30 September 2009

Happy Found Objects Day!

This recent cold snap on the West Coast has led to one of my favorite times of year (and not just because October's on the horizon and October is my favorite month anyway). For the first time since March, I've hauled my winter coat out of the closet (it was 34 degrees when I left the house at 8:00 this morning!) Reaching into the pocket, I found a pen...and it writes! Since I'm chronically short of writing implements, finding one is a nice pleasant surprise for the morning.

In previous years, I've found stuff like bus tickets with rides left on them, pens, pencils, a Game Boy game, and even a $20 bill. I think that in any seasonal climate there should be a Found Objects Day where we can exchange stuff we found in our pockets with friends (or, if you find money, buy your friends something nice.) It's a great excuse to do something nice for someone, and the world needs more of those. It's not like you missed the found object, right? If you did, you replaced it in the spring. So pay it forward.

24 September 2009

L'etat, c'est moi.

This is simultaneously scary and satisfying.

I have arrived in the conference room wherein the entrepreneurship club's weekly meetings are held, and I have arrived ahead of the entirety of the group. This is due to having some sudden free time on my hands as a result of completing an 85-minute statistics exam in 23 minutes. The fact that I found it so easy is a bit frightening to me...whenever I'm the first one done, and whenever I didn't have even the slightest bit of difficulty in the execution I wonder "did I screw up? Shouldn't there be more here?"

Rather than causing arrogance, the ease with which I can complete seemingly complicated tasks leads to overpowering horror. I'll be on pins and needles for the better part of a week until those exams come back graded because until I see that "yes, it was that easy", I'm going to be convinced that I've royally screwed it up. At least when I had a very time-consuming homework assignment, at the end of the time I felt like my performance was rock-solid and indeed I scored 97.5% (39/40) on it. I just hope that the homework success translates to quiz success.

On the bright side, I get to listen to Strauss while I wait for everyone else to show up for the 2:00 meeting ten minutes hence.

23 September 2009

On Proprietary Formats and Open Sources

Working on some stuff in Microsoft Word this week, I've found my utter loathing of Microsoft's Office 2007 suite reinforced. Office used to be great stuff, but the interface, the bells and whistles, and the execution in 2007 were and are so thoroughly awful that I have embraced OpenOffice 3 with open arms and made my switch to the open-source model complete.

For starters, MS use of XML is enough to make me kick someone in the head. By bringing out a proprietary format, Microsoft gets to force out Open Document because people who don't know any better do all their saving in .docx (or .xlsx, .pptx, etc.) format, which OpenOffice can read but not write. When someone sends me a document in that format, I open it in OpenOffice, convert it to Open Document format, and send it back to them with an admonition saying "Not everyone uses Microsoft Office, save in an open format, please!"

On top of this, Microsoft's text-formatting methods are exactly the sort of things that idiots just love for making documents ugly and "cute" (in the worst sense of the term). Font effects, "WordArt™", and other flourishes make ugly documents and you just know some former sorority girl who's now in the secretarial pool just loves to put that crap into her correspondence (lest anyone wonder why this once-popular girl now exists primarily for the executive with the frigid wife to have someone to play hide the salami with.)

I make here an impassioned plea that more people go to http://www.openoffice.org, download the OpenOffice suite, and start using it. European governments (and some state governments in the US) are making the switch wholesale, and nothing is going to grab Microsoft by the nuts and squeeze like making a real dent in Office's sales. The wholesale revolt against Vista brought PC sales to a halt, did wonders for Apple and for the Linux community, and led to the absolutely sublimely wonderful Windows 7 (on which I am writing this entry, and which is the massive improvement over XP that Vista was supposed to be before it failed on a Microsoft Bob scale.) A similar revolt against MS Office might just lead to a revival of Microsoft's productivity suite before a combination of Google Docs and OpenOffice gives MS shareholders (me among them) an unpleasant surprise.

That's right...I own stock (42 shares, but I'm still a stockholder) in Microsoft. This is not some Linux geek's anarchist rant. This is a shareholder's "hey, wake up!" to the company. If I hate Office 2007 with a passion, I can't be the only one, and this is a bad sign not just for MS in general but for my bottom line. On the bright side, I got in at the right time on the stock as it's up 10% since I bought in early August during the pullback. I just want to see continued positive performance during the long recovery.

So download and use OpenOffice. The money you save may be mine.

16 September 2009

When easy is simple and vice versa.

I had a George Costanza moment this morning.

Remember that Seinfeld episode arc where George decided that since his instincts always steered him wrong, he'd do the opposite of what he thought was the right thing to do, and in the process he revolutionized his life for the better? While I'm not quite ready to always choose my second guess, I was reminded of this classic piece of pop culture as I took a look over my current classes and grades therein.

I have done exceptionally well (as in "an A if the semester ended today") in Financial Accounting, Principles of Statistics, and Core Humanities 202 (though in that last one I've yet to have to turn in a paper, thereby leaving what my professor will think of my writing style as an open question.) I am doing mediocre at best in Intro to Information Systems and Nutrition 121, pulling a B average in both classes thus far. This is exactly the opposite of how I expected the semester to go, as I figured to have to mash my brain into whipped potatoes to wrap my head around the complex stuff central to my major (and the humanities, historically my weakest subject in education days past) while treating a simple science and an even simpler computer class as an exercise in simplicity.

As it turned out, after eleven years away from the subject I have taken to mathematics like a duck to water and I am finding accounting and statistics, while viciously punishing in the application and diligence in work habits, to be even stronger subjects than I could ever have thought possible. I have a 99.89% average in accounting (having missed only one answer on a homework problem out of almost a thousand thus far) and am so far pitching a perfect game in statistics (itself statistically unlikely!) I am overjoyed at my success (due in no small part to the fact that success in these courses is a reflection of my likely grade-point average once my core requirements are done).

As for the other courses, the "simple" courses where I'm underperforming by my own standards? Discovering that fine-grained technical detail in non-mathematical subjects is not my strong suit shouldn't have come to me with as much of a surprise as it did. While I am hardly resigned to the 3.6 GPA I find myself with at present, it is a bit disheartening if only as a blow to my ego.

The irony? When I took nine credits in a single summer session, I did so explicitly with a mind toward making myself think "this is going to be difficult." The relative ease with which I pulled my 4.0 in that summer session coupled with two months to rest on my laurels as a summer break seems to have had the opposite effect on my psyche, but nothing has restored the original intent of my June workload quite like my earlygame results here! December 10th (the last day of fall semester) is still a long way off, and it's going to take every bit of my intellect, skill, and mental discipline to even draw suitably close to my summer success.

Mind you, I'm still coming into this with a mind toward setting a minimum standard for myself of a B+ (3.3) overall grade-point average, but if trying my best involves setting my standard higher and accepting the grade come what may, I can't just think "OK, I'm on a 3.6, that's good enough." With that in mind, I've got a LOT of work to do tonight and tomorrow!

10 September 2009

Social networking made uneasy.

Fifteen minutes away from an "entrepreneurship mixer" here on campus, and I've had awhile to consider just how unlikely my presence at such an event would be under any normal, non-bizarre-planetary-alignment circumstances and I've calculated the probability as "of interest largely to Zaphod Beeblebrox's ship propulsion systems", that is to say, zero when rounded to any number of decimal places lower than about a hundred thousand.

Yet, by a bizarre series of events possibly orchestrated by the god of trade Himself (and thus reinforcing my recently-acquired religious convictions), I am treasurer of a campus club, having been named such at the very first meeting I attended (where my intent was to show up for "informational purposes" as a bit of a friendly courtesy to a previous semester's professor then quietly slink away to my usual position among the ninjas in the shadows) and as such having gained responsibilities associated with a campus club officer.

Mind you, I'm not complaining (my Fridays are still free and still dedicated to an equal measure of household tasks and SimCity 4), merely pointing out just how utterly amusing it is to me that I'm sitting in a little corner of campus listening to Strauss and punching up a blog entry while if you'd given me odds three weeks ago as to what I'd be doing on the evening of September 10th, I'd have given you about ninety-eight and a half million raised to a power equal to the US national debt in dollars to one against the very scenario which unfolds before me tonight.

Needless to say, I am still a socially awkward introvert at heart, and tomorrow my Friday soda will taste sweeter and my video game-fueled solitude will be an order of magnitude more delightful. I've earned it.

08 September 2009

Eat the rich. The poor taste funny and smell terrible.

I got a great dose of the Great Unwashed this morning. An old co-worker of mine once said that the bus is great because every day it's like getting a free freakshow, and rare indeed has been the day where that has been more on display than it was this morning.

The bus that takes me to school each day has a Wal-Mart about halfway up its route. For the first half of the ride, then, every welfare collector, Methuselan senior citizen, and junkie in Reno packs onto that bus where they proceed to make a very obvious exercise in contrast between themselves and the college students who are left behind (often looking dazed) after the bus vomits the detritus of society out onto the sidewalk in front of Sam Walton's Prole Supply Emporium. Not only that, but they stink. They don't call 'em Great Unwashed for nothing, and when the bus's air conditioning isn't working quite right (like it wasn't this morning), the stench hangs in the air like a milder version of Bangladesh.

All of the above was fresh on my mind when I walked into Core Humanities 202 this morning and when the classroom discussion turned to Machiavelli's The Prince and specifically that tome's expression that a prince should not be concerned with the common people but with the extension of the state toward those who support it (read: the nobility), I couldn't help but think of all the 21st-century versions of 16th-century peasantry clogging up my morning commute. I probably came off somewhere to the right of Hermann Göring in my anti-populist ranting but I don't care---when the rubber meets the road I am very much into Machiavellian/Nietzschean social Darwinism, since that's what I'm working so hard to grant myself---a return to my burgher-class upbringing and social standards. I'll be damned if I'm to be beggared by some impoverished moron clawing at my wallet through the apparatus of the state. I'd sooner they starved.

02 September 2009

Actual accounting-related item! What's that doing here?

Sitting on campus working on my accounting homework, because if I did it at home I'd get distracted by rodents or games, and I can't have that. Plus, missing the 2:10 bus means no sardine cans on the way home, and sardine cans rattle my nerves and put me in a foul mood for the rest of the afternoon (damn my hermit tendencies!) Anyway...

I got a chance to ask a question of my accounting teacher today: "Are accounting standards in the US radically different from accounting standards in Canada or Europe?" The answer was yes---the standards used by FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board, the US agency that sets the rules here) and IASB (International Accounting Standards Board, which the rest of the civilized world uses) are quite different, mostly because US-based corporations have had their hands in the cookie jar of American regulatory agencies since...well, since 1935 when the board was formed in the first place as part of FDR's New Deal, and especially under Reagan and the two Bushes, the standards got tilted to make all manner of merry hell possible in America that's illegal in Canada, Europe, Australia, and probably Timbuktu.

This could prove to be a bit of a monkey wrench in my internationalist aspirations, but fortunately thanks to globalization, learning IASB standards is part of the training to become a CPA in the States; I'll just have to wait until at least my junior year of college (where Intermediate Accounting classes are part of the deal) to learn more. Most American CPAs these days (even the ones who weren't initially trained in IASB standards) say that the writing's on the wall and all it'll take will be a couple more Enron/Arthur Andersen accounting scandals and subprime mortgage flim-flams before Congress decides (possibly in an election year) to disband FASB and adopt IASB standards across the United States.

Just one man's opinion, but IASB standards might be the only thing that could save this wretched hive of scum and villainy under the Stars and Stripes. The short version for my wife: Canada remains an option, I'll just have to keep an internationalist focus in my education.

Sleep is for the weak.

I've no real insight here, just pointing out that insomnia and getting up at 7:30 in the morning to catch the bus for a 9:30 class don't mix.

Also, to the girl on the bus today who uses the same shampoo my wife does? Thank you, from a complete stranger, for brightening my afternoon and setting my mind to wandering around.

As a final note, speaking of my wife, it was six years ago today that we first met and I've loved her more and more every one of the over two thousand days since. Happy anniversary, love.