Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Middle of the End of the Beginning of My Ph.D. Program

For being on the cusp of semester’s end—and really, the end of my first academic year in a Ph.D. program—I’m not feeling nearly as happy as I should. I’m not sure why. As much as I long to get to the end of these things (semesters, that is), there’s a certain bleakness in not having a set schedule or a clear direction to my day. I feel aimless, and most things that I would relish doing if I actually felt busy just feel like a giant waste of time when I can actually do them. That’s the irony of it all, I guess. But I think it’s just an adjustment period. It takes some time getting comfortable with vacation mode. It’s not like I wish I had a million things on my to-do list at the moment, but because I’m so used to living that kind of life, not being extremely busy can feel purposeless at first.

Anyway, that was not my real point here. There is reason to be happy. Plenty of reasons, really. On Monday, I took the final exam for a required course that is a very extensive overview of 20th-century metaphysics (and a little bit of epistemology). The course is known for being quite rigorous, as is the final exam, which many (though not necessarily the majority of) students commonly take as long as five hours or more to complete. The final consisted of 21 questions, of which each student had to choose 17, and each answer was expected to be roughly a paragraph long. The study guide for this exam consisted of approximately 100 questions, each of which requested much greater detail than anything we saw on the exam. It was a massive amount of information on which we were being tested. But somehow I felt very confident going into the exam, and I felt great about my exam when I turned it in about three hours and ten minutes after I began. (I wasn’t the first one done, so I’m not bragging here. But I was pleased I didn’t take longer. 90 minutes into the exam, I had only answered three questions, so I started to worry that the exam would take me eight hours to complete. Fortunately, I picked up the pace after a slow beginning!) Still, after turning in my completed exam, I was only hoping for perhaps a B+ on the final, figuring it would be highly unlikely that I would have answered any question with absolute perfection, and thus if I lost even one point on each question, I’d be out of the A range. But lo and behold, I did get an A on the exam. Not even an A-, but a full-on A. And so an A in the class, too. I’m thrilled! A’s have been much harder to come by at FSU, so that’s part of why I’m thrilled, but I’m also especially excited because (a) the professor for this class is one whom I anticipate working fairly closely with during my time at FSU and I’d like to make a good impression, and (b) I am thinking metaphysics may be one of my primary philosophical interests. It feels good to excel in a class that is of such interest to me.

In less great news, I got a B+ on my final paper for my free will class. This is a bummer because free will is supposed to be my area of specialization, but also because I felt pretty good about my final paper and had hoped for better. Apparently, something wasn’t quite up to par. (I haven’t actually gotten back a physical copy of my paper with notes, so I’m not sure where I faltered, although I’ve started to guess—and really, if I can guess where my paper was weak, then the B+ is probably warranted.) Looking on the bright side, I’ll still have an A- for the course, and even if I had received an A on the final paper, I would have gotten an A- in the course due to my previous assignments. So, as far as final grades go, it doesn’t really matter that I only got a B+. But my pride is still wounded a bit. Ouch.

Back to happier news, I have little left to do before I am completely done with this semester. On Friday at 11 a.m., I’ll have my final exam for logic, which is always daunting, but fortunately for me and everyone suffering with me, the professor curves his grades in the students’ favor. (This is another required course that is known for being incredibly difficult, even more so than the metaphysics course.) Regardless of what happens on the final exam, I’m basically guaranteed a B- for the course, and I long ago resigned myself to the possibility that I would fare no better, so that’s fine with me. And in that sense, I’m not too stressed about the final exam, which is nice. But I’m still looking forward to having it over and done with, and I hope never again (in this life) to be required to take exams where my answers look something like this:

Is that enough to garner your sympathies? And that was on the simpler side, thank you. No Hebrew involved.

A couple of hours after I finish the logic exam, I’ll head off to the intro philosophy class for which I’m a TA and watch those students take a final exam. I’ll then have about three days to grade all of the exams which fall under my jurisdiction (so to speak), which fortunately is not nearly as many as it is for the other TAs in that class. It will keep me busy for a couple of days, but it sounds paradisiacal compared to everything else I’ve been doing lately. And so it will be quite nice.

That’s my life for now. Time for bed.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Potty Humor for the Whole Family

I have always been a fan of writing little songs and jingles. Some time ago, I found myself singing this little ditty:

You see me coming your way
And you like the way I dance
But there’s something you don’t know
I’m going in my pants

For whatever unknown (and thankfully not too directly related) reason, this song returned to my mind this morning, and I found myself singing it at the breakfast table. Soon enough, Edison turned the straw for his hot chocolate into a makeshift microphone and started belting out the last line of the song: “I’m going in my pants!”

Melanie and I were quite amused and laughed heartily. As soon as Edison sang the line, he turned to me and asked, “What does that mean?” I explained in delicate and not so many words that sometimes if a person doesn’t utilize the toilet, they utilize their trousers.

Apparently the song is quite catchy, as Edison then spent the next while singing his own rendition of the song. I quite like the changes he made. Eddie’s version goes like this:

When you don’t go in the bathroom,
I go in your pants!

I laughed harder this morning than I have in a long time.

I do not claim to be a perfect role model for my children.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hello, Computer

It's done. I'm writing to you from a new computer that is running smooth as silk compared to the one on which I wrote my previous post. In many ways, it's exciting to get a new computer. In many ways, it is stressful. To change computers is like moving out of a house—you worry that you've undoubtedly left something of great importance behind at “the old place.” Did I really take everything I need? If something occurs to me soon enough, I can just hook up the old computer again and get what I want. But, eventually, the old computer will be gone. What will be left behind? Yikes!

So, the most exciting thing to me about this new computer is the hard drive capacity. It's a 1TB hard drive. That's one terabyte, or almost 1,000 gigabytes. Our old computer only held 80 GB! The reason the oversized hard drive excites me is that I can put TONS of music on it. Believe it or not, our old hard drive filled up with pictures and music, and I eventually found myself deleting music for the sake of photographs. (After all, in many instances at least, I owned the original CDs and could just play the music directly from them. But there's something nice about ripping CDs to your hard drive and having them immediately accessible at any given time. For a music buff who owns over half a thousand CDs, such CD-ripping is a tremendous benefit.) With this new computer, there shouldn't be much worry about running out of hard drive space anytime soon.

This new computer also has a quad-core processor (AMD brand, 2.50 GHz) and 4GB of RAM. That should handle anything I would ever throw at it. Of course, the new computer is running on Windows Vista, which apparently requires a lot more of your system than Windows XP did, which is what I had before. It's also the 64-bit version of Vista, whatever difference that makes. So, taking that into account, I might not have made quite as extensive a leap as it sounds like I have made in terms of available resources. But it was still quite a jump.

Now, before it sounds like I'm living the high life, I remind you that our old computer was nigh unto death, and the only reason it was still up and running is because a saintly friend had given me the resources and know-how to resurrect it from the (very near) dead a few years ago. With a great tax break coming, we figured we might as well get a new computer as soon as we found a good deal rather than waiting for the old one to die out completely. As luck would have it, we found an incredible deal almost immediately. (I had been daydreaming and looking into new computers for a while anyway, so I already had some good leads.) Given the amazing specs of this new computer, we paid very little. Little enough, in fact, that I have some concern that the quality of computer we got can't possibly be that great. It's not a brand name with which I was previously familiar, but it comes with a 2-year warranty, which is comforting. Having dealt with computer warranties before, I know it will be no picnic if I actually have to utilize the warranty, but at least I will have that option. And for a year longer than most warranties, from what I’ve seen. Yes, I thought about going with a more familiar company, but even the low end computers from familiar brand names were not much cheaper than the one we purchased. For a few extra bucks, we got a top-of-the-line system as far as specifications are concerned. Let’s just hope the computer itself holds out until I’m done with my Ph.D. program. 2012 or bust!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Good News, Bad News

First the bad news: I got an email informing me that I had indeed made errors on my tax form. A few, in fact. For that reason, my electronic submission of my tax form was rejected. And one of the errors made a noticeable impact on the refund Melanie and I can be expecting.

Now for the good news: I’ve since made corrections to the tax form, some of which was just the correction of typos, resubmitted it, and received an email confirmation that the form has now been accepted. If the corrections I made are correct (and I still worry I could have made a mistake somewhere, though I feel confident I followed the directions as well as I could understand them), then the refund Melanie and I will be getting is about 10% larger than I had expected when I expressed my delightful surprise in my previous post.

God bless the low income family!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Taxes, Evasion and Elation

Who knew doing your taxes could be such a joyous occasion? Well, for a couple of reasons, this year it has been. First and foremost, I’m beyond elated to realize that Peter’s being born into this family has now provided for an unexpected financial boon. I assumed his appearance would have a positive impact on our taxes, but I guess I didn’t realize just how much. Needless to say, the refund we are expecting now that I’ve completed our taxes is far beyond what I had been thinking we’d get before I ever started. I’m thrilled. And the money will certainly be put to good use. When our lease runs up in July (for some odd reason, the apartment complex from which we rent only gives you an 11-month lease for the first “year”), we lose the “complimentary” washer and dryer that were a part of our “sign-on bonus.” We can’t live without them, and given that there’s no laundry facility onsite, replacing them is a must. In fact, we’d replace them even if there were a laundry facility onsite, since even that would be highly inconvenient for a family with two children, a near-absentee father, and a lot of laundry. But I digress. We’ve always planned on buying a washer and dryer with our tax return, but we weren’t completely sure just how much it would cover or how much would be left over. Now we know the answer – plenty! And that means we can start looking to replace our desktop computer, which has been threatening to poop out for months. This computer is something like five or six years old, which is probably well beyond geriatric in computer-years. I got this computer back when I was a “home agent” for the newspaper in SLC, which would have been 2003 if not earlier. Wow. Seems reasonable to replace it now, wouldn’t you say? Let’s just hope I didn’t miscalculate something on the tax forms – trust me, I’ve been worried that I have!

A second fun little surprise, which I think I’d heard about before but that I forgot until I spent quite a while trying to find some forms and how-to information online – Florida does not impose a personal income tax. In other words, I don’t have to file taxes here in Florida. Cool! How’s that for nifty? I still had to file a Georgia return, but next year, it will be federal and federal alone. That’s a nice little perk to living in the Sunshine State. And there are other oddities about Florida taxes which I have yet to fully understand. You don’t get charged sales tax on donuts, for example. (Yes, I would know.) Or on haircuts. There are a few things like that. I’m sure there’s some unifying factor, but I don’t know what it is. I think I didn’t even have to pay sales tax on some infant ibuprofen that I bought a couple of weeks ago. And it wasn’t even donut-flavored, so who knows.

I hope everyone else is enjoying tax season. Oh, and there’s some other special event going on this weekend, isn’t there? Hmmm….

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Doritos® Introduces New "Stale Old Tacos"™ Flavor

On a recent trip to Circle K, I noticed an unfamiliarly dark bag of Doritos® sitting on the display shelf. Being a modest fan of most Doritos® brand flavors, I was curious what new concoction Doritos® had come up with and was now unveiling on the public by way of an enigmatic black cellophane bag. As I drew closer, I received my answer: Tacos at Midnight. While I found the name to be rather off-putting, morbid curiosity got the best of me and I ended up buying a bag. The verdict? They definitely taste like tacos—or, to be more specific, they taste like Taco Bell mild sauce. Which I guess sheds light on the new flavor’s moniker—Taco Bell prides itself on serving tacos as late as 1 a.m., so Taco Bell inspired chips (though Taco Bell receives no credit from Doritos®) would do well to capture that after hours flavor as closely as possible. I guess I’m just surprised that there’s something so distinct about the tacos you’ll get from Taco Bell at midnight that makes Doritos® want to hone in on that particular hour. Why not 3 p.m. tacos? I can only assume that the tacos you get at midnight have been sitting around under a heat lamp for two or three hours, which somehow allows for the flavors to blend to their maximum potential. And this is a flavor Doritos® wants you to know, to expect, and to crave when you see the words “Tacos at Midnight” sprawled across the Doritos® bag. Tempting indeed!

For the record, Doritos® has also unveiled another “Late Night” variety: Last Call Jalapeño Popper. I tried this flavor a couple of days after discovering Tacos at Midnight and was much more impressed. While Tacos at Midnight weren’t bad, Last Call Jalapeño Popper has garnered my sincere recommendation. I would happily eat them again. Well, not the exact same ones, but you know what I mean.