Don’t Be Alarmed

Somewhere in my dream I felt a brief warning, a premonition that something was happening. Five seconds later the jarring ringing of a fire alarm threw me out of my bed at 5 a.m.

In addition to having alarms in every hallway, the University has recently installed alarms in every room. The noise is so loud you cannot think, let alone sleep.

A flood of horrible images rush through your mind as you try to get yourself out of your room. I grab my wallet and keys of the desk. Two planes hit the twin towers. I throw my shoes on my feet. Millions infected with AIDS in Africa. I grab sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Justin Timberlake brings sexy back.

I can only imagine what other uses this alarm system could provide. Perhaps guards could use it for prison escapes or even a new form of torture in Guantanamo. Every time I hear that alarm, I really wonder why they couldn’t just let me die in my sleep.

I feel like a real veteran to have the wherewithal to grab my sweats before running out to the cold morning air. Many were not so lucky, coming out tired and underdressed. One girl wrapped her comforter around herself and a shirtless guy. I saw two guys do the same, which may be an even more extraordinary gesture.

One RA told me he tried to write up a fire alarm as a community program, since you get nearly everyone to participate. It is funny how neighbors go day in and day out ignoring each other, but will begin to converse with each other while shivering outside at 5 a.m.

A girl who appeared to be an authority figure, an RA perhaps, comes around and yells for people to back away from the building. “This is not a fire drill!” she said. Duh. If she announced it was just a drill, I think someone may have hit her.

For a second I grasp the potential seriousness of the situation as I imagine all of my belongings exploding out my window like in Fight Club. I think I left my CD collection in the car, but I doubt any insurance company would reimburse me for my giant DVD collection.

Fortunately while this wasn’t a drill, this wasn’t a real fire either. Most likely it was the act of a drunken student or a technical issue with the fire alarm. I remember a year ago a similar event was set off by a wiring error in the attic.

Atherton Hall is listed on some maps as “Centre Halls”, but it seems it is miles away from civilization whenever an alarm goes off. In the course of 45 minutes I never saw a fire truck or even a maintenance van pull up.

The alarm eventually stopped and people started to move towards the doors, but I waited. I’ve been burned by fire alarms before. Sure enough the alarm starts up again for a few more minutes, an aftershock I guess. We finally get the go ahead and return to our rooms.

Appropriately enough, fire prevention week will start next week. So if you don’t have the misfortune of a major university being liable for your fire safety, perhaps you can take the opportunity to get some smoke detectors and test their batteries. And don’t worry, smoke detectors have a much nicer ring to them.

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New Look Collegian

I have been on a kind of blog hiatus since I finished up my summer internship and I am going to try to start up again. First up though, a post I wrote for my Collegian web log about the biggest development in my life this fall: the Collegian home page. I plan to repost relevent stuff from that blog in the future.

Our Brand Spanking New Home Page

All the News that's Fit to PrintYou probably noticed last week we launched a redesign of the home page of the Collegian Web site. You may have also noticed that we changed the Web site’s name from The Digital Collegian to The Daily Collegian Online. These are two of the more obvious changes to the Web site this year, but they will not be the last.

I would like to use this blog as an opportunity to highlight some of the new features on our Web site and give you an idea of where we are going in the future. I would also like to give you an idea of what is going on behind the scenes, so you can give us a break when things don’t look 100 percent.

The home page redesign is just the first part of a year-long project to revamp the Web site. I designed the new look, taking the best parts of an earlier mock-up from my Web project partner, Chris Bajgier. Our design goals included making pages wider, creating a consistent set of navigation links across the site, and making better use of space in general.

The new home page has more room for top stories, features, and section headlines. It also shows the weather more prominently and includes a preview of the day’s front page. This is a feature our design staff has been begging for and we’re glad we can highlight their work on the Web site. Behind the scenes, the page uses something called Cascading Style Sheets, which create a set of design rules and keep file size down. The expanded Collegian home page takes roughly the same amount of time to load as the original.

So far almost all the response has been pretty positive from both our staff and our readers. The biggest question/complaint we have gotten is why we aren’t using this design on all of our pages. The answer is a bit complicated. The Collegian uses some custom software to generate the article and section pages. We tried porting the templates over when we updated the home page, but ran into difficulties. At the last minute we decided to hold off on the other pages. We’re working on resolving these technical issues and hope to push the other design changes in the near future.

I won’t say much more for now, but I’ll be back later in the week with more details about our Web plans. In the meantime, you can read Editor-in-chief Erin James’ column about the web and Web editor Allison Busacca’s column about our blogs. Thanks for reading.

Writing on the Wall

While cleaning out my office today, I jotted these down from our whiteboard/quotes wall:

  • I’m in lunches all day – V
  • I can’t spell IMLP – Y
  • Let the rhythm flow through my body – V
  • Most things people say are words – J
  • Did you get an e-mail from me?… Because you’re not supposed to” – Y
  • We take balance for granted – V
  • “Therefore, I am one foot lighter than you” – Y
  • Actually I came in an MSG barrell – T
  • What time do we have to be here for an 8am meeting? – Y
  • Are you going to bulid a village and teach them English – Me

Good times. Good people. Goodbyes.

10 Weeks Later

This week I wrap up my internship and Saturday I’ll be leaving Erie, PA. You may have noticed that I haven’t written much about my life in the last month or so. That happened because I have been busy lately. I have also tried to avoid talking about work in my blog, so that squashed some of the better stories. Since things are coming to an end now, I figure it would be a good time to reflect on my summer here.

Like most of the other interns here, I had reservations about coming to Erie. It took a while for me to get used to my new life here. I didn’t know many people here and I didn’t have a car, so I felt pretty landlocked for the first few weeks. Thus I projected a lot of my own feelings onto Erie. I decided it was a dreary and lonely place with nothing to do. I haven’t completely shaken that feeling yet either, but I feel better about it now than I did 10 weeks ago.

Waiting for FireworksAround the 4th of July weekend things changed though. I started to develop relationships with some of my fellow interns and did things with them. And when I didn’t have things to do, I found things to do. Finding a bus to the mall went a long way to improving my weekends (and draining my bank account). There were also a lot of things I wished I did here that I didn’t. In any case, I started feeling like I was living in Erie, rather than stuck there. And it made all the difference.

So would I come back here to live and work? I am definitely warmer to the idea now than I was back at the start. It seems, however, what people really like about Erie is not its location, its geography, or its nightlife. It is the people who live there. Nearly everyone I work with who likes Erie has families, wives, girlfriends, or drinking buddies who make Erie a home for them. These type of people make a place special. And it that sense the only thing that was wrong with Erie was that it didn’t have the people I cared about in it.

Well I think I’m over my Dorothy-There’s-No-Place-Like-Home thing now. I feel like my time in Erie and my experiences here have been worthwhile, both professionally and personally. That said, it will be good to be home.

Now I Need a CD Holder

With most of the other Penn State interns in State College for ArtsFest, I didn’t have a whole lot to do this weekend. So I took a trip out to the mall and a trip to Walmart. In the process I expanded my music collection.

Lately I’ve felt like I’ve caught up with all the new music I need, so have been going back and picking up some of the classics. I also feel the need to buy more music on CD these days, in order to get better sound quality and no DRM. My rule of thumb has also been to “upgrade” a previously “acquired” album for every new one I purchase.

I never understood why people shop at overpriced mall music stores, but now I realize now the selection is much better. I have been struggling to find any of these classic albums in a Walmart, or even a Best Buy, but this store had a bunch. I picked up The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and Parsely, Sage, Rosemarry, and Thyne. Both are fantastic, but I have been really into The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan right now. In general, the themes of 60s and 70s music seem just as relevant today.

Then in Walmart on Sunday I saw they had a couple Led Zeppelin on sale. Since I had some money burning in my pocket (and there was hardly anything else worthwhile there) I bought Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin IV. I bought Led Zeppelin II sight unseen (actually unheard) and I really like it. Now I have a bunch of other albums I want to buy, but I think I’ll have to wait a little bit until I drop more money into the hands of the RIAA.

Facebook-ed Birthday

So today is my 2nd birthday on the Facebook and its amazing the difference a year makes. The Facebook, a social networking site for college kids and beyond, has a feature where they show you if any friends’ birthdays are coming up. It’s a clever feature and last year it landed me a random birthday greeting from one of my “friends”. This year, I have recieved 10 birthday greetings so far. So how did I suddenly get more popular? I didn’t. I believe the difference is that more and more people have made the Facebook part of their daily routine (even on Sunday morning). I knew that I log on about once a day and I figured others did as well, but this is pretty overwhelming proof. Social networking, creepiness aside, is a pretty big deal. I’m 21 today, by the way, though I haven’t had anything to drink – yet.

Reading Rabbit

I am not an avid reader. I find it tedious and I struggle to sit in front of a book without falling asleep. Perhaps its because I’m a cinephile. That’s not to say I’m iliterate either: I read more newspapers and magazines than most of the “readers” I know. Still, I feel like I have a chip on my shoulder intellectually because I am a part-time reader. I am also a bit skeptical also that someone who reads a dozen chick-lit novels a year is more “well-read than me.

Perhaps the other reason I don’t read much is that there isn’t much motivation. The handful of books I read for school or pleasure a year is surpsingly enough to make me “well read”. Last fall I stopped in a trendy bookstore in Washington DC (it was trendy because they were playing AC/DC and had a bar in the back) and I had read half the books on their featured table. I guess there’s only a handful of books every year that are important enough and I am hitting them all.

Summer is the exception to the rule. I read a lot during the summer since I used to have a job that paid me to sit around and read. These days I am not paid to read, but I have so little to do outside of work that I decided to pick up the habit again. So far I am almost done Indecision after 36 hours of having it. I also bought Assassination Vacation and The Lexus and the Olive Tree, which I thought would be plenty for the summer. At the rate I am going, however, they might not last more than a week or two. It’s hard to argue with reading a book when faced with the umpteenth showing of Jurassic Park on TV.

Update: I just finished Indecision and it ended badly. Its a tad annoying getting preached to at the end of a story, but its even worse when the sermon has nothing to do with the 200 or so pages you read before.