Why I Love Amazon Prime

Several weeks ago, Brit ordered a large tent for the wedding from an Amazon third party seller, Aubuchon Hardware. The delivery window extended through July 22nd.

On the 21st, it still showed as “shipping soon”, so she emailed them to find out what was up. Their reply? It was backordered and expected around the end of the month. !!!

Obviously, she told them to cancel the order. Amazon doesn’t sell that particular tent themselves, but they sell a slightly better version that costs quite a bit more; on the bright side, we didn’t have to pay the $65 shipping. The page said that it would take an extra 4-5 days to ship, so I paid $3.99 for next day shipping to make sure it’s here in time for the wedding next week. This happened two days ago.

Yesterday afternoon, the tent was delivered. $4 for next-day delivery of a tent that, according to Amazon’s page, weighs 119 pounds (142 pounds shipping weight), and we don’t have to deal with incompetent sellers.

At $79/year for the Prime membership (and free this year with my student email account), that’s what I call a bargain!

Photos of Central City

A few weeks ago, after a day spent preparing for the wedding, Brit and I decided to grab the camera, hop in the car, and head west towards the mountains. Brit suggested Lookout Point, but before we arrived we decided to just keep going; eventually we decided to follow the signs to “Hidden Valley” and ended up in Central City.  I’ve been meaning to check it out for a few years, but wasn’t intending to do it this month! We went in to one of the casinos and lost $5 in a video poker machine for the heck of it, but mostly we just wandered around and took photos.

I thought I’d go ahead and post a few of the pictures here. These have not yet been photoshopped or altered in any way, with the obvious exception of shrinking down the file size so this page doesn’t take forever to load! The photos were all taken with my Nikon D300 using a Tamron 17-50 f/2.8.

Continue reading Photos of Central City

What I’m Reading

I’ve been reading quite a bit of different material lately; here’s a quick roundup.

As I mentioned last week, I recently finished and reviewed SEO Warrior by John Jerkovic; I’m currently reading books on iPhone application design and Javascript programming, which I hope to finish by the end of the month, and I have one on PHP I’ll be reading after that. I’m currently looking for full-time work, and I’ve always been interested in web development, so I decided to take advantage of whatever free time I have to pick up the skills that are in demand in this area. Thanks go out to O’Reilly for keeping me supplied with good books lately!

FiveThirtyEight has an interesting article, with discussion, about the history of countries cutting spending during a recession. The Baltic states, for example, slashed spending immediately after the credit bubble popped in 2008, and have since suffered the deepest recessions in Europe. China, on the other hand, increased government spending with a massive (relatively the world’s largest, although smaller than America’s in absolute dollar terms) that went towards infrastructure (as I’ve argued that most of ours should have); as a result, not only is the country being upgraded, but wages are actually increasing.  In fact, China’s economy grew by 8.7% in 2009.

I’m currently contributing five articles per month to BrightHub, mostly on the topics of college and graduate school (actually, all of my articles are in those two areas right now, but I’ll also be writing on family friendly games and web development). So far my most popular article by far is the one on choosing a PhD thesis topic, though  the one on PhD requirements is a strong second. Occasionally I’ll just browse through the articles and see if I find anything interesting. Today I ran across this cute Sunday School lesson about creation; if I still taught Sunday School I could totally see doing something like this.

Next week I’ll want to start reading up on the hot deals in Vegas in preparation for the honeymoon; we already got half-price tickets for Cirque,  but there are a number of other shows we’d like to see. I particularly want to see Lance Burton, since I just missed his last show when we were there before and this will apparently be his final season.

Have a .edu email address? Get Amazon Prime free

Amazon.com has a cool promotion going – sign up for Amazon Student and get a free year of Amazon Prime (and they reserve the right to possibly extend that). For those not in the know, Amazon Prime is a $79 a year service that entitles you to free second day shipping on anything that’s eligible for free super saver shipping (ie, pretty much everything Amazon sells); next day shipping costs $3.99 per item.

When I saw this posted on Lifehacker, I ignored it at first because I already have Amazon Prime; I got in on a free trial years ago and found it to be too useful to do without.  Then a friend of mine who also has Prime added her student account and found that they canceled the remainder of her Prime subscription, refunded her for it, and signed her up for the free year. That got me moving; it turned out I was only a few months from renewal, so I got a year free and a $13 refund on my subscription. Woot!

Scam, scam, scam

I hardly ever get chain emails, because I have a tendency to do a “reply all” debunking everything in them, which annoys the people sending them. I don’t know if they stopped sending them or just stopped sending them to me; either way, mission accomplished!

However, my dad still gets them and he’ll pass them on to me to ask if there’s any truth in them (there generally isn’t). The latest one I got is regarding HR 1388, The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which expands the size of Americorps and other volunteer programs. The email claims that Congress and President Obama  are secretly spending over $20 million to bring members of Hamas to the United States.

As with many email scams, it pulls from several actual bills to create something that will fool the gullible. HR 1388 is a real bill, that has nothing to do with Hamas, and Obama really did sign an order authorizing $20.3 million towards humanitarian needs in Gaza, on top of the $27.5 million that Bush  allocated for the same purpose two years earlier. Neither, of course, had anything to do with bringing members of Hamas (or anyone else) to the US.

Really, people, there’s a pretty simple rule you can follow: if you get it through email and it makes outrageous claims, particularly about the democrats in Congress, it’s almost certainly not true. I’ve gotten dozens of such emails, all of them claiming that Obama or (before Obama) the democrats were doing something nasty, and every single one was easily and demonstrably false; in fact, in every case, a quick trip to Snopes provided documentation to that effect. If you must pass on chain letters, fine, but please, take three minutes to do a little basic research; otherwise, you pass on misinformation and make yourself look dumb when someone takes the time to actually look it up.

Short version: gossip is bad; malicious third-hand gossip is worse and is probably wrong on top of that, particularly when it comes in through mass email. Knock it off!

Update 7/14: got another one today, this time the one that’s been going around since 2004 claiming the ACLU (another favorite target of fake emails)  is trying to keep service members from praying; as usual, a quick check of Snopes shows it to be 100% false. Chain emails, bad; forwarding emails without checking Snopes first, worse!

College: Still not for everybody

I know I already ranted about why not everyone should go to college, but I was reminded today of my first year at CSU. The class I TA’s my first three semesters was called CS 110: Personal Computing; it was an introduction to computers for non-majors that covered how to use Windows and Microsoft Office.

Now, this is pretty much the easiest college class possible, because it’s divided into units (one for Windows, one for Word, etc) and you can opt out of a unit by getting 85% or higher on the pretest; then your pretest grade is your grade for that unit. A few people, but not many, take advantage of that, which is somewhat surprising considering that all of the pretest questions are available in advance.

So let’s review. There’s a pool of questions, which make up the pre- and post-tests,  that are available from the beginning of the semester for anyone who wants to go over as often as they want. There are three TAs and over a dozen lab assistants to help you figure out the answers if you get stuck when practicing for the pretest. This is a 100-level (freshman) class.

And yet…we have people who fail to graduate because they take the class senior year and don’t pass.

I would like to offer commentary on this, but seriously…words fail me.

If you’re an undergraduate reading this, I’d like you to take away two things:

  1. If you’re offered an easy way to learn the material while doing less work, take it! It’s less work for you, the instructor, and the TA.
  2. Don’t wait ’til the last minute to take required classes, especially required classes in an area you’re not particularly comfortable with. This is particularly true of classes that may not be offered every semester; you really don’t want to wait a whole ‘nother year to graduate!
  3. If you don’t understand what’s going on, ask for help! What’s particularly annoying about people failing this particular class is that there was almost always someone in the computer lab ready to explain how to do something; the class was pretty much designed to be difficult to fail. If your class has a TA, he almost certainly has office hours; use them!

Rant: Teacher Pay

So this afternoon I’ve been looking at job openings for community colleges in the Denver area. Not many places have full-time openings (and the ones that do have an annoying tendency to not answer their email in spite of requesting applications through email), but there tend to be a small number of adjunct positions open at each college.

So what leads to today’s rant? I was looking at the salary listings for one of the community colleges.  Lecture classes, like math, pay $609.00 per credit hour, which is disgustingly low; even if you taught a full 5 classes per semester, that’s only $18,270 per year for a job that requires a master’s degree! On the other hand, if you teach a PE class, that pays a somewhat more respectable $1,218.00 per credit hour. Seriously? Teaching someone to throw a ball is worth twice as much as teaching them to do algebra?

Anyway, suppose a class meets for only fifteen weeks each semester, twice per week for 75 minutes each time. A math class generally has homework due every week; assume that the instructor is pretty efficient and can finish grading the homework in four hours. That comes to a total of 6.5 hours of work each week, not counting office hours. A class that meets 2.5 hours per week would be three credit hours; 15 credit hours would thus work out to 32.5 hours per week, which is probably more than full time once you add in having to drive between three colleges to get that many classes. At that rate, the typical graduate student loan should be paid off in roughly…forever…


As I mentioned before, one of the books I’m reading this month is about PHP, MySQL, and Javascript. One minor annoyance when working on server-size scripting is, of course, the need for a server. True, if you’re a student it may not be that much of a hassle to ssh in to the lab computers, but it’s still one more step, plus you may end up making things publicly available without intending it.

Personally, I want to work on my own computer with the tools I have installed here; at the moment that’s a Windows 7 machine (although I’ll be booting up linux later to play with Google Go). Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to set up a WAMP  (Windows Apache/MySQL/PHP) and do everything locally. Right now I’m using EasyPHP; it’s a simple install and makes it easy to start and stop Apache and MySQL as needed.

XKCD comic
This has been fixed, but the point remains.