April 6th, 2008


Odds & Ends, Mostly Odds

The Other Changeover Day

We still have one device, ironically the Timex clock radio that I bought to take to Clarion in 2004, which cannot be updated to the new DST 2007/2008 rules or have automatic Daylight Savings Time turned off. So we just didn't change the time manually back in March. Now it is back on track. Watch out for other "helpful" devices which cannot be adjusted to the stupid new law of the land.

Paperwork Weekend

Mrs. Dr. Phil is busily working on her big paper for her graduate class -- due in a couple of weeks. Among other things, I'm in the process of beating raw data into the pristine entry boxes of TurboTax 2007. We've been using TurboTax since we bought the house in 1993. Having things be organized and most data fields carrying over from the previous year has definitely made things easier, but you still have to take the time and do the data entry.

So far I have learned one important thing -- TurboTax had a help box which explained the difference between a rebate and a refund vis à vis those economic stimulus checks we'll be getting for filing a 2007 Federal Tax return. Pretty much says that this is NOT an advance on your 2008 refund, but "free" money. Of course, it isn't free and it will surely be counted as income in 2008, especially by the State of Michigan, but this is first concrete wording I've seen to settle this. I'd post it here, but you cannot copy the text from a TurboTax information box. Weenies.

Meanwhile I am preparing for the onslaught of the papers. Monday, tomorrow, is the last day for my PHYS-2050 Honors students who are turning in a draft paper to do so. Thursday we start accepting papers for real -- there's a grace period through next Monday, so those who need the extra weekend can have it. For some reason, a lot of students don't understand the concept of a grace period, so I leave it in because if nothing else there are cultural, computer and science literacy components to this assignment which I think are pretty important.

The Meta Paper

For example, I require papers to be turned in with standard manuscript format, defined as Courier 12 point, 1" margins all around, double-spaced, with a simple cover sheet which cannot be page 1. Since essentially all papers are done with word processors these days, and usually some flavor of Microsoft Word, I should note that all of these requirements are against the Microsoft corporate internal memo format which is the default document style. Amazingly enough, there are still plenty of students who don't know how to change these elements, or don't realize that they don't have to change them until they are ready to print if they don't like composing with this set of elements.

I haven't decided if this is more a factor that Microsoft Word makes it difficult to find where to change some of these things -- and the Help feature usually isn't (grin) -- or that in a world where one routinely deals with tiny text message screens on phones and PDAs or crappy page layouts on web pages they just "deal with it", rather than learn how to change their environment. Certainly in talking with students I've gotten both responses, but I haven't done any surveys to see how this breaks down. I've long known that many students fail to comprehend the difference between two documents, one of which is formatted differently and may even not be a word-for-word copy. Weird.

Am I worried that my students will read this entry and learn something about the meta-learning aspects of their paper? Nope. Few students even notice the link to this blog at the bottom of my university homepage -- more seem to do so after they've left my class. (double-jeopardy-grin)

At any rate, it isn't an issue of me being anal compulsive about this. Fact is, a stack of papers, whether only 22-odd this semester or two- to three-hundred as I've had in other semesters, is so much easier to deal with when there's a plain, simple undecorated cover sheet for me to write down my comments, and the guts of the paper in an easy to read and easy to mark-up style.

Since I'd been grading papers for ten years before I started submitting my SF writing to markets, I am very much a stickler for following each market's guidelines for manuscript formatting. When all the papers (or short stories) look alike in format, you can concentrate solely on what the author is writing. Of course, in the case of some of my students and plenty of would-be authors out there, perhaps this might not be a good thing. (triple-word-score-grin)

And The Arcane

For those of you conversant in the ways of MS-DOS/PC-DOS batch files, I had an odd occurrence last night. I needed to cobble up a quick batch file, with a simple message and I wanted to start with a (nearly) blank line as a spacer. Rather than firing up the DOS editor, I just went straight to direct keyboard console input:

F:\> copy con filename.bat
@echo _

... and the moment I hit the ENTER key it crashed Windows NT4 SP6a. BSOD. Huh. I know I've used that statement before -- I've been doing masterful DOS batch files for decades -- but I'm not sure if I'd ever done it as a first line or done it in NT. Maybe I only ever did direct input of that statement in Win95/85 and lower. Anyway, it's a repeatable error. Don't have the time to try it on XP right now, but I'll let you know.

The things you learn by doing.

Dr. Phil
  • Current Mood
    busy busy