27 January 2010

Glowing Screens

The guy at the computer store was either calling me "Madam" or "Mate" both of which made me feel strange, as I am not his mate and far to young to be called madam. But I think he was just trying to be nice to a freaked out foreigner with a dead laptop. On tuesday morning lappy broke and wouldn't turn on properly. After attempting to boot in safe mode and running some futile tests, it became clear it was beyond my skill to heal.
I then fell into an uncharacteristic panic, but after a time, rational thought overtook me and I took it to lappy hospital. I am overjoyed to report that it is back in action after £70 worth of work and all of my data and files were recovered. I have spent the last few hours sorting out my preferences and programs. And having it fixed in the UK now means that my keyboard does cool stuff like the 3 is now £ and not #. And my clock is now on military time. Quirky.

As I wandered through the library yesterday it seemed everyone had a laptop in perfect working order, shiny Macs and Windows 7 machines casting a warm glow on their owners faces. Last night, defeated and feeling infinantly sorry for myself, I plopped down in front of our huge community TV to eat some (more) chocolate. After four months of not watching TV, I was reminded of just how annoying it is. Its giant pointless screen was mocking me in my boredom.

For the last 40 hours I was sans computer, and without it, outside of lost files and work, I felt embarassingly lost and sad. Until now I ignored my dependence on it, but without it, waves of terror struck me between lost pictures (over 2000 unprotected pictures in fact. supid, stupid, stupid!), no communication, research, music, entertainment. It was horrorfying. Of course, I am more dependent on it here than I am at home, but I guess that after being raised in a minimalist household I never believed that I would become a modern person, glued to some kind of glowing screen all the time.
The computer is an amazing and vexing peice of technology.
This morning I didn't even want to get out of bed because I 'had nothing to do' but it was really lappys absense that was bringing me down, and the overwhelming dread that all would be lost. But I did get up, of course, and for the first time in years put pen to paper and did work toward my assignment. Never far from modern technology, I was listening to my Mp3 player with its 21st century glow and whirring hard disc.
But I was honestly far less distracted than usual, and made notes on things to look up later as opposed to falling into the never ending cycle of googling. I really forgot how to be a diciplined student (I was never very good at it anyway.) I'm not glad lappy broke, but it has helped me to remember when to shut the screen and go back to the simple life.

24 January 2010

Normalcy

I have lived here now for four months. I am comfortable in my part of the city. I've learned short cuts, the best time to go to the library, and when Sainsbury's discounts their baked goods for the day. I am more at ease with the conflict between being here to study and being on vacation. At the moment, it is a calculated balance. I do not need to fret over wasted time, I can just live life. It is okay to sit and watch movies; to have an ordinary day here. Though, I have a feeling that when spring rolls around, I'll be thinking differently.
The novelty of cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and shopping in a foreign country is sadly gone for the most part, but having normalcy here is in itself extraordinary. Living like a local is the whole point. Oh yeah, and doing good school work too.

21 January 2010

Manchester "original"

Yesterday I continued my tour of England with a trip to Manchester. I like to call it Manchester "original" as I used to work in a town of the same name in New England. In fact, the town took the name on purpose to reflect Manchester original, as both towns had successful cotton mills and textile businesses. Calling the town Manchester was strictly a business move at the time.

We began the trip a bit disjointed and confused as usual. We got our bearings and passed by Chinatown which look and smelled great. From there, the group split up, as we landed at the Manchester art gallery. I could only convince one other person (bless her) to join me here. It was a pretty nice gallery and had a really cool chandelier made out of wine glasses, and an interesting collection of macabre and bizarre etchings by Goya.
When we had our fill, we joined the rest of the group at the Museum of Science and Industry. This is a fantastic, and huge place spanning over five buildings which house machinery, trains, planes, and any number of other industrial items. One building is partially underground and led us through the history of water and sanitation. Historical pipes, including a Victorian sewer drain were just a part of this strange exhibit.
We had lunch at the staggering shopping area that really has every store one could ever need. We walked around this area, taking in the Manchester ferris wheel, the beautiful archetecture of the city, and the Manchester cathedral. This place made my nerd self come out again and enjoy it's colorful windows and intricate carvings, including about 12 16th century miseracords.
Overally, I'd say Manchester is a great city with a lot to offer. I wouldn't mind going back sometime.

15 January 2010

Resources

Our department is relatively small. Each of my classes has had about 20 students, all requiring resources provided by one third of one shelf in our library. Our modules start on Monday mornings and by Monday afternoons, every relevant book is gone. I don't know how people do it, they must be paying impressionable undergrads (5 quid to check out every book with "Risk" in the title seems fair.) The shelves have an echo and are completely bereft of useful information, down to the dregs of books published 20 years ago on topics that even the best writer couldn't begin to stretch into something useful. I've heard that in other courses, books are taken off of the shelf and hidden somewhere within the library so that everyone thinks it's available but really only the devious student knows where it is. This evil act does eliminate the chance of someone placing it on hold, requiring it to be relinquished prematurely.
Our classes are comprised of a few local full time students, but mostly non-local (even international) students who fly or drive in for the week long classroom time, fill their suitcases with books and then leave for the next three weeks with no intention of returning said books until their use has run out for anyone else.
What's further, even classmates from England have concluded that it is cheaper to pay fines on a late book than to pay the M6 toll, leaving no hope for the rest of us.
Luckily, the school must know of these devious acts to some point and have a surprising number of entire books available in an online catalog. Which has pretty much saved me. But, tonight, given that everyone has been back to campus and our current deadline is looming, useful books are back. I greedily grabbed them off the shelf, hugged them tightly against me while snarling over my shoulder, ready to tackle anyone who might have been looming, waiting for me to hesitate. One extra second on the shelf is still fair game.
I've taken them home, wrapping myself in the warmth of words and knowledge. That soothing balm, bolstering the quality of my assignment and with it, my confidence. In three days, I won't need them anymore, and back on the shelf they'll be ready again to go to the highest bidder.

Almost like school

I've now finished two more modules toward my degree. Unfortunately the assignment from the last module has lingered and I'm still not finished. So, while enjoying classes this week, in the back of my mind I am still wondering how to finish. The last module was about risk assessment and management. The classes varied from an Italian expert telling us about evaluating seismic risk, to a business expert telling us about corporate risk. Needless to say, some of that was horribly boring for me. I was reminded of my undergrad when we had to take a class in hospital administration and we all struggled (at 8am, no less) to make the subject have any relevance to our lives. As I do not intend to make corporate risk part of my life, I found that lecture brain melting.
Happily, the research for the assignment has been far more interesting, dealing a lot with the psychology behind how different people perceive and accept risks. The writing has been tedious and extremely slow, half due to complicated reading, and half due to my own laziness. I'm sure I'll say it every module, but I fear that I will write 4000 (albeit good and well referenced) words but end up completely missing the point, which is a great way to fail (although with sympathy). I am still about 800 words shy on this one, but will finish it between now and Monday. From there, I will head straight into the next assignment.
This week has been about emergency and disaster planning; our bread and butter really. It has been surprisingly not completely boring, as I expected. In fact, parts I found very interesting and am looking forward to at least half of our assignment. We are charged to critique an existing emergency plan from wherever we choose. When we looked at some plan failures in class, a few were from home (not just the US, but places more near and dear to me) so I am anticipating looking up those plans to see if they've improved. Also, I am now well versed on the UK Civil Contingencies Act of 2004, and I won't bore you with it here.
Anyway, I will finish this assignment much faster than before, as our next module starts in two weeks. They will overlap like this from now on, so I will have to be more efficient in my work.
Now, off to skip a meeting in order to get some library and gym time.

07 January 2010

Yeah, write more

I guess I should have specified in my "resolution" to write more blog posts, or more academic work. At the time I meant both, but since then have done little of either. I have a paper due next week and have been relatively uninspired by the subject matter.
Because of the paper, the university closing, and people being out of town for the holidays, not much has been going on anyway.
New years was a very unexpectedly good time with some new friends. I ended up staying up late enough to watch the ball drop in times square via webcam. I really did miss hanging out with the fam that day, but I'm sure we'll have plenty to catch up and graze on next year.
This week Coventry finally got some snow like the rest of the northern hemisphere which proved a good time for all (non driving, no obligation students). The snow was very sticky, perfect for snowballs, snowmen, and stuck to everything leaving a beautiful white carpet on the city.
I have a certain reluctance to take down my Christmas cards now displayed on my desk, even though it is past the 12 day mark. I ended up getting far more than I expected which means I got more than two. I also finished my Top Gear advent calendar ending with a stig keyring. The playmobil ended up being a cute forest scene with plenty of adorable animals, and santa too, a bit randomly. I also watched the Pee Wee's playhouse Christmas special which was hilarious and bizarre, just like I remembered it since last I saw it, which was whenever it aired or when we lost our VHS copy.
Since then I learned my shoe size (about time for a 26 year old), became guilty of texting while walking (very dangerous), and got over excited about Reeces pieces (a Hershey product here?!).