Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cell phones: boon and bane

Cell phones: Yeah, I know, they are a necessary evil. A few years ago, it seemed so surprising that normal, mortgage-paying 8-to-5ers would every give up the safety net of the landline and go wireless, but now wireless has become the norm. My young neighbor remarked, after watching me use the landline, "Do you have a regular [cell] phone?"

I still maintain my landline and DSL, but for seven years, I had a bare-bones prepay phone as a matter of necessity: you know, one pre-buys a finite number of "minutes" and airtime. Not a smartphone. But it fulfilled my limited needs: got great reception, the minutes were relatively inexpensive when bought in bulk, it sent and received text messages. I use my iPod Touch for data and apps.

But for a few months, I had no bars, no reception. Incoming calls were routed directly to voicemail, or sometimes, lost altogether. Text messages failed. This is not good.  If I go incommunicado, I want it to be on my own terms.

Frustration converged with opportunity, and on a whim, I turned into the first cell phone vendor I passed on the main drag: a shop catering mostly the Spanish-speaking community.

The phone and plan I ended up with was exactly what I wanted. How often does an impulsive decision work out for the best? Once the owner understood that I did not want or need an unlimited plan for a fixed amount per month, he found a prepay per minute plan (Total Call Mobile) and a Sanyo Katana phone. the ultimate cost per minute is less than that of the previous phone, the plan does not require purchasing airtime in addition to minutes, the Katana phone (for which he discounted the price) is packed with features that I'm still learning about, the contacts database is more user-friendly, the screen is easy to read, and never has the phone been out of service.

These hallowed halls

I earn part of my daily bread as a graduate academic advisor in the College of Engineering. In other words, the students under my watch are all earning master of science or doctorate degrees in engineering. By definition then, they are organized, directed, analytical, methodical, intelligent, persistent.

One student's experience, though, encapsulates the essence of why I love advising. An self-descrubed lackadaisical American undergraduate in chemical engineering, he found himself at the point of singular dissatisfaction with his job in the oil service industry. He quit that lucrative job to return for an MS, with an idea of specializing in energy-generating materials, earning an MS without benefit of an assistantship. More gregarious than the typical engineering student, he shared with me his ideas and disappointments and hopes. I offered suggestions and contacts, but mostly listened.

He took the initiative to study internationally at the acknowledged world-leading university in his particular field of energy materials.

After successfully completing the physics course well acknowledged to be the most difficult in our curriculum, and also holding his own in the ad hoc study group, the student admitted to me, proudly and almost incredulously, "Maybe I am capable of doing graduate-level engineering coursework." He entered the program with trepidation and bravado and probably a some fear, but persevered and overcame, proving his engineering proficiency and resourcefulness, mostly to himself.

The is the reason I love advising.

He is the only MS student, to my knowledge, to be offered a position with a famous semiconductor manufacturer and developer.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The primary and caucus system explained

Any questions, view C.G.P. Gray's primary primer.

When you've digested that, give a listen to How the Electoral College Works.

Just for fun, it's Coffee: The Greatest Addition Ever.

And before spring forward Sunday: Daylight Savings Time Explained.

Sardonic (maybe unintentionally so), entertaining, and educational.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


I am overwhelmed.

I still don't have a kitchen. I made do with three slow cookers, a rice cooker, a propane-fired camping stove, and a coffee maker. I wash dishes in a large plastic storage box. The refrigerator is in my outbuilding.

Robisel, a fine craftman and hard worker, built a tin-roofed dog house, finished the crown molding in my house, did some touch-up painting, repaired flawlessly two large holes in my drywall, and laid and secured the cement backer board for my tile floor. He is a Renaissance man; I'm fortunate to have him working for me.

I rescued a hound dog and her six pups. Now, the two remaining pups; the mom dog, Paloma; and my orginal dog, Oliver, are under my care. I am seeking a home for Brutus, the large white male hound-mix pup, who will be neutered and trained in a month or so.

My electrical panel lost one leg of the two 120V in parallel (no 240V), so no hot water for more than two weeks. A local electrical company installed a new panel the next day, but it will be expensive. Fortunately, a kind ex-boyfriend, an electrician, diagnosed it for me.

At work, a very large, critically important report is due this week. I worked on it all (my boss, also) all Christmas break while my brethern were mostly off on their holiday.

This week and next week are also some of the busiest of the semester for a graduate advisor, as school starts the third week of January.

I also have a large editing job to finish, but between illness and all these other things, I have not finished it. I haven't even billed my clients for for work I've already done.

I have not even had time to acknowledge the birthdays of my nieces and nephews. I'm always running and never getting anywhere.

I am president of the Friends of the Brazos Valley Farmers' Market. I don't want to let these people down. The vendors are very appreciative. In fact, I can't remember any volunteer or service position in which the people involved were this appreciative. The volunteer coordinator quit; other volunteers tell me they can count on me for small jobs, then leave me in the lurch, so that I'm scrambling to put out a newsletter (and having to learn the software) at the very last minute. I've been staffing the booth five hours (from set-up to tear-down) almost every Saturday for months. A while ago, just trying to make pleasant conversation wtih another sometime volunteer, I asked if she would like to staff the booth for maybe a two-hour stint every once in a while.

"No," she huffed. "I have better things to do with my Saturdays."(This is after my staffing the booth for months.) It hurt then. It still stings now. I also have important things to do, but I honor my commitments. And I don't making stinging comments about those who honor theirs. But everyone else at the farmers' market is salt of the earth, and I'm glad to be a part of it.

(Another volunteer has since stepped up for a two-hour stint the first Saturday of the month. Thanks, Michaela.)

I have not been to the gym in more than 18 months; before, it was five or six times per week. I no longer have time to commute to work by bicycle. For the past 25 years, I have commuted to work by bicycle, but even this short 20-minute commute does not seem to work into my schedule.

Except for my father's funeral last December, I have not been able to take any vacation time at all, except for one glorious Friday in June for a quick weekend trip to Galveston with a girlfriend. Taking more than one day in succession has been verboten the entire 2011.

Remembering how uncannily insightful the rudimentary Eliza AI diagnostic program seemed been a generation ago, one lunch break I tried a mini-counseling session with an on-line Eliza, but the "doctor" was not picking up on my vibe.