Monday, July 10, 2006

Fear and Loathing in Austin

Several times over the past three days, I had ideas for interesting, witty, fully-developed coherent posts. But this is not going to be one. Because at 9.30 this morning, I hit a wall. Figuratively, of course.

I’m not quite sure what happened. The morning started well enough. After weeks of fitful nights, I had a decent night’s sleep. With Bearette’s endorsement of Lora’s suggestion, I tried melatonin and zonked right out. Of course, the two glasses of wine with dinner probably helped. As did being very sleep deprived from Saturday night. Or, more accurately, Sunday morning, as I didn’t actually get to sleep until close to 4.00 a.m. And not for any fun reason.

Have I ever mentioned my phobia of intruders? Not just a general anxiety. An honest-to-goodness phobia. The smallest bump in the night will have me up until the wee hours with all the lights on and a knife in hand. I’ve been known to sleep on the couch because, for whatever reason, I feel less vulnerable there than I do in the bed.

So you can imagine that I was none too pleased to get a notice from the apartment management that we are having a mini crime spree. In the past two weeks, two cars have been broken into and an intruder entered an apartment. Not cause for calling out the National Guard, but enough to freak me the heck out.

I tried to be rational. I double checked that I had set my car alarm. I checked the locks on all the windows. And then I curled up into bed and turned on a movie, hoping that would cover up the night bumps while I fell asleep. I even invited Rowen onto the bed for a little extra snuggle security.

But as soon as the lights were out, rational left the building. The bumps were louder and more menacing than ever. Both Rowen and I were a bundle of nerves, with one or both of us going to check the front door every half hour or so (although Rowen was usually happy to let me do the security check while she hid in the closet).

We finally both passed out from sheer exhaustion. And then the alarm went off a mere three hours later.

Hence the melatonin for last night. I desperately needed some sleep. And thankfully got some. So I started the day almost as planned. I intended to be up and out the door for a run by 6.00 a.m.; that turned into being out the door at 6.40 a.m. But out I went. And then my plan for a 30-minute run was revised to a 20-minute run when my legs threatened to sever themselves from my body after 10 minutes. But 20 minutes is better than what I have been doing, aka nothing.

After the run, I registered for my fall courses. Navigating the university system has become a lot more complicated in the (almost) decade since I was in undergrad. Back then, to register for classes, I would study the course catalog, circle the courses I was interested in, narrow it down from the thirty or so courses I wanted to take to the five or six courses I could take in a term, fill out the registration form in the back of the catalog, get up at some forsaken hour of the morning, and with caffeine in hand, stand in line at the registrar’s office.

These days, everything is online. Which has its advantages: fewer dead trees, no lines, no subjecting anyone to my haggard early-morning self. But, as with most technological advances, it has serious downsides. One being the need to navigate the labyrinth of thousands of Web pages to find the information you need, rather than flipping through a 80-100 page catalog. In the old-school, print catalog, you had everything you needed in one place---the course description, the course number, the list of sections, the scheduled meeting times. Not so with the online version. You have the descriptions on one page, the schedule on a different page (conveniently not linked from the descriptions). As for the course number---we’ll get to that.

And the print registration form isn’t picky about who fills in it’s neatly labeled fields. But with the online registration, once you have managed to find the right page, you need two user IDs, two passwords, a DNA sample, voice-print identification, a magic wand, and a secret knock to get in. Then you face a new page with a whole lot of buttons, none of which are labeled anything obvious, like “Add a Course” or “How to Use This Ridiculously Poorly Designed System.” So you go with trial and error and find yourself on a page that is titled “Add,” which you assume means “Add a Course” and the designer was just too lazy to type those extra two words. One of which is all of a letter long, but whatever. You see a field labeled “Course Number.” And you, being the smart soon-to-be grad student that you are (read: big ol’ nerd), have your list ready. Because you carefully copied the course numbers from the catalog---and double checked them---because having to find the catalog and the courses again would require some heavy-duty prescription medicine. So you enter the first course number and click on a button that you think might add the class, although you aren’t sure, because there are four different buttons labeled “Add” and they each take you to a different place. This particular one takes you to a page that says “No such course number.” Resisting the urge to chug a bottle of rum, you go back to the course catalog. You triple and quadruple check the course number. You go back to the registration page. You try again. You get the same damn message. You go back to the course catalog. (And thank you, Mr. Gates, for Windows. Because if I had to do all this in one screen, that rum would’ve been chugged. And chased with the cheap-ass beer that was left in the fridge.)

Then, as you stare at the course listing, it hits you: The university hired the same guy who designed the roads in Austin. There’s not just one number for each course. That would be way too easy! Instead, each course has a catalog number AND a registration number (as well as several other numbers, which I haven’t determined the purpose of other than to see if a head can actually explode). Not that the difference between the two numbers is indicated in any way anywhere in the course listing. Seriously, the university could do away with the GRE and just ask applicants to try to register for classes. If you are smart enough to figure out this system, you’re in.

And I am feeling very smart, indeed. Because I did manage to register for my classes. I think. Three of classes were marked as “closed,” but the program coordinator assured me that I could still register for those classes. But she doesn’t seem to like me very much and this could be part of the exploding head experiment. But I think I am registered for the following courses:

* Cultural Anthropology: Theory & Ethnography
* Political Anthropology
* History of Anthropological Theory
* Anthropology and International Health

So with a good night’s sleep, a run, and registration completed, I thought the day was off to a promising start. But apparently I peaked before breakfast. Dang it.


At 1:00 PM , Blogger Bearette24 said...

Doesn't melatonin rock? After 3 days of taking it, though, I realized it makes you sluggish the next day, and slows your metabolism. Damn. So I didn't take any last night...and was up till 3 am. I'm sure I'll be taking it again.

At 1:03 PM , Blogger Bearette24 said...

What an interesting article! Maybe I'll try half a pill...the article said it's just as effective at lower concentrations.

At 2:56 PM , Anonymous crystal said...

Ohmyga, that sounds horrendous!

At 5:58 AM , Blogger Liz said...

I wonder what was causing the noises you were hearing in the night?

At 4:29 AM , Blogger Elsa said...

That's great that the melatonin (and maybe wine) worked!

I used to live in a house and now I live in an apartment and feel safer. I think that if anyone tried to break in, then if I screamed, people would be able to hear me. Plus, I think that intruders would pick houses before picking apartments because of the close proximity of everyone - easier to get into a house unnoticed than an apartment.


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