School’s In Session

So, Monday was my first day at graduate school. So far, I’m a bit less worried about the whole “grad school” thing as I am with the “learning to speak advanced German necessary for doing advanced physics”.

While the program information mentioned that the classes would all be conducted in English, this is not the case: several are in English, but a few have English lectures and German-language handouts/PowerPoints, one has German lectures and English handouts/PowerPoints, while another is all-German.

Being that the local language here is German and the majority of students are Swiss, I don’t fault them for wanting to teach the majority of students in their native language. I’ve privately met with professors to discuss the issue, and they’re willing to be flexible and work with me so that I can succeed. That’s nice.

Fortunately, I am very much a learn-by-reading person, so I was pleased when one professor recommended a few textbooks that would get me the same information as the lectures.

The whole situation is mildly frustrating, to be certain, but it gives me more incentive to study harder. It also gives me an excuse to improve my German.

Note to those looking to study in a country or region that does not speak their native language: caveat emptor. Even though the courses here are listed as being conducted in English, this isn’t necessarily the case.

On Fireworks

The Tucson area is filled with tons of fireworks stands; even the grocery stores have displays of fireworks available for sale. There’s even a “discount fireworks” tent on a vacant lot next to a road I frequently drive on.

However, the actual use of retail fireworks (as opposed to the big stuff used by professionals in approved displays) is prohibited in the city of Tucson. Indeed, many cities and counties prohibit the use of fireworks, as they’re enormous fire risks. Same thing with all Federal lands within the state borders (e.g. National Forests, National Parks, BLM land, etc.).

Nevertheless, business as the fireworks stands appears to be going gangbusters as people stock up for the Fourth of July celebrations.

It’s 103F outside now with 16% humidity (it was 108F yesterday and 8%). Combined with it being incredibly hot and dry, there’s already several huge wildfires raging in the state, so firefighting resources are occupied with combating these fires. All we need now is some idiot to inadvertently set some new fire with his fireworks.

Yes, the Fourth of July is traditionally celebrated with fireworks, but buying (and presumably using) fireworks with the current weather and fire conditions seems like an enormously stupid thing to do.

I hope people are responsible, use their fireworks in appropriate areas, and have suitable means of quickly extinguishing any resulting fires quickly and completely.

Condos Suck

Or, rather, the associations suck.

My wife owns a condo outside of Phoenix. In addition to the standard monthly condo association dues, there’s dues to the “community association” that are paid twice a year. There’s an artificial lake next to the complex, and the dues go to maintaining that. I think it’s silly, but whatever.

For about four years, the community association send us the semi-annual invoice, and she paid it promptly. However, in 2010, we never got any bills from them. Since it’s semi-annual, it’s not something we routinely think about, and we never thought to ask. In December, we get a letter from a collections agency saying that we owe {dues+$300}, as we haven’t paid our bills for that year.

We call the association to inquire why this happened, and they say we didn’t pay any of our bills. When asked what address they were sending the bills to, they quoted an address of a private home several miles away from the condo, with which we had no connection. They checked their records and there was no record of anyone ever requesting an address change — it just magically changed without anyone noticing. Evidently the “addressee not found – return to sender” markings on all the returned mail wasn’t obvious enough, and they kept sending more “you’re late, pay your bills” letters and never thought to call us. Since the account had gone to collections, they said there wasn’t anything they could do; we had to go through the collections agency if we wanted to dispute things.

Thinking this would be open-and-shut, as the association was clearly at fault due to screwing up the addresses, we disputed things with the collection agency. They contacted the association, investigated a bit, then reported back to us that the association has reviewed our dispute and denied it, claiming that even though we had no idea what the amount of the bill (as the amount often increases) or its due date were (as they screwed up their records and were sending our bills to the wrong place), we were still responsible for paying it on time and in full. Since we didn’t, the association claims we need to pay all the late fees, re-billing fees, and collection agency fees. If we want to dispute it in person (and you bet we do), we can go to the monthly association meeting.

The collection agency is really professional, and I have no hard feelings for them, but we’ve had nothing but trouble from the association and their property management company. First it was a leaky roof which damaged our ceiling (and they say that their responsibility lies only in fixing the roof, not paying for any damage that their leaky roof did to our ceiling), and now this? I’m seriously considering inventing a way to mail dog poop to them such that, when the box is opened, the poop bursts into flame.

If this doesn’t get resolved at the association meeting, we’re thinking of suing the association. Sure, we could pay the fees and whatnot easily, but it’s the principle of the thing. Any lawyers in the Phoenix area interested? Even if we don’t need representation (e.g. we go to small claims court), we could definitely use some advice or pointers, even if not official legal advice.

Email Woes

I have two email addresses from the university. One is a departmental account, and the other is a general university email account.

The former is in the form of firstname.lastname@department_name.example.edu, while the latter is [email protected]

The department address is a bit more professional, but they have annoying spam filters that delay mail for arbitrary and varying amounts of time, so I tend to use the general one for most day-to-day things, and the departmental one for important things like applications.

However, my brain occasionally mixes things up, whereby I type [email protected], which is invalid. This does not look good on applications, because then I need to write to the admissions committee, admit my foolishness, and beg that they change the address on record so they can actually email me back.

I need a better brain.

On Cyber-Anything

Once again, the news is blathering on about “Cyber Monday” and how a bunch of online retailers are expecting lots of shoppers.

Whether or not those shoppers materialize is still up for debate (the day is young, after all), but I will not be among them.

This is two-fold:

  • I already have too much stuff. I’m looking at getting rid of most of my stuff, either by selling or donating it to those who need it more, and living a simpler, less-cluttered existence.
  • Things prefixed with “cyber” irritate me nearly as much as describing the internet as an “information superhighway”, let alone calling it a “series of tubes“. Anyone referring to anything as “cyber-something” should go die in a fire.

It’s a (relatively) Free Country

Though a lot of people seem to think otherwise.

I’m referring, specifically, to the controversy over the construction of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, about three blocks from where the World Trade Centers once stood.

To be precise, I’m not really sure why it’s a controversy at all: the people involved bought the property (an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory store) and wish to construct a religious community center on the property. So long as they’re in compliance with zoning and whatnot, they should be able to construct whatever they please there. The fact that it’s to be used for religious purposes should have no bearing whatsoever on its construction — people have a First Amendment right to believe (or not) as they choose1. What’s the big deal?

All the arguments I’ve heard against the Islamic community center would make perfect sense…if “Muslim” was synonymous with “terrorist”. Of course, this isn’t the case: there’s over a billion Muslims worldwide and the vast majority are ordinary, decent people. Those within the US (and, indeed, anywhere else in the world) should not have their religious freedoms trampled on because of baseless opposition. Yes, some Islamic extremists have done terrible things to the US, but that should have no bearing whatsoever on Muslims as a group, the particular individuals wishing to build this center, nor on the construction of religious buildings.

Do I think it’s unwise or ill-advised for the owners to want to construct their facility so near the former World Trade Center? Not at all; it’s a free country, it’s their property, they can build whatever they want there.

Don’t like it? Don’t go there. Problem solved.

  1. Personally, I’m not religious in the slightest, and think that religion in general is somewhat silly. Even so, I respect people’s right to hold whatever beliefs they want, regardless of what I think of them. []

Useless

As a resident of a state where most people use the splattered, baked-on remains of bugs to provide effective shielding of their car’s finish from the intense rays of the sun, I think I’m entitled to politely invite the inventor of touchless, brushless car washes to go die in a fire.