Short Steve: Ernest Dichter

There is a story concerning Ernest Dichter that I’ll relay in just a moment, and it’s totally untrue – but the true story is even better!

Dichter is credited with coining the term “focus group” to describe a select group of individuals who’s goal is to provide feedback on a given product or situation. He arrived in the United States from Vienna in 1939, and within 18 months had become known nationwide for his success in creating the new marketing direction of Ivory Soap (“Be Smart and Get a Fresh Start!”), Chrysler (recognizing the significance of a woman’s input into a man’s car-buying decision), and his work with saving P. Duff & Sons instant cake mix, and the cake mix industry in general.

The story goes that Duff hired Dichter to figure out why sales of their cake mixes were lagging after such a strong start. Dichter convened one of his focus groups and quickly determined that woman were feeling guilty about using cake mixes – specifically, they felt their contribution to the household was being diminished because all they had to do was add water and bake – hardly a challenging task for a child, much less an accomplished housewife!

His recommendation: remove the dried egg component from the cake mix and have the housewife add egg AND water, thereby fulfilling her need to do something in the process.

Except this story is almost certainly apocryphal. And the truth is so much better!

Dichter DID handle the marketing for Duff, and he DID convene a focus group to determine why sales were lagging. His actual findings, though, were something quite different. He found, in fact, that women were bored with the process of adding water to a premade cake mix and baking it. After some testing and experimentation, he recommended that the best way to improve sales of cake mix was to make it part of a larger enterprise. Rather than just cook and serve the cake, Dichter recommended additional steps post-bake, and voila! the cake decorating industry was born.

That’s right – if you love frosting and/or icing as much as I do, you have the father of motivational research and the coiner of the term “focus group”, Ernest Dichter, to thank!

Working Mothers

I have many fond memories of my mother, both with my Dad and after they divorced when I was eight. This, however, isn’t one of them.

I was cleaning out a cabinet today and ran across a manila envelope. Within, I found two typewritten sheets of paper – it was undated, but it refers to an incident that occurred while driving with my younger brother Eric, and it (apparently) occurred before he was driving, so that places it somewhere between 1982 and 1991 or so. It has all the earmarks of being a letter to the editor, most likely to The Bakersfield Californian.

Here it is in its entirety – typos, bad grammar, and all:


“Get A Real Job – Be A Housewife”

Today my son and I was this really great license plate frame, it said, “Get A Real Job – Be A Housewife!”. I told my son, I would really like to have one. I made that choice back in 1963, rather than going to work in an office. I wanted to raise my own Children. I was a single parent for a while and it was not easy, but we survived.

Back at that time, late 60’s & 70’s, it was an acceptable choice, today it seems it is not. Today it is felt that if you stay at home you do nothing, but in fact it is a 24Hr. a day job, no salary, you work harder then most people in the working world, outside the home.

I really believe there would be less problems with our kids today if they had a stay at home Parent at least through their formative years. We need more stay at home parents to take care of their children. No guarantee. “But what do parents expect, when they are not at home, remember these kids need guidance and love from you, your values, not a stranger, they are your Responsibility! There is also nothing wrong with a stay at home Dad either in fact in some cases the Dad is the better choice.

If you were to ask inmates especially the younger ones why you are here, the majority said when I was growing up no-body was at home to care, so why should I. No Excuse!

The only draw back I have found is if you look for a job after “Just” being a housewife, they tell you that you are not qualified no work experience, no real skills. I have felt like taking my kids as refrences. We really have a wide range of skills, more then just your adverage worker.

Stay at home parents have to stand together with heads held high. We are doing an honest days work for no pay, no 1hr. lunch break, no dinner break, 7 days a week 24hrs. a day.

There are rewards too, like when for years you tell your kids something and you wonder if they hear you, but then the day comes you hear the same thing coming out of them and you realize, hey they really heard what I said, it’s a great feeling. There are a thousand rewards, each milestone, special achievements, graduations, weddings, just to mention a few. The kids are so proud to have you there, just the look on their faces when they see you. I wouldn’t change a thing I did.

These rewards are wonderful and worth more then mear money could buy! Your building Memories.

Please remember these children are our future, you need to Invest Now!

Marilyn Neufled

Bakersfield, CA

She makes some really good points (and thankfully, she called out stay-at-home dad’s, as well – something I did for a number of years with our twin boys). More than that, though, it was a surreal thrill, reading words I didn’t know existed from a mother that has been gone for nearly fourteen years.

The most fascinating thing to me, though, is that she perfectly captures exactly how I remember her – always there, always taking care of us, always caring about us.

She was a true working mother, in that she gave everything she could to my sister, my brother and I, working day and night to make sure we wanted for nothing. Not all of her decisions were the right ones, but she did the best she could with what she had, and no one can fault her for that.

Short Steve: DST and Golf

English outdoorsman William Willet is largely credited with the current spring-forward-fall-back Daylight Saving Time model, which he proposed in 1905.

A similar idea was proposed independently about ten years earlier, in 1895, by New Zealand entomologist George Hudson, but 1) he proposed a two hour shift, 2) he was a New Zealander, and 3) he wasn’t a golfer (that we know of), so his proposal went nowhere.

And to be sure, the idea has been around for centuries, from the Romans adjusting meeting times during the summer to Ben Franklin’s “early to bed, early to rise…”

Willet WAS an avid golfer, and he suggested the time change to provide more time in the evening for leisure activities (such as golf).

The first city in the world to enact this new Daylight Saving Time (or Summer Time, as it was/is know in most of Europe) was Port Arthur, Ontario – leave it to those crazy Canadians to jump into the fire first!

The first country to adopt DST nationwide was Germany, at the outset of the Great War. This was done largely to conserve coal – longer days meant less coal burned in the evenings. Britain and other Allied Nations saw the advantages of this and quickly followed suit.

It became common practice again during World War II to adopt DST again, for much the same reason, and then became widely adopted by most countries not already observing full time (the U.S. and most of Europe included) during the 1970’s oil crisis, and it’s been a mainstay ever since.

In 1986, Ronald Reagan, at the urging of the Golf Lobby (yes, that’s a thing), moved DST from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in April. By some accounts, this single action added $400 million to the golf industry alone.

Currently, DST runs from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in October.

Golfers: getting shit done since 1905!

Gleaning the Cube

I’ve become obsessed with remembering how to solve this damn Rubik’s Cube.

I use the white cross method, and I’m able to get the top and middle sections solved with relative ease. It’s the bottom that’s been kicking my butt.

The white cross method is a series of algorithms that start with solving for the edge cubies on the white side (forming a white plus sign or cross), then solving the white corner cubies, then solving the four middle edges.

This is where it breaks down for me. When flipped over, with the white center on the bottom and the yellow center on the top, there are three basic configurations you look for. From any of those three configurations, there are a series of algorithms that can be run to get to another interim step.

The goal here is to solve the yellow edges, then finish with the yellow corners. Voila, it’s solved!

However, it’s not so easy.

(This is about to get pretty numbers-heavy, so feel free to bail at this point. I won’t judge you.)

There are 26 physical cubies (as they’re called), but there are 54 individual cubie faces exposed – nine each of white, green, blue, orange, yellow and red.

Let me do the math for you. If you call the current state of the cube it’s configuration, then there are more than 43,250,000,000,000,000,000 possible configurations. That’s 43 quintillion 250 quadrillion. That’s a huge number. And only one of those 43 quintillion possible configurations is the “solved” configuration.

Someone much smarter than I am figured out that there is a one in 43 trillion chance – that’s 1/43,000,000,000,000 – that you’ll “accidentally” solve the puzzle.

In 1974, when the Hungarian professor of architecture Erno Rubik invented his Hungarian Magic Cube, the story goes that he developed the puzzle as a way to demonstrate to his students how to build a structure with multiple moving parts without the structure falling apart. He didn’t realize that he’d created a puzzle until the first time he scrambled it then tried to restore it to its original state.

One account I read stated that it took Rubik a full month of testing, developing nomenclature, and logging test algorithms before he discovered a solution. But to be sure, his original solution is just one of many.

The Rubik’s Cube – or the solution to it, anyway – falls into the category of Group Theory. When considered as a whole, or in subparts, the groups of algorithms that comprise any given solution allow the puzzle solver to successfully solve the puzzle.

With much more than 43 quintillion possible configurations, it came as a huge surprise to me that the God Number for the Rubik’s Cube is 20. The God Number, or the minimax value, is the least number of moves (algorithms) that an omniscient being would need to solve the given puzzle from any configuration. The upside of this is that it makes competitive speed cubing, as it’s called, much less mysterious. With the potential of being able to solve any given configuration in twenty moves or less, it’s just a matter of memorizing the various algorithms and practicing for hours on end. Much like learning tennis or guitar or cooking, it’s an acquired skill involving much practice and hours of determination to improve.

Just as interesting to me is the search by mathematicians for the Devil’s Number, or Satan’s Number. Whereas the God Number involves the minimum number it would take to solve any configuration just once, the Devil’s Number is concerned with determining the minimum number of algorithmic moves it would take to solve every one of the 43,250,000,000,000,000,000 different configurations. I know for certain that it’s a number between 43 quintillion and 865,000,000,000,000,000,000 (43 quintillion times 20), but anything beyond that I have to leave to someone with a more powerful computer than my Mac.

Whew, that’s a lot of numbers! I think I need a nap. But first I’m going to try to solve this last corner cubie…

(Credit for much of this goes to the SYSK podcast on Rubik’s Cubes and the geniuses that inhabit the math side of Wikipedia…)

Perfect Endings

There are no perfect endings.

It’s surprising to me, actually, how many of the songs that are in my current playlist have to do with endings.

I ordinarily have just one working playlist. When I grow tired or bored of it, rather than just create a new one, I’ll delete it and start over fresh. It can be anything from a mood change to hearing an old song that I forgot about to just being discontented with my current soundtrack, but it doesn’t take much for me to blow everything up and start fresh.

I don’t ordinarily have themed playlists, at least not beyond “current faves” or something equally trivial. So it came as a bit of a shock when I played a number of songs in a row that dealt with endings…

and if it’s over, just remember what I told you

it was bound to happen so just keep, movin’ on

there’s no perfect endings…

I enjoy a little Straylight Run now and then, and The Perfect Ending is one of my favorites. Formed as a side project by two members of the alt band Talking Back Sunday, they tend towards more moody, contemplative pop. Great for early morning drives to work in the early morning light.

…for once I’m at peace with myself

I’ve been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long

I’m movin’ on

I go through my country phases now and again, but Rascal Flatts is about as country as I get these days (see what I did there?). I enjoy the country-pop sound of Rascal Flatts – having grown up on ELO, Chicago, and the like, there’s a certain appeal for me in the straightforward love ballad. I’m Movin’ On fits the bill nicely.

…I’ll be the one if you want me to

anywhere I would have followed you

say something, I’m giving up on you…ˆ

A know very little about A Great Big World beyond the fact that they never should have let Christina Aguilera within fifty miles of this song. Their “solo” version of Say Something is stunning in it’s simplicity, and is a mainstay of my “mellow” playlists. Plus, it’s super easy to play on the piano, making it a mainstay of my piano setlist on the rare occasions I abandon my guitar for my keyboard on a gig.

…and if you were to ask me, after all we’ve been through

do you still believe in magic? yes, I do

yes I do, of course I do…

It wouldn’t be a mellow playlist without at least a couple of Coldplay songs, and this tune, written in the midst of a divorce, always surprises and impresses me with it’s hopeful ending. After the crushing lonliness and defeat, Chris Martin reveals in Magic that he is still able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, still able to believe in the magic of love even as it dies in his own life.

I am ready to be new again

I’m ready to hear you say

who I am is quite enough

Not an “endings” song per se, but still an upbeat alt-rocker in the same vein as the other songs in this list. New Again by Taking Back Sunday puts a nice endcap on things – after all the teeth-gnashing and navel-gazing of the previous songs, New Again strikes a hopeful chord, reveling in the fact that I know I’m good enough, I’m just waiting for you to admit it, too. It’s a nice counterpoint to Say Something, in which the singer admits defeat; here, the singer isn’t giving up, and is determined to see things through to the bitter end.


There is nothing more jarring than waking up to the truth.

Granted, truth can be an extremely subjective thing in this context. Can’t that be said about all truths, though? We take it for granted that the sun will rise in the morning, but we can’t know it for certain. We can make the assumption, based upon past experience, that the sun will rise, but we don’t – we can’t – know it until it actually happens.

But what if we lived in denial of this fact? What if we’d spent the last ten years telling ourselves that it wasn’t the sun that was rising, but it was actually something else? An enormous flaming chariot, for instance, ridden across the sky every day by Helios, as the Greeks believed?

And then came the morning that you arose from bed, looked out across the plains at the horizon, and suddenly you saw the sun for what it was – middle-sized star? And you also realized that the rotation of the planet every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds was what caused the sun to rise, and not some mythical, fiery figure riding his flaming chariot across the sky?

To wake up to a truth of this magnitude can really mess with your day, let alone your week, month, or life. Maybe you’ve always suspected it. Maybe it never made sense. But it was always so much easier to believe the lie you told yourself, because the alternative was/is unpleasant.

Still, denial is a powerful ally. It is so much easier to maintain the status quo, to tell yourself that you’re better off not knowing the truth, than to accept yourself, and your situation, for what it is, good or bad. Knowing the truth, and not accepting it, is cowardice, pure and simple. It is living a lie, and that is worse than the alternative.

Self-esteem – value and self-worth – can only be fully, truthfully realized when the truth is accepted and dealt with.


Self-esteem can be a tricky thing.

We’re all born with self-esteem, but somewhere along the way, it gets systematically beaten out of us – sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively, sometimes both. Some people learn to deal with this at an early age, and adopt a façade of being well-adjusted, a fake air of confidence. Most of us, though, learn to deal with it in other ways – acting out, or adopting a self-deprecating sense of humor, or any of a dozen other ways of masking the pain.

Life can seem so difficult sometimes. Pride (or a lack thereof) convinces us that either we deserve more, or that we’re getting precisely what we deserve. It’s easy to look at the suffering of others and think to oneself, “Well, at least I don’t have it THAT badly!” But this is a false dichotomy – we all suffer individually, in our own little island of existence, and to varying degrees. Starving children in Africa, tortured citizens of Hong Kong or the Middle East, or victims of unspeakable crimes right here in the United States have no real bearing on the individual suffering we each experience.

Psychologists use the term “self-esteem” to describe an individual’s sense of value or self-worth. Abraham Maslow, in his Hierarchy of Needs, makes the case the we all need both esteem (or respect) from others as well as inner (self-) esteem. People who suffer from low self-esteem often find themselves in self-destructive situations or relationships. These situations become a self-fulfilling prophecy, validating one’s own low sense of self.

Although genetics play a role in it, most psychologists believe that self-esteem is shaped by one’s own environment. Allowing oneself to continue to exist in an abusive relationship – in fact, seeking out these relationships in the first place, whether consciously or unconsciously – is one of the hallmarks of low self-esteem. It is a hard habit to break, this vicious cycle of believing you get what you deserve, then being abused (either physically or emotionally) and believing you deserve to be treated in the manner.

How best to break this cycle, this merry-go-round of pain and suffering. There are many different strategies proposed by many different psychologists and therapists, but most all of them have one thing in common – it is best to rip the band-aid off rather than to continue to exist in the situation, hoping it will get better.

Sometimes, sadly, this is not always possible – at least not immediately. Certainly, if an individual is in imminent physical danger, getting out of the situation is (and should be) the main priority. But in cases of emotional abuse, the situation is not always cut-and-dried, not always so black-and-white. It may even be the case that no abuse is intended; it may be a matter of simple miscommunication. So many people are afraid of the unknown that they would rather live with the devil they know than take a chance with the devil they don’t know.

In the absence of the ability or opportunity to leave, the first step is to try to set definitive boundaries with the other party. Try to have an adult conversation with them concerning your wants and needs. Often, it is merely a matter of miscommunication between the two parties. However, if and when it becomes evident that there is (and can be) no common ground, it is time to start to think about moving on, to start preparing for the end of the relationship.

I don’t have the answer. I wish I did. Or maybe I do, and I am just too afraid of the devil I don’t know.

PSA – The Dangers of DHMO

I usually reserve this space for amusing anecdotes about my life or nifty little nuggets of trivia that I’ve come across, but this is serious stuff and needs to be disseminated to anyone who can read so they can be forewarned about the dangers of DHMO.

Dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) can act as both (either) an acid or a base – it is amphiprotic. It can be found in solid, liquid, and gaseous forms.  Its pH is 7, higher than any other acid known to man. It is both tasteless and odorless.

Extensive research has shown that water bottles stored on grocery store shelves for more than a month contain extremely high levels of DHMO. This applies to both plastic and glass bottles.

Starbucks (as well as most all coffee shops) use thermally agitated dihydrogen monoxide in all of its coffee-based beverages. DHMO is known to cause severe burns when it comes in contact with the skin, and once DHMO comes into contact with skin, it cannot be washed off.

Large U.S. manufacturers routinely dump vast quantities of DHMO in our lakes, rivers and streams – and it never biodegrades.  Research has shown that dihydrogen monoxide is deliberately sprayed on organic crops in the U.S.

Scariest of all for parents: If you give your children juice boxes, you should know that each juice box contains more dihydrogen monoxide than an ounce of methamphetamine.

Breathing in too much DHMO can lead to certain death. In fact, the sad truth is that 100% of people who come in contact with dihydrogen monoxide eventually die.

Please be sure to check all labels – don’t mistakenly ingest this dangerous compound, lest you meet a horrible fate! Dihydrogen monoxide is not to be trifled with. If you’re the political activist sort, please write your Congressperson and/or Representative and let them know that you fully support a ban on any products containing this harmful chemical.

It’s up to us to be the change in the world we want to see!

Is that a supercomputer in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?

While listening to a podcast about the Simulation Hypothesis Argument, I ran across an interesting set of numbers.

To start, by way of comparison, the human brain can process anywhere from 38 thousand trillion (3.8 x 10^16) to one billion billion (1 X 10^18) processes per second, depending upon whom you ask. Those are pretty big numbers:



Per second. It’s breathtaking, and truly amazing.

By contrast, in 1985 the Cray 2 supercomputer came online at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA. If you took a small automobile and stood it up on its end, you’d get a general idea of the size of this supercomputer. Certainly not the room-spanning computers of the 1950’s and 1960’s, but not a small machine, either.

This state-of-the-art supercomputer could run 200,000,000 processes per second, and it was replaced within three years by the Cray Y-MP.

That’s 200 million. Not human brain-type processing, but pretty spectacular, nonetheless.

Just over thirty years later, Apple Computer released a supercomputer that could run 600,000,000,000 – that’s 600 billion, with a ‘b’ – processes per second. That’s a processing increase of 3,000%.

30 years. 3,000%. Astounding.

And the name of the supercomputer Apple released, this computational powerhouse that out-processed a thirty-year-old supercomputer by a factor of 3,000? You may have one in your pocket – you certainly own something similar, if not the precise model itself.

Apple called it the iPhone X.

Fast (and Furious) Food

Although I still eat way too much fast food – I’m a lazy “cook,” sue me – I find most of it gross and unpalatable. It’s more of a convenience than anything. This, of course, does NOT include the Frenchie sandwich at Jimmie John’s…mmmm, love me some Frenchies!

Here are a few of my favorite fast food (and fast food-related) facts:

Fried Chicken  Wild fowl were domesticated about 9,000 years ago in China and the Middle East. It made it’s way to Egypt, where you can see chicken represented in many hieroglyphs. It was also used to feed the slaves who built the pyramids.

Eventually making it’s way to Britain via Greece, it is believed that fried chicken was introduced to the U.S. by Scottish settlers (or invaders, if you prefer). These were pan-fried birds; the South were the first to fry them up in vats of hot oil.

In the late 1920’s or early 1930’s, Harlan Sanders opened a restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky to sell his secret recipe fried chicken. The restaurant bombed out, but Sanders soon hit upon a brilliant strategy. He hit the road, selling his recipe and the rights to use his trademarked phrase “Kentucky Fried Chicken” in exchange for a nickel for every piece of chicken sold.

By 1964, the year 1) I was born, and 2) Colonel Sanders sold his franchising business, there were 600 restaurants nationwide. As of 2014 (the most recent number I could find), there were almost 19,000 franchises around the world. That’s a lot of chicken!

Fast Food Stats  When it comes to fast food, there are a number of common ingredients. Here are a few I found interesting:

1. The most common fast food meat: Chicken. This isn’t by volume (that would be beef), but rather by number of menu items. McDonald’s, for instance, offers almost as many chicken options as burger options. And on average, fast food joints tend to offer more chicken options than beef options – when was the last time you had ground beef on your Caesar salad, for example?

2. The most common fast food spice: Salt.  There is sodium chloride even in things you wouldn’t expect – shakes and ice cream sundaes, for example. It is used in different combinations to add or enhance flavor to a myriad of items. One slice of the American cheese you’d find on a Big Mac contains 250mg of NaCl, making it one of the saltier options available. And that doesn’t take into account all the salt you may dump on your fries.

3. The most common color additive: Caramel.  While Red No. 40 is the most widely used food coloring in the world, fast food places seem to love their caramel coloring. Part of the psychology of eating is that for something to taste good, it must look good, and a nice, rich caramel tone seems to serve the industry pretty well.

Photographer: Greg DuPree, Food Stylist: Emily Neighbors Hall.

Tacos  Before the 1950’s, you would be hard-pressed to find a taco anywhere at any restaurant in the U.S. That’s when a restaurant owner in Southern California noticed the migrant Mexican workers packing tortillas in their lunches, and stuffing them with meats and vegetables from home.

Deciding that might be a good item to add to his menu, he began offering tortillas folded in half and stuffed with food he thought his customers might like – ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese.

One problem in ran into pretty quickly was that flour tortillas didn’t keep for very long, so he couldn’t keep a very large supply of them at any one time. He solved this by shaping and deep frying the tortillas – thereby creating the first hard shell tacos.

This menu item went over so well that he opened a restaurant in 1962 devoted entirely to serving this new menu item.

His name? Glen Bell.

As of last year (2018), there were over 7,000 Taco Bells in 27 different countries. By state, California, then Texas, then Florida have the most restaurants. There is even a Taco Bell in Mexico…well, sort of. It’s actually in Tijuana. Close enough, right?

Mid-Year’s Day Resolutions

It’s been nearly four months since I’ve written anything, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring you up to speed on what I’ve been doing.

On July 1, I decided – a Mid-Year Day’s Resolution, if you will – to accomplish two things.

  1. Learn something new every day.
  2. Learn a new skill by the end of the year.

Number 1 is going very well. I’ve subscribed to a couple of very good email newsletters, and I’ve become immersed in the world of podcasts. Stuff You Should Know, hosted by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, is a particular favorite. Alex Williams’ Ephemeral is another podcast I’ve really enjoyed. The End of the World with Josh Clark, hosted by Josh Clark (duh!), is highly recommended (by me) as well.

When I can’t listen, or don’t have the time to devote 30-60 minutes to a podcast, short articles on the interwebs have become my go-to means of enrichment and entertainment. Google News, How Stuff Works, and Mental Floss all have permanent bookmarks in my phone’s browser.

I’ve given number 2 some thought, and I think I’m leaning towards learning to play tennis. Since I’ve done so well with golf – someone really needs to come up with a sarcasm font – I thought I’d give tennis a try. The worst that could happen is that I suck as badly at tennis as I do at golf, but I’ll be in better shape at least, right? RIGHT?!?!

Oh, who am I kidding? The worst that can happen is probably having a heart attack on the court as I’m lunging to return a well-placed cross-court smash from my opponent.

So, over the course of the remainder of the year, I hope to be able to share something new with you almost every day, whether it’s a status update on my tennis lessons or some seemingly insignificant-yet-interesting bit of trivia, like why golf balls have dimples or why you couldn’t get a taco in the U.S. until the mid-1950’s.

We’ll probably also get into my irrational fear of microscopic black holes – thanks, Josh Clark – but that’s another post for another day.

SpongeSteve SquareStudent

I find it odd, and a bit fascinating, how both my learning style and my general attitude towards school has changed over the last forty-plus years.

When I was in high school in the late seventies and early eighties, I was the model student, behavior-wise. I always paid attention in class and was somewhat of a teacher’s pet (although I never went so far as to remind the teacher when she neglected to assign homework). I am less of an academic brown-noser in college now, but I do pay attention and am usually among the first to participate during interactive exercises in the classroom.

In high school, I took reams upon reams of notes for each class. Rather than having one of those five-subject notebooks, I had a separate binder for each class, and often had to literally run to my locker, change notebooks, and run to my next class so as to not be late. Now, I just open a word document on my laptop and type – much easier, much more efficient.

Most interestingly, though, is how my level of effort has changed over the years.

In high school, I tried to be a sponge, soaking up as much information as I could. I tried to always be among the first to class so I could sit up front, and was usually among the last to leave when class was over.

As I’ve grown older and more experienced, though, and as my classes now seem to overlap with previous classes more and more, I find myself relying more on memory. How many different ways can Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs be covered in a classroom setting, after all?

Perhaps most tellingly, though, as I no longer hold teachers, instructors and professors on a pedestal as I did when I was (much) younger. I can see now, as an adult myself, that they are just people who are playing the role of teacher, just as I’m playing the role of student.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the way I prepare for tests and writing assignments. I have now been doing this long enough that I’m confident – perhaps too confident – in my academic abilities, and so I find myself putting into the class 1) as much effort as it takes to get an A, and 2) as much effort as the instructor puts into it.

Currently, I am taking two college-level courses.

One class is being taught by an instructor who, while he knows the subject material very well, is new to teaching and therefore is still finding his way. He always comes to class prepared for lecture and discussion, but many of the assignments are not well thought out, and as he isn’t quite sure what to expect for the wide range of students in this class, he tends to grade more leniently than might be expected.

I find myself doing the bare minimum in this class, which thus far has been more than enough to carry a high grade. I would consider this class to be less than challenging, which is actually a good thing considering everything else I have going on (full time job, family, etc.).

My other class is being taught by a seasoned veteran of teaching. He also knows his subject extremely well, and his lectures are always entertaining and engaging. He assigns a plethora of written assignments, gives a quiz after each chapter, and tests frequently. This class has been a challenge because of the sheer volume of information that needs to be absorbed.

However, due to the sheer number of students he has over his numerous classes, he rarely has time to review the written assignments, electing to give this task over to his teaching assistants instead. It quickly became evident that these papers were not being graded for content, but rather that they met a strict set of structural criteria (correct font, specific formatting, etc.). This realization has made writing these papers simultaneously easier and more difficult. Intellectually, I know I just have to meet the physical requirements and stay relatively on-topic to get a good grade on these papers, but psychologically I still find myself trying to write the best content possible for an assignment that I’m reasonably certain no one will be reading for content.

So, upon further refection, I guess I haven’t changed so much, when it comes right down to it – I’m still doing what is necessary to get the grades I want. I’m still learning new things, of course, much of which will have no real application outside of the classroom. But my focus remains on doing well within the system – i.e. getting good grades – just as it was forty years ago.