Slightly uneven since 2005

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The Voice

It was the middle of the night in the middle of winter my freshman year when God spoke to me.

I was skirting the edge of depression and worrying about the future. In this particular case I had worked up the courage to walk across campus to see if some girls I had been hanging out with were around. They weren’t. On the way back to my side of campus I stopped at the lake to calm myself. The part of my brain that I should never listen to (yet always do) was yelling again about how much trouble my future was in. In this case, it was how my fear of approaching women and my general personality and just absolutely everything about me was going to mean that I was not going to find my wife at college even though most people do and that meant I was never going to find a wife in general and so on.

So I went down to the lake to pray.

Now, when I say “pray,” you should read “talked and sometimes yelled out loud at God because there was no one else to listen.” It was more than a little irreverent, but it was what I needed. I poured out everything: how anxious I was about the future, how I was afraid that even if God brought the right person into my life I’d be too stupid to notice her, how lonely I was, and how afraid I was that I’d always be lonely. And while I didn’t hear a voice, my thoughts went in a direction that was completely different from where they were going.

In that moment, it was like God took the scared, freaking out child that I was, took him gently by the shoulders, knelt down, looked him in the eyes, and said, “Evan, I have been watching out for you your entire life. Why would I stop now, especially on something that is this important to you?”

I was still scared. But a lot less freaked out. And—spoiler alert—I found her.

This week, I’ve been skirting the edge of depression (maybe more than skirting, to be honest) and worrying about the future. In this particular case, I’ve been without a job for three months now. I’ve been searching and interviewing, and I’ve been subject to the usual delays and pitfalls of a job search. Despite my relative success at keeping myself busy with a nice side project, I’ve been giving into panic more than I care to admit. The part of my brain that I should never listen to (yet always do) is yelling again about how much trouble my future is in. In this case, it’s how my lack of what I perceive as a robust background is going to mean I can’t get a job and if I do get a job is it going to be one that I will enjoy and not just show up to and will I really be able to do the job if I do get it and so on.

Time to go down to the park to pray, but somehow I don’t think the message has changed.

I Tried To Make a Good "Blackbaud" Pun To Title This Post But Nothing Can Top "Raisers Edge"

Today was my last official day at Blackbaud. Never you mind that I haven’t done any work for them since I got the news two and a half weeks ago. I knew a lot of great people there, and I will miss working with all of them.

I want to be clear right now: there are no hard feelings on this end. Maybe someday later I’ll post some navel gazing and tell all of you in Internet-land just how I’m feeling right now, but suffice it to say this is a beginning, not an ending. I’m chasing down some leads here in the Greenville area, but if you know of anything that fits my resume please get in touch.

If you’re thinking about working at Blackbaud and you’ve ended up here by some happenstance, let me tell you to give them a shot. The people you work with and report to make or break your experience, and all of the managers I’ve worked under have been great. They’ve congratulated me on successes, given me a push when I needed it (and I have needed several), and taken an interest in me as a person, not just an asset. They have set a high standard for anyone else I will be working for.

So now we get to wade elbow-deep in the cesspit that is free-market insurance (until I get a full-time job). It’s not as bad as I was afraid it would be, but it still leaves much to be desired. I’m finishing up my iOS self-study program; no idea when I’ll get an app in the store, though you can bet I’ll post here when I do. All that to say, to those that have supported us, thanks. We’re ok, but we might ask for help. In the form of cookies.

My God is so big…

Edit: Altru: no faults. (Thanks, Brittany!)

New Year’s Eve Reflection

Brittany does this every year, and it’s a good idea.

  1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year? Mountcation 2012. It was nice to remember that we could actually get out and enjoy life some.
  2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened? Brittany’s dad passed away this year. This has affected both of us more than we realize.
  3. What was an unexpected joy this past year? Being surprised by just how much my wife loves me.
  4. What was an unexpected obstacle? Seeing the possibility of me losing my job but having to put aside the stress and work hard(er) anyway.
  5. Pick three words to describe 2012. The long game.
  6. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your 2012 (don’t ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you). Growing and maturing.
  7. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their 2012 (again, without asking). Victories and trials.
  8. What were the best books you read this year? Didn’t read many books, but I did finally get around to starting the Dragonriders of Pern series.
  9. With whom were your most valuable relationships? Brittany and my family (though I need to work on the second more).
  10. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year? I’ve re-learned that things don’t just happen; you have to do them. To wit, “if you were the inventor of Facebook, you would have invented Facebook.”
  11. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally? See previous. I’ve spent less time spinning my wheels wishing for life to change and more time trying to change it.
  12. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually? I’m recognizing my need for God, but I need to spend more time seeking Him.
  13. In what way(s) did you grow physically? I HAVE A BIG HEAD AND LITTLE ARMS.
  14. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others? Trying to talk less and listen more.
  15. What was the most enjoyable part of your work (both professionally and at home)? I spent about two weeks on a side project that has netted me at least a week in saved time/energy. It was fun to get back into the mode of solving problems.
  16. What was the most challenging part of your work (both professionally and at home)? Showing up and doing good work even when I don’t want to.
  17. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year? Stress and/or escape.
  18. What was the best way you used your time this past year? Working on bettering myself and working on my marriage.
  19. What was biggest thing you learned this past year? It will not “just work;” I need to make it work.
  20. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2012 for you. S#!% just got real.

See you guys next year!

There’s a Difference, Guys.

Apple didn’t sue Samsung because they had a touchscreen phone. They didn’t sue because of rounded rectangles. They didn’t sue because of icons arranged in a grid.

Palm added all those together to get WebOS, which was easily distinguishable from iOS.

Microsoft added all those together (save rounded corners) to get Windows Phone 7, which was easily distinguishable from iOS.

Google added all those together and made the Nexus series of Android-powered phones that were easily distinguishable from iOS-powered iPhones.

Samsung added all those things together and arranged them to be as similar to the iPhone as possible. They ignored advice from Google warning them not to do so. Instead of pouring creative effort into improving on what iOS had to offer, they focused on copying what iOS had to offer.

That is why Apple took then to court, and that is why they lost.

This Kony 2012 Stuff

Having kept track of or been involved with Invisible Children in one way or another since 2006, I’m excited to see their latest video getting so much attention.

Having kept track of or been involved with Invisible Children in one way or another since 2006, it’s easy for me to believe the recent accusations against them.

I do not have a firm opinion on this nor the time to properly formulate one.

So Long…

There’s about 3 hours left in 2011 here in South Carolina. I’m probably going to do some new years survey thing in the next 24 hours or so. But for right now, I’d like to end this year. And so…

To everyone, my friends, my family, my co-workers, my wife, my God: I have not been all I could have been this year. I have probably let you down at some point this year, and for that I truly apologize. I don’t regret this year; there have been some amazing memories and triumphs this year. But right now I’m painfully aware of my shortcomings. This hasn’t been brought on by one particular thing; it’s just some general depression and anxiety I’m dealing with. And right now I want nothing more than to leave all… (gestures to all of that) this in 2011. In the past.

So here’s to a new leaf, a new beginning. God’s grace is new every day, including tomorrow. Happy new year, everyone; I’ll see you in 2012.

Much Ado About Money

In light of recent jackwagonry put forth by Bank of America (and despite them abandoning said plans), the Hildreths have decided that though there’s pain in our chests we still wish them the best, with a… you know the song. So where do we move our money to?

What follows is by no means a comprehensive analysis. This is a basic comparison based on our financial needs, and it is offered up in the hopes that it will be useful. It is not intended to be sound financial advice.

The assumptions are as follows: we have direct deposit. We will use the debit card constantly, but will make occasional trips to the ATM. We will be paperless as much as possible. Minimum balance requirements stink. And we would like to feel… valued.

These assumptions excluded some banks that would otherwise be considered. For example, TD Bank requires a “low” minimum balance on all their worthwhile checking accounts, and Wachovia/Wells Fargo seems to be following the same path Bank of America is going down. Also, for the two of you reading that don’t know, I live in Greenville, SC, so the available banks depend on that.

Last note: the information on bailout funds can be found at ProPublica. Ready? Then let’s go.

The Status Quo: Bank of America

  • Interest: none
  • Free Checks: none
  • Free ATM Usage: Bank of America only
  • Branches: Plenty
  • Online Tools: Good
  • Deposit Options: Branch, ATM
  • Bailout Received / Returned: $45B/$45B

Included as a point of reference. It’s not bad, especially when you consider the cash-counting, check-scanning ATMs that have saved my bacon countless times. They got a large amount of TARP funding, but to their credit paid it all back. Now that they won’t be charging for a debit card there isn’t an urgent need to switch, but as you’ll see, other banks offer so much more.

The Tracy Jordan: Ally Bank

  • Interest: yes
  • Free Checks: unlimited
  • Free ATM Usage: unlimited
  • Branches: none
  • Online Tools: good
  • Deposit Options: Scanner, Mail
  • Bailout Received / Returned: $16B/$3B

I want to like Ally. I really do. I mean, seriously, withdraw from any ATM, get unlimited checks, deposit from your computer, earn interest. They even offer cash back rewards for using your debit card. So what’s the dealbreaker? The fact that Ally is the bank arm of GMAC, the former financing arm of General Motors. Feature-wise, they’re awesome, but their bailout status doesn’t inspire much confidence.

The Mom and Pop: CPM Federal Credit Union

  • Interest: with $200 minimum balance
  • Free Checks: 3 boxes per year
  • Free ATM Usage: Co-Op Network
  • Branches: a few
  • Online Tools: Barely
  • Deposit Options: Branch
  • Bailout Received / Returned: none

I’ve already got a savings account (and therefore a membership) with CPM, and they’ve been nothing but helpful. I’ve got no qualms about the financial stability of the organization; my hesitations lie in my ability to use them for my day-to-day banking and the quality of their online tools. They’re contenders.

The Bundle: USAA

  • Interest: with $1000 minimum balance
  • Free Checks: unlimited
  • Free ATM Usage: 10 visits/month, refund $15/month in fees
  • Branches: none
  • Online Tools: excellent
  • Deposit Options: Mail, UPS Store, Scanner and iOS app (if insurance customer or have credit card)
  • Bailout Received / Returned: none

USAA insurance is like an exclusive club. The company was formed to support armed services personnel and their families, which I respect. I received my eligibility from my parents who received their eligibility from their parents who were in the military. We currently use them for auto insurance, and every conversation with every other insurance salesperson has died as soon as they found out. It’s that good.

Why the long story? The best features of the USAA bank (deposit from iOS app) are only available to insurance and credit card customers. This wouldn’t be an issue, except that we may soon be forced to change insurance companies due to South Carolina becoming the equivalent of e.coli-infested raw meat in the insurance world1. However, the ability to make deposits at a UPS store almost makes up for this.

The Unexpected: State Farm Bank

  • Interest: with $2500 minimum balance
  • Free Checks: first box
  • Free ATM Usage: unlimited
  • Branches: none
  • Online Tools: yes
  • Deposit Options: Scanner, iOS app, Mail
  • Bailout Received / Returned: none

Did you know State Farm had a bank? Yeah, neither did I. And feature-for-feature, they’re not half bad. They’ve got unlimited where it counts (ATM usage), though their conditions for interest are a little high. It’s hard to judge their online tools; the glimpse I was able to see wasn’t particularly impressive. If we for sure wanted an online bank, they’d be a serious contender, but as it there’s just not enough info out there.

The Tuxedo: South Carolina Bank and Trust

  • Interest: yes
  • Free Checks: none
  • Free ATM Usage: unlimited SCBT, refund 3/month out-of-network
  • Branches: a few
  • Online Tools: yes
  • Deposit Options: Branch
  • Bailout Received / Returned: $65M/$65M

This is the current frontrunner. They offer interest with all of our prerequisites and they have an option for using other banks’ ATMs. They’ve only got a few branches in the area, and only one of them is convenient, and even it is hard to get to (on the second floor of an office building with no clear direction). They did receive TARP funds, but it’s less than 1/100th of what Bank of America got and it was all paid back. Most impressive to me is their graphic design on their brochures and web site: it’s clean, fresh, and classy. While money is not made with marketing alone, the fact is they care about their image more than other banks on this list, and that speaks volumes to me about the kind of approach they take to customer service.

That said, there are some misgivings. The 3 other ATM visits per month is never actually found on their website; that information came from the tellers at the bank. Being able to talk to someone in person is a great asset, but is having one fairly inconvenient branch that much better than having no branches at all? And while their TARP funding is significantly less than most other banks in the area, the fact that it seemed necessary is (only a little) disconcerting.

The Wildcard: Simple

  • Interest: yes
  • Free Checks: ???
  • Free ATM Usage: Allpoint network
  • Branches: none
  • Online Tools: Yes. Very yes.
  • Deposit Options: iOS app
  • Bailout Received / Returned: n/a

If you haven’t heard of Simple (formerly BankSimple), get on the internet. Their approach is a little different: instead of holding your money, they act as a services company that gives you (extremely convenient) access to your money stored at a “partner bank.” You still get FDIC insurance, and all your interactions are with Simple; the difference is more technical than practical. So far, they look beautiful. They promise to have a superior online experience, including being able to see your “safe to spend” balance at a glance.

So why the wildcard? Simply put, there’s a lot we don’t know. They haven’t launched to the public yet, and their website is scarce on details. No word on their partner bank, and it appears that they’ll be using the Allpoint ATM network though that’s not explicitly mentioned on their website.2 No idea on paper checks (will you have to mail them from the site or can you order them?). One thing that is mentioned in their FAQ is that they currently do not support joint accounts, which kind of kills the idea a married couple using it.

What does it mean?!

Not sure. Like I said, this is a comparison based on our market and with our specific needs. If you’re facing a similar decision, I hope you can use this as a jumping-off point for your own research. If you have any issues, addendums, or comments of your own, feel free to send me an email. Personally, I still have high hopes for Simple, but they can’t be a contender until the service matures and gains credibility. To their credit, they know that and aren’t opening the service up until they get things straight. And it didn’t take Square long to get to the same point.

  1. USAA is not writing new property insurance (renters and homowners) policies in South Carolina unless you are a military family. Took me several phone calls to find that out; their website was unhelpful and so were the first 3 people I talked to. We eventually went with Allstate for renters insurance, but when it came time to get a homowners policy, guess what? They’re only writing new policies in SC if you have car insurance with them. See above note on how awesome USAA car insurance is. We eventually went with State Farm, but in order to lower our deductable we need to get car insurance with them as well. 

  2. The Simple website uses the phrases “largest nationwide ATM network” and “40,000 ATMs” multiple times. Google brings up Allpoint as the first non-ad listing. 

The Late Unpleasantness

Have a few brief thoughts on this whole Bin Laden kerfluffle that are too long for twitter, so here goes.

  • At the Phillies/Mets game the news broke in the bottom of the 8th, prompting a spontaneous chant of “USA! USA!” that got the crowd excited and utterly confused the players. Why one of the players didn’t turn around and ask someone in the stands is beyond me (unless there’s an MLB rule against it or something).
  • There’s lots of scripture being tossed around twitter right now. Most of it is a variation of God not taking pleasure in the death of the wicked, but there is also the occasional “when the wicked perish there are shouts of joy.”
  • The most balanced take so far is probably Derek Webb’s:

don’t celebrate death, celebrate justice

And now I should get back to work.

Because I Don’t Blog Enough

What was the single best thing that happened this past year? Getting married. Mostly because that set the tone for the whole year.

What was the single most challenging thing that happened? See above.

What was an unexpected joy this past year? Learning the extent to which my wife cares about me.

What was an unexpected obstacle? Our expectations (realistic and otherwise) about marriage.

Pick three words to describe 2010. Wait, what? Okay.

Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your 2010 (don’t ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you). You okay? Breathe.

Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their 2010 (again, without asking). Roller coaster ride.

What were the best books you read this year? More like only books, and I can’t even remember them.

With whom were your most valuable relationships? Brittany

What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year? Learning to share life with someone else, not just live in the same area as someone else.

In what way(s) did you grow emotionally? Learning to talk about stuff instead of internalizing everything.

In what way(s) did you grow spiritually? In the words of U2, “Sometimes you can’t make it on your own.”

In what way(s) did you grow physically? I plead the fifth.

In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others? It’s really hard to tell; I’m just now learning just how impossible it is to please everyone, but that’s a recent development, so the jury’s still out.

What was the most enjoyable part of your work (both professionally and at home)? Solving a problem.

What was the most challenging part of your work (both professionally and at home)? Maintaining communication and motivation with a team that is 200 miles away.

What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year? Netflix streaming, particularly a particular TV show.

What was the best way you used your time this past year? Better knowing my wife.

What was biggest thing you learned this past year? No one is perfect: not you, nor the people you thought were.

Create a phrase or statement that describes 2010 for you. It’s time to talk about what we learned today.

See also: Brittany and Lena.

File Sharing Rant

I’ve largely taken a back seat on the whole file sharing debate. However, now that I actually have a self-published work I feel it is time for me to make a public stance. Here goes…

I’m going to have to agree with John Gruber’s assessment of Richard Stallman’s latest essay:

I waver between rolling my eyes at Stallman’s kookiness and admiring his singleminded determination.

In my case, however1, Stallman’s kookiness extends to a large portion of the Free Software Foundation’s philosophies. Above all else, the FSF champions the right to modify and redistribute software. I have no problem with this goal as I will often promote a free or open source program (which apparently are not the same) when it is a viable alternative to a commercial program. I use WordPress instead of ExpressionEngine. I use The GIMP instead of Photoshop. But I use Safari instead of Firefox because I find Safari to be faster on my Mac. In my case, I am willing to give up a “freedom” that I don’t really use (the ability to modify the source code) in exchange for a more pleasant computing experience.

It is Richard Stallman’s opinion on creative works that I find unacceptable2. Never mind that because not all Creative Commons licenses are free he refuses to endorse any of them (he, of course, suggests the GPL). What is dangerous is that he equates creative works such as movies and music with information and file sharing with the general term “sharing.” In doing so, Stallman shows his background as a computer scientist. A program is written to solve a problem; the FSF’s arguments that there are more benefits to releasing the source are valid here largely because the program can benefit from the scientific method. Information wants to be free, and the solution to the problem (the program) is simply another form of information.

A creative work, however, is not simply information. It does not consist of simple facts or present a solution to an established problem. It is, when done properly, a reflection of the author or artist’s heart. It can be anything from a commentary on society to a rewrite of a poorly done movie to an attempt to reconcile temporal existence with eternal life. As such, creative works cannot be held to the same standards as computer programs, and vice versa.

Equating creative works to information reduces the author’s creative expression to its digital format, an act of language that cheapens the work even more than the term content. And distributing digital creative works over file sharing is not simply sharing, it is copying. Like anything distributed over the internet, the digital information is copied, not moved, from one computer to another. Loaning a CD or a book to a friend is sharing, since while one is in possession of it the other is not. File sharing creates copies, so that both are in possession at the same time. While not necessarily the same as theft, this cannot, by any reasonable definition, be considered sharing.

This is not to say I am against file sharing as a whole. There are hundreds of out-of-print and hard-to-find works that can benefit from file sharing in order to preserve their value to society. Also, it can be used by lesser known artists to encourage the viral word-of-mouth growth that is essential to growing a fanbase. This is the aim of Creative Commons, and I am disappointed that a man committed to “freedom” refuses to acknowledge the benefits of such a system.

1 John Gruber may agree with me, but I won’t presume to speak for him.

2 Yes, it’s a Wayback Machine link. The post as linked from the original slashdot article no longer exists.

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