Thursday, February 18, 2010

go directly to jail

When someone on the street asks me for a few bucks, I usually give it to them, given that I'm carrying any cash on me. Today I had a different request.

I was checking out at the grocery store when a man walked up and asked if he could use his EBT (food stamps) card to pay for some of my groceries and I could pay him back, so he could use the cash to fix his car. EBT doesn't let you pay for things like car repairs. It took me a while to understand what he was trying to ask me to do. I was skeptical about the car story, but I try to give the benefit of the doubt.

So I agreed.

The whole procedure went smoothly, and it wasn't until I got to my car that I realized two things.

1. What I did was possibly illegal. Food stamps are for food. Okay - technically, this man did use the stamps on food. I just happened to pay him back for it in cash. On the one hand, I've got to give him credit for being enterprising. Plus, if he really needed the money for his car, then the world is a better place because of this. On the other hand, I should support my government (and taxes) for how they choose to give assistance. The money's supposed to go to food, not car repair (or whatever else it may end up doing). And enterprising isn't a good thing when it's unethical.

2. I forgot to use $7 worth of my coveted Kroger coupons at the check out. Which means I'd really like to go back and credit them. But when they try to credit my account and it comes up as paid for with EBT, then I may have some complicated explaining to do. Perhaps I should come with this blog post printed out. I've already imagined the scenarios where they drag me into the back room (you know, the one behind the huge 2-way mirror at the front of stores that they use to track customers as they come and go) and put me under intense questioning, maybe charge me with minor offenses that I'll never get taken off my record. What will be my defensive argument? Will I start crying? If needed, how will I break out? Is $7 worth the risk?

If I were approached by someone again to do something similar, I think I would just ask for $10 cash back at the register and give it to them straight up. Donations are much simpler than exchanges.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

good morning. this is hal.

Some people get nervous about how companies track personal information of customers and use it to tailor marketing campaigns to them.

I think it's wonderful.

First of all, it's cool to think that hundreds of servers around the world are humming and blinking away, just to discern my behavioral patterns. I assume that everything I do that has a computer attached to it is being tracked by someone. And as long as they don't share passwords to my email and financial accounts, I'm pretty much okay with that.

Second, I get some great benefits from this. Kroger sends me coupons every month that are only for things I purchase often. This week I received $15 worth of discounts on baby carrots, chicken tenderloins, fancy shredded cheese, oats, All detergent, mini-wheats, canned tomatoes, better crocker cake, welch's grape juice, Sauve, meat department purchases, pasta, and parmesan cheese. Last year I looked into coupon clipping as a way to save money and quickly found that combing through pages of coupons resulted in one or two products that I would actually use. Not worth it.

(Kroger, if you are listening to this, thank you for creating a card I can swipe each time I check out so you can give me money.)

Another example is Google History (check yours out here, if you have a Google account). When you are logged in to Google and open other tabs in your browser, Google will track all of your web searches and which hits you visited - completely free of charge! Look at the nifty facts I found about my web searching behavior:

- Mondays and Tuesdays are highest for search activity
- My hourly search activity is a left-skewed bell curve with a high point around 3pm
- My top query is "magic bus" (This has me a little perplexed. The search is for a tracking system for the university buses, which I definitely used, but not to excess - or so I thought.)
- On March 6, 2006, I searched for "red apple attack"
- On February 24, 2006, I searched for "movies 8 provo", so apparently we were going on a date to the dollar theater that weekend

This history tracker has actually been somewhat helpful in finding long-lost websites. Often I know exactly when I was searching for something (or, the approximate month). With this, I can go back to that month and find it.

It's like having a journal that I don't even have to write in.

Monday, February 1, 2010

stretching my intellectual reservoirs

I had 2 grants due today, one major one, one smaller one. I recently found out I have another grant to write by Wednesday. Ironically, the Wednesday grant asks for more money than the other 2 grants combined. And I'm writing it in about one quarter of the time.

So tonight I tried to turn my muse on while Abe was out playing volleyball.

But you can only use the words "economic turnaround" "ignite curiosity and inspire imagination" and "implementation plan" so many times before wondering if you could just randomize the text from previous applications, fill in the appropriate word counts, and pass it off as a new proposal.

As a blunt test of this hypothesis, I input several of my previous grant narratives into Wordle, which generates word clouds with word size corresponding to number of times the word is used, to compare the resulting images for similarities.

To my surprise, each application did have substantially different key words emerge in the word cloud. For example, guess what this application was for?

That's right. A new technology plan and system for staff at the Museum to save time.

Which means I should move to plan B. Write a list of words that I think describe the grant, give each word a numerical score indicating how important it is to the project idea, and then hand that list to a troupe of monkeys* to write the application.

*What is the proper counter word for monkeys? A fleet of monkeys, a host, a company, a menagerie, a flock, a posse?