Saturday, March 28, 2009

Summer Funding

So, I recently found out that I will be fortunate enough to receive summer funding this year. I hadn’t necessarily expected it, which was a concern because (a) I knew I had to make some kind of income over the course of the summer and I didn’t know what I could or would want to do, and (b) not taking classes in the summer is an impediment to one’s academic progress. I feel much more at ease knowing I can continue satisfying requirements for my Ph.D. while also earning some extra cash to continue feeding and housing my family. It’s good news all around. (And I’d probably write a more enthusiastic post about it if I weren’t both descending into sickness and mentally exhausted from writing papers on difficult topics for almost a week straight now.)

There is only one official graduate course in philosophy being taught this summer: Naturalized Epistemology. I’ll take it because it’s there, but I don’t even know what that means, to be honest. Epistemology has to do with knowledge – what it is, how we acquire it (if at all), and what makes it different than, say, belief. From what I’ve heard, naturalized epistemology somehow ties epistemology more closely to psychology. I am somewhat attracted to psychology, so I am hoping it will prove an interesting course. We’ll find out.

To fill up the other nine credit hours I’ll be required to take, I more or less have to set up my own programs of study with professors of my choice (provided they are available and willing). I know what two of these will be. I will be joining a fellow doctoral student in studying under our department’s head logician, who also does a bit of work in practical reasoning, which is what we’ll be studying. In particular, we’ll be looking into the issue of acting for reasons. The other, more truly independent studying I’ll be doing is going to be on mental action. I have a growing interest in exploring the nature of thought as it relates to the will, and I have not studied anything that deals specifically with mental events as willful, volitional actions. I have been told it is a largely unexplored area in philosophy, which excites me because it’s always good to find yourself drawn to something that will give you a unique voice. I’m looking forward to this “class.”

I have yet to decide what my final independent study should be. I have a few ideas. I have had an increasing desire to study philosophy of time, but I don’t know of anyone in the department that could be of much help in that area. I’m also curious about doing something with memory. That’s not exactly a branch of philosophy, though, so I’m not sure who to talk to or where to start. Perhaps someone who specializes in the philosophy of psychology or cognitive science. I am probably drawn to the topic of memory primarily because I think it bears upon us as acting agents, and so plays into issues of free will and moral responsibility. That would be my primary interest in studying memory, though I think I could find it intriguing even on a more general level.

Finally, the topic I might be most likely to do independent study work on is that of event disambiguation. I made up that term, so far as I know, but the idea is not my own. Basically, I am curious about how we differentiate between events. (This probably stemmed from my initial curiosity about time.) In free will, for example, many discussions revolve around the time when a decision (which is an event) took place, or the precise moment when a person performed some action (another event). I worry that when we refer to a certain event, there is actually a great deal more ambiguity in what that refers to than we might initially think. If an event is something that has temporal extension (i.e. it takes time to occur), then how do we know the exact limits of that event? We think it begins when the event begins, but that’s not really very clear. It seems that any breadth of time wherein one moves from an event’s absence to an event’s already being underway is eligible to be called the “beginning” of the event. But how large do we make that chunk of time? I don’t think we can cut it off right at the “actual” beginning, because I think the best you can do is choose a chunk of time that has the event already having started or that includes some duration of time where the event has yet to begin. There is no particular place to locate the beginning – the beginning is just the chunk of time that both includes the event and includes time prior to the event.

OK, if you’ve read this far, you’re amazing. Or you’re my mom. Or maybe JoAnna. Thanks, you two. I realize this is the most boring post ever from everyone else’s point of view, but this one was for me. So there.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Closest I've Come to Witnessing a Gas Station Robbery

Melanie and I enjoy the occasional non-fuel-related visit to Circle K, where we treat ourselves (most often) to a fountain drink. Within the last week or so, I've been to the closest Circle K twice, and I am beginning to think that at least one of the employees is running some sort of scam. On the first of my two visits, I paid with a $5 bill and some change, which should have allowed me to get exactly three dollars back. Just after I walked away from the register, I had the feeling that the cashier had only given me two dollars. Unfortunately, I already had a few $1 bills, so I couldn't tell from looking at my stash of cash whether or not I had been short changed. (I had chosen to break down the $5 bill rather than deplete my resources of $1 bills, which I sometimes find useful for vending machine purchases at school.) Worse yet, I wasn't 100% confident that I had been short changed, I just had the feeling I might have been. I turned around and asked the cashier if she had only given me two dollars. She said had given me three. “OK,” I said, still feeling uncertain, and I left. I figured a $1 loss, if it had occurred, wasn't the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

A few days later, I returned to the same Circle K. This time, I had a coupon for $1 off the purchase of two bottles of Mountain Dew Voltage (Mountain Dew's delectable new raspberry-flavored variation). As I approached the cashier, I heard some brief exchange between the cashier and the customer before me. I heard something about four cents and being out of pennies, and the customer walked away saying something like, “Don't worry about it.” It was then my turn to pay. I put down the bottles of Dew and the coupon, and the cashier rang it up. “$1.56,” she said. As I gathered my dollar and three quarters, the cashier commented on what a great deal I was getting with the coupon. I agreed. She put the money I had given her in the register and, without another word, dropped a dime and a nickel into my waiting palm. I knew I was supposed to get nineteen cents in change, but even if I hadn't been aware of that fact, the cash register itself was displaying that I should receive nineteen cents in change. Accordingly, I stared blankly at the cashier.

After a moment of silence between us, the cashier said, “We're out of pennies.”

“So you can't give me a nickel?” I asked.

“No,” she said, with rehearsed regret.

Just then, the customer behind me in line leaned over my shoulder. I figured he was about to tell me to let it go and stop making everyone wait (the line was getting long), but he was actually on my side. “You can't do that!” he said. “You gotta go get this guy his change!”

“Didn't you owe the last lady four cents?” I asked.

“Yeah, but she was okay with it,” responded the cashier.

“So,” I continued, “you could give me a nickel and it would all balance out in the end.”

Presumably because she didn't want to give me one extra penny (although she was, in essence, asking that I give Circle K four extra pennies), she then told me that she could give me four pennies, but she'd have to get it out of the till. I assumed this must be some complicated, relatively time-consuming endeavor, seeing as how she hadn't just done this in the first place. I assumed further that she was trying to discourage me from getting my four cents by telling me this. “Whichever you want to do,” I said.

This is where I get truly irked. The cashier then moved what I would guess was literally about one-and-a-half feet to her left and immediately came back with two rolls of pennies. It all happened so fast, I didn't even see what she had to do in order to get the pennies. It was like they were just sitting there all along. She pulled four pennies out of their plastic covering and handed them over. “Thanks,” I said, and I walked out the door.

Now, I can't say that this is really part of a scam, but it sure seems like it could be. Looking back, I almost wonder if she wasn't setting me up by commenting on what a great deal the coupon was, as if to preempt any possible complaints I could have over a few measly pennies. So I think maybe it really is a scam. You'd probably get too many repeat customers to keep it up for long, but in theory, you could supplement your income quite nicely by taking just a couple of pennies from every customer that passes through the door during your shift. People pay with credit and debit cards a lot, but there are probably enough people coming and going to average a couple of pennies per person. Let's say you average 200 customers during your shift. (That sounds like a lot, but in the brief couple of minutes I was in the store, there were probably close to 10 customers.) Averaging two pennies per customer, you've got an extra four dollars per shift you can shove in your pocket. Five shifts a week, that's twenty bucks. In a month, that's $80. That's your cell phone with some fancy options, or your cable bill, or something substantial. Not too shabby. And, for all I know, you could really bring in double that amount on this whole penny scam.

I felt really irritated about this and have thought about calling the store and informing a manager about it. The problem is, nobody wants to take the time to fight over pennies, and this is what makes this a perfect scam. If I were the manager, I would want to know about it. I wouldn't want my lazy employee not to take two steps to the left and get pennies when we've run out of them in the register drawer. What do my readers think I should do? Not make a fuss? That's how these scams thrive!

If you're wondering, I don't know if this was the same cashier whom I suspected of short changing me a few days earlier, but it sure didn't help me feel good about the earlier event. Regardless of who the employee is the next time I go, I'm going to be a lot more careful at this Circle K in the future. That's for darn sure.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thought of the Day

After spending 75 minutes in an Intro to Philosophy class yesterday afternoon, I’ve come to the following conclusion: trying to teach the average college student philosophy is like trying to teach a jellyfish how to change a tire.

Enough said.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

So Long, Spring Break 2009

Sadly, spring break comes to a close this evening. Within 12 hours, I'll be heading back to campus to resume my TA responsibilities, and in even less time, I'll be back into strict homework phase. It's a bummer. As much as I didn't get done over spring break that I thought I might, I feel good about both what I did and what I did not accomplish. Soon enough I'll have two more papers due, another batch of tests to grade, and a test of my own to take. It'll hit hard and fast, so for now I'm trying to remain calm and mentally on vacation. To help maintain this positivity, I thought I'd share some of the highlights from the past 10 days.
  • We went to see Bolt at the dollar theater here in Tallahassee. This is only the fourth movie (maybe the fifth) that we've been to in the theater as a family since Edison was born. While small children can make it difficult to give the movie as much attention as one might like, I found the film rather enjoyable. I didn't think it looked all that promising, so I was pleasantly surprised.
  • We went to Chuck E. Cheese's. See my previous post for more info on that.
  • I actually took a nap yesterday!
  • We spent a couple of nights at the home of Melanie's brother and his family, who live in Hinesville, GA. Hinesville is nothing to get excited about it in and of itself—it is basically an army base town—but it's always good to see family. We got to be there to celebrate Kyle's (my nephew's) birthday on Thursday, and Friday night we drove 20 miles to Jesup, GA to eat at a buffet restaurant and go to Kmart. That's small town entertainment, I suppose, but it was fun for us. The only downside was driving past some sort of production plant for a company called Rayonier, which is a “forest products company.” I know this much – the plant reeks like nothing I've ever experienced. Gag! Oh, and we also realized we're no longer cut out for the north – it was pretty cold in Georgia!
  • We tried a new donut shop that opened up down the street, called Donut Kingdom. They were pretty good. I joked before we even ordered anything that, regardless of whether they were good or bad, if we lived in Utah and I was writing a review of the place for a Utah newspaper, I'd already have my headline. Bad donuts = Donut Kingdom is Anything But Celestial; good donuts = Try New Donut Kingdom – It's Celestial. (I should now be shot, not just for making lame Utah/Mormon jokes, but for publishing them, even in this informal setting. I wrestled with my conscious long and hard before deciding to post this little tidbit.)
  • I got to do a lot of the normal things that I never get to be involved in, like going grocery shopping, to the library, to the park, and so on. These may not sound like overly exciting activities, but I'm usually left out because I've got too much to do. It's nice to be involved with my family's most day-to-day activities. It makes me feel like an actual part of the family!
I think that about covers it. And now it's over. Sad, but nice while it lasted. Here's to next year....

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What Happens in Chuck E. Cheese's...

According to my memory, my six-year-old self thought Chuck E. Cheese’s was a magical place. There was one located in a strip mall not too far from both my paternal and maternal grandparents’ homes, and though it must have closed down when I was only five or six, I can vaguely remember how the pizza parlor /video arcade / animatronic vaudeville theater was laid out. Walking in, you were greeted by the alluring cacophony of hundreds of coin-operated video games being played in unison, the buzzing whir of Skee-Ball machines dispensing tickets in recognition of games well played, and the metallic rainfall of tokens pouring from the money-token exchange machine. The dimly lit restaurant was offset by the dazzling rainbow of flashing lights coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once. In the back, a theater where (robotic) comedians and musicians entertained the enthusiastic crowds. Up front, a gift shop of sorts where one could trade in their winnings for plastic spider rings or jelly bracelets. Chuck E. Cheese’s was a six-year-old’s Caesar’s Palace.

When Chuck E. Cheese’s closed down, I embraced Showbiz Pizza. In my memory, the latter was not quite the enterprise that was the former, though they offered the same general fare, both off-stage and on. I could swear that I celebrated several years’ worth of birthdays in a row at these two establishments, though more realistically, it was probably only two or three birthdays. Regardless, I know that at some point in my young mind these businesses were the indispensable standards of birthday entertainment and could not easily be displaced.

Flash forward 20+ years. Today I took my own sons to Chuck E. Cheese’s. Skewed memories aside, times have certainly changed. When you walk in, the first thing they do is put an ultraviolet stamp with a unique code on each person in your group. Then, when you leave, they have to shine an ultraviolet light on all the people in your group and check the stamps to make sure you’re not walking out with someone else’s kid (or spouse?). The restaurant is also more compact than I seem to remember, with the stage show being visible from almost anywhere in the restaurant rather than off in its own separate area like it was in my youth. That doesn’t matter much, I suppose, but somehow that separation added to the grandeur of Chuck E. Cheese’s in my younger years; it was such a sprawling mecca of entertainment. In comparison, it now seems rather dinky. It’s also a rip-off if you don’t have a coupon. A large, moderate-quality pizza with two toppings would cost you $19 if you just walked in and ordered one. Fortunately, Melanie and I were able to get a large “super combo” pizza with four drinks (we only needed three!) and 40 tokens for about the same price. They weren’t such a rip-off when I was a kid. In fact, I don’t remember ever paying for anything as a child. Somehow I just had tokens and pizza at my disposal.

Getting back to today, Edison was a bit leery of the place at first, especially of the animatronic stage show. When Melanie took Peter up for a closer look, Eddie hung back and would not get closer, even when I offered to hold him. He was also initially unsure about most of the rides and games, which left me feeling like the whole visit was destined to be pointless. But, all in due time, Edison warmed up and started trying new things. His three favorite things ended up being a horse-riding game, a game where sharks pop out and you have to bonk them on the head (think Whac-a-Mole), and a trolley (re: train) ride. I think he enjoyed inserting the tokens almost as much as he enjoyed playing the games sometimes, but he was certainly having fun. He even worked up the courage to climb up all four levels necessary to reach a large, twisting tunnel slide, which he thoroughly enjoyed. By the time we were leaving, he was sad to go.

I was bummed that they didn’t have the coin-operated miniature Ferris wheel that I remember as a child. I can imagine Edison being scared of it, at least at first, but Peter might have enjoyed it. For my own sake, it would have been fun to see an arcade classic, like Pac-Man, Mario Bros., or Donkey Kong. I didn’t expect it, but there’s nothing even remotely similar to those games nowadays. Every video game is either a driving game or a shooting game. You can’t even find a pinball machine. Personally, I think Q*Bert was as three-dimensional as we ever needed to get.

Edison gets ready to unleash his fury on an approaching shark.

When all is said and done, it was a fun day. We’ve got a few tokens left over, so I’m sure we’ll be heading back to Chuck E. Cheese’s some day down the road. Until then, enjoy a few more photos.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Master of My Domain

A couple of weeks ago, I finally received my master’s degree (in physical form) from Georgia State. I was surprised by its size. It seemed a bit larger than I remember any of my previous diplomas being. Perhaps they always make the diploma for a higher-level degree larger than the diploma for a lower-level degree, just to make you feel extra special about earning it. If that’s true, then I’m a bit unsure of what I’ll do when I get my Ph.D., the diploma for which should be about the size of a king-size bed sheet. Maybe you’re expected to fly it outside your home like a flag. That’ll command some respect from your neighbors, for sure. If one of them slips up and forgets to address you as Dr., you can just give an awkward cough and glance in the direction of your flag/diploma. That should nip that one in the bud, right quick.

I was also amused by the language of my diploma. As you can see in the below photograph, it says, “To all persons to whom this writing may come, Greeting”. I guess I’m being picky, but that just sounds awkward. Why “greeting” in the singular? Perhaps that’s technically correct, or at least technically acceptable, but it sure sounds funny. Regardless, it strikes me as somewhat humorous to put a salutation at the top of the diploma in the first place. I’ll have to look at other diplomas from other institutions, particularly graduate degree diplomas, and see if that’s standard practice. I really shouldn’t knock it when it could just be American tradition. That wouldn’t make me look very smart, unlike the photo at the top of this post.

My master’s degree says to tell you, “Hello!”