College Life

The One Year Anniversary of the New Me

Even our Amish parents and siblings made it to our beach wedding.

Even our Amish parents and siblings made it to our beach wedding.

One year ago I was working a dead end job and “investing” in a business by going into credit card debt, I was several thousand dollars in debt, I was living in a big house with people I wasn’t getting along with anymore, I had too much stuff, I was addicted to Mountain Dew, I was struggling with personal upheavals related to a fundamental shift in my worldview, and I was dreaming of someday getting a college degree.

I had always planned on enrolling in college as soon as I was financially stable–as soon as all my debts were paid off, the business was doing well, and I could afford to take a several year sabbatical to pursue an education. Then almost exactly a year ago, I was encouraged to enroll in college despite my responsibilities. I was encouraged to enroll in college even if it was just to take one course at a time. I was persuaded to enroll in college and try it despite my constantly-changing plans for the future.

It didn’t take a lot of consideration before I decided to enroll. My life was getting stagnant, and college, it seemed, was exactly what I needed. I enrolled in college, but I did way more than that. I took the opportunity to completely reorganize my life and my priorities.

The first thing we (myself and my fiancee at the time) did was move out of the big house where we lived with 5-7 other people. We moved into my aunt’s nice vacation home and cut some of the toxic personal relationships that had been dragging us down for the past year. I quit the minimum wage dead end job that I had been using to help make ends meet until my online business brought in more sales, and I stopped deluding myself into thinking that I would be able to survive on my business income anytime soon. I quit pumping money, energy, and time into the business. Instead, I began a part-time lawn care job. The work was hard, but it paid way more than minimum wage.

By transferring my time from internet marketing and a minimum wage part-time job to lawn care, I was able to pay off several thousand dollars of debt that I had incurred over the previous three years. In fact, working only 2-3 days a week, I was able to pay off most of my debt and still have the time and money to go to college full time. The only debt I have left is a bit on my vehicle loan (which I had purchased a month before losing my internet marketing job about three years ago). To help support my addiction to higher education, I also sold most of my stuff and cut my expenses as much as I possibly could.

Because my life was changing so much, I decided it was also time to quit my excessive inhalation of Mountain Dew. I quit that without a problem and even cut down on my smoking.

The biggest change in the last year, however, was getting married. When I asked her about 9 months ago, we had been dating for more than 5 years. Why so long? First of all, we lived together for most of those 5 years, so getting married wasn’t something that seemed like too big of a lifestyle change. More importantly, much like college, I had been waiting to get married until I was “financially stable” whatever that means. Enrolling in college without that financial stability forced me to question my justification for waiting to marry. Long story short, we got engaged and had an awesome beach wedding five days ago.

That, in a nutshell, is how my life changed over the past year. Sometimes, you gotta know when to fold ’em and start fresh with a new hand, and that’s what I did a year ago. So far, life is looking much better. My only regret is that I didn’t do all of this when I first lost my job instead of wallowing around for next three years in various entrepreneurial pursuits.

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Breaking Bad: Making Meth… I Mean Aspirin!

Breaking Bad

Image: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Today I made aspirin. Next up… meth! I kid. At chemistry lab tonight, we synthesized aspirin–it was pretty cool.

I find it amazing how creative and yet utterly logical that chemists have to be to come up with a procedure for synthesizing a specific chemical. In order to arrive at a destination (aspirin in this case), the chemist has to follow a very specific procedure. Well, not necessarily. There are multiple procedures and multiple ways in which each step can be accomplished, and that’s where the creativity comes in.

Let’s say you want to make C9H8O4 (i.e. aspirin). From the formula, we know that each unit of aspirin contains 9 carbon atoms, 8 hydrogen atoms, and 4 oxygen atoms. The problem is, we can’t just take 9 moles of carbon, 8 moles of hydrogen, and 4 moles of oxygen, put it all in a bag, shake it for a few minutes and open the bag to find aspirin. Oh, no! We’d probably be left with a pile of carbon at the bottom, oxygen gas in the middle, and a bunch of highly flammable hydrogen awaiting us at the top of the bag.

The puzzle is, how to we utilize the different properties of different chemicals to create a specific chemical that we don’t yet have? Well, in our case, we mixed salicylic acid (the stuff you put on warts) and acetic anhydride (it’s basically dried vinegar) together and added a few drops of phosphoric acid to speed things up. Then we applied heat, which caused the stuff to magically react to form something that was not in the test tube to begin with. Who would’ve thought? But now our aspirin is contaminated by an excess of acetic anhydride. How can we get rid of it? I know, let’s add water! (I’m trying to think like the chemist who invented the procedure.) That will turn the acetic anhydride into vinegar which can be filtered out of the aspirin crystals. That’s basically the process we used to synthesize crude aspirin. If you’re interested, you can find the full procedure here.

Our class’ synthesis of aspirin was simple by chemistry standards, but it gave me a peek into the mind of a chemist. A chemist is much like a chef. A chef has an extensive knowledge of the properties of different foods and spices. He or she thinks logically–following multi-step procedures in a specific order to create a product worthy of awe. The chef is precise–too much or too little of any spice will ruin the product. The true chef is also creative–the true chef experiments and designs new procedures that yield amazing new products. The chemist, I’ve come to see, is much like the chef. There is careful precision, there is a lot of logical planning and procedure-building, but there’s also creativity and experimentation. If I wasn’t so set on making Star Trek a reality, I would be quite happy being a chemist.

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Phi Theta Kappa Membership

Phi Theta Kappa Certificate

Phi Theta Kappa Certificate

The other week I received an email from my calculus professor (she’s the advisor for my college’s chapter of the society) notifying me that I qualify for membership in Phi Theta Kappa–the honor society for 2-year college students. Among other eligibility requirements, one must have completed at least 12 credit hours and have a current GPA of at least 3.5.

The eligibility requirements are pretty low, I think, but I still feel a sense of pride for the invitation. Besides, gaining membership had been one of my goals. It’ll look good on my diploma and my resume, and it may get me some fat scholarships depending on the university I apply to in a year.

I went ahead and paid the $75 fee to join–hopefully, it’s worth it. What do you think? Is membership in Phi Theta Kappa particularly beneficial in any way?

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I did the S-word

Public SpeakingI feel almost embarrassed for the lack of updates in the last several months. I’m getting married in a few weeks, and trying to juggle work, school, friends, and wedding planning leaves very little time for writing. I promise to update this blog more often in the near future, but I just wanted to pop in today and share some exciting news.

In my life I have scaled some of the tallest mountains in Montana, I’ve left the oppressive culture that is the Amish, I’ve developed computer software and Android apps, I’ve written a book, I made member of the International Society for Philosophical Enquiry (way cooler than Mensa), I landed a white-collar internet marketing job with only an eighth grade education, I convinced a beautiful girl to fall in love with me, but today… today… I stood in front of about thirty people and gave a speech.

To put this feat into context, you should know this–I suffer from debilitating social anxiety, or maybe I’ve just convinced myself of that. Years ago I quit accounting school partially because I couldn’t handle the pressure of the required speeches/presentations, but mostly because I decided I hate accounting.

Here I’ve made a cute little function that illustrates the effect of social anxiety on I.Q.:

Social Anxiety Function

Isn’t it pretty? I call it the Social Anxiety Function, where a is your anxiety factor and b is your I.Q. when you’re all alone. It gives your I.Q. as a function of the number of people that are looking at you.

Given my specific conditions, this function shows that my I.Q. hits zero when there are 5 people watching me. Any more than that, and it goes negative, which seems impossible given how I.Q. is measured, but trust me, it’s very real. If six people are looking in my direction, the speech and behavior that I manifest are not possibly the output of anything with positive intelligence.

Sometimes, when I’m walking down the aisle of a grocery store I start walking funny because I think the person I just passed has turned, and is watching me. I walk funny because I’m concentrating so hard on walking like a normal person. I don’t have any kind of physical disability–when I’m all alone I walk perfectly fine, but have someone watch me and I develop a limp because I’m trying so hard not to.

I would like to see a psychologist, but I’m deathly afraid that I wouldn’t be able to talk. I’m usually okay when it comes to answering questions, but it’s very difficult for me to initiate conversation or to say anything that’s not the answer to a question. I think I suffer from some weird form of mutism.

Hopefully, that gives you some idea of the magnitude of the accomplishment I’ve made today. I stood in front of a class of 20-30 fellow students, and I gave a speech about myself. I had no choice in the topic. But, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared it would be. I ended up with a pretty good grade, although the professor told us that she was going easy on the grading for our first speech.

I practiced my speech over and over again when I was alone at home. I actually did pretty good when it came time to speak. I forgot a few things I had planned on saying, and I fumbled my introduction, but other than that it wasn’t too bad. I attribute my success almost entirely to those rehearsals, and I really appreciate the friends that told me to practice, practice, practice! I only practiced my speech when I was alone. It would’ve helped even more if I would have rehearsed in front of my housemates, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even rehearse my speech in front of my fiancee–that’s how weird it makes me feel to stand up and formally address by voice my fellow humans.

Tonight, I feel exhausted. You’d think I ran a marathon. This speech course is a required course for me, but getting through it will be worth it, I think. The sense of accomplishment I felt after the nausea had worn off was great. Now I know that I can do anything. Who knows, maybe I could even learn to function as a social animal despite my anxiety.

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Whew! Last Final!

This afternoon I had my last final exam for the semester–chemistry. I feel pretty confident with my score. I should get a score around the mid-90’s, which isn’t bad considering that I didn’t review much for the exam. No worries, though… I can score all the down to 76% on the final and still walk away with an A for the course.

Last Friday I had my trigonometry and pre-calculus finals. I faced the same issue that I did with the mid-terms–I had to be at the college’s southern campus (45 minutes south of home) at 4:00PM for pre-calculus, then I had to be at the college’s northern campus (1/2 hour north of home) at 7:00PM for the trigonometry final. This time, however, I was well prepared for both exams and had no trouble. I aced both of them. So far (3 math courses) I haven’t had less than 100% on any proctored math exams. One time, I got one question partially wrong, but weirdly enough, a perfect score results in a score of a few percentage points more than 100, so that time I ended up getting exactly 100%.

I’m glad the semester is over. Toward the end there I was getting bored and having trouble with ambition. That, of course, resulted in some scary procrastination. Now I have about three weeks to catch up on other things before going back to school. This weekend our household (3 adults) is moving to a new place. That’ll be fun. Not. Next weekend, my fiancee and I plan on visiting Florida State University, which is likely to be the university that I transfer to for fall 2015. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to work a little more–save up some of that green stuff that I haven’t seen around much of late. Maybe, I’ll even have time to drink a few beers and do some reading.

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The Day After Beer

alcohol-148993_640The other weekend we had a party at our place. It was a small party–nothing fancy–just some friends and a few of my fiancee’s colleagues. We chatted, had some beers, sat around, had some wine, played charades, had more beer, and so on. I had fun. It had been a while since I’d had a drink so it didn’t take much for me to feel it.

The next day I remembered why I don’t drink much anymore. I had trouble concentrating and my brain felt fuzzier than normal. As I was staring uncomprehendingly at a trigonometry problem, I wondered if this was what being stupid feels like. I was reminded of why I don’t drink and study.

The lack of focus I felt wasn’t due to the classical hangover–I had had that the night before due to stopping my alcohol consumption several hours before going to bed. I didn’t have the classical hangover symptoms, but my ability to study was definitely stunted. This isn’t something new to me–in fact, I drink very little since starting college because I know how dramatically it affects my ability to study. I can’t drink before or during studying because it affects my concentration and comprehension abilities. I can’t drink after studying because I’m asleep–I just have no time for drinking.

Thinking that this phenomenon is probably pretty common, I did a quick search for research on the short-term effects of alcohol on study ability, but I couldn’t find anything. All I could find was a lot of info on the correlation between constant binge drinking and poor GPA. I know it’s just anecdotal, but I find it interesting that my studying ability seems to be negatively affected after consuming alcohol–long before I’ve drank enough to feel a “buzz” and long after any wooziness has faded. I must note that other than study ability, I seem to function normally. I don’t even notice this effect of alcohol unless I’m trying to do something that requires a lot of concentration–like studying trigonometry. Somebody should do a study now that I’ve raised awareness… for science, you know!

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Television: A Student’s Nemesis

tv-46909_640Here I am trying to write, but something keeps distracting me. It’s Chuck. Whenever I try to ignore him and try to get something done, Chuck whispers quietly to me. I don’t even like him that much, but unless I give him my undivided attention, he just keeps bugging me. It hasn’t always been like this. A few weeks ago I had never heard of Chuck. A few weeks ago it was Dexter that kept bugging me.

Yes… I’m talking about television. I have this bad habit of falling for television series. I’m not content watching one episode a week. Oh no. Not when I can watch five seasons in two weeks on Netflix or some darker corner of the web. I really liked Dexter–I think it’s a brilliant show for the most part. Watching Dexter was like taking a voyage into the depths of my psyche. It was like a character study of some dark, eccentric, and lonely portion of myself, and so I was able to wisely spend (i.e. waste) my time without feeling too guilty. I was deeply saddened after I watched the final episode and realized that Dexter was gone forever. Now, I’m watching Chuck. I don’t particularly like it. I think it’s poorly written and not even faintly realistic. I just don’t understand why I can’t stop watching it. Every time I get hungry I use it as an excuse to nuke a TV dinner or pour a bowl of cereal and watch 45 minutes of Chuck. Then I watch another one. Before I know it it’s 4:00AM and I’ve blown most of the day and the next.

When I’m not watching “my show”, whatever it may be at the moment, I have trouble focusing and I experience withdrawal symptoms. If I give in and watch an episode, I feel dirty and guilty for not having accomplished something more productive… like studying for finals. The only solution seems to be to watch every episode as quickly as possible–to get it over with so I can concentrate on studying again. After such a marathon I’m usually good for a few weeks or even months, but eventually I start getting edgy and I begin feeling burned out with my life. When that happens, I examine myself and my lifestyle and try to figure out what’s wrong, and I realize that what I’m missing is a good television series.

Help! I think I need a vacation.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's your damn turkey!

Here’s your damn turkey!

Well, Happy Thanksgiving! It’s been weeks (months?) since I’ve posted on here, so here are a few updates.

The semester is almost over for me. I have a week’s worth of chemistry studies and one anthropology essay left, and then I’m down to final exams. This week has been fairly slow, but next week will be pretty hectic with my trigonometry and pre-calculus finals. I’ve done well this semester. As long as nothing goes wrong with the finals, I should have A’s in all four courses.

I’m glad the semester is almost over. Four months of focusing my attention on four specific subjects is almost too long. I’m starting to get bored. I can’t wait to start fresh in January with four new courses. I’m nearing the end of my second college semester and already college is becoming routine… I’m afraid that I’m already losing that sense of adventure, but hopefully, new courses and a new semester will revitalize me. This winter I’ll have a whole month off of school. Most of my courses finish in the first week of December, and the next semester doesn’t start until January 6 or so. It’ll be nice to have some time off of studying, but I’m afraid the break is almost too long… I’m afraid that I may lose some momentum or ambition.

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Registered for Spring Courses

Einstein says...

Einstein says…

This week, registration opened up at my college for Spring 2014 courses. Having learned my lesson the last time I registered for courses, I decided that this time I would be among the first students to register. No more third-rate classes because all the good ones are full! For this reason, at 12:15 AM, yes, that was early morning 15 minutes after registration opened, I was online and registering for my courses. Many of the available courses were already starting to fill up, and I noticed that the website was much slower than usual due to the increased traffic.

My plan is to transfer to a university with a good physics program after completing the spring 2015 semester here at State College of Florida. With that in mind, I had spent the previous several hours researching the requirements for admission to physics colleges (I’ve done this several times over the past year, by the way). I don’t know which university I’ll transfer to, so there’s a bit of uncertainty involved in selecting prerequisites. To deal with this uncertainty, I decided to model my list of courses after the admission requirements of Florida State University’s Physics College. I don’t know if I’ll end up going to FSU or some other school–I would like to try MIT or Caltech, but I figure if I prepare for FSU, then at least I’m prepared for something. That being said, there’s a good chance that I’ll transfer to FSU because they have what seems to be a decent undergraduate physics program, the instate tuition will be cheap, and my significant other and I would only be four or five hours from her family.

So… FSU’s prerequisites for entering their physics program is essentially the following:

  • General Chemistry I and II
  • Calculus with Analytical Geometry I, II, and III
  • General Physics with Calculus I and II
  • Differential Equations
  • And the majority of other courses required to receive a B.S. from FSU

With all of that in mind, I built a calendar of courses for the remaining year and a half that I’ll be spending at State College of Florida. Calculus I is now a prerequisite instead of a corequisite for Physics I, which is a pain in my furry rump. I had planned on taking both courses next spring, but that’s out of the question now. My courses for next spring will be Calculus I, Chemistry I, Western Civilization I (history), and Speech Communication. The speech communication course will, of course, be the most difficult of them all. Just the idea of speaking up in a room that contains more than myself usually results in a stuttering, quivering lump of useless flesh that used to be me.

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Math Tests and Hominid Skulls

Last week was horrible. I had a pre-calculus exam that covered the previous month of study and a trigonometry mid-term on the same day. I love math, but I don’t think it’s the greatest idea to be taking two math courses at once.

I spent every free hour of the week drilling the trigonometry into my brain. Most of pre-calculus is just a review of concepts I’ve covered before, so I thought it would be better to focus on the trig. Besides the pre-calc test was just one of four and the trig test was one of two, so my score on the trig test would have twice as much of an impact on my overall score in that course compared to the pre-calc test and course.

So the day of the course comes, and I have to drive about 30 miles south of home to take the 4:00PM pre-calc test on my college’s southernmost campus. It turns out I should have studied more. The pre-calc test was a bitch. It would’ve been easy if I had reviewed for several days prior to taking it. Still, I persevered and took almost the whole two hours, and in the end I did get 100% on the test. After that, I hopped back in my truck and headed 45 miles north to my college’s nothernmost campus for the 7:00PM trig test. This one was easier, but only because I had spent the whole week reviewing. The first half had to be done without calculator, so we could prove a good conceptual grasp of the subject. That’s why I love trig–most people hate deriving formulas and proving identities, but I think it’s the best part of math, and trig is filled with it. I took the entire 2 hours, checking and double-checking my work. I haven’t received my score yet, but I feel very confident. I finally got home at 9:30 that night. I think I would have vomited if I saw another equation.

The next several days I took it easy. Bad idea! This week I’m still suffering from a lack of ambition. Is it mid-semester blues? Am I burned-out from all the math last week? Taking several days off probably didn’t actually help me. Instead of being revitalizing me, it made me lazy.


Today, news sites are filled with the story of a hominid skull found in Georgia (the European country). Apparently, the researchers believe this skull could mean a rewrite of hominid taxonomy. According to one article, the skull “could be evidence that early hominids are actually all members of a single species.” Why is this important to me? Well, just two weeks ago I did a research essay for my anthropology course where I proposed this very “rewrite” on the basis of previous evidence. Now I feel validated. When I had written the essay, I assumed that my position was probably wrong–that I simply did not have the background in anthropology to make sweeping proposals like that. However, given the little knowledge I did have of the subject it seemed to me that the evidence suggests that early hominids were all the same species. I’m sure my knowledge was too limited and my reasoning to shallow to convince anthropologists on the basis of my essay alone, but it feels good to know that I may actually have had some insight into a subject that is still new to me.

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