Maintenance Required  

Even though I have been working really hard to get everything completed as far as my papers go, life continues to go on without any regard for how much work I have left. I can't very well ask for the world to stop spinning for a couple of weeks so I can get it all done. So this morning, I had to take care of something that could not wait, my car needed some maintenance. The battery was starting to complain with the universally recognizable "urrr, urrr, urr" sound that meant it would soon die, or commit suicide, in place not of my choosing. Also, the brake light had been on for about a week, which to my mind was getting to be too long, as I was having nightmare vision of shooting off the edge of the coastal cliffs frantically pumping the brakes to no avail. Here's me: "Ahhhh!" And then, the brakes go: "Do what? What did you want me to do? Oh, and quit stomping on my head."

Maintenance Needed

Therefore, last night, I checked the fluid in the battery, which appeared to be fine. (Of course, the secret here is that I wouldn't know if it wasn't fine. All I could check on was whether or not it was full or not. It was full, thank goodness.) Then I poured a dilute solution of baking soda on the battery terminals to see if that would somehow help. I must have used too much baking soda because there was plenty of green toxic fizz bubbling all over the top of the thing to scare away a nearby cat. It reminded me of when I worked at a local factory. ("Dude, drop a little of that hydrochloric acid in that caustic soda barrel, will ya? It'll be cool!" Meanwhile, BOOM!) I then filled up the brake fluid reservoir, which took me forever to find. Apparently, it is super important not to get dirt or dust in the reservoir, and so I didn't. But that was a bit of a challenge--half of the car is made from dirt, and the other half is held together by it. Then, I drove around on the freeway for about a half hour to see if that would charge up the battery. I'm not the most mechanical guy in the world, but I impressed myself by being able to do this much.

Unfortunately, while the brake fluid fixed the one problem, the battery was still having trouble. So after driving my girlfriend to work, I drove the car to Les Schwab and bought a new battery. Apparently, this was the last trip I was going to get out of the car because it died immediately after I parked it. The battery is dead, long live the battery! The mechanic said that the battery was at the end of its life cycle anyway, since the battery was only supposed to last five years, which was as long as I had owned it.

Of course, the really fun part of this story is this: even though the battery will get the car going and keep it going, the alternator is bad (according the mechanic and his battery-o-meter). Therefore, the alternator will have to be replaced. And in his words, it will be a real "difficult" to get out. His wording made me think that he assumed I was going to do it myself. I guess I look like a so-called "good 'ol boy" to most mechanics; therefore, they often assume I should know how to rebuild things like carburetors and diesel engines, since that is what I should be doing with my time on the weekends. They happily took my 60 bucks and wished me, and my nearly-dead alternator, well. Sometimes, even though I like driving, I really hate cars.

26 August 2004

Buck Rogers: Attack of the Seventies! 

This morning, after making breakfast, packing a lunch for my girlfriend, and sending her off to work, I watched a few moments of television and saw something that I had not seen in nearly twenty years. On the Sci-fi channel they were playing re-runs of Buck Rogers. Wow, what a cheesy 80's show! How many references can one show make to Disco? It is sobering, and a little scary, to realize that this thing had won some emmys. Even as a kid, I remember thinking to myself that it was a little silly, but I had no idea how silly until I saw this particular repeat, which coincidentally was an episode that I remembered as one of my favorites, Cosmic Whiz Kid.

To summarize, Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman) plays Hieronymous Fox, the president of some other planet of humans. He is a child super genius, who, like Buck, is from the twentieth century, and who is kidnapped by some intergalactic criminal. Why? For ransom of course, 2.5 pounds of pure quadrillium to be exact. So Gary's bodyguard, a woman named Dia Cyrton, kidnaps Buck Rogers in turn to rescue Gary, right while Buck is listening to Three Dog Night (yes, that Three Dog Night). Oh the humanity! As a bodyguard, I have to say that Dia seems pretty useless, so all of the standard nerd questions apply here. Questions like: how come the president of an entire planet only has one bodyguard, a slight female, who, as far as her bodyguard role is concerned, dresses in spandex, is completely unable to fight the bad guys, and shamelessly flirts with her own captive when effecting a rather leisurely rescue? The best part of her "outfit" is that she carries a metallic purse everywhere she goes, which apparently she keeps her laser blaster and nothing else. But get this, Gary escapes on his own, eliminating the need for a rescue! What was the point of this show again?

Buck and Gary

As a kid, I thought the show was pretty cool because of the laser weapons, the awesome looking spacecraft, and, looking back on it now, the easy to understand plots. The robot, Twiki, I never really liked much--bee-dee, bee-dee, beep! As an adult, I wonder how this show ever got made. It looks like it was riding the success of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica--all of which have had their share of silliness. Of course, absolutely nothing beats Buck Rogers in that department. When I left to go to school, our hero Buck and an official delegation from another star system were watching of a special Earth performance of--ROLLER DISCO!. If aliens ever do invade to try take over the planet, and we show them stuff like that, I am sure we could easily defeat them by taking their weapons while they were doubled over on the floor laughing hysterically.

24 August 2004

Childhood Flashbacks 

When I was about ten, my mom married someone who she probably shouldn't have, and as he had kids, I was introduced to a new step-brother and sister. At the time, being a kid who was not practiced in the art of self-reflection, I adjusted to this new fact pretty well. This new brother and sister were not over for a visit all of the time, but enough for us to get to know each other fairly well. My new step-sister was an interesting companion. I remember playing my colecovision with my step-sister and excluding my other sister from whatever we were doing. It was not the enlightened thing to do, but I was about ten, and as the cliche goes, kids can be cruel. Of course, this arrangement did not last long as my mom divorced that guy, and the step-sister and step-brother faded away into my personal history.

That is, until today. My ex-step-sister (could there BE any more hyphens!) decided to vacation in the area from Texas, and she thought it would be fun for a spontaneous visit. We somehow agreed to meet at a Starbucks for coffee. I suppose I could have been more hospitable, but I wasn't expecting her to show up in my town, so it had to be Starbucks for the time being. We didn't catch up on what had happened since we last saw each other so much as we were reintroduced to each other for the first time, again. It was slightly odd, but the bottom line is that she and her boyfriend seem like very nice people. They're some of the good guys.


Nothing much else has happened lately, except on Friday when they were filming a movie on campus. And this was not one of the those small student produced affairs that are likely happening here all of the time, this was an official, full-production-values Hollywood type of thing. But I am guessing, in Hollywood terms, this was a rather small affair. Still it was interesting and drew quite a crowd. I couldn't get close enough to see any of the acting, and I tried to take a picture of the filming as it was happening, but nothing turned out well. As you can tell from the above picture, there were official acting trailers and equipment vans that were parked along the normal pay parking spaces. What you can't see are the vans and trailers parked up and down the street. If I hear which movie they were filming here, I'll post an update.

In any case, my work continues. I'm still trying to hammer out a respectable paper that can be turned in tomorrow morning. I feel pretty good about it, and what is more, I should have a grade on another paper that has been previously turned in. Thankfully, things are beginning to look up. All of these incompletes should be done either by the end of this week, or the middle of next. A lot of it depends on how the professors are able to work with my schedule. I can't tell you how much I (and everyone else) am looking forward to finally being rid of these monkeys (Eek oop oop!) on my back.

22 August 2004

Giving them the Business 

Way back in January, I did not have much of an internet connection. So I decided that I would try to install some earthlink software so I could use it free for a couple of months before I figured out something better. Unfortunately, the Earthlink software wouldn't really work on my computer because the computer was manufactured sometime between when the earth first cooled and people began building pyramids. Oh well, I thought, I guess I'll have to figure something out sooner than I thought. And of course, I promptly forgot about it.

That is, until July, when I noticed that there were charges on my bill from Earthlink. When I called up customer service, which took me a long time to do because their 1-800-number is a kind of a secret, the person on the other end of the line was less than helpful. I was frustrated, so I asked him if he as a representative of Earthlink was going to charge me for a service I never used, essentially taking money away from me and giving me nothing in return. Of course, the guy said that was exactly what he planned to do, and other than cancel my service, there was nothing else we would do for me. Let's just say it was a bad day for me. But once again, I decided that I would forget about it and chalk the whole thing up as a learning experience.

That is, until today, when--guess what--I received a bill from Earthlink charging me $37.00 dollars. You might ask: for what? Good question. I haven't the slightest idea, something about a return item charge and an associated return item fee. Apparently, they not only want to charge for not only for returning something, but they want to add an extra charge on top of that just because they apparently hate to have stuff returned. Of course, I think this is wonderful policy. However, I guess I should clarify that it is wonderful only if you want your customers to hate you. It is exactly the kind of thing that inspire people to create "I hate so-and-so company" websites.

You might think that I would call the company and ask them what the hell they were smoking in their accounts receivable department, and that is just what I did. Fortunately, I got to talk to a guy who seemed to actually working for the forces of good. He said he did not know why my account had not been cancelled the first time. There was even a note in his computer saying that I had called to cancel. But, even better, he also saw that I had never used the service (how they can tell I don't know). Therefore, not only was he going to cancel the unknown $37.00 charge, he was going to send me a $90.00 dollar refund. Holy Crap! This sort of thing is not supposed to happen. I am so used to being told poor customer service is somehow my own fault that I was truly shocked. I made sure to tell the guy that, not only was he doing a great job, but he had made my day. I told him he had redeemed my faith in humanity (but only just little bit).

This is in direct contrast to a phonecall I received at 8:30 a.m. the other morning. I figure someone calling that early must be someone important, like a family member or a doctor, with important news that can't wait until a more decent hour of the day. Of course, it was telemarketer.
Incredulous, I said: "Do you realize it is 8:30 in the morning?"
The telemarketer says, "Well, I am sorry sir, but we are in our legal right to call."
I said: "Okay, well take my name off of your whatever list so I don't get called by you guys again."
She, "our whatever list?"
I, "Yes, I believe that I am within my legal right to request that you put me on your do not call list and that is exactly what I am doing right now."
And then she hung up. I wish these major corporations would figure out a better way to sell their products, and I wish that old people had someone to talk to. They're the only large group of people I can figure who are buying stuff on the telephone. Please people, do your civic duty and make them (the telephone sellers and the telephone buyers) stop. Please make them stop.

21 August 2004

New Leaves 

We woke up rather early this morning (okay 7:00 a.m., which I know most people won't consider early) to take my girlfriend's car to a body shopped to have it assessed for damages. It was stolen early this month and hasn't worked quite right ever since.

After spending about an hour at the body shop, she drove my to school so she could go to work. After depositing my books and computer in my office, I went to the library to check out a book recommended to me by my professor. (He wants me to use it for my final paper that is still incomplete.) After which, with book in hand, I walked to the bank on the corner to withdraw enough money to buy a slurpee at seven-eleven. Unhealthy, you say? Well, yes, you're right, but it has become an indulgence that I am not quite ready to give up. After all, it has been at least 80 degrees today already, and it is not even 10:00 o'clock in the morning. Besides, I think that a slurpee has less calories and sugar than a frappachino(?) from Starbucks, plus it is a lot less expensive.

New Leaves

Of course, what I really want to blog about are the thoughts I had walking back to the office from the seven-eleven. Since the deadline for me to get my work done has officially passed, I don't feel as much pressure about getting the work done as I did the day before. So, ironically, I think that I can work on my paper with a lot less stress. I decided, with help and advice from friends (and the counselor), that whether I am kicked out of the program or not, I will finish these papers. For my own mental health, I will finish what I have started.

But, feeling less pressure was not the insight I wanted to blog about. What occurred to me when I was walking was that, in order to get all of this work done, I have to see myself as a professor, with as much right to say what I want about these topics as anyone. Unlike an undergraduate student, I have an office, a mailbox, and training in how to teach a writing class. I should step up the plate. It may sound corny to say, but I need to be a little more grown up about my own responsibilities than I have been. This new perspective on myself gives me more confidence to get what I know needs to be done--done.

I will read the book that I checked out this morning from the library. And if I can't read all of it, I will read most of it. After completing my unfinished papers, I will rededicate myself to studying the theoretical background in literature theory. I will start to enjoy reading in my field more. And eventually, I will learn to do what has been hardest of all, discipline myself.
A mantra has been running through my head this morning, and I don't want to forget it: "Zhaf, you have to do for you."

Therefore, I will begin to think of myself as a Professor in training: Dr. Zhaf, educated in English literature, with an emphasis on Modernism (or 19th century).

17 August 2004

The Score: (2/0) 

It is almost the end of the week, and I am still very busy at work trying to crank out the last of the papers that have been dogging me since the end of last term. Thankfully, the monster paper that had been eating away at me for months is finally complete and turned in, and now, I only have one and a half more to go. (The score mentioned in a previous blog is now: 2/0.) It is has not been easy to churn out thoughtful, academic words on paper, but, other than the extreme time crunch right now, I feel better about getting it done now than I did three or four weeks ago.

summer benches

I have finally turned a corner on this block I had, so, if all goes according to plan, I should have all of this work done by Monday--every last stinking bit of it. That means, no more reading about me here in the blog griping about work I have to do, something which, it has been pointed out to me, I have tendency to do. However, I also did not want to give the impression that I have abandoned my blog, so I present to you a picture that I took in June. Enjoy.

UPDATE: I guess the game is not going as good as I initially thought it was. One of the papers that I turned in, the small two page prospectus, was not quite up to snuff according to my professor. I'm not sure if this means that I have to redo it, or if I have to take the bad grade for it and move on. (Is the score back to 2/1, or does it remain at 2/0?) On the one hand, I am grateful for the feedback during the summer. I mean, he could have chose not to read it until the beginning of fall term. However, I was really hoping that the paper would have cut it. I was depressed for the rest of that day figuring out what my next move should be. This might change my upcoming plans for the fall, but I'm still hoping that I can pull it off afterall.

The other day, I ran into a small group of fellow graduate students talking about their summers. I did not have the courage to ask them why they were there for fear of exposing myself as someone struggling with the program. Unfortunately, I fear that they might have been on campus that day for a mini-conference about the fall classes they will teach. If that was indeed the reason why they were there, then they already know something is up by virtue of my not being there with them. Since there is nothing I can do about it now, I will not expend any more energy worrying about it. As for the papers and finishing up the work that I am mired in, I am thinking that now is the when the real test sets in. Although I have set myself on a new path, and changed some old behaviors, the novelty of the change is wearing off. Consequently, I am going to have to figure out a way to push my way forward and finish all my work, even though the chain of monotony is beginning to pinch a little.

12 August 2004

Thieves (Phishing)  

Although I've not had a laptop for very long, not even a full year yet, I've already become very attached to it. I use it to write my papers, develop my blog, and yes, I use it to help manage my finances. I use both Quicken, which I think is a great way to track my money, and the online services of my bank. Rather than be charged $1.00 for an ATM mini-statement because I can't figure out if the Costco hot dog I want to buy will put me over, I can surf over to my bank, log on and see what they say I have. Sure, I could try and keep track of it by writing it all down, but that takes too much time and math than I really want to put up with in a day.

Other than be impressed with the convenience of online banking, I really thought nothing much of it. And I thought nothing much of the following E-mail I received in my junk e-mail folder this afternoon.
Dear US Bank Customer,
During out regular update and verification of the Internet Banking Accounts, we could not verify your current information. Either your information has been changed or incomplete, as a result your access to use our services has been limited. Please update your information.
However, failure to update your records will result in account suspension.
This notification expires on August 11, 2004

To update your account information and start using our services please click the link below: [link to their phony USBank page which looks like the real thing]
My online E-mail accounts are always putting things in the junk e-mail folder that don't really belong there. Like movie cowboys, they put stuff there first and ask questions later. I dutifully logged in with my screen-name and password and began filling out their form. Until I realized that they were not supposed to be asking me for my debit card and pin number. Too late, I looked in the corner of my screen and saw that the lock was in the open position. I had fallen for it.

I quickly logged onto my online account and saw that thieves had already downloaded a personal banking statement. Consequently, even though I had not keyed in my debit or pin number, they still had my account information because I had inadvertently given them my online id and password. Quickly, I called the USBank number and found my way through the phonetree to the place where I could report fraud. The woman on the other end of the line was friendly enough, but I had to cancel everything. They said that they were going to send me replacement checks and a debit card as soon as they could. All of this has been really aggravating, but I am kicking myself for not noticing that the site was not encrypted earlier.

But this is not the only run-in I've had with thieves this week. Yesterday, my girlfriend's car was stolen. Fortunately, it was recovered that same morning but not before they made off with about one hundred dollars worth of camping supplies and equipment. You may remember from my post in May that my car had been stolen as well. Like that last time, the thieves had driven the car only a few blocks away, and they had ransacked it looking for any items of value, but unlike last time, they actually found something to steal and, in all likelihood, sell.

The police officer this time was a nice young guy who said that car thieves usually use a worn out keys to get the cars started. He said that they can just walk up to a car as bold as brass and have it running in a couple of seconds. He took some fingerprints off of the rear-view mirror before releasing the car back to us. My girlfriend went through many of the same emotions I did when I had my car stolen.

What is wrong with these people? I know that there is a lot of hardship out there, like homelessness and drug addiction, and these things can sometimes lead some people to desperate actions. Intellectually, I know that being detached from material possessions is a virtue that should be developed. But what happened to kindness and consideration for your fellow human being? I can't see what would give an otherwise normal person the ability to take without permission something that does not belong to them. Could you do it? Could you steal someone's car in order to sell the things they left inside? Would you empty out someone's bank account of their last twenty dollars? I don't think I ever would or could, especially after knowing how it feels.

UPDATE: Apparently, this kind of "phishing" for sensitive information is on the rise, and it doesn't just target USBank. Many corporations are being "spoofed," in order to fool customers into giving up sensitive information. If you don't know what "phishing" or "spoofing" is, look it up on Google news. You'll need to find out sooner rather than later, especially if you do business on the Internet. Here is a news article that discusses the issue. If you have a suspicious e-mail that wants you to update something on your account, find a way to report it. I realized too late that if I had read this bogus e-mail carefully, rather than respond emotionally to it, I would have discovered the gramatical error. (Did you catch it? Here it is: "Either your account has been changed or [IS] incomplete." I seriously dislike these kind of people.) While I haven't read all of it yet, this site [antiphishing.org] appears to have some excellent information about the evil tactics these people use and some good information on how to protect yourself as well. Recommended reading for everyone.

08 August 2004

Ongoing Work 

So while I didn't do as much work as I may have wanted to over the weekend, I did manage to get some good work done on my papers, including reserving the requisite research books from the library. (Now, I await an e-mail from them letting me know when to pick them up.) I'm already going through two books on Victorian Ideas about race and ethnology rather solidly, and the books I am awaiting on are all about blogging. Today, I will spend some afternoon time in the library checking out some books on Kenneth Burke. It's a mad rush to get all of this done, but I am both optimistic and hopeful that I can pull it off.

In a way, I can't wait to write my paper about blogging. I've been reading the articles on this site "Into the Blogosphere," and I find some of the ideas a bit interesting. Of course, gathering from what little I have read of it so far, it is chock full with the academic jargon that so many people find painfully boring to read. I think that t here is such much to do with this field right now. Of course, one of the things that has been coming in the media lately is how blogging is like any other fad; therefore, it should be ignored until it goes away. While the hype surrounding it may die down a little (as more and more people get sick of hearing about blogs), while a new technology may supersede it, that idea of having your own site for personal expression on the web will not likely disappear, even though the form may change. To me, that is the crux of blogging. Therefore, it is as worthy of academic attention as anything. After all, if the English graduate students of the eighties can write long dissertations about Star Trek, why can't there also be studies about blogging?

Also, perhaps on a different tack, I guess I want to mention how I've been using Microsoft's One Note a lot lately. Mostly, I use it to write out my thoughts about my research papers, to include snippets of the stuff I am reading, and to do some of the pre-writing that I find necessary to do before I draft my actual paper. While some people might find this a little uptight or downright annoying, compared to the old way I used to do this kind of thing (write everything out on loose sheets of paper I couldn't read or find later), I find this method a little easier. Of course, it makes me think that the real cool use of this program could come from using one of the new-fangled tablet PC's. The ability to write and draw in this program is a little tantalizing, but alas, this remains a financial impossibility for the foreseeable future. Perhaps one day.

02 August 2004