Friday, May 27, 2005

New PC

A couple of weeks ago Linda let me know that I needed to be prepared to teach a SQL 2005 class after I get back from Corpus Christi. Nowadays Microsoft classes almost always come on Virtual PC Images, so I started thinking about how I was going to prep. Sure, I have a copy of Virtual PC on my laptop, but in our experience you need a lot of RAM and processing power to have a reasonable VM experience. My laptop is only a 1.1 P3m with 512 MB RAM—not really enough for the demands of a VM host machine. I started looking online at laptops.

After considering at the options at the usual places like CompUSA, Best Buy, Circuit City, etc., I was frustrated. I wanted something portable, but with a lot of kick. But as I found out, the more power you get, the less portable the system becomes—I didn’t want a laptop with a 17” screen that weighed more than 10 pounds! Another annoyance is I wanted 2GB of RAM. The most built-in RAM you can find the stores is 1GB. It’s always installed with two 512MB SODIMMs. That means if you want a system with 2 GB RAM, you’d have to buy two 1 GB SODIMMs and replace the RAM you just bought. Grr! Eventually you find yourself staring at a 3.0 GHz HP with 1 GB RAM for $2,099, thinking there has to be something better.

Then I looked at the so-called “gamers’ systems” like Alienware, Voodoo, Falcon NW, and Sager. They have systems to make a geek drool—up to 3.6 GHz systems with up to 4 GB RAM, dual DVD-RW drives, and RAID-0 support on the motherboard for superior performance. All of them seem expensive, though (up to $5K in some cases), and none of them have a reputation for good customer service.

Today around 11:00 we had a power outage at work and a mandatory evacuation of the building. I decided to go shopping and ended up at Microcenter staring at the custom cases. Some of them were pretty small, and I started thinking, why not build a custom system? It's cheaper than buying one and I can get exactly what I need. The cases aren’t pretty; in fact, the one I bought looks like a toaster. But it had a built-in motherboard with an Ethernet card, 4 USBs, an AGP slot and two PCI slots.

So, here’s what I ended up with:

“Barebones” case/motherboard$200
P4 3.0 GHz$209
2 GB RAM$250
WD 160 GB HD (7200RPM)$59
Video: e-GeForce AGP 6800 (128MB)$189

Not too bad, considering!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Corpus Christi

Welcome to Corpus Christi, Texas. Nora's hometown is also home to Whataburger, Selena, and actress Eva Longoria. Nora and I rode down there yesterday to look around and try to find a place I can stay for the six weeks I'll be interning there in July. It's about a four-hour ride from Houston unless you speed (everyone does) and there's not much in between Houston and Corpus Christi.

Upon arrival we first located the Court of Appeals for the Thirteenth District. It's a pleasant, modern building surrounded by palm trees. When we walked up to the door there was a shirtless man who saw us and quickly threw a shirt on. He and a woman were sitting by the entrance, crouched in a shaded corner with their small dog, some cans of Dr Pepper and peanut butter crackers. They were obviously homeless, and when they learned we were from Houston they asked us whether the police in Houston were more friendly to the homeless than in Corpus. We rather awkwardly explained that we had no idea. The building was locked but I took a picture of the inside.

After we left there we drove down to the apartments I had decided would be the best bet as a place to stay. When we got there the staff gave us a tour but couldn't approve my application until Monday. (Long story). Hopefully it will work out because most other places in town (at least the ones we saw) are ratty and expensive. We checked several places, from one end of Corpus to the other. Inexplicably, several of them had very rude Indian managers. One of them even met us at the door before we could walk into the office and asked me what I wanted. I explained I was needing housing in July and August and was looking for a place. He told me to come back in July and shut the door. Another place was $1,450 for a month. They had availability but the building was run down and they didn't offer internet access. The two roaches we saw flipped over on their backs didn't help, either.

Finally we decided to just go and hope that the first place worked out. Nora's son wanted some seafood from a place called Boat n' Net so we stopped and bought an ice chest and some ice. Then we went to Boat n' Net. People from Corpus Christi all know about this place. It's a run-down drive-in akin to Sonic, selling shrimp, fish and chicken. Nora said it's good, it's cheap, and everyone eats there. When we arrived at the drive-thru order station, I found myself staring into a large box with a PVC pipe attached to the back of it. No speakers, just that pipe. The pipe ran up to the ceiling and along the side to the order window, where the other end opened up right by the order taker. It reminded me of those cans attached by a string. I pointed it out to Nora, and she just laughed. "I told you this place was a little different!" she said. So I yelled my order into the pipe and she told me to pull forward. The drive-thru window was screened from the sun, not with window tint as you might expect, but with brown paper bags taped to the window. The young woman who opened the window had on black eyeshadow and her hair was done up in a horrible bun that erupted from the top of her head. She looked like the Bride of Frankenstein. The food must be good, though--the owner, a Korean named Woo Sung Lee, has been so successful financially that he is a known and respected donor to the local Texas A&M campus. There's even a Lee Park on the campus. I know I'll have to come back and eat here sometime.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Star Wars

Episode III comes out tonight at midnight. (No, I’m not going. I’ll see it tomorrow night.) Ask any male nerd over 30 what was the most significant event in 1977 and you’ll get the same answer—he saw Star Wars. Who doesn’t remember hearing composer John Williams’s trumpet fanfare, watching the intro text roll, and then the little rebel ship whizzes by, harried by lasers. Two minutes into the film, we hadn’t seen any characters yet but we were already kind of into it. Then the Star Destroyer moves into the screen, flying over us. And it just keeps going, and going. Once we saw Darth Vader in his techno-armor and skull mask, we were absolutely hooked. Lightsabers? Wow! Sure the acting wasn’t great. We didn’t care. Star Wars became a phenomenon. It lit a fire that continues to burn today. I had lunch with my daughter at her school, and a nine-year old boy talked with me about Chewbacca. (As I type this entry (in Word) I notice with some amusement that the spell checker recognizes Darth Vader, Chewbacca, Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Yoda. It does not recognize Wookee, Bantha, or Ewok.)

You have to understand that the biggest science-fiction movies before 1977 were Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey, both of which came out in 1968. People my age saw them on TV. Planet of the Apes was great but it had virtually no space action; everything was set on Earth. 2001 barely held my interest. Sure the opening was great. Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, the monolith, the caveman war, all very cool. But when we jump into the future and see the space ships, it becomes slow, ponderous and cerebral. And the score? Johann Strauss’ The Blue Danube? Ugh.

The last two Star Wars movies sucked, no doubt about that. Bad dialog, stupid character and planet names, Jar Jar Binks. A “scientific” explanation for the Force. I don’t know if it’s just that we’re older, or that the movie special effects have gone so far beyond what they were 30 years go, or what. Some say that George Lucas simply “lost it,” and that he should have handed the reins over to someone else. It sounds heretical, doesn’t it, to say that maybe the creator of an idea isn’t the best person to grow the story. After all, it was his vision that gave life to the characters so many of us grew up with. And then you see Phantom Menace and think to yourself, well…. It reminds me of when Gene Roddenberry kept an iron grip on Star Trek: Next Generation for the first season or so, and everyone hated it. Once Rick Berman and Michael Piller took creative control over the show it improved tremendously. In the early 1990s Timothy Zahn wrote a Star Wars trilogy set after Return of the Jedi in which Leia trained in the Force and had twins with Han. Luke briefly crossed over to the Dark Side and Leia brought him back. Now that sounds like a cool story. What to do? Leave it to Lucas or champion a usurper? It’s an interesting conundrum.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Clerkship Class Hell

Warning! Cranky post!

Today I’m wishing I was anywhere but here. I’m sitting in an empty classroom, in the building creatively named Teaching Unit II. I’m here because to get academic credit for a judicial internship the University requires us to take a 1-hour credit course on judicial interning.

As my few but faithful readers know, the Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi selected me for an internship this summer. I can get as much as 4 college credit hours for it, but first I have to take this class. It almost didn’t run at all; rumor was the University couldn’t find anyone to teach it. Because the Dean of the College of Law and her husband are two of the instructors, I believe it. I guess it was too much to ask under the circumstances, but I did request alternative accommodations. As a full-time employee, I’m fortunate enough to have an employer who gave me the opportunity to take a leave of absence for a clerkship. I explained in an email to the dean that a three-day, weekday class from 9-5 on such a short-notice arrangement would put a substantial hardship on me and strain relations with my employer. I reminded her of UH’s “commitment” to the evening students, and asked for alternatives. Evening class, weekend class, anything. Know what she said? Of course you know. I almost included a PS at the bottom that said something like this:
P.S. For your convenience I am including a lame excuse you can copy and paste to me in your reply. “While the University wishes it could accommodate every individual student’s needs, blah blah.”
I didn’t include it because I didn’t want to sound annoyed, cynical or bitter. (Dad once said I’m one of the biggest cynics he’s ever known. He told me that almost 15 years ago; I’m still so proud…). Anyway, I got an answer back a week later. The University couldn’t (wouldn’t) help me out and if I wanted the credit I had to come to the class, Monday thru Wednesday. During the day. In two weeks.

I should have expected it. Part-timers get no breaks at UH. I once won an award for excellence in legal research and writing. The award ceremony was on a Thursday morning. Last year the University had an opening for a part-time student on the dean’s committee to discuss issues related to the part-time class. The position required attendance at the meetings which were held—wait for it—during the workday. The Law Review banquet was scheduled on a Thursday evening during my Oil & Gas class. I bitch and try to hold them to account; I send emails, point out the inequities. They don’t care. I don’t expect them to anymore, but I still send flames on principle.

Well, you already know I made it here. My coworker Linda managed to work it out somehow and got me off the schedule for these three days. She’s amazing (thanks, Linda!).

So here I am, waiting for class to start and watching my wireless network connection come on and off like a traffic light. (Even though I’m in the room with a wireless router, my signal is only 40%). Though class starts at 9, I got here about 7:30 because I didn’t want to be stuck in traffic for two hours on the way in. I’m so worried the dean is going to come in, slap me on the back, and say something like “So you made it after all!” If she does I just know I’ll go all Ozzy and bite her head off. So if you see anything in the paper about it, you’ll know why this is my last post.

What are we going to do in this all-important class for which I am missing three days of work? I’ve looked at the outline and I can summarize it for you in two words: BUSY WORK. We are going to have an orientation about what you do in a clerkship (something I will do again when the clerkship begins); then we will talk about legal research and do some exercises on proper citation form (something we already did in Legal Research and Writing). Then they will give us a paper to write and 24 hours to do it.

It’s now 8:41 and students are starting to filter in. I’ve been joined by 8 people so far. Age check: there are perhaps two thirtysomethings and one in her 40s. The rest are in their 20s. I’ve been going to this school for two years now and I don’t recognize anyone. I feel like an interloper in the full-timer’s world. They chatter and twitter about their spring exams and their summer clerkships, and I sit in the back, glaring at them over the top of my laptop screen while sullenly typing this post. And I suddenly realize I’m the class Goth. (And I’m not even wearing black!)

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Congratulations Yusuf & Rania

Sarah Nourya

4 lbs 13 oz18 inches

Congrats go out to my brother and sister-in-law who just had a baby! All of us here in Texas wish the three of you well, and hope we can meet her soon.