Monthly Archives: September 2013

I Saved $500 a Year by Switching Cell Carriers

It's not a cellphone, but you get the sentiment...

It’s not a cellphone, but you get the sentiment…

You know how Verizon charges you $200+ for the latest cellphone, and then they don’t allow you to use it with any other carriers? Yeah, that’s absurd. I finally scrounged up the courage to wean myself from the great big teat that is Verizon Wireless. While I can’t complain about their coverage or cellular service, I can complain about their high bills. I was paying $90 per month, and that was the lowest plan I could get with a smartphone.

Despite being only halfway through my latest 2-year contract with Verizon Wireless, I decided to switch to Straight Talk. Why? Even if I pay a hefty termination fee, I’ll be saving money over the next year. Unfortunately, with Straight Talk I won’t have Verizon’s amazing nationwide coverage. Originally, I come from the boonies of Montana, so giving up that coverage really feels like giving something up. However, I live in the city now, and Straight Talk has me covered, so why not? Here’s how my savings stack up:

  • Verizon annual access charge: $1080
  • Verizon annual technology cost: $100 ($200 every two years if I get the best new phone)
  • Total Annual Verizon Cost: $1180

My early termination fee is $230, but I should be able to recoup that by selling my old phone on eBay. Used S3’s are going for approximately $250.

  • Straight Talk annual access charge: $576
  • Straight Talk annual technology cost: $95 (assuming I buy a lesser quality phone every 2 years)
  • Straight Talk incidentals: $3 ($15 SIM card spread out over 5? years)
  • Total Annual Straight Talk Cost: $674

Total Annual Savings: $506

In making this switch, I had to give up my Samsung Galaxy S3 ($700) for a smaller, older, and more modest Galaxy Ace Plus ($175 on eBay). Downsizing isn’t that bad, though. I’ve always thought the S3 was too large–it barely fit in my pocket. Why do I need a large screen gadget in my pocket when I use my laptop for virtually all internet access?

The switch itself wasn’t entirely free of headache. To save my existing phone number, I had Straight Talk “port” it in from Verizon Wireless. The moment that happened, Verizon disabled access to my online account. I was completely unable to log in to download old statements or check the existing balance on my account. I had to endure a lengthy chat with a customer service agent just to find out how to pay the rest of my balance and the early termination fee. As for Straight Talk, my data didn’t work at all for the first couple of days. I spent a long time on the phone with an agent before he told me that I would just have to give it more time. After several days and still no data, I started searching online for APN settings that would give me data access. After about six tries, I finally found one that worked. It was for iPhones. Yeah… I’m running Android, and the APN settings given to me by Straight Talk don’t work, but settings for a completely different operating system work perfectly. I’m glad that’s over. Now that everything is running smoothly, I’m very glad to be rid of my $90/month two-year contracts.

Image credit: Smashed phone image copyright (c) 2012 Solarbotics and made available under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Categories: Affording College | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joining the Math Club

Can you find the cat in the junk pile?

Can you find the cat?

Today I visited my college’s math club for the first time. We met in a room in the mathematics department–all six of us. Out of about 11,000 students enrolled for college credit, the math club consisted of 3 professors and 2 other students. It is my understanding, however, that there are more than 5 members–they just didn’t all show up today for one reason or another.

It wasn’t exactly what I had anticipated. To be fair, I’ve never been part of an academic club, so I probably shouldn’t’ve’d (should not have had) preconceptions. For some reason, I expected the math club meeting to be a more challenging and more participatory version of a math lecture. It wasn’t. We watched the last part of a documentary on the Riemann Hypothesis (apparently they had watched the first part in last week’s meeting) after which they bandied about esoteric words like “topology” and tried to find a well-hidden cat in a photo of a massive junk pile, because, well you know–mathematicians are blind people in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn’t there.

I did find the experience interesting. I think I will officially join the club and begin attending it as regularly as I can. It’s an opportunity to network with like-minded people, and it’ll expand my horizons when it comes to number theory.

Categories: College Life, Math | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Surviving Anti-intellectualism

Empty desks...

Empty desks…

None of my old friends ever went to college. Zero! None of my extended family has ever gone to college. Zip! I don’t think I even have cousins that have gone to college, and coming from an Amish family, you know that I have a crapload of cousins. Maybe it should come as no surprise that almost everyone I interact with discourages, in one way or another, my college education.

When I first told my family that I had enrolled in college, I expected silent pride at the least. Instead, they told me that they would be proud of me if I returned to the Amish. I guess anything less wouldn’t qualify. When asked what I plan on “becoming”, I said I want to become a rocket scientist (after being unable to adequately explain what it means to be a physicist). My father suggested that scientists, are on the whole, not a very bright lot of people. After that very uncomfortable exchange, I don’t bring up the subject of education anymore.

My fiancee’s Amish family rewards our dreams of education with what appears to be barely suppressed derision or perhaps they’re just skeptical of our mental well-being. They offer all sorts of tidbits on why we should just stay where we are and keep doing what we’ve always done. My friends don’t actively discourage our dreams of education, but they will readily admit that they have no desire for one themselves.

Most Amish and ex-Amish regard higher education (anything more than 8 grades) with disdain and derision. They consider it unnecessary, impractical, and a distraction from the meaningful things in life–whatever they think those may be. I find it difficult to understand that kind of mentality. I’ve always enjoyed learning, and I have an insatiable curiosity about the mechanics of the universe. I am utterly unable to understand how some people can be anti-LEARNING.

In any case, they’re not going to change my mind about education. If anything, it’s only further cemented my urge to intellectually distinguish myself from them.

Image credit: Empty desks image copyright (c) 2007 Richard Lee and made available under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Course Notes: ENC 1101 Written Communications I

So much writing...

Write right!

Periodically, after completing a college course, I will publish some of my thoughts on the course. Hopefully, somehow, somewhere, they will help another undergraduate. This is one of those posts.


To tell you the truth, when I registered for this course at my college, I didn’t expect to learn a lot from it. I considered myself a fairly good writer already, and no “beginner” writing course could possibly improve that. Could it? I registered for the course because it is a required undergraduate course for my school. Furthermore, it seemed like it would be an easy course–the perfect way to ease myself into college studies.

ENC 1101 focuses on grammar, MLA, and essay writing. The three required essays probably gives most college students the shivers, but with my enjoyment of writing, I approached them with little trepidation. It did turn out to be a pretty easy course for me; however, contrary to my initial thoughts, I learned quite a bit from it.

The most valuable thing I learned from this course is that commas are not to be sprinkled willy-nilly among the words. I had always approached comma usage at an intuitive level. To judge whether or not a comma was needed, I would simply insert it to see if it sounds right–clauses be damned. What I learned is that even something as seemingly nebulous as grammar, a subject with which I tended to rely solely on intuition, is governed by rules. To excel at grammar, those rules simply need to be learned.

By learning about the different types of clauses and the proper construction of compound and complex sentences, I now proof my essays in a much more systematic manner. Instead of simply reading it and trying to figure out if it sounds right, I now pick the clauses apart. Instead of making essay-writing more complicated, it’s actually made it easier. No more vacillating on whether or not a sentence needs a comma–just identify the clauses and apply the rules.

ENC 1101 was also my first exposure to the vast array of written resources available to college students. Prior to this, if I wanted to read a research paper, I was usually hit with a pay-wall. Now, I simply log in to my college’s library and access the paper through one of the hundreds of academic databases that my school is subscribed to. It’s amazing!

Learning how to properly document and cite (MLA) research sources is another important aspect of this course. I’ve learned that many professors are quite strict (read anal) about proper documentation. Not that it’s unimportant. It really is important. Plagiarism is despicable even if professors uses scare tactics to drill it into you.


So, here are some tips that oozed out of the goo within my skull while I was taking ENC 1101:

Essay writing, particularly if you’re being scored by a college professor in a low-level writing course, is not art. This is not the time to be too experimental with your writing. It is commonly accepted by such professors that an essay requires three parts; introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Furthermore, the introduction must contain an obvious thesis sentence, and all body paragraphs must have obvious topic sentences. Deviation from this structure is punishable by B’s and C’s. It gets worse. Sentences must be complete, and they may not be run on to each other. All of these rules may seem arbitrary but if you follow them, your professor will smile lovingly upon you. The good news is that all these rules can actually make it easier to write essays. Instead of blindly following your intuition, you now have checklists and precise recipes to follow. Personally, I feel that a carefully constructed essay reads contrived. My professor probably didn’t care what it made me feel like.

Improve your writing by writing a lot and striving to always use impeccable grammar.

How to analyze your own essay:

  1. Take a mental step back when you’re reading it. Pretend that someone else wrote it. How would you grade it? Why?
  2. Read it quickly. Does it flow? Is it alive? (If it’s alive, forward it to scientists. A living essay must surely be an unusual and wondrous species.)
  3. Read it slowly and analyze it–first by paragraph, then by sentence, and then by clause.

Sometimes when I write, I feel what I want to say, but the words just don’t flow from my head. In those cases, it often helps me to make it more personal. What words would I use if I was actually experiencing these things that I am trying to write about? Sometimes, it helps to change the setting. By picking the theme/subject out of the paragraph and throwing it into the midst of fighting spider-people on some alien planet, the right words might suddenly come to me.

Those, in an ordinary-sized nutshell, are my thoughts on ENC 1101.

Image credit: Pen image copyright (c) 2007 Fabio and made available under Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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Not Dead

Bad habits all around me...

Bad habits all around me…

No, I’m not dead. It’s been a few weeks since I last posted on here… school, work, and sleep–that’s about all I have time for. However, I need to make time for these posts. I don’t keep a journal anymore (no time), so this blog will have to serve as my public journal. Furthermore, these posts always seem so therapeutic. For me, that is, I don’t know if you feel the same way about them.

I’m currently in the fourth week of my second semester (counting the jam-packed summer semester). Today I completed the first of my monthly trigonometry tests–aced it. On Friday, I have a pre-calc exam, and on Sunday I have an anthropology paper due. Busy, busy, busy, and here I sit writing and taking periodic swigs of cold Budlight (the first one in months, I swear).

I dropped my creative writing course, by the way. Now I’m down to four courses: anthropology, chemistry, pre-calculus, and trigonometry. I dropped it because 1) I was only taking it because I thought it would be an interesting expansion of my studies, 2) I’m already set to go over 65 credit hours by the time I complete my Associate’s degree, and 3) dropping the course opened up a little more time to work and support myself financially.

My goal has always been to be at least a week ahead on my assignments, which would be possible given that I’m only taking online and blended courses this semester. However, I’m not even close to achieving that. My assignments seem to be getting done just in time. Yesterday, for example, I submitted my anthropology assignment with 30 minutes to spare. It’s not that the studies are difficult or the assignments overwhelming in quantity. I’ve simply been working too much the last several weeks.

I really love the studying. I have no social life, and sometimes I yearn for it, but always the urge to study suppresses it. This evening I learned about ionic bonds for the first time. I had always assumed that all chemical compounds come in discrete bite-sized molecules. Now I know that a lot of them form non-discrete 3-dimensional lattice formations via ionic bonds. Amazing isn’t it? I enjoy studying so much that after college, and after grad school, I may well go into research. Theoretical physics… now wouldn’t that be fun?

Categories: College, College Life | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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