Saturday, January 31, 2009

The reading train sets off

After getting inspired by Sherpa's blog, I made it a goal to read 50 books this year. And I thought I would also copy her idea of listing those books on my blog. However, in order to try to keep up on my reading, my goal is to outline the books I have read each month (rather than waiting until the end of the year). I'm not claiming that I'm going to go for the 1,000 page Dickens Classics (I hated David Copperfield), but at least I will get to catch up on some pleasure reading that was sorely neglected during my Masters program. So here's the list of books read in January:
by Terry Brooks
Back in high school, I got hooked on Terry Brook's Shannara series books, starting with The Sword of Shannara. They were similar to The Lord of the Rings books, except that it takes place thousands of years into a future. It's been over ten years since reading those books, and I found out while in Border's recently that there are a set of prequels. So I found this in the library and gave it a shot. It's an interesting look at a post-apocalyptic society where humans are threatened by demons and once-men (mainly humans who have mutated due to the chemical, nuclear, and atomic warfare). I like Terry Brooks writing style, even though the cliffhanger ending that continues in the next book was a little drawn out and predictable.

by Terry Brooks
The second of the prequels in the series, this book talks less about human/demon struggle and more about elves. These elves have supposedly kept themselves hidden since man populated the Earth and are now needed to help man overcome the demons. I found this book more cheesy and vastly more predictable than the first book. But it was still entertaining, and left another cliffhanger ending to prepare for the last book of the trilogy. Unfortunately, all four copies of that book are checked out from our local library, so I will have to wait for a while before I get my hands on it.

Running with the Demon
by Terry Brooks
While reading the books above, I realized that there was another trilogy written before those prequels were written. So, of course, I had to read that trilogy while waiting for the other book from the library. This trilogy takes place before the apocalyptic events occur and kind of tell the story leading up to it. This book weaves magic into a normal, everyday small town middle America. because it deals with times and places close to present day, it is more realistic and graphically disturbing than his other books. But it kept my attention better than the other books.

by Terry Brooks
This book definitely wins the award for cheesiest cover. It takes place in modern day Seattle. The fight between good (the Word) and evil (the Void) continues. This book did little to progress the story of the previous book and was 100% predictable throughout. Probably my least favorite of the books I read this month.

by Jeff Kinney
I saw this book one day at USU's bookstore and sat down and read the first little bit of it while Deidra was shopping. It was pretty entertaining, so I got it from the library and I was not disappointed. It recounts - in words and drawings - the story of a middle school kid and reminds us all of the some of the funny and ridiculous parts of growing up. It was extremely easy to get through and pretty darn funny.

by Terry Brooks
The last of The Word and the Void trilogy, this book wraps up the previous two and prepares us for Armageddon's Children (which, by the way, made more sense after I read this book). It was pretty good, but not anything too memorable.

by Jeff Kinney
The second in this series, this book deals more with family relationships. Like the first book, the words and drawing come together to make an easy, entertaining read.

So there you have it - my first seven books of the year. As you can see, I haven't really branched out all that much yet. On tap so far for February are the following:
  • Keeper of Dreams - Orson Scott Card
  • Dairy of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw - Jeff Kinney
  • The Gypsy Morph - Terry Brooks
  • Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling - Richard L. Bushman
Now that I have almost caught up on the books I have been wanting to read, I certainly welcome any suggestions for other books to read. So let me know what books you've read recently or that you've heard are good. Perhaps I will add them to my list.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Contest: Design my next CD!

It’s been over seven years since I released my debut album, “All I Fear." My next CD is musically ready for release and all that is left is the CD design. I know I have a lot of artistically talented friends out there, so I decided what better way to come up with a CD design than to have a contest?


This contest is to design the front cover, back cover, and CD itself for my upcoming release “Racing & Retracing.” To get a feel for the music, you can listen to two songs (Leaving It All Behind & She Won’t Give In) on MySpace and two other songs (Home & Again) either directly on iLike or through the iLike application on Facebook.

To enter the contest, create a design using any artistic style. The artwork must fit the specifications listed on Kunaki’s website (where I will get the CDs made). Which basically means 300 DPI / RGB / 16 bit color with the following dimensions:

One 1st Place Winner of the contest will receive the following:
* $100
* Four free tickets to the “Racing & Retracing” CD release concert (Date/Time/Venue TBD)
* Credit in the liner notes (along with any contact and/or website information desired)
* 5 autographed copies of “Racing & Retracing”
* 1 copy of all seven previous albums where my music has been featured:
- All I Fear (my debut album, 2001)
- From the Underground, Vol. 1 (2002 compilation album of acoustic musicians in the Arlington, VA/Washington, DC area)
- LDS Styles, Vol. 3 (2002)
- LDS Styles, Vol. 4 (2003)
- Summer Rain (Timpanogos Singer/Songwriter Alliance compilation album, 2004)
- LDS Styles 2006
- Swap Meet (Timpanogos Singer/Songwriter Alliance compilation album, 2007)

Depending on the number and quality of submissions, other entrants may be designated as Honorable Mention winners. Honorable Mention winners will receive an autographed copy of “Racing & Retracing” and two tickets to the “Racing & Retracing” CD release concert (Date/Time/Venue TBD).

E-mail your completed design, along with your name, email address, phone number, and mailing address, to If you prefer to send your artwork through the mail (on CD, etc.), contact me via the same email address with a request for my mailing address.

Entrants may submit more than one entry with the understanding that each entrant will only receive up to one honorable mention or 1st place winner designation.

To ensure full consideration, submissions should be received no later than midnight on February 15th, 2009.

By entering the contest, the entrant gives Chris Hartwell non-exclusive rights to use his or her submission in the production, promotion, and distribution of the “Racing & Retracing” CD, this contest, and future performances, advertisements, and other promotions.

The 1st Place Winner and any Honorable Mention winners will be announced on no later than March 15th, 2009 and will also be contacted personally via email, phone, and/or postal mail.

Questions can be emailed to or left in the comments of this post. General questions that may be beneficial to all entrants will be answered below:

1. Do the front cover, back cover, and CD have to be separate designs?
Answer: No. In fact, many CDs have a similar theme between the front and back covers. Some CD covers match the face of the CD. Keep it simple. If you do want to do different designs for all three parts, make sure they work well together, but I suggest saving your energy and using a  similar theme/idea throughout.

2. How many winners of the contest will there be?
The number of winners in the contest is completely dependent on the quantity and quality of submissions. There will only be a maximum of one 1st place winner, but there is no maximum (or minimum) number of Honorable Mention winners.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Word Verification Experiment

You know when you leave a comment on someone's blog and you have to type in a word verification that's not really a word?

Well, I think it's time that we conduct a little experiment. What you need to do is leave a comment on this post, and in the comment you need to use the word in the word verification blog in your comment. Just make up some sort of sentence that gives the word implied meaning.

For example, the last verification word I saw when leaving a comment was "noshinge." Therefore, if I left a comment on this post, it would probably look something like this:

Because I haven't been a good boy this year, Santa left me noshinge for Christmas.

Maybe not the best example, but let's see what those creative heads come up with. Come on - it will be fun! Leave a comment. You know you want to!

Applications complete!

I have finally finished last of my PhD applications.

Now comes the waiting game. I should start hearing back from schools by late March.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

AT&T: The Reason I will never have an iPhone

(Warning: Long-winded rant ahead)

When I finally broke down and got my first cell phone six years ago, I signed up with AT&T. Almost the entire time I was with them, there was problem after problem - billing issues, dropped calls, horrible customer service, etc. As soon as I thought my contract was up, I canceled and switched to Verizon. Apparently, I was wrong about when my contract ended, and when I canceled (less than a week too early), I was hit with a cancellation fee of over $150  - even though I wasn't told that my contact was still in force when I cancelled my account. That just served to solidify my dislike of AT&T.

Fast forward four or five years. I've moved from DC to Utah, gotten married, and completed a graduate degree. AT&T became Cingular and then became AT&T again. Enough time and distance had passed by the time they became the exclusive distributor of the iPhone that I had almost forgotten the bad taste my last experience with AT&T had left.

My most recent contract with Verizon has been up for months, and I have not renewed the contact because Deidra is on AT&T and we keep thinking that eventually we'll get onto the same plan. Over Christmas break, we figured out that if I got onto a family plan with Deidra on AT&T, we could get an iPhone and, even with the added cost of the data plan, we would be paying roughly the same as we are for our two phone plans now. We have both been fascinated with the iPhone and had researched so many different ways that we could use it that it seemed a logical investment.

We went to AT&T a little over a week ago and switched Deidra's phone plan to a family plan and used the internet set-up at the store to purchase a refurbished iPhone online (still trying to save as much money as possible on the deal). The salesman was less than helpful and not at all accommodating, and the internet access they had set up was slow and, at times, unresponsive. We started to think that maybe this wasn't the best idea. My previous experience with AT&T came freshly to mind, adding to our doubts. But we continued on and finally left the store after completing the online purchase.

On the drive home, we both felt like maybe we had been pressured into a deal that wasn't as good as we had initially thought, and we were already thinking of way that we could back out. We couldn't really explain why, but it just didn't feel right. However, after that initial "buyer's remorse," we resigned ourselves to our new fate and awaited our iPhone in the mail.

This was on a Saturday - and Deidra had received an email that day from AT&T confirming the order. It gave us a confirmation number and told us that we should receive the phone in 3-5 business days. Figuring that Saturdays may not count as business days, we surmised that we should receive the phone between Wednesday and Friday of the following week (which was last week). Wednesday came - no phone. Thursday came - no phone. Friday came - no phone. We tried accessing their online order tracking system, but it did not recognize the order number that was given to us in the email. When we didn't receive the phone on Saturday, we determined to call AT&T first thing Monday to assess the situation.

When I called AT&T Monday morning, I first tried going through the automated system using our order number, to no avail. So I attempted talking to customer service, who could not seem to locate our order number either. The operator put me on hold while she got in touch with their electronic ordering department. When she came back on the line, she indicated that the e-order department had been able to find our order number and she transferred me to them. Finally, we were getting somewhere . . . or so I thought.

The representative for the e-order department explained to me that our order had be cancelled "according to routine procedure." When I asked him why the order had been cancelled, he could not give me a definite answer. I was told it was because either A) we had exceeded our allotment for the number of phones available to purchase online, or B) they were unable to verify some of the information we entered when making our order.

Since this was the first phone we had ordered online, I threw out option A immediately and asked the representative if he could tell me what information they were unable to verify. He said that they did not keep that information, so he couldn't tell me but that "I should be more careful to enter correct information in the future." That really got me riled up. I explained to the gentleman that I was certain that all of the information was entered correctly, and that I had double-checked it when making the order (what else was I supposed to do when the in-store online system was so slow?). He was unable to offer any more information.

I pressed him as to why we received a confirmation email after placing the order, but did not receive any sort of communication saying that our order had been cancelled. He responded that the confirmation email was simply an automated response sent out when an order came in, and should not be taken as confirmation that the order is complete. He was unsure if sending out communication when an order is canceled is standard practice or not.

I tried to summarize to him as best as my confused mind could. "You mean that the confirmation email we received with a confirmation number for our order, and instructions to allow 3-5 business days for the item to be shipped should not be construed as a confirmation that the order is complete? And if that is the case, that the email is automatically generated when the order is placed, AT&T does not have a system in place to automatically generate an email to inform customers when their order is cancelled? They just have to wait until they forget they even made the order or until they contact AT&T?"

He stammered through some sort of response.

Thoroughly frustrated at this point, I explained that I would not be reordering the phone and that I would like him to switch Deidra's plan back to an individual plan and not charge us the additional rate for the 10 or so days where we were on the higher rate plan while waiting for a phone that had never actually been shipped. When he responded that he did not have the information or permissions necessary to make any changes, and that he could not transfer me to someone who could, I simply lost patience and hung up.

Deidra and I walked into the AT&T store here in town and explained the situation. They changed Deidra's plan back and filled out a form to cancel the extra charges. We'll see if it actually worked once we get Deidra's next bill. I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't.

So, in summary, I hate AT&T even more than I did before and will never be an AT&T customer in the foreseeable future. Deidra is even planning on jumping ship as soon as her contract is up. So most likely, we will never own an iPhone, at least not while they are sold exclusively through AT&T. But at least the order was cancelled so that I am not stuck in a 2-year contract with AT&T - that's the silver lining. The new Blackberry available on Verizon is starting to look pretty good.

(Image from Abrilon)