Saturday, October 13, 2012

AT&T Cellular Data "Leak"

Some months ago, before the iPhone 5 an before iOS 6, the five devices on my family plan started to see data a usage spike. My wife’s phone was the first to experience it and we assumed that it was her son was viewing YouTube videos extensively. At the time we were all on the 2 Gb data plan, a plan that had recently been replaced with a more expensive 3 Gb plan. To avoid a $10 overage charge, we gave up the less expensive (and grandfathered, no longer available) 2 Gb plan and limited her son's access to her phone. At the time she had a 16 Gb iPhone 4 running iOS 5.x. Over the next two or three months, the same thing happened to both of my sons' phones (both Androids), my iPhone 4S and, quite shockingly, my iPad 2. AT&T could not explain the data spikes or the "coincidence" in light of the fact that our usage behaviors and locations had not significantly changed. The result after about three or four months was that each of the five devices were moved up to the 3 Gb plan - at a total cost of $25 per month. And, even at 3 Gb, on a couple of occasions one or another device (iPhone 4S - 32Gb, iPhone 4 - 16Gb, iPad 2 -32 Gb, and two Android based phones) came close to its 3Gb limit when in the past years of smart phone use with AT&T (I have had the same account for 12 years - longer than AT&T has been AT&T), I have never come close. This includes every version of the iPhone and iOS, Blackberry, Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and other smart-phones. After many phone calls and untold hours on the phone with their tech support, no one at AT&T has ever offered an explanation other than the standard "some apps are open and use data in the background," etc.

So I sucked it all up, paying approximately $300 per month for five devices. Just before the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 were released, maybe six or eight weeks before, I noticed that my data usage as reported through my AT&T online account management has shown some interesting regular patterns. It was apparent on every device, not just the iPhones and iPad 2 (the others are a Samsung Galaxy and a Nokia Lumina). The pattern was some data usage at hourly intervals even when the phones were known to be in WiFi. The recent buzz has to do with a data "leakage" problem on Verizon with the release of iOS 6, and apparently Apple has updated Verizon iOS 6, but when it comes to AT&T and others, there is no information forthcoming. Whether or not my bill data reflects the Verizon/iOS 6/Apple problem or not, I cannot say, but I can say this: Data is being recorded as used at hourly intervals when I know the phone (or iPad) is in strong, reliable WiFi. It happens with all five devices, but the most stunning set of data comes from my iPad.

At :52 after the hour, every hour, some data use is recorded on my iPad. It is almost always in WiFi, but this data usage happens even when I am sleeping, and even when my iPad is sleeping (cover closed). And this pattern is steady and constant going back three weeks at least - to the beginning of my billing cycle. AT&T's first explanation was that when the phone slips out of WiFi, it automatically switches over to cellular data until the WiFi connection is reestablished. If there was an app open that uses data at all, it would record some minimal data usage - and most (but not all) of these hourly hits are small. But they add up quickly such that with a week left in my billing cycle, AT&T sent me a warning that my shared data usage of 10 Gb is 65% used. So, lets just say that there are occasions that this could happen - a momentary loss of WIFI would created a small cellular data hit if an app is open - granted, that could happen. But every hour for weeks in a row? And a pattern that is apparent on every one of the various devices on my account? I don't think so.

Since the customer service agent could not explain these stark facts, he sent me over to tech support. That agent could not come up with an adequate explanation either, so a supervisor was brought in. She tried the same old "plausible" explanations, but the numbers I have defy any pat answer that they can give. She referred it to some "second tier" investigation - and offered me a $120 credit on my next bill. I never asked for a credit and, in fact, even with this strange data accounting, I will not exceed my limit anyway. Of course, I took the credit.

There is a lot of buzz about this problem with iPhones and iOS 6 - but I am telling anyone who will listen that it goes beyond that. There is something funny going on at AT&T and it has been happening since before any of this iPhone 5 and iOS 6 hoopla began - it started at about the same time the 2 Gb data plan was retired. I am not being financially impacted by this - yet, but when something stinks like this, I am compelled to find out where the stench is coming from.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Many Hats

I wear many hats. Some I have worn since birth and others are more recent acquisitions. The most recent came just less than a month ago when I became a husband to my beautiful bride. With that hat came another significant addition to my repertoire; I am now the stepfather to two young boys. I have been a husband before and, technically, I have been a stepfather before, but in reality my eldest son is in every other respect just that, my eldest son. I have been his father and his only father since he was just more than two years old. He, his two younger brothers and I are all on the same page - that will never change. The short-lived previous marriage died an ugly death more than 20 years ago, and with it, my role of husband vanished; however, my father hat (and for most of the time, as a single parent) has been with me now for more than 25 years - it is probably my most important role in life even though my boys are now men. My role of husband is also sacred and I take my role of stepfather seriously, but I do not view this as an opportunity to do fatherhood over or to snuff out the memory of a past marriage gone wrong. This is all new and to look at it any other way is to do a disservice not only to myself, but also to my wife, my stepsons and my own three children.

Prior to meeting my wife almost two years ago, I was happy. My life was full and I was (and continue to be) successful. But there was something missing. I knew it, and I knew more or less what it was. While I wouldn’t exactly call it “empty nest syndrome,” aspects of it were present. My boys either were (or were soon going to be) off to start lives on their own and although my life was going places I never dreamed possible, I believe what I felt was an odd combination of loneliness and selfishness, despite not ever really feeling lonely or by any measure acting selfishly. My father was the best man at my wedding and in his toast he might have put it best, that what was missing was a partner to share my life with. To be perfectly honest I was not actively seeking such a person, but it has become all too clear in recent years that these things are difficult to plan or predict. Indeed, if I were to have scripted the course of my life myself, I would have sold myself woefully short.

So I am married and the magic is all new. Not new again – new. It is nothing like it was before. Every aspect is different. Although some of my hats may bear the same names, the styles have changed significantly in 20 plus years. While it is still too soon to see how my new role of stepfather plays out, there is an eerie similarity to my prior experience, however, stepping into the lives of eight year-old and 13 year-old boys is necessarily different than being there from the beginning. Adding to that is the further complication of being 2,200 miles away from my family (both old and new) for a significant portion of the year. Fortunately, my wife has worn her single mother’s hat for many years. She would say that being married and in a secure home helps that hat fit better, but the fact remains that our once long-distance relationship is now a long-distance marriage – a positive nuance to be sure, but still a difficult situation. Dealing with the day-to-day requirements of raising children is a heavy hat for anyone, under all circumstances; doing it alone only adds weight.

Finally, the other half of that long-distance marriage is about to fly back to Baton Rouge for another semester of graduate study at LSU. My workload, between my own studies and my teaching, will soon be back to the insane proportions. Additionally, maintaining a home here in Fair Oaks and an apartment in Baton Rouge is expensive, but the payoff will come soon enough. Of course, “soon enough” is open to interpretation – four semesters (or, a little less than two calendar years) of remaining coursework may not sound like a long time, and in the big picture it is not, but living in it can often feel like an eternity. We are not unique or special and many have it much worse (members of our military put up with much longer separations from their loved ones in much worse places without the ability to communicate as my wife and I can), but knowing we have it better than others only helps so much.

Putting the distance and the hardship that it creates aside, I am returning to do what I love doing and despite missing my being home, my wife fully supports my goals. It’s a balancing act that I’d like to say I am getting better at, but I am not sure that is possible. We have a year of experience and that helps, but to say it will be easier now is probably not true. I am torn between looking forward to being back in school and leaving home again. It is truly a case where I wish I could be in two places at once. But these difficulties my wife and I are facing are without a doubt the kind of “quality problems” that come with success and they are a far cry from the sort of problems we have left behind. If nothing else, this past year has taught me yet again that love is an exceeding strong entity, perhaps the most powerful force known, and if we allow it to, it will indeed conquer all. Love makes every hat fit like a glove.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Love and Life

It has been many moons since I have written anything for The 25 Year Plan. Too many. Since this blog has served primarily as an ongoing life journal for the past six-plus years, it makes sense that certain major life events would be documented here. Things like the completion of my master's degree earlier this year; things like the successful completion of the first year of my doctoral program at LSU; and it might be important to mention that I am getting married just a few hours from now. These are not everyday things that just come and go in one’s life – they are in a very real sense what life is all about. These are the things that are remembered not only by my soon-to-be wife, my immediate family, my close friends, and me, but for some these are the things that will be remembered long after we are gone. These are the things that constitute our legacy and they should be documented here.

My bride and I have not lived what most would describe a “normal” life. While it is true that virtually no one can claim adherence to any standard of “normal,” it is also true that we have deviated enough from that idealistic path that no one would describe us as conformists. Not even remotely. It’s more than just the fact that we are getting married later in life and more than the family we are blending – the mixing and matching of families is an all too common reality of modern life. It’s more than the quasi-tradition marriage (that is, it is traditional where convenient or affordable, quasi when it’s not) we have cobbled together. It is much more than any of that because where we are today – in love, getting married and living a life that has a future beyond the next hour – is not anything either of us thought could ever be attained. We each have years of experience that tells us so, yet here we are, living the dream.

That is not to say that we have somehow stumbled into a life of luxury. Spiritually, yes, we are overpaid, but the struggles of life on a daily basis are still with us. Our relationship will still be part-time long distance, albeit now as husband and wife. The bills still have to be paid and although I have completed both a BA and an MA recently, the real hurdle is the Ph.D. that I am still in the process of working on. My wife will have her own day-to-day details to attend to, not the least of which is raising two sons who will hopefully follow a path that is perhaps not well-trodden, but one that does not lead into a brick wall – or off a cliff. One can be a nonconformist without being dangerous, stupid or making life unnecessarily hard. Indeed, Jenny and I are living proof that following the path less traveled can be fulfilling and rewarding… or dangerous and hard. We have been there, we have done that.

It has become abundantly clear that life is a team sport. I became resistant to being committed, dependent, reliant, beholden - pick your adjective – on or to anyone for anything. I believed myself to be independent and lived that way, yet the truth is that I was never independent. Jenny has never been married, but I was and it ended very badly more than 20 yeas ago. It colored my world black for a very long time and it is safe to say that, while she was never married, Jenny built a wall that was equally robust. Don’t let anyone in and no one can hurt you. But that past several years have been witness to a transformation - an attitudinal change, a new perspective - that occurred independently until we met in late 2010. Since then a synergy that I can only describe a true love has propelled us back into the thick of life.

Our marriage is perhaps the most profound example of the changes in our lives, but also noteworthy are the many, many other relationships we have developed or repaired. There will be between 150 and 200 guests at our wedding and everyone of them represents a relationship with one or both of us that goes significantly beyond just a mere “acquaintance.” In fact, the vast majority are friends in the truest sense of the word. And, of course, there are many more that cannot attend. These are all things that make life worth living. These are the things that money cannot buy. This is what life is all about. Our wedding is, first and foremost, a celebration of our love for and commitment to each other, but it is also a celebration of love and life in general. It is what life is all about.

Friday, June 01, 2012

So, This is Old...

This blog has served many, many purposes; it has been kind of a catchall for what ever passed through my mind and out of my fingers. I used to post many times every month and while the postings here have diminished to less than once a month, the writing has never stopped. Today I am starting three stories for a local newspaper that I used to work for. Freelance news writing does not pay much, but writing for the newspaper has reawakened my love of local news reporting. No, I do not wish to re-enter the field on a full-time basis, but keeping my hand in it from time to time reconnects me to my youth – not as a news writer, but as a newspaper delivery boy. While I was probably too young to understand the vital public interest I was serving, the ancillary benefit of reading my newspapers as I was carefully folding them, preparing to fling them at my customers’ doorsteps, has lived with in my soul to this day. There was no Internet, no cell phones, no personal computers at all – people relied on their daily newspapers to keep them informed.

Like so many others, I get most of my news today via the Internet. I prefer sitting down to read my local daily newspaper, but sadly the days of washing the newsprint off my hands are gone. My news now comes from my local newspaper’s website as well as many other sources and although I like the almost unlimited availability of news sources, I really miss holding the paper in my hands. Oddly enough, I used to write with a typewriter and I do not miss that at all. I was, in many respects, a “techie,” I was onboard with the Internet in its early stages and stayed current until the late 90s. Now, however, I am more accurately a nostalgic techie and an experienced end-user; the kinds of things I used to know have no current value, but I do know my way around a computer. Technology has, of course, changed things. This ongoing rambling of “perspectives, purpose and opinion” would not have happened had there been no technology to drive it.

I have been around for nearly half a century. The past 50 years have been witness to evolutions and revolutions at a pace perhaps unprecedented in human history. Yet much remains remarkably the same. Humanity, while it might appear less humane than ever, still rests on a foundation of intangibles. There are “things” that exists outside of matter and energy. Truth, beauty, goodness, justice, love and a host of other intangible things are real, yet they cannot be quantified. Now, there are some scientists that might tells us that those things are simply the electrochemical impulses of our nervous system, that they exist as love, justice or what have you are simply human creations; they are labels or symbols to describe a physical reality – a nervous system response to stimuli. Even less appealing – they are instinctive survival responses. But that explanation does little to explain why love occurs, why some things are universally beautiful or why injustice is recognized as such even by those who are the most frequent offenders.

Fifty years is a long time, and I used to look at 50 as “old.” Now a little more than six months short of that milestone, I do not feel “old.” In fact, I am doing much of what a man half my age might be doing. I recently earned BA and MA degrees and I am one year into a PhD program that, if successful, will have me sporting the title of “Doctor” sometime in 2015. I am getting married in just six weeks and while I am not new to parenthood, new children are coming into my life. There is, of course, much more to this story than this rambling mind-through-fingers symbolic representation, but the very fact that these words will be read by someone else will help form what they mean. They are an addition to the wealth of human experience that has been recorded over the past few thousand years and the more I read of those who have gone before me, the more I realize how little we have changed. We have adapted the environment to meet our needs, but we have not conquered the world. We have technologized much, but that essence that makes us human has not changed one iota. Paraphrasing Kenneth Burke, we are animals that communicate and miscommunicate and it is perhaps the latter more than the former that truly makes us human.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Expectations and Respect

This past semester of college was the most difficult and disappointing yet. While my grades are not yet in, I do not believe I am in any danger of not passing my courses, but that does not lessen the my regret that I did not perform better. I could make a million excuses, but they all amount to an attempt to justify what I do not believe is justifiable. This is not the first time I have given a sub-par performance; my college career is lengthy and my earliest years were laced with an abundance of indifference, but that has not been the case since returning in earnest in the fall of 2004. It could also easily be argued that no matter how well I have done, I could have done better. But this time there is more to it than that…

Procrastination has been my nemesis since my earliest memories. I have fought against it with varying degrees of success throughout my life. I am easily distracted and I am fairly sure that if I would submit myself to some sort of psychological evaluation I would be diagnosed with the current ailment du jour, one that I am sure there is a miracle drug that would “cure” it. But my success thus far has proven that with sufficient fortitude, I can perform up to the standards that are expected of me. While those standards are exceeding high as a PhD student at Louisiana State University, they were equally high as an MA student at California State University, Sacramento. That MA, however, is still lacking the final component that will award me my degree and allow me to continue at LSU, and that is, in large part, responsible for my disappointment.

Procrastination. It drove me to put off what should have been completed a year ago. It greatly increased my workload when my workload was already significant. And I have no one to blame but myself. But, and this is a big “but,” I can handle letting myself down. I have even, to some degree, grown accustomed to it. What I cannot get used to is the ramifications it has for others when I fall short. In the past those others have mostly consisted of my family, but with my graduate experience I am now in a position that my meager performance sends a statement to those who have been instrumental in seeing me through thus far. I am speaking specifically of the graduate professors who have taken the time and interest in my education (time that is largely monetarily unrewarded) and the institutions that have granted me access to the highest levels of education.

Doing my utmost to meet these lofty expectations is more than just doing my part – it is a sign of respect. By not delivering my best and by allowing myself to drag my feet until the flames are lapping at my ass hurts not only my education, it wastes the time of those who have given so much of theirs to me. It is a sign of disrespect. And that I have done so causes me more regret than any personal ramifications to my own interests. In my culminating exams at CSUS, I was woefully unprepared. While it is likely that certain inherent defects in my ability to recall specific names and dates from memory would not have made a great deal of difference when it came to the written portion of those exams, in the oral defense there can be no such excuse – I should have been better prepared. As a result, I fell short of what was expected of me. Thankfully, I have been granted the opportunity to retake two of the six portions of my oral exams. I have been given another opportunity to show my appreciation and respect by performing not only up to expectations, but by exceeding them.

At the end of the day, that is far more important to me than the very real and dire consequences of not passing. Showing those who have gone out of their way to guide me along this path the respect they deserve is not why I do what I do, but it helps in doing it sooner and better. This school year is almost over – next year the expectations go up. The best way to respect those who are helping and have helped me meet those expectations is simple enough – meet them.

Monday, January 30, 2012

What We Do

Author's Note: This was written for a graduate seminar at LSU - posting it here is a cheap way of keeping this blog alive, but the questions posed are, nonetheless, relevant. For those with a scholarly disposition, the in-text citations have been left in place.

In reading the varying conceptualizations of what communication is, what it isn’t, whether it is representational or presentational, whether it is interactional or transactional and whether is should be firmly rooted in postmodernism or its evolutionary heir, the thread that appears to run through these works is Watzlawick et al.’s axiom “One cannot not communicate” (1967, p. 49). At the root of the axiomatic debate is the definition of communication itself. Upon hearing this axiom for the first time in an undergraduate business communication class, the explanation used to support it seemed to make sense. In an office setting, layer after layer of communication as we traditionally think of it was removed until simply the act of not showing up to work became a communicative act that said any number of things from “I’m sick,” to “I’m sick of working here.” Viewed now in retrospect, every layer of communication deprivation represented an intentional act, however, it is also clear that the intention might not have necessarily been to send a “message.”

Located on another place in the “What constitutes communication?” spectrum, we have the notion that communication must necessarily occur whenever there are two or more people present (Motley, 1991). That is, even if one is not communicating, the act of not communicating is communication. Complicating the definition even further, the idea that some form of intention (conscious or unconscious) is a sender-based view of communication whereas calling all behaviors communication imposes a “receiver bias” (Bavelas, 1990, p. 595). That is, one the one hand, if a behavior, verbal or otherwise, is intended to transmit a message, for some that constitutes communication regardless of how or if it is received while others claim that any behavior that transmits information, regardless of intent, is communication. Finally, postmodern thinkers have attempted to bridge the gap positing that communication is not a discrete “thing” that can be extracted and studied in isolation, but rather an event that consists of myriad and intrinsically elusive variables such that absolute certainty can never be achieved (Cronen, 1998).

All of the above academic epiphamizing still leaves us with the question, what is communication? While adopting a stance like the infamous US Supreme Court’s definition of obscenity, “I know it when I see it,” is equally ambiguous when applied to communication, does any of the prior (and certainly future) debate help communication scholars? Communication Theories has a laundry list of 18 different academic definitions of “communication” (Miller, 2005), never mind the ancillary and necessary definitions of the terms that spring from those definitions. Some might argue that for disciplinary status and theory development, we, as communication scholars, need to define in no uncertain terms what it is that we study. But consider this: Can communication be as simple as the sharing of information? What constitutes “sharing” and what is meant by “information,” of course, is open to further debate, but as Deetz has pointed out, we do not study the substance of, say, psychology, or sociology (also ambiguously defined disciplines), or even hard sciences such as physics or chemistry, but we do study how the information produced by these diciplines is shared, used and even, to a certain extent, created – “We have to…produce studies that study psychological, sociological, and economic phenomena as formed and explained communicationally” (1994, p. 568).

Therefore, the definitional constraints on what, exactly, constitutes the communicative element is highly fluid and largely context dependent. Indeed, approaching the same question from two or more communicational perspectives, whether is be a linear model, a postmodern angle or a rhetorical view within the communication studies discipline can each reveal different but still valuable insights. Cronen is correct that certainty is an impossibility, however, this is nothing new – Aristotle’s Rhetoric is founded on the very idea of the contingent. If methodologies and theories – indeed, if disciplinary status - are dependent on a narrowly focused definition of communication, then we are forever destined to be nothing more than a field. But notice the debate regarding the definitions of terms such as “discipline,” “field,” “areas of study” and the like (Deetz, 1994). Similarly, many if not all other so-called disciplines can be subjected to the same definitional scrutiny. But we as communication scholars, not surprisingly, seem to dwell on this, perhaps due in part to our tenuous foothold in the academy, but also due to the fact that this is part and parcel of what we do.

The ongoing debate is a two-edged sword. It is exceedingly beneficial to examine and re-examine what communication is and toward that end, develop new theories and methodologies that propel our understanding of a phenomenon that can never be fully understood. Our discipline’s propensity to communicate about communication is a practical application of the art we study. However, when it comes to entrenched beliefs and interdepartmental divisions, it weakens our standing in the academy. In justifying one area of study to the exclusion of another, we fuel those who see us as a field without substance, a community of scholars with no community. The simple fact is that no area of study, indeed, not even the human race as we know it, exists outside of or without communication. We don’t study chemistry or psychology or economics or basket weaving, we study how people in those “areas of study” or “fields” or “disciplines” communicate. We study the sharing of information, regardless of how one defines it.