Umicon 2014 Photos

Photos from Friday, 2014-09-05 at Umicon Daytona 2014, an anime convention that ended on 2014-09-07, have been posted by me on Facebook. I set the album to “public” so anyone who has a Facebook account can see the photos, regardless of being friends with me.

[Update 2014-09-10: Saturday, 2014-09-06 and Sunday, 2014-09-07 photos have been posted.]

[Update 2014-09-26: I finally posted some of the photos on Thripp.com from each year: Umicon 2012, Umicon 2013, Umicon 2014.]

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Please see more photos here and look for more photos from Saturday, 2014-09-06 and Sunday, 2014-09-07 over the next few days. [Update 2014-09-10: Saturday, 2014-09-06 and Sunday, 2014-09-07 photos have been posted.]

Here is the description of the album for Friday, 2014-09-05:

Title: 2014-09-05 Umicon Daytona, Day 1 of 3 (Friday)

568 photos from the 1st day of the 3rd year of Umicon Daytona on Friday, Sep. 5, 2014 at the Plaza Resort & Spa at 600 N. Atlantic Ave., Daytona Beach, FL!

Please tag your friends. 🙂

Album privacy: Public

Photos were taken from 12:55:40 to 11:42:16 PM EDT on 2014-09-05.

Subtract 04:00:00 from timestamps to find local time, which was Eastern Daylight Time (UTC-04:00).

Coupon Codes and Online Shopping

While some consumers do not know this, shopping online presents as many opportunities for saving as traditional, brick-and-mortar shopping, if not more. Before making any online purchase, it behooves almost any person who intends to maximize the value of their time to investigate what discounts, coupon codes, cashback offers, and promotions are available for their intended purchase.

Recently, many new websites have sprung up to analyze and aggregate coupon codes and promotional offers, for the mutual benefit of the operators of said websites and their customers. One such new startup is Frugaa, which presents coupon codes for websites in an appealing and easy-to-use format that helps its users save time and money.

With Frugaa, it is easy to search for savings by store, by category, and/or by budget. There is also a highly useful system of ratings and comments on coupons which helps you to quickly sift out the non-working or expired coupons based on percentage of “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” votes and by glancing at comments from other users.

While Frugaa should be part of a comprehensive money-saving system to reduce the ultimate cost of all items you purchase online, for a newbies and experts alike, I highly recommend checking it out and it is a great place to start if you are new to the field. I expect to see great things from this service and others like it in the future.

AT&T’s Landline Billing Practices

[This post is in reference to AT&T’s pricing in the Central Florida region.]

On our AT&T landline bill for 8/13/2014 – 9/12/2014, they prorated the “Federal Subscriber Line Charge” and “Federal Universal Service Fee” to a higher rate for 7/1 – 8/12—$7.28 instead of $6.78 and $1.14 instead of $1.12.

I am looking back at bills from 2013 and 2012 and they did this in those years too, but the fees increased by 22¢ and 26¢ instead of 52¢ this year. Also, the “Residential Line” rate is $24.00 now, was $21.00 in Aug. 2013, $18.00 in Aug. 2012, and $16.00 in May 2012.

People are getting rid of / have gotten rid of landlines in droves, and now the pricing is less regulated so AT&T’s solution is to jack up the rates much faster than inflation. They have to pay for maintaining a network with fewer and fewer customers, after all.

It is ironic that our bill for local phone service without long-distance, call waiting, caller ID, or any other features is now more than my cell phone with unlimited nationwide calling, call waiting, text messaging, and data—about $37 vs. $35 per month (MetroPCS at $70 for two lines on a family plan—it would be $40 for one line). We only keep the landline for family and so my step-mom can call her friend in Canada, and that is by dialing my local Google Voice number first and using it to dial out for free calls to Canada and free domestic long-distance (yes, local numbers in the Daytona Beach area on Google Voice are long gone, but they weren’t when I signed up in 2007—also, the service was called GrandCentral then and Google had not yet acquired it).

While the “federal” subscribe line charge (which actually goes straight to AT&T) is merely at the maximum rate allowed by law—if the FCC says they can double or triple next year, they will invariably do that—the base rate has also increased by 50% between May 2012 and Aug. 2014—from $16.00 to $24.00 per month. This is to use a network that already exists and hasn’t had major changes in decades.

In Central Florida, we are actually seeing the same practices with cable Internet with Bright House Networks as well. The base rate is now over $50.00 per month for 10 Mbps compared to $5 to $10 less a couple years ago, and a $3.50 modem rental fee now applies—but this “rental” was provided for free not long ago, and for $2.00 even more recently than that. The fee is closer to $4.00 since it has taxes and fees stacked on top. I have managed to pay less by buying a used modem for about $20, and by disconnecting and reconnecting as a new customer every six months or year with a new promotional offer—a ridiculous practice that involves them sending someone out to physically cut the cable at the pole and me relying on my phone and free Wi-Fi for up to a week while waiting for new service to be connected.

It is amazing in a period of such great technological innovation and upheaval that the pricing for basic services continues to increase while quality stays flat or declines, and is arguably an example of the declining standard of living in the United States. Based on observing ongoing trends, I believe we will only see more of this in the future.

23rd Birthday

Today is my 23rd birthday (2014-08-17). I was born 23 years ago in Daytona Beach, FL.

I am not going to write a long and arrogant essay like I did for my 17th birthday. I would like to think I’ve grown beyond that, but in truth my writing style and photography from when I was 16-18 were more prolific, spirited, and probably more interesting to people in general. It is ironic how getting older and wiser often makes one more cautious and less interesting. However, this is ideally a temporary condition which leads to a higher level of reason and understanding.

My 23rd year was the most significant to date and was highlighted by these events and accomplishments (yes, when you are 22 that is your “23rd year” and when you are 0 that is your “1st year” just as the 2000s are part of the “21st century”):

2013-08-22: 1st day of face-to-face classes at University of Central Florida, Daytona Beach (did one year online previously). Met Allie (friend).
2013-08-24: Received a wonderful letter of recommendation from Dr. Katherine Urquhart (psychology instructor).
2013-09-04: Last day working at Winn-Dixie as a cashier and bagger.
2013-09-06 / 2013-09-08: Attended and photographed Umicon 2013 in Daytona Beach, FL. Photographed Quinton Flynn and others.
2013-09-18: Visited the main campus of University of Central Florida in Orlando for the 1st time with Maya (friend).
2013-10-07: Took the Graduate Record Examinations and scored highly (V: 160, Q: 164, AW: 4.5).
2013-10-10: Completed “Communication Challenges Between Foreign Inmates and Norwegian Prison Officers” presentation (and presented it on 2013-10-17 for a class).
2013-11-02: End of my engagement and long-distance relationship with a woman in California.
2013-11-12: Joined the UCF Daytona Beach Psychology Club.
2013-11-15: Met Malinda (friend).
2013-11-17: Finished writing “Connecting Gender Inequality to The Muslim Next Door” (essay for a class).
2013-11-23: Grandma in China passed away.
2013-12-05 / 2014-01-07: Visited Mom in the Bay Area of California for the 3rd time. Visited Los Angeles, San Diego, La Jolla, and Las Vegas for the 1st times.
2014-02-15: Visited the Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando, FL for the 1st time with Iliana (friend).
2014-02-18: Got my 1st smartphone (LG Optimus L9, Android OS) and 1st tablet computer (Samsung Galaxy Note 8, Android OS).
2014-02-28: Interviewed for the Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology program at University of Central Florida, Sanford/Lake Mary.
2014-03-04: Photographed the Scooter Babes and Mardi Gras Parade in New Smyrna Beach, FL.
2014-03-08: Met Jackie (friend).
2014-03-10: Rejected from Clinical Psychology M.A. at University of Central Florida.
2014-03-10: Wrote “The Dark Side of Service to Others” (philosophic essay).
2014-03-18: Visited an Islamic mosque for the 1st time.
2014-03-21: Volunteered at Megacon 2014 (Friday only). Photographed Allison Mack, John Glover, and Laura Vandervoort.
2014-03-27: Finished writing “Changes in brain structure and emotional arousal in studies of subjects with amygdala damage” (scholarly review essay for a class).
2014-03-29: Visited Gainesville, FL for the 1st time to visit Cheyenne (date).
2014-03-30: Went to Universal Islands of Adventure “Universal Knights” for UCF students with Allie and Sam (friends).
2014-04-11: Attended and photographed Relay for Life (American Cancer Society) in Daytona Beach, FL with Amanda (friend). Heard Dr. Rick Doolin speak (shortly before he passed away).
2014-04-15: Attended and photographed a flute recital by Nathalie (friend) at Stetson University in DeLand, FL.
2014-04-30: Saw a live broadcast in DeLand, FL of the dedication of the Ft. Lauderdale, FL temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
2014-05-01: Conferred a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from University of Central Florida.
2014-05-11: Decided to stop attending the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after three years of membership.
2014-05-13: Began writing poetry and prose.
2014-05-17: Created new webpages for my photography portfolio.
2014-05-18: Accepted to the Master of Arts in Applied Learning & Instruction program at University of Central Florida, Orlando.
2014-05-18: Wrote “Nemisis” (prose-poetry).
2014-05-31: Recorded and published videos of me playing piano for the 1st time in over a year.
2014-06-03: Began learning to play “Pirates of the Caribbean: An Original Medley” by Jarrod Radnich and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Jon Schmidt on piano.
2014-06-06: Received a nice recommendation letter from Lisa (former supervisor).
2014-06-16: Interviewed to be a Financial Aid Specialist at Stetson University in DeLand, FL (was not hired).
2014-06-19: Began photographing Taylor (friend).
2014-06-27: Attended the Flagler Beach, FL drum circle for the 1st time.
2014-06-29: Wrote “Beyond Hipocrisy” (philosophic essay).
2014-07-01: Bought lighting and umbrellas for indoor photography for the 1st time.
2014-07-02: Joined Toastmasters of Port Orange, FL.
2014-07-12: Visited the Woodlawn Chartes Labyrinth in Gotha, FL, the Mall at Millenia, and Universal CityWalk for the 1st times with Allie, Sam, and Lindsay (friends).
2014-07-23: Gave my first speech in Toastmasters.
2014-07-27: Visited art galleries in St. Augustine, FL for the 1st time with Juliona (date).
2014-07-29: Wrote “Personal Finance” (philosophic essay).
2014-07-30: Attended and photographed the UCF Leaders Panel / Alumni Networking event in Daytona Beach, FL.
2014-08-03: Painted my 1st painting with instruction from Maya (friend) at her birthday party.
2014-08-06: Wrote “Establishing Positive Self-Talk” (philosophic piece).
2014-08-11: Started working out in a gym for the 1st time since 2011.

Over the past year, I have made many important decisions, found new friendships and strengthened existing ones, traveled more than in any previous year, completed my Bachelors degree, and greatly advanced in photography, piano, and writing. It has been an amazing year with many sorrows and heartaches, but also many achievements and adventures.

I was blessed to be unemployed for almost the entire year, and while this had a negative impact on my finances and future job prospects, it has also allowed me to pursue diverse interests and have far more free time than a normal person my age. While much of this time arguably was wasted, I do feel I was more productive overall than in any prior year—only 2007-08 comes close.

As I look forward to starting my graduate studies tomorrow, I am sad that summer break is over, but also excited to have new classes and textbooks to dig into, a long commute to Orlando on two days per week (I enjoy driving), to meet other students and people, to attend UCF in Orlando, and to be involved in a program that is so closely related to personal development and self-improvement. I am particularly looking forward to the “Motivation in Learning and Performance” class after having read Dr. Bobby Hoffman’s introduction and first chapter of the textbook he is working on, Motivation for Learning and Performance: Lessons from Leaders.

I am finally getting a sense of where I want to go in life and developing the habits and methodologies to make that direction a living reality. As a natural consequence, this is a time of change and upheaval. Many beliefs, practices, friends, acquaintances, and rituals will fall away during this time, but new friendships, schemas, and philosophies will also be developed and refined through reflection and observation. I am excited to decide where this takes me and embrace my 24th year with earnest appreciation.

Establishing Positive Self-Talk

Some ideas I wrote today for the 2014-08-06 meeting of the Toastmasters club of Port Orange, FL tonight:

Establishing Positive Self-Talk

Self-talk is the ongoing stream of private thoughts that run through your mind. The self-talk of many people focuses on anxieties, imperfections, shortcomings, and “what if” questions. However, just because pessimistic self-talk is common does not mean it is healthy or beneficial. If we make an effort to change our self-talk to be more positive, optimistic, forgiving, and encouraging, we will have more success and happiness in life.

Here are three examples of negative self-talk and positive replacements:
• “I’ve never done it before.” – “It’s an opportunity to learn something new.”
• “It’s too complicated.” – “I’ll tackle it from a different angle
or “I’ll chip away at it over time.”
• “I could never be as good as so-and-so.” – “So-and-so inspires and motivates me.”

One way to improve your self-talk is to make a conscious effort to replace negative thinking with positive thinking. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. Celebrate your hard work rather than dwelling on times when you were lazy or needed rest. Think more about your accomplishments and less about your mistakes.

We tend to be hold ourselves to a higher, harsher standard than acquaintances and even close friends and family. However, doing so is often counterproductive because it prevents us from taking risks and causes us to sell ourselves short. Instead, try being as uplifting and supportive to yourself as you are to your best friend.

[ Quotes copied or adapted from a Mayo Clinic article ]

Writing on education, finance, psychology, et cetera