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.