Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Going Prepaid: My Journey to Saving $68 a Month on Cell Phone Service

After over eight years in the Verizon network, I have finally left. It wasn't any action or policy enacted by Verizon that sent me away. My research and usage patterns showed the amount of monthly savings I could realize by switching from postpaid service (the traditional, pay-after-the-month plans) to prepaid service. Here is my firsthand experience of switching from Verizon to T-Mobile...

I had been a Verizon Wireless customer since 2007 when I first got a cell phone (my family became Verizon customers in 2004-05). With my first smartphone, the LG Voyager, I got the unlimited data package and remained grandfathered in when they eliminated unlimited data, then forced you to pay full price for a phone to keep it. I got the Galaxy Nexus in June 2012 and got my first taste of 4G LTE and its lightning-fast speeds. I kept notice of Verizon's rapid LTE network development and watched the map expand to cover most of the country. I was a happy customer with a good phone and great network coverage.

But then I read this article from JR Raphael on his Android Power blog discussing why he went to prepaid service and his observations three months later. When he mentioned the $30 per month plan from T-Mobile, I was intrigued. But, alas, I was under contract until June 2014 as a result of upgrading my phone. So I tucked the information in the back of my mind.

One afternoon in late August, I checked my Verizon account and looked at our usage over the past six months. Astoundingly, I had used 80 minutes or less in all six months and Veronica had used under 300 each month. So we were paying for 700 minutes and using half of them or less. Our data usage was similarly lower than I expected. I topped out at 5.5GB one month while traveling, otherwise, I was at 3-4GB each month. Veronica only used 2-3GB on her phone. I chatted with a representative to see if there was a lower minute plan to save some money. When they told me there was no lower plan, I asked about when my contract ended. To my surprise, our contracts were up. (Somehow in our account transfer/merging process, our contract end date changed to June 2013. I verified with a representative on the phone that this was correct).

With the news that we were out of contract and free to change companies, I began researching our best options. I had long been in love with the Nexus 4 by Google. The slow update process on Verizon often frustrated me with my Galaxy Nexus (having to wait 1-3 months after release to get the updates I was supposed to receive almost instantly). So the idea of being tied directly to Google was appealing. Plus the phone quality with the all glass design is pretty stellar. My mind was made up and I quickly convinced Veronica of the same.

We compared prepaid plan companies (there are dozens of them) but ultimately found that T-Mobile offered the best plans for us as their $30 per month plan for 100 minutes, unlimited text, and 5GB of high-speed data (then unlimited data at dial-up speeds) was unmatched. We got Veronica hooked up on the $60 a month plan for unlimited minutes and text with 2.5GB of high-speed data.

The activation process for Veronica was simple. We ordered our Nexus 4 phones, received them, took them to the store and got her setup within 10-15 minutes. My experience was not so easy. Turns out the $30/month plan is a Walmart/online exclusive. Through many phone calls and store visits, I finally got the answers I needed. I had to go to Walmart, buy a $30 prepaid card (which I could use for my plan cost), and call a special number to get signed up on the exclusive plan. Once I did that, we were good to go! Lesson learned: just buy the SIM card from T-Mobile's website and sign up for the plan online. I was impatient and it cost me many hours of frustration.

So what's the point of all this? Why did I leave Verizon's 4G LTE network and unlimited data behind? Simply: monthly cost savings. Here's a graph of what we're looking at:

I wasn't really using the power of Verizon's network, one of the main advantages of their service. We pretty much always stay in the OKC metro area and when we did travel, it was to cities or along interstates that are well covered by every network. Also, it turns out that HSPA+ (which is called 4G by many companies, causing confusion) isn't that much slower than LTE (my local comparisons show LTE around 10-15 mbps and HSPA+ around 7-9 mbps, a small difference and still faster than our DSL speeds at home). And my data usage was typically under the 5GB threshold due to the prevalence of Wi-Fi at home and work so unlimited data wasn't really a necessity anymore.

All in all, three weeks after changing our wireless provider, we're satisfied. Next month we'll see our cost savings on our monthly budget and enjoy that extra $68 a month of wiggle room. On top of that, we improved our phones and enjoy the benefits of a quad-core processor every day. We can choose when we want to upgrade and unlocked phones seem to carry a higher resale value for selling our old phones. Prepaid was the right move for us, is it for you?

Questions or comments? Let me know below!

Friday, June 07, 2013

Where Were You When...

There are many dates that are permanently a part of your memory. You know exactly where you were and what you were doing the moment you found out about that life-changing event. The most common one of my generation would be September 11, 2001 (I was flipping channels while eating breakfast and came across The Today Show shortly after the first attack). But, I will also never forget May 20, 2013, the day an EF5 tornado devastated the city of Moore, Oklahoma.

The day started out simply enough. I am off work on Mondays and chose not to work overtime after seeing the forecasts a couple of days out. I had been out storm chasing the day before and had decided to stay home on this day. I planned, instead, to go watch storms develop to the west of Norman from a hill on the northwest edge of town in a new residential development. As the morning rolled on, I looked at models and forecasts from the National Weather Service and Storm Prediction Center. Storms began initiating early in the afternoon and I started packing up to head out to the hill. Trey's afternoon meeting in OKC had been canceled and he was on his way to meet up and go watch. We got to the hill around 1:45pm with my puppy, Paisley. I set up my tablet to record a time lapse video looking to the west. Trey and I pulled up RadarScope on our phones and watched the storms develop in front of us. There wasn't much to see in the clouds in the distance but we waited. A supercell started to intensify and show signs of rotation west of Newcastle. I started streaming a local news station on my phone and heard frantic calls of an impending tornado development. Within a minute, we saw the funnel cloud form with a tornado appearing a minute later (here's the video from my tablet). The twister rapidly expanded  right in front of us (from EF0 to EF4 in ten minutes according to the NWS report).

apologies for the quality. it's an old camera shooting 4-5 miles away (see more at Google+)
After about ten minutes, the tornado was no more than a large, dark cloud from our vantage point. We quickly packed up our things, grabbed the dog, and headed north. The road was full of traffic from onlookers in both directions. We safely pulled off the road and crossed the street heading to a field where we could see the storm (later measurements indicated we were about 3-4 miles from the tornado). As it once again lacked definition and we knew it was headed toward an urban area, we turned around and headed back to my home to watch the coverage on TV.

I soon realized I didn't have cell phone reception and my replies to Veronica's concerned text messages were not being sent. We got home and I tried to send instant messages via Wi-Fi to Veronica which she didn't receive right away in the basement she was seeking shelter in. My cell phone remained without coverage until sometime in the middle of the night when Verizon was able to get backup towers in place. I sent out a tweet and Facebook status and e-mails to let friends and family know that we were okay. Veronica soon came home and we watched the stunning images of the devastation in Moore. Suddenly, the day was no longer just another stormy day in Oklahoma, but a major event.

After two hours of nonstop coverage and saddening news, Veronica and I couldn't take any more of it and diverted our minds to movies and TV shows. Our church, JourneyChurch.tv, quickly mobilized volunteers and resources through the night and into Tuesday. As I drove to the church to drop off food and some blankets, my eyes filled with tears thinking about those who lost loved ones and those who lost their homes. But they also filled as I thought about the Church coming together to help the community. 

In the coming days, it was difficult to return to normal life while thinking about the gravity of what just happened. But weather continues around the world and life goes on as normal for us, by the grace of God. But May 20th is certainly a day that I will never forget.

Journey Church has not stopped helping those in Moore recover from this tragedy. To see how you can volunteer or donate to the efforts, helpMOORErebuild.com is the place to go.

For my wife's account of the day's events, check out her blog post at Passion, Pink, & Pearls.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

My Chase Story - May 19, 2013

Throughout the work week leading up to Sunday, May 19, anticipation had been building about a strong upper level trough forecast to propagate eastward over the Plains. Plans had been made: if the forecast looked good, my friend, Trey, and I would be going storm chasing on Sunday, an off day for both of us. As the day grew closer, plans were made with Kenny Tapp and Ashton Cook to go out Sunday afternoon.

We loaded up and hit I-35 northbound around 1:30pm that Sunday. We targeted a location in northern Oklahoma based on the latest available information from the Storm Prediction Center and hourly models. As we drove, storms began initiating and quickly developing to our southwest. We pulled off, looked at radar, and made the decision to head south toward a supercell moving toward Edmond. As we got into town, the many trees and buildings on hills made it difficult to get a good vantage point. A spot was finally found at the entrance of LifeChurch.TV in Edmond and we watched the wall cloud and rain curtains closely for rotation. Around 4:20pm a weak tornado formed to our west (pictured). Later surveys would find EF1 damage in Edmond from this short-lived twister.

As the storm tracked east-northeastward across I-35, we moved to our east to get further ahead of the storm. Large volumes of traffic on the two lane road complicated our efforts but a glance out the window provided a glimpse of a new tornado forming around 4:25pm to our northwest.

The storm continued its track and our east-west oriented highway was becoming further and further displaced from the rotation. Terrain and numerous trees obscured views of the tornado that barreled toward Carney, Oklahoma. The tornado had also become rain-wrapped making us unsure of what we saw but we were fairly confident we caught glimpses of the twister. We tried to keep up with the tornadic storm but limited, unpaved county roads and suburban traffic made it nearly impossible. As the rotation weakened around 5:30pm, we turned our sights to the south as another supercell developed.

We dove south, ahead of the storm, and got into our prime position with a great viewing angle of a wall cloud to our west. We watched carefully for several minutes as it moved to the northwest then north of us, still above the ground. 

The radar indicated circulation was too weak and the storm ended up not producing any tornados. Further to our south, another storm had been brewing over Norman. My wife, Veronica, and our puppy sought shelter at a friend's house as the tornado sirens blared throughout the city. Later, this storm generated an EF4 tornado that ripped through parts of Shawnee, Oklahoma and other small towns, northeast of Norman. Giving up on our weakening wall cloud, we headed south and east once again to get ahead of the next supercell. 

The movement of the storm caused timing issues as we attempted to cross ahead of the storm to the east. It became clear we weren't going to make it ahead of the storm on our north-south highway. Punching through the hail core (with nickel sized hail or smaller), we dove east on another county road. The circulation on radar was to our south but nothing was visible through the rain. We were within a mile or two of the circulation but with no visibility and an uncertain track, we had to bail out and head back west (it turned out the tornado had already lifted but for safety's sake, we made the right decision). We continued to try to follow the storm from a safer position and got some views of the wall cloud but the supercell would not produce another tornado.

As daylight faded and the storms weakened, we began our trek home, stopping in Henryetta, Oklahoma for a late dinner. The day had not been a wild success photographically but we saw two tornadoes and I had now seen three total in my five chases. But nothing prepared us for what was to come the next day...

For more photos, see my Google+ album here

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

My Tornado Story

May 24, 2011

The latest SPC forecast for May 24, 2011
Tuesday morning arrived. I checked the Storm Prediction Center's forecast for the day before leaving for work at the University of Oklahoma Athletic Department, knowing that severe storms were a possibility later in the day. The SPC had issued a high risk for the majority of Oklahoma. The office, and much of the town, was on edge as the day wore on and the first storms started popping up in western Oklahoma (around 2pm). As I worked, I was exchanging text messages with my friend and roommate, Trey, while keeping an eye on the weather. Soon enough, a tornado watch was issued and my co-worker had her office television on the local news coverage. By 3:30pm, the storms were escalating and looking more impressive on radar. Trey was convinced this was the time to go. I asked my supervisor if I could leave early and received permission. I hurriedly packed my bags and hopped on my bike to ride home.

I had been out on storm chases twice before, once in 2009 and once in 2010. Neither storm chase had resulted in more than a good time with friends and some cool-looking clouds. As the semesters went by, I gained more knowledge and strategies from my meteorology courses and reading materials. I was ready to put the new information into practice and see my first tornado. I had never chased on a high risk day before so hopes were high that this might be a day of success.

Arriving at home, I grabbed all my storm chasing essentials: power inverter to power my laptop, USB cord to tether my phone to my 3G data, and a camera. Two other friends would be joining us on this adventure: Luke (also my roommate for the summer) and Shelby. I checked my car, added some oil, and we were ready to go. We headed west on Highway 9 from Norman and targeted the dryline.

A large tornado (which became an EF5) was already on the ground near I-40 and moving northeastward, out of our reach. We continued westward on Highway 9 then turned northwest, crossing I-44, and stopping near the small town of Amber, north of Chickasha. We were targeting a storm with mid-level rotation but got caught on the wrong side of another supercell to the south. Our stop was brief as the updated radar image came in and small hail started falling. We retreated eastward then turned south ahead of the southern supercell.

As we moved south on small county roads, the storm began to show better signs of rotation. We reached our target, just south of Highway 9 on Colley Road, and hurriedly jumped out of the car to take a look to the west and southwest. The latest radar image showed a hook echo and we were in perfect position to see anything that would form.

Within two to three minutes, we saw low level rotation to our west-southwest. Soon after, dirt started breaking free from the ground and a funnel appeared. At 5:13pm CT (according to my camera's tag data), we saw our tornado.

We stood in awe of one of nature's most captivating and devastating phenomena. The tornado began with a small funnel cloud but quickly expanded and became bigger as it moved from left to right at our vantage point. Unsure of the distance between us and the tornado, we quickly became fearful as the tornado grew larger and appeared to be moving our way. Another group of chasers were jumping in their car and moving south, away from the twister. We made the decision to follow their lead and retreat as the sounds grew louder and the tornado moved closer. Fear and anxiety became panic as we searched in vain for the car keys. My heart had never beat so fast. We soon found them on the floorboard, fired up the car, and got south as quickly as we could.

From a safer distance to the south, we resumed our nature watching and took pictures with the tornado in the background (which my Twitter followers will recognize as my profile picture).

As the storm raged on and moved northeastward, the tornado grew larger and larger. By the time it was due north of us, it was massive. Shelby tweeted a picture (below) that would be picked up by the Associated Press and broadcast to millions on The Weather Channel, Yahoo!, and many other websites.

The tornado was rated an EF4 by the National Weather Service and was on the ground for 51 minutes. Sadly, one life was lost and 48 more were injured as the tornado grew and moved toward Moore. It would disintegrate two miles south of the OKC Airport. Oklahoma saw 12 tornadoes that day and the SPC received 58 tornado reports across the region, certainly verifying the high risk forecast issued.

May 24, 2011 was a day I'll never forget. In my mind, I cannot picture a better storm chase scenario. I spent the day with three great friends, we did not have to wait long or travel far, and I saw a tornado form right in front of me. Though I long to see it happen again, I have not been storm chasing since that day.*

*As of this writing on May 1, 2013.

Forecast graphic and radar images obtained from the Storm Prediction Center and National Weather Service (respectively) in Norman, Oklahoma.

For more pictures, see my Google+ album here: Tornado in OK (052411)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How I Transitioned To (and From) Overnight Shifts

Weather is cruel: it never stops. Similarly, clients are always working and in all time zones of the world. As a result, clients often need information or assistance in the wee hours of the morning in the U.S. At my job at Weathernews, new employees are trained up during day shifts for the first 6-9 months then move into overnight shifts (one to two weeks at a time) once basic knowledge of the world's oceans has been imparted.

We also use a 10 hour a day, 4 days a week schedule (Sun-Wed or Wed-Sat) which provides three day weekends (a very nice perk!).

So when the schedule for March came out and I saw I would be working two sets of "flex" shifts (7pm-5:30am local time), I began to think through how I could get my body out of its lifelong routine of going to bed early and waking up early (presently, Veronica and I go to sleep between 9:30 and 11 and wake up between 5:30 and 6 on weekdays). I'm in the middle of the two weeks of overnight shifts but the first week was a success. Here's how I did it:

  1. Get what you need to sleep! For me, I need a cool, dark room. If I'm sleeping in the daylight hours, I need eyeshades. And with my wife waking up on a regular 8-to-5 schedule, I need ear plugs to sleep through her morning routine.
  2. Begin transitioning to the new sleep schedule three days before the first overnight shift. I got off work Saturday at 5:30pm and made sure to stay awake until 12:30am that first night while sleeping in until 8:30am (something my body doesn't allow, even on off days). The next night, Sunday night, I stayed up until 2:30am. The last night, Monday night, I stayed up until 4:30am. By Tuesday night, my body was ready to go for the shift.
  3. Eat when you're hungry. I found this advice on another website and it worked for me. My appetite has been fairly consistent in desiring breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So I eat breakfast at 1pm when I wake up. Lunch with my wife before work at 6pm. And dinner around 11:30pm at work.
  4. Keep mentally active in the transition nights. Watching a movie or TV wasn't going to work for me, I'd fall asleep easily. I saved chores for the night time, I read articles online, I played SimCity, etc. I didn't allow my brain to turn off.
  5. Do what it takes to stay awake on shift. I found that eating little snacks keeps me fresh. Knowing this, I tried to give myself healthy options such as: homemade granola bars (thanks Veronica!), bananas, fruit snacks, yogurt, oranges, and Cheetos/crackers (ok, so I wasn't completely healthy). I also stretched on my way to/from bathroom breaks and drank plenty of water (with one caffeinated can of Dr Pepper each night).
  6. Know your wall. I "hit the wall" between 1:30 and 2:30 every night. My eyes get heavy, my mind drifts, and my work capacity slows down. Once I figured this out, I had my Dr Pepper and granola bar waiting each night for the inevitable weariness. Thirty minutes later, I was back to being fresh. Be ready for your body to start shutting down and have a plan in place to combat it!
  7. Use your lunch break to be active. I tried to do something physical for each night's break. I went outside for a while one night, did part of the Insanity workout the next. You have to keep the body moving!
  8. Cut your body off from the sleep schedule after the last night. This advice came from a supervisor for overcoming the feeling of jet lag (thanks Polk!). I woke up at 11am on the Saturday morning after and was naturally tired by midnight that night (before starting the transition back for the second week).
So that's it: my tips for working a rotating overnight shift in meteorology (or elsewhere). Someday, I hope to put the overnight schedule behind me! 

I must thank my encouraging wife for keeping me going when things got difficult and frustrating. Thank you for supporting me, Veronica!

What are some tips you have for working overnight shifts?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Technology: Introduction

I am a technology enthusiast, spending much of my leisure reading time on tech sites such as CNET and Droid-Life. Considering how I wanted to spend my first summer in college, I thought about seeking a tech position at Student Life camps. I was hired on as a production assistant for the summer of 2009. That summer I gained experience operating Pro Presenter for displaying graphics/lyrics. The following summer, 2010, I was hired as a video director directing three live cameras. I returned for a two week contract in 2012 spending one week as an on-stage camera operator and one week as a video director. These weeks shaped my technology interest and allowed me to become involved at Journey Church, where I am a volunteer graphics operator in Pro Presenter 5 for Lifestream (college worship) and, occasionally, the main services. I aim to use my talents in understanding/using technology for serving God with excellence.

Sports: Introduction

While living in many states and cities throughout my childhood, I developed a fanhood for a diverse set of sports teams throughout the Central U.S. The teams below are listed in order. I have lived in each city or state and have been following the teams for many years (i.e. not a bandwagon fan).

Oklahoma Sooners Dallas Cowboys Dallas Mavericks St. Louis Cardinals Dallas Stars
Tennessee Titans Oklahoma City Thunder Texas Rangers St. Louis Blues

St. Louis Rams San Antonio Spurs Houston Astros Nashville Predators

Houston Texans Houston Rockets

I have enjoyed the thrill of a championship victory four times since I truly started watching and enjoying sports (after 1998):

1999 - Dallas Stars
2006 - St. Louis Cardinals
2011 - Dallas Mavericks
2011 - St. Louis Cardinals
(Note: OU's 2000 National Championship was won prior to my becoming a Sooners fan)

Weather: Introduction

From a young age, I have been fascinated with the weather. I pursued this fascination until it became a passion which led to a career. I visited only two schools, Iowa State and Oklahoma, choosing the latter. I attended the School of Meteorology at the University of Oklahoma from 2008-2012, graduating in four years with a Bachelor's of Science in Meteorology and a minor in Physical Geography.

Major CoursesSupport Courses
3 semesters: Atmospheric Dynamics
3 semesters: Physical Meteorology (Thermodynamics, Cloud Physics, Radiation)
Synoptic Meteorology Lab
Mesoscale Meteorology
Meteorological Measurement Systems
Full year of Senior Capstone
4 semesters: Calculus
2 semesters: Physics (with labs)
Computer Programming
Physical Math
Applied Statistical Methods
Public Speaking
OU Core Requirements (Humanities, Social Science, Etc.)

Upon graduation, I accepted a position as Voyage Planner/Risk Communicator at Weathernews Inc. in Norman, Oklahoma (located adjacent to the National Weather Center on OU's Research Campus). Weathernews is a company headquartered in Japan, where they offer a television network, mobile apps, and much more. The Norman location provides ocean routing service for ships at sea worldwide. I route vessels around inclement weather and seek to provide the safest route while saving fuel, distance, and/or sailing time.

If you have any questions about meteorology as a career or meteorology at OU, find me on Twitter or Google+ and let me know!