June 27, 2006
I posted an article back in April about consolidating your student loans to lock in the interest rate before it goes up on July 1. Haven't done it yet? Neither did I, until two minutes ago! Yes, I'm a horrible procrastinator, but thankfully the process was smooth and easy after I cleared up a problem with my PIN.
The whole consolidation thing had been looming over me for the past couple of weeks, but I kept putting it off. Yesterday, I decided it was finally time to get it done, since I only had until Friday to get it in under the deadline. I have some old loans through Sallie Mae, so I needed to go to the National Student Loan Data System web site to get the necessary information to plug into the consolidation form. To retrieve the information, they ask for your information and your PIN. But when I entered my PIN, I kept getting an error. I even went to the Federal Student Aid PIN site and requested a PIN look-up.
I got a little worried when they confirmed that the PIN I was using was the one they had on file. Why won't it work? Is the site broken or overloaded? What if I couldn't fix it before Friday? And then, of course, I couldn't help but feel immense guilt at not having done this months ago...
But then the extraordinary procrastinator's luck I've had most of my life kicked in. I called the student aid 800 number and got right through to someone after pressing "2" for PIN help. I explained my problem.
She asked "and you got the error message after putting in your 4 digit PIN?"
I replied, "No, I got the error message after I put in my 6 letter PIN."
Apparently, the PIN I'd been using for years -- the PIN I was issued by the FSA -- is no longer accepted on the NSLDS web site... they only accept PINs that have four numbers. Fortunately, that was easy enough to fix. You can change your PIN right on the web and can even set it to a number of your choosing. It was odd -- and frustrating -- that there wasn't a note about the incompatibility on the log-in page.
But now I'm all consolidated and happy and ready to procrastinate the next big thing...
June 26, 2006
We lost a good friend today...
Our beloved companion, Pippin, died early this morning. He'd been battling splenic cancer since the beginning of the year. Even in illness he was gregarious and frolicsome, so his quick decline late last night took us by surprise. I'm glad M was with him in his last moments.
I took this picture just yesterday -- him sunning himself on the dining room table. This is just one of so many treasured memories I have of him.
We'll miss you, Pip.
June 22, 2006
Simple program for inserting special characters
Every once in a while, I want to insert a special character or accented letter. Like when I'm writing an e-mail to my friend RenÃ©e, or blogging about French towns called JumiÃ¨ges, or practicing my EspaÃ±ol. I usually have to find some special menu or look up ASCII character code to put in the correct character I need. Â¡CÃ³mo frustra! (How frustrating!)
But today I stumbled upon a piece of freeware called MoreKeys that makes this simple. MoreKeys, by Braser Soft, is a very simple program for inserting characters into text by selecting the character from a small hovering window. You can easily switch between several language sets and a simple symbol set.
There are other programs that do something similar, like the Open Source Quick Key, but I like MoreKeys' simplicity. (I actually discovered MoreKeys under a list of related programs on the Quick Key site.)
There was one thing about the program I found unintuitive, though. The top row of symbols (- o ? *) are actually menu keys (minimize, options, help, and choose language, respectively).
And there's something a bit odd about the web site. If you go to the home page from the MoreKeys page, you can't get back to the MoreKeys page. It isn't listed under their programs or on the site map. Makes me wonder if they've abandoned the program (no longer supporting it) and the MoreKeys page lives on as a kind of disembodied entity. So I guess it's a case of freeloader beware!
June 18, 2006
Day 2: Rouen, JumiÃ¨ges, and Honfleur
On the second day in France, we continued following the Seine downstream, stopping in Rouen for lunch, seeing the Abbey ruins in JumiÃ¨ges, and entering Honfleur in time for a nice stroll before dinner.
Along Rouen's Rue du Gros-Horloge. This is a lovely pedestrian street through the old part of this capital of Upper Normandy. Alas, the gros horloge (large clock) was being repaired and we didn't see it.
One of the most unique places we visited was a medieval plague cemetery in a courtyard, Ã‚itre St-Maclou, where you can still see the original symbols of death carved in the timbers of the buildings surrounding the courtyard.
Abbaye de JumiÃ¨ges
Porch and towers of the JumiÃ¨ges abbey cathedral ruins. An abbey, of one sort or another, has been on this land by the Seine since at least the 7th century. The structures here now are the ruins of a Benedictine abbey built in the 10th century and consecrated in 1067 in the presence of William the Conqueror.
You can tell that Honfleur is a boating town. It's right on the Atlantic coast across the mouth of the Seine from La Havre. At the back of the Vieux Bassin you can see the 16th century house where the king's lieutenant, the governor of Honfleur, once lived.
This is the Ã‰glise St-Catherine, built by local shipwrights in Honfleur to celebrate the end of the Hundred Years War. All the stone masons had not returned yet from their war service, so this is one of the rare churches that was built of wood. It has a very unique Scandinavian feel to it.
As we sat beside the water and enjoyed a leisurely dinner, we remarked on the beautiful evening in Honfleur with the sun setting behind us, illuminating the buildings at the edge of Vieux Bassin. Another grand day in France drew to a close...
June 14, 2006
More music to write to...
In addition to Hammond B-3 organ music, I 've found that German operettas like The Merry Widow and Die Fledermaus make for good writing music. Nice tempo, jovial melody, and in a foreign language that is neither too familiar nor unfamiliar to be distracting.
June 13, 2006
Oh my god, that's me!
I was just picking up some lunch at the campus Union. Orientation is going on now for entering freshman, so it was more crowded than a usual Summer day. I happened to walk past the hall where they hold most of the orientation events and was a bit shocked to see myself up on the big screen at the far end of the hall. "Oh my god, that's me!"
A while back I was involved in the student health clinic's advisory committee. One of the directors asked if I would participate in a video the clinic was producing to show at orientation and highlight all of the services the clinic provides. They wanted to include some interviews with current students. I'd really come to appreciate the clinic's dedication to students and student involvement, so I happily said "yes" and showed up for the interview and just winged it.
Of course, I saw the video right after it was produced. It looked quite good. But I had one of those "that's what I look like?!" reactions to my portion of it. I was nervous during the interview and I tried to give thoughtful answers. What that came out looking like was that I was half asleep and a bit slow. Like I said, that was all a while ago, maybe two years, so I'd forgotten about it. Well, the video is still in rotation and "half asleep and a bit slow" looks even worse on a gigantic theatre screen.
Oh well, no Hollywood career for me...
June 10, 2006
Day 1: Paris to Les Andelys
Now that my computer is fixed and I'm back in action, I want to show some pictures from our trip to France last month. It was an amazing, beautiful, and rejuvenating ten-day trip. But since I'm still in the midst of thesis writing, I'm going to narrate it in small bits rather than tackle it all at once.
This map shows an overview of our trip. The scientific conference I was attending was in St. Malo on the Atlantic coast in the Brittany region of Northwest France. We were flying in a week early to travel before heading to the conference. But what to see during that week? I'd never been to France before and our choices seemed limitless. We finally decided that since we were headed to Brittany and didn't know if we'd ever get a chance to see the region again, we wouldn't spend any time in Paris but instead head straight out and explore Normandy and the eastern part of Brittany.
We landed in Paris around noon on May 3, rented a car, and set out for Les Andelys, a small town along the Seine near Normady's eastern border. On a bluff overlooking the Seine and the town are the ruins of a fortress, ChÃ¢teau-Gaillard, built by King Richard the Lionheart in 1196 to protect his Norman lands.
The chÃ¢teau is in the foreground with the Seine behind and Les Andelys off to the right. Since the fortress was not on the highest point (the hill where we took the picture is higher), there were massive moats and walls built around it to protect it from attack from above. In the far background you can see white cliffs along the river banks -- the same type of rock formation as in the south of England.
Not much is left of the massive center donjon (keep).
The main purpose of the fortress was to control passage along the Seine and bar the King of France's way to the city of Rouen further downstream. Here's a nice look down to the river from the fortress.
A view from the other side of the fortress looks across to the rolling fields above the town. One of the things that struck me as we clambered around the chÃ¢teau is how freely you can clamber around historic sites in France. If this were in the States, everything would be roped off and you'd have to stay on a narrow, restricted path -- no climbing, no touching. All the better to preserve things for the next generation, I suppose. But I must admit I really enjoyed the freedom to explore.
We worked up a real appetite and headed back into town for our first dinner in France -- a lovely and leisurely dinner. As we were strolling along, we happened to spy this pet grooming store:
Yes, that's Scooby-Doo. I love how the name is spelled in phonetic French: Scoubidou!