28 May 2009

Wait---the professor didn't dismiss it as a weird question?

Certain questions have a tendency to keep me up at night, and one of them came up in my ancient history class this morning (ancient history for an accounting major? Hey, I don't make the rules).

Namely, while we were discussing the Epic of Gilgamesh, the main characters in the story, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, were discussed by name, which led me to wonder something. Sumerian cuneiform wasn't an alphabet. It wasn't even a syllabary (think Japanese katakana, where for example four characters are used to represent 'ka-ta-ka-na'.) So how were we able to translate the names? I could understand concrete nouns (pictographic writing systems are great for stuff like 'bird' or 'human' or even 'king'), but abstract nouns? Proper nouns? Abstract verbs? How in the world did we figure those out from an ancient language that was long dead and didn't have a Rosetta Stone like Egyptian did to translate into a more recent, known language?

The thought went a step further. Let's take the word 'cat' for example. The concept it represents (a fuzzy little feline friend) is all well and good, but why do we pronounce it 'cat'? Why does the C make a hard "kuh" sound, why does the A sound like 'aaaaa', why does the T sound like 'tuh'? Five thousand years from now, when the archaeologists and linguists of 7,000 CE have the same separation of time from our civilization have the same separation of time that we have from the Sumerians, they might decide that 'cat' was pronounced 'tok' (to write it in modern phonetics). For all we know, 'Gilgamesh' wasn't that king's name at all. Maybe it was 'ooga-booga-bunga-Hobbes.' It wasn't a writing system that lent itself to pronunciation, and by the time anyone bothered to study Sumerian the language (which is not believed to have been in the same Semitic language family as Akkadian or any of the modern Near Eastern languages) was long dead. So where are we getting these names from? Their language could've sounded like Greek or Latin or Klingon for all the actual auditory records we have of its existence.

And people wonder why I have trouble sleeping at night. My professor suggested I make that linguistic question the subject of my term paper. He might be on to something.

27 May 2009

Eight Years, One Goal

I am typing this from a little corner of the student center I've staked out as my own. Laptop's plugged into the wall, college WiFi's got full bars, and I don't have to be at class for another hour. Idle hands do the devil's work; considering I'm majoring in accounting and plan on dealing in financial management, "devil's work" seems oddly appropriate to describe what I'm doing. Considering the class I have to be at in an hour is Marketing, I'd say that's DEFINITELY the devil's work...or perhaps the weasel's work.

First, a bit about myself. My name's Fox; I'm a student at Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) in Reno. This is my second trip through college; my last trip ended in failure back East because I was too young, impetuous, and irresponsible to get education right the first time. I firmly believe that at least half (if not more) of people who go to college right out of high school without any idea what they want to DO when they grow up (and who are there because Mom and Dad insisted) have no business being there and will crash out or end up taking a job they hate just to pay off the student loans, another promising life ruined before it ever got started. I was lucky; at least my mom subsidized my youthful indiscretions, which mostly consisted of playing video games and trying to get laid. If nothing else, I was normal for my age...at least I like to think so.

Fast forward a couple of years. My life in the Boston area was going nowhere so I decided to move out West where at least I'd have a chance to pretend I was self-employed. I took up professional gambling in Reno and made a decent living (and a few friends) out of the deal. I wasn't rich (quite the opposite, but I was beating the casinos enough to keep the rent paid) but I was happy---gambling was the best job I ever had. I never had to pay for a meal, I never had to punch a clock, and thanks to a little help from having a roommate around, I had enough money to keep my mid-twenties slacker self in all the entertainment I could reasonably have wanted.

A funny thing happened on the way to degenerate gamblerhood, however; as with how most of these stories go, I met a girl. A Canadian girl. A girl I fell so head over heels in love with that there was really never any reasonable doubt in my mind beyond the first few months that I wanted her to be mine forever. So on a bright, sunny Thursday afternoon in March 2005 we got married. It was a distinctly Nevada wedding; county commissioner's office, two friends to act as witnesses, and a hundred bucks. Believe it or not, I think that qualifies as a dream wedding---at least it did for me. No wedding planners, no cake, no father of the bride taking out a second mortgage to pay for it all. The friends at the wedding split the tab at the sushi joint, and that was that.

Trouble was, getting married to a foreign girl meant a couple of things. One, my gambler's income wasn't enough to support the both of us. Two, until she got a green card I'd have to work to support us both; the lawyer was very clear on that point from the start, that Homeland Security wanted to see a W-2 with a decent amount of money on it. So I had to go and get a job.

I worked in call centers, I worked as a salesman, I worked as a data entry clerk. I worked as a bank teller and even had a bit of success, actually managing to get promoted before they fired me for what can only be described as "my subconscious desperately wanting to quit and go back to gambling." I would come home on many a night mad as hell; I don't talk about it much but the occasional suicidal thought even crossed my mind as I thought about a future full of mindless corporate directives which I'd have to follow for whatever twelve bucks an hour works out to adjusted into the future for inflation. I love my wife; I have never once regretted saying "I do". But when you're wondering if you've sacrificed too much, if you're looking---even for a brief flash of irrationality---at extreme measures just so you'll never have to get up at 7 in the morning to go out all day and bring home less than a hundred bucks for your trouble...well, at that point you make a change whether you like it or not. So I went back to college.

Before committing to college this time around, though, I had to give a really long look as to just what I wanted to actually do with my life. I thought about becoming a writer, but I am no good at networking and the horrible inconsistency of paid assignments, especially when I don't have the education, experience, and connections required to appeal to publishers, would put too much of the burden on my wife to be the breadwinner, something I promised her before we got married she wouldn't have to be (at least not once I've graduated---best laid plans of mice and men and all that.) So I looked back at what I actually enjoyed on that first trip through college all those years ago and realized I'm better with numbers than people and therefore a job as a bean counter would be an acceptable way for me to make a living. I loved doing the bookkeeping when I was in business for myself and always had my gambling-business books balanced down to the penny. Accounting it was, and accounting it shall be.

So why CPA By 40? I figure it's a goal I can accomplish. Transfer credit from that first trip through college will shave a year off of this trip through school. As I write this, I'm 31; I'll be 32 in July. Three years of college will put me just shy of 35 when I graduate, and five years from college grad to certified public accountant seems to me to be a manageable time frame, especially as I learn just exactly what needs to be done (grad school, internships, moving to another city where unemployment isn't 11%) to accomplish my goal. In the meantime, there's this blog to fill the downtime, to vent about the absurdity of academia, and hopefully for you the reader to inspire you to get off your ass, stop letting life lead you around by the balls, and go out and accomplish the goals you set for yourself. Or you can just laugh at the old geezer who thinks he can play a young man's game. Your choice.