january 2006

Lots to write about, but I've been sick since I got back from visiting family for the holidays, and of course the day I have to go back to work I get hit with another wave. More tomorrow, I promise.

I'm really broken up about this. More details on notes.

I live in a pretty rural county, so there are lots of farms and fields surrounding the swaths of suburbia that make up our small town. On the way out to the main highway going north the road comes to a T at a stop sign, and directly across the street is a cornfield. When we first moved into the neighborhood a few years ago, the region was suffering from a terrible drought, and since the corn wasn’t good enough for human consumption, the farmer let it sit on the stalk until late fall before harvesting it for animal feed. For months the whole field was filled with dry, brown cornstalks.

One afternoon when I stopped at this intersection, the corn was lit from the west (behind us) by the setting sun, which turned the ugly, dry stalks into a sort of luminous, golden, shimmering sea. Even though the sun was out behind us, the eastern sky in front of us was a dark smoky blue from a stormfront that had passed by earlier in the day. For just that afternoon, maybe just that hour, maybe just that minute, there was this amazing contrast between the brightly lit stalks of corn and the restless, darkening sky behind it, and I immediately regretted not having my camera with me.

I have held that image in my memory for years, waiting for that exact set of circumstances to repeat itself so I could photograph it; every time I drive to that intersection, I only half-see the reality of the present; in my mind, I'm immediately taken back to the vision of light and dark that I experienced that day. I always figured that I would get another shot; every year the farmer plants the same corn, and every year I drive past it dozens of times.

But this year after the corn was harvested, a construction trailer appeared in the commuter lot next to the field, and I learned that a new road is being built that will run through the middle of the field, and that corn won't ever be planted there again. The image from that day years ago exists so vividly in my mind, and I was sure someday I'd be able to turn it into an actual photograph. But I guess it's gone forever now.

This has been a horrible week. The news just gets worse and worse from the Harvey crime scene, and there still aren't any arrests or even rumors of solid leads as to who did this terrible thing and why (not that it matters—nothing could justify these acts). And I know deep inside that it wouldn't matter if there were leads, or even if there was an arrest. Yes, I'd like to see the perpetrator(s) of this crime face justice, but no matter what happens to them, the Harveys are gone forever, and our world is that much less vibrant because of it.

For anyone who's interested in more information and doesn't read my music blog notes regularly, I'm posting links there to other blogs reacting to this tragedy. There is also a link to a site which gives details on the memorial service to be held tomorrow in Richmond.

I swear to god, if I have to read one more app from a kid who wants to major in biology with a secondary interest in chemistry, I'm going to scream. Can't you little robots take an interest in some of your humanties courses? You know, the ones where you don't have beakers of chemicals to mix or dead specimens to dissect? Sheesh.

I'm ready to put a period on my awful class from last semester. But I can't do that until my professor bothers to turn in our grades to the registrar's office. Seriously, it's been a month now—usually we get our grades before Christmas, but I've never received them later than the first week of the new year before. I don't really care what grade I get, I just want to make sure it falls in the range (B or higher) that will ensure that the cost will be covered by tuition remission rather than coming out of my own pocket.

Because let me tell you something, I'm ready to go to war if this guy gives me poor marks because my paper sucked: my paper sucked because the class sucked and he wasn't engaged with his students or the material at all. There's a good reason he "forgot" to hand out the course evaluations during our final session (another thing that I've never experienced in this program).

My guess is that he's going to pull the standard grad school trick and give everyone the same grade, like an A- or a B+—just high enough so that no one will complain and bring scrutiny to his lack of preparedness this semester. But until I see that grade on my transcript, I'm not ruling anything out.

Sleep does not come easily these days, and when it does, it always seems to come with bad dreams. I've always had insomnia issues, but this is the worst it's been in a while—no matter what I try, my body just doesn't seem interested in sleeping between midnight and 4 a.m. I'm sure it has a lot to do with the Bryan Harvey thing, because that really rattled me, but I hope it works itself out soon. It's miserable not being able to get any rest.

It was 86 degrees in my office yesterday, and it promises to be just as warm today. The excuse we were given when we called facilities management to complain was something along the lines of that they have to keep the heat turned on in the winter even when it's relatively warm outside because it's too much of a pain to reprogram the climate control system. This reasoning is hardly satisfying: it seems to me that if you're going to go to the trouble of having a computer to control the temperature and humidity in a building, the least you could do is pick one that's flexible enough to adjust to the weather conditions more than twice a year.

But such is the wisdom of Hopkins. Only 18 months til we get our new building...

The facilities guys spent another hour or so in our office yesterday, pulling down the ceiling tiles and messing with wires, control panels, and vents that are supposed to control the temperature in our office. The air coming from the cooling part of the system was 77 degrees, and the air coming out of the main vent was 81 degrees, which translated to a temperature in our office of 84-86 degrees. When they left, the only thing that had been accomplished was that we had been kept away from our desks for an hour and everything in the office was covering with a fine white dust.

I was really hoping I'd have enough completed files that I could just stay at home and read applications today, since it was clear that they had no idea how to fix this problem and they were really hoping we'd just stop complaining about it so they could go do something less puzzling. But no such luck: I only had 10 files in my bin, which is only enough to take up about half the day. But you can bet that, as long as no emergencies crop up that require me to be in the office, I'll be heading home at lunchtime to read my files in the easily adjustable temperature of my home climate control system.

Every time we have a three-day weekend, I become even more resolute in my belief that four-day workweeks are the way to go. Sadly, there's not another one scheduled until May now—we've officially entered the long, dark teatime of the winter grind.

Dear anonymous high school student,

You have a combined 860 SAT, a 2.84 GPA, you chose a weak course curriculum, you're skipping class constantly, and your already-poor grades have dropped dramatically in the past year. Why are you even thinking about applying to one of the most selective research universities in the world? And in biology, no less?

Sometimes you read these apps and just shake your head. It's one thing if the kid is too dense to realize that he's trying to go from little league to the major leagues when he's barely good enough to play single A ball, but how could his guidance counselor let him waste his money on our application fee?

Next week is the first week of classes for the spring semester, and I still haven't received my grade from last semester. And there's really no one I can complain to about it, because in addition to being a full tenured professor and chair of his department, my professor is also the program chair for my degree. I assume at some point the registrar will force him to turn in something, but until then, I think he's perfectly happy ignoring our class post-term as he was at ignoring us while the course was in session.

My sister (not you, Tori) is driving me crazy with her ridiculous fucking wedding plans; I'm so mad at her right now I can't even talk about it. I keep on hoping that some day she's going to turn into a reasonable, responsible adult, but with her recent behavior she's convincing me that she remains just as childishly self-centered, wantonly cruel and manipulative, and irretrievably stupid as she's always been, and that there's little hope that she'll ever change. And I just don't know how much more time I can stand to spend around people like that in this lifetime.

More on this soon, after I have a chance to calm down about it a little. Or after I spend two hours writing a lengthy rant. Either way.

When I was sick about a month ago, I basically did nothing but slept on the couch and watched a few minutes of tv here and there as I drifted in and out of consciousness. During one of my moments of lucidity, I saw an ad for microwave popcorn with a marshmallow flavor. I wrote it off as a fevered hallucination, because I never saw an ad for it again.

Until last night, that is: here it is, Jolly Time Mallow Magic microwave popcorn. Weird. I think I might have been better off believing that my brain had just made that up.

My spring semester class starts tonight, and not only is my grade for last semester still not in the system, the registrar's office has also neglected to assign a room for our class to meet in. I doublechecked the professor's syllabus, which is posted on our program web site, and he includes "spacetime coordinates" (it's another physics course), but in fact, it's just the time element that he gives us—no room number listed there, either.

I tell you, it's a good thing these courses are free to me; I can't imagine the non-university affiliated people who actually paying money out of their own pockets for this kind of sloppiness.

My new class looks like it will be pretty good, but I was just so exhausted last night that I couldn't get much out of it. Our professor is an Oxford-trained PhD in theoretical physics who is currently the head of the Hopkins press, and he was entertaining and insulting in that way that only the British can pull off without really insulting you. I think he was hoping for a more robust class discussion, but since half the class hadn't read the material and the other half were either shy or looked as wiped out as I was, there were only small nibbles.

Still, I think my classmates are pretty intelligent, and I think that once we get comfortable with each other and the material, there won't be any shortage of opinions. So I'm looking forward to our next class, but right now, I just want to get through the rest of the workweek.

This is the best message board signature graphic I've seen in a long time. And yes, there apparently really is a movie in production called "Snakes on a Plane" starring Samuel L. Jackson. The killer: the studio tried to change the name, but the kick ass Mr. Jackson refused to let them, saying the title was the whole reason he signed onto the film in the first place.

I present to you an annual tradition of which I was previously unaware, but which I'll never miss again: the Beast's 50 Most Loathsome People, 2005. Perfect for whiling away a pointless and unproductive Friday in the office. Enjoy.

I finally got my grade from last semester: A-. Kind of anti-climactic after all that worrying I did, but my paper really wasn't that good. Oh well. I'll take it and be done with it.

For the first 187,000 miles of its life, my green Saturn had had its trip odometer in perfect synch with its main odometer: the miles on both matched exactly, even down to the tenth of a mile. This is an old obsessive habit, one that I've indulged in since I've had a car to call my own, and it was fitting that my first brand new car had lived its entire life with me having the two odometers matching perfectly.

All that changed a year and a half ago when a drunken moron plowed into my parked car on the street outside our house, because when we took it in to be repaired, the jerks at the repair shop reset the trip odometer for some reason beyond my comprehension. Since then I've been waiting to get the two back in synch, and although I've had more than one opportunity (I'm not always the one driving the car, and Julie thinks I'm crazy, so I haven't been there each time it has ticked over another thousand miles), but it always slipped my mind until a few miles after the critical moment. It really bothers me not to have them match up, but since that's not our primary car anymore, I don't drive it as much as I used to and I didn't make a real effort to get them to match up.

Last night I finally got the perfect opportunity though: I worked at home reading apps, but I had to drive to campus for my class, and as I was leaving home I noticed that there were only 25 miles until the main odometer got to 199,000 miles. I also knew that the trip to campus was just about 25 miles, so I figured if I started paying attention to the odometers once I got into the city, I'd finally be able to get them aligned. Luckily I remembered, and just as I was entering the outer boundaries of campus, the main odometer ticked over and I reset the trip odometer to make it once again match down to the tenth of a mile.

Honestly, no matter what else might have happened yesterday (and nothing really did), after that, I would have had to have marked it down as a good day. One thing that was wrong with the world isn't wrong anymore, and you can't say that about every day.
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