Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Geezer Faculties

Last Wednesday I attended a luncheon for Cornell Engineering Faculty Professors Emeriti hosted by the new Dean of Engineering Lance Collins.   The Emeritus group consisted of faculty who have retired in recent years and some who have retired perhaps as much as twenty years ago.   In the vein of there is no free lunch the Dean was looking for feedback about the future of the College of Engineering as well as informing us about the directions he sees for the College.

One of the issues that was discussed was the impact of non-mandatory retirement on the decision of senior faculty to retire.   Post 1994 tenured faculty could remained employed at their discretion at any age up to their death.   As a result there has been an aging of the faculty and perhaps a restriction on the hiring of young assistant professors with new ideas and perhaps new energy and effectiveness.   I have observed that many faculty are now continuing with their work well into their late 70's and some even beyond 80.   Many of them they are unusually productive and provide a wealth of wisdom to impart to the students.  However, in some cases they become high paid albatrosses for the system.

All of this has caused me to ponder what is the tipping point in the life of these individuals that would move them to the emeritus and retirement status.  A little bit of on line investigation shows that most faculty continue in their work because they truly enjoy what they are doing.   However, in some cases financial considerations encourage them to stay employed since they expect that their retirement income will not sustain their life style throughout the remainder of their life.    In some cases failing health tips them into the retirement mode.

I conclude that each faculty member has a unique history and situation that influences their movement to the emeritus status.   Cornell as an institution certainly provides honor for the emeritus status.   One can retire and continue to have access to office and lab facilities appropriate to the contributions you are making.   You can even participate as members of graduate student committees,  do research, write, and advise students.   So you can continue to do what you enjoy doing in a stimulating intellectual environment.  Perhaps the one thing that some people miss in the emeritus status is the power of influencing the direction of the institution by the active senior faculty status.

I chose to retire at 61, fourteen years ago.   Although I could see a productive and enjoyable future as a  tenured professor, the convergence of financial, family and health factors tipped me into the retirement mode.   Thus for the past 14 years I have had the freedom to enjoy raising a young daughter, volunteering in many church and community related venues,  supporting my wife's clergy career and pursuing an average of 75 days a year on the ski slopes.    And at the same time I have continued my Cornell connection which now provides me the opportunity to advise both graduate and undergraduate students and pursue a couple of research ares of my interest.

Post retirement life in the emeritus status is great for me.   I hope that my senior faculty colleagues find the same joy as well before they expire at their desk, in the classroom or in their lab!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Geezer Cousins -Surprise Phone Call

Since I am a geezer it stands to reason that many of my cousins are geezers too.   Today I had an unexpected phone call from one of my female cousins Dolores Tange Bowker in Newark, New York.   Her father and my mother were siblings so we are related on the Tange side of our family.   It was good to hear from her although she was reporting sad news of the death of one of our mutual cousins Roger Dennis at the age of 86.   Even more tragic was the fact his death was a suicide.   Roger was the only son of Louise Tange Dennis and Frank Dennis.  Roger was an extremely shy individual who never married and in his later years became a recluse.  He never lived away from his parents home nor enjoyed the common amenities of modern life such as indoor plumbing and the like.   After his parents died, he simply remained in the family home mostly isolated from society other than regular church attendance.   Cousin Dolores who is my contemporary would visit occasionally and tried to look after him.  When his analog TV recently became inoperative with the change to digital he simply stopped watching TV.  He was a kind and gentle soul who to the best of our knowledge may have been suffering from some unknown illness since he would not take the initiative to see a doctor.   It seem like such a tragedy to have lived such a socially isolated life.  

Five Tange Cousins -Parents Frank and Mary Tange -Dolores Tange Bowker - Standing Upper Right 
On the lighter side, it was good to catch up on various aspects of the family network that I had grown up with.  Dolores and her husband are retirees, both in their seventies.   Dick was a Cornell classmate who was in the Industrial and Relations School and now enjoys the golf scene post retirement.   From Dolores I learned of her four children and twelve grandchildren and their various activities.   Three of her children live in Newark and one lives near Rochester so the tradition of staying near where you are born continues among my more distant relatives.   I also heard of the death of an Aunt Mary Tange and of the passing of my deceased half brothers wife Bernice Bastian Goebert.   And finally I learned of the location of another cousin Linda Tange Tucker in North Carolina.

The mobility of our modern society certainly challenges my ability to keep up cousin level family connections.  Perhaps in geezerhood it is time to reach out to make more contact with my generation of cousins.   On my agenda is a project to provide a pictorial history of the Tange's and the Rehkugler's to share with my children, grandchildren and cousins.   I guess I better get to work!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Geezer Legend - Dr. F. H. Fox

2004 Edition of F. H. Fox's Age
On my commute to Cornell I travel under an old railroad bridge on Route 366 near Varna, NY.   As you approach the Varna you will see graffiti on the steel wall of the bridge.   The message written in white on black now  is "F. H. Fox is 87".   And with each passing birthday for Dr. Fox the number is updated by the third year veterinary class of the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Fox is a legendary figure of the Vet College.   For many years he taught large animal medicine and surgery that required the students to make calls at various locations in the surrounding counties.   Although I never met him,  my neighbor for many years, Dr Alexander deLahunta told me many stories of the pranks he would pull on his students and  stunts the students would pull on him.  He apparently considered his birthdays as "birthday tragedies" so having his age displayed by graffiti is an appropriate ribbing by the students.   The standing joke has been going on for over 22 years to my knowledge.

His legendary status also goes beyond his reputation for humor.  Many of his students who have gone into veterinary practice give testimonials regarding his perceptive diagnostics skills that were passed on.   In 1990 a scholarship was established by his former students to honor his contributions to teaching veterinary medicine.   One can Google F. H. Fox to get additional interesting details.

Best wishes to Dr. Fox.  I look forward to seeing those numbers keep on increasing with each "birthday tragedy".   I think he would enjoy being classified as a "tough old geezer".

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Maintenance Work

After about 5 years of avoiding a complete physical by a internist doctor, on the advice of my urologist I am engaged in an "annual" physical.   I suppose that since I am in the geezer status that an annual physical might be a good idea.   However, it doesn't seem to be like the process of my car inspection or getting an lube job.   Blood work, EKG, echo sound heart examination, probing and poking and all sorts of procedures seem to be an endless chain of requirements.   And I have no physical complaints at the moment.   Fortunately, I have not needed any medications to this point and intend to keep it that way if I can.   Anyway, I am now shot up for tetanus and the flu and who knows what's next.

I hope that I am in the last round of doctor visits for a while.   I am pleased with my new doctor since she seems to listen to me and certainly is genuinely concerned for all aspects of assuring healthy living for me.   For those that have chronic illnesses I am certainly sympathetic to their plight of frequent medical attention and the use of medications.

The best advice that I hear from some of my Cornell colleagues is to, "Keep on smiling".

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Activation Energy

I recently finished reading Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and once again find myself challenged by his ideas about the causes of social epidemics.   Essentially he explores the conditions necessary for new waves of social, business and other behavior to become epidemic in society.    What is it that causes the rapid sales of gadgets, growth in a particular drug use,  or maybe the epidemic of tattooing or body piercing?   His thesis is that epidemics in the most general sense are the product of peoples behavior as mavens, connectors and salesmen.   Mavens are the ones who keep up with the latest events, products and ideas.   Connectors are the widely connected individuals who have so many folks in their network that when they adopt or talk about a new trend, literally their ideas go viral in society.   Salesmen are the people who are the enthusiasts that hype the rest of us.

Today I read about a new trend for coffee shops to eliminate Wi-Fi access.   Apparently some coffee shop venues have determined that Wi-Fi is detrimental to their businesses.  People camp out for hours nursing a single cup of coffee while occupying valuable space and consuming free power for their laptops.   Is this the beginning a new social/business epidemic?   I wonder when we will reach the tipping point where most of the coffee houses have eliminated free Wi-Fi access?    For me the idea of reaching a tipping point is analogous to activation energy in a chemical reaction.   A chemical reaction needs a certain level of activation energy to cause a cascade of reaction to completion.   Therefore, I  will be watching the Wi-Fi access scene in coffee houses to see if enough coffee shops turn off Wi-Fi to precipitate most of the coffee shops eliminating the service.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Information Geezers - Cornell

Today was moving in day for the Cornell Class of 2014.   Students and parents from all over the nation began arriving early this morning ready to start the great adventure of a college education.   For many years the Cornell Association of Professors Emeritus and the Cornell Retirees Association have manned information booths on the campus perimeter roads.   These volunteers provide directions and assistance to the starry eyed students and the sometimes somewhat tense parents.   We help them navigate the process of registration and moving into the dorms.    Hopefully our cheerful welcome and reassuring directions smooth the way for both student and parents.

I have been volunteering for a two hour stint at one of the welcoming sites for most of the 14 years of my retirement.   It is one of my most rewarding and enjoyable volunteering opportunities.   I  also enjoy injecting a little humor into an enthusiastic welcome.   We had an ideal day of sunny skies and comfortable temperatures and through the leadership of Professors DeBoer and Pardee, the procedures worked well and we had one of the smoothest moving in days I can remember.   We are a constant quality improvement group and each year we try to implement new wrinkles to enhance the process.
I hope my male colleagues aren't offended by the geezer designation.   And the surely the ladies should be identified as "gazelles".   See part of the Pleasant Grove crew below.
Left to Right: Cindy Noble, Bill Pardee, Mary Ellen Cummings,  Herb Voelcker, Tob DeBoer

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cross Cultural Living

The Arroyo Family
A memorable and special joyous day on Sunday.  Stepdaughter Michelle was married to Pedro in a delightful and meaningful ceremony under the tent at the Ben Conger Inn in Groton.   I had the pleasure of walking her down the aisle and providing the Corinthians 13 reading.   I was even able to accomplish the first dance with her without much of a stumble on my part.  A beautiful bride and handsome groom who were completely enthralled with this magnificent time in their lives.   Wife Nancy officiated with exceptional skill, grace and joy.

Our two families originate from quite different backgrounds although you might say we are all immigrants to America.   Pedro's family originated from Spain and although he and his five brothers and one sister grew up in Ithaca, NY, his parents originated from Spain and now in retirement  live in Madrid.   Our family in its various branches arrived in North America from 100 to 200 years ago.   Regardless of our origins we have mutually enjoyed learning from one another and appreciating a variety of musical, cultural and intellectual  traditions.   It is indeed stimulating to intersect with other ways of viewing and enjoying the world.  I look forward to the joy of getting to know our new son-in-law even better and perhaps I now have a reason to learn to speak Spanish since we have a family member and his siblings who are native speakers.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Geezer Does Empire Farm Days

Stability Demo
Rubber Track Tractor
Yesterday I had a great time visiting Empire Farm Days near Seneca Falls, NY.   Truly a feast of agricultural technology both in information and equipment.   I like to do a systematic tour of the entire expo travelling up and down the streets to gaze upon all the machinery, exhibits and educational displays.   Typically I will encounter old friends and stop off at locations that spark my interest where I get the latest information.   My first stop was at the Cornell building where I was pleased to meet a former student Don Peterson.  We caught up on the latest condition of our mutual friend, Dave Ludington who is now recovering from surgery.    From there it was up another avenue and a stop at a green building purveyor to learn about the efficacy of a new type of panel building construction.  I recommended he read  Tipping Point by Gladwell to get some insights on how his building idea could go viral - ie become widely known.   At the building visit I also saw old friends Rick and Claude Stoker from Moravia, NY.

On my walk I was pleased to come upon a vendor of coffee and donuts at the mid morning time.  They had my favorite apple fritter donut and some good coffee at bargain basement prices.   Over the course of the morning I was entertained by viewing wind energy units, hundreds of pieces of new and improved machinery and demonstrations of wood cutting and splitting.   The crowd of mostly farmers and their children and spouses was also entertaining to observe.   I observed essentially no conflict among the families and clearly the day was one of entertainment and celebration.    Many of the Amish and Mennonite families were present as evident by their unique style of clothing.

Exhibitors also included financial institutions.  It was fun to stop and talk with the Lyons National Bank folks.  When I was growing up, this bank provided financial backing for my father.   Often loans were needed to get the fertilizer, chemicals and other materials for establishing our crops.   This stop gave me a chance to catch up on the status of agricultural business in my home town/county area.

By one o'clock, I was ready for lunch and time to sit down for a while.   A great pulled pork sandwich and salt boiled potatoes washed down with lemonade provide lots of fuel for the remainder of my stay.  Surely a high calorie input and probably not the best diet for a geezer but very filling.

After observing some massive tillage equipment in keeping with my interest in the history of tillage, I also visit the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health display.   Many years ago when I was active in agricultural safety for tractors and machinery I had cooperative ventures with the unit.   I stopped by to pay my respects and ask one of the attendants for convey my good wishes to Dr. May.   He continues to direct this unit through the Mary Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, NY.    I also had the chance to observe the demonstration unit for agricultural tractor overturn hazards.   The demo allows one to be tipped to a certain point to get a feel for the tip angle that is close to instability.   Part of my career involved simulation of tractor stability and the efficacy of roll-over-protective structures.

Minimum Tillage
By mid afternoon I had completed my tour of the entire show and was ready to head for home.  Fortunately, I had marked my car location (South Lot, C1).   A very enjoyable holiday!!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gadgets and Geezers

I recently bought a new cell phone.   My new phone is a much more sophisticated tool than my previous one.  It has many features that will allow me to use one gadget for multiple purposes.   Now I can listen to FM radio or my own imported music as well as receive phone calls and do texting and surf the web.  In addition I have a camera for the casual photos or videos I might want to get.  So I think this is a great gadget.  Perhaps I am behind the wave of youth and their gadgets but hopefully I can catch up.   Unfortunately the learning curve is rather steep for my new gadget.   The menus and instructions are only semi-intuitive.   Downloading music and transferring picture files required some serious experimentation and study.  Two weeks into the use of my new phone I am quite comfortable with the multiple possibilities.  Common wisdom is that it takes three weeks to establish a new habit so I have a ways to go.

Many cellular service providers are now touting simple phones for seniors(make that geezers).   This is a boon for some geezers that are simply into having an emergency phone at their fingertips.   I considered going with one of these simple phones but determined that I still had the need for the flexibility of multiple uses.   In fact my geezer mind says that having one multipurpose tool beats keeping track of an MP3 player,  a cell phone and a digital camera.

A few months ago I was in conversation with one of the senior ladies in our church about cell phone use.   She had yet to learn how to enter into her phonebook common numbers she would want to call.  She had written them on a piece of tape on her phone so she could dial them in.   Perhaps I should start a service project to assist seniors to learn how to use their phones effectively.  However, it is not just seniors who are challenged by new technology and gadgets.   Often we all encounter gas pumps, credit card scanners, atm machines and the like that challenge our abilities to navigate their systems.   And we all know the challenges of programming our remote controls for television, cable, and dvr's.   I am looking forward to the brave new world where these devices are more intuitively operated.

In spite of my apparent pessimism about learning to use new gadgets,  my engineering side loves them.  Especially when they provide an improved quality of life or an exciting new experience.

Monday, August 2, 2010


I recently finished Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" which has provoked some thinking about elements that contribute to success.   His book tells the stories of a number of individuals and groups who have achieved extraordinary levels of success.    Using appropriate data he makes the case that extraordinary success results from a combination of being born at the right time into a supportive environment  of the right culture coupled with a long and disciplined time of training.   He claims there is a 10,000 hour rule for success.   It takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a good hockey player,  competent pilot, accomplished  musician and so on.     Other than being born at the correct time, I can agree with all the other elements he proposes for achieving success.   He tends to play down ones intelligence quotient as an element for success.  He illustrates that one who has raw intelligence without social integration has far less chance for success because achievement is accomplished within a community context.

I have applied his principles to the evaluation of my more modest success and that of my high school classmates.   We were born in the depth of the Depression between 1935 and 1936 when the birthrate was the lowest ever for the United States.   This was supposed to give us an advantage when we came to our age of competence because there was a smaller population of competition.    My high school class came from small town and rural backgrounds and most of us were accustomed to hard work at menial tasks.   A discipline that should serve us well.   We mostly came from stable families that had lived in the area for generations.   Many of my class were the first generation to go to college.   About half of my class completed baccalaureate degrees and some completed masters degrees.  I was the only member of my class to complete a doctorate.   We  became teachers, business executives, engineers, scholars, office professionals, farmers, mechanics and health care workers.   The combination of education, hard work and cultural background enabled all of us to move up the socio-economic ladder.         I would like to think that we are all are outliers in some aspect of our lives.   We may not be Bill Gates, but we have for the most part lived up to our potential and contributed to the success of our families and communities.