Tuesday, November 30, 2004

God hates me

The mounting pile of evidence:

1. Over the past five months, have had one illness or another about 80% of the time. And not pussy stuff like colds--mono and strep throat can put a serious dent in your social life (except on Halloween), not to mention your quality of life.

2. I was sick on Thanksgiving. There was no turkey for me. Or stuffing. Good thing I'm not the bitter type. Especially when it comes to stuffing. ...I also try to abstain from sarcasm.

3. My car stereo was stolen. Again. That's number four.

4. My laptop is out of commission. Seriously, I can take all the rest of this, but depriving me of my laptop is just gratuitous. The best part: if Dell had done their job right, I would have had a whole new AC adapter (which is the part at fault in all this) this past Friday. As it happened, they sent me half an AC adapter... the half that wasn't broken. And then charged me for it. See #2 re: policy on being bitter.

5. Have gotten eight hours of sleep in the past two nights, and it doesn't look like things are going to improve anytime soon.

6. The false lead in my search to find someone to take over my lease that cost about a week and a half of search time. (Only two weeks now before I leave Chicago to drive back to CA in a deathtrap of car that's sans music, to put the timeline in perspective.)

I'll think of more, but I have to get back to fabricating communicating via PowerPoint and the most complex animation sequence ever a customer segmentation strategy for a reputable U.S.-based mobile phone manufacturer whose name rhymes with Joe Davola.

To all you naysayers who would cite so-called "facts" to refute this in some misguided effort to change my somewhat-less-than-sunny outlook by arguing with me, such as my imminent graduation from a tier 1 school with a Master's degree at the age of 22, socioeconomic status, vacation plans, etc.: shut up.

Monday, November 22, 2004

It's official!

While I admit to initial misgivings about Airbrokers International (the company through which I'm booking the airfare that will make my trip possible), misgivings that never fully abated despite their BBB rating, seeing my itinerary online, buying travel insurance, and speaking with a representative there on two separate occasions--maybe I'm just paranoid but I was still trying to figure out backup plans if this airfare never actually showed up at my door--all doubts have now been laid to rest. I just called Cathay Pacific, the airline I'm flying to Hong Kong and Bangkok, and they know who I am! What's more, I was able to request window seats (an absolute must for me) and can now relax with the comfort of knowing that I won't have to sit crammed between two massive people for a 15 1/2 hour flight... at worst, it will be one massive person, and I'll have scenery (well, for maybe the hour of daylight I'll be in the air) to comfort me to some degree. Always love seeing landscape from high up.

Yeah, just basking in my elation at finding that out. Continue with your regularly scheduled program.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

What will they come up with next

So it's the middle of the night and I just finished one of the assignments due tomorrow and am currently awaiting the arrival of the second from the person I'm working with on it. I've got a few minutes, so I thought I'd post the evolution of the title of that first paper, from my initial placeholder title to what my and my friend's addled minds came up with.

It began with "Something Pithy Here: Loyalty in the Online Travel Environment"

Our attempts at "pithy":

Airlines and Hotels and Cars, Oh My!

Damn the Points!

Points European or... oh wait, that doesn't really work with anything else

Destination: Loyalty

Destination: Cheesy

Destination: Give Us an A

Airlines and Bookings and Flights, Oh My!

Something about flying

Flying Through Cyberspace

Surfing the Air

Putting the 'World' in 'World Wide Web' (actually I just came up with that one just now... let me reiterate how late it currently is and how taxed my brain is from sitting down and writing for hours today)

...um, we're still title-less.

Also, it's really disappointing to think "Oh! I can go read the Onion!" when killing time in the middle of the night and then find that you've already read it this week. They really need to fix that turnaround time. Just an observation.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Not all forwards suck

I'm currently swamped by what feels like 37 thousand unique and involved (read: 'requires a lot more time than I'm really willing to give') projects, foremost among them trying to make up convincing numbers for sales conversions based on advertising exposure, something which people have been trying to make up unsuccessfully for years. So chances are I won't be able to post much over the next, um, forever, but I did want to share the first decent forward I've received in ages:

As I've Matured:

  1. I've learned that you cannot make someone love you. All you can do is stalk them and hope they panic and give in.
  2. I've learned that no matter how much I care, some people are just assholes.
  3. I've learned that it takes years to build up trust, and it only takes suspicion, not proof, to destroy it.
  4. I've learned that you can get by on charm for about fifteen minutes. After that, you'd better have a big willy or huge boobs.
  5. I've learned that you shouldn't compare yourself to others - they are more screwed up than you think.
  6. I've learned that you can keep vomiting long after you think you're finished.
  7. I've learned that we are responsible for what we do, unless we are celebrities.
  8. I've learned that regardless of how hot and steamy a relationship is at first, the passion fades, and there had better be a lot of money to take its place.
  9. I've learned that the people you care most about in life are taken from you too soon and all the less important ones just never go away.
  10. I've learned to say "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke" in 6 languages.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

See? See?

I couldn't tell you why, but I think information visualization is one of the coolest things ever. With more and more information available it's becoming increasingly difficult to sort through, and the major solution to navigation has proven to be search technology (very interesting development in this forum, by the way, as Microsoft has finally unveiled their version of a search engine). It has and will continue to dominate the way in which we find things we're looking for. However, there are certain queries that cannot be answered by typing in keywords. There are many kinds of information that are far better communicated visually rather than, uh, word...ily... or something. I started thinking about this tonight after reading this article in Wired about an Electronic Arts festival in Linz, Austria.

We've all seen graphs for years; with the advent of PowerPoint, which stresses communicating in the most succinct way possible, they're becoming more and more common. At least in the business arena. Annual reports are full of bar graphs and pie charts and line graphs, all of which are there to communicate how great things are going (and in many cases, I've found that they're somewhat distorted to either minimize drops or maximize improvements... but that's another topic for another time). My statistics professor constantly emphasized "graphical excellence," and tried in vain to teach us the importance of relevant data visualization. His graphical excellence idol was a man named Edward Tufte, who wrote a couple of books on the subject and whose best example of how to communicate information graphically was this rather remarkable map of Napoleon's march to Russia and the return trip, and it shows the attrition of his troops and the corresponding temperature.

With advances in technology, we've been able to move beyond simply communicating what we already know to actually discovering new information by data visualization. One of the biggest trends is network mapping, on a scale previously undreamed-of. This is probably one of my favorite graphics to demonstrate what I mean, but there are lots more on this professor's website here, and a number of visual representations of the election results (because no one can really get enough of those) is here. I found some interactive websites that show connections: one shows how all of America's top executives are related to one another (best way to look at this one is to click 'load map' and see what you get), and another shows how various websites are related to one another. A great thread on Slashdot discusses a lot of these and talks a lot about implications, explanations, etc.

Another cool application I found was this concept called TextArc, which lays out a reading of an entire text on a single page and then reads through it, showing the connections between words and where they're used. There's a sample of both Hamlet and Alice in Wonderland, and just watching these is absolutely amazing (but only if you have high-speed internet). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find my favorite literature example of visualization technology, which is a website where you type in an author's name and then they're shown in relation to other authors with similar content. That's useful. I'm going to keep looking.

Are any of these practical? That depends. But regardless, the most important quality of all of these is that they look really cool.

Yes, that is my actual conclusion to all this, as it's now midnight and I realize I spent the past two hours just wading through a topic that's way too dense to begin to understand at this hour, particularly when I should be applying my brain power to figuring out if/how people are loyal to airline websites, how to determine cross-channel ROI, and/or how to market E.piphany internally at Roche. Besides, writing and researching this is likely a lot more stimulating than reading more Tucker Max stories (omigod, the Austin Road Trip story is even funnier than the Sushi Pants story).

But first, other really cool links:
Keyhole.com: Satellite imagery of the entire world that you can manipulate to show whatever you want: zoom in or out, change the angle of view, find a particular address, fly across landscape
Newsmap: I've posted this one before, and I still think it's cool; incidentally, it was displayed at the Ars Electronica festival mentioned above in Linz, Austria.
Introvertster: Only tangentially related to above topic, but too funny not to post.

I knew it! Visualization software can be really useful when it comes to words (though it must suck to be the guy that does all that coding): I found VisualThesaurus.com via a link through Merriam Webster Online. You can only do one search and then you have to buy it, which is really stupid, but I love that someone's trying to market this technology (despite the fact that, while easier to use and definitely more attractive to read, it's likely far more limited than what you would have available if you bought my favorite thesaurus, which is like the most kick-ass thesaurus ever, they've got everything in there!).

Happy days

It's a beautiful day here in Chicago today. Sure, it's 40 degrees out, but it's sunny and there isn't a cloud in the sky. Other bright spots:

> I'm actually up at 11 a.m. I just feel like I'm so much more productive when I get up before noon. All due, of course, to the fact that, with the time change, it gets dark at like 4 o'clock, and so by 5 I feel like it's really 7, and by 7 I feel like it's really 10, and by 10 I feel like it's way past my bedtime and go to sleep. All this is aided by the fact that I no longer watch TV, which is remarkably effective at keeping me prisoner in front of it for hours.

> The potential AmEx job as stated in the previous post... I think I might go listen to that voicemail again...

> It only took three friggin' weeks, but I'm finally not sick anymore! When I take Advil now it's to deal with this hangover.

> I got a call from my travel agent yesterday and he received my check and will start sending me tickets soon! Ladies and gentlemen, my final itinerary:

January 5: LAX to Hong Kong
January 8: Hong Kong to Bangkok
January 15: Bangkok to Bali
January 19: Bali to Perth
February 11: Brisbane to Christchurch
February 20: Auckland to Tahiti
February 25: Tahiti to LAX

Clearly there are a few gaps in there that need to be supplemented with additional airfare (I'm not planning on walking from Perth to Brisbane), but the trip has finally taken shape. Now I just need to figure out what to do with myself in all these places.

> And finally, I'm really looking forward to going home for Thanksgiving. I don't know how much R&R I'll actually get in, but it will be a nice break from all the stuff going on here. Plus, I've ordered Season One of The O.C. to my house (it would go very badly for my productivity here if it arrived here), and I'm looking forward to many hours of watching that, as well.

Friday, November 12, 2004

So, the AmEx interview...

I will not be advancing to the second round.

I'm disappointed, but understand why: compared to all these other people with the same education as I have, how can I possibly compete when their (far greater) experience is factored in? I could go on a rant about how experience is bogus anyway, how we're all changing careers and chances are their prior experience isn't any more relevant than mine is, but honestly, what else is there to go on? I admit to never having done the 9 to 5 thing long term and in all probability I totally suck at it, so best go with someone who, well, probably doesn't. But I don't need to go on a rant regardless, because I'm not mad. I wouldn't be mad even if I had been rejected outright, but I wasn't. The interviewer who called me back and let me know my status encouraged me to apply for another position in the department (again, this department is frickin' perfect for me), as there would likely be a job available for which I'd be a good candidate. They think I have potential. Again, !

The funniest thing about this is that my giddiness at getting a voicemail telling me that there's a possibility I could get a job with this company feels about the same as if I'd gotten a voicemail from a guy I really liked telling me that there's a possibility we could have dinner next week. It's a wish being fulfilled. It's validating. It lends itself to daydreaming about a changed life, one that does not involve spending endless hours in the school computer lab listening to complaints about the assignments that are keeping us there.

Also, I'll still get to see Better Than Ezra at the House of Blues next week. Twice.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

A find

Yes, I'm stressing about about getting a job, and my throat really fucking hurts (seriously, I think it's trying to secede or something, and the second I figure out how to let it, it's fucking fired), but there's a bright spot to entertain me and get me through the week... um, that is, when I'm not being hard-working and stuff. A friend sent me a link to TuckerMax.com. This is the most horrible website I've ever read, and by horrible, I mean horribly funny.

(Law students take note: he used to be one of you.)

Go read this site. Now.

Pray for me

I just had my first real interview. Like, for a job I really really want. I think it went well. I'm secretly hoping all five of the people in my program whom I'm competing against get hit by a bus do their best and still totally suck compared to me show off the overall superiority of our program to others.

I think this job sounds perfect. It's in the information management branch of American Express, and deals specifically with strategic analysis and testing, which is right up my alley. I get to be a numbers geek, but with a purpose that's important to the operations of the company. I get to work with smart people, work with good data, and learn a lot about how various parts of the business work. In short, ! I can't even describe how much I want this job. Working at a company with these kinds of resources and this kind of attention to its employees (they strive to get the best people and encourage mobility between departments in order to keep people happy and ensure retention) is an opportunity that not everyone is lucky enough to have, and I really want it.

Second-round interviews will be in New York at the end of next week, and I'll know whether or not I've made it by the end of this week. Thankfully I have a lot do this week or I'd spend the majority of it on the edge of my seat rocking back and forth, biting my nails, checking email every five seconds and staring at my cell phone and hating everyone I hear from that is not American Express. Thank goodness I'm likely to only have the one interview... it's a lot easier to deal with the general "nobody loves me" stress than the "oh my God what if they don't love me?" stress in multiple instances... also I have a limited number of finger nails. And in this crossed position, my fingers are starting to cramp. Just all-around a bad scenario for my hands.

Ok, I feel like I need to stop talking about this so I don't jinx it. I'm thinking happy thoughts.

Monday, November 08, 2004

A how-to book

Apparently some crucial part of my life's education has been left out, and so every so often I need to consult a friend (one who did not miss this course) on what to do. Tonight was one such time, and I told her she needs to write a book for poor lost souls such as myself. Based on her experiences, she could write chapters on the following:

How to Say No to a First Date (imply you have a serious boyfriend, with imply being the operative word, as opposed to the always convincing "um, I have a boyfriend.")

How to ID a Guy When You Have to Meet Him Somewhere But Don't Remember What He Looks Like (make him pick you up)

How to Avoid Breaking Up With a Guy Until He Thinks It's His Idea (not sure if this is always the best way to end it, but worth considering if you're going away for a summer)

How to See a Guy That You Like Again (leave, uh, certain articles of clothing on his floor... preferably nonessential things)

my favorite:
How to Get Your Roommate to Have Quiet Sex (offer a few leftover condoms you have, since you're obviously not having as much sex as they are)
...and if that fails, this note was suggested:

Dear Sir,
Management requests that you not allow XX to make too much noise.
P.S. Yes, her name is XX. Have fun!

Update: Upon further consultation, have determined that she should also include basic principles, such as "It's not mean if it's funny."

Devil in the White City

On my parents' last visit here, I convinced my mother to lend me her copy of Devil in the White City, which, for those of you who haven't heard of it, is the new Da Vinci Code (aka the book you see everyone reading on the El), at least here in Chicago. Which makes sense, given that the book is about Chicago: it's about the building the World's Fair here in 1893 and, simultaneously, about a prolific serial killer that operated here during that time as well.

Recently it's occurred to me how little I know about Chicago history and how much there actually is to know--lots of interesting things have gone on here, and I'd heard about some of them (Kennedy's election in 1960, the bootlegging and gangster wars that went on during Prohibition, the meatpacking plants that served as fodder for Upton Sinclair), but this was the first book that really demonstrated to me the effect that Chicago and the Columbian Exposition had on the rest of the world. The Ferris wheel was invented as Chicago's way to "out-Eiffel Eiffel" for his tower at the Paris World's Fair a few years earlier. The architectural style and planning went on to influence what is now the Mall in Washington D.C. Alternating instead of direct current was first proved to work in largescale implementation, which is why that is now the primary method of delivering power to us. Provisions for labor and union concessions set the standard for years to come, a standard that still isn't met in many cases. The number of attendees was staggering, both in terms of sheer numbers and the number of influentials of the time who were all in the same place at the same time, figures such as Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Buffalo Bill, Frank Lloyd Wright (who was actually fired by the architectural firm for which he worked for his work on the fair), Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of Central Park), Clarence Darrow, Walt Disney's father, Elias, who would tell his son of the magical white city he labored to produce. The list goes on.

I loved this book and couldn't put it down from the time I started it, which I think was the middle of last week. I spent most of today reading it, and finished it in a marathon six hour session, realizing I couldn't get anything done (and there's lots to be done) until I'd finished the damn thing: I just had to know how it all ended. The book was very well-written, particularly given the sources of information the author had to reconstruct and retell the events as they happened. I'd forgotten what it feels like to be so thoroughly immersed in a book like this, and it reminds me of why I've rarely read since beginning college, and particularly grad school: I just can't afford that kind of time handicap. Better to go back to the Bell Curve, which is infinitely easier to pick up and put back down. I did miss that kind of involvement, though. I can't remember the last time I've been so engaged by a book.

Go read it. Maybe not now, but wait until your winter vacation and then pick it up. It'll be worth the few days you spend reading it, whether or not you're interested in Chicago history.

But now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Coping with illness

It's been a week and a half and I'm still sick. Still. Even more encouraging is the fact that my doctor at the health center here doesn't know what's wrong with me. Strep tests have come back negative, twice, and I was tested for mono again and that, at least, is also negative. But seriously, who do you have to sleep with to make all this crap stop?! But today one of my friends did one of the nicest things anyone's ever done for me: she knows I've been battling this sore throat and she came to class today with a thermal mug full of hot water, lemon, and honey. (For me, that is.) I have no words; it was so unexpected and thoughtful of her. If she didn't have the "best group member" tiara before now (and yes, there is one), she definitely clinched it with that.

Other things that improved my outlook: the season premiere of The O.C. was on tonight. There's a show that, while shallow and arguably consisting of nothing more than drama and pretty people, never fails to give me the warm fuzzies. I mean, Ryan and Seth came back, and it was--it was so... *ahem* excuse me a moment.

And finally, the thing that gave me the energy to even post this: my vacation is now officially booked. I can see my itinerary on virtuallythere.com. There I am flying to Hong Kong! And then to Bangkok (after only 24 hours in Hong Kong, but hey, it's an island, I think I can cover it)! And then Bali and Perth and Christchurch and finishing up with five days in Tahiti! Can I afford it? Probably not. But that's what makes for interesting stories later on, right? As long as I've got transport from one place to another paid for and know I can get home (and believe me, I'm blowing my money on all that stuff first), that's all I really care about. Whatever accommodation and food I end up scrounging up aren't really a matter of great importance to me (though I am kind of freaked out about Bali now after reading that "some establishments are upgrading to toilets where one can sit down"--I so have nightmares about having nothing but Turkish toilets available--and that it's recommended that one always carry a roll of toilet paper with you because of the unlikelihood of having it available there, so when necessary, wipe with your left hand only, then use the dipping bucket on the way out... dear God, my hygiene neuroses are really going to take a beating). But enough of that. I'll be adding two continents and six countries to my travel experience, and I'm giddy just thinking about it.

My sore throat better have cleared up before then.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Much obliged

Despite the fact that I've already contacted the three people who read this site about this, I thought I'd post it here for good measure and practice what I preach: I'm studying online travel booking habits for a school project and need responses to this survey. Chances are if you found my site, you have quite a bit of time on your hands, so why not donate some of that to a good cause and help me out. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Things I didn't know...

...until I got sick with the worst sore throat ever that's lasted for eight days and counting:

1. Being sick really sucks.

2. It is possible to subsist entirely on Halls cough drops.

3. There’s remarkable variety of flavors available from Halls cough drops.

4. A cough drop lasts about 20 minutes.

5. There’s menthol in cough drops, and menthol is my friend.

6. I’m really fucking sick of cough drops.

7. Not finding whatever the hell is wrong with you on WebMD can be a very stressful experience.

8. Alcohol is a remarkably effective cure-all. Uh, temporarily.

9. After a week of being sick, you really have to go out of your way to get people to keep feeling sorry for you. Established methods:
  • Whenever someone asks how you’re doing or if you’re feeling better, mournfully say “Still sick” and attempt to look like the brave but afflicted soul that you are.
  • Take advantage of the fact that you can’t stop eating those damned cough drops and make a pile of the wrappers where everyone can see them.
  • When people ask for your opinion, look pained and say “It hurts to talk”; this will likely go over much better than the usual “Huh?”
10. Try and spread disease to any of the people that still don’t believe you. Fuckers.

Whole27: Seven (Eight?) Months Later

Breakfast this morning was cinnamon rolls. In fairness, I'm sick right now with something resembling that monster flu--hopefully it...