Sunday, August 29, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

When I decided to revive this blog after a few months of dormancy the first post I began to write was about the Tea Party. Specifically, I was going to explain why the Tea Party, as a group, can be considered racist. I never finished that post and a few others finally made the same argument I had in mind, rendering my purpose moot. Of course, since I abandoned that post I won't make that the subject of this one.

Instead, I'd like to propose a new tact with these idiots. It's the initial thought I had on the "movement:" ignore them. They aren't worth your time. They aren't worth my time.

When I thought about this a video came to mind. It's a CollegeHumor animated parody of Disney's Alice in Wonderland mad tea party. The more I think about this the more apt it becomes. Indeed, everyone else is playing the role of Alice while the Tea Partiers play the buffoons.

If you watch original scene you will notice some key elements of the Tea Party. It's fraught with false logic, their message is all over the place, and from the outside looking in they appear to just be crazy. Alice tries to talk sense to them, but when she does she's talked over, the subject is changed, or she's met with an even more nonsensical answer.

However, the Tea Party is not run by complete idiots, even if the public front is made up of imbeciles like Sarah Palin, the GOP political strategists behind the scenes are much savvier than we give them credit for. Like in the original there is more going on than we initially see. In the Mad Tea Party we are reminded that saying what you mean and meaning what you say are different concepts. This is also true of the political Tea Party. They've taken a couple pages from the activist's handbook and realized that by yelling louder you can over-represent yourself and that a loud extremist group can help the more mainstream groups redefine the centrist position.

At some point during the scene their ideas begin to make sense. Sure, it makes sense to maximize your partying by celebrating every day that isn't your birthday, if you really like to celebrate yourself. Just like it makes sense to cut taxes or to worry about the deficit. Of course, all of these ideas are short sighted.

Perhaps the most pertinent allegory of all is that of the original Mad Tea Party, in which the reason for tea time was due to the Mad Hatter being perpetually stuck at six o'clock. The Tea Party is rife with people who are stuck in a particular time period. Most of them are in an imaginary time when pop culture teaches us that some particular set of values ruled American life. Still, others are stuck in a time period where Reaganomics is still considered a good idea, and they've drank the Kool-Aid enough to conveniently forget that Reagan had a double dip recession, tripled the deficit, and his economic policies led to another recession in 1991. By knowing nothing of history the Tea Party has conveniently stuck themselves in a place where their goals are unattainable, because they're striving for a time in American life that either didn't exist or cannot exist without abandoning almost all American values. It would require government to dictate culture in a way that would make China seem like a Free society.

All of that is beside the point, though. It's the last salvo. The point here is that Alice eventually moved on. In the Disney version she didn't learn much, and I think that's how most Americans will be when this political scene eventually fades. Sure, she had a slightly better concept of how things work in Wonderland, and likewise I can see these political arguments causing some people to be at least slightly more aware of the governmental workings here. Mostly, in that it was just a time killer.

In the book Alice learns a bit more about the world. She learns that time is a person rather than a concept. She sees that there is a method to madness. Those who are more politically savvy may pick up on the subtler aspects of this brutish political group. Further, in the meta debate over their ideas both sides throw around political and economic concepts that are actually worthy of debate. It's very confusing, but perhaps that aspect is worthwhile and maybe when this farce comes to an end we will be ever so slightly better for its occurrence.

In both renditions, Alice walks off rather disgusted. That's what I think we should do here. It is what I will do. The first step in this process for me was realizing after my vacation that I don't want to catch up on the backlog of STFU, Teabaggers. Then I unsubscribed. I also unsubscribed from Media Matters because they rarely do more than pwn Fox News, another organization I think is a waste of time. I like both of these sites, especially STFU Teabaggers where I was a somewhat frequent, though anonymous, contributor. It's not that I will completely erase news about these groups from my life, but I will no longer partake in concentrated vitriol against them.

The Tea Party is essentially a group of political trolls. They don't exist to further the conversation, they exist to influence it in the most negative and nonproductive ways possible. Trolls use misdirection to derail a debate. The best way to handle trolls is not to feed them, starve them of attention. They simply aren't worth the time.

p.s. The reason why the Tea Party is racist is because they've actively embraced or ignored their racist elements. The same is true of any group, tacit ignorance and acceptance is the best way to cosign a message. It is something that is only solved by internally policing what is and isn't socially acceptable within your group. For instance, left leaning media offered up some very sexist views of Hillary Clinton during her Presidential campaign, but the greater population of socially progressive people shamed them for it, including then candidate Barack Obama.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What Does a Smartphone Do?

It's been about a month since I received my HTC Droid Incredible. I'm extremely pleased. Recently I've been thinking about the various ways this phone has changed my life.

I have a history of limited success with my cellphone choices. The phones I've had thus far were... okay. Most of them got the job done and that was about it. So, it's been somewhat revelatory having a true smartphone for the last month.

A quick rundown of my previous phones: The first was a Kyocera stick phone that pulled little more than basic phone duty, I had phone numbers stored in it but that's about it. Next was a Samsung flip phone, and with that phone I added alarm clock duties that are now requisite on all my phones. After that was an LG flip phone, which I started using for light camera work and text messaging. Then I made a big jump from Verizon to AT&T and I got a Blackberry Pearl, which also marked the shift from texting to email, a little more contact management, occasional searches, and infrequent GPS duties.

I was terribly disappointed in AT&T's service, though. So as soon as we had the chance we jumped ship back to Verizon. I splurged and for the first time bought the phone I really wanted, the Incredible. Of course it's picked up the duties of the previous phone, but it's so much more capable. Here's a list of what this phone is to me, with a brief review of the features.

  • It's a phone! Well, duh. It is a decent phone with good call quality. I've used the speakerphone a lot with great success. I like to use it so Kevin can talk to his grandmother without having to hand the phone over to him. My only gripe is that I instinctively hit the "Phone" button but all that's available from there is a numeric keypad. If you hit the numbers it will then select contacts based on the old-school phone key mappings, but it's difficult to call those contacts secondary numbers. I want an alpha keypad so I can search contacts and then easily select which of their numbers to call. The solution is to put the People shortcut within easy reach and teach yourself to use that instead.
  • It's the Internet! The Internet capabilities of this phone are pretty great. It has some Flash support, but that's not the strength. The browser on this is really great. Navigation and zoom is every bit as good as the iPhone, but it's a bit quicker. Actually, the zoom functionality is better because not only can you easily zoom in on your text but the browser then changes the flow of the text to match the width of the screen. It does this with tables and some other elements, too. For instance, if I browse the forum I frequent using my phone then I can zoom in on the thread titles column, it will then resize that column of the table to match the width of the screen so that I no longer have to scroll horizontally to read the entire title. Maybe that sounds minor, but it's huge for readability. Counter point: Navigation between tabs takes a few actions more than iOS.
  • It's an email client! That sounds like a non-issue, doesn't it? However, Android phones have the advantage of fantastic GMail integration. Basically, the GMail client on this phone is a native-running version of the web interface. Sure, there's a few differences, but it's a phone. It supports conversations, labels, and all that GMail goodness. The way other clients handle some of GMail's features really annoys me. For instance, my Blackberry would treat my Google Reader shared items as new messages when they hit Buzz. It would also treat every message sent as a message received because of the way conversations work. Android doesn't do that. It easily handles both of my accounts. On top of that I also have an IMAP account and my Yahoo! account. The Blackberry had some great shortcuts that I miss, but the pros far outweigh the cons here.
  • It's a camera! The camera on this thing is simply amazing. I turned the capture resolution down to 5MP, because I just don't need the extra detail that the max 8MP resolution offers. The flash works okay, especially for a phone. It's not too slow, either. It's great because I finally have a camera on my person that takes passable pictures and doesn't require 2 minutes to warm up. (The Blackberry was terrible about opening the camera app, and then it took grainy low res pictures.) There's no downside here.
  • It's an IM client! Maybe this falls under the Internet, but I think it warrants its own bullet. I no longer send SMS "text" messages. Instead, I use IM over my phone. Why pay the outrageous rates for SMS messages/plans when I'm already paying for a data plan? There's no need at all. Plus, I'm more highly available via IM because I can have it open on my computer or my phone. I did this a bit with the Blackberry, but I found it to be annoying. This phone handles the conversations a bit better and I like the onscreen keyboard better than the Pearl's keyboard. It helps that this device is so much more responsive, so I can reply very quickly. The downside is that some people still think SMS is a good idea, I've started telling them to use my Google Voice number.
  • It's an iPod! Well, it's at least an MP3 player. I don't think the music players available on this thing quite stack up to the iPod, but they're close enough to render my iPod Touch a paperweight. Between the music stored on my phone and Pandora, I probably use this thing 30 hours a week for just that. I need to get a bigger MicroSD card, but otherwise it's completely replaced my old music player. It also has some features that the iPod lacks, like an FM tuner. If my commute ever changes back to one that relies on public transit then I will use this more, but I've already used it a few times if there's something interesting on NPR and I have to get out of my car.
  • It's an alarm! I mentioned this one before, I use my phone as my alarm. The alarm on this is much better than my Blackberry's was. It's almost the same as my iPod's alarm, but the iPod's weak external speaker rendered that useless. I suspect any iPhone would be equally good. The last time I had a phone with this good of an alarm system was the LG. I'll add in here that it's also my watch. I haven't worn a watch more than a handful of times since I started carrying a cellphone.
  • It's my planner! I generally have no clue what the date is. Actually, there's a lot of times where I can't pinpoint the day of the week. I have to try very hard to remember what's planned. The phone syncs nicely with Google Calendar and I've started putting things directly in via the phone. As I get more used to this I may even stop relying so heavily on my wife to remember what the hell I'm doing on a given day.
  • It's got the traffic and weather! When it's quick and easy to pull up this information on your phone there's that much more incentive to take a second to check this info. I can glance at the weather in the morning, and I normally check the traffic before I leave the parking lot after work.
  • It's a GPS Navigator! I have a Garmin that I use on the weekends, so I haven't had too much of a chance to use the GPS. I did use it a few times, once as a test on my way to work. Another time to find a restaurant in Passaic. Both times I found the turn by turn directions to be on par with Garmin's, though the text to speech system isn't as good. I'm a big fan of GPS navigation and I'd always planned to eventually get a second unit for my truck, but I've scrapped that now. The navigator on my phone is good enough for lighter duty use and I can use the Garmin for longer trips.
  • It's a time killer! Like the iPod/iPhone, this device is great for little hand held games. I have a few on it already. These are perfect for taking a break or in the waiting room. Yesterday I managed to play a game of Minesweeper while my boss took a call. [Don't tell her that.] Of course, I can also play most YouTube videos on it if I want. Or I can pull up Google Reader and churn through my RSS feeds.
  • It's going to be my 3G modem! I did root my phone but I've yet to get the tethering to work correctly. I will, though, and I'm sure it will come in handy eventually.
I could go on into minutia but I'll stop there. I think the point is clear, this is a very useful device. Some of the uses are limited and others are trivial, but overall it's great to have around.

I will temper my enthusiasm, though. By now you've heard that the battery life on Android phones is terrible, and I won't dispute that claim. Depending on what I'm doing I've gone anywhere from 12 hours to 2 days between charges. It helps to put the phone into airplane mode at night, something akin to the sleep mode that Blackberry phones have. There's also something to be said for the sheer volume of my personal data that I've entrusted to Google, which is a topic I could write an entire post on.

There's also the iPhone comparison issue. It is inescapable to compare the Incredible, or really any Android phone, to the iPhone. For me the Incredible wins hands down. When others mention they're in the market for another phone I tell them that the iPhone will serve them well. This is akin to my advice with portable music players, I prefer not to go the Apple route* but I point almost everyone else in that direction if they're looking for such a device. I actually don't point people away from Android, but I recommend they go to the store and try out the different offerings.

*I have an iPod Touch because I won it, I still have my iAudio player from before that but the iPod holds 16x as much music so it was impossible to resist at the time. As I mentioned, the iPod is now a paperweight.

I'll have to see how this phone ages. I plan to write about my experiences with it and any tips, tricks, or particularly useful apps that I find. For now, let's just say I'm pretty happy being an android.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Windows Server 2008 R2 and COM Objects

So we just went through a huge ordeal while trying to decommission an old server and move a legacy website onto a new one. The old server was a 32 bit Windows Server 2003 machine, the new one is 64 bit Windows Server 2008 R2. The website is classic ASP that uses Dimac's JMail control and SoftArtisan's FileUp control, which are both 32 bit.

The result was several HTTP 500 errors and a relatively generic set of log messages. Actually we weren't always seeing anything in the logs. It was fairly perplexing. When we did get error messages they were like this:




The first part of the solution was to set the application pool for that website to 32 bit. You do this by opening IIS Manager, select Application Pools, select the application pool you're modifying, in the Actions pane click Advanced Settings..., then set Enable 32-Bit Applications to True. After you've done that, reset IIS and try your site. If the site still isn't working, reboot your machine. Apparently Windows isn't all that keen on switching between 64 and 32 bit, so sometimes a reboot is in order. [We had to.]

Maybe that will fix your problems, it didn't for us. In fact, the ODBC error seems to stem from this action. Apparently when you create an ODBC DSN it's only available to 64 bit processes. You have to create the DSN in the 32 bit space by using the 32 bit Data Source Administrator from the SysWOW64 directory [odbcad32.exe].

We still had those pesky JMail errors. The object was created successfully but we were getting File I/O errors. We followed advice that suggested we should copy the DLL to the SysWOW64 directory and register it there. No change. We modified the permissions on the DLL to allow everyone to read and execute it. No change.

What we hadn't thought of yet was to modify permissions on the SMTP pickup folder. We didn't think of this because the test page we'd created had everything but the instantiation commented. Still, this simple change made all the difference. For whatever reason, giving write permission to the IUSR didn't fix this. We tried a few other users before we gave up and just gave all local users write permission to the pickup folder. This did the trick.

Overall this was a royal pain. That's why I stopped to do this quick write up. I hope it helps.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Video Quality, Content, and Cable Replacement

Last week researchers at Rice University released the results of a study on subjective video quality. These largely confirm my opinion on the current best streaming service. It's not the video quality, it's the content.

We don't watch movies and shows in a vacuum. Other factors matter. The most important one is that you actually want to watch the content. This is especially true of any service that you might have to pay for. It's the reason why Netflix doesn't have a streaming only plan, those DVDs help augment their limited but growing library of streaming content. Without the extra DVD many subscribers would have lower satisfaction as the ebb and flow of licensing cause periods where desirable content is lacking.

Of course, that's only part of the story. The importance of these services is that they are likely to displace our current television service in the long run. For that to happen the services need to not only mimic the television experience, but surpass it. Meanwhile, the cable providers won't rest on their laurels and watch themselves be supplanted. The only way to win this battle is to provide the absolute best overall service for the money.

So long as you've tried them all then you already know what the best service is.

The video quality doesn't matter so much. The user interface is something that we can hack at until we've found every flaw and highlight, but after watching two videos you likely know what you like. You intuitively pick the best service. You've probably already done the cost/benefit analysis without even knowing.

This is a $90 Billion industry. It's an understatement to say that there's a lot at stake. Netflix has become a billion dollar company in roughly a decade. Speculation on a Hulu IPO puts the value at around $2 billion. Online video might be a startup industry, but it's growing fast.

Millions of people have decided that Netflix provides sufficient value and have subscribed. Millions also watch Hulu on a daily basis. Of course, I think Hulu is better. Millions more subscribe to some sort of cable television service and may or may not bother with the other two. There is a lot of strong crossover in these groups. I'm sure most Netflix and Hulu users either still subscribe to cable, or they use other online video services.

All of these services are trying to tip the scales in their favor. Netflix has added thousands of new streaming titles since I last reviewed their streaming library. Hulu adds new content constantly, and they have the advantage of their traditional media ownership. Cable isn't adding new content so quickly, instead they're adding more technology via set top boxes and their own streaming offerings. Of course, the cable companies also get the most money directly from subscribers, their goal is to stop the bleeding.

How does this apply to the customers, though? Well, for one we can't expect a free ride forever. If content shifts online then we'll see more premium services pop up. Netflix is one of them, and increasingly Netflix acts like an old-school premium channel by signing exclusive streaming contracts to lock in content for extended periods of time. Hulu added their Plus service, which is a little different in that it's more akin to a television archive with access to some higher video quality content. It's a very cool take on such a service, but I wonder how broad the appeal will be.

If online video expands and more customers shift away from cable providers we'll also see an increase in broadband prices, especially in monopoly markets. Most markets will continue to have these monopolies, or anti-competitive oligopolies in the short run. Eventually we may see more competition from wireless and wifi providers. During the period where options are limited we're likely to see broadband prices increase as cable subscribers decrease. There will be offset contracts for subscribers to both services, but this will be a big hindrance to those who want to switch away from cable simply to save money.

The point of this exercise is to emphasize that money only matters in the short term. What we need to focus on is value. Money is part of value, so some people may be more inclined to use Hulu and deal with advertising so they won't have another $9+ bill each month. Others hate commercials and love the idea that they can pay a paltry amount to avoid them. Value is very subjective and it requires everyone to evaluate things themselves.

Even video quality is merely part of the value equation and is likely to be a non-issue in a few years. Today's issues include playback smoothness, image quality, and buffering. It is a given at this point that these issues won't exist in another five years. Advances in video encoding, decoding, and hardware will cure the smoothness issue. Competition will cause more providers to offer HD video, and those same advances in delivery will help this video get to you smoothly. Edge networks will help the bigger providers with the buffering, but so will smaller file sizes. These things are problems today, not tomorrow.

The real problem is overall experience. Things like UI design and customer service. Technological and economical challenges are relatively easy to solve. We know where to look, and have a rough idea of what to do. Human interaction is infinitely complex. The larger your user base the harder it is to please everyone. The solutions to these problems don't scale the way others do.

That's why when I review on of these sites I focus so much on getting to the content I want and viewing it. I focus less about what the content is than I do with how it works. The online video services that solve these problems will invariably solve the other problems. So they're the ones worth considering. Beyond that it's all content.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Rental Industry Madness!

The Google email alerts were aflutter with activity today after I wrote my post about Chegg.

One of the benefits of having a blog that almost no one reads, yet still having access to Google Analytics, is that I can practically hone in on every little hit my blog receives. Sometimes it's just fun, because I can presume to know exactly who that hit represents. Other times it's handy because I can track down strange traffic.

In this case, there was strange traffic. I do get stray visitors to my blog, but they are few and far between. So when three people replied to the last post, something seemed odd. Maybe my preachy rant about how to run a customer service operation had gained traction somewhere. Needless to say, I was curious.

So I checked. My little blog received visits from a PR management firm, Chegg competitors, and of course, Chegg.

I have to say... I'm flattered.

I'm also impressed. It's good to know that these companies are paying attention. It's great to see them using the web to manage their reputations. This probably shouldn't be too surprising. These are web upstarts, they aren't stodgy blue chips and they haven't grown beyond the point of caring.

Since I know you guys are reading, I want to say something to you.

Chegg: Thank you for your efforts to make me whole again as a customer. I don't know if that was a direct result of what I wrote before, or if it was already happening. We weren't expecting another call or the personal attention we received. Any way I look at it, in the end you went above and beyond.

I hope my story raised some eyebrows. My wife said that she found other stories of similar experiences on the web. The problem we had, more than anything, was how far things went and the treatment along the way. Until this incident I was an advocate of your service. I hadn't written about it, but through word of mouth I would tell everyone in college to check your site first. I'm sure if experiences like mine are limited then you'll continue to have high customer satisfaction.

Fleishman-Hillard: I suspect your reputation management service had something to do with the above. Kudos to you.

BookRenter: I do still intend to use your service. Thanks for visiting.

And I'm not quite sure why Follett visited. I know they're in the textbook industry, but that one seems odd.

It's been a weird day, but I feel like this was productive.

Edit: My wife points out that Follett also does book rentals. Guess I didn't look hard enough (and thinking back I vaguely recall the press release on that one).

Chegg: Cheap Books, Crappy Service, Costly Results

My wife and I have been using Chegg for a while with decent success. Renting a book through Chegg is generally at least $30 cheaper than buying used, even if you sell the book back. I like the business model and all was going well until last semester. Now they're trying to charge me full price for two books on a gotcha scheme where you can't prove their employees' ineptitude.

Here's what happened: Both of us rented several books for Spring semester. Time slipped by and my wife never sent them back. So we paid a late fee. That was fine, it was our fault. After that we made sure to send it back, because inaction on our part would result in the purchase of the book. So we sent three of them back in a single box.

The catch: only one of those books was checked back in. The box was received, there was no mention of damage to the box. Thing is, we can't prove that we put all of the books in it. Why? Because with Chegg you simply use their return labels, so there's no receipt saying how heavy the box was, nor is there any remaining evidence of the contents. It's your word against theirs.

What this means for you is that if one of their warehouse workers screws up, you're paying. Or at least you'll be charged. I'm nearly certain that's what happened here. I have no hard evidence but it certainly does fit. We know we returned all of the books due at the time, the box arrived, but only one book was checked in. That's not all, though...

Just today, as we attempted to print the return label for the last book we'll ever rent from Chegg, we found that the book was marked as returned. It happens that this is my Macroeconomics book, whereas the Microeconomics book from last semester is one that went missing. Needless to say, they're very similar books. Why is this one, which I'd only just received back then and is still sitting in my office, marked as returned when the other went missing?

There's a million scenarios, but this is what seems likely: The books arrive and for whatever reason they are manually checked in (a barcode is misread, maybe that's just the process). The worker receiving the book doesn't pay enough attention, because they're probably not paid well enough to pay attention and likely have quotas to meet for the day. Said worker checks in the book that was recently rented instead of the book that was due.

That still leaves a mystery of what happened to the other book that is missing. However, in such a scenario it's likely that stressed, underpaid workers doing repetitive cataloging will make mistakes. So it wouldn't surprise me if that book were simply not properly checked in.

Of course, that's only half the problem. The other half is the way this service will treat you in this scenario. They're argumentative. They're brash. They refuse to acknowledge any possibility of fault. You'll spend countless calls with different members of their CSR team explaining the same thing over again, and receiving the same attitude each time. Then they charge you full price and completely destroy the value of their service.

That ends my relationship with Chegg. Well, there is one more chapter to this. After my wife speaks with yet another supervisor today, if the problem is not somehow amicably resolved, we'll be speaking with our credit card company to dispute the charge. Fortunately, Amex tends to look down on this as much as I do.

Update: It would seem that it is possible to get through to these people. After a conversation with a supervisor, and an explanation that yes there are two economic fields with similar names, we're getting a refund. There's no explanation as to what happened to the other book. I don't particularly care, though. It's over and that's what matters.

Update 2: Pretty wild. We received another call and a bit more of a refund. I think Chegg is taking this to heart. There's more here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Let's Hear it for My Wife

My wife is finally a college graduate, twice. Just yesterday she finished her undergraduate studies and has earned her BS in Social Work. A month ago she received a diploma in the mail from her last college, who decided two years later that she had indeed earned her associates degree. So that's two degree in the span of a few months.

Over a decade ago she graduated with honors from high school. She made it into one of those whose-who books and all of that. She had full scholarships to many colleges, and was accepted into NYU. Her parents, although they'd lived just outside of NYC for 30 years (longer for her mother) refused to consider NYU. Lehigh was too far for their baby. So they sent her off to Sacred Heart in Connecticut. She hated it.

Sure, she made some friends. There was a nun there who she still speaks fondly of. Maybe some of the teachers were good, I don't remember at this point. The other people at the school were terrible. She was saddled with a crappy roommate and had to switch, that roommate never let it go, though. She and her friends decided to make college unbearable for my wife and her new roommate and they largely succeeded. Her grades were still decent, though. So she was able to transfer schools easily, at the cost of some of her scholarships.

Next up was Wright State in Ohio. Here she made a lot of friends, and she had a pretty good time. I'm reminded of some of the parties and pranks on an almost daily basis. Of course, the problem here was hardly the school or the people... it was me. Our relationship was a huge distraction from her studies. I didn't support her. My life was a mess and it generally rubbed off on her. Her GPA was approaching 3, which she thought was passable though she certainly wasn't thrilled by it. Turns out it wasn't, she lost her financial aid after they raised the standards slightly. She'd found a school she liked but she could no longer attend.

Defeated, she returned to Jersey and worked. And worked. And worked. She's a hard worker. Her whole family is. I'm envious of their work ethic. Of course, something didn't sit right with her. She'd spent four years in college and had nothing to show for it. When she said she wanted to go back I knew this time had to be different.

She enrolled in Bergen Community in NJ. Nothing fancy this time. Bergen is fairly reasonable if you live in the county and it just so happens that we lived in the ass crack of Bergen at the time. I liked to call our place the last house in Saddle Brook, because we were technically in Saddle Brook but for all intents and purposes we lived in Garfield. Please don't take too much offense if you live in that area, but I was not a fan. Still, she was able to go to a decent community college on the cheap and that's what she did.

This time was different, though. She had to work while going to school. Fortunately, unlike me, she could keep pace with two full time schedules. She was on course for an AS in two years. At this point she was a little uncertain what she wanted to do at school. She'd been through so much of the soc/psych program but she didn't want a degree that would be useless without a graduate degree. In the end, I don't even remember what she decided, because it didn't much matter. She knew she was going to go on to another school rather than rest on her associates degree. Ultimately it came down to one gym class. The problem? I was working in NYC and she was pregnant, still working, and just couldn't be bothered for a diploma she'd do little with. She wanted to move on and so she did. Another two years of school and still nothing.

She enrolled in William Paterson in Wayne. You might recognize it as the school that Sammi from The Jersey Shore attends. It's still fun to point that out. Anyway, she was set on education when she enrolled. She was accepted into the department and was doing well. Yet, every new semester brought new drama. Her advisors told her contradictory things and kept changing the program requirements. She could feel her work slipping away again. It would take an extra year, at least, at this rate. She was attending full time, spending the rest of her time being a mom. [I believe being a full time student is far easier than being a full time mom.]

Another change was in order. She switched to social work. This department was much better. She was back on track. As she approached her last year it looked like everything would fall into place. Of course, at this point we knew better. She wasn't able to take either her qualitative or quantitative research classes in the fall. This forced her to take both classes in the spring so that she could take senior seminar over the summer - that is, if she could get permission to take them both at once and if senior seminar would be offered. This set up the spring semester from hell.

She was approved to take both classes at once, though some people thought she was crazy for wanting to do it. There wasn't a choice, really. It was that or she wouldn't graduate this school year. Disaster almost struck immediately, she had to switch around her schedule three times because after a single class with the one professor she knew she'd fail. Turns out that wouldn't be her only problem that semester, the teacher she eventually had for quantitative was terrible. He didn't teach the class such that any of the students understood the material, then he waited until the last three weeks of class to approve everyone's work and give a semester's worth of exams all at once. My wife is the only person in the class who got an A. We know this because he apparently showed another student. In fact, she got an A in all four of her classes that semester.

On to summer semester. At this point we have to thank her professor for even offering to teach the class. No other teacher would, and a couple dozen students wouldn't graduate this school year without it. After the semester from hell this one was easy in comparison. The course requires you to do three things, write a research paper, give a presentation on your findings, and take an exam. Done, done, and done. In the meantime she interviewed for jobs, got one, took her GRE, and was accepted into graduate school. She doesn't rest on her laurels.

Oh yeah, she also got her other diploma around the same time. Actually, the same day she was hired. It turns out that Bergen changed their program eliminating the gym requirement. When she received mail from them she was perplexed. What could it be? Oh, it's just a diploma issued in May 2010 from a school she hasn't attended in two years. It should be fun to explain this to employers.

That's really it. She's been in college intermittently for 15 years. She was enrolled at some point during at least 10 of those years. Now she has two diplomas from two different institutions, finally some validation for all her work.

As for me, I'm inspired. I've been back in school for the last year. It's a hard slog, especially with the way my time is split. Yet, I don't think it quite compares to the trials she's been through. It merely helps me to appreciate her work.

That's why I decided to write out her story, because I think it needs to be told to fully appreciate how great this accomplishment is. She didn't give up. Sure, life got in the way, but that didn't stop her. She worked damned hard and earned her degrees at least twice over. I'm proud. Exceptionally proud. So much that I wasn't quite sure how to express it. The only thing I could think of was this.

I love you Karenann.