Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The original essay

Due to requests, I have included a link to the original essay I wrote regarding my fears into the post about my friendship with Lee.

I chose not to link my original weblog because I don't want everyone I know reading things I wrote in high school. A lot has changed and many of those things I am not eager to share. Instead I created a new blog, Essays, and posted it there. I'll post more on that blog over time.

It will mostly be for a small collection of essays I've written. Over the course of the past four years on various moments of reflection I've felt compelled to write and on fewer occasions still I've been compelled to save those writings. Some will be depressing, some will hopefully be inspiring. But as I feel necessary they'll be posted on that blog.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Google Analytics: or, what the crap?

A few months ago I signed up for Google Analytics to monitor this weblog and see how many people visit, when, from where, what they read, etc. I don't plan on marketing this or tailoring blog posts to people's interests nor incorporating in banners or ads. I was mostly just curious who read the site and how many people read it.

I believe people read this site. At least, I like to think they do. I'd probably still write posts even if no one did read it, but I like to think that what I write is read by someone and that perhaps they enjoy it.

For awhile, Google Analytics was nice; it showed me that people in Europe found my blog quite interesting and that I averaged about 15-20 visitors per day. I felt good about that.

When I checked it yesterday, I saw this:
That line is the number of visitors per day. According to this, on July 1st every single person stopped visiting my site. During the entire month of July, only one person visited the site and that was on July 12th. My site was void of all life and visitors during the month of July.

Somehow, I killed my readership.

I don't think this is true. The fact that people have left comments on posts I've made in July is evidence of that. Still, I can't help but wonder what happened that caused Google to stop registering any visitors.

EDIT: I hope I figured it out. When I changed templates (which I believe I did around the first of the month) it removed the html script that sent data to Google Analytics. Analytics never realized that the code was no longer present and assumed that the lack of incoming data was due to no visitors.

At least, I hope that was it. I'll find out over the next few days.

I've also setup my other blog, 'Essays', with Analytics, so if that one starts registering and this one doesn't then I'll really know something is up.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lee

In fifth grade I met a kid named Lee.

We met in the STEP program; the program that our school did for the "gifted" students. STEP most often consisted of sitting a room with the other "gifted" kids and being able to "work" on our projects for a few hours a week. The teacher, Mrs. Johnson, let us decide what projects we wanted to do each semester - the more projects you did the more hours per week you had to work on them. The topics for these projects were things like "American Figures" where we had to choose a figure from American history, research them, then give a presentation as that person. We did that one twice; once for STEP where I was Johnny "
Appleseed" Chapman, and another where I was William Clark and my friend Krister - now a Harvard graduate working for the state department in Uzbekistan - was Meriwether Lewis. Another subject was mythology (I did a claymation video of Hercules' labors), and "what do you want to be when you grow up" (we had to make a diorama of what we wanted to be; I made an artists studio out of a chinese takeout box and cut up a decent part of desk in the process. We still have the desk and you can still see the chunks I took out of it.).

That was STEP. Or rather, that's what STEP was supposed to be. Most days we'd sit around and do whatever we wanted and then in the last 2-3 days before the project was due work our butts off and finish it. Most people would play on the Mac computers - Prince of Persia and a black and white Star Trek space game were favorites among my classmates, but I was too cool for the Star Trek game since I was a Star Wars fan. One day I brought in my SNES and hooked it up to the TV in the room and played Final Fantasy II (or IV, depending on how you count) for 2 hours. Another day I was playing with an exacto knife and sliced open my thumb. When I went and asked Mrs. Johnson for help, she was on the phone and said to wait a minute without looking; when she turned around after the phonecall, I was patiently waiting next to her with my hands cupped and overflowing with blood from my thumb. She almost fainted.

So that's the environment where I met Lee.

The first project we worked on together was with Will and Sam, two other classmates who would later become some of my best friends (and one a future roommate). We made a diorama (STEP loved these things) of the environment of a Tazmanian Devil. It consisted of a 5 quart ice cream bucket filled with dirt and some grass, twigs, and leaves spread about with a hole in the middle. An entire school quarter worth of skipped class hours for a project that took us about 10 minutes to do. I loved being one of the "smart" kids.

So, Lee.

When I first met Lee we got along well enough. We weren't best friends, but I knew his name and he knew mine. At the time, I had my friends and, frankly, I wasn't really interested in making new friends (this is a running theme in my life). Sixth grade was much like fifth, except Krister and I were in the same class and became pretty good friends. And I had a crush on Erin Frazee; she was a year younger than us but was in our grade, was a math prodigy, lived down the street from me, and being 12 and unsure how to talk to girls and scared that people would laugh at me for liking her, I mocked her instead of being nice to her. I was a stupid kid.

In seventh grade my parents requested that I not have a certain teacher my brother and sister had had (why I don't really know) and as such was put into a different "pod" than most of my friends. Pods were our schools way of integrating kids into junior high by having them be in classes with other kids who lived near them, presuming those kids know each other and thus making the transition easier. Because of my parents' request, I
was put into the orange pod; all my friends were in the red pod. Initially, I was not happy about this. At least, I wasn't until I found out that because of this transition, my locker was right next to Peter Gulsvig's, a kid I'd been good friends with in grade school. He was one of the best artists I knew then and now, he's unbelievable. You can check out his work at www.petergulsvig.com. He's also one of the most creative people I've ever met, even if things sometimes slip his mind (such as using a toilet that isn't actually connected to anything). Both of us being in the orange pod and our lockers being next to each other meant we saw a lot of each other. We had been close friends in grade school, quickly caught up on the last 4 years of our lives and became best friends again. I also became great friends with Will and Sam then, too.

In eighth grade, the pod system was removed and we were all integrated with every kid from our grade. With our last names being so close, Peter and I had lockers that were one apart, so we still saw a lot of each other. We'd play games all weekend long nearly every weekend, playing everything from RISK to Monopoly to running around outside at nighttime making up stories to Dungeons & Dragons. D&D was probably the most significant thing we did; not for the nerdery of it, but because Lee also liked to play and because Peter liked Lee he invited him to join us.

When we played D&D, we didn't play it in the serious dress-up-like-your-character style. We played to laugh our heads off and eat pizza all night long. One game had Lee playing an insane wizard who carried around body parts from old battles in a cart behind him. When we tried to enter a city the guards wouldn't let him in without a cover on this cart of old human limbs. When Lee was told this, he exclaimed, "It must be blue!" Being Lee, he did it in his character's voice (a very high pitch squeel) and screamed it out. At the time, I wasn't all to impressed - Peter burst out laughing and for years to come would reference this - now, I think it's one of the best lines Lee has ever said.

I'll be honest, at the time, Lee annoyed me. I don't know why, but he did. Still, Peter and Krister liked him, as did Craig and John and Sam and Will - this, by the way, is the same group of friends I would have for the next 5 years of my life - and so he kept hanging out with us.

Eighth grade was also the year I developed a huge crush on Ashley Kujanson; a crush that would permeate through high school and actually cause me to take French 3 so that my schedule would match up with her's. This crush is also the same reason I treated Krister like crap for the next 3 years. I still feel bad for that. Sorry, Krister.

That was also the year that I told Barb Strnad I wasn't interested in her because she shaved her head. That was a mistake and a half. I spent the next 4 years trying to get a date with that girl, too. Last I heard she's been dating a guy for like 5 years. I'm glad she found someone she loves, and kind of sad that I wasn't that someone. Barb was the girl who made me interested in redheads; I should really thank her for that.

I did a lot of really, really, really, stupid things that year.

So, Lee.

In high school Lee and I started hanging out more. I realized that the things I had previously found annoying were in fact awesome and over the years we became great friends. We hung out a lot during theatre and speech trips and I think it's safe to say he became my best friend.
When we graduated he went to the U of M, I stuck around in Moorhead because I was dating Lindsey, and we sort of lost touch. I'd talk to him every now and then when I'd go down to Minneapolis, but that was usually so I had a place to stay when I wanted to visit Lindsey, who had recently become my ex. I think Lee knew this, but being the kind of guy he is, he always let me stay as long as I wanted, would stay up all night with me (I was working overnights), and didn't even yell at me when I woke him up at 6am to let me in the dorms when he had class the next day. He sacrificed a lot of sleep for me.

Around this time Lee said one of the most significant things in my life. In the Summer of 2004, Lindsey broke up with me. I loved her with all my heart and wanted more than anything to marry her (I had asked, she had said 'yes'; we were going to get married that December). Looking back, maybe it was for the best; I don't know. At the time, I was broken. I couldn't sleep, I didn't want to do anything, I couldn't find happiness in anything. I cried. I cried a lot.

On the night of October 5th, 2004, I stayed up all night.
Something snapped inside me. I was utterly and completely broken. I didn't know what to do. By that time, it had been three months since Lindsey and I broke up and I had tried everything. I didn't know what to do next, so I just got on my weblog (then located on Xanga) and just started writing. At 6:45 AM on October 6th, I produced an essay that still holds as the truest, most accurate depiction of myself I have ever written. It was about my fears, about how I feel inadequate, about how even though I might say I'm confident and act like I don't care what other people think I really do. About how my greatest fear is that my friends don't need me and that if they could find someone who makes them laugh more or smile more or give them rides to the store that they wouldn't need me in their lives.

When I was done, I felt better. It's cathartic to express yourself completely. I still have a copy of that post (I had it framed on my wall for years) and it's still up on my Xanga site - if someone wants the link I can post it [due to requests, the post I made can be found here]. But the most significant thing that came from that post was the comment that Lee left. At the bottom of the post - at the bottom of a post that I believe to this day describes me and who I am more clearly and accurately than anything that has ever been said or written about me - Lee wrote this
[the image was added for this post]:

It's almost worrisome how, when one pours out oneself as you have, the rest of us identify so easily, but it also adds to the beauty of this human comedy. For what it's worth, I love you quite unconditionally.

I still remember that comment perfectly. I still remember how it made me feel. How, for the first time since Lindsey had left me that I felt like I was actually wanted. That someone in this world actually wanted me here and liked me for me.

I knew my family loved me, but they're my family - they have to love me. Lee doesn't. Even now I can remember that comment and it makes me smile even in the
hardest of times. It's the first and I believe only time someone I'm not related to has told me they love me unconditionally. It's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.


Two years later, Lee moved back to Moorhead because the U of M is freakin' expensive and his housing situation
had gone sour (which resulted in quite a long legal case). When he came back to Moorhead, we started hanging out again. I can't express how glad I was to have Lee back. We soon started hanging out almost daily. Half the time we wouldn't even do anything; we'd maybe play some video games, but mostly we'd just sit around in one of our living rooms and talk or cook something (Lee is largely responsible for my love of cooking). We did this for about the next two years.

Six months ago I moved out of Fargo-Moorhead for the first time. I moved to Provo, Utah. It was a slight change going from Northwest Minnesota to Utah. The scenery, the climate, the people, the culture, life itself is different here. There are a lot of great people here, but none compare to Lee. No one I've met makes me feel as comfortable as Lee did. He was always there, and we could both do whatever we wanted, up to and including squawking and screaming "KWEHH!" as loud as we could. It's a Final Fantasy IX reference. Well, some of it is.

Lee was - and still is - always happy to see me. I know there were days when he's sad or isn't feeling well, but I can't recall a single time when he has ever said, "I don't really feel like it" when I asked him to hang out. He was, and still is, always excited to talk and do absolutely nothing together. He's always willing to be there, even when you don't want to do anything. He can debate philosophy, discuss politics, science, math, and literature, cook just about anything, and be there when what you need is just someone who loves you.

He's my best friend. More than anything in Fargo-Moorhead, I miss Lee. I hope he reads this.

I love you, buddy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Apparently I don't qualify

My search for car insurance has been interesting at best. So far, GEICO has produced the best quote for decent coverage. I decided not to go with their "minimal coverage" for about $20 a month which, from what I could tell, just gave you a piece of paper that says "you're insured," since it came with no coverage whatsoever.

While submitting forms for quotes from various companies, I noticed that while GEICO and Esurance have basic car companies such as Ford, Honda, Chevy, and Saturn listed on their forms, State Farm has Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Rolls Royce listed on theirs. I also noticed that when I clicked "get quote" on State Farm's website it linked me to Progressive's site.

I guess I don't qualify for State Farm insurance.

Jack's Obsession

What does it all mean?

What does it mean to be an adult? Is it taking control of your finances, your bills, your expenses? Is self-sufficiency enough to be an adult?

There has to be more.

I keep see-sawing back and forth between feeling like I'm finally an adult and feeling like I never want to get out of bed. Every time I think things are starting to fall into place something happens to destroy the little world I've created for myself.

Most recently it's car insurance and registration. This isn't wholly unexpected or unforeseen. When I got my car last July I told my father I'd take over paying for it when I had the money. Well, in one sense of the word I have the money now. In another sense, I don't.

I'm trying to pay off some bills and save up some money so I'm no longer scraping the bottom of the barrel to make it through each month. I did well for about a month, but now with having to register my car and pay for insurance, that extra money I've saved up is going to be gone.

The company I work for provides health, life, dental, and eye insurance. They've even get a 75% discount on health insurance for getting a yearly physical and exercising (which I still need to get). While all of these things are considered "standard" for benefits at work, car insurance isn't. I can't figure out why. My only assumption is that car insurance is more expensive and companies don't want to take that burden.

The Ensign this month has a few articles on being single. One of the articles was written by someone I can only imagine is a single graduate student about the things he's learned and his advice. The issue is that getting advice from someone who's single about being single is kind of like getting advice on quitting smoking from a tobacco company. The converse doesn't work either: getting advice on being single from someone who's married doesn't bode well, either. Most of my married friends seem to have forgotten what it's like being single. I don't blame them for this; when I was dating Lindsey I had no idea what it was like to meet people or not have anyone to watch a movie with.

When people find that person they connect with, they forget how hard it was trying to find them. They might remember dating and being lonely, but that's about it. They assume that because they found someone that you will to. They assume that it's just a matter of not dating enough, not being outgoing, not making a move, or, the most insulting, not being worthy.

People don't understand what it's like being single in this world. It's not as simple as dating more or being more friendly or praying daily. I don't fit into the Provo crowd; I didn't fit into the Minnesota crowd. I'm stuck in this intermediate limbo.

I have friends here. I have a small group I hang out with regularly and people who honestly seem to care about me. The problem is I don't feel like anyone understands me. No one here really knows me. Maybe I'm spoiled because for over half my life I had the same group of friends - Lee, Peter, Will, John, Craig, Sam - most of whom knew me from grade school to college and as such they actually knew who I was. My brother and sister knew me when I was young but they didn't know me in high school or college.

I still don't feel at home here. I still don't feel like anyone knows me.

I guess that's what I've been searching for. I think that's what everyone is searching for: someone who knows them, who understands them. It's not a matter of love - you can love someone and not understand them. This is more personal. This isn't about someone just loving me because they should or because it's Christ-like. I don't want to be just a part of a crowd that's loved. I don't want to be included simply because I'm one of the group.

I want someone who wants to be with me because of who I am.

I found that once.

I don't know if I'll ever find that again.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Be careful what you google at work

While talking with someone online today, the topic of kittens came up. Being fond of kittens, I decided to google "cute kitten" and see what came up.

I found this:

I then proceeded to follow link after link after link for the period of about an hour watching "cutest kitten" videos on YouTube.

You've got to be careful what you google at work; it could quickly turn into many hours worth of watching kittens.

(for those curious, it's a munchkin kitten)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Contracts

I've decided not to set my phone to roaming and get out of my Sprint contract. I honestly feel guilty for doing it. Sprint has been really good to me and even when I called asking about roaming the guy was so cheery and helpful I really felt bad doing this to them. They've been good to me; I'll be good to them and honor my contract.

Gold's Gym is making me wonder though. I really don't like the facility I'm a member of. It's a pretty bare-bones gym. They've got a lot of weight and machines. Lots of cardio machines. Even a small lap pool for swimming. They also have really nice racquetball courts that they charge extra for (which I don't approve of). They also lack a running track.

I suppose in reality I'm not completely unsatisfied with Gold's Gym. I'm mostly just opposed to the contract I signed. I didn't think much about a two-year contract when I enrolled in a membership, but not I don't like the idea of it. Anytime Fitness seems like a much better place, and Orem is getting one shortly. Plus Gold's Gym is quite literally notorious for being a ***** when it comes to getting out of a contract. By that I mean you can't get out of it. You can't cancel it as long as you live within 25 miles of a facility and, here's the real kicker, verbal promises don't count as binding contracts and it says in the fine print that even if part of the contract is declared illegal or unenforceable by law, the other parts of the contract remain enforced and legal. That's legal gibberish for "we can tell you whatever we want to get you to sign and don't have to abide by it, and if at any time we get sued because of what this contract says, you're still stuck with it."

It's not that I don't like the place, it's that I don't like their policies and the simple fact that they had to put that in the contract. It's like borrowing $20 from a friend and them making you sign a contract that has 10% monthly interest; it just doesn't feel right.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Customer service vs. totally freakin' awesome

Two posts ago I wrote about how good Sprint has treated me. Today the iPhone 3G came out.

I'm seriously considering purchasing one.

Yes, that would mean going to AT&T (unless I unlocked the phone, but then I don't think it would work with iTunes and as such all those spiffy new apps wouldn't work) which would mean having to cancel my Sprint contract for a hefty fee. However, the new iPhone is subsidized by AT&T so it no longer carries the $599 price tag; it carries a shiny new $199 price tag.

This drop in cost isn't without repercussions. The iPhone service plans now cost $10 more, but that translates into about 3 years worth of service before the price difference matches the original $599. That's not too shabby.

I just did some searches online for the actual cost of my cancellation fee from Sprint. Looks like it'd be about $150, which is roughly 3 months of service. Now, I can get Sprint to cancel my contract for me by having 50% or more of my minutes each month be roaming for 3 consecutive months. This is because at that point I'm costing them more than I'm paying them and so they cancel the contract. This is, after all, a market interaction. If I'm not profitable for them, they'll ditch me.

After looking over the details of my plan I see that roaming is included in my plan at no extra cost and this has been confirmed after call Sprint's customer service, who were once again exemplary. Now, my phone has a nifty little option called "roaming only." Why anyone would program such a feature into a phone in the first place is beyond me. This option literally says "don't use the normal network, just those that other companies own." Seriously, what's the purpose of that option existing at all? By simply selecting that option I can make it so my phone will only select roaming towers and as such build up my roaming minutes. This means that all my calls and all operations done on my phone will be racking up those roaming minutes. In 3 months I'll be out of my contract.

Of course, anyone decent at mathematics can do a little basic multiplication and realize that $45 a month (my regular rate) times 3 months is $135, while a $150 cancellation fee is only a few dollars more and becomes active immediately; that means I could get an iPhone all the sooner. The issue is that with the early cancellation I'd still owe this month's bill, which would tack on another $45. So that means that early cancellation option is now $195 and the "roaming to cancel" option is still only $135.

Plus at the moment I can't afford the $199 for the iPhone, so a few months would give me time to save up, pay off some more bills, and probably have a better chance of getting one since I'm pretty sure they're sold out right now.

I might still stop at Simply Mac on the way home. For ... fun.

EDIT: For the record, using roaming more is not wholly illogical for me at the moment. At home I get 0-1 bars of reception; while roaming I get 4-5. It really does make sense to use roaming because I get better, more reliable service.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

GMAT

Working for Grand Canyon University, I get free enrollment to their online classes. They offer basic degrees (nursing, business, education, etc) and a few MBA programs.

I'm thinking that since I get free enrollment, I should go into one of the MBA programs since a free MBA would be stupid to pass up. However, while GCU is ranked as the 3rd top online business school, it doesn't come near qualifying for the best business schools in America.
BYU's Marriott School of Business does, being ranked #1 by the Wall Street Journal in 2007; #29 from U.S. News & World Report in 2009. A free degree is tempting, but a degree from one of the top schools in the nation is moreso.

I studied physics in my undergraduate education, most people know that. Recently, I read a book on behavioral economics, Predictably Irrantional by Dan Ariely, a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Business Management; it was one of the most fascinating books I've read. I had no idea business school covered such in-depth analysis of economics and behavior. I assumed it was largely "this is a hedge fund" and "when you're employees punch each other, you should determine who started it and they should be fired" kind of stuff.

After reading the book, I'm enthralled by the subject of behavioral economics. The last time I was this engrossed in a subject was when I read The Elegant Universe by Brian Green which pushed me to study physics for my undergraduate degree. It doesn't seem too far fetched that another book would push me to study another topic for my graduate degree.

While it is a different subject, there are many tie-ins between physics and behavioral economics. Experimentation, data analysis, scrutinzation of procedures and statistical analysis are all skills I've acquired and all are useful in this field.

I looked up BYU's admission requirements for the Marriott School of Business: they say that the 50th percentile is needed on the math portion to be "competitive," and the written portion doesn't have a significant impact. I just took a practice GMAT test for the advanced math portion - I scored a 92% (I should have scored a 97%, but missed details in two problems that cost me). I imagine that a 92% would put me above the 50th percentile and make my score "competitive."

I think I might apply.

Why I'm with Sprint

I've had Sprint as my wireless company for quite a few years. Five, to be exact.

During this time, I've had friends choose Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and just about every other possible carrier over Sprint. Why? Probably because most consumer reports regularly rate Sprint as bottom-of-the-barrel for wireless quality. Ok, fair point.

I've always had good service with them. I might not always have five bars and to be fair most of the time I only have two to three at most, but with the digital signal I've never had static or even a dropped call. Of course, most of my friends have the same
experience on their networks, so that can be dropped as a valid reason for sticking with Sprint. They also charge a less-than-competitive amount for service. It's not horrible, but it could be better.

The reason I stick with Sprint is because of their customer service. About every six months I get a call from them asking if I'd like to extend my contract, and I usually say I would because they've got national coverage which means whenever I travel I don't pay extra and my service stays the same - very useful for work and when I moved. The real bonus about this is that they've more than once offered a "thank you" for me sticking with them in the form of a free month - even two or three months - of service. It's a nice little "you've been a good customer and we're going to repay you" action that
I really like.

Today was another great example. I check my bill for June: $112.58. Normally, my monthly bill is around $45-50. Not $100+. My initial reaction is "did I forget to pay last month?" After checking,
I find that, no, I didn't forget to pay last month. I look online and don't see any reason for this excessive charge. This prompts a call to their customer service. I call Sprint's customer service and after dealing with the annoying voice recognition software (seriously, I'm totally ok with just hitting numbers to select options; the "say your option" thing is annoying) I get to talk to a nice lady with a presumably Indian accent. She's very helpful, understanding, and after explaining my situation she explains the charges: $10 for internet usage (downloaded some ringers) and $46 for ~230 text messages over my 300 limit, and then taxes for the remaining few dollars.

Just last month I had checked my average text message usage to see if I needed to upgrade to unlimited messaging. Sprint has a nifty graph that shows your monthly usage in various categories, and text messages are one of them. I use on average about 220 text messages a month, so I had determined that I didn't need to upgrade. Apparently last month I texted more than twice my usual amount. And it was going to cost me.

Here's the happy ending: the representative I'm speaking with says that she can upgrade my plan to unlimited messaging and she'll even waive the fees for this month. After about 20 minutes on the phone, I get my bill paid for the month of June and it goes from $112.58 to $50.81. The really cool thing? I didn't ask her to do any of that. I was just calling to ask why my bill was so much higher than usual and she offered to add unlimited messaging and waive the fees.

That's good customer service.