or call me at 832-414-7883

Friday, February 14, 2014

Enlightenment or Idiocracy and Hashtags?

 We are living in an enlightened time where almost any question can be answered by simply pulling an electronic device of some sort out of a case, or your pocket and typing – or speaking it into said device and blam, your correct answer – maybe.  You still have the responsibility to sift what you read, hear, or watch and determine if it is in fact, the literal truth.

Huh? #WhatMeWorry

“You mean if it is on the Internets, it might not be true?  Who woulda thunk?”

Unfortunately, there is literally tons of misinformation on the Internet that is incorrect, just like this sentence.  Just because you hate a political candidate and your best friend sends you scandalous or negative information on them in an email, doesn’t write it in stone. 

The way urban legends get started is the writer plans to fool you when they start it by writing a mixture of truth with their tricky fiction.

The second the unsuspecting reader sees the hated candidate’s name and a smidgeon of truth, they feed on it like a toothless starving man with a steaming hot bowl of buttery grits.  They giggle wild-eyed as their hands shake and violently stabbing the send button, they send it to all their other starving grit-eating friends. #ToothlessBum

And they don’t learn a thing.  This behavior continues year after year, even when non-grit eating friends point it out.  Take for instance this new trend called hashtags.  I hate it.  I hate everything about it.  I hate how it is being thrown in my face by every commentator on the news and buttery grit eaters.

It’s time for my version of idiocratic enlightenment folks, so listen up.

More and more often I am hearing people use the term "Hashtag" in conversation, as if a hovering computer is indexing every word they speak.  To me, it borders on absolute idiocy.  It is a Twitter indexing term and Twitter is making people stupider by the millisecond. Now it is working its way into broadcasts, online forums like, and Facebook, as if it actually were indexing key words, which its not. 

I joined Twitter, like I do every new thing that comes down the pike (to be progressive in my own education), when it first appeared.  I wanted to stay informed; nothing more or less.  It took me about a week before I dismissed it as blather and fluff.  A year passed and I reconsidered.  Maybe I was wrong.  After all, everyone is quoting Twitter.  Famous people tweet!

The second time lasted about 20 minutes and I closed my account.  There are enough distractions in this life without openly inviting attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to eat grits with me, butter or not #ADHDWithButter.

Now you may love Twitter and that is your right, but one look at the movie Idiocracy and you’ll close your account, I promise, #IWasSoSmartAndNowIAint.  Here is an excellent example of what I am talking about and it was pointed out to me after I began writing this column, #ImMadTooEddie.

Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake, both icons of the generation using this term make fun of the use of this word and how it has schlepped into people’s everyday “conversating”.

In the movie Idiocracy, two under-achievers become part of a US Army experiment which accidentally propels them 500 years into the future. They discover a society so incredibly dumbed-down that they are easily the most intelligent people alive.  Look around us folks.  It’s already began #UhHello.

Take for instance the 7 armored car robberies Houston had in 2013.  Only an idiot would try to rob an armored car with guards carrying copious amounts of weapons and many of these guards have military experience with no compunction against firing said weapons.

Oh, you want another example?  Okay.  Only a person of low intelligence would drink alcohol and get behind the wheel of a car or truck.  What is it now for the first offense?   How about a $2000 fine, up to 3 to 180 day’s jail time, loss of driver license up to a year, and an annual fee of $1,000 or $2,000 for three years to retain driver license?  Then we’ll add in the massive lawyer fees #JustTakeACab.

275 idiots were listed by the Baytown police department for DWI in 2013 and we got us 15 vying for the title already in 2014.  Oh, you think I am being rude #WhoCares?  Well, put yourself in the place of the people who are killed by these morons and the loved ones you leave behind and you’ll change your tune.

Hey!  I don’t claim to be Alfred Einstein or the sage James Finley, but when people idolize celebrities and quote their tweets as if it is the Gospel, I find a quiet place away from the drivel and read a book #ShakinMyHaid.  Then I double check the facts.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Survival, Baytown Nurture Nature Style!

Myself and a small group of men, women, and children hiked down a trail and set camp by a tree line, about 75 yards from a bayou.  The weather was perfect, or so we thought, as we forgot to check the local forecast.  We pitched our tents and without really thinking about it, we placed the rain fly over our tent, ate a great meal around the campfire and since we had a big day planned for tomorrow, we bedded down early.
About 1am, we are awakened by a thunderstorm.  No problem, but by 3am, it is raining so hard and the wind is buffeting the tent.  Suddenly, there is a sound we dread – the sound of rushing water and we scramble from the tent, as a wall of water goes over us and takes the tent down with the torrent of flooding water.
We are pressed against the tree line and one of our members believes the violence may have broken their leg.  The only item we are able to save is a lone backpack and we await the storm to pass, in water up to our necks.
By 7am, the storm is breaking and a quick assessment of our situation shows we are about a quarter of a mile from higher ground.  None of us recognize where we are now and it is a bit confusing to say the least, as hypothermia is clouding our judgment.  “We can’t really be in trouble, right?  I mean we were only two miles from the trailhead…” one person says through their chattering teeth.
One of the younger members of our group is inventorying the backpack and calls out what they find to each of us.  “A small first aid kit with some pain meds, lip balm, 2 pill bottles with tinder inside, a butane lighter, a CD of Christmas music, compass, a reflective mirror, some food and candy, a whistle, a space blanket, 50 feet of small cord, sunscreen, a bottle of water, some water purification tablets, a box cutter”, and a couple of other items.
The group decides to give our injured member the two pain meds and using the box cutter, one of our stronger members climbs the trees and begins cutting poles to make a small raft to carry our injured member to the distant shore.  This person is now in great pain and their suffering is taking a toll on all of our nerves.  An argument breaks out over the seriousness of our situation.  A couple of our stronger members want to go for help, but agree to help us get the raft over to the shore, build a fire, secure our injured person, and make a temporary shelter before leaving.
More arguing is caused by the revelation that the young person inventorying the backpack didn’t look in one of the pockets where a large quantity of paper and plastic sheeting was stored and the exhausted child begins to cry further stressing the group, who are now desperate to get out of the water and very cold.  The two alpha personalities, who were working for the good of the group, further exacerbate the stress by arguing who should be in charge.
This particular camping trip never happened, but is a scenario handed to the group I was in at last Saturday’s Nurture Nature survival class, led by the Baytown Nature Center’s Naturalist Christina Butcher.  The second group followed the misadventures of a lone hiker and their group decided what they would do if it were them.
The group I was in had very good input and I feel we all would have done very well.  The stress part was my idea, as I have read many books where this behavior inevitably comes into play.
After our brain-storming session, our instructor added to what we had attempted, praising our collective thought while pointing out things we missed.  She was very well informed, touching on venomous serpents, foods that grow locally, and bringing to our attention little, but important facts we missed.  The group offered many great ideas and we all came away better prepared if and when that information is needed.  Great big kudos to Ms. Butcher and the Baytown Nature Center for these fine programs which are always on the first Saturday of the month at 10am to noon.

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