Saturday, October 06, 2007

Currently Listening: Caribou and The Bird and the Bee

Okay, when did indie music return to the late 1960s? I recently stumbled across a couple of artists that I had never heard of, but I have really grown attached to. The first, Caribou, I found while perusing's music library. Caribou's new album, Andorra, has been doing very well on the indie charts. I decided to give it a listen, and I was very surprised by what I heard. The opening track reminds me very much of the flower child music of the 60s, something like The Mamas and the Papas, with it's mellow harmonies and winsome instrumentals, yet driving progression as if its floating with a definite but unknown purpose. It really seems like it should be on the soundtrack of a hippy documentary about the 1960. But it doesn't stop there. The rest of the album takes that theme and expands on it, bringing it into the 21st Century indie pop, influsing electronic sensibilities and pop melodies with 1960's feeling. Tack on some evolving prog rock near the end of the album, especially with the subtly powerful "Niobe", and you have a really solid album from a guy I had never heard of but will follow in years to come. Favorite Tracks: Melody Day, Irene, Niobe

Additionally, I came across The Bird and the Bee while perusing iTunes list of songs featured in TV ads. Apparently, their song "La La La" is or will be featured in the commercial for the iPod Touch, which is essentially the iPhone without the phone. The song sounded interesting, so I looked further into their music, and I was blown away. It too evokes thoughts of 1960s flower child music, but they are much more overt in their electronic roots. The female lead singer, however, covers the highly suggestive lyrics with a pixiesque melodic intonation. I've read more than a few reviews of the band that compares them to groups like Air, The Beach Boys, and even Burt Bacharach. Infact, iTunes' description of their self-titled debut album referrs to the album as "the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds if Burt Bacharach had snuck into the control room". I completely agree, but it still comes out sounding very good. It's not deep; it's not meant to be anything other than fun, and I get it. I also bought their more recent Please Clap Your Hands EP, which doesn't have the same flair, but does contain two really good songs nonetheless, "Polite Dance Song" and "Man". Again, I don't think it's for everyone, but if light-hearted, dancable, electro-pop is your thing, you'll probably like it. Favorite Tracks: Again & Again, My Fair Lady, Polite Dance Song

On a side note, I recently came across a couple of remixes from the The Shins' album, Wincing the Night Away. That's right Shins remixes. Boggles the mind, doesn't it? Anyway, my absolute favorite is a remix of "Sea Legs", which is one of my favorite songs off the new album. I have to say that I might actually like the remix more than the original, and that's saying a lot. It is downright awesome. Give it a listen:

The Shins - 'Sea Legs (Knux Remix)' (mp3)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Hoff in "Jump in my Car"

For all you Hoff fans out there. Don't ask how I came across this. It starts out cheesey, but then gets hilARiously! Seriously, I can't get enough.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Currently Listening: Spoon, Arcade Fire

I honestly do not know where I have been, but apparently, there's this really cool indie band from Austin called Spoon. I remember when their last album, Gimme Fiction, came out in 2005, but I don't remember it for any of the music; I only remembered the album art that I frequently saw on the front page of the iTunes Store. Fast forward to July 2007. I was listening to the podcast for NPR's "Sound Opinion". (By the way, every self-respecting music fan MUST listen to this weekly show. It is by far the smartest and most in-depth music/rock discussion on the radio. You can get the podcast here.) They reviewed the new Spoon album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, and gave it their highest rating. The sample tracks from the album, however, did not seem particularly interesting to me, but I respect these guys enough that I kept an ear out for the album. Through the next 6 weeks or so, I began to feel a bit inundated. Every music site I went to was talking about the album. Even iTunes and kept recommending it to me. So I broke down and got the album. On first listen, it didn't seem like anything special, but it has turned into one of those albums that really grows on you. the more I listen to it, the more I like it. It doesn't have the playful passion of Sufjan or the flash of Of Montreal, but it rocks. In many ways, it's a bit of a throwback to the pure guitar-driven rock of the early 1980s, but with a 2000s indie vibe. I never thought I would see that as a good thing, but there you go. Favorite tracks: The Ghost of You Lingers, My Little Japanese Cigarette Case

Now, the latest album from Arcade Fire, Neon Bible, I liked almost from the beginning. Despite the critical and popular success of their last album, Funeral, I was only marginally interested in The Arcade Fire. Although Funeral is powerful and creative, it just has never struck me as very interesting. Neon Bible, on the other hand, absolutely compels me. For instance, "Intervention" uses a huge church organ that just resonates through my whole body. Its power cannot be denied. Ironically, the lyrics reflect a certain cynicism about religion, which of course I find subversively appealing. In fact, throughout the album, their unique blend of non-rock instruments (hurdy gurdy, anyone?), creative hooks, and driving force make this one of my favorite albums of the year so far. Arcade Fire also appeared on Sound Opinions, but for more than a simple review; they were live in studio. I would encourage you to check out their archives to hear the interview. (For the record, I got this album months ago, but I'm still listening to it a lot, so I thought I should post about it.) Favorite tracks: Black Mirror, Intervention, No Cars Go, My Body is a Cage

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Vacation at the Lake Cabin

Kari, the kids and I returned yesterday from our much-needed vacation. We went to my granparents' lake cabin on Lake Sam Rayburn, near Broaddus, TX. This was the perfect vacation for us for a number of reasons: 1. It was very cheap. We only had to pay for the gas to get us there and back and the groceries we used while there; 2. It forced us to isolate ourselves with no television, phone, cell phone, computer, or any other connection to our lives back in Houston; 3. The kids got to experience the great outdoors, something that Kari and I have neglected to provide for them. We spent 4 days and three nights, sitting on the deck, playing in the lake, trying to fish, reading books, and playing games. The kids, of course, were thrilled to sleep in the bunk beds (just as my brothers and I were 22 years ago when we first went). They also enjoyed finding spiders, lizards, snakes, deer, and other woodland creatures.

At first, they were a bit intimidated, asking about the propect of bears, alligators, and other ferocious animals. I made the mistake of saying that there "might be" some skunks out there as we were driving along the dirt road towards the cabin on Sunday. I don't know for sure if there are, but I thought it could be possible. This was the wrong thing to say. For the next half a day or so, they both would enter new environments with much trepidation, saying "There might be a skunk in/out there." I finally had to reassure them that while I'm not sure about skunks, I hadn't seen one there in all of the years I came out to that cabin, so seeing one would be unlikely at best. Once they got over that fear, they had a much better time. The only other exception was that Regan didn't really care for the boat ride. We rowed the boat out to a buoy in the middle of the cove 3 or 4 times during our stay for us to swim and try to fish (we never even had a nibble). Regan would cry all the way out there and much of the way back, saying "I want to go back home," meaning our home in Clear Lake, not the cabin. Once we were out at the buoy, though, she thoroughly enjoyed herself. I've posted a short video of her tragic tale over on the podcast so you can get a good idea of what I mean.

So now we are back to work. The kids began Montesorri School today, and "real life" returns. I had 17 new voice mail and 36 new email messgaes waiting for me. Needless to say, I could have stayed another couple of days, but life goes on. I feel much better and well-rested, so I guess that means our vacation was a success.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Currently Listening: Architecture in Helsinki; The Good, The Bad, and The Queen

Architecture in HelsinkiAs most of you know, I am always on the lookout for new music that is unique and creative. While I would not presume to be on the "cutting edge" of new and emerging music, I think that I am a little more ahead of the curve with regard to little-known or little-appreciated music, particularly indie music that gets little or no play on commercial radio. With that said, I only recently became aware of the Australian indie-pop group, Architecture in Helsinki. I was introduced to them by way of the fans of bands like The Shins and Of Montreal. I was told that AIH's music was similar to those bands, and a quick listen through their catelogue seems to confirm that. Their newest album, Places Like This, however, diverges a great deal from their history. Although they are still firmly embedded in the indie pop community, this album takes on a decidedly electronic feel. They also seem to add much more sugary-sweet lyrics and hooks, similar to The Polyphonic Spree, but without the sweeping orchestrations. Overall, Places Like This feels much more like a dance album than anything else. AIH obviously had fun making the album, and that fun is almost contagious to the listener. Although the nasal voice of one of the singers tends to become too much at times, it's very playful, and you almost have to appreciate the aggresive hooks filled with energetic nastiness (and I mean that in the best way possible).
Favorite tracks: "Hold Music", "Debbie".

Another band that has caught my fancy lately is The Good, The Bad, and The Queen, which is the latest vehicle for Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Alburn. I have really liked his work with those two bands, so it's no surprise that I really like this new self-titled album. In fact, it is probably my favorite of the three. At it's core, The Good, The Bad, and The Queen is piano-driven pop, backed by your typical guitars and drums. Sometimes, though, Alburn drops the piano in favor of the richer and more robust organ sound. This makes for very powerful chords and driving progressions, which is the perfect complement to Alburn's cloudlike vocals. His voice seems to float ominously over the music, telling a story in the way that I think a jaded, cynical angel my tell the story of humankind's excesses. Altogether, it makes for a very rich and layered musical experience, full of grit and raw power but without crumbling under it's own weight. Be sure, however, not to go into this album expecting it to be like Gorillaz. While there are some similarities ("Northern Whale" would fit right in on Demon Days), TGTB&TQ is much less play and more prone to leave musical questions unanswered. It's less tidy, but I think that gives it a more appealing quality. Very good stuff.

Favorite tracks: "Herculean", "The Bunting Song", and "The Good, the Bad, and the Queen".

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Kids and Cleansing

Here are some pictures Tiffany took of the kids at a park in League City. I really like these pictures, and I'm especially impressed that she was able to get them to pose so easily.

I know I'm biased, but I absolutely love looking at my kids. Is that narcissistic? I know they kind of look like me, so does that make me vain? Perhaps, but I like it that way. I really missed the kids when they were away for a week. They had fun, but I know they were ready to come home too.

I'm really looking forward to next week. We're going to the lake house for a few days. Very rustic living with few amenities; just the right environment to cleanse our spirits and purge all of the stress and worries of life. I'm looking forward to it, and I'm looking forward to coming back feeling renewed.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What'd you get me?

Hey everybody! Today is the ninth anniversary of marriage for Kari and me. We celebrated by going to the grocery store and coming home to pizza, ice cream, champagne, and The Daily Show (all kid-free since they are at Kari's parents' house for the week). We'll do it up right next year.

Feel free to send presents.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Okay, so I guess it's pretty obvious that I only write on my blog when I have nothing better to do. Well, I guess that might start to happen more often now. I have recently started working the night shift on weekends at a local hotel. It's mainly just for some extra money, and since I usually work the overnight shift, it's easy, and I'm still around to see my family.

So that is where I am now. I would usually have a book or something to pass the time on nights like this (virtually all of the regular work is done, and almost all of the guests are checked in), but I decided not to bring the book tonight. So here I am, posting on the blog that surely gets lonely in between visits and posts, but that's surely to change now.

Anyway, for a while now, I've been meaning to blog about For those who don't know, twitter is kind of like a blog with ADHD. It's just short snippets of information about what the blogger is currently up to or thinking about. It's very easy to follow the posts of others via SMS, IM, or RSS. The best part is that there are numerous methods that you can update it, like through the web, widgets, IM, or SMS. I also like the fact that there's no need to go into great detail; just type the brief thought and move on. If you want to check out my twitter, go to

Also, I've begun tracking my music listening habits on The best thing about that site is that it requires no effort on my part. It automatically updates as I listen to music either through iTunes or with my iPod. You can check out my page here.

Monday, July 09, 2007

That sneaky little viddler

I recently found this website that is essentially a blog engine designed exclusively for videos. It makes it very easy to record, upload, and even leave timed comments and tags. There's also a social networking aspect to the videos because they are so easy to interact with. Actually, that's one aspect that I didn't think I would care for, but I find that I really like it. It really can build community in a virtual world, only this seems a bit more real because there is actual video to respond to, and not just text.

Well, it's much too late, and I should have been asleep an hour ago. Tomorrow is going to be rough. I hope to post more often in the next few weeks. Here's an embed of my latest Viddler entry:

Friday, May 25, 2007

The daily grind

It has been a while since I posted, but it hasn't been because I haven't had any time. It has been great to come home and completely leave all of my work at work. I can come home and I don't have to think about work until I go back the next day. The problem is that the next day is coming a lot faster than it should. In order to maximize my earnings and quickly build my clinical hours towards full licensure, Kari and I decided that it would be okay for me to see clients until 7 PM most nights and occasionally see clients until 8 PM. Because the late afternoon/ early evening hours are the prime time that clients want to come to sessions, those slots filled quickly. The good news is that I'm still getting some good time with my family during the week. I'm not going into the office until 10 AM two mornings a week, and I'm home by 12:30 on Fridays. This allows me to spend much more time with Aidan and Regan. Kari and I get to spend time together after the kids go to bed at 8:30. Of course, the weekends are great too. The problem is that doing things online, even email and web surfing, has fallen way down the priority list. Additionally, I'm beat when I get home, and I don't necessarily want to sit in front of a computer screen. Between seeing 15-20 clients per week, maximizing time with family, and enjoying life, I simply don't want to take the time to revitalize my online life. It's nice and all, but not a high priority. Even right now, the only reason I'm posting is that Kari is working late and the kids are already in bed. I actually have nothing better to do. I don't think life will stay like this forever, but for now it's alright. So what if I don't write that often? It's not like thousands of loyal readers are hanging on my every word, right?

Right?... hello?...

Friday, April 13, 2007

A little more Sufjan

For all of you Sufjan fans out there, he's covering Joni Mitchell's "Free Man in Paris" on an upcoming tribute album (due out April 24). Although I like Joni Mitchell, this cover is phenomenal. Typical Sufjan. Best of all, it was leaked early, and you can download the full song here.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Currently Listening: Sufjan Stevens

I became a Sufjan Stevens fan while living in his homestate of Michigan for four years. His music is pretty prolific on the college radio up there, and I wasn't there long before I heard his siren song. This folk/alt-pop indie singer/songwriting amazed me with his ability to blend cheery pop-like vocals with eclectic arrangements of instruments and harmonies. His music makes you feel good, almost in a Polyphonic-Spree way, but without the sugary-sweet aftertaste and repetitive lyrics. I heard the Michigan album first, but it was Illinois that engulfed me. Arguably one of my favorite albums of all time, "Come On, Feel the Illinoise!", its full title, is a great blend of American Folk, Pop, Rock, and experimentation. The song titles are compleely absurd (i.e. "To the Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament, and It Involves an Inner Tube, Bath Mats, and 21 Able-bodied Men"), but the orchestrations and arrangements are brilliant. When Illinois came out, I was hooked as a fan. Since then, I've slowly acquired other albums he has done, including the recent Christmas box set, Songs for Christmas, thanks to a Borders gift card for my birthday. While each album is unique with its own quirks, brilliances, and flops, they are all unmistakably Sufjan. You know his style when you hear it, and all of his albums have it.

Then yesterday I got Enjoy Your Rabbit, Sufjan's second LP released in 2002, as a free download from eMusic. I was not prepared for what I got. I assumed that it would be different, as every album has some assumed uniquness, but I didn't think it would be THIS different. First of all, it's an instrumental album; no lyrics and no singing (although the human voice does seem to make an appearance on a few3 songs as an instrument, with little more than "ah" and "bum" (the one exception is "Year of the Rooster" which has a woman speaking what I believe to be a form of Chinese over the music). But that really isn't the surprising part. Secondly, it's ... are you ready for this?... an electronic album. That's right. The king of indie folk and pop acoustics actually made an electronic album. That's like saying the Pope listens to Metallica on his iPod. It just twists your image of the person in a way you weren't expecting.

But that is not to say that it is a bad album. As someone who enjoys a good electrobeat from time to time, I actually like it. Now, it's not his best album, but he certainly stretches himself with Enjoy Your Rabbit. The only problem is that it doesn't really sound like a Sufjan album. I wouldn't have known that this was his unless someone told me. Now that I know, I can hear themes and musical ideas that are present elsewhere in his discography, but it is largely a huge departure. To give you some idea, it sounds like Thom Yorke's The Eraser on happy pills. Or, it sounds like what The Eraser would have been if Sufjan's attitude had been infused into Thom Yorke's creativity and penchant for electronica. Frankly, that's a combination I like, not love, but certainly like. I only have two questions: 1) Why hasn't this electronic streak appeared in other Sufjan albums, and 2) Is it just me, or does "Year of the Boar" sound suspiciously like the game music when you fight a boss in Super Mario Brothers 2?

Favorite Tracks: Undecided. Lots of 4-star songs, but probably no 5-star songs

Side note:
I still can't get enough of Of Montreal's Hissing Fauna are You the Destroyer? It is probably in my top 3 albums of all time, right up there with Tiny Music and Kid A. The video from "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse" is pretty bizarre. Check it out:

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Child's Mind is Like a Salvador Dali Painting

Although they certain have their special attributes, I don't think my children are unique in one particular regard. I'm sure that many other parents think their children do the oddest, cutest, most random things. But good grief, if other kids do this much of it, how would parents get anything done. All they would want to do is watch and pay with their kids. Again, I don't think my kids are terribly unique in this regard, but living with them gives me an inside look at kids that I never would have gotten anywhere else.

For example, I am constantly amazed at Aidan's drive and determined attitude when he is creating one of legendary "projects". We were at my grandparent's house today. Aidan took the garden hose and tied it to a tree. He then took the other end and tied it to another tree. My grandmother helped him bring out a couple of bar stools, which he claims provided the "glue" of the project. Throw in a patio table and a blanket, and he had some contraption that he claimed allowed trees to be shared between people. I have no idea what he was talking about, but I was struck by the determination with which he created his project. It was hard work wrapping that garden hose around the trees, and he put everything into it. I love watching his indoor creations even more. He will use couch cushions, dining room chairs, and any other structure he can. One significant feature of the indoor "projects", however, is that they are almost always symmetrical. I don't know why, but Aidan insists on them being perfectly symmetrical, meaning that if there is a chair on one side, there MUST be a chair on the other side. I don't think he knows why. He just knows that's the way it should be.

I am quickly learning that Regan is not all that different in her quirkiness, although she doesn't have the same engineering flare. I hate to say it, but Regan carries a more stereotypically feminine aspect into her oddities. For instance, she has these mock high heal shoes that her Auntie Ro gave her for Christmas. Although they are way too big for her (perhaps made for a 5 or 6 year-old), she has learned how to walk in them very well and insists on doing so as often as possible. She loves to dance. She's got moves that most 2-year-olds simply dream of. She even matches her dance to the style of music. More than that, she loves dressing up, talking on her "cell phone", wearing sunglasses, pushing her dolls around in strollers, and shopping. I mean, come on-- SHOPPING! How did that happen? Where did that come from? And what confuses me even more is that I find it cute. It is freaking adorable. But that's not all that fascinates me about Regan. She is fascinated with books. She will sit in her room and "read" for a long time. She loves all kinds of books. She will read to us, but of course she loves it much more when we read to her. But her love of books actually borders on an obsession. They are sacred. They contain special meaning for her. Again I ask, where did this come from? Sure, we've read to her most of her life, but that's not nearly enough to explain her obsession. Shoes and books: Regan's two loves. Neither Kari nor I actively encouraged this, but here we are.

I need to post a better picture of one of Aidan's projects; they truly are artworks in their own right. I also need to post some video of Regan's dancing; it is very entertaining and impressive. So I continue to be fascinated with the growing minds of my children. They are really challenging my presumptions about child development, the nature/nurture debate, and my own ideas about identity and the emergent mind. Although I began my life as a parent expecting to teach my children, but of course I have found that they teach me more than I ever dreamed. Their minds and lives are free and unencumbered by the necessities of life, so they are free to simply be. What a bizarre notion.

Note: Click here for a new photo album of the kids that I uploaded today.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Aidan's 4th Birthday Party

Well, the day before I had my little injury, Aidan had his 4th birthday party, his 1st in Texas, which meant that this was the first birthday party with extended family in attendance. I was a lot of fun, different from last year's party, but fun. In addition to Aidan's grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, we also had some friends in attendance. Aubrey Griffin and his parents, Jerry and Emily Griffin, were there and so was Aidan's friend from school, Jett. Kids' birthdays can be a burden and potentially annoying, but I had fun, and I think everyone who came had fun too, and that's what it's all about. Even the pinata was cool. Thanks to everyone who came. Click the picture above to take a look at the pictures from the party, and check out the podcast for the video, courtesy of Uncle Kyle.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Can I get a break?

So I'm playing a friendly game of roller hockey on Sunday evening with my wife and kids (only Kari and I were in skates). I'm playing forward, making what I believe be a pretty good maneuver through the hole to the net, when out of nowhere comes a pink blurr. Regan, a pretty good defensivewoman, delivers a massive crosscheck, I swerved to try to avoid it, but in doing so, my skate stayed still, snapping the lower fibula and shattering the lower tibia in my right leg at the top of the skate boot. After making a splint out of hockey sticks and packing tape, Kari rush me to the hospital. On Tuesday, I had surgery to insert a rod in my leg to help the fibula heal. (Apparently, the tibia is superfluous, so they didn't do anything with it.) I also had a metal plate and screws inserted in my ankle because there was a fracture in my ankle as well.

I was released from the hospital on Wednesday evening, and I've been home recuperating since then. Kari's has stayed with me most of this week, and she has been absolutely incredible. No doubt this ordeal has been much harder on her than it has been on me because of the incredible burden she has had to bear. She is truly an incredible woman and my angel. I've also been helped by my parents and grandparents, who have all taken days off to be with me at the hospital and at home. This has been much easier to deal with because of their help and support. We are so grateful to be back in Texas where our family can help with emergencies like this.

On Monday I go back to work. That will be a challenge. Simply getting there will be difficult because I can't drive, and we'll have to figure out a way for Kari to get me and the kids where we need to go before getting herself to work downtown. We'll see how that goes. It's going to be an interesting 3-6 months.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Currently listening: The Shins and The Earlies (and still Of Montreal)

I recently bought three incredible albums from iTunes, three that have all jumped to the into the top tier of my favorites list. The first from Of Montreal, "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?", I've mentioned before. It is an incredible and striking album without a single weak song. Favorite songs are "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse", "Gronlandic Edit", "She's a Rejecter", and "We Were Born the Mutants Again With Leafling".

To that one, I have also added the new albums by The Shins and The Earlies. I think the The Shins new album, Wincing the Night Away, is their best to date. The lyrics are very moving, and the music is some of the most beautiful I've heard since Beck's Sea Change. My favorite tracks are "Phantom Limb" (the first single), "Sea Legs", and "A Comet Appears".

The Earlies new album is very good to, but in a slightly different way. I first heard of The Earlies a few years ago before they had released anything or, to my knowledge, had even recoded anything. My brother, Kyle, is married to the lead singer's sister-in-law, and the two of them had been friends in college. So Kyle had told me about the unusual beginnings of the band. They released their first album, "These were..." in 2004. I thought it was good, but not great. Although none of the songs struck me as particularly memorable, the overall feel of that first album was interesting enough that I could hear the potential for some really incredible work. Their second album, "The Enemy Chorus", came out, and boy oh boy, it fulfills much of that potential. The tracks are much more full and complete. The sweep in the way that psychedelic rock tends to do, but without drowning in itself, as that type of music can do sometimes as well. They are more complete stories through music, not just lyrically but musically as well. Their first album was simply too amorphous for my tastes, but the new album seemed more structured, but without losing the appearance of spontaneity. Favorite tracks are "Gone for the Most Part", "Foundation and Earth", and "Breaking Point"

Of Montreal - "Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?"
The Shins - "Wincing the Night Away"
The Earlies - "The Enemy Chorus"

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The "real life" of real life

After finishing my dissertation, I was very eager to get back to "real life", the mundane duties of life like paying bills, cleaning the kitchen, and doing laundry. I still did a little bit of that as I worked on the dissertation, but Kari bore the brunt of the burden. Over the last 10 days since I returned from my defense trip, I have entered into it much more. I've been doing laundry almost everyday (it's easier to manage that way) and cleaning the kitchen (some), and Kari turned all of the finances over to me on Monday. I have to say that I'm not hating it yet. When I get all of the finances automated, that will be even better. Anyway, I'm back to the day-to-day drudgery and loving it, for now.

Friday, January 19, 2007

It Is Finished

This morning I successfully defended my dissertation, and I now hold a Ph.D. in Family and Child Ecology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from Michigan State University.

Thank God THAT'S over.

This has been the most trying, exhausting, frustrating experience, but it now feels very fulfilling, and I'm sure it will feel even more so as I reclaim my life. I didn't accomplish this alone, though. Many people helped. I'll post my acknowledgements soon, but right now, I want to write about the defense experience.

I was extremely nervous. I have a tough committee, and they can be very picky and critical. They certainly were so today, but their criticism was nothing I can't handle. I didn't begin very well, though. I was 5 minutes late because I had problems printing and copying my handouts. I didn't mean to wait until the morning of the defense to print it, but that's what happened. The copiers in the Union were acting up, as I should have guessed they would. I walked in, began to apologize, and then set up my presentation. I started going through the research questions and my results to warm us all up. They didn't need much warming, however, as the questions quickly began to flow. They primarily asked questions about my conclusions and implications, wanting more information or explanation of statements. They wanted me to discuss the recruitment methods that were miserable failures, in addition to those that worked. They told me about ways to highlight the study's significant and extrapolate meaning from role of the study in the pantheon of fathering research and therapy research. All in all, their comments and criticisms were very helpful and appropriate, but I kept waiting for the floor to fall out from under me. I just knew that any minute one of them would bring up the dealbreaker, the issue that would prevent me from returning to Texas with a Ph.D. in hand.

That issue never came up. After our discussion, I was sent out of the room for them to deliberate. After 5 minutes or so (what I thought to be a remarkably short amount of time), Dr. Carolan came out and said, "We're ready for you, Dr. Martin." At that moment, I was informed that they had passed me and granted my degree. Needless to say, I was elated. I then sat down with Dr. Carolan and went over the various revisions that I am to do. Basically, I have to complete the revisions this weekend (I can probably finish it all tomorrow), call Dr. Carolan and talk her through them, and turn the completed dissertation into the MSU Graduate School. All of the forms are signed; they simply need to be turned in on Monday.

When they are all turned in, I will officially be done, but I have the degree now. I have relaxed and run errands today. Tomorrow, I finish the work, but as far as I'm concerned, it is finished.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Judgement Day

At 10AM on this Friday, January 19, 2007, I could use a lot of prayers, good vibes, good mojo, or whatever you can send my way. I will be defending my dissertation, which will be the culmination of the last year and a half, not to mention the last four and a half years of doctoral education and the last 11 and a half years of higher education. Needless to say, I'm ready for it to be over. I have a good job now that I really enjoy, and I really want to dive into it more, but this thing still hanging over me is a nuisance.

Of course, I already "graduated", back when I thought the dissertation would be finished last summer. But now it will be for real. I can finally and officially move on with my life after this weekend. It will be a great feeling.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Oh... My... Gosh...

Okay. I'll be brutally honest. I really didn't understand what all of the hype surrounding the uber-rumored Apple iPhone was all about. Okay -- a combination iPod and cell phone sounds neat, but so what? I have an iPod; I have a cell phone. How beneficial could the combination be? It really was not very appealing to me.

Oh me of little faith. Steve Jobs unveiled the real Apple iPhone today, and oh... my... gosh... It is probably the coolest device I have ever seen, and yes, I am including the iPod, and the PDA. It has almost no buttons (only a small "home" button), and the controls are done entirely by touchscreen, a feature they call "Multi-touch" for the way they have revolutionized it. It combines a full, widescreen iPod with a cell phone (with Cingular as carrier), which makes calls, teleconferences, and integrates web features so seamlessly that it leaves preexisting devices in the dust. It also includes a FULL web browser and HTML email, two features drastically missing from smartphones of today. It also includes Google Maps. To get the full effect of the iPhone, I think you really need to watch Steve's keynote address at MacWorld 2007. He describes and completely demonstrates the incredible innovations and jaw-dropping features that they included. (You can watch the whole keynote or just the iPhone introduction.)

Of course, I'll be watching the major tech sites for their on-hands review to see if it really measures up to what we saw in the keynote. Ultimately, however, I think this will revolutionize the cell phone industry. It's already driven Apple's stock price way up and made the stock prices of Palm and RIM (makers of the Blackberry) way down. Of course the major cries are about the price: $499 for the 4GB version and $599 for the 5GB version. Talk about a premium. That's expensive. Expensive enough that I don't see myself getting one for a few years at least, desipte the copious amounts of drool. But that was the same knock against the iPod when it debuted in 2001. Now, it has left all other media players in the dust. I am fairly confident that the same may happen with the iPhone. I only wish I could get my hands on one.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Word toss

Sometimes when I step back to think about the way that we use words in our lives, I notice how cavalier we can be about the use of some words. Perhaps in this "age of affirmation and hyperbole", we often try to use words that highlight how intense we feel or how much we believe in whatever we are stating. We use words like "hate", "love", "hideous", and "beautiful" to describe things as mundane as a turkey sandwich (okay, maybe not a sandwich, but you get my point), not to mention the persistent misuse of "always" and "never". I most definitely include myself in this. In my normal histrionics, I have been known to throw out the occasional hyperbole, but how helpful is that really? Does it really help me convey my meaning any better? Probably not. In my opinion, it really only serves to water-down language by making emphatic words less emphatic.

A related problem is the misuse of words that don't really fit the context. Two of the more misused words, I think, are arrogance and bravery. Arrogance is often used to describe someone who is confident or proud of themselves. While some such people may be arrogant, I don't think all of them are because arrogance carries with it the assumption of a value judgement. Arrogance implies that the confidence and pride is reason for believing that the self is better than others. In other words, if a person is confident in their own abilities and proud of their prior accomplishments, but does not see that as reason to place him/herself in higher standing or deserving of special privileges, are they really arrogant? I don't think so. Confidence is a good thing, and we should encourage it, but we shouldn't confuse confidence with arrogance. With bravery, we often throw that word around when fear is not an issue. I don't think someone can be brave if they aren't afraid. Otherwise, they are simply being. Fear is a necessary part of bravery. A person cannot be brave if they do not fear.

Anyway, those are only two examples. I'm sure there are many others. Like I said, I'm at least as bad about this as anyone else. I try to moderate it at times, but like I said, my histrionic tendencies sometimes come out despite my best efforts. I've just been thinking a lot lately about how we can't take language for granted. Communication is essential to relationships and growth, and we sometimes do a poor job of communicating when we don't use language appropriately.

Currently listening: Of Montreal

I think I may occasionally post about what I'm currently listening to. I know lots of people do this, so it's nothing new, so here it goes.

I am falling in love with Of Montreal's new album Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer. It is awesome. It won't be out until the end of the month, but you can listen to the entire album streaming at their website.

Also, Kari and I are going to see them at Numbers on February 17. Anyone else interested in going are invited to go with us.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Like the Phoenix rising...

So here we are at the start of a new year. So much changed for me last year, and I have decided to revive my blog as part of my New Year's resolutions. This isn't as laborious for me as it may seem. I had always wanted to return to blogging, but I felt that other things in my life had to take priority at the time. Now that most of those things are either in the past or have settled down significantly, I feel that I can devote a little time here and there to keep this up. Of course, I don't have grand visions of thousands or even hundreds of people reading whatever mundane things I write. I just want to put something out there. Do what blogging was meant to do, and if a few old friends are able to catch up with me, all the better.

So, here's a brief rundown of what Kari and I have been up to lo these many months:

  1. My dissertation, which was supposed to be finished in time for a May 2006 defense, was delayed due to a problems getting it approved by MSU's internal review board. Those problems were eventually overcome once they got the right idea about the nature of the research.
  2. I finished my internship at the Ingham Regional Medical Center in Lansing, MI in August.
  3. The dissertation, then slated for an August defense, was delayed again for the severe difficulty I had recruiting research participants.
  4. We moved to Baytown in August to live with my parents. Meanwhile, Kari and I began looking for a house.
  5. I began working at the Krist Samaritan Center for Counseling and Education in Houston, TX in September 2006.
  6. My colleagues at the Krist center were invaluable in helping me recruit research participants for the dissertation research.
  7. Kari began working for Lyondell Chemical Company as an Internal Auditor. She took a business trip to Rotterdam, Netherlands after working there for a week. (I was a bit jealous.)
  8. While working on my dissertation one day at my parents' house, I accidentally spilled some soda on my laptop computer. Three days later after the soda had dried, my laptop was fried. Thankfully, I had just backed up my dissertation and lost almost nothing. Best Buy was able to recover most of my other documents, music, video, and pictures too. But I was out a laptop and didn't know how I would continue without one.
  9. Kari and I bought a house in the Clear Lake area of Houston, near NASA. We moved in on September 29, 2006.
  10. A colleague of mine at the Krist Samaritan Center was able to procure an old laptop without an operating system for me to have free. I installed my own OS and it worked. I was back in business and eternally grateful to him. This allowed me to eventually complete the dissertation.
  11. The dissertation, then slated for a November completion and a December defense, was delayed again due to my computer problems and my naivete in estimating how long it would take me to transcribe and code all of the interviews.
  12. Kari got an offer from the benefits accounting office at Lyondell to work for them. After some deliberation, she accepted the offer and began working in the accounting office immediately after Thanksgiving 2006. No more travel is required, although she gets the same pay, benefits and status that she already had. Aidan, Regan and I are happy. Kari's happy too.
  13. The dissertation was finally finished on December 22, 2006. I sent it off to my committee the next day for them to review for a January 19, 2007 defense. I haven't worked on it or my defense since then.

I am really looking forward to the new year for a number of reasons. We now own a house and are fairly settled in for a while. I like my job. The dissertation is largely behind me, and I feel that my life is really going to become more free without that hanging over my head. Of course, I'm sure we'll have our fair share of disappointments and struggles, but I'm very optimistic about the next 365 days. Now, time to begin on the right foot and clean up the house and garage. I'll post some updated pictures to my Flickr site later.