Saturday, December 29, 2007

Awkward Moments at an Otherwise Enjoyable Dinner Party

Last night, my wife and I journeyed off to my friend's house where he and his wife cooked dinner for us and two other couples. The food, prepared by the host who is a chef, was excellent, and the night was a lot of fun. But after dinner things got a little weirdish.

One couple, who I've known for a long time but I'm not really tight with, is, shall we say, dysfunctional. They've been together for about 14 years and had a child together at a young age. They've got their problems, like every couple does, though admittedly their problems are probably more substantial than most. But I won't get into that here.

Anywho, the otherwise enjoyable dinner party got rather awkward after the wife in this couple had a bit too much to drink and started letting loose her already potent mouth. For about a half hour the conversation between the eight of us seemed to keep coming back to her problems with her husband-- his poor diet, his weight gain, and on and on until we somehow get entangled with the subject of girls he slept with when he was younger and other similar personal issues. At this point, her husband is visibly frustrated with his wife, blushing, trying to clarify his actions, and was clearly ready to leave. But she kept jumping on his case over and over.

For the rest of us, we had some laughs at first, but after a few minutes of this bash-session, we all got uncomfortable and quiet as the rampage went on. We tried to deflect things or change the subject, but inevitably it came back to hearing about the problems she has with him. And from what I understand, this goes on all the time with them. Finally they realized they had to go and pick up their daughter from the babysitter. This came as a sigh of relief to all of us, I think.

Lesson learned: don't air your dirty laundry in front of your friends... especially after engaging in an otherwise enjoyable dinner!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Joys of Finding and Starting a New Job

Is there anything more agonizing than the job hunting process? From start to finish there is nothing fun about this ordeal. Think for a moment about all that it takes to get a new job and get started at it:

1. The decision to find a new job. For some it may be easy, such as if you currently don't have a job, or if you truly despise what you have to do day in and day out. For most folks though there is a groggy middle-ground. You feel safe where you are, but perhaps your job is dull, repetitive, not well-paid, or an infinite other number of problems. Or perhaps you hate your actual job but love your co-workers, or viceversa . This makes for a difficult dilemma-- "should I stay or should I go" as the Clash once said-- because you may be in a comfortable situation, but you'd like something better... however, there's always that notion in the back of your mind that your next job won't work out, or perhaps leaving your current job will jeopardize you and/or your family in some way (real or perceived), or various other factors that play into it. Ultimately, overcoming this first step and saying, "I want a new job, now I have to go out and get it," is the most important one when all is said and done. You either stay and tough it out, or leave and tough it out. Nothing is straightforward one way or another.

2. The resume. Next you have to polish your resume. Undertaking this process can be easy or daunting, depending on your level of perfectionism and your estimated opinion of what prospective employers are looking for. If you want to throw an average resume out there, you will certainly not be stressed over this step. However, if you begin to consider what other applicants might be writing on their resumes, as well as trying to determine what would most impress a hiring manager... well, you're in for a lot of self-analysis and poring over details. There's no real right or wrong way to put together a resume (other than some general guidelines such as avoiding typos and using poor grammar), and in fact if you were to ask 10 objective people about your resume, you'll like get 18 different answers about how it should look and what it should say. Resumes will forever be an imperfect and maddening science, at least as long as the job search process works like it does now.

3. The job search. In today's world it's rather easy to look for a job posting. Simply go online to a small handful of job sites, enter your criteria, and boom, you get dozens of listings. You can even have job openings emailed to you with various services likeCareerbuilder and Monster. Unfortunately, that's not the best way to do it in the real world. Let's face facts here: Job boards are full of job postings that you'll never get. Perhaps the company knows who it wants to hire already, but by company rules, they have to post the job to outsiders, meaning you're just aspeed bump in the road to hiring someone else. Or inevitably there will be the perfect job for you but it's 2 hours from your house and you're not ready to move. And so on and so forth. Instead you'd probably be better off going the hard way: networking. Start talking to people about your job search, but more importantly SHOW these people what you're capable of doing and they'll be more than willing to talk about you amongst their peers and help you get the job you want. This process takes longer, but in the end you'll have better results. Building solid relationships is much better than blindly throwing around a solid resume.

4. The numbers game. Whether you're replying to job openings, networking, or simply finding companies in the phone book and sending off resumes blindly (not encouraged, but may be worth doing if you're really in a pinch), you are still just a number in the machine of job hiring. After a while you'll find that it will take you "X" number of resume mailings, to get one interview. Some people will have an easier time than others (based on their experience, chosen field, etc.), but whatever the case, there is a ratio that will correlate to the number of responses. Perhaps it's 5 resume sends to 1 response, or perhaps 10:1 or maybe even 100:1. Just realize that you're not the only one applying, and you may never hear back from the vast majority of companies you try and reach. Daunting indeed, but something you must quickly get over and keep on avenging.

5. The interview. Okay, so you got that precious response, now you have to go present yourself to one or more interviewers. Just like in putting together a resume, there's no set criteria that works for every interview, just a few general guidelines like dress appropriately, answer questions openly and honestly, and show who you are. Otherwise, you're at the mercy of the interviewer and hopefully you'll appease them on that given day. Throw in the fact that you're secretly skipping out on your current job to do this, and you're in a very uncomfortable position. Encouraging, huh!?

6. The wait. So you had your interview. Now you wait to hear back from your interviewer. Perhaps it's a few days, perhaps a couple of weeks, but hopefully the amount of time delay will be cleared up during the interview. In any event, it's challenging to sit back and
wait for an answer, especially as you have to keep going to your
current job every day. Meanwhile, as you wait to hear back, you need to decide what kind of offer you would expect from them, and whether or not you'd even want to work at this place. Sometimes you interview perfectly and get the job offered to you, but the place of employment just isn't up your alley... you have to work this out in your heart. Sometimes your instincts are right on this one and you're better off not taking the job. This is up to you, but perhaps others can help you make the decision.

7. The offer. Mr. or Ms. Interviewer has now offered you the job. (Congrats!) First is the difficult part of negotiating your salary and benefits, which may not be negotiable but are important to have all on paper right up front. Assuming you accept, now you have the fun part of telling your current boss that you're leaving. This may be really difficult if you're very attached to your job, or it may be a breeze if you're actually hoping your boss will let you leave right away (aka--getting fired). Giving that letter of resignation can be a sigh of relief or a ball of stress.Everybody's in a different situation, just be prepared.

8. The start. Day 1 on your new job... meeting people and trying to
remember names, taking in the atmosphere, learning all the ropes to
your position, getting a feel for the rhythm of work, and all of the
other experiences make for another stressful situation, though one that will dissipate over time. In the end, you will hopefully get used to it all and succeed. And if not, well, you can always go ahead and start the search all over again!

Best of luck in your hunt... may you be a fortunate one and find your dream job without all of this hassle!

(Thanks to PeoplePlus Consulting for the image!)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Flyers, Penguins and 107,000 Puckheads

Yesterday, local (Philly-area) media reported that the Flyers and Penguins are dabbling with the notion of playing a regular season game at Penn State University in Happy Valley in January of 2009. Outdoors. In Beaver Stadium.

Let me just say that this would be the wildest game I could possibly imagine.

Not only is the Flyers/Pens rivalry building steam especially after last week's scrappy 8-2 battle that the Flyers won, but having it at a neutral location that State College provides, and having it at the country's second largest stadium in the dead of winter just sounds like the a recipe for mayhem. Up to 107,000 fans cheering on a bitter rivalry would be crazy. But in a good way.

Having gone to Penn State I realize that roughly 1/3 of the students are Philly sports fans, 1/3 are Pittsburgh sports fans, and the rest are "miscellaneous"... mostly New York sports fans and a mix of others. So the built-in battleground between the two Pennsylvania cities is already there, and the party scene would be well-represented on both sides.

My only real question is... if you're sitting at the top row of Beaver Stadium in a full house... how in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks would you be able to see the puck???

Other than that, I say... play on!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Shouting Out a Web 4.0 Prediction

So here we are in the world of "Web 2.0"-- or maybe it's Web 3.0 by now, I don't even know. The main concept being that the internet has grown from a series of static sites to robust, interactive tools. Feedback, from a marketer's perspective, is probably the biggest thing going. You can see customer reviews, people talking about products on blogs, pay-per-click ads producing instant results, and many other web intricacies that show that customers can have an instant and widespread effect on how products are marketed.

My prediction now is that the web will become increasingly more sophisticated in how customers can affect performance of a site, sale of a product, and so on. I realized this just moments ago, in fact.

I was in my Yahoo Mail account. My cursor was at the top of the screen and I dragged it down to the middle to click on a message. But during the course of my drag, it crossed a banner ad that automatically expanded when rolled-over, thus blocking the message I was trying to click on. I inadvertently did this three times in a row. After the third instance, I yelled a loud, profanity-laced statement that was directed simultaneously at Yahoo, my computer, and the marketing industry in general for being so annoying at that moment.

And thus sprung the idea that yelling at your computer will, someday in the future, help deliver instant feedback to Yahoo and the advertiser, to let them both know that these kinds of ads are obnoxious to me, the consumer. It will be a beautiful combination of instant gratification on my part and a helpful tool to advertisers to understand what works in reaching consumers and what doesn't.

I look forward to that day when voice-interaction will be able to do all the work for me. That way I won't have to write a blog post about it and hope for a change... instead I'll just have to yell and I'll get what I want right away.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Must Watch Online VIdeo

For anybody who's ever thrown anything out (and this means YOU!), it's vital that you watch this amazing video: The Story of Stuff.

Learn a little and spread the word. Many thanks.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Dead Animal Bookend

This morning on my way into work, I passed by a shabby building that only ever seems to be occupied by people for a couple of times per year. Today was one of them.

The parking lot of this establishment was full with pick up trucks of all shapes, colors, and sizes. And in front of the main entrance, I had the pleasure of seeing three dead deer strung up and hanging from a horizontal pole. Yep, hunting season is here.

Clearly this usually-desolate building must be a butcher shop for hunters. Now I'm fine with people hunting legally and controlling the deer population and bringing home a winter's supply of food, but I must say I was quite skeeved to see this display of carcasses on my way to work. Not really the best way to start the day, in my book.

To add insult to injury, at about 4:30 I'm sitting at my computer, facing the window that spans the wall behind my computer desk. Out of nowhere I hear a "thunk" and witness a small brown bird land on the brick window ledge outside. It twittered for a moment and stopped moving soon thereafter.

Nice bookend to my day today... dead deer hanging out in plain sight, and a bird committing death-by-window before my very eyes. Ironically, everything in between those moments wasn't all that much better...

One Disadvantage to Having a Beard

I've had a cropped beard for about four years now. Today I realized for the first time that, unlike when I was younger (and beardless), I can no longer hold a pen between my nose and upper lip. I used to do this all the time, but I think I stopped once I realized how germ-infested pens can be, especially in an office where multiple, unsanitary humans may handle them. So I have since kept them at a safe distance from my nose and mouth to prevent contagion inhalation.

Anyway, while I was working on a project this morning I idly started to try and do the upper-lip pen hold and the pen just kept sliding out. It was kind of sad that I couldn't do this trick any more. Memories.

On the bright side, my life is otherwise quite good in spite of this recently discovered misfortune.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Stock Market Advice: Ride It Out!

Now I do not profess to be a financial wiz (nor is this post intended to be interpreted as professional advice and all information herein is strictly this writer's opinion... ha! That's my legalese for this financial post), but I've heard a lot of people worrying about the U.S. stock market lately. My opinion: save the energy and channel your worrying into something more productive.

The market has been extremely volatile of late and from all indications it seems like this trend will continue for a while, at least until the mortgage situation, strength of the dollar, and consumer spending show signs of improvement. One day the market is up big, the next day it plummets. It's a line-graph maker's dream... or a financial wizard's hell.

What this means to the average investor is... just ride it out. Unless you have to use the money you have invested in the market sometime soon, in which case you shouldn't have your money in the stock market to begin with, you're better off just rolling with the ups and downs. Over the long run, if you're invested in strong stocks and/or mutual funds, you'll see the returns flow your way while everybody else is busy trying to time the market. It ain't worth the aggravation to do this, and it ain't worth all of the brokerage commissions you'll be dishing out. So just hold on tight, make sure you're invested in the companies you feel are the best (which is always true regardless of the market's short term trends), and let things handle themselves. You'll do yourself a world of good. And you can use all of that "worrying energy" to improve your life in some other way.

Good luck and good investing!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Here's a New "Nuance Marketing Message" for Automakers

Dear Toyota, Honda, GM, Ford, Saturn, Kia, Hyundai, Rolls-Royce, Jeep, Mazda, et. al:

It is quite obvious to me that the marketing messages and positioning statements for cars are slowly shifting away from the major aspects of cars, such as reliability, safety, dependability, and the like. Instead, consumers are bombarded with ads that focus on the tiny nuances in each car model. To wit:

-Ford Focus ads feature their new Sync system that controls your phone, music, text messaging, hairstyles, body odor, and the like.
-Scion ads talk about their customization flexibility
-Various mini-van ads tout their space saving capabilities like fold-down seats
-Pontiac Aztek ads were noted for showing off the fact that you can camp out in the back
-And so on and so forth.

So here's my nuance marketing suggestion that I would like to see developed and marketed for a new car:

crevice-free cabins

That's right. I want a car that has ZERO crevices in it. No place for me to lose loose change. Nowhere for dirt to hide. No entrance for parking garage ticket stubs to get stuck. No way for my sunglasses to get lodged in between the seat and the door right when the sun's blaring in my eyes. Just a solid, complete mold of a cabin whereby nothing falls into the "abyss" never to be found again.

Now THERE'S a positioning statement you can hang your hat on. And not lose in the seat cusions.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bad News, Good News from San Francisco

So another week goes by and another oil slick contaminates our already abused oceans. The Pacific Ocean was the latest victim of a major oil spill when a slashed cargo ship seeped 58,000 gallons of fuel oil out into the water in the San Fran region. Ahhh, gotta love the news.

But if there's any kind of silver lining here, it's the quick and valiant work of a small but growing group of volunteers known as "Kill the Spill" who disregarded warnings and went out to clean up the oil sludge that washed ashore. Three cheers and free beers to Darin Rosas who lead the effort to clean up the oil while the government dragged its proverbial feet. The effort started online and expanded quickly, as people latched on to getting in there and salvaging what they could of the local wildlife and surrounding environment. The article linked above spells it out in great detail... check it out.

What I Learned:
This story gives an encouraging look at what can be done with a little determination and, oh man pardon the pun, elbow grease. It's a reminder that if you see a problem, go out and fix it yourself and don't wait for somebody else to take charge. The oil certainly won't clean itself up...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

NUTS?!?? What-are-you, NUTS?!?!?

I think out of all of the most controversial foods in North America, nuts-- primarily, though not limited to, peanuts-- take the proverbial cake for stirring up the most controvery.

Allow me to explain.

You and your date just finished having a delightful, romantic dinner by the candlelight. You take away the dinner plates, clear off the table, and bring out a special surprise dessert for the two of you to enjoy. You look lovingly at your significant other and present your lush dish, a plate of brownies (or fill in just about any other dessert dish here).

Your lover looks at them in grinning awe, picks one brownie up to nibble on it, and pauses in mid-bite to scream out--- "NUTS??? What-are-you nuts??? I hate nuts in my brownies!!!! Don't you know that?"

This ugly scene is played out in hundreds of different variations every single day. For example:

-Look at virtually any box of cereal or other packaged food. Many will have a label to warn people that the food was handled on machinery that processed peanuts. Strike 1.

-Like peanut butter? Good, me too. Now go and talk to anybody else who likes peanut butter and you will instantly have an epic battle or, conversely, a newfound respect over the issue of "chunky vs. smooth". (Chunky wins, hands down, by the way!) One of the simplest foods in the world will stir up endless discussion simply based on the texture options.

-"Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't." Ahh, the old "Almond Joy vs. Mounds" battle that marketers happened upon years ago. Where do you stand? The same could be said for M&M's vs. Peanut M&M's. Or various other candies.

-And I personally think the fact that you will readily declare someone else "nuts" when you don't like something that this someone else says or does, goes a long way to reflect the fact that nuttiness is such a mainstream issue in our society. When "nuts" is used as an adjective to describe someone, it shows just how sensitive we are to those cruchy little shelled finger foods. It's quite a nutty situation, wouldn't you say?

So where do you stand on the nuts issue? Are you pro nuts in brownies? Anti-Almond Joy? Chunky or smooth? Let's get nutty here!

On a separate but related note, many belated congrats to Philadelphia's Mayor-elect, Mr. Michael Nutter. I think it's safe to say that Philadelphians weren't nuts to elect you. Best of luck in your new job!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Soap Dish Opera

At the behest of my skin-smart spouse, I've been using Dove soap for roughly a year now. Tonight I just took out a new bar and I noticed this statement on the box:

"Keep in a dry soap dish."

So I ask, perhaps philosophically, is there such a thing?

If I use the soap with water and then put it down in the dish, the soap will be wet and the dish will soon get wet as well. And stay wet. For a long time. In fact I have yet to find a soap dish that stays dry and doesn't get messy with soap scum, but thanks for the suggestion Dove folks.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween Observations

Halloween has changed, Halloween is changing, Halloween will change.

Fresh off the 2007 Halloween holiday, I have a new outlook on Halloween. I'm just going to go off on an incoherent jumble of thoughts here, so bear with me...

A. Costumes: The marketing industy, of which I'm apart (full disclosure!), has won the Halloween battle. Kids hardly make up their own costumes any more. Instead it's a mish mash of pop-culture outfits. Spider-Man. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Pre-made pirate costumes. Cookie-cutter princess outfits. You get the idea. Where's the fun? I have a lot more respect for the families who put together a fun outfit from odds and ends and use their creativity rather than just pulling an outfit out of the bag and tossing it at the end of the night.

B. Adults: Halloween is now an adult holiday. Adults now glorify this holiday and use it as an excuse to break out of their shells because they (we) can't do it on an everyday basis. College aged girls and older dress as sexy nurses, maids, and others such as are listed in The Onion's hilarious list, while guys wear something offensive or borderline insane. All use it as an excuse to get drunk and, well, the rest is up to you. That's fine and all, but don't try to pull this off as a kid's holiday. It's not. It's adults trying to act like kids while kids would rather be off playing X-box.

C. On that same note, I kind of wonder if kids really even care about Halloween anymore. What's the incentive? Walk around for 2 hours to get a bag of candy that parents are buying every week anyway? It's a novel idea but probably old hat for kids in this day and age.

D. I heard endless complaining on radio talk shows about how plastic guns and similar props are being banned in schools as part of kids' costumes, with people saying that it's a disgrace that they're taking the fun out of Halloween. Gimme a break. First of all, anybody who can see the damage going on in Philadelphia alone should be thankful that plastic guns are getting locked up in the plastic gun lockers at home. Kids don't need any more examples of shooting, even if it is in good fun. Do it at home, leave it out of school. In addition, kids are probably so tired of shooting guns since they can easily do it on most video games at home. So you're really not taking anything away from kids by doing this.

E. While adults harken back to the good ole days of trick or treating and having fun in the way they did, but kids change and Halloween could be totally different in 5-10 years. My hunch is that it will be a very different holiday in 5-10 years.

Ok, thanks for reading my disjointed thoughts. Now I'll have to try and scare up my next blog post...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Weighing the Odds on Cancer

Well another strike against obesity has been recorded, with scientists announcing that there's "convincing" evidence connecting a person's being overweight and subsequently developing cancer. Not good news for many folks.

Allow me, if you will, to toss one possible reason for this link into the mix:

The more fat, i.e. the more body cells you have, the higher chance you have of some of those cells becoming abnormal or cancerous.

Right? It's a game of chance really. The odds increase that you'll develop cancerous cells if there's more cells that could potentially be affected.

Add in the fact that overweight people tend to eat poorly to begin with, regularly devouring meats cooked in harmful smoke, or foods made with lots of questionable chemicals in them certainly doesn't help.

Dare I say that being heavy tips the scales against your favor?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rules of the Road: 7 Reminders of How to Drive!

After driving for three hours on New Jersey highways this past weekend, I'd like to provide a public service and remind people how to drive! Call it "Plunge into Driving School 101".

I bore witness to numerous annoyances, instances of dangerous driving, and general ignorance for the road, from people of all backgrounds and a variety of states. (Teenagers and new drivers, feel free to print this out and paste on your dashboard for future reference!)...

1. If it's dark and pouring, or even just drizzling, put your lights on! I drove through a serious downpour and there were still drivers that didn't bother to flick their headlight switch on. It's the law in the New Jersey-- "Wipers on, Lights on" but in reality should just be a matter of common sense. Without your lights on you make it extremely difficult for others to see you. Ummmm....not good.

2. If you choose to drive the speed limit or slower, that's fine, I appreciate your respect for the law and for safety. But out of courtesy for other drivers, move on over to the right lane. People who want to drive faster than you are driving will find a way to pass you. You make it 10x more dangerous if they have to pass on the right or tailgate you into submission. It's just not worth it. Please move over.

3. Cell phones... just put 'em down while you're handling a two ton machine. Please. Bluetooth earpieces or speakers are a much better alternative.

4. Just because you made a mistake doesn't mean you should make everybody else around you suffer. If you get into a turning lane by accident, and other cars are near or rapidly approaching you... just turn, unless nobody's behind you and you can safely get over to the correct lane. Don't try to cut back into the other lanes real fast.

5. If you're stuck in a line of traffic on the right side and want to get over to the left, don't cut out the approaching cars; just wait until they pass. Once you cause those cars in the left lane to break for no reason other than to let you in, you're just asking for trouble.

6. Learn how to park. Be it parallel parking or parking between the lines, do it right so as not to foul things up for everybody else. Nothing worse than a busy parking lot or tight city street where some moron is taking up two precious spaces for no reason other than s/he's being lazy and inconsiderate.

7. My last pet peeve... keep your cigarette butts in the car! Despite what you may believe, the world is NOT your ashtray (or trashcan as the case may be for those people who like to toss out their gum wrappers, soda cans, and the like). Keep your refuse in the car and take it out later.

Follow these rules and we can all live in highway harmony! Class dismissed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Keeping Up with Social Media

So I just joined LinkedIn at the behest of a friend. Apparently it's a good networking site and at this point in my life, it couldn't hurt to network a little more for various reasons.

But now the challenge is-- what's the best way to maximize my time using it?

I've been on MySpace for a couple of years now and hardly ever use the thing, other than to poke my head into the virtual lives of some friends every so often. But otherwise, it's become more of a headache trying to read people's pages with all kinds of clutter and stuff going on.

And I've started a Facebook page but hardly ever touched it.

And then there's other sites which I've barely even dipped my toe into, like Twitter or Friendster or chat rooms or SecondLife.

How can people possibly keep up with all these things?!?

To me, it just seems like too much time and effort that can be spent dabbling with these sites, tweaking and prodding your profile, trying to meet new people, when in reality I'm not so sure that meeting people face to face isn't still the best way to go, though that can involve a lot more time and effort. But it's a lot more real too. Obviously.

Maybe I'm a throwback kind of guy, but I just don't have the patience to keep up with these sites like some people do.

I'll throw up a blog post every once in a while, but quite frankly I've got too much of life to explore to dive into the social media world and sit around and imagine what other people are doing all day!

Ok, that's about all the time I have... time to go read a book.

(Do people still do that?)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Bringing Food to an Office

Bringing food to your place of work will undoubtedly create some interesting sociological case studies that always fit into the following laws of office food consumption:

For starters, the magical 80/20 rule applies here: it's only the same 20% of workers who voluntarily bring in food, while the same 80% of the office workers who always devour it.

Secondly, you will notice that nobody really cares who brought the food in, nor do they bother to thank the food-bearer or even acknowledge his/her existence. Instead, the slightest brush of the brownie plate on formica in the break room results in a merciless stampede of scavengers to attack the fresh goodies. Watch out!

But lastly, and perhaps most interestingly, there's a very distinct sequence of events that follow the rush to the trough. It goes a little something like this: The initial 75% of the food (be it pie, cookies, donuts, etc.) will be gone in roughly the first 10% of the food's life of sitting on the counter, while the remaing 25% of the food will last for 90% of the food's counter-lifetime. Allow me to explain with an example:

Sweet Mary brings in a fresh sheet of brownies to work one dreary Tuesday morning. As soon as she eases off the plastic wrap, a squadron of vultures pounces to get a piece of the action. Within minutes, 75% of the tray has been ravaged, leaving a thin row of brownies and a smattering of crumbs. Elapsed time of the brownies' life on the break room counter so far: 6 minutes. Percentage of brownies eaten: 75%.

But now the slow death of the remaining brownie tray begins. Once the room clears out, Timid Timmy from accounting will happen by the chocolatey chunk of brownies on his way to the coffee machine. He'll look around and take a sliver and slink off back to his cave, errr, desk. Elapsed time: 10 minutes. Brownies devoured: 80%.

After a while passes, Slick Steve from sales will stumble upon the sweet treat and get himself sugared up for his next rush of cold calls. Elapsed time 20 minutes. Brownies devoured: 90%.

Tara, Sara, and Lara, the inseparable pack from payroll charge in once they see Steve eating his slice of brownie goodness and they each eat small little morsels at a time, crumbs included ("because crumbs have less calories"). Elapsed time: 19 minutes. Brownies devoured: 95%

Bored, Bob the boss bumbles his way into the break room and fixes upon the remaining corner of brownies on the tray. He can't resist, but is courteous enough to leave a sliver for someone else; or perhaps he doesn't want to be the jerk boss who ate the last piece. Elapsed time: 36 minutes. Brownies devoured: 98%

Pumped from his slam-dunk sales call, Steve returns to the break room to celebrate with some more good-luck sweetness. He sees only a tiny chunk left. He pauses for a minute and strokes his chin. He thinks about how much he really deserves it, and goes and sidles up to the counter, cutting off a piece and leaving only a pencil thin portion for someone else. Elapsed time: 47 minutes. Brownies devoured: 99.3%

Over the course of the next 12 minutes, 10 people will stroll in hoping to get one last bite before the brownies go bust, but opt not to take that last piece because they want to leave some for someone else, and don't want to be seen as the person who took the last brownie slice. Elapsed time: 59 minutes. Brownies devoured: still 99.3%

Finally, sweet Mary returns to the break room to see what's left of her delivery and to sneak a small piece of her delicious creation. Shocked and dismayed that only a tiny sliver remains (this being the only piece Mary has had a chance to eat because she wanted to give everyone else first dibs and decided to actually do her work and come back later) she dejectedly takes the last bite. Elapsed time: 60 minutes. Brownies devoured. 100%

To add insult to injury, someone else drops the guilt trip on Mary because she took the last piece, and, her mouth being full, she can't even explain that she was the one who brought them in in the first place and had every right to take the last piece. To top it off, Mary then spends 15 teeth-clenching minutes scouring the plate clean with wet napkins drenched in pink handsoap because there's no other cleaning supplies, and nobody else will bother to clean the dish. Not such a sweet deal for sweet Mary now, is it? She says she'll never bring in another thing because nobody else does and she never gets to eat what she brings in. But, inevitably, she still winds up bringing her food creations to work because, well, she's a sucker, and of course nobody else brings food in anyway, so she feels like she should...

And that's what you get when you bring food to an office.

Monday, October 8, 2007

One Gym, Two Gym, Old Gym, New Gym

Let's face it, there's a lot of competition for gyms, fitness centers, and other workout venues to attract new clients. People are eating more yet burning off fewer calories as they (we) sit behind desks most of the day. So anybody looking to get a workout in will likely consider joining a gym. But how do prospective customers know which one to attend? Well based on my experience with going to gyms (4 different ones in the past 5 years in fact), here are the main determining factors, as far as I can tell:

-Equipment quality
-Friendliness of staff members

Now consider this comparison, as I switch from my current gym to a new gym:

Old gym: costs twice as much as new gym, always has musty/sweaty gym smell, is located 5 minutes further from my house than new gym, equpiment is fair but noticeably used, the staff members there generally don't even acknowledge me, and even the temperature can get really warm inside during the summer and stay really cool in the winter making for a less pleasant workout.

Yet oddly enough, in some ways, I feel bad about leaving my current gym. I probably would have kept going there if this new gym (which really is new... it opened today) never opened, but when I see what a high-quality competitor has to offer, how can I pass up this new opportunity?

Just goes to show... as a business, you can't depend on maintaining the status quo and continue to please people.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Milking the System from Two Points of View

I always hear people complaining about people who "live off of the welfare system" or who "milk the handouts that the government gives," so we should stop with these programs altogether.

Indeed, there are people who do these things. And indeed it bothers me when somebody is cheating the system unnecessarily. But at the same time, if the programs are helping a vast amount of people while a few take advantage of them, then I can live with that. Any incentive out there that's worth getting, somebody will find a way to beat the system.

But interestingly I also find that the same people who are complaining about the people who are out there "milking the system" are the ones who openly brag about how they know the tricks to bending their taxes, or who try to haggle down every penny from a business, or who are forever squeezing every dime from tips at a restaurant.

In my eyes, these are two opposite ends of the same character trait... being a system milker.

I guess the old saying applies here... "Takes one to know one."

Monday, October 1, 2007

From the Big Screen to the Blog Screen

I had the privilege to interview Sharon Pinkenson of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office on September 27, 2007, before she spoke at a board meeting for Golden Slipper Club and Charities at the Downtown Club in Philadelphia. She's the organization's executive director and is largely responsible for getting a slew of producers to shoot their films in the Philly region. Pretty cool stuff.

If you've got a minute, take a look at the Slippertalk blog for my review of our conversation and her speech. And be sure to give it two thumbs up...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Philly's Pennypack Park: Pretty but...

Took a walk today with a bunch of my wife's side of the fam this afternoon. Gorgeous day, so we went to Pennypack Park in Northeast Philadelphia. The park spreads for miles and provides a bucolic escape from the concrete jungle, as you wind your way through green scenery and stroll past a meandering creek.

And trash.

Cups, cans, kegs, bags, bottles, bras. Ok, I made that last one up, though I wouldn't be surprised to see some of those in the more remote sections.

Anyway, my point here is that it's just a shame that: a) people have no pride in their city and can't keep it clean, and b) the City doesn't have the resources or desire to clean it up.

On the bright side, it's great to see people out and about using the park... now if only they'd stop abusing it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Halloween is Here: Scare Up Some Moolah

Halloween is the sixth biggest spending holiday for Americans, according to the National Retail Federation.

An estimated $5 billion will be spent for Halloween costumes, decorations, candy, and other fodder.

Now that's scary.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wild Wood in Ocean City, NJ

Sometimes it just makes sense to do the sensible thing. Pretty simple concept, really. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:
Battered by protests from environmentalists around the globe, and realizing that the cost might be much higher than expected, officials in this seaside resort are having second thoughts about their decision to buy wood from tropical rainforests to repair the boardwalk.
With so many alternatives to buying wood harvested from the diminishing rainforests of the world, it seems silly to even consider building your boardwalk with such a precious resource. Yet it looks like Ocean City is going to go ahead and do it anyway.

A tip to Ocean City councilpeople: Look around you. The businesses, organizations, and people that are "making waves" in the world are the ones that are changing their old ways of thinking and acting in a way that causes less harm to or in some ways benefits the environment and human civilization as a whole. Does your solution fit into this bracket of civic responsibility? I humbly submit... no.

Time to walk on the wild side, OC.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

None Shall Pass (Or, Everybody Shall Pass But You)

Thanks to my man Gregg who sent me this confusing video of a minister who was denied access to watching General Petraeus speak in DC this week. I say "confusing" because I'm sure as heck confused as to why he was denied entrance and treated so aggressively. I'd be interested in hearing the other side of the story to get a full picture of what happened.

But until then, all's I can say is... *sigh*.

Here's the link:

Monday, September 10, 2007

A "Mas Facil" Request for Automated Voice Message Systems

I have a very simple question, and I'm sure it's been brought up by others as well:

When I call a company and am greeted by an automated voice message system, why do I need to "Press 1 to continue in English?" Would it be too complicated to have English be listed as the default language, and everybody else press numbero dos for Espanol, etc.?

Aye carumba.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Time to Think Differently about the Michael Vick Story

With all of the hullabaloo surrounding the infamous Michael Vick dog-fighting case, I have noticed a recent backlash regarding the treatment he has received from the media and public at large.

A recap: once the story broke, an immediate and intense firestorm swelled when people got word that Vick was involved in a dog fighting ring and ultimately killing many "underperforming" dogs.

But then in the past few days or so, I've observed several instances of people expressing their concern and/or disgust for how far the outcry has gone. I have heard the following arguments, either on talk radio, in the commentary section of the newspapers, or on TV:

-Although dog fighting is gross and inhumane, what's the difference between that and killing a mouse in your house?

-This case has garnered so much attention, but why can't we garner that kind of attention when a man beats his wife?

-If you eat meat, you're essentially doing the same thing as what Vick did.

While all of these questions are valid, I see it a different way. It's not an "apples and apples" comparison.

For starters, the reason that this became such big news, is, in fact, because it truly is big news. Any reporter, marketer, or public relations expert will tell you that the only things that make big news are the things that are undeniably different from the rest of what's going on during that particular day.

So, for better or worse, killing a mouse, abusing a spouse, or eating a grouse (sorry, the rhyme was too good to pass up there) are not inherently different from what goes on in ordinary life. A millionaire, celebrity pro football player electrocuting dogs in his own mansion is undeniably different. And that's why it makes the news. Trying to determine if it received too much or too little attention is pointless. People are interested in hearing the stories that are different, and that will never change.

All in all, my main point here is that we should treat each individual issue separately and not try to compare what is more or less important.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Link Between Housing and Immigration?

A quick thought:

If the U.S. cracks down on immigrants entering the country, which has been a goal of late, won't that negatively affect the housing market?

Simple economics suggest that immigrants make up a sizable chunk of the nation's population growth and all of those people need houses (even if they rent, they still need some sort of shelter). Therefore, if there are less people moving to and subsequently living in America, fewer houses are needed and the demand and prices for houses should level off.

Or perhaps it has already?

And if this does happen, is this good or bad?

Just something to think about...

Friday, August 24, 2007

View from a Marketer: Bravo Apple!

So you've probably heard about some of the massive iPhone bills received by AT&T customers. To summarize, some iPhone users recieved detailed logs of every bit of phone usage in their first bills, delivered this week. Every phone call, every web download, every, well I don't even know because I don't own one, but every little itty bitty thing got recorded and sent to customers... some bills even sent in boxes. Quite an embarrassment, eh?

Well, let's think "different" here. This happens to be, in my mind, a smart, well-calculated move by AT&T and Apple... assuming it was even planned in the first place. Think about it. Apple and AT&T just got invaluable free publicity about the incredible usage of the popular phone on the only service that it can operate on. Now, if AT&T can fix the billing "glitch" for the next round of bills, all of the "problems" will be forgotten, but the publicity will hang around for some time.

Now if only I could have that marketing conundrum of how to deal with people using my services too much...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Not Exactly Bad Newz, But Not Exactly Good Newz Either

What with dog kennels being in the news (or perhaps it should be "newz") a lot lately, I thought I'd throw down this post about a small dog kennel that I can see from across where I work.

I work in a rural area and across the street from our office is a farm that owns hundreds of acres of land, including acres and acres of grapes for winemaking, and a field that used to be home to a mule. On the corner of this field is a row of about four or five kennel cages, each with a dog that's kept inside. Now, to my knowledge, this field is not used for anything in particular, as there are no rows of plants and there is never any activity on it. So my silly question for the day is, why not let the dogs out on this field? At the very least, put them on a leash and attach it to a line so they can at least run around for a spell of time.

I realize that dogs feel at home in a kennel, but it definitely bugs me to see the dogs cooped up in there for long periods of time, just idly barking and jumping around. If you've got the space, let 'em roam!

Ok, that's my rant for the day. I know it won't do much of anything, and I realize it's not exactly "bad newz", but hey it's my blog and I can bark up whatever tree I want to. Thank you.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Pre-Aruba Observation

When I mentioned to my boss's wife that I would be going to Aruba on my honeymoon, she immediately was taken aback.

"Well be careful! We only go to Florida because it's safer there..."

She was apparently referring to how dangerous it was in Aruba because of the infamous and unfortunate Natlie Halloway incident.

Meanwhile, Aruba was probably one of the safest places we've ever been. While there, I observed no evidence of crime, nor did we ever feel threatened. People there seemed very reserved and quietly friendly. Police ("polis") were quite prevalent and the atmosphere in general was quite easy-going and comfortable, even in the "off-the-beaten-track" areas.

So it's a shame that one tragic disaster has damaged the reputation of an otherwise beautiful country. It reminds me of the time I went to my buddy's wedding in Texas-- Waco, Texas. Anybody I told about this trip gave me strange stares and concerned comments. And that was 10 years after that Koresh goon made the news for, well, you know the story. Turned out that the actual disaster happened 45 minutes outside of Waco, and Waco was a humble, normal town by all accounts.

So the next time you judge an entire community, town, or country by one unfortunate occurence, think twice and consider that the media tends to enlarge the tragedy. Do your research and don't believe the hype!

And of course, enjoy your trip!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Poor Customer Service at Wi-Fi Aruba

After a week being away from the warm glow of the Internet (the horror!), my better half and I were in the Aruba Airport, 2 hours before our takeoff, and ready to fire up our laptop. To log onto the Wi-Fi Internet at the airport, we had to purchase Wi-Fi time from Wi-Fi Aruba, the local internet provider. Seeing as how we had a few hours to catch up on e-mail, news, and other connected activities, we went ahead and bought a $10 pass for 24 hours of use, else we would have paid $5/hr.

The internet connection worked beautifully for the first hour we used it in one spot in the airport. We then shut down and relocated to the gate. We opened up the laptop again, and... Wi-Fi Aruba wanted our password to log on. What password you ask? The one that was e-mailed to us. Well, here's a dumb question... how were we supposed to access the password if we couldn't get onto the Internet? I suppose the assumption is that one would sign up for the service, immediately check for an e-mail message from Wi-Fi Aruba, write it down, and then have it handy to access at any time. That's quite ridiculous.

I went on Wi-Fi Aruba's site, the only one accessible from the airport without being signed-in to their service, and tried to call the company's support phone number posted, but my cell phone would not allow the call to go through, nor would my wife's. I sent an e-mail to the company to request them to refund our money because we didn't get what we paid for... 24 hours of internet service. We never heard back from them.

So you're probably asking yourself-- is $10 really worth all this aggravation? Just let it go, right? Well, it'd be nice to get a refund or even an apology from the poorly managed Wi-Fi Aruba, but it's really more of a warning to all of my loyal reader(s) out there... buyer beware! And to share a lesson--good customer service still goes a long way.

Awakening from an Aruban Adventure

During a week-long honeymoon in Aruba, my new wife and I took a "Jeep Adventure" starting in the busy town of Oranjestad and wrapping around the rural, dirt-trailed back country. The natural beauty of the island is beautiful and memorable. From the ocean views to the desert wildlife, going off road was a tremendous experience. But I wouldn't do it again!

The trip started by meeting at the company's headquarters and dividing the group of about 30 people into 5 cars. A guide drove the lead car and had a radio to the following cars, which were driven by us unassuming tourists.

The tour started on main roads, and wound around to dirt roads, and eventually steep, bouldered paths. The part of the tour I drove on was the steep, bouldered path section. Wowsers.

So here I am commandeering a LandRover I've never driven before, on paths in the middle of nowhere, going over massive chunks of rocks, all while 5 other people are at my mercy. Plus, it was dusty and hot and 4 hours removed from breakfast. Four and 1/2 hours after starting, I was positively exhausted, mentally and physically by the time we finished. It sure was an adventure, but not exactly what I had in mind.

But I did learn two lessons from this trip:

1. I gained a tremendous amount of respect for the brave and rugged soldiers fighting in Iraq. Not that I didn't have respect for them before, but bearing that brutal desert heat and unfriendly terrain, and mixing in an incredibly dangerous atmosphere must be an unbelievably challenging job.

2. After driving through that brutal desert heat and unfriendly terrain, I lost a tremendous amount of respect for our leaders to think that we could waltz into that country, take over, and not really have any plan for succeeding. It's scary to think that our troops will have to struggle in that environment for an indefinite amount of time. This is no "adventure," this is plain scary, and hopefully, once we wrap up there... never again.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Are YOU Clicking Every Day?

It doesn't get much easier than this when it comes to helping the Earth and some fellow human beings...

Simply make some clicks at:

The Hunger Site

and you can also click for donations and get free e-mail accounts at:

Thank you in advance for doing this painless act every day!

(Note to friends and readers: I've been away for the past week and will return soon with more blog posts, mostly about my trip. Stay tuned!)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Humans' Great Donation to Space: Garbage

I read this write-up about rubbish on on July 24th. Take a look at it, but basically it refers to astronauts on the International Space Station tossing out trash into the atmosphere.


Can we humans go anywhere without messing it up?

The article goes on to say how most of the trash should burn up in the air during its descent towards Earth, but "small chunks are likely to survive next year's fall through the atmosphere," according to NASA.


Go humans!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Baseball: A Unique but Changing Entertainment Venue

Baseball has seen its ups and downs over the years. Used to be that crowds would pack stadiums and root, root, root for the home team. Well, that kinds of died off around the 80s or 90s. But now the crowds are back again. But lately, baseball seems to have changed from a casual but intellectual and dramatic sport to watch, to a passive but big bang form of entertainment.

Allow me to clarify. Growing up as a kid, I became very enamored with the details and minutiae of the game. Like when the 2nd baseman and shortstop communicate with "mouth signals" (open mouth or big grin) to each other when there's a runner on first. Or trying to predict what type of pitch to throw on a 2-1 count with runners on base.

Now, fans go to games, wander around the stadium, buy food, browse for team merchandise, people-watch, and maybe catch an inning here or there. And hope a big dude cracks a home run.

I'm not sure what to make of this, but I'm pretty sure the powers that be in the baseball world are content.

Just my hunch. But enough about my thoughts, let me go back to watching the Phils and Padres.

Monday, July 9, 2007

My Phillies' Question of the Day

My question of the day relates to the famous (infamous?) "countdown to 10,000 losses" here in the City of Brotherly Loss, I mean, Love...

Who is the losing-est Phillie of all time?

I figure there must be some poor shlub who got stuck playing for the Phils in the 30's for like 10 years and was subsequently a part of the most losses ever in Phillies' history for one player. Trivia buffs and statisticians, help me out!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

How to Keep Cats Out of a Garden

Let me preface this post by saying I'm an animal lover and I own a cat.

That said, I moved into my current house just about a year ago and I have a feline frenzy in my backyard. This is due to my neighbor's flock of cats that roam the 'hood.

So anyway, this year I put together my first garden ever and it actually turned out looking pretty decent. And it also happens to be cat poop central. :-( Thus ensued my ongoing battle with keeping the cats at bay. Here's what I've tried:
  • Sprinkling cayenne pepper around in the hope that it would be offensive to their noses. Good idea in theory, but it washes away in the rain, and isn't exactly cheap to spread it everyday. Verdict: No go.
  • Spraying the cats with a water gun. This was actually recommended by my neighbor, who said that if her cats bug me, spray with water. This tactic does indeed work, and it is indeed a fun little hobby, but only when I'm around and see them out back. Not coincidentally, the excrement shows up when I wake up in the morning. Verdict: Marginally effective.
  • Putting up thorny branches. I had the idea that maybe if I plugged some thorny branches in the ground, they'd stay away because they would be a nuisance. I didn't have many branches to work with, but managed to secure one particular area that was often frequented. Verdict: No apparent success.
  • Forks in the ground. I just put plastic forks in the ground with the tines sticking up to keep them from walking around there. Verdict: Too early to tell, but I can't see how this would fail to work. The main downside being that it looks really bizarre.
I've read online several other solutions, none of which appeal to me. For example, I have no interest in spraying a chemical around my yard to keep the cats away... this kind of solution does not appeal to me in the least due to the potential environmental effects. Nor does buying an automatic sprayer that is available, for 50+ bucks that sprays anything that crosses its sensor. That's getting a bit pricey and a bit psycho. Plus if anything's going to be shooting water, then it's me!

But if you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them! It's time to end the litter box trend and I'm all ears for new, environmentally sound, affordable, humane, and preferably un-noticeable solutions. Maybe I should just move...

Saturday, July 7, 2007

There is Hope Yet for Green Buildings

An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday covered the "green" changes being made by the powers that be at The Friends Center in Center City Philly. The building itself is a 34-year-old office building for Quakers and is undergoing significant renovations to the tune of $12.5 million. Thankfully, they have decided to take this project on with an eye on saving the environment. The nuts and bolts of this project include:
  • A vegetated roof that covers 8,000 square feet. By laying down topsoil and planting sedum, the roof will insulate the building, eliminate about 90% of the building's rain runoff, last 3 times as long as a new roof would, and provide new CO2-catching plants for the environment
  • Photovoltaic cells, which will convert the sun's energy into electricity, up to 2 percent of the building's usage, with the potential for more to be added in the future.
  • Rainwater recycling, whereby rainwater will collect in tanks for storage and used to flush toilets, virtually eliminating the potable water consumption of the occupants.
  • High performance glass windows, which will admit more sunlight and minimize solar heat, helping to reduce energy consumption by 4 percent
  • and more...
This is the kind of vision, planning, and progressive thinking that Philadelphia, and the world, really needs. We can no longer be users and abusers of the environment if we want to stick it out on this planet for a few more centuries; instead we must follow the lead of groups like this one and start conserving. Thanks, Friends, for leading the way!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Special Thanks to

Someway, somehow my sweet significant other stumbled upon the website It turns out it's been one of the best finds on the internet to date.

This site sells lots of unique, original, dare I say uncommon gifts, gear, and dare I say goods. But coolest of all, in my book, is the variety of recycled stuff they sell.

For example, for our wedding, we registered for some wedding gifts on their registry. Just today, my cousin and her hubby sent us two recycled and flattened glass bottles that can be used as serving dishes. Fun stuff!

All in all, I'm glad to see a site that got someone who previously was lukewarm to recycling fired up about what recycling is all about-- giving old stuff new life.

(Note: this is not a paid endorsement nor is it a recycled blog post.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Welcome to Philadelphia, Jason Smith

Within the last week the Sixers drafted Jason Smith. And the Flyers traded for Jason Smith.

Yup, you heard right. Should be a fun year for sports news broadcasters in Philly.

I'm almost certain that players with the same full name playing on two different teams in Philadelphia has happened before, but I can't recall who that may have been.

Anybody with some help on this mind-bending issue?


Updates to follow if any are found!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Goodbye to "Good Nights"?

Just got back from dinner a few minutes ago. Went with my lovely soon-to-be-wife to Champps, a sports bar and grill chain. Had a tasty meal and an enjoyable night out. Even able to walk there and back because the weather was so pleasant. All in all, it was a nice little "date" that didn't break the budget.

Now for the "but". At this restaurant, there must be at least 20 people working during dinner time. And I couldn't help but notice that as we walked out we passed at least 5 or 6 employees and not one of them looked at us or said, "Thanks for coming" or "Good night". Indeed, when I had mentioned this fact to my fiance during our walk home, she even noticed that too.

So does this mean I will never go back to this particular restaurant because a handful of people didn't acknowledge us on the way out? No, it's far from being a dealbreaker. But with countless restaurant options within a five-mile radius of my house, it does mean that every little bit of hospitality goes a long way for each establishment. A red carpet and rose petals at my feet is not necessary, but feel free to give me a smile and a salutation! The old adage is true-- it's the little things that count.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Inflatable Rats and Tired Tactics: Time for New Marketing for Unions

Pardon me as I do a brief Jerry Seinfeld impression:

"Have you ever noticed these inflatable rats that union guys put up?"

For the past few weeks, I've driven by a construction site for what appears to be a new bank. Every morning like clockwork I also see one or two sorry looking guys standing out on the sidewalk with signs on their chest, milling around a giant inflatable rat, like the one pictured at right. It's a rather surreal scene.

I can't help but think that there's gotta be a better way to protest the growth of a non-union building, as they're attempting to do.

Here's how I see it:
  • In general, union memberships are down from historical highs in the 1950s when about a third of all workers were in a union. Today it's plunged to around 13 percent, according to this Encarta article.
  • Whether properly deserved or not, unions have a checkered image in today's world. From the Jimmy Hoffa days of mobster ties, to today's impression that union workers are unproductive, unions need all the help they can get if they want to survive.
  • It's 2007 and marketing has become a virtual science on changing people's decisions and behaviors. If you have a positive association with a "brand", you are much more likely to buy that brand over a competitor's brand. Case in point-- would you rather have a Lexus or a Ford Pinto? That's branding power (or lack thereof, as the case may be).
  • The "brand" of unions pretty much bites the big one. Though unions stand up for the rights of their workers, which I think is generally a good thing, there's no way unions will survive if they don't improve their image. It's really that simple.
So back to the inflatable rat image. Suppose you're a parent with a 10-year-old child in the car driving past this inflatable rat. Junior asks you why they have that big scary rat by the building. Without getting technical, what are you going to say? Perhaps explain what a union is all about and the cause they're trying to support. But inevitably, that kid is going to connect the huge ugly rat with workers' unions and pretty much be totally disenchanted with the union "brand" because he made the connection between "ugly" and "unions". And for that matter-- so will many adults! This article from FastCompanymagazine claims otherwise, citing a union leader as saying that businesses go bonkers when they see that inflatable rat outside their store, but my hunch is that that's just a temporary frustration, rather than any kind of a long-term effect that might incite change.

Ok, so in sum, the point I'm trying to make here is that image is everything, and the image of unions is that of strong arming, inflatable rats, and smoke-breaks, which is not going to help recruit new members any time soon in my humble opinion. Granted, I'm not suggesting that stringing up inflatable butterflies and flying kites in front of non-union businesses will do the job of changing people's minds, but in my opinion a cleaner, friendlier, smarter image will be needed if they want to prove to the public that they're still a viable option in today's world.

"What's the deal with these inflatable rats?"

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What Happens to E-mails Sent to General Inboxes?

I'm an e-mail guy. Sometimes at work I'll want to contact a company about something that's on my mind (a question, a compliment, a criticism, etc.), but I don't want to call on my company's dime (not to mention sit on hold for 20 minutes) so I'll shoot a quick 1-minute e-mail, generally to the address listed on the token "Contact Us" page. It's convenient for me and should be convenient for the company I'm trying to reach. The theory being that we can both communicate whenever time allows.

In theory that works well... in reality, I'd say I get responses on less than 50% of the e-mails I send. And most of the responses I do get come several days later, which, in modern times, is like an eternity. In other words, that's downright shameful. Terrible way to do business.

So what happens to the e-mails I send to these general inboxes? Are they totally ignored? Are they not getting through the system? Does a magical leprechaun snatch them and hide them in his pot of e-gold? Do they get tumbled through a dryer and never come out, like a sock? What's the deal?

Any marketer worth his salt out there knows that receiving feedback is a top priority for the company. If the company has no idea what the consumer is thinking, how can the company adapt and grow? Or if the customer has a question, that's a prime time to learn how to help the customer and encourage a sale. But apparently e-mailing feedback or a question is a no-no for most companies.

If you have any thoughts on this topic, feel free to e-mail me. Perhaps I'll respond by next year or so. Using a message in a bottle.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Q: Blockbuster, Barnes & Noble, and Bears... What Do They All Have in Common?

A: None of them have kiosks set up to preview a movie.

(Okay, bears I can excuse from this marketing miss, but the others I can't.)

As I mentioned in my last post, I was at Barnes and Noble this weekend... twice actually. And while I was there I meandered into the music and DVD department.

While in this section, I stopped to preview some tracks on the various little stations with headphones, something that B&N wisely encourages since that helps give a taste of the great music out there in Melodyland.

But why not do the same for DVDs?

They should have small kiosks, like they do for the music section, but with the ability to play trailers or clips from movies that are available to purchase. It just makes sense doesn't it? Preview before you buy. Get excited about your upcoming purchase. Hit 'em while they're hot.

Same goes for Blockbuster. Though I haven't been there in ages (and not because I subscribe to Netflix, more because I just don't watch movies all that often), but whenever I went there it was a struggle trying to find a movie that I wanted to rent. Sometimes I'd forget the name of the movie I was looking for, or I'd come across one that sounded familiar but the lame description on the back didn't help, or I was looking for one with a particular actor, or I was just looking for something different that didn't necessarily jump out at me just by wandering around. A preview kiosk would have piqued my curiosity and helped me pick a movie in no time.

Maybe there's a reason for not having preview stations set up at these stores, but I can't conjure one. The trailers for movies are made to be attention-grabbing, marketing wonders. So why not sell this "sizzle" and not the "stock"?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Organic Book, How to Be A

Just got back from Barnes & Noble. Really should go there more often because I love books, but I digress.

Saw an enticing new book about living an organic lifestyle. Forgot the name and couldn't find it on because there are so many other books on the subject, but if I come across it again, I'll update this blog accordingly. But I digress.

The book caught my eye because it was colorful and solid, a coffee table book with actual interesting information like how to grow an apple tree and cooking organic meals. Bold pictures, engaging topics.

I turned to the back cover to check the price. $25. And what do I see under the price, in large capital letters?


So you're telling me that a beautifully printed book with a plethora of tid-bits on how to live an organic lifestyle (presumably to make life better for the reader, and subsequently live off the earth more efficiently), but you're going to have the book printed in China?

Ponder this for a moment.

Here's a brief background of what probably went into the production of this book:
  1. Trees chopped in either USA, Canada, or Brazil, most likely, since China is rapidly becoming scarce on natural resources like, say, trees.
  2. Chopped trees shipped to China for processing to turn into paper.
  3. Ink-- well, quite frankly I don't know where ink comes from, but you can fill in the blanks about where it may have originated.
  4. Books printed in China, packaged in materials shipped from USA.
  5. Books shipped back to USA for selling.
Think about the "un-organic" nature of this process. And think about the organic nature of the book's contents. It's easy to say you're "green" or "organic" or "environmentally sound", but apparently not so easy to perfect in real life.

Just a suggestion... if you're going to print a book about being organic, don't digress. Go all the way and make it an organic book too.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Power of "Different"

On an average warm day in public, you would likely find me wearing a solid-colored, short-sleeved, collared, polo shirt, a la the photo at right. Pretty standard, really, as Dr. Evil would say.

Well Saturday afternoon I wore my Team USA soccer jersey that dates back to about 1996 or so. I was out getting gas, and whilst I was squeegeeing my windows, a gentleman approaches me and asks if I had any affiliation with the US soccer team.

This question caught me offguard, to say the least.

"Nope, I'm just a fan!" I replied.

"Oh ok, it's just that I don't see too many people wearing Team USA shirts."

"I know, it's pretty unfortunate isn't it?!" I said. "Are you a big fan?"

"Yes I am," he said. And then this is where I realized the power of being different: "My son-in-law played for the team back in the early 90's"

Wow! That's pretty cool, isn't it? Here's a guy with a connection to a big-time soccer player and I would have never known it if I didn't wear this jersey out in public. Had he and I more time to chat, perhaps it could have lead to something really interesting. But regardless, this chance encounter reminded me how important it is to be different, even just a little bit, in order to make life interesting. In marketing, being different can mean being noticed, and remembered. In life, being different can mean being noticed, and advancing your life in some way.

Just something a little different to think about...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

7 Interview Tips for College and High School Students

Last week I had the priviledge to interview about a dozen young adults who were throwing their hat in the ring to try and earn a college scholarship from a Philadelphia-area non-profit of which I'm a member. It's always a highlight of my year to take a day off of work, meet with bright, young, interesting kids (mostly) and give out other people's money. By listening to and observing each applicant, it amazes me to realize just how different these students really are. Here are some things I noticed and tips that may help other students who interview for a scholarship or job in the near future:

1. Dress professionally. This is an old cliche, but the first impression you give really does make a difference. Some really amazing kids came in dressed in shorts or wearing sneakers. Doing this really doesn't get you off on the right foot and makes it seem like you don't care. Each interview is different in terms of formality, but at the very least, it's important to look sharp.

2. Drop the slang. I met a sweet young girl who talked about her time growing up in a not-so-great neighborhood. I was impressed with how she climbed out of a difficult lifestyle, but listening to her say "axe" instead of "ask" and "mines" instead of "mine" really got annoying. I realize that slang becomes part of a person's vernacular no matter where s/he is from, but it makes me cringe to hear somebody interview for a chunk of money and talking like they don't even care how they sound. That ain't cool.

3. College = Education. Perhaps it's just a fact of life now, but I get the feeling that college (or high school) kids are entitled to think that college is supposed to be fun first, educational second. Granted the college/high school years can and should be the most fun times of a person's life, but ultimately you go to school for an education. If I ask you in an interview-- "How did your year at college go?"-- the answer shouldn't be-- "Oh it was a blast." Tell me what you learned, interesting projects you worked on, or advances you made in your education. If I'm giving you moolah for a college education, prove to me that you're getting educated!

4. Ask questions. In a job interview, it is wise to ask questions at the end of the interview. It shows you were listening and thinking ahead about the job, plus it gives the interviewer a chance to talk more naturally about the company he represents. Same goes in a scholarship interview. Ask about the scholarship. How is money raised? What type of people do you look for? Anything! If I say-- "Do you have any questions?"-- don't say-- "Ummm, no, that's about it."

5. Come prepared. Sadly, quite a few kids had no idea about the organization giving away money. That should be the first order of business once you are called in for an interview, if not earlier. Learn what the organization's mission is, learn what the culture is like, etc. With the ease of searching online now, there's no excuse to not at least give an "elevator speech" about what the organization is all about.

6. Be ready to talk past, present, and FUTURE. I admit that I am often guilty of this one. I can always talk about what I did in the past and what I'm doing now, but I don't always think ahead about what what I plan to do in the future. But in an interview, you need to show some initiative and at the very least pretend like you have a plan. Otherwise, why should I give you money if you're just going to flounder around with it?

7. Send a thank you note. Just common courtesy.

Interviews are a challenging part of life, but it's important to know what works best. And knowing is half the battle. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Danger of Working in a Small Town

There are upsides to working in a small town. For example, everybody knows each other.

There are downsides to working in a small town. For example, everybody knows each other.

Working in a city environment, I have seen, can at times be very cold and stressful, as you are just one of millions of people toiling away each day in a tight radius of monster buildings.

Working in a rural environment, I have seen, can at times be very insular and uninspiring, as everybody seems to know each other since most of the people who work in the area also live right around the corner and the gossip spreads like wildfire.

To give a comparison, my first job out of college was as a law firm clerk in Center City, Philadelphia. While there, my boss and mentor gave me lots of great advice. One piece of advice that stuck with me was the old saying, "Loose lips sink ships." In other words, you're a professional, working for a reputable law firm with clients' personal lives in the balance. Don't go blabbing about their cases out in public. Doing that could lose a client or a case and potentially destroy the law firm.

Well, now that I work out in farmland U.S.A. where everybody knows each other, I've learned the importance of this advice. Case in point: a woman I work with (let's call her Jane), who lives in the area, was talking to somebody she knows who works at a law firm where another co-worker of mine (let's call him John) is a client. This law firm employee told Jane something that John is requesting that really annoyed the heck out of the entire law firm. So then Jane comes and tells me what her friend said about what John is doing. So... there goes your confidentiality folks. And so much for having any privacy in a small town.

So for those of you who work (or live) in a small town, enjoy the fact that you're not just another ant marching down the sidewalk, but don't forget that if you so much as look at somebody the wrong way, everybody within a 20 mile radius will know about it the next day. Simple fact of life.

Now don't tell anybody that I told you this...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Satellite Radio vs. Commercial Radio: How Will the Radio Wars Pan Out?

The other day I had to borrow my dad's car to drive to work because my Focus had a flat. My usual commute of flipping between a dozen or so channels on commercial radio was transformed to flipping between hundreds of channels on his satellite radio.

While commercial radio may be gradually on its way out, here's why satellite radio may not be the saviour that many hope it will be:

Most people want to listen to what they want, when they want it. And satellite, despite the plethora of channels, still can't quite accomplish that, while commercial radio plays too many mainstream songs and too many brutal commercials.

Once somebody develops a personalized radio medium, satellite and commercial radios will be blown out of the air.

So what do I mean by personalized radio?

Well, think about what an ipod has done for music-- you pick the songs, you play them as you want, you have control of your music on a gadget the size of a credit card.

Now think about Comcast Rhapsody-- it's an internet-based program offered by Comcast (and certainly there are others just like it), that plays music based on your favorite bands. You put in a list of bands that you like and this player will play music from those bands as well as music that is similar to those bands.

Combine these two and you get the best of both worlds-- music that you know you like, and music that you may not have known you like because you never heard it before (but is similar to music you like), with the flexibility to hit one button to find the next song... not a hundred buttons to get to the station that's playing a good song at the moment, or having to wait for a lame commercial to end to hear the next song. Plus you're never jumping in at the middle of the song, and hey, you can repeat the song 19 times if you so desire.

That's music for my ears.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Ads by GEICO: Enough is Enough

GEICO has really pushed full-throttle with an advertising blitz to encourage people to spend 15 minutes in the hope of saving 15% on auto insurance. Coincidentally, I'm hit with a GEICO ad 15 times a day on average, and, also coincidentally, I tune out these ads 15 times a day.

The gecko, the cavemen, the celebrities... ok, we get it. You guys have a million characters and will continue to pound the average consumer into submission until they request a quote. You win. Try having an all-around good company in an all-around good industry that people want to talk about and you won't need to spend millions on advertising. The word will spread itself.

But now that I think about it, State Farm, AllState, AIG and others are also flooding the airways with their commercials. Shame that when people get flooded out of their houses, the money doesn't exactly come pouring in.

Ok, I understand that insurance companies have helped build America to become a great country by minimizing risks caused by fires, weather, burglars, stray golf balls, etc., but there's got to be a better way to make money than squeezing dollars away from claimants when they're in need. Fortunately, I've never had to make a major claim, save for one minor fender bender which was not my fault, but I cannot imagine what people have to go through in order to get their money back when insurance companies either don't pay quickly, drag out lawsuits, pay less than they should, or don't cover a loss at all. I'm all for capitalism and businesses earning money, but people who pay for peace of mind should get it when they need it. 15 bucks lost should be 15 bucks paid. Plain and simple. Put that in an ad and smoke it.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Rebate Credit Cards: The Latest Borderline Phone Company Scam

Back in January, I upped and left my old cell-phone carrier Sprint to join my fiance on her plan with Cingular/ATT. While I had no real qualms with Sprint, Cingular presented a better all around deal for us, and thus far I have been mostly happy with them, which is pretty much on par with cell phone companies in general... complete satisfaction with a cell phone company is not humanly possible, as you will see in my mini-rant...

So as part of my switching to Cingular and locking in on a 2-year contract, I was given a $100 rebate credit card after purchasing my phone. For starters, rebates are perhaps the most agonizing way to save money on a product purchase. Instead of getting 100 bucks back at the register right then and there, you have to cut out the UPC code on the box, mail it in, wait a few weeks, and now, deal with another credit card in your wallet. It's no longer a check that the company sends that you can drop in the bank or turn into cold hard cash. I could at least tolerate that scenario.

The credit card, I think, is a borderline scam. My $100 card, after several retail purchases, has dwindled down to about $6 remaining on the balance. But it's not like I can pay for a $40 item, use this rebate card and max it out, then pay the remaining $34 or so with cash or another credit card tocomplete the transaction. Nope-- the rebate card gets denied and I have to pay in full some other way. So essentially if I want to use the complete $100 that was given to me, I have to make a purchase that costs exactly $6.24 (or whatever the exact amount is), or else I forfeit that money after a year from activating it.

So is this hassle the end of the world for me? Of course not. But it's just another little dig at the consumer, as far as I'm concerned. Cingular will probably end up saving a few cents or a few bucks on my rebate card because I most likely won't be able to max out the card to the exact penny. Figure in the thousands of other folks out there in the same situation, and Cingular just pocketed themselves thousands of dollars that should otherwise NOT BE THEIR MONEY!!! To me, that's rather scammish. Just give us lowly consumers the cold hard cash and let us live our lives (or better yet, ditch the rebate and make us happy with a discount right at the register--- the old fashioned way). Instead, unless I'm totally missing an alternative option of maximizing my rebate amount, I have to precisely plan my purchases in advance in order to get 100% of my rebate. Plus the fact that they're probably tracking my purchases and will be marketing to me according to my patterns.

Just what I want... more offers to buy stuff and get a rebate card in return.

All in all, not a great way to introduce yourself to a new customer, huh?

(Thanks to this blog for the image!)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Art of Finding Unusual Gifts

I recently discovered this site featuring unusual gifts on a random search that I was doing for garden stuff. It amazes me how the internet truly has everything, somewhere.

I mean, where else can you see an otherwise attractive woman blowing snot out of her nose with a genie lantern?

Or a "spooky" ghost towel...

It's a shame that, with the influx of large chain stores, we lose the edgy and innovative products that can be found at quirky mom-and-pop-shops that are falling by the wayside. But fortunately the internet has found a place for every last oddball item, like a warbowl?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

A Lesson on College Costs in the Future

A certain co-worker of mine delivers rants, opines, and repetitive lectures every single day about the exorbitant cost of college. Despite the annoyance of having to listen to it day in and day out, I do feel for him, as he is in the process of putting two kids through higher ed and it ain't cheap. (I could give you an exact figure as to what each of his kids' college costs per year, but I'm sure can surmise a guess.) Indeed, financial planners around the country emphasize the importance of planning for your kids' future. College expenses are quite worrisome.

At any rate, twenty or so years from now I will likely be in a similar situation as this particular co-worker. I have no kids at press time, but for argument's sake, let's say I will have two kids going to college in the year 2027. On one hand, I'm scared to death as to what college will cost by then. On the other hand, I have to think that the entire paradigm of college will be completely different from what it is today. At least I hope.

As the years go on, college will become increasingly expensive. However, there will have to be a breaking point. A point where people say enough is enough, this doesn't make sense anymore. "Why am I paying $128,000 per YEAR to send my kid to college??? This is insane!" To add to that, life is changing SO fast that college classes will have to change their format to keep up with the pace. For instance, I graduated in 2001 and just six (wow, is it six already?) years later, I feel that 95% of what I learned is irrelevant in my life or outdated. This is nothing against my alma mater (I miss you Happy Valley!). But either technology has surpassed what I used in college (remember when modems and Napster were all the rage?) or the techniques of business and communications have changed so much that I've learned more by surfing the internet in the past few months than from the stale books I had to read for classes.

In the year 2027, today's internet will be long gone, or merely a fossil in the rapidly evolving line of technology. Information on ANYthing will be available instantaneously. Google will actually be imbedded in our minds. Well, you get the drift. So why would parents send their kids to an expensive institution just to learn things that they can get "online"... whatever online entails in 2027? People will be working FOR the internet, not the other way around. Education will be a whole new ballgame.

Putting that all aside, let's just say that I'm totally wrong at this point that learning will be completely different from today's college experience, and instead, kids actually ARE going to college in the same manner as they are today. I cannot imagine in my wildest dreams that the government, businesses, and American citizens will tolerate the price of college skyrocketing at such a tremendous rate as it is today. Either more scholarship and public money will be available for incoming students, or prices will level off. That's Economics 101.

Or maybe it's all just wishful thinking for me...

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The New Age of News

Back when there used to be 3 or 4 TV channels with news segments along with the daily newspaper, you generally had to be important to make the news. Now that there are several TV stations with 24 hour news formats, internet news sources, news magazines, and the like, news outlets are stuck looking for news and ways of differentiating themselves from the other news competitors. So what do we end up with? People that get on the news who THINK they're important. Get on the news-- you made it in life!!! Personally, I find it annoying and a drizzle sickening. To wit... Why is celebrity gossip news? Why are the results of the latest TV reality show news? Why do we need to hear from the most moronic "people on the street" about the latest inane movie? Why? Why? WHY???

It's crazy. Crazy I's tells ya.

And that's the news from this corner of the blogworld. Print it!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Joys of Music

Ever since the Great Imus Debacle of '07, there's been a question by
many white people as to why Mr. Imus should have gotten the boot while rappers can get away with using slurs, curses, and other degrading jargon. Well coincidentally or not, we're starting to see some people wake up to this reality that, yes, Imus was wrong, but rappers and radio stations do indeed need to clean up their acts. Big-name African-Americans like Russell Simmons and Michael Baisden have begun to call for an awakening in the African American community. Whether this happens or not remains to be seen, but it's honorable that at least this is a start to cleaning up the airwaves.

Meanwhile, I'd like to mention another problem on the airwaves: country music. I'm a channel flipper while in the car and I often wind up on the local country channels. I'll admit that I do enjoy some of the songs on these channels, though it's not my favorite genre. At any rate, if anybody listens to these songs for even five minutes, it's easy to hear that these country singers sure like to drink and carouse and sing endlessly about it! Hey, I'm all for a little of both, and I'll admit that country tunes make for great party music, but let's be real here... there are millions of Americans with drinking problems (and/or anger issues), and these songs go blatantly overboard at glamorizing each of these themes.

Should these types of songs be halted? Probably not, but I'm also confused as to why I don't see anybody taking notice to lyrics in
these songs. Maybe it's not as noticeable as racism, but drinking has definitely ruined the lives of many, yet many country singers are glamorizing it and could very well be influencing the minds of younger fans, much like what's going on in the rap community. I'm no sociologist or pyschologist, but hey, a message like this repeated over and over is bound to stick eventually. Perhaps we should consider if this is the message we want to linger on.

But hey, maybe I should just forget about it, kick back with my posse and have some "Whiskey for my Men and Beer for my Horses". Right Toby Keith?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Response to "Society Fails Because Families Do"

In the Sunday, April 22, 2007 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer,
Michael Smerconish jumped on the a recent study showing that "homes
without both parents have a higher chance of being involved in
violence," in his article entitled "Society Fails Because Families Do.

While I agree with the concept that children raised in household without married parents are more likely to commit violent acts, there is a key missing ingredient that I think is even more vital to preventing violence and encouraging socially healthy living: love. Anecdotally, but quite
consistently, I find that households with loving parents produce
children that are much less likely to be violent and committing crimes. Love is an intangible yet powerful force in the lives of children and can make all the difference in the world.

Even from a media perspective, consider how many TV shows and movies portray families (based on fact or fiction), and then consider what those families are like. There are poor, urban families with only one parent who displays his or her love and raise great children. There are rich, cold suburban parents who are unloving and raise dangerous children. There are kids raised in households without any parents at all, perhaps an aunt or grandmother (Spider-Man, perhaps), but a loving figure no less, and the kids are equally as loving as their role model in life.

In short, I can certainly understand a connection between a two-parent household and the decreasing amount of violence in their children, as the study shows, but I think the more important factor here is love.

And I know it because my mom and dad taught me so.