All posts by Bill Genereux

Lock and Load

One of the most memorable moments for me during operation desert storm was the night before hostilities began. I had duty as petty officer the watch on the Quarterdeck. I knew something new was happening, something big. This is because I was ordered to place a magazine clip of ammunition into my Colt 45 pistol.

At that point in my career as a United States Navy sailor, I had stood numerous watches as an armed guard. On my previous ship, the US S Cochran, I was a part of the ship security force. That ship was nuclear capable and had specialized training associated with protecting special weapons. We had orders to shoot anyone who attempted to enter the ass rock magazine. I never had to shoot anyone. In fact, even in that situation, I was never given permission to load a clip of magazine of ammunition into my gun. Until desert storm, I had always carried an empty firearm with my ammunition safely tucked away on my belt.

The night before Desert Storm commenced, I was given the order to go ahead and place a chamber of no scratch that I was given an order to place a clip of ammo into my weapon. Even at that point, I wasn’t allowed to chamber a round. But it marked the first time in my naval career that I had carried a gun with ammunition in it while on duty.

At that point, rumors were floating about. Rumors that the harbor had been mined. Rumors that something big was going to happen. Everyone was on edge, but excited at the same time.

A lot of news reports from earlier in the year talked about how hot it was in the golf region. Operation desert shield started in August 19 90. I never experienced the heat. That night that I was standing watch outside on the quarterdeck as petty officer of the watch was quite chilly. We were bundled up in our pea coats. The air was cold and damp. Most definitely an eerie feeling about.

I have transferred to the battleship Missouri for a number of reasons. Partly because I was home sick. My previous ship, the Cochrane, was homeported in Japan. My first two years in the Navy were spent in training in Illinois. I got to go home frequently when I was in Illinois. So I experienced a number of bouts of homesickness while I was in Japan. I was ready to come back stateside. The opportunity to join the crew of the battleship Missouri appeal to me.

I couldn’t have known that war was looming on the horizon. However, I had had a taste of the danger on the Cochrane. The Cochrane had been deployed to the Middle East in response to the USS Stark being struck by an Iraqi missile. This was during the Iran/Iraq war. At that time the belligerents were shooting missiles at oil tankers.

When the Stark was hit, our ship which was forward deployed out of Japan, had to make haste to the gulf region. However being in the weapons department, we were a little disappointed that our ship was not permitted to enter the Persian Gulf because of its lack of a CIWS anti-missile system. So we were left to do circles in the Gulf of Oman just outside the Persian Gulf off the coast of Iran. Not long after we left the golf, another U.S. Navy ship, the USS Vin sans was involved in a skirmish

Also about that time, our sister ship the USS corral was called into the golf even though it had the same limitations of the Cochran, and was given orders to shell Iranian oil platforms. Oh how we fire control and gun types would’ve enjoyed we would’ve enjoyed actual live fire missions.

Little did I know that by transferring to the battleship Missouri I would get my taste of many hours on the ground right.

Battleship From A Distance

After talking with some students today about our upcoming 30 day challenge, I have been thinking of my own project I want to work on over the 30 days. I am planning to write a book, or at least a big chunk of a book about Operation Desert Storm from the point of view of sailors who served in the Persian Gulf. I have a number of videos that I recorded there aboard my ship the USS Missouri. Some of these I have published on YouTube.

I have found some other interesting videos on YouTube from other sailors there at the time as well. But today I decided to look on Twitter to see what, if anything, people were saying with the hashtag #desertstorm. To my surprise, only a few tweets down from the top of my search results, I found a tweet with a link to a video of my ship, the battleship Missouri, that was recorded during a fire mission into Kuwait from another nearby ship, the USS Curts.

I have never seen footage like this from another perspective before. I have only seen the Missouri firing the big guns from aboard the battleship itself. I watched the video several times, that’s how mesmerized I was by it. I enjoyed hearing the comments of the sailors on the Curts as they watched us do our thing. It was interesting seeing the fire and smoke, followed by a long delay and then finally a boom. Aboard the Missouri, a gun firing was bone-rattling. Aboard the Curts, from a mile away, it was more like a regular gun shot sound.

Today I was thinking that whoever recorded that footage was documenting history in action. The USS Missouri and the USS Wisconsin were the last two battleships in the world to fire their guns in combat. That footage captured some of those final moments. Unless Mythbusters or some other such reality show manages to secure a surplus 16″ gun and some ammo, the world won’t ever see anything like it again.

I was also thinking about how I would explain to others what it was like to experience the fury of a sixteen-inch battleship gun firing. Even those sailors aboard the USS Curts didn’t get to feel the full effect. I thought I would take a big metal 55 gallon drum and bang really hard on it with a metal pipe or something. That might be somewhat like the sound (not really even close, but a start).

But banging the drum would just simulate the sound. You also need the blast of air in the face. A shot in the face from an airzooka toy would be a start, but again not even close. It really needs to slap you hard in the face and the chest. You would also need to feel in instant blast of heat as well. I don’t think a standard hair dryer would be hot enough. Maybe a flash from an industrial heat gun blowing on you.

Do all of these things simultaneously, bang a 55 gallon drum, shoot an airzooka in your face, blow a short blast of hot air in the face with a heat gun, and you are getting in the ball park of what it is like. You still would need to feel the deck rattle beneath you. Maybe you could do all of this while standing on top of a small trailer that someone could strike with a sledgehammer to make it vibrate. Finally, you would need to light one of the big smoke bomb from July 4th, because you need to inhale some smoke as well. Do all of these things and you would have a simulation that only somewhat describes the experience of seeing a single sixteen-inch gun being fired up close. Now for full effect, you can multiply that by nine to feel the fury of a broadside!

I honestly did not enjoy watching the battleship guns firing up close. I’m glad I experienced it, but it really was overwhelming. I preferred to be and usually was, down inside of the plotting room where the guns were being fired from deep within the ship. Maybe I was just a wimp, but the plotting room was where I was supposed to be.

However, seeing that footage from another ships perspective was a wonderful find today. It makes me wonder what else is out there for me to discover?

 

Professor Gx’s 30 Day Challenge

I am challenging my distance education class in Social Media to learn  and document a new skill in 30 days.

The steps are:

  1. Pick a skill or activity that we would like to learn how to do
  2. Find information online about how to do that thing
  3. Work at doing that thing every day for 30 days
  4. Document the process
  5. Share what we are doing online
  6. Support one another in the class who are doing the same thing.

I intend to join in the fun. The activity or skill I have selected is writing a book. For years I’ve had some ideas about writing some books. I’ve jotted down some ideas, but never have made a serious effort towards making it happen. So for 30 days beginning this coming February 4th, 2019, I plan to write my first book. Or at least make significant headway towards that goal.

The topic I’ve decided to write about is Desert Storm in the Gulf: Experiences of Ordinary Sailors During Operation Desert Storm.

I plan to use various social media and online platforms to locate sailors who were there. As preparatory work this week I want to develop an outline of subtopics to explore, start collecting names of people to request interviews with and locate the videos on YouTube made by people who were there.

 

Gillette Advertisements

Before you read on, please be sure you have seen the heartwarming Gillette story about the man who shaves his father’s face for him each day. It will be the best three minutes you spend today. I will wait until you get back…

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Wow, how moving was that one? Every time I see it, I am filled with emotion about those two men. It makes full use of the memes that move us, namely mission, pproblem-solving caring, and distinguishing yourself.

Since I am on social media often (probably much too often) I encounter many things that might simply slip past most people’s radar. However, I saw this particular story on the evening news so it must be getting some greater traction. It seems that the Gillette brand of shaving razors has created a video that is generating some controversy. As of today, it has over 20 million views with 582K up votes and 1M down votes.

I was first alerted to it on Facebook by a friend from California criticizing those angered by the ad’s message. He writes

 

“… If guys gotta prop “masculinity” with being a violent, ragey, obnoxious total asshole… damn, boy. Ya got issues. Go get some therapy or something before you make everyone else’s life a mess.

 

Another Facebook friend, a woman from California shared this parody:

When I am presented with two such widely differing views from people I truly respect and admire, I know it is an opportunity for me to reflect and think about my own stance. I also recognize that since it is a divisive issue, it will probably be a good question to raise with students who are developing their media/information literacy skills.

The main question I have is why does Gillette owned by Procter and Gamble, or any company for that matter feel compelled to lecture us about morality? Why should we pay any attention to it? As Stephen Colbert asks, do we need to be taught moral lessons by razor companies?

I always refer back to the key questions of media literacy when thinking about these things. These days I want to think critically about any corporate message, positive or not, because I know it ultimately seeks to influence me as a consumer. Ultimately they want me to buy what they are selling.

 

 

Most Heartwarming Advertisement Ever

A year and a half ago, Gillette Razors released this short video, but it took me a year to discover it in my social media feed. It is probably the most heartwarming “commercial” I have ever seen. It is a perfect example of short-form digital storytelling. I often give an assignment to my students called mini-documentary and going forward I plan to show this to my students as an example of how it is done well.

The pacing, the lighting, the sound, the music and the story all flow effortlessly. It quickly draws the viewer in and you become absorbed in the story. That, my friends, is good storytelling. Please watch first, then come back and read what else I have to say after the video.

Did you watch the video? Read no further until you do. I will wait…

You’re back? It is really good, right? Ok, I have more to say, but that will come in another post. Click here to continue…

Kids & PBL

Yesterday my daughter was involved in presenting at a teacher in-service about her work with the other students and her teacher on the topic of Project Based Learning.

I told her congratulations on making her first professional presentation. She said, “It wasn’t my first. I presented last year at the national FBLA conference in Baltimore.” Yes, I said, but that was a conference for kids. I’m not knocking that achievement, but this one is pretty special because it was meant for adult professionals. In a way, you could think of it as your first professional presentation since the intended audience was professional people.

Practice What You Preach

Oops!

I justify using external services instead of courseware discussion boards so students can always refer back to previous discussions if they choose. However, I just deleted all of last year’s students from our private DigMe406 LinkedIn group. Doh! I shouldn’t have done that!

Thankfully, not much happened for that group on LinkedIn, more happened on Twitter, which can’t be deleted. I’m hopeful that this year more private discussion will happen on LinkedIn because we are starting our discussion there. Last year we started on Canvas discussions then I tried to get them to move to LinkedIn and it didn’t work well. People want to stick with what they started with.

Reflections on Teaching Online Classes in 2018

I taught several online classes during 2018. In the spring and summer terms, I taught a course on Social Media. In the fall, I taught an online course on Digital Literacy. In all of these courses, I emphasized the use of social media and digital tools. For each class, I required a video teleconference at the beginning of the semester with each individual student. That took many hours to visit with each student for 20-30 minutes, but I think it was a good investment to make that initial connection.

In the spring Social Media class, I initially requested that each student use our Beam+ telepresence robot to video conference with me, but that was not a popular option so I relented and let students use a video chat tool like Skype or Zoom. In one case, the student’s bandwidth was so poor, we just switched to a regular telephone conversation. In that case, the student was interested in using the robot, but simply couldn’t make it work.

Some students downright refused to use the robot, which I guess is somewhat understandable since it was uncharted territory and required installing special software to make it work. However, for those students who did try the robot in several cases, they told me that they appreciated how “real” the experience felt. They visited me during office hours and I was able to give them a brief tour around our building, even introducing them to some other students on campus.

Even though it was a big assignment, points-wise, a few students opted to not do the teleconference at all. Those are the students who consistently did the most poorly of all. I need to think about how to ensure that all students utilize the video conference and build connections with them. Being an online student is a lonely business! It is important to know that real people are out there and that they care.

For both spring and summer editions of the Social Media class, I followed a strategy that I frequently use. I shared my syllabus with the students and asked that they provide feedback and suggestions on some key points on how the course would operate related to grading and participation. I believe that sharing some of the decision making and control with students can assist with helping them to take some ownership of their learning and the class.

With online classes, it is difficult for me to know with any precision the needs of my students and what challenges they might be facing. So in asking them about things like what reasonable participation frequency throughout the week looks like, I’m getting some vital information about what they think is reasonable and we can have a discussion about it.

However, one of my students commented in his feedback on the course that it was inappropriate for the instructor to ask for student opinions about how the class and syllabus requirements should be structured. I think this says a great deal about what that student thinks education should be, what a class should look like and what the role of teacher and pupil should be. Over the years, I have learned that students naturally gravitate towards passivity and when the teacher asks them to think about such things it falls far outside of their comfort zone. They would rather have the teacher do all of the heavy lifting on such things whenever possible. But my belief is that when I share control over some aspects of a course, it is no longer a dictatorship but becomes a form of shared governance. It gives students some agency and responsibility for how the course turns out. That can be a little daunting for some students, I think. But in the end, I think it is a good thing.

The fall 2018 Digital Literacy class was overall a good one. We experimented with using several forms of online media for communication. However, at one point, there was a student who had some major concerns about one particular topic and its content; that of objectification and body image. My response to that situation took a great deal of energy and reflection. I consulted with several colleagues and my supervisor about possible approaches.

Ultimately, I followed the advice of Dale Carnegie and took the blame myself and apologized just to keep the peace, but to no avail. I requested on several occasions to have a real-time visit about the situation because I know through experience that text-based communications can make a sensitive situation even worse, but my student decided that I was in the wrong and that a cold shoulder was the best response for me.

The sad part of that whole business was that I essentially shared the same point of view as my student. I don’t think that people should be viewed or treated as objects. I introduced this topic for discussion because it is an important conversation to have with college students. I don’t think it is considered often enough.

However, it was my first attempt at dealing with the topic and it was admittedly not handled with as much finesse as it could have been. I apologized and tried to explain my thinking, but it ultimately was a missed learning opportunity for that student. However it did open up a good discussion in the class though, and I believe that most of the students ultimately understood the purpose of the assignment, even if they too were surprised by what they saw (some others said they were).

In these classes, I work hard to keep things interesting and relevant. I challenge them with new ideas they might not have considered before. I emphasize critical thinking about the various forms of media they are using on a daily basis. We are using tools and technology in ways that they have never tried before. Learning is hard and it is uncomfortable to be challenged. But I think we are doing some good work in these online classes even though we will never meet face to face.

 

Pi computers in Hardware and Networking Class

for the fall 2018 semester in CMST 250 – Hardware & Networking class, I purchased six Raspberry Pi computers for the purpose of introducing this platform with its Linux system in the labs. The students were very engaged with this technology. They never imagined that such a powerful system could exist in a computer the size of a deck of cards for less than $50. Of course, they use smartphones that are compact in size and some are more powerful, but they don’t really think of phones as computers. The Raspberry Pi has all of the peripherals of a home PC like a mouse, keyboard, and monitor and it looks and feels like (it actually is) a real computer.

We learned how simple it is to download free software and get a system up and running in a short time. We also saw how easy it is to customize and add new programs through the CLI (command line interface). For many students, CMST 250 is the first time they have had to use a CLI. They find it more difficult than a windows based system, and it can be a hard sell with the Cisco systems we have always used. By using the Pi system, they really see the simplicity. By typing in a few commands, they can set up a working web server right on the Pi. Doing the same thing as we always have done on a Windows system requires going to the right website, downloading the right web server software, installing and configuring it. It is a much more complicated process to do the same tasks on Windows than on the Pi’s Linux system. I plan to continue using the Pi computers and develop new lab activities with them.