Saturday, January 25, 2014

"This is why we have smartphones"

I often find myself thinking about the world without the technology we have today.  How would we accomplish simple tasks?

I'm going to start this post off with three short stories:

1. Recently I had a conversation with my dad about applying for college.  As many people know, I was able to apply for graduate school from my house in Uganda using the internet, but I was wondering how a person in, say, the 1960's in the United States would have gone about a similar task.  The answer is I have no idea.  Even now, I'm still not sure.  I wouldn't even know how to get information about different universities without the internet.

2. In a different conversation with my dad on another occasion, he was telling me how, on that particular day, my grandmom actually used a phone book (as in the yellow pages) to get a phone number for somewhere.  My response was "do they still send out phone books?"  I don't even remember the last time I saw one and it was probably even longer than that since I've used one.

3. Several months ago I was going out to breakfast with friends to a place that wasn't all that close to where any of us lived.  And one of my friends who was driving there had printed out directions from Map Quest.  I found this particularly amusing and kind of scoffed at her saying "1990 called and they want their directions back."  Now I was just being cynical and having a good laugh, but the truth of the matter is that most people haven't used such "old" technology in years.  And when I say old, it really isn't even that old, but it is still outdated. (In fact, Map Quest directions were not a technology from 1990.  I believe it was very popular in the late 90's/early 2000's.)

So those are my three stories to try and paint a picture for you of what I'm really talking about.  Despite having lived the first several years of my life without most of the technology that I use on a daily basis today, I was too young to really remember how certain things were done.

I wake up in the morning and before I even get out of bed, I check my email and Facebook on my phone.  Sometimes (depending on how much time I have and whether I have to be at work that day) I may even read the news on my phone before I even get out of bed.  As I'm getting ready for work I use my Weather Channel app to see how cold it is and prepare myself accordingly.  I also use an app on my phone throughout the day to track how many calories I've eaten in order to control my diet and eat healthier.

Once I leave my apartment, I walk to the metro and while on the metro, I may catch up on news and email, reading articles and emails that I may not have had time to read earlier or that were not there earlier.  I enjoy almost instant gratification when it comes to my inbox.

When I get to work, I sit down at my desk, log in to my computer, and again check my email.  However this time it is my work email and my personal email.  I log into Facebook and I also bring up my Google Calendar to remind me of any events I have that day or in the next few days.  I also have an app for my calendar on my phone, in case someone needs to make an appointment with me and I don't want to pull out my computer (which I probably have on me at any given time) to check my schedule.

Throughout the day I may use the internet to do research for a project I'm working on for work, I use my phone to text friends sometimes to make plans or just to pass on some sort of amusing information, and I continue to use both my personal email and my work email to communicate with my supervisor, my co-workers, my classmates, my professors, other people at the university, and my family and friends (including those who live in DC, Philly, and anywhere else in the country or the world).  In fact, I often find that in the office, people are more likely to email you than to get up and walk ten feet to talk to you in person.

Upon leaving work, I walk back to the metro and while on the metro I do the same as I did in the morning catching up on news and emails.  I often have class at night or I have to go to the University for some other reason.  In fact, all my appointments and meetings are made via email and occasionally text message.  Once I get to class I pull out my computer to take notes and sometimes I may even check my email and my Facebook as well.  While in class I may need to use the internet to access Blackboard to get some of my materials for class, such as lecture slides.  I always find myself somewhat perturbed when a professor asks the class to take out a piece of paper that he or she may want handed in.  On many occasions, I've turned to the person sitting next to me to ask for a piece of paper.  I don't carry around paper.  What would I use it for?  It's just extra weight in my bag that I don't need.  Luckily, I do carry a few pens in my bag, so I don't have to borrow one of them as well.

When class is over, I usually check my phone for text messages and phone calls, which are often waiting for me.  Once I get home, I may sit down in front of my computer and watch Netflix for a bit before going to sleep.  In fact, I usually watch Netflix on one computer, while surfing the internet and checking email on my other computer.  And as I lie in bed, I am usually still checking to see if I have any new emails or updates on my Facebook via my phone.

Now can you imagine this day without technology?  Some of these things that I use on a daily basis are relatively new even to me.  I just got an iPhone (smartphone) upon returning to the U.S. after Peace Corps.  Before I left for Uganda, I had a simple phone that didn't do much more than text.  But something, such as the internet in a more general sense, is something that I only have a vague recollection of living without.

Sometimes I think all of this technology is either a reason for or a by-product of our busy lives.  For example, I find that my time on the metro every day is wasted time...unless I find a way to make it productive by checking my email.  I often feel every second of my day is accounted for and many of these technologies help me do that.  Now I don't know if this is a good thing or not, but I do find myself to be rather productive when I need to be.

As you can see from my busy schedule, I don't actually mention making any phone calls.  I may find myself checking my phone for any missed calls, but the fact of the matter is that I don't talk on the phone with most people I know.  I am usually emailing them or texting them.  It is much faster and with my busy life, I often don't have the time to go through the formalities of a phone call.  I may need an answer to a simple question, but if I call someone to answer it, there is usually much more that we converse abount, taking up too much time.  There are however a few people that I talk to on the phone, but most of them it is not on a regular basis.  I have friends who I may have a lengthy phone call with every few months because we haven't seen each other recently and we need to catch up.  But other than these people I rarely see, phone calls don't make much sense to me anymore.  I think eventually even phone calls will become somewhat obsolete.  It is just a matter of time.

And finally, I'm going to leave you with this short video about how people reacted when Gmail briefly went down yesterday.  Oh, what the world can't live without!

Note: If anyone is curious as to why the title of this post is in quotes, it is because, as I reach for my iPhone, this is something I often find myself saying if someone ask me a question.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

There is Never Enough Time

I find it a bit ironic to be writing this post on an unexpected day off.  However, I guess I also find it ironic that the Federal Government and American University have both shut down for snow and it isn't even snowing out right now.  So anyway, I feel like this is an extension of my last post about my current busy schedule.

I always feel like I have this problem of time.  There is never enough of it.  If I have days to kill (where I don't have work or class), I find something to do with them.  I go somewhere, read a book, or catch up with friends.  I never have the feeling of being one of those people that finds myself doing nothing but watching TV all day mindlessly.  Every day has an agenda.  I often dread the days where nothing is accomplished, even if my accomplishments are nothing more than spending time with people and having fun.

I keep a calendar (Google calendar) and it has turned into my life.  I would be lost without it.  I could tell you where I'll be in six months and what I'll be doing based on my calendar.  Now that a new year has started and I am beginning to have a better outlook of the year ahead, I'm making plans for trips and weekends.  I'm deciding what I'm going to do with my summer and where I'm going to be.  And even though I may have a week off here or a month off there, I never seem to actually have a day off, but that's how I like it.  Is life really worth living if you aren't doing anything at all?

Last year, when I was finishing up my Peace Corps service, I travelled around Uganda for a month.  Then I travelled Europe for another two and a half months.  Once I got back to the states, I thought maybe there would be some down time, but no.  I booked up my schedule solid.  From the time I arrived home in July until when I moved at the end of August, I was constantly spending time with people, travelling, packing (to move), etc.  And once I moved, I was unpacking and starting classes.  In fact, between when I left my house in Uganda on March 15th of last year until I moved to DC on August 15th, I didn't spend more than four consecutive nights in any one given place.  I spent five months of being a nomad.  I didn't feel like I had much of a home and I never felt like I had a day off, but I loved every minute of it.  Every day was different, which made every day exciting.

So as I sit here figuring out how I'm going to spend my unexpected day off (probably with getting ahead on my school work), I want to leave you with this:

If you find yourself with nothing to do, make an agenda for your day of things you could do.  It can be as simple as reading a magazine or going food shopping.  You don't want everything to be work.  Have some fun.  Nobody should really have a day where they actually do nothing.  If you find that there is never enough time in life, you know you are probably living life to the fullest.

Friday, January 17, 2014

I Must Be Completely Out of My Mind

At the beginning of this week, I had my first class for the semester.  Going into this semester, I was fully aware of what I signed up for, but it wasn't until towards the end of this first week of classes that I started to fully understand what that means.

Back in August of last year was when I scored this internship where I am currently working, and over the course of the Fall semester, I hemmed and hawed over how many classes I was going to take this semester considering I would be working full time.  I also had to decide whether or not I was taking my internship for credit (which adds an additional online class component to my work) or if I would take it for no credit.  So over the course of about 4 months, I stewed over my options.  And eventually, against the advice of my adviser, I not only decided to take on 3 classes (a full time course load), I also decided to take my internship for credit making it my fourth class.  Now four classes without working would be quite a feat, but I'm a motivated person and I actually think I made this decision partly to prove my adviser wrong.

So now here I am in my first week of class and my second week of work and how do I feel?  Completely Overwhelmed.

Oh, did I mention I also still have my fellowship for my scholarship where I'm supposed to be dedicating five hours a week to working with the Peace Corps Archive at the American University Library.  I am also still an active member of the Graduate Student Council and the Council for International Economic Relations.

My classes this semester are actually all rather similar.  I'm taking International Economics, Development Economics, and Econometrics (plus my internship class).

Now despite the fact that I'm feeling very overwhelmed by all this, I am also seeing how this is doable.  It also doesn't help that I love all my classes and don't want to drop any, I love my internship and feel that the work I'm doing is totally worthwhile, and I enjoy being active in my school and program councils.  So, needless to say, I'm not dropping anything and I'm going to stick it out.  This may end up being the term from hell, but at the same time, wouldn't it just be so gratifying if I did really well in all my classes and loved every minute of it (...well maybe not every minute).

So if I get too caught up in work and class and I don't manage to post on here for a significant amount of time, don't worry.  I didn't go totally a-wall or drop off the face of the planet.  I'm probably just trying to catch up and not feel so overwhelmed.

For now I'm going to leave you with this Ted Talk that was assigned as an optional resource for my Development Economics class.  It's pretty interesting and it may give you a small taste of what my next few months may look like.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

South Sudan...What's Happening?

As I said before, I just started an internship at the State Department working with the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan.  I will comment more in length on this later, but for now, if you want to really understand what is going on in South Sudan and why the current conflict there is occurring, you should read this report put out by the Congressional Research Service.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I'm now a Washingtonian...or am I just "from the District"

No matter what someone from DC is called, I don't think I will ever consider myself to be from here.  My hometown is the center of my universe and I will always be a Philadelphian.  The funny things is that no matter what the population of Washington DC, there are very few people who seem to be from here.  Since moving here I sometimes hear people refer to DC as "Hollywood for ugly people."  Not to say that people in DC are ugly, but more to compare the political arena here to the struggle of actors in LA.  There is this constant flow of people in and out of this city.  Whether it be foreign service officers who are constantly in and out between their other postings or just those people who are trying to get into politics or the government, jobs in DC seem to work on a revolving door system.  And that, among other reasons, is why I don't think I could stay here for the long term.

DC has a very unique way about it.  I haven't actually lived in any other city in the U.S. outside of DC and Philly, but DC just seems to function differently than any other city in this country and some of its peculiarities are for obvious reasons.  For one thing, it is not a state and it is not in a state.  I'm always a little amused at the slight bitterness that is expressed on DC license plates which all read "Taxation without representation."  This phrase seems so historic, yet here it's reality.  DC residents (or Washingtonians, if you will) are taxed (just like every other American), yet they don't have representatives in the Senate or the House of Representatives.  The full reasoning for this seemingly unconstitutional practice is something that I don't fully understand, but yet it still seems odd to me.

Another thing that seems so different to what I am used to in Philly is the driving in DC as well as the roads, laws, and manners that go along with it.  There are some streets in DC which have a different amount of lanes going in each direction depending on the time of day.  I happen to live on one of these streets and even after being here almost five months, I'm still confused as to what lane I should drive in at what time.  The reasoning behind this has to do with the rush hours in the morning and in the evening, which makes sense, however, on top of it all, at certain times on certain days, the far right lane in both directions becomes a parking lane.  And there always seems to be that one car that didn't move once parking time was over.  So you could be driving down the street and find yourself moments away from a collision with a parked car in you lane.

Another thing that I'm adjusting to when it comes to driving here is that I morally don't feel like I can do the "Philly bump" anymore.  For those of you that are not familiar, the Philly bump is a totally acceptable practice in Philly, where, while parallel parking, you tap the car in front or behind you.  Now I'm not talking about damaging the other person's car or anything like that.  In fact, you most likely won't leave even the slightest mark.  But in Philly this is more or less condoned.  Well, in DC, I've been told that you may actually be stopped by a random person on the street (not the car owner) who will ask if you are going to leave a note on the car to point out to the owner that their car has no mark on it at all from when you gently tapped it.  Let's just say I generally don't parallel park in this city.

Okay, that's enough DC bashing for one blog post.  Let's get to the good things about this city.  One thing that I truly love about DC is that most of the museums are free.  Not only are they free, but there are so many of them and they are actually worthwhile museums.  So on a lazy Saturday afternoon, I can just hop on the metro and go learn a thing or two.

Speaking of the metro, that is another bonus that DC has to offer.  I come from a town where you really only use the subway to get to baseball games and that's only if you live in a part of the city where you can get the subway.  So when you're lucky enough to be in one of these few subway accessible areas of the city, you have the privilege of riding on this train that smells of urine and usually has a homeless guy sleeping on it.  Well now that I live in DC, I live 1/2 mile from my nearest metro stop and I can take the metro pretty much anywhere.  I can even take it out to the suburbs in Virginia and Maryland.  Yes, in fact, the DC metro system crosses state/district borders.  And guess what else!  It is one of the cleanest subway systems I've ever seen.  No urine smell here.  So, yes, my driving mode of transportation may have been downgraded by moving, but my public transport system got infinitely better.

Anyway, now that I feel like this post is already too long (and I can't come up with anymore really good things to say about DC at the moment), I'm going to end it here.  I've been here five months so far and DC is growing on me slowly slowly, however, I will always be comparing it to Philly and I don't think it will ever live up to it (at least not for me).  So I guess you can call me a Philadelphian from the District.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Book Review: Emma's War

As I stated in my previous post, I'm starting a new internship at the State Department next week where I'll be working with the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan.  When I first found out that I had gotten this internship, it was suggested to me by the current intern at the time to read up on Sudan and South Sudan.  She suggested a book called Emma's War by Deborah Scroggins.  So I took the suggestion...

Considering how busy I was with classes I wasn't able to read this book until the Fall semester was finished.  So as soon as I found the time in December, I began reading this book and I leisurely made my way through it over the Christmas holiday.

Deborah Scroggins is a journalist from Atlanta, who was doing extensive reporting on Sudan for a local paper in Atlanta back in the late 80's and early 90's.  This is when she first met Emma McCune, a British aid worker.  Emma McCune is the main focus of Scroggins book Emma's War.  Emma was born the child of colonialist parents who were living in India, but the family moved back to the UK when colonialism fell.  After her father committed suicide, Emma struggled with her own identity and this is how she first established her love affair with Sudan.  In the late 80's, Emma started her new life as an aid worker in Sudan.  She worked for several years for the UN establishing schools in parts of southern Sudan.

Scroggins book is an intertwined story of Emma McCune and how she eventually married Reik Machar, a rebel warrior of southern Sudan, and Scroggins own personal experiences in Sudan.  Emma's War gives a descriptive, well-rounded view of Sudan, its people, and its political state.  Having read this book and also keeping up with the current political turmoil that is occurring in South Sudan, I feel prepared to start work on Monday.