Category Archives: Blogging

Summer Update

I’m sure the few of you faithful readers out there might be wondering how the summer is going for the in-between-semesters grad student, so I’m going to try to update you with a brief post.

After returning from a month in Europe and two more weeks on the road to West Tennessee, I finally took the time for a real summer break. Whether or not this was actually a good thing is open to debate, because while my mental health greatly appreciated some down time, my work ethic has not yet recovered. And that is a really big problem, given all that is upcoming this fall semester!

During the downtime, Karen and I have lazed around the house, started watching LOST on Netflix, and last week had a Harry Potter marathon, culminating in seeing the final movie at the downtown movie theater yesterday afternoon. We also went to Sevier County (read: Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville) on Saturday to get our Pancake Pantry fix and shop the outlet malls whilst we had Gap and Banana Republic store-wide 30 percent off coupons… Banana Republic has become my all-time favorite clothing store, but only when shopping through the outlet store.

In a close second, my next favorite store has become Nike, but again, only the outlet/factory store variety again. (Note the grad-student-on-a-budget theme running here?) Speaking of Nike, most of you have likely seen my occasional post to Facebook about running with Nike+. I started the fifth week today, and though Karen dropped out on me after serious knee pain last week, I’m going to keep this up as long as I can! I don’t know if any of you are using Nike+, but if you are and want to add me as a friend, my username is matrcook.

In the last two weeks, I have slowly gotten the ball rolling on my to-do list for the fall. It’s quite extensive because I’m teaching a section of Geography 101 – World Regional Geography to approximately 120 students. Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:10 a.m.! It’s slightly daunting for my first real teaching assignment, but at least it’s only one class and I have had a lot of time to prepare for it. Last week I laid out the rough draft of my syllabus and this week I plan to hammer out the rest of the nitty-gritty details. The course focuses on five world regions: Africa, South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. For those of you who know me best, you know that I have never been to ANY of these regions. While that is not a major problem, it does make it a little more difficult to gather materials, and it makes me a LOT more dependent on the textbook and other sources rather than my own experiences, photographs, etc. Still, my goal is to help my students have a better understanding of the world by the time the course is over, while having some fun along the way.

Also accomplished last week was the beginnings of what I’m calling my “List of Ph.D. schools under consideration.” At this point it stands at seven schools in the U.S., two overseas, and (surprisingly) *none* are in Germany. Not saying it couldn’t expand at this point, but I will have to start narrowing it down once the semester starts. Application deadlines for some programs are as early as Dec. 15, though a majority are in January. I’ll keep you up-to-date as often as I can throughout the semester, provided busyness doesn’t have me hanging from the ceiling by my ears.

In other news, my biggest concern for the remaining part of the summer is my thesis research. I have seriously neglected it for a few weeks, and it is now time to remedy that. I’ve started by writing down the common themes that kept popping up in my observations, interviews, and conversations while in Berlin, and from there I will start to work on transcriptions that fit into the different themes. This qualitative data analysis is definitely difficult if you’ve never done it before, but my advisor pointed me in the right direction last week during a two-hour meeting! I’ve now got a couple of books to help steer me for the next several weeks. Beyond this analysis work, I’ve quickly got to start working on a paper for some conferences I’m attending this fall. I was accepted to present a paper on my Stolpersteine research at the MTSU Holocaust Conference in October, and I plan to use many of the same ideas from that paper in another to submit to the Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers (whew. That takes a while to write! That’s why we just call it SEDAAG – pronounced “see-dag.”) The SEDAAG conference is in November, but I have to submit the entire paper in about a month. Scary!

That’s all the time I’ve got for now, so I hope you’ve enjoyed the update. I’m sure there are things I’m forgetting, but they’ll be saved for another day!

Blogging. On the iPad 2.

Hi everyone! I know you probably weren’t expecting to read a blog from me any time soon, but I just couldn’t resist blogging from my new iPad 2! Karen and I stood in line for about 3.5 hours this afternoon at the mall. I couldn’t believe the line of people waiting! We were about 88-89th in line and we ended up in ahead of the middle of the line by the time the doors opened at 5 pm.

Well it looks like it is past my bedtime. Writing on the iPad for extended periods of time like this will take some getting used to. Thank goodness for autocorrect, right???

Switching to WordPress

(To those who might be expecting a somewhat useful or insightful post, come back soon for a post about my acceptance at UT Knoxville.)

As you can see, I finally switched over to WordPress from Blogger by Google. It’s been a long time a-coming, so to speak. It started out as an idea to purchase my own hosting and run WordPress as a blog/CMS after I started using the platform to develop a couple other Web sites websites (Gah! Darn AP style changed to “website” instead of Web site. Takes some getting used to.) The FBC Martin redesign was done using WordPress and a simple theme. The ByGrace website is also run using WordPress and a little more complicated theme. So after those set ups, I was sold on WordPress. And why not, because it is simple to use the most basic functions!

However, my set up was a little more complicated, so my apologies for those who are technically “uninclined” who are about to read how this process worked. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, let me summarize by saying that I am a “web guy,” but even I had to chat twice with tech support, make a tech support call and read a few tutorials.

It started by wanting to switch from Blogger to WordPress. My old blog was pretty good (you can still see it here) but it was limited compared to the power of WordPress. Those of you who use WordPress will understand.

But it would be easiest to move (or so I thought) after my domain name,, expired. WRONG! I let the domain name purchased through GoDaddy expire on or around April 14 only to find out that I needed to access it through GoDaddy’s control panel to start a domain transfer process, so I could migrate the name to Fat Cow (my favorite hosting site). That was tech support chat number one. I couldn’t figure out how to start the domain transfer since I couldn’t access the old domain. It turns out that either you can wait about 60 days for the domain to be COMPLETELY released (GoDaddy and other domain sites hold on to expire domain names for a while after they expire in case the owner decides to renew after the expiration) or I would have to renew the domain name with GoDaddy for another year to migrate it over. So this is when I called GoDaddy tech support to buy a one year renewal.

Then I went back over to Fat Cow and started the domain transfer, and then waited for about 5 days. On Monday I received the email saying that the transfer was done, but for some reason the old domain still pointed to Blogger and worse, the simplified domain I plan to use with WordPress, (without the www. subdomain), still pointed to a parked GoDaddy page. I figured out that Blogger still had ties to and once those were removed I was very pleased to see a 404 (page not found error) for perhaps the first time in my life! Then came tech support chat numero dos. I had forgotten during the five day wait that I had to switch the name servers from GoDaddy to Fat Cow’s name servers. I’ll spare you the details of what name servers are, but suffice it to say that a couple hours later, the parked domain page was gone and my blank WordPress page was there instead!

So that was the first half of the battle. I then had to find out how to roll over all my Blogger posts and comments (Tutorial #1). Then I took the time to update the categories and tags on my posts because the import caused all of the tags from Blogger to become categories in WordPress instead of TAGS. That may sound a tad bit asinine to those of you who could care less about organization, but to my OCD self it was first priority. Now I have a nice, neat list of categories, as you can see on the right of each page.

After the import, I had to choose a WordPress theme, which is in-and-of-itself a challenge, given how many good themes there are out there. This particular theme, eDegree, looked both fun and challenging, and I liked the graphics and layout as well. Win/Win. Here’s where a couple more tutorials came in handy, because setting up the slide show on the first page took a little finagling to get right. (And by finagling, I mean installing a plugin, modifying a JavaScript that the writer made a mistake in, figuring out the correct dimensions for the page, figuring out how to specify which posts show up, etc.) And then voila! it was done. I think it’s pretty awesome that the slide show even works on the iPhone. Go. Check it out.

Then lastly I worked some magic to make the About Me section look right and added an RSS feed to my tweets over to the right.


Well that’s all for now. With any luck, I’ll find enough writing prowess to pump out a more interesting post later today about heading off to UT Knoxville for grad school.

Blog Changes

Just a quick note – I’m switching my domain name ( from one web service to another, and I’ll also be switching from Blogger to WordPress with all the fun that entails. Just so everybody knows, the site may be down or messed up in the next week or so.


Go ahead, live a little

I’m starting to think of my blog as a side project that I don’t have time for. Thanks to the advent of Twitter, my thoughts can be put out faster, in shorter snippets, to a larger audience. Three or four years ago my thoughts would have been put out into a LiveJournal blog but that was kind of boring.

Ok, really boring. I was not a great blogger in high school…but what has changed, eh? Ha!

Then, of course, came Facebook status updates (did I join in 2005 or 2006?), but until about 2007 or so, Facebook didn’t do a great job of parsing those out for other users to read. Users had to go to each others’ pages to see what was up (gasp, I know!) Thanks, Facebook, for feeding our inner stalkers by adding the News Feed and Live Feed. They make it so easy to find out what’s going on with friends (not that it’s always useful). Plenty of people had problems with the ease-of-stalking Facebook has enabled, but I for one have it to thank for helping my mindless drivel find its way into the “cloud.” Also, kudos to Facebook and Twitter both for working seamlessly together.

Thinking of side projects that I don’t have/make time for anymore, aside from neglecting the blog:  photography and reading.

As far as photography goes, I’m in that rut where I keep taking photos (several hundred in fact) but I lack the time, and often interest, to go through marathon processing and uploading (and then naming, describing, tagging, etc.) sessions to get the final product on Flickr. I’m doing well if I get up 2-3 photos a month here lately, so needless to say, I’m falling behind. I’ve already mentally checked off some photo shoots that I’m not likely to ever touch again from 2009, but there is still about half a year of photos piling up in Adobe Lightroom.

And then on the reading front, suffice it to say that I’ve had four geography texts checked out from the UTM library and I’ve renewed them four times already. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider that one of the renewals included the Christmas break so it was about a month long… You see where this is going. Fortunately, I think faculty/staff can renew books indefinitely, instead of the three time max limit for students. Mostly, I read Twitter and the news. I even get the news from Twitter (CNN, BBC).

I hate to end this in a circle, but going back to blog subject, I’ve been thinking of switching over to WordPress. Problem is, I don’t know if I want to have them host it and just migrate my domain over, or pay for cheap hosting and run their content management system (CMS) from the host. Then there’s the whole issue of having to migrate the content from this blog over, which shouldn’t be a big nightmare, but is still a few extra steps.

I didn’t make any resolutions for 2010, so I’m not going to promise that I’ll blog more or post photos more, etc. …

But I’ll try, on occasion. You know, before I get to grad school and have no life for 5-7 years.

Life as a Balancing Act

(First, a bit of housekeeping: Since I blog infrequently, and occasionally hear from people in the real world that they check the site regularly for updates, I thought I would point out that this is not a necessity! For one, since I DO post so infrequently and know that it is a shame, I try to diligently post a link to the blog with a notice that something new has arrived on my Twitter account, which also updates my Facebook status. Thus if you already follow me on those sites, you “won’t miss a thang” as Aerosmith would put it. However if you are not quite up-to-date with the 21st Century, there is a nice, old school way to see if I have updated my site without actually clicking through to it or typing in the address: RSS. See “What is RSS?” if you are unfamiliar. To subscribe to my RSS, simply go to this link: or add that to your RSS reader. That’s your technology time-saver of the day.)

Now on with the post.

My life has been a real balancing act lately. Don’t get me wrong; it’s nothing compared to last semester’s terror of balancing all the preparation necessary for graduating (as a Scholar, no less!) and getting married. But still it’s been interesting, to say the least, that my “mentally relaxing” year off from school and education to prepare for grad school has turned out this hectic.

First of all are the health problems. (In case you missed it, I might have Crohn’s disease or something else unpleasant.) It’s cost time, money and productivity. There have been plenty of days where I haven’t felt like doing a thing at work, other than put my head on the desk and wait for my stomach pain to cease. Those were fun days. Fortunately, I haven’t felt nearly that bad in two weeks. Unfortunately, after over a month of seeing Dr. Nuako I still don’t have a diagnosis. (This is in no way his fault, of course. My symptoms aren’t playing nicely. He said yesterday that this would be easier to figure out if my symptoms were worse.) Instead, I have four or five potential diagnoses, and a handful of expensive tests that should figure it all out. So we’ll see where all that goes. I tell you what, though, if I’m not reeling in pain I’m less inclined to bother with all the tests. Dr. Nuako himself said that he didn’t really think all of the tests recommended by the pathologists were necessary. So for now I continue on in “wait mode.” Like I said, as long as I’m not throwing up in pain and I don’t have tuberculosis (yeah, I’m being tested for that, too), I’ll be ok.

But that’s just one part of the balancing act. Then there’s work. Ah, work. I’ve been pushing very hard to finish Phase I of my project over the last couple weeks, and did so successfully. After a meeting with the boss and others this week, it’s now time to turn to the longer, more excruciating part of the job: video interviews with students. I don’t know how easy or hard this will be, in all honesty, but I imagine it’s going to be hard work to coordinate. The big picture deadline is a looong time away, fortunately, so there’s lots of time to get this done.

The third and final part of the balancing act is the colossal grad school application project. After four days in Wisconsin and Minnesota over fall break, my work ethic on this front has had a new fervor. The looming deadline of Nov. 3 is drawing nigh: the day on which I take the GRE. (It’s named the Graduate Record Exam, but you could also call it the Great Reckoning of Eternity. Kidding, but only slightly.)

Most people have said not to worry about the GRE and to just get some sleep before hand… but are you kidding me? I’m studying as hard as I can! My reasoning is pretty solid: I’m shooting for as high a score as possible, given that I’m applying to four top-10 geography programs and the odd-ball Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP!) program, but even that is at Virginia Tech. All of these applications consider the same key things: GRE scores, undergraduate record, letters of recommendation/statement of intent, and compatibility with faculty. So the GRE is one of four key components. People apply to these programs with perfect 1600s. So what number do you think I’m shooting for?

Just one more reason my life is a balancing act.