Monday, September 29, 2008

Johns Hopkins

Today I visited the History Department at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and met with a couple of professors regarding the university's graduate program. Johns Hopkins graduate school is ranked ninth overall in the nation, and after meeting with Drs. Walters and Ditz, I believe that Johns Hopkins will be a great opportunity for graduate school. Hopkins' focus on research and, according to Dr. Ditz, "by extension (a great place for) older students" confirmed many of the opinions I had already formed from researching the department and school.

As I mentioned before, there are several factors besides the program that we have to consider, namely the job opportunities for Lori and the family support system in our city. Johns Hopkins' location provides the opportunity to fulfill these two concerns as Mike and Kathy are in Baltimore amd Mom and Dad Caterina would only be 3 1/2 to 4 hours away. When considering all factors, Johns Hopkins ranks in the top three schools on my list.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

William and Mary

While visiting Williamsburg this past week, I took the opportunity to meet with the graduate director and one of the history professors at the College of William and Mary. William and Mary is on my short list of potential graduate schools and after meeting with Drs. Meyer and Mapp, I feel more strongly about the school and its program. William and Mary is at the top of the spectrum in history and would be considered by most scholars as a small step behind the Ivy League schools of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Darmouth, and Columbia. In terms of colonial American history, William and Mary is second to none. I would be honored to attend graduate school there.

Realisitically, however, I must consider other factors, such as job opportunities for Lori, housing, and our support system since family would be far away. These other factors will come into play if I am accepted at William and Mary. The job opportunities would be different, but it seems the area is large enough to provide ample choices. Hampton, Newport News, and Richmond are not so far away as to be considered in the larger scope. Likewise, housing is no worse than most of the other schools that we are looking at, and in some cases may be more affordable. Only the support system then becomes a concern.

In most respects, my visit did not change any opinions. I knew the reputation of the school before I went, and we knew the issues of jobs, housing and supports prior to visiting. That being said, William and Mary did move up on my list because of the opportunities available at the school and the potential to learn at a highly respectable school.

For those who may not know the College of William and Mary, the College has produced such notable scholars as Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler as well as Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, Speaker of the House Henry Clay, and 16 signers of the Declaration of Independence. As a history major, it would be an honor to study in the same buildings once occupied by our founding fathers.

The Intelligence of a GPS System

I must say that I have always had a knack for directions, so why I decided I needed a GPS system is beyond me. I am not sure where my general knack for directions come from - hereditary (my father is generally good with directions as well) or from my past experience as a delivery driver (some things about driving directions are universal no matter where you find yourself, but many people take those items for granted and don't pay enough attention to the small details). Regardless, I purchased a Garmin nuvi 205w GPS a couple of weeks ago and I must say I have not been entirely thrilled. Maybe the hype over the GPS systems led me to expect more than what is realistic.

First, the GPS comes with preloaded Points of Interest (POIs) such as parks, movie theatres, restaurants, fuel stations, etc. For what ever reason, it seems that the POI that I am interested in is never in GPS's database. I have been told that only 5-25% of all POIs are loaded into the database. Lucky me, I should always seem to pick the POI that no one else thought was important enough to add to the database.

Second, the GPS allows you to download files to add to its "extensive" list of POIs. It even comes with its own software to install the file on the Garmin. GREAT! As many of you know, I love visitng lighthouses, so to add all of the lighthouses in the United States to the POI database would be wonderful. With that in mind, I found a lighthouse POI listing (free) and downloaded it to my new Garmin. To my dismay, the list did not work. So much for a freebie. I later found out that the file was in the .gpx format and my particular Garmin model only reads .gpi files. BUMMER! Then, I found another GPS POI site that allows you to convert .gpx files to the .gpi format. This site was again free. GREAT! I imported the .gpx file, converted it to .gpi and I was now ready to install the file. Unbeknownst to me, the POI Loader software (from Garmin) only loads .gpx files.

Now this may sound like a stupid question, but if the Garmin only reads .gpi files, why would their software only allow for the download of a .gpx file, which the Garmin can't read? Lucky for me, the free site that allowed me to convert the file also had the capabilities of download the .gpi file directly to the Garmin without using Garmin's worthless POI Loader software. Now I was truly ready to go.

I had played around with the GPS since I bought it, but this past week, Lori had a conference in Williamsburg, VA and "Little Man" and I tagged along. That allowed me to really use the Garmin for the first time in an area that I wasn't quite as familiar with.

Well, after returning from Williamsburg, I can say that the results were rather disappointing, particularly when using the POI database. You see, the Garmin tells you how far a POI is in terms of a direct line, not an actual route. This is quite frustrating when you are in the middle of nowhere and need to say, find a gas station. The Garmin reports that the filling station is 6.3 miles away. GREAT! Until you realize that after following the GPS system's directions to a T, you have traveled 20+ miles because the actual road does not run as the bird flies. I have to wonder if the gas station listed at 6.7 miles was actually closer. Lucky for us, we had enough gas to get where we needed to go.

End of story? Not quite. The best got saved for last.

So we decided to go check out a couple of the lighthouses from the POI list I downloaded. The first one we went to see was the Ferry Point Wharf Light outside of Portsmouth, VA. On the way Lori asked me if I thought the GPS would take all the fun out of trying to find lighthouses on our own (We've been know to wander around aimlessly looking for hidden treasures). The Garmin's directions were impeccable. The took us right to within 1000 feet of the lighthouse. The problem was we were on a gravel road in the middle of a cotton field and to get to the lighthouse we would have had to drive through the cotton field and trees that stood between the river bank and where we were. We did not get to see the lighthouse and our trip cost about 2 hours worth of time. At least "Little Man" got a good nap. The second lighthouse, the next day, was Two Marshes Lighthouse outside of Gloucester, VA. After 6. some odd miles turned into 24, we found ourselves at the end of someone's personal property with several NO TRESPASSING! signs posted. The lighthouse was again, just beyond our view and we did not get to see it either. Disappointed, we headed home. I chose to take a shorter route, though probably slower, and for the first 15 miles, the Garmin kept trying to get me to make a U-turn. After it realized that I wasn't making a U-turn, it seemed to get really confused and told me to make turns were turns weren't possible. Next time, I think we will go back to using our built in devices and see if we are more accurate.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Is football season over yet?

Well, I have to say I didn't have high hopes for the Colts this year. I wasn't sure if Marvin Harrison could come back from his injury last year and then when Peyton came down with a similar injury, it didn't look good. Last night only solidifed my thoughts that it is going to be a long season and this may be the beginning of the end. Not only did Harrison and Manning look bad, the defense was non existent. To top that, Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai both got injured.

If one team losing wasn't bad enough, my Fantasy Football team started out a thrid consecutive season with a loss. The last two years my team has ended up as the doormat of the league and I'm the commissioner! This is not going well.

In addition to the two losses, I had to suffer through a Pittsburgh win! At least lori has been kind enough not to rub it in. When does the season end?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

September 6, 2008

Well, the contractors officially finished up at the house today, one week and hundreds of dollars over budget, but at least we know our problem is fixed. For those that didn't know, the drainage pipe running through our back yard had had become crushed (because of age I guess) and had to be replaced. The contractor had originally said it would only take a week, barring any rain. It did rain one day, but how one day turns into a week I really don't know. I am happy know that it is fixed and I can now move on to worry about bigger fish - like how my fantasy football team is going to do this year!