22 July 2011

Funnyquote Friday

As I've mentioned, I'm the new layout editor for the Serious Ting, the Eastern Caribbean's Peace Corps Volunteer-prepared publication.  One of the common departments in every issue of the Ting is a welcome to all incoming PCVs, as per their starting class, (i.e. EC83 in this issue) as well as a farewell to all outgoing PCVs.  This time, our wise chief editor from Grenada decided to add a token bit to each outgoing PCV's profile, including a short message of advice from that PCV to the new class of incoming PCVs.  One EC80 from St. Vincent wrote, as his advice to other PCVs,

"Don't take too much advice from other PCVs."

Nice; I can't wait to see the smirks on people's faces when they read that.

Unilaterally preparing the layout for each article continues to go well enough.  All in all, I'll have laid out a dozen-and-a-half 1 to 2 page articles, two profile conglomerations of 50+ total profiles, the covers, and some special announcements and fillers.  I'm still on pace to be done by my deadline, the end of this month.  Even so, I'm starting to feel the fatigue of going through the same steps over and over again.  And even with 90% of the articles completed, the incoming and outgoing profiles represent an intimidating juggernaut of tedium that I do not relish toiling through.  The cover, on the other hand, is completed as well, but I can't in good conscience release the artwork to you, my readers, yet.  I'll wait until it has been definitively approved and printing has begun on the magazines, expected about a month from now.

In some unfortunate news, I went through a scary ordeal this week: my apartment was the site of an attempted burglary, shortly before dawn Tuesday morning.  Some person, whose gender, race, and identity I will likely never know, was attempting to take advantage of my (as since remedied) habits of leaving the porch light off during the night, leaving just one of the front windows open for a breeze, leaving my laptop out on the table in view of exterior windows, and declining to lock the deadbolt while inside, given it is a keyed entry from both sides.  I was not completely vulnerable - I had strong, unyielding burglar bars over the windows, a locked doorknob and hand bolt in the door frame.  However, the burglar's plan was apparently to bypass as many of these precautions as possible.  He (I'll refer to the burglar as a he, despite not being certain) got much of the way into his plan: (1) he first managed to remove the screen outside my center window, which was cracked open, and slide the window all the way open, (2) then he removed the screen on the window closest to my front door and reached inside through the open window, unlatching the lock on the closed window, and slid that window open, (3) and finally he proceeded to reach his arm into the living room, between the burglar bars, towards the front doorknob, in a clear attempt to unlock the door from the inside.  I was awakened by the sounds of muffled squeaks and creaks, what I initially mistook to be the sounds of yet another neighborhood cat being brutalized by some unseen, outdoor midnight assailant.  When the sound persisted, I sat up in bed and immediately noticed the shape of a man's head and torso cast in shadow onto an interior wall.  In one swift motion, my heart stopped and fell into by stomach, and I leaped out of bed, shouting loudly and as intimidatingly as I could muster, in an attempt to make my presence known.  For one long, daunting, hairy moment, the burglar, who was crouching and whose arm was the only thing I could make out in the dim light, hesitated; I'm still not certain why.  The most likely explanations are that either in that instant I managed to startle him almost as much as he startled me, or that, very simply, in his attempt to escape, he released the window he was holding up (which is unable to stay up on its own) and trapped his arm for a split second.  But in the heat of the moment, all I could think was, Oh dear, he's not running away.  This is bad.  But even as I took the time to formulate these thoughts, he was already out of the window, and taking off into the night.

For the next several minutes, I surveyed the scene, and took stock of my security firewalls, threats, blessings, and curses.  I wondered in passing why Bouncer, the neighbor's dog who lives upstairs, had not awakened to the sounds.  I noted that my landlord had recently been trying to replace the damaged security lamp on the front of my building, but hasn't been able to muster the Kittitian labor from his vantage point of Trenton, New Jersey.  I supposed that, had the burglar actually managed to reach far enough into the house, there was a small chance that he could have undone the locks and bolts and successfully entered.  I considered what kind of person, who was careful enough to try to not be noticed, would take all of these things in mind, but not that there was a person in the house at the time; did the burglar also carry with him something to defend himself with?  Would I have been in danger had he managed to actually break in?  These thoughts, coupled with the eminently pervasive feeling of being unsettled and anxious, caused me to lie sleeplessly in bed for the next couple hours, right up until dawn.  When I finally woke from some fitful R.E.M. sleep around 10:30, I called in the necessary reports to various Peace Corps officers, and they helped me through that tough first day.  My office's administrative assistant, a good friend to me, was even kind enough to visit me that morning; I can't express how relieving it was on my sense of safety to have another person in the apartment at that time.  After spending much of the night being terrified by every new shadow, or curtain movement, or dog bark, my nerves were frayed and my mind was highly, again, unsettled.  I would remain that way for the rest of the day, even through the evening when I went with my girlfriend to see Harry Potter at the theater.  The more I told myself that things were going to be okay, that I shouldn't worry, that I had taken the necessary precautions to ensure the strict unliklihood of this happening again, the more it became clear that I was far from being over the anxiety of it all.

Now, three days later, I am feeling much better.  I'm sleeping normally again, and I feel firmly ensconced in my little fortress of an apartment.  I have taken to leaving the porch light on all day and all night now (only useful at night, obviously, but hey, I'm not paying for the electricity), and sealing up all three façade windows whenever I'm not awake and in the apartment.  Additionally, I'm locking the doorknob, the hand bolt, and the deadbolt every night, and I found some plastic stubs that insert into the window screen frames that lock them in. 

Generally I would give you all of these updates at different points during the week, but given my busy schedule and my state of mind, this is the first opportunity I have had that I have been able and willing to post a log entry.  So, soldiering on...

I presented my six months' worth of work on the Client Profile Database to the National Skills on Thursday.  The meeting was hardly brief – when we started around 10:00, I was through with all of the points of interest by about 10:45.  But the meeting carried on until 11:45, with the gaping hour devoted to questions, clarifications, details, and other minutiae.  I'm well enough used to fielding questions like this for upwards of an hour; I guess I'm just out of practice.  I was pretty spent by the end of it.  And the unveiling of this massive ≈2MB database spreadsheet was not met with the enthusiasm that I expected; but everyone seemed comfortable enough in the idea of using it, anyway, which is the good news.  Just a few cosmetic changes remain, and in the meantime I busy myself with finding new ideas for projects.  I already have a few good ones – maybe I save them for another post.

Thanks for reading this drawn-out post, and wishes for a good weekend from the Caribbean!

15 July 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Bestowing an award of gratitude upon co-facilitator Gloria Mills at the NSTP's graduation ceremony on Wednesday, the thankful student remarked,

"On behalf of the A/C Repair class, 
I would like to thank you... for doing your job."

I am all graduated-out this week.  Not being one for such overt displays of pomp and circumstance, I found myself bearing with the 3+ hour ceremonies, replete with hot air of the metaphorical and literal varieties.  Both my primary school, which graduated off ≈60 sixth graders to junior high school, and the NSTP, which graduated 14 at-risk high schoolers from a couple skilled trade courses, held their ceremonies this week.  In fact, it's graduation season around the island right now: all the conference rooms at the Marriott resort are being booked up for big community celebrations, and ministers (clergy and government) and their deputies and staff and members of parliament are invited en masse and making showings every night of the week.  All in all, it would be rather lighthearted and refreshing, if not for the constant joyless reminder that of the three classes that graduated from Dr. William Connor Primary, over 50% of the students in the third and lowest-meriting class will be going into high school with a sub-first grade reading level.  They will not do well in the newly ramped-up vigor of their secondary school studies, and most will drop out around fourth form (equivalent of, say, 11th grade), about a year before preparing to take their CXCs (subject tests denoting a high school-level competence, similar to the Georgia State Graduation Test).

Apart from that, things are going smoothly enough.  My free time is more or less consumed with putting together the layout for the Serious Ting, a process which proves to be very labor intensive.  I've finally managed to overcome my hangups from last week, and am firmly on track at my desired pace of about 1 completed article per day.  Hopefully, this will allow for some leeway towards the end of the month for global formatting preferences, one of which I have in mind to suggest to the lead editor this weekend.

Pictures and video from the NSTP graduation at the end of the month, I'm thinking.

08 July 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Seen on a used car advert at the grocery store:

"Too good to be true!"

It never ceases to amuse me when I unwittingly discover that I've been an ant farmer for, well, who knows how long.  This morning, when I took out the garbage, I found that the traces of tuna salad that had clung to a disposable plate that had been thrown away a week ago was the source of a formic parade extending from my trash can to a nearly imperceptible crack in the wall.  Thankfully the vespoids had not been there long enough to attract other critters, namely predators like centipedes and spiders.  That's one surprise I wouldn't welcome with such a humor.  (Ugh, just writing about them already has me jerking my head at every sudden shadow, afraid it's another octoped intruder.)

I'm finding this ordeal of being the Design and Layout Editor of the Serious Ting to be somewhat daunting.  NEWSFLASH:  I forgot how poor I am about managing open, very unstructured tasks.  And what I'm faced with, every time I go to typeset another article for this edition (due to go to print at the end of this month), is a blank page.  Not a wireframe template, not a sketch drawing, just a blank page.  And it's ferociously staring right back at me.  Mind you, it's not the blankness itself that is intimidating; this text-entry page is blank every time I sit down to it, which is considerably often.  Rather, I think, it's the nearly infinite possibilities that can go onto it, each with their own pros, cons, flair, authorship, contrivance, taste, look, and feel.  Should I use a background?  Should it be a full-page photo?  Or should it be a soft gradient?  Should I go light to dark?  Should it be a vertical or a horizontal gradient?  Or should it be circular?  Should it be behind text, or should they be separated by an opaque text box?   Should the box have rounded corners, or square?  Or should the box have a soft, embossed edge with no stroke?  Should each item have its own box, or should they be all in one?  Should the thumbnails be fully enclosed in the box, or should they hang over the edge?
Or should I use a border instead of a background?

05 July 2011

Do They Have a 4th of July in SK?

Just another day here.  There were some fireworks at the OTI, but no plans for big celebrations apart from some volunteers heading down to the beach.  The policy is such that, as we are U.S. Government volunteers, we are allowed to request the 4th of July off as a home-national holiday – I just had no reason to ask off yesterday.  Instead I was happy to begin poring over the most recent course records of the NSTP in search of contact information useful in bolstering their client database that I prepared for them.

For my part, I am enjoying my first day of summer vacation with my first morning run in half a year, and by lounging in the sun (real tough here) for a couple hours.  I promised myself that, come the next visit to Hiawassee, I would actually have something to show for my time in the sun– (and thanks to the backlash from Arlene, water–) -drenched Caribbean.

I was invited by the primary school I volunteer at to attend their graduation proceedings next Tuesday.  The good news: a catered dinner precedes it, commanding EC$95.00 a head to non-faculty, but they waived my fee.  The bad news: the MLB All-Star Game is that evening, and I was looking forward to getting to see that this year.  /whine

My girlfriend got sick with a hacking cough this weekend, so I spent the better part of it trying to nurse her back to health.  At least she felt up to seeing the new X-Men film with me on Saturday night.  Conclusion: it really is the best one of the five, by a little bit.  Go see it for a cheesy action flick.

01 July 2011

Funnyquote Friday

Your first funnyquote of the second half of the year comes from one of our lecturers during IST.  She is referring to individuals, any individual, that is overtly self-absorbed:

"We have a special term for them in St. Kitts: 
We call them 'I' specialists."

Well, the D. Connor Iron Band saga took a bizarre run down the homestretch yesterday.  What with a mere two weeks of school remaining, and less than 50% of members regularly showing up for biweekly practices, it was becoming clear that the air was beginning to run out of the program, at least for this school year.  But (in sticking with the balloon allegory) I was hoping that the trip to Challengers, and playing for the Girls' Brigade there, would see the school year's activities end in a *BANG* rather than a Fizzle.  Instead, upon arriving at school 2 hours in advance of our departure time on Thursday, I was informed by no less than six of my band members that they would, for various reasons, be unable to join on the trip.  Furthermore, of the remaining four, only two expressed concern over my decision to cancel the excursion.  Not interest in going, mind you – just concern over it being canceled.  And so they ought; the proposed benefactors of our performance had planned to put up EC$100 towards taxi fare for the students' trip, and provide everyone with snacks for the evening.  Suffice to say, they were anticipating an enjoyable experience to close out their own year, and we were unable to fulfill our seemingly simple end of it.  And while my anxieties of a disastrous showing are summarily relieved, my spirits are subsequently dampened by falling so very short of many people's expectations of us.  Though I do intend on using these experiences to guide my preparations towards further bolstering community involvement and, in due course, buy-in, in order to try and avoid this outcome in the future.

And what a surprise! The June highlight video is complete on time! As so many of you requested seeing the Iron Band's actual performance with no accompanying music, here is the June 3rd performance in all its raw glory.  Enjoy.