Wednesday, June 30, 2004

I got my private loans squared away today, which allows me to mark one more thing off my massive to do list. I still need to apply for additional funds (I'm applying for one of those Education Maximizer loans from Bank of America) to help pay for my laptop, and bridge the gap in August and September. I had no idea until after I matriculated that we couldn't get our funds before the first day of school. I assumed that because preterm is required that financial aid was available then - WRONG. So if I want to be able to pay my rent in September and eat during pre-term, get books, etc., I'll need additional funds.

Speaking of laptops, I ordered a laptop and printer today. I decided to go with the IBM Thinkpad T42 and an HP Laser printer. It was hard clicking on that order button when I saw the total. But I guess it's a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. But it was a damn large drop.

So basically, once I get the financing taken care of, all I have to worry about are the details of my move to University City (changing my number, utilities, etc.) and my immunizations.

So with little more than a month before preterm, I have taken care of most of the little details. That has reduced my stress significantly.

T minus 35 days and counting...

Monday, June 28, 2004

Whether or not my work transition is something like this depends on how nice my going-away party is...

I wasn't going to go see Farenheit 9/11. I'm not a big fan of documentaries - at least I don't like spending $9 to see one. But because some of the conservative forces have tried so hard to block this movie, I had to go see it.

I have to say it was pretty good. Some of the information I knew already - some I definitely did not (like the fact that there were envoys from the Taliban running around Texas with Bush in Spring 2001). Some of the images were very powerful and disturbing - beheadings, and dead Iraqi children turn my stomach. I did think some of the points Moore was trying to make were unfair. Like Bush's reaction to hearing about the second plane on 9/11. If you remember, on the morning of 9/11, Bush was in Florida with a class of children reading. It was 7 minutes after hearing about the second plane before Bush got up to leave. Moore questions the wisdom in waiting 7 minutes, but I don't think jumping up and running out would have done anything but scared the children in that class to death. I remember the chaos of that day. I remember feeling like someone took the world, turned it upside down, and shook it. Bush looked scared and concerned. He's only human and I truly believe he did the best he could at the time. As much as I disagree with MANY of his policies, and as much as I hope the American public hands him his walking papers in November, I can't find fault in that seven minutes.

But I did think Moore did an excellent job of showing scenes from the Iraq war that the networks aren't showing. The movie showed the violence, the people killed and disfigured. It showed soldiers pissed off about being in Iraq. It showed the grit of the war. And that's the part I think we all need to see and be constantly reminded of. That's what our soldiers face, and we owe it to them to understand and acknowledge the ugliness of the war - whether you agree with the war or not. We need to recognize the sacrifice we are asking our soldiers to make.

In addition to Farenheit 9/11, I saw 4 other movies this weekend. Stepford Wives - ugh, hated it. The ending was HORRIBLE. I have NEVER seen a movie with such a rambling ending. It was all over the place. The Terminal - LOVED it!! This movie is so funny. And I love that the ending was real and not overly saccharine. It was not the typical Hollywood ending. Dodgeball - um, not a big fan of this one. I'm not a big fan of Ben Stiller (although I loved Meet the Parents), so I'm not surprised I disliked it. The Day After Tomorrow - OMG, What a bunch of hooey!! This movie required the viewer to suspend reality more than my favorite wizard on his flying broomstick. When a movie is this ridiculous, it makes me want to make fun of it. So I did. And it was too damn long. But the special effects were pretty cool.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Earlier this week, we interviewed someone to be my replacement at work. It was the first time that it really hit home that I'll be leaving. The person we interviewed seemed very cool (AND his girlfriend will be a second year at Wharton this year - gotta keep it in the family y'know!). Also our new boss starts on Monday. During the interview it dawned on me that there will be new people and exciting things going on at work, and I won't be a part of shaping the experience. I won't be part of the team anymore. It made me kind of sad to think that life at work will go on without me.

I never thought I was irreplaceable. But it's just sad to know that you're being replaced, you know? Even though people sometimes get on my nerves at work, I really like my job. I like the work I do, and I love that our work improves poor people's ability to access financial resources. And my organization is on the cusp of a more dynamic era. The community development finance field is changing rapidly, and the organization I work for is one of the major leaders of that change. I'm disappointed that I won't be in the thick of things in the field for the next two years. It's like watching a really good movie on TV and then the electricity goes out so you don't know how the movie ends. I'm going to miss being at work.

But I'm extremely excited about Wharton. I know that the next two years will be full of new experiences and challenges. It's just weird to see a chapter end, especially when you're not exactly sure what the next chapter will bring.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

I finally found an apartment!! Woo hoo!

I'll be living in the Spruce Hill section of University City. The area has a real residential feel. Tree lined streets, Victorian houses, very cute. It kind of reminds me of the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life." I like that the neighborhood is more eclectic than some of the other neighborhoods I visited during my search. There's a good balance of yuppies, artists, ol' neighborhood folks.

The apartment itself is also very cute. Hardwood floors, bay windows. It's more space than any other apartment I looked at in my price range (I was looking for one bedrooms between $700-1000). I'll be 10 blocks from Huntsman, and there is a bus stop right in front of my apartment building.

So that major source of stress is over. I feel incredibly grateful to have found a place to rent since I'm on the apartment blacklist. All I know is God is good!

Oh and I just saw this diary entry from Anjana Nigam, WG'04. Very sage advice. I think I'm going to take it...

It seems my background check has run into a hiccup. I got an email from the MBA office yesterday, that started, "Kroll has been able to complete the verification process for all parts of your application, excluding..." A beginning like that can get the heart racing!

It turns out both my current and last employer wouldn't give out salary information. So now I have to dig up old tax returns and W2s showing my beginning and ending salary. While recent tax returns shouldn't be an issue, I started my last job in 1998. And I'm not certain where my 1998 tax return is. It's filed in one of my boxes, so I guess I'll have to dig around to find it.

I'm glad this is the only thing holding up my verification. I was beginning to worry that something serious was wrong. I knew I didn't lie or anything... but you never know what can go wrong.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

An interlude...

I've seen several disturbing things in the last couple of days, and I feel it is my duty as a concerned citizen to do something about it. Since the official start of summer is a few days away and the humidity has risen to an oh-so-comfortable muggy level, I feel I must address the issue of women's summer footwear.

Ladies, please, if you are going to wear sandals, select a size large enough so that your dragon toes are not dragging on the sidewalk. It looks freaky when your toes hang over the side of your shoe.

Also with sandals, please either wear unchipped nail polish, or skip the polish all together. I can think of few things more trifling than chipped toe nail polish while wearing sandals.

And mules can be fun. But if you are going to wear them, please take two seconds in the morning and put some lotion on your heels. Nobody wants to look at your dry, cracked, ashy heels as you lumber up the steps to the train. That goes for sandals too!

Oh and socks with sandals or mules... NO!! Not allowed!

And can someone PLEASE explain to me what the heck is up with the popularity of the mesh plastic slippers with the little flowers on them? Those slippers are UGLY. I have yet to see someone whose feet looked attractive in them. Remember jellies? Remember how your feet would get dirty in jellies? Well, the same principle applies here - just say no to the plastic shoes.

Speaking of jellies. Of all the '80s footwear, jellies were chosen to make a comeback? What the hell? Some things just shouldn't make a comeback. Next thing you know people will be wearing two different colored socks to match their outfits.

Ladies, if we work together, we can eradicate ugly summer footwear.

We now return you to your regular programming...

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

In the first mailing Wharton sent, there were 3 self-assessment tests in math, statistics, and microeconomics. The tests are supposed to help you determine which pre-term classes to take. I took the stats and micro assessments and looks like I'll be in the Stats and Micro for Dummies classes. I couldn't remember anything more that what a standard deviation and the mean were in stats and the relationship between price, demand, supply, and quantity in micro. I did HORRIBLY on these tests, but it has been 11 years since I took stats or micro, so I don't feel too bad. I have no intention on trying to waive these classes so taking slower version doesn't bother me one bit.

I've decided to try to place into the accelerated financial accounting class. Although I'm not a CPA or a CFA, I feel like I have a solid financial accounting background. I know what a debit and a credit is, and I spend A LOT of time with financial audits in my current position. Even though I've always done well in accounting classes, I find these classes extremely boring, so any way to shorten the time spent studying the intricacies of financial statements is fine by me.

I'm avoiding taking the math test. The math test apparently requires that show that you understand limits, derivatives, and other calculus stuff. I took calculus two years ago in anticipation of business school, so I learned all that stuff recently. But since I never use it (ever) I have forgotten it. If you score low enough on the test, it is suggested that you take a calculus class over the summer. To avoid sitting through calculus in summer school (how much would THAT suck?), I've decided to review my class notes before taking the math test. It will be interesting to see how calculus is used in business school. I took a couple of finance classes in undergrad and I've done valuations and never needed calculus. Perhaps much of the financial theory is founded on calculus principles. I guess that's the whole point of going to school, so I can learn this stuff!

Friday, June 11, 2004

I received the second Wharton mailing yesterday. It had A LOT of information about pre-term (like that I'm in Cluster 4) and it also contained the Wharton Inside Guide, a pretty thick book put together by the Wharton Graduate Association that gives you the lowdown on Philly, school, finding a job, professors, etc. I spent a couple of hours reading through it, and I found it extremely informative and kind of amusing.

One thing I did not find amusing was the letter about the mandatory learning team retreat. The retreat takes place in the Poconos, and is one of those outdoorsy, team-building things. What got me a little worried were items listed on the packing list: Loose fitting clothing that you don't mind getting dirty (that's a quote, BTW) and a sleeping bag.

Dirty? A friggin' sleeping bag?

The list also suggests we bring extra sneakers in case of rain. And bug repellent. Now to set the record straight, I'm an indoor cat. I know a lot of MBA students love the outdoors, but I prefer the Four Seasons and the Ritz Carlton. I am NOT into the camping thing. I don't even own a friggin sleeping bag. And I haven't slept somewhere that required bug repellent since I was 12. OMG. What if there's no air conditioning?

So that's the one thing I have to admit I'm not really looking forward to. I'm not into going into the woods with the chiggers and the ticks and the mosquitoes to do trust falls and ropes courses. Couldn't we learn to trust each other in a nice indoor, air conditioned resort? Now how fun would that be?!

The letter also suggests we keep an open mind, which I will attempt. But all I keep imagining is being stuck in a humid cabin while it rains outside. And schelpping around in the wet woods. Not my idea of fun. But I'll try to keep an open mind. Maybe I'll just buy one of those little hand held motorized fans...

Aside from the potential misery that is the Learning Retreat, the rest of the mailing got me pretty excited about school. I can't wait to be immersed in school life. As long as it's indoors.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

OK. No offense but what the HECK is up with all the coverage of Ronald Reagan's passing? Do we really need 24 hours of coverage of his body lying in wake? It's sad he died, but hell the man was over 90 and had Alzheimer's. And what I REALLY don't get is the revisionist retrospectives talking about how great the Reagan era was for Americans. What? Uh, sorry but it wasn't that great for everybody. In fact the era SUCKED for many Americans. I guess I'm just flabbergasted by the level of mourning and kind of pissed that they keep taking my shows off TV to show people walking around his casket. Boring. But now offense to those who are really feeling sad about Reagan's death. I guess I just don't get it.

I guess the lack of TV entertainment was somewhat good last night. I sat down and went through all of the various mailings I've gotten over the last month and made a massive to-do list. I finally feel organized. I have a lot of things to take care off but now I feel like everything is manageable.

I was poking around Wharton's Inside the MBA Program on SPIKE and found the schedule for pre-term. Looks like our days are going to VERY full. I'm excited, but surprised a little. I guess I expected the days to be more relaxed. All the more reason to take it easy this summer.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Yesterday, I made a trip down to Huntsman to get my email password reset. When I initiated my Wharton email account, I didn't realize there were two sets of passwords. I only wrote down one set - so until yesterday I didn't have full access to things like the facebook, Spike (the Wharton Portal), etc. Since I needed my password to register for pre-term as well as a slew of other tasks, I headed westward to Penn at lunchtime to reset the password.

Huntsman Hall was pretty quiet. There seemed to be a conference going on. I did pass Dean Harker in the hall, who I recognized from his pictures on the website.

After I got my password squared away, I headed up Locust Walk to 40th St to get a bite to eat. 40th St is interesting - it's like the place where two worlds collide. Penn ends and West Philly begins, so the people milling around were a mixture of students and community folks, which was cool. I guess that's what you get on an urban campus.

Being on campus made me want August 4th to hurry up and get here. Huntsman is huge - I got lost twice in the building - seriously. But I kept thinking that in a few months I would know the building like the back of my hand. I'm ready for that time to get here. Even though there are a million little details to take care of before school starts, I'm ready to meet classmates and ready get involved. I'm ready to learn. I ready to start the next chapter of my life.

T-minus 57 days...

Friday, June 04, 2004

I am a HUGE Harry Potter Fan. I love the freedom behind the imagination that goes into the stories. I am such a fanatic for the series, that when it was announced last January or February that Book V would be published and available on June 21 last year , I immediately ordered the book. And when I say immediately - I mean I stopped what I was doing, logged on to Amazon and ordered the book. 6 months early. So ya, I'm a fan.

So being such a fan, I always see the movies on opening day at midnight. And so I did the same for the Prisoner of Azkaban that is opening today. The third installment of the Harry Potter movies was awesome. This movie was more mature. Not just because it was a darker story. The movie used subtext and imagery to tell parts of the tale, methods not really used in the previous movies. And it's visually a better movie. I liked the first two movies, well because they were about Harry Potter. I liked this movie because it was well done.

And yes, I know I'm a total dork. Good night!

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

As a Philadelphian immigrant, I've been getting a lot of questions lately about Philly life. So I thought I would write a little "Outsiders Guide to Philly"

Philly Neighborhoods
There are 5 billion Philly Neighborhoods, none which are on a map. I personally believe they have all these neighborhoods to confuse the non-native. If this is the goal, they HAVE succeeded! An article on About.com about Philly Neighborhoods says "If you ask ten residents of Philadelphia to name the neighborhoods of the city, you'll probably get ten different answers." So here are my takes on some of the Philly neighborhoods in Center City.

Rittenhouse Square - Popular Whartonite Haunt, bordered by Broad St and 22nd St East and West and Chestnut and Pine North and South. Rittenhouse is full of restaurants and hip hangouts for the yuppie set. There are many high rise apartments in this neighborhood. Because of the location, apartments here are more expensive than other areas of the city, although bargains can be found south of Locust St.

Art Museum/ Logan Circle- this area is sandwiched by Rittenhouse to the South and North Philly (scary!) to the north, and runs from about 28th St to Broad west to east. The Art Museum area is home to many of the city's museums. Very residential area. While the upper part of the Art Museum area is not that convenient to school commuting, the southern part of the area (around Race/Cherry/Arch Streets) is within walking distance to the trolley and bus lines to Penn.

Old City - Front Street - 6th Street East-West/ Vine - Pine North- South. This is the area is home to the Liberty Bell and Betsy Ross' house along with MANY historic monuments. You'll also find cobblestone streets and cute little shops. Also LOTS of restaurants and bars. And lots of drunk people from NYC. There are some great apartments that are converted factories, etc. Very hip scene.

University City - 29th to 50th East to South/ Spring Garden to Woodland North to South. UC is home to many of the cities universities, including U Penn, Drexel, among others. The neighborhood is full of victorian houses converted into apartments to accommodate the many students that are in the area. While there are some sketchier parts of UC, there are some relatively safe patches in the neighborhood.

Here is a good map with descriptions of center city.

Philadelphia Parking Authority
Yes, these people seemed to be aligned with the devil. Basically, do not illegally park in Philadelphia. The minute the meter expires, a parking ticket magically appears on your windshield. I am convinced that PPA uses a GPS system to locate any parking transgressors IMMEDIATELY. For instance, last week I pulled over my car to switch drivers in a "No Stopping" Zone. 33 seconds after stopping, a PPA official pulled up to write me a ticket. Luckily I started moving before they could give me the ticket, but PPA DOES NOT PLAY!

Residential Parking Permits - If you live in Philly, have PA plates and registration, you can get a residential parking permit for $35 per year, which allows you to park at metered parking spots (within your assigned district) without feeding the meter. You can find out more info here.

Housing Resources
Here are some internet resources to aid your apartment search.
Craig's List
Philadelphia Weekly Rental Classifieds
City Paper Rental Classifieds
Four Walls in Philly
Centra Associates - Historic Philadelphia Brownstone Apartments
JMH Realty
Brandywine Management Apartments
Philadelphia Management Apartments
Historic Landmarks for Living - Philadelphia Apartments
Philadelphia Real Estate Blog

Frequently Asked Questions
What the heck is WaWa?
WaWa is for real. The residents are not joking when they say they are going to WaWa. WaWa is a prolific corner store like 7-11 or Stop-N-Go. I have no idea what possessed the store owners to name the place WaWa.

Where can I get a decent Philly Cheesesteak?
First of all, never call a cheesesteak a "Philly" Cheesesteak. It signals the natives that you are not from here, and they will smell blood and attack! I'm not a big fan of the Cheesesteak. The grade of meat used is probably akin to the grade of meat used for dog food. Also Cheese Whiz (which is supposedly the true cheese of a cheesesteak) is just plain nasty. But if you like cheap beef, along with processed "cheese food" then cheesesteaks are the meal for you. Tourists typically go to Geno's or Pat's in south Philly (see Ryan's post about the virtues of both) or they may go to Jim's on South Street. But the natives tell me that the best cheesesteak can only be found in the 'hood.

What does it mean when they say a person is "newsy?"
Newsy = nosy in Philly speak.

What the heck is Wooooaata?
Wooooaata = water in Philly speak.

What's up with Philly Politics?
I'm not sure. The political scene here is OUT OF CONTROL. Every election day, there is some sort of brawl or incident at the polls. Seriously. People get beat up because they voted one way or another. Sorry I can't explain that one.

How bad are Philadelphia Schools?
The perception of the quality of the schools depends on who you ask. The public schools in the poorer neighborhoods absolutely SUCK, no doubt about it. But the schools in center city probably are not that bad - given the demographics of the neighborhoods (very affluent) they are in. You can look up public school achievement stats here. There are also parochial/private schools, and many Philadelphians send their kids to these instead of public schools. There are also a growing amount of Charter Schools, but the quality of Charter Schools varies. This site, Center City Schools, has useful info about the different schooling options available in Center City.

How safe is Philadelphia?
Again the perception of safety depends on the individual. Don't get it twisted - Philadelphia is a city, and as such has crime like every other major city on the Planet. Some neighborhoods are safer than others. The neighborhood near U Penn, University City is pretty active and relatively safe. Rittenhouse is relatively safe. As in any city, you should always be aware of your surroundings. Don't leave your car unlocked. Don't leave valuables in plain sight. Don't flash your money around. Be alert when walking. Walk with authority and confidence. But you should take these kind of precautions in any major city. Here's a database of Philly crimes by block between 1991-1999 from the Inquirer.

Are car insurance rates in Philly high?
Yes. Be prepared to pay out the nose. When I first moved here my insurance payment was higher than my car note. Why is it so high? Because Philly drivers suck and they seem to like to sue.

Where can I find out more (actually legitimate :)) info about Philly neighborhoods, living, etc.?
Philly Blog Forums- Lots of opinionated people chatting about Philly neighborhoods and goings-on
www.philly.com - you can find the two major newspapers here as well as regional papers and other Philly info
www.gophila.com - Lots of tourist info about stuff to do in the region
Center City District - the official website of the CC district
University City District - the official website of the UC district
SEPTA - the major transportation provider in the region
www.phila.gov - The official Philadelphia government site

Hopefully this info will help get you acquainted to the lovely Philadelphia - The City that Loves You Back!

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

I hate it when stupid ass policies keep reasonably, intelligent human beings from making rational decisions.

Like today when I tried to buy my transit pass. I use transit checks, which are vouchers, to buy my pass. Because of my broken leg, I built up quite a reserve of vouchers. Well I had 7 vouchers that expire on 6/10 so I went to buy my pass plus a couple of tickets and tokens to use up all the value on the tokens. Well apparently Septa has this rule that they will only accept 5 vouchers at a time. Why? Because they are stupid. So even after I explained that I had a broken leg and couldn't ride transit for several months, the ticket lady wouldn't budge. Only 5 vouchers at a time. Well my vouchers didn't add up to the total pass amount - so I had to charge the last $11.50. So what could have been a 90 sec transaction turned into a 5 minute transaction. Stupid.

And then at lunch time, I encountered another stupid person. My office is right next to the Liberty Bell, which, according to the Dept of Homeland Security, is high on the list of targets for would be terrorists (don't even get me started on THAT one. Stupid.), so there's all these barricades hindering pedestrian traffic. So on my way back from lunch I was at the corner of 6th and Chestnut. Right as I was about to cross 6th Street going west, the light turned red. So I turned to go south on 6th to cross Chestnut. The Rent-a-cop that YOUR tax dollars are paying to stand watch over the corner 6th and Chestnut (on of three people mind you. They need three people to watch one corner. There are two other people watching the other corner) tells me I can't cross. OK - no biggy. As a somewhat-Philadelphian. I'm used to my egress being hindered since 9/11. But then he proceeds to allow these tourist to cross. And so I had to ask why I couldn't cross. He told me they didn't want the "regular people mixing with the tourists." And when I said, "But the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are free." He told me since I hadn't gone through security I didn't have clearance to cross the street to go to Independence Hall. I told him that I wasn't going to Independence Hall - I was going the opposite direction. Nope. I didn't have clearance. That's right I didn't have friggin clearance to cross the street - a street my Philadelphia wage taxes pay to clean mind you! Stupid rent-a-cop.

And I told the rent-a-cop that it was stupid. If I had been in a pissier mood I would have crossed the damn street anyway. Why the hell do I have to listen to a rent-a-cop? And why would someone (other than a crazy-ass American) do anything to the stinkin' bell anyway? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I've restarted my apartment search. I've decided to take my rejection as a sign that I was headed down the wrong path. My original apartment search was focused on the area in Center City Philadelphia east of Broad Street (Broad dissects Center City in half - most Whartonites live west of Broad). There were a few of reasons I focused on an area of the city less popular with the Wharton Brood. 1) I knew I could get a better deal for the space, 2) I didn't want to run into Wharton students EVERYWHERE I went, and 3) I'm a little bit of a rebel and I don't like doing what everyone else is doing.

Well, now that I've had to go back to square one of the apartment search, I've decided to rethink my strategy. I'm focusing my search on University City (which is the area west of U Penn) and the Fitler Square area (which is the area between Rittenhouse - Whartonite Land- and the lovely Schuylkill (pronounced Skew-Kill) River). Both areas are serviced by the free U Penn shuttle. My preliminary search indicates that there are places in my price range and with much of the character I was looking for (hardwood floors, high ceilings, etc.) in both of these areas of the city. And some of the places I'm interested in are 5 blocks from Huntsman Hall. But ultimately what made me rethink was the realization that being around my fellow Whartonites might be a good thing. All of my classmates that I've met so far have been amazing people. It would be cool to live in close proximity to all these folks. So there's no need for me to hibernate in Old City, Washington Square, or Chinatown. I think being around all of these incredibly terrific people may actually enrich my two-year experience.

Oh and I found out more about why my application was rejected. It seems I'm on some tenant blacklist because of some problems I had with a previous landlord. The problem was resolved and is explainable, but on the blacklist I will remain. Apparently for the rest of my life - which seems excessive and unfair. Hell, even bankruptcies fall off your credit report. But I digress. I was glad to find out that the reason for my rejection was the blacklist, and not because I was judged to be a degenerate credit-wise. My credit is imperfect but it's not bad enough to keep me out of an apartment. But it still sucks that I've been blacklisted.

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