Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Textbook Prices

It’s been about fifteen years since the first time I went to college. Oh … my … word. Prices have really gone up. Even accounting for inflation, textbooks are insane these days.

The most expensive textbook I bought during my first college go-around was about $75.00. I picked up my books the other day and paid $135.00 for my Biology text, and another $40.00 just for the lab book. Ouch. I ended up paying around $300.00 this semester just for books, let alone tuition and lab fees.

It gets worse for me when you factor in how much the printing costs are on these things. I used to work for a printing company, and so I happen to know something about that. If I had to guess, I’d say the actual printing costs for my very large, hard-back biology text was between $8 and $15 per book. To be honest, that’s on the high end. For some reason the text book publisher decided they needed to use expensive glossy coated paper on every single page. They could have cut costs by going with a decently weighted matte paper instead, and the books would have been just as effective.

The lab book is the real shocker, though. It’s done using a quick-printer like Kinko’s Copies, and then spiral bound (that’s the plastic spiral on the side). That probably cost around $5.00 or less. Even if you factor in the payments to the writers, print buyers, and other folks in the chain, that’s a huge markup for a book.

Maybe I’m in the wrong business. Maybe I should be a text book publisher. At least, until relatively inexpensive downloadable PDF textbooks become ubiquitous.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Permits and Self-Possession

The other week I went to get a parking sticker for the student parking lots. Not a big deal, I’m used to having to hurry up and wait in long lines when it comes to bureaucracies, and I expected a lot of silly forms and delay.

It seems that younger students don’t expect any of that. I don’t think they know what to expect. They just don’t want you to know they don’t have clue.

Here’s what happened. I found a window in my work schedule, clocked out, and drove over to the main Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) campus. I found a place to park approximately 150 yards from the front door (that was as close as I could get and not pay for parking) and walked in. (Remember that number. There will be a test later.)

The information desk is right next to the front door and it turns out that’s where they were selling the parking stickers. I found a stack of forms, and clear directions, on two separate tables, of the various forms that were required. One of those forms was a current copy of your car’s registration. I knew that before I came, but in my efforts to get this over with I’d forgotten it in the car.

So, back to car another 150 yards (that’s 300 so far), get the registration from the glove compartment, and walk the same 150 yards a third time (that’s 450 yards in a matter of just a few minutes, in case you can’t do the math). By this time I’m a bit winded (hey, I’m fat and out of shape, okay?), but that’s okay. There’s a long line at the front window, so I trudge along to the back window where there are less bodies hanging out, my registration in tow.

I sit down at a folding table and start filling out the registration form. This is a weird form. It’s like an SAT answer sheet. It’s got little circles I have to fill in, along with my regularly printed name and such.

Two younger men (early 20’s, I’d guess) are nearby. One is sitting next to me at the table (Table-boy), and the other is having an animated conversation with a young woman (on work study, I’d guess) at the information desk (Desk-boy).

The guy at the desk comes back, and in an exasperated tone, says to Table-boy, “Do you have your registration with you?”

“No, why would I?” Table-boy replies in disbelief.

“I don’t know. They say they we need it” says Desk-boy.

“Pffft,” says Table-boy, and they get up and leave, clearly outraged.

It’s about this time that I start wondering, did they not read the same letter about it that I got, saying you needed your car registration when you went to get your parking permit? Did they not read the signs very clearly stating that they needed it, before Desk-boy even became Desk-boy? How did they figure that they were above following simple directions? Maybe they’re selectively blind.

Then I remembered. I used to be that self-absorbed when I was their age. I wasn’t sure what was going on in my first year of college (back in the Bronze Age) and I tried to cover my ignorance and fear through arrogance and self-possession. Just like these two were. What a humbling thing to realize that I used to be just as much of a jerk as these two were.

Anyway, I finished filling out the form and stepped up to the desk.

The two women working the desk, an older woman closer to my age (Wise-woman) and a student on work study (Prima-Donna), looked busy, so I quietly waited. After several minutes, and several direct gazes (eye contact and everything) with Prima-Donna, she comes over and says, “This side is closed. You’ll have to go around.” Minor frustration to have it close in the amount of time it took me to stand up and walk four feet, but okay. I went around the other side and got in line.

As I stood there, waiting with all the other student-cattle, I noticed that Wise-woman was working her butt off helping students, and Prima-Donna was acting like she was getting ready to leave. It turns out, that wasn’t the case at all. Someone else had just left, and Prima-Donna was getting on. She didn’t want to open up her till, though.

Prima-Donna started with, “I don’t know. Do you think I should log in and open it up?”

“Yes,” Wise-woman replied, “Ask anyone standing in line and they’ll give you the same answer.” (I was beginning to like Wise-woman.)

“But the count is screwed up,” whined Prima-Donna.

“It can’t get any worse than it already is,” replied Wise-woman, in-between getting the line of harried students what they needed.

“Yes is can,” protested Prima-Donna.

“No, it can’t. Just open it up and get to work.”

“Well, I’m not logging in under my name.”

“Whatever. Just do it, now.”

It turns out that the till count wasn’t right, and Prima-Donna was more concerned with covering her ample butt than doing her job. Another wonderful example of post-high school self-possession was played out right in front of my eyes.

When I finally got to the front of the line to be helped by the wonderful Wise-woman, it was a relief. It took less than two minutes and I had my parking ticket in hand, walking back along that same 150 yard stretch to my car, (That’s 600 yards, total. Did you keep track?) and then back to work.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

39 Years Old (Really!), and Going Back to School.

Salutations, true believers!

Yeah, it’s just me again, starting yet another blog. Why did I start a new blog? It’s not like I don’t have a couple of others to deal with, already.

Well, after nearly ten years of NOT being in college, I’m going back. I thought it would cool to chronicle what it’s like for a fat, 39 year old male with a receding hairline, and married with children, to go back to classes with a bunch of idiots younger than me.

Let me give you a bit of a back story on this. I’ve got a B.Mus. degree in Composition (with an emphasis in electronic music technology) from the University of Utah. After deciding that a life as a musician wasn’t going to cut it (at least not and take care of my family), I’ve decided to go back to another of my many loves, medicine.

When I first went to college (over 15 years ago) I was a human biology major. I wanted to be a chiropractor. After failing miserably (I just wasn’t ready for school, and the University of Utah is a research school, not a teaching one), I took a hiatus for a couple of years, and then went to Salt Lake Community College to get my generals done. I finished an A.S. in General Studies, and then went back to the “U” to pursue my music degree. By that time I had gotten married and Her Loveliness and I started a family.

After that I took several forks in the road that eventually led me to a good job with good pay, a layoff when the economy went bust, and now a mediocre job with crappy pay.

My experience getting laid off has really changed my feelings about employment. Gone are the days of “get a good job and stick with the company for a few years and you’ll be fine.” I don’t think it’s worked that way for a while now.

Anyway, in order to pursue my insane desire for financial independence and a good life for my family, I’m going back to school, and back to the path I first started ten years ago. I’m getting some hard sciences classes out of the way in preparation for applying to chiropractic school.

Today is my first day back! Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know how it all turns out.