Sunday, March 23, 2008

Justin's a sensitive guy

This post serves two purposes...
  1. To document that Justin got misty eyed twice today - after watching "Horton Hears a Who" and while watching "Monsters Inc."
  2. To share that knowledge with the world at large.

The world is a better place now that those purposes have been served.

The animals are out to get us

Over the course of the last two weeks, our apartment has been emptier than usual. Two weeks ago, I had to travel a bunch for work-related conferences. Basically, I left on Monday morning, got back late Tuesday night, Wednesday was normal, then left Thursday and got back LATE Friday night. Justin was super busy during that time, so the cats were largely left to their own devices. By the time Saturday rolled around, Condi was starting to look dishevelled and Liza was overly cuddly (to the point she followed Justin from room to room no matter what he was doing). Mr. President, of course, was unfazed, so long as he got his food on time.

Then, after one glorious day where the whole "family" was together, Justin flew to Kutztown for spring break, and I set about prepping for jury week. Again, the cats were on their own. Let me tell you, if these cats are any indication, I would make a terrible single mom. "Playtime" meant throwing a toy mouse and saying "well go get it, stupid". I started sharing Sun Chips with Liza, and let Condi lick directly from a spoon I continued to use. But even worse than those two order to avoid a 5:00 a.m. wake up pounce from a 17 pound beast, I abandoned Mr. President's diet - opting instead to leave a bowl of food on the floor at all times. By the time Justin returned home 5 days later, Mr. President had regained some weight and Liza was even more cuddly than before. Condi and Mr. President appeared to have entered into a blood feud (complete with tail poofing and bites on the butt). And somehow during the last two days, Liza developed a limp of some sort.

Although we've been back together for a weekend now, Condi, Liza and Mr. President are noticeably mistrustful of us. It's like they've forgotten what normal is. Condi's gained some weight and meowed a real "big girl" meow, Liza left some serious teeth marks in my arm while we were playing, and Mr. President managed to break a wooden banana hanger when he tried to jump to the top of the fridge yesterday.

In parting, Justin and I want to point out that after nearly two months of maintaining this blog, this is the first cat-centric post. Even better - we still haven't posted any cat pictures...maybe there's some hope for us after all...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Back to Illinois

I got back to Illinois this morning, and I was very happy to see Jenny this morning.

The Place Where I Grew Up

A brief description of my hometown:

Kutztown lies in a valley running east to west between low parallel ridges, among fertile knolls and Mennonite farms. My parents live on the nameless northern ridge. Their home faces south, and looks out across the fields and scattered houses towards Topton, situated six miles in the distance along the base of South Mountain, midway along this southern ridge’s course from Allentown to Reading.

Not much justifies this poor attempt at poetics. Words often escape me to describe the peace I feel among the woods and fields of this small valley, the eastern limit of the Appalachians before the earth slopes downward through the Piedmont and to the coastal plain. People are often bound to their most familiar place, so my comfort is neither unique nor noteworthy. The words are with me, so I might as well write them.

Each time I return in order to visit family and friends, the lens of experience shrinks my hometown and its surroundings. Not much changes except for the steady encroachment of suburban sprawl and its attendant hassles and conveniences, but development merely creeps forward. There are no explosions or booms. The setting that I remember occupies a smaller physical space with the construction of each new house. It occupies a smaller space relative to my own experiences, as well.

My mother and I take brisk walks across the hills, and my recent adjustment to Midwestern flatness leaves me winded after a few miles. As I traverse this shrinking countryside of immoderate familiarity, I feel the landcape’s contours as if running my fingertips over a most detailed relief map. Although the locale shrinks, visits become increasingly vivid and produce greater appreciation. Light freezing rain falls in the woods, dried leaves crunch under my heels, and the odd whitetail bounds out of sight. Cars more frequently zip past on the narrow, winding roads. Shadows cast by a bright moon wave goodbye, and I feel refreshed and a bigger man.

I promise this will be my only baffling and impenetrable posting.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Scary Thought

Until Justin gets home on Friday, it's just me and three cats in a one bedroom apartment. I fear this is how my transition to "Crazy Cat Lady" begins...

What Exactly is Justin Doing in Grad School (Part I)?

As the reader already knows from Jenny's description, we are in Central Illinois for the next five years while I complete my PhD in Accounting at the University of Illinois. As I have neglected my blogging duties thus far, I decided to write a brief primer about what I am doing in school.

Few people pursue a PhD in Accounting, and fewer finish. It's not surprising that most people do not realize that one can even earn a PhD in Accounting, because U.S Universities award fewer than 100 Accounting PhDs each year. Conversely, tens of thousands of doctorates are awarded annually in disciplines such as English, Engineering, and Computer Science.

In brief, accounting is the measurement, disclosure, and audit of business information used by managers to make decisions. My interest lies in how accounting information influences people's behavior, and running laboratory experiments on human participants to determine how personal, task, environmental, and information characteristics affect behavior in an accounting context. I will elaborate on my interests at a later time, but I hope that this sentence suffices as a 10-second description of what I'd like to research for the rest of my career.

The vast majority of Accounting PhDs work in universities, and teach, research, or both. I know that I want to research, and time will tell how much I enjoy teaching. It takes an average of 5 years to complete an Accounting PhD, regardless of whether you have a Master's Degree (I do not have a Master's).

Those five years comprise two phases: the coursework phase and the dissertation phase. The coursework phase enables students to conduct original research, by building quantitative skills and accounting knowledge. In my case, the department has decided that my accounting knowledge is sufficient, but I need to develop quantitative skills. Accordingly, my coursework involves heavy Calculus, Statistics, and Econometrics.

During the coursework phase, Illinois requires students to act as Teaching Assistants for two semesters, and then to teach a course during the student's first two summers. I am completing my 2nd semester of TAing, and will teach Accounting Control Systems this summer and next.

After 2 to 3 years of coursework, the department awards a Master's Degree and requires students to take a preliminary exam. The preliminary exam is a comprehensive test of how to study problems in accounting. It is an essay test, it takes a full day, and I have heard that it is not fun. If you pass the preliminary exam, then the department admits you to the "dissertation phase," in which students focus on identifying, studying, and writing a thesis about an original research idea.

There is a substantial shortage of accounting PhDs, and some estimate that there are two job openings for every PhD-holder available to fill positions. As a result, salaries for entry-level accounting faculty currently average $160-170,000 at top universities (Big Ten, Ivy League, and a few others), and $130-145,000 at second tier schools. Many schools pay an additional 2/9 of salary as "summer support" for the first three years of employment. Of course, one can earn much more than that in the private sector, but academia has intrinsic benefits that will likely be expressed in this blog over time.

The University of Illinois is one of the oldest, largest, and most well-regarded Accounting programs in the country. Additionally, it is one of the two or three best schools for the kind of research that I want to do (usually referred to as "behavioral accounting research").

Unfortunately, it's also located in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, which was never at the top my list of places to live (let alone Jenny's list). In addition to behavioral accounting, we can look forward to tornado warnings, corn pollen, and poor drainage for five years. Despite the negatives, though, I am quite happy with what I do.

(note: I am writing this from Kutztown, PA, and I miss Jenny)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Things we learned this weekend

  • Doing taxes is never fun, even if the person doing them is studying accounting.
  • All it takes is a little bit of Jager to turn Justin into a Trivial Pursuit master. I was winning until the devil juice entered the equation.
  • Tumbling Monkeys is the "best game ever" when played by four adults.
  • Finally having "couple friends" to spend time with is awesome - even if requiring "couple friends" means we're old and lame.
  • "Pick It Up" and Taco Bell are still integral parts of an evening out. A post-fun trip to taco bell was the only thing missing at the end of last night...
  • No matter how bad a day seems (especially after doing taxes), it can all be made better by watching the following: