Sunday, November 22, 2009

Kudos to HP

After months of informal searching for a new laptop to replace my dying desktop, I finally came across a great price on a laptop, courtesy of Office Depot. Spending a few hundred bucks on anything will almost certainly cause sticker shock, but I must say, I'm quite pleased with my HP G60-530US laptop.

But there's another reason I'm quite happy with HP: packaging.

Yes, packaging. When I opened up my laptop from the cardboard box, I expected to find the laptop surrounded by foam packaging. Instead, I was treated to rigid cardboard. Recyclable cardboard. As a "treehugger" at heart, this really made my day!

Typically, when a product needs to be kept secure in a box, foam is, unfortunately, the go-to packaging protection. So seeing cardboard surrounding my new laptop was a pleasant surprise.

Otherwise, there was only a small amount of plastic used to protect the charging cord. Not bad.

Thank you HP, not only for a great laptop but for your determination in using recyclable cardboard for your packaging. This subtle distinction did not go unnoticed by this consumer.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Attention College Grads: Ignore the Job Reports!

I remember back when I was in college (give or take, oh, about 10 years ago), I would read reports that projected which occupations would be the fastest growing over the next few years. These reports still pop up regularly today, with predictions and statistics and dialogue about which jobs will be most highly in demand. Problem is, with the nature of a dynamic economy that we have, I can't see how it's possible to predict which jobs will be hot even just a couple of years out.

Take, for instance, this story by the Associated Press that was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The gist of the article is that there is now a glut of teachers looking to get jobs in schools across the country, when just a few years ago a shortage of teachers was predicted. Whoops.

In my mind, all of the demographic predictions, economic analyses, and expert opinions can't give a definite answer as to which careers will be in most need in a few years. I think college students and recent grads, heck, even seasoned workers, need to determine what they want to do and go out and do it and do it the best they can, rather than trying to follow these ever-changing predictions and simply trying to ride the next wave of hot jobs.

Think about how many people wanted to be a real estate agent just a few years ago. Now it's one of the most challenging fields to get started in due to the housing crunch. Jobs in "green technology" were pretty much unheard of just a few years ago, now there seems to be a strong growth in these positions. And consider how many law school students are graduating and can't get jobs since law firms are suffering as spending on legal matters has dropped precipitously.

In a nutshell, the folks producing these job-prediction outlooks should get new jobs...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Internet Annoy-vertising on

I have been a long time reader of the Philadelphia Inquirer to keep in touch with Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey news. For a couple of years I read the hard copy of the paper, but gradually grew weary of using all of that paper day in and day out. So I have since become a daily peruser of thenewspaper's online portal,, which is much more environmentally friendly, and free for anybody to read, which is also nice.

It's a widely known fact that newspapers are bleeding subscribers due to the ease and efficiency of the Internet and its virtually infinite number of news sources. And it's also widely known that newspapers are having a difficult time making a profit in this changing world of news production.

So I empathize with the fact that newspapers are looking for new, creative ways to make money. But two of the Inquirer's latest undertakings on, are quite annoying.

First off, when you click on to, you don't realize it, but a pop-under ad often sneaks behind your browser. This in and of itself is annoying, though a fairly common practice across the internet, unfortunately. I frequently get ads from Netflix, for example, in this manner, and promptly ignore them. But the more annoying fact about these pop-unders are that they consist of a list of low rate ads, the likes of which you might see on Facebook's platform. Here's an example of one recent ad (out of six) that popped up:

'See How a Mom Drops 53Lbs!'

See how a mom of 3 drops 53lbs by obeying this 1 old rule... Learn more [link]

[ad accompanied by a cropped photo of a thin woman's belly exposed between tight white shirt and tight jeans]

My suggestion: at least provide some ads of value if you're going to sneak them in there. Perhaps post ads for local houses for sale, sporting event tickets, or other specialized deals, rather than ads trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator of internet surfers.

The other flustering thing that does revolves around their sports articles. Click on a link to an article about, say, the Philadelphia Eagles' next game, and a video automatically starts playing when the page opens up. Most of these videos start with a commercial and then contain generic clips or photos of recent games. The main business page also does something similar when clicking on that page. I think it's a sensible idea to have videos incorporated into the site, but I would prefer them to start only when I click on them, and also make the commercials less intrusive.

I do hope that the Inquirer and are able to find a way to earn a profit off of their news production, I just hope that they can find a more user-friendly way of appealing to loyal readers by avoiding intrusive ads and videos. Just my 2 cents.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What's Missing at Supermarkets?

Supermarkets have become a scientifically formulated masterpiece in the art of getting more people to spend more money.

Aisles are arranged in such a way that you are directed past oodles of products you may never need, just to get a bottle of milk. But perhaps, just perhaps, you see something that you might like, and you decide to buy it, even though that's not what you came to the store for.

Endcaps promote products to seem like they're on sale, even though they may not be; but the sheer appeal of that endcap entices shoppers to at least take a look, and at most buy 10 whatever it is that's being promoted.

Cheaper versions of a particular item are often placed on the bottom shelf where people don't look as frequently, and instead go for the higher priced item in the middle.

And so on and so forth.

But I think that anybody who has ever shopped at a supermarket on a Sunday morning will tell you about how aggravating it is to check out and pay for all this food you've dumped in your cart. There are 10 check out lines that are up and running, but each line has six people in it and each person has a cart full of Doritos, string cheese, and marshmallows that all need to be unloaded, scanned, bagged, and reloaded into the cart. Can't get much more inefficient.

So couldn't there be a way to make this process more efficient and build in a register right in the shopping cart? That way, you grab your box of Count Chocula, scan it, and drop it into your cart. Then, when you're finished, you roll up to the front register, pay your bill, bag your goods, and you're off.

Well, that's my simplistic, unrefined idea. Whether it's doable or not, I don't know. But the fact is that an otherwise satisfactory shopping experience can be totally destroyed by standing in line for 10 minutes just to have the honor of handing over your money to someone else. In other words, it's an aggravating way to end your pleasant morning.

Streamline the check out process, make people happy, make more money. That's my suggestion. Now go enjoy your Twinkies.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

An Idea for Music at the Gym

So here's a wacky idea I had when I was at the gym today.

The gym I belong to pumps in music over the loud speakers, presumably a satellite feed that also gets fed to its other locations around the nation. Meanwhile, 75% of the people working out at any given time have their earphones pumping out music from their mp3 players. The music being played varies from rock, to 80s, to hip-hop, etc. Generally it's stuff everybody has heard.

My idea involves the following steps:

1. Each gym member selects his or her top 5 musical artists, and then the artists' names are punched in to a computer. Perhaps these names can be updated over time, but that's besides the point for now.

2. When the gym member scans his or her card in, the computer takes note of this and recognizes the member's musical preferences. The computer would also be able to be set on whether or not the member is wearing an mp3 player during his/her workout.

3. If s/he is NOT wearing an mp3 player, the computer would aggregate the music that this member chose, along with the music that all the other non-mp3 wearing members chose, and then play selections from the bands selected, particularly if there happens to be a common theme between the bands or genres preferred.

Essentially, it's a quasi-personalized radio station that is designed to play music that is popular amongst non-mp3ers who are working out at any given time. That way, the members who are not listening to their own choice of music get to at least hear stuff they may like rather than random stuff that doesn't necessarily appeal to anybody or only a few people. It's kind of a version of target marketing.

Pretty complicated concept now that I think about it. But these are the things I think about as I pause between reps at the gym. Mental workout, I suppose.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dove Soap Dives into Soapy Semantics

On a recent trip to a BJ's mega-jumbo-cavernous Warehouse, I wandered to the toiletries section to pick up a package of soap bars for my wife. She specifically requested Dove soap and I happened upon 4-5 options from Unilever's big brand name.

As I was scanning the packaging on each type of soap, I noticed a peculiar play on words that had me wondering, "Are these marketing people serious? Or perhaps it's just a joke?"

Some of the soaps had: "Moisturizing Cream" emblazoned on the cartons.

Other soaps had: "Hydrating Lotion" depicted on them.

Ummm, okay.

Last time I checked, hydrating is synonymous with moisturing.

Ditto for lotion and cream.

Knowing enough about marketing to be dangerous, my hunch is that this is some sort of A/B split test to see which words sell better. Otherwise, perhaps it's just the Unilever marketers trying to liven things up for us bored consumers. Whatever the case, they might want to clean up their semantics...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Husband and Wife Die... Let's Count Their Money?

I came across an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about a couple who apparently killed themselves in a knife fight over the weekend. Pretty sad and gruesome news, and I feel terrible for the kids who have lost both their parents. Definitely not something you want to hear about.

Speaking of things you don't want to hear about, I was really baffled by some of the extraneous details that were included in the article about the deceased, Robert and Sophia DiAndrea. Please feel free to tell me if you think these are really necessary bits of information, and tell me if you've ever even heard a news report talk about these types of things before (these are actual statements from the article):

-Robert was a $44,860-a-year supervisor of water conveyance systems for the Water Department, hired on May 27, 1997, city records show.

-Hired by the school district on Oct. 23, 1993, Sophia was a fifth-grade teacher who made $81,617 a year, school records show. She had worked four years at Anne Frank Elementary School, at 2000 Bowler St., an eight-minute ride away.

-The DiAndreas bought their home for $138,000 on Jan. 31, 1997, city records show.

Do those details seem bizarrely out of context when talking about a husband and wife who died? I just don't get it. The rest of the article is well-reported, giving a snapshot into their lives, but the financial data seems to come out of left field. Would the journalist have reported how much they both made if it were not public information? Or what if they were a low-income couple? Maybe it's me, but I don't feel the need to count someone else's money after a vicious ending to their lives.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Why Best Buy Might Want to Reconsider Its Own Name

A recent commercial for Best Buy pointed out something that I noticed recently about the big box electronics store. But what they pointed out isn't exactly something I'd call a selling point or a sensible marketing message.

Their latest commercials feature a hapless customer standing on a podium in front of a stadium full of energetic Best Buy salespeople who want to help answer questions. One of the responses to a question posed by the customer is that 'Best Buy will match any competitor's prices'. And herein lies the problem.

On two recent occasions, I was shopping for electronics products. First was a digital photo frame for a birthday present for my wife. I went to Best Buy and bought the frame that I thought my wife would like. The next day I did some price surfing on the internet and found out that Wal-Mart's price beat Best Buy's price by at least 20% (I apologize, I don't remember the exact prices). When I found this out, after having already bought the frame from Best Buy, I went back and got a credit for the difference in price back to my account, but only after having to stand in a long line at customer service. Not a good way to start.

Then, I recently was looking for a Flip video camera to have on hand for when my son was born (3 weeks ago tomorrow!). I shopped around the prices, and, lo and behold, Wal-Mart beat Best Buy again, this time by about $10. Not a lot, but it made my decision that much easier. Mind you, I'm not normally a shopper at Wal-Mart because I'm not a huge fan of their stores, but hey, if I can save a few bucks... why not?

My point here... if Best Buy were really trying to do a service to its customers it wouldn't offer to match any competitor's prices... it would truly offer the "best buy" in the first place.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why Women and Cell Phones Don't Mix

At least once a day, I am privy to this delightful situation:

(insert most annoying ring tone you can think of)

That goes on for about 5 seconds. Then it's a woman's voice:

"Oh, is that my phone ringing?"

Then it's a mad scramble to try to find the phone in the depths of the abyss otherwise known as the pocketbook. (Have you noticed how big women's pocketbooks have gotten lately? Whatever happened to discrete, dainty purses?? Sorry, I digress.)

Phone is found, then it's:

"Oh! It's (insert name of person she talks to every day)!"

"Hello? Hello? HELLO???"

Pause, look at phone.

"Oh I missed it."

This kind of annoying nonsense probably happens at least 19,000 times every second somewhere around the world.

I would love it if somebody could explain to me a rational reason as to why no woman can carry a cell phone in her pocket, or on her belt loop, or elsewhere on her person, and not stash it deep inside the bag. Quite frankly, it's never a man who hears his phone ring and goes through this routine of not knowing if it's his phone or where his phone is. Or, let me clarify that... if it is a man who goes through this routine, he's usually 70 years or older, in which case we'll let him pass because he's earned the right to lose his phone at that age. But no excuses for young or middle aged women for these shenanigans!

Let's get some cell phone etiquette classes, shall we?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Magazine Inserts: Missed Marketing Opportunity

I subscribe to a few magazines and come across dozens more every month. One thing I've noticed is that there seems to be a major missed opportunity with magazine inserts: marketing to subscribers.

When you subscribe to a magazine, you get the same blow-in inserts as the newsstand version. Why? Wouldn't it make more sense to, perhaps, thank the subscriber for reading the magazine and give him a value added bonus? Or a tailor-made message exclusively for subscribers? Just something that separates the subscriber base from the newsstand base, and gives a more personal, rewarding quality for the most loyal readers.

My thinking is that subscribers shouldn't be subjected to continuous "Subscribe Now!" postcards when they already do receive the magazine every month. Printing those kinds of cards are pestering to subscribers and generally just a waste of paper. And a missed marketing opportunity for the magazine publishers.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Learn from the Boss

Last night I caught about 15 minutes of a concert on TV featuring Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I've never seen "The Boss" live and while I do like a good many of his songs, I wouldn't say he's necessarily one of my favorite musicians. That said, I think there's a lot we can learn from this rugged rocker and superstar.

The biggest thing that I noticed about this performance was that he was loving every minute of it. He had a huge smile while singing the lyrics to "Rosalita", he was ripping it on guitar, and dripping in sweat. The crowd was having a blast and singing along. He and his band are legendary over the past few decades for putting on concerts that last three hours or more and getting the audience involved the whole time. Even though I wasn't there live, I could feel the energy the whole time.

As I watched his performance and thought about our daily lives, I realized that if us average Joes were to have one tenth of Bruce's energy, passion, and happiness when doing our jobs, this world would be a much better place. Unfortunately, most of us (myself included at times) just mail it in and don't go all out like he does, but maybe we should all give it a shot. Our daily interactions would improve, we would be happier at our jobs, and we would likely live fuller lives.

Now those would be some Glory Days.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More Crabby Customer Service

Today I had the privilege of having lunch with my lovely wife after she went for an ultrasound for our overdue baby (41 weeks and counting!). Being in Northeast Philly, we decided to go to an old haunt that we haven't visited in a while-- Chickie's & Pete's on Roosevelt Boulevard. For those of you who have never been there, it's a sports bar that specializes in sandwiches like hot roast pork, as well as crab legs, and crab fries with cheese dipping sauce. Good food, plenty of booze, and always a packed house during any weekend or televised local sporting event, but pretty quiet for a weekday lunch.

So we opened the menus and found a lunch special page. For $8.99 you can get a sandwich, a choice of one side (e.g. fries), and a beverage. Without specifically asking for the lunch special, I ordered a soda, a sandwich, and fries, which I said I would split with my wife since the baskets of fries are quite large. My wife got a sandwich and soda. (Okay, so we didn't fare too well on the healthy eating options scale, but hey, we might not get back there for ages, so why not splurge today, right?)

The meal is served, we scarf it down and enjoy it all. Then we get the bill. Now, mind you, I/we probably could have been more specific when ordering, but the receipt listed each individual item we ordered separately, as opposed to it showing one (or arguably two) lunch specials. As a result, the total cost came out to about $21, rather than $18 ($8.99 x 2). So we pointed this out to the waiter and he says "since you split the fries it doesn't count as a lunch special," or something to that effect, and that if we had specified the lunch specials, we actually would have gotten two baskets of fries (which would have been way to much for us). In sum, we paid more for less.

I wasn't in the mood to argue over a couple of bucks, or call over the manager and make a big scene, so I just let it be. But common sense, or a customer-first attitude, would have sparked one of two options in this young man's brain:

1. When we ordered, he saw that we were looking at the lunch specials page, so he should have asked if we wanted the lunch specials, or he should have said, since you're both ordering sandwiches and sodas and one basket of fries, you can get another basket of fries added on, all for about equal or less money.

2. Or, that not having had happened, he could have said, "Yes, you are correct, let me fix that bill for you."

Neither logical situation crossed through his head, so instead we wound up leaving annoyed, and he wound up with a less generous tip than he otherwise would have earned. So it goes with customer service.

Next time, when I take my wife AND soon-to-be son there, I hope it will work out better!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Good Customer Service Is All Bark AND All Bite

Today I had an interesting chat on IM with my friend who had a negative customer service experience, and we discussed just how important it is get good customer service in order to be happy with a what you're buying.

Here's his scenario, briefly:

My friend's wife signed up for a dog training class and, despite what it said on their website that the trainer would follow up within a week of ordering a class, the trainer never called them to confirm the order. So right off the bat, the company didn't make good on their promise to reach out to the customer. Meanwhile, they were scrambling to find out whether or not the class was still on, or get any other information they might need in order to attend. Two months went by and not a word from the dog trainer left them too far in the dark about the class. A simple phone call would have put them at ease and made all the difference in the world.

To me, when my initial interaction with a company, non-profit, or other organization is negative, I get extremely down on them, and they have a long, uphill battle to win me back. In our chat today, I likened my friend's situation to that of meeting the first salesperson you talk to at a car dealer. If he or she greets me with a frown, or pressures me into buying, or doesn't know the product line, or just generally ignores me, you can bet I'll take my business elsewhere if at all possible, even if it was just a bad moment for that salesperson who is otherwise dynamite. I easily get turned off by poor customer service, and it's tough to win me back, and I suspect that most customers feel the same way.

On the flip side, this past week I've been shopping for a new car insurance provider in order to save some money on my current auto policy. I communicated with three different companies, and each person I dealt with at each company was extremely friendly, knowledgeable, and interested in helping me through the buying process. One would think that this kind of positive attitude would be commonplace for a business when dealing with a customer that is looking to spend money, but unfortunately, it's often anything but.

Even though good marketing or word-of-mouth can bring a person to the door, a good customer service representative is crucial to bringing along and potentially closing the sale, whether it's for a dog training class, a new car, or a new auto insurance policy. It's really the engine that keeps the sale going.

Gregg, if you're reading this, good chatting with you today, and I hope the dog training class turned out to be a success in spite of an *ahem* ruff start.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Stolen Credit Card... Ugh

A heads up to one and all... you never know when some lowlife can try and steal your credit card. It happened to my wife just yesterday in fact.

She went to a matinee movie with her two nieces and nephew (aged 11 and under), and paid for the tickets with the credit card that she and I both use regularly. Just another day out and about the town.

Turns out, when I got home from work (which was before my wife got back) I got a recorded call on my answering machine from the credit card company saying that my account was frozen due to suspicious activity.

I immediately followed the prompts and found out that about $350 worth of fraudulent charges had been placed in a short period of time, all after my wife had charged her card at the movies (the AMC Neshaminy 24 Theater in Bensalem, PA, for those of you wondering).

The credit card company subsequently closed the account and is now looking into the mischief, once I confirmed that we had not made these charges.

So the lesson learned is that this nonsense can happen anytime, anywhere. My hunch is that the young girl that swiped the card either copied the numbers down, or took a cell phone photo, or texted the info to somebody and then calls were made in rapid succession to try and get "free" stuff. I can't verify this, but hey, be forewarned. Whatever the case, hopefully they catch the idiotic culprits and put them in their place... jail would be nice!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Getting a Handle on Reusable Bags

Interesting article on Care2 recently that discussed what to do with your reusable bag once it becomes unusable, like when the handles tear off. In short, the author suggests sending your broken bag off to ChicoBags Company, which in turn has the bags cut into strips for rugs. It's a great suggestion, and definitely something to consider should that come to fruition for any of us, since recycling is always an excellent option.

I just have to wonder if, however, after all of these decades (centuries?) of using bags to carry things... isn't there a better way to make a handle so it won't break off so easily?

Gravity being what it is, I understand that the heavier the items you're carrying, the more stress it puts on the bag that is holding them (see, I learned something in physics class!). But just for that reason, I have to ponder whether or not we can develop either a better implement to help us carry things to and fro, or stronger handles so that they won't rip off of the bag so easily. In other words, if bag handles keep breaking, reusable bag or not, we're wasting a lot of resources in this defective design.

Despite my in-depth knowledge of physics (!), I'm not savvy enough to develop a new design to make it easier to carry things from point A to point B. It's just not my bag, baby. That's why I ask all of those physicists out there to unite and develop a better bag handle to help the world out. You'll be doing the world a lot of good!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Land Rover Ad Laughable

Had to laugh when I saw an ad for Land Rover while reading the Philadelphia Business Journal today.

Here is the advertisement's headline:

"75% of all the vehicles we've ever sold in this country are still on the road"

Alright, well that's relatively benign.


"Now that's a long-term investment."

Ok, I just bought a new car this week (full disclosure: NOT a Land Rover), and the minute I drove off the lot I literally chuckled to myself and said, "well I just lost 20% of my money in a matter of seconds." It's sad but true.

It is common knowledge that cars lose a huge percentage-- generally considered to be about 30% of their value-- in depreciation during the first year after purchase. So why would an advertiser try to pull the wool over our eyes and say that buying a Land Rover is "an investment?"

An investment, lest we forget, is supposed to be something that makes you money over time, not loses money. Cars are inherently not an investment. They get beat up and lose their luster compared to newer vehicles, thus they are not worth as much as when you buy them new.

Sorry Land Rover, you're not fooling anyone. Or at least you're not fooling 75% of us, but I guess somebody out there is buying your message.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ozone Layer: Old News?

Just was thinking that I haven't heard much about the hole in the ozone layer that was so widely publicized just a few years ago. Perhaps I may have simply missed any recent stories about this important environmental topic, and it seems like it would be more talked about in these days of growing environmental consciousness.

A quick search for "ozone layer" on the Google News tool shows few articles in recent weeks that focus on the ozone layer, other than with a passing mention of it.

I would imagine that the status of the Earth's ozone layer has only gotten worse over the years, which means that we should still be alerted to how it is doing. However, like any news story, hearing the same bad news over and over gets to be a drag and people tend to tune it out. But a periodic reminder might not hurt...

Sunday, May 31, 2009

What if...

What if... every child was required to visit a sewage treatment plant, a mine shaft, a landfill, and a slaughterhouse?

Pretty gruesome, yes, but that's the whole point!

Unfortunately I think most Americans are so far removed from the processes that make our lives comfortable that people just take things for granted without thinking of the consequences of their actions.

It's easy to toss a plastic soda bottle in the trash can, rather than recycling it, because it just gets sent off on a garbage truck and you don't have to worry about it anymore. It's just gone, move on to other things in your life, right? But set your eyes, ears, and nose on a 100 acre landfill, and you'll quickly see that everything that gets tossed has to go somewhere, not just magically vanish into thin air.

I certainly can't sit here and say that I'm a perfect saint when it comes to sustainability, but I think by actively taking notice of what I do and how it affects my surroundings puts me way ahead of most people in this country, and perhaps this world. We are all lucky to have what we have and I'm proud of the fact that I live during the most advanced time in history, but at the same time, I realize that there's a long way to go in order for us to live at peace with our world. Hopefully it's not too late, but what if... it is too late???

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Little Things Go a Long Way

Stopped by my local dry cleaners today to pick up clothes that my wife dropped off about a week ago. I'd say I make an appearance at this dry cleaner about once every 2-3 months... in other words pretty infrequently.

It's a family owned business and I've never really chatted with the owners, just drop off, pick up, not much to it.

But today it was a little thing that went a long way. A younger fellow, possibly the owner's son, greeted me with a hello. I returned the greeting and said I'm sorry, but I don't have my receipt slip with me today.

He promptly took out a book that he has people sign when they don't have their slips, presumably to serve as a record for who picked up the clothes and when in case there's any dispute. I've had to do this in the past because I often lose the slip, so I'm used to it by now.

But I noticed that right off the bat, he flipped to the section labeled "S"... as in the first initial of my last name. I was shocked!

He scribbled out some things on the notebook lines, including my last name and the date. He then proceeded to give me the book to sign and then went and flipped the switch for the rotating clothes hanger and took them off without even flinching.

This small little sequence really amazed me! I barely knew this kid, yet without me telling him my name, giving him a credit card or any other type of identifying information, he already knew who I was and didn't hesitate to process the transaction. Unreal!

I must say, that's true one-on-one marketing right there. It was quick and personalized service like you rarely see anymore, and all from a fellow who I've hardly said two words to in the past. But that little moment I'll certainly remember, for the sheer simplicity yet effectiveness of it.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sometimes I Just Don't Understand People

I enjoy playing basketball.

I'm not an all star on the court, but I can hold my own. Put me on the floor with a group of guys who can run really well, and I'm happy be the role player and let the other guys shine. Put me on the court with fellas who are average at best, and I don't mind taking the spotlight. I just like to play, get some exercise, and win as much as I can.

Over the past year I've played with three different groups of players. Two of them were pickup games (two separate groups, we'll call them group A and group B), and the third was a paid league at a local gym with refs, scorekeepers, team records, and playoffs. Unfortunately, I will no longer be participating in the latter group.

In all three of these groups I hardly knew anybody before starting to run with them. Each group contained a wide mix of players, old, young, good, not-so-good, you name it. But the league players turned out to be absolutely obnoxious. And I can't figure out why.

Logic, in my mind, would state that if you're playing in a paid league, you would want to work hard to jell as a team and support each other. That never happened... if you did something wrong, a teammate would get in your face about it. You would also think that since the games were shorter than the pickup games (roughly 30 minutes worth of playing time in a league vs. 1-2 hours in pickup games), that you would want to get the most out of your run, and try to be very efficient. That didn't happen either. Half the time, the players are yelling at the refs for bad/missed calls, or showing up late to the game, or crying like babies because they don't get the ball enough. This behavior totally boggles my mind.

In my two groups of pickup games, I NEVER heard any serious arguments or borderline fights break out. Yet in practically every game of the paid league, a screaming match would break out (usually directed at the refs) or somebody would play rough and cause guys to jaw at each other during stoppages in play, all while the clock was running. Meanwhile in pickup games, yes there would be trash talking, but it was all good natured and light hearted, even if you didn't know the other guys that well. If you fouled somebody, you called it and moved on. Slightly bump into a guy during a league game and it was grounds to yell for a foul or start swinging elbows. Unbelievable.

Sometimes I just don't understand people...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stretched Thin by Social Networking

This social networking craze has gotten a little out of hand.

As sensible and easy as it is to connect with others online, I've become stretched thin by all of the social networks I've signed up for over the past few years. Now I'm at the point where I find that most of the ones that I'm signed up for I rarely, if ever, even find time to look at. Here's how stretched thin I've become when it comes to online social networks:

-LinkedIn: This may have been the first social network site that I started using. However, I don't think I've ever gotten much of value out of it, but I can see how it could be valuable for things like finding a job or researching somebody's background.

-MySpace: I used this for a few months and grew out of it. I don't think I've updated my page since sometime last year. Too hyper and shallow for me.

-Twitter: I signed up for this recently, and have had several fleeting moments of interest in it, but for the most part I don't have time to get bombarded with messages all day, so it's pretty much fallen by the wayside.

-Ning: I'm signed up for 3 separate Ning networking sites, none of which I check with regularity. One site has a ton of members signed up for it, but is basically dead quiet. Another has lots of chatter but I don't know anybody. And the third just got started up so we'll see where it goes.

-Plaxo: Somebody recently sent me an email to sign up for Plaxo, and so I did, and so goes another page that just sits there and I don't look at.

-Facebook: Right now, FB is the clear leader for me, though my interest in it is starting to wane. I enjoy the games on there and occasionally catching up with friends, but for the most part, reading about how people don't feel like going to work/class/relative's house is just not all that intriguing to me. Good site to kill a few minutes while relaxing on the couch.

As you well know, there are literally thousands of social networking sites available on the internet, but I just have to wonder at what point this whole system will either collapse or radically change in some way. Most people I know enjoy using one or two of these sites, but the return on investment of time put into them seems to decline after a while. Plus the fact that you have to tip-toe around what you say because it could come back to haunt you makes them a little less inviting. Let's see what the future holds for social networking, and hopefully it develops in a positive direction. In the meantime, I'm going to go check my good old fashioned email...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Power to the People...

The other day I heard a snippet of a report on NPR about how poor the drinking water can be in Pakistan. I don't recall the exact statistics they presented, but the number of kids getting ill because of filthy drinking water was astronomical and the doctors there can't do much about it.

Situations like this one that was depicted are truly deplorable, especially to think that the main pollution in the water in places like Pakistan come from man made chemicals, untreated sewage, and other preventable sources. It's no wonder that angry citizens rise up and riot and overthrow governments in various corners of the world. While I never can condone violence, I can at least empathize with the plight of those that have to live in these filthy conditions day in and day out.

Interestingly, however, it seems that those groups who do rise to power do absolutely nothing (for the most part) to help their fellow citizens, but instead run off with their newfound power and leave the people behind. I, personally, would think that if these people overthrew the government, the first thing they would want to do in order to gain MORE power would be to help their countrymen. By having a safe, happy, healthy citizenry behind you, by default you become a more powerful person since you're their leader.

An example of this is right here in America. While poverty does still exist in this country unfortunately, it's safe to say that most people have all of the basics building blocks (like running water, ample food at affordable prices, shelter, etc.) at their fingertips to live a healthier life than those citizens of Third World countries. And as a result, American citizens can strive for more prosperous livelihoods. In doing so, they, in turn, help strengthen the country by contributing to the well-being of society.

But in a place where people can't even obtain the basic elements of life, the ability to move up in the world will always be out of reach since most people's time and energy is spent just trying to get by.

So the lesson here, in my viewpoint, is if you want to gain success as a leader (be it as a leader of a country or just at your job), your best bet would be to empower others along the way.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sound of Music

Funny that the Philadelphia Inquirer should talk about Muzak in today's news. Just the other day I was thinking about the effect of music in stores.

Over the years I've noticed a variety of musical schemes in stores. Here's a random list of "musical thoughts and memories" off the top of my head:

-Buy Buy Baby in Cherry Hill: This is what got me thinking about this topic recently... Right now their current audience is people in their 20s and 30s. While there, they wisely played music that has been popular with this age group, with music from bands like U2, Coldplay, and so forth. This music could certainly make shoppers in this age bracket feel at ease since shopping for baby products can be a harrowing experience.

-Once while in Manchester, UK, I went into a trendy department store, went up the elevator, and when the doors opened I was right behind a DJ spinning techno tunes. This music was definitely tailored to its shoppers as the majority of them were young, hip, and college-aged.

-Though I haven't actually been into an Abercrombie & Fitch store in a while, I've often walked by their store and heard bass-thumping music blaring, apparently with the goal to get the shoppers' juices flowing while shopping.

-Starbucks plays jazzy, funky music and hawks the CDs at the front counter. I presume that this strategy has worked for them since they've been doing it for a while.

This is just a small sampling of the musical melodies that can affect shoppers' sense of spending while perusing a store. This is truly a marketing decision and the end result, undoubtedly, means putting shoppers at ease and help them feel more willing to spend money.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Simple Way to Improve On-Hold Messages

If you've been stuck on hold waiting to talk to a customer service rep, you've undoubtedly been mentally numbed by patronizing pre-recorded sales pitches or rendered temporarily deaf by blaring muzak or told repeatedly that somebody will be with you in just a moment. One choice is worse than the next.

Couldn't this be a chance, instead, for the company to put the customer at ease?

With all the creative folks in this world, one would hope that a better option would be made available.

Here's one simple idea to start the brainstorming:

A selection of classic, clean comic bits such as Abbott & Costello's "Who's on First?" or virtually any Jerry Seinfeld clip or even a clip from the Cosby Show.

Let the customer get comfortable and have a laugh. Is that such a bad thing?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Car Manufacturing: There's Gotta Be a Better Way

I don't proclaim to know much about the car manufacturing or sales industry, but one thing seems very peculiar to me... the dealership formula.

Even in good times, this concept doesn't make sense to me, and now in bad times it's even more confusing. Here's what I'm talking about:

You go to a dealer and they have hundreds, perhaps thousands of cars just sitting there in the lot. For starters, this seems like a tremendous expense in terms of maintaining inventory, paying for property and associated taxes, keeping the cars clean and safe, and even trying to match up the right car with the right person.

It seems to me that it would make more sense to have one central holding space for a large amount of cars (or even a produce-on-demand type system that would only produce cars when needed), and then the dealers themselves would have only a few dozen on their lot to use as test drive or showroom models. Then if somebody wanted a certain car the dealer would order it and ship it out (which seems to happen a lot anyway).

Again, the automobile industry is not my forte, but having cars just sit there for weeks/months on end doesn't make sense to me.

Who knows, maybe things will change... down the road...

Monday, March 2, 2009

How to Feel Good about Toilet Paper

Normally, toilet paper is not something that the average Joe Consumer thinks about on a daily basis. But I found a way to actually feel good about the humble TP roll:

By buying recycled.

All these years I've bought brands like Procter and Gamble's Charmin for use in the bathroom. But on a whim, I bought recycled toilet paper from Trader Joe's and I actually kinda feel good about myself. Granted, the Charmin TP has a better texture to it, and it may be cheaper (I'm not sure), but at what cost am I harming the environment so I can have a luxury tissue take care of you know what. Scary to think about how many trees are chopped down to produce something that has a useful existence of about 5 seconds.

The advantages of buying recycled toilet paper are many, including:

-Saving trees
-Minimizing or eliminating bleach from the production process, since bleach is a harsh chemical
-Minimizing or eliminating mercury, which is a by-product in some toilet paper production processes
-Giving good reason for people to recycle... since townships often actually make money on recycling, there's an added incentive to recycle more in order to give back to municipalities (well, that's my theory at least)
-And even the packaging on Trader Joe's (and perhaps other brands) is biodegradable in 18 months (or so it says on the plastic)

Once again, we need to stop thinking like we live in a disposable world since what we've been doing has just been dragging us into a dangerous spiral economically, environmentally, and socially. Time to think differently, from our head down to our feet, and other stopovers in between.

I suggest for anybody interested in purchasing recycled toilet paper, to check out this informative NRDC page, which gives an insightful comparison of various brands.

Thanks for your time and happy wiping! (C'mon, I have a picture of a toilet plunger on this blog for Pete's sakes... you didn't actually expect me to leave without some sort of bathroom humor, did you?)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Vacuum: The Chump of the Storage Closet

As a follow up to this morning's post about the excellence of my calculator, I would now like to focus on the poorest performing product in my possession: the vacuum.

Never have I had a vacuum that doesn't, pardon the phrase, suck. I've had several vacuums in the past six or seven years, and they all start off working great, but manage to falter soon thereafter. Admittedly, I'm not a guy who is good at tinkering around to fix something like a vacuum, so I either have to drag it over to my dad (who is a tinkerer by nature), or take it to get fixed at a repair shop, or lug it back to the store to get a new one (if still under warranty), or find that it would cost too much to fix it so I have to replace it instead.

Unfortunately with vacuums there are too many moving parts and virtually the entire body is made of cheap plastic which doesn't last very long (although it certainly lasts for eons in the landfill... I digress). At times my frustration with vacuum cleaners makes me just want to get flooring for the entire house so I can permanently exhile the space-hogging appliance from the building. I haven't gone this far yet, but I am tempted to launch my vacuum, which broke today, out the window. And then calculate how far out into the yard it soared, in inches, using my trusty calculator...

The Calculator: Unheralded King of the Junk Drawer

Everybody has a calculator or two lying around the house, taking up space in a junk drawer somewhere.

If you're like me, you probably take out the calculator for a total of about five minutes every month or so, and then forget about it for the rest of the time.

But you know what? If your calculator is anything like mine... it works every time without a hitch.

I have a basic solar powered Casio calculator that probably dates back to about the early 90s or so, which means it's at least 15 years old at this point. It never ceases to amaze me how it sits in the dark 99% of its life, but when I take it out to use it, like magic, it starts right up every time. Ingenious invention, that.

This leads me to dream about a world where everything is powered by solar energy. Can you imagine if you were able to park your car in your garage, turn it on and have it run for as long as you'd need it to without having to fill up for gas? Obviously, a car and a calculator are two totally different electronic beasts, but I hope that we can one day get close(r) to that reality.

In the meantime, my humble Casio calculator reigns as king of my junk drawer. Let's check back together in another 15 years or so and see if it still springs to life after spending countless hours in the dark. And maybe by that time we'll have cars and other electronic appliances that are capable of the same impressive feats.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's Time for Some Gas Station Innovation

Isn't it about time we reinvent the average gas station?

A (seemingly) simple idea to revolutionize the common fill-up stop: automatic pumps

Instead of having to get out of your car or have somebody walk up to your car to pump gas, I would think there would HAVE to be a way to automate this mundane process. I'm no engineer or inventor, but let's do away with this current system. There's nothing pleasant about this task and for those folks who have to pump gas to make a living, I truly feel for them because it is a thankless, messy job.

Instead of the current manual pump system, an automatic pump would minimize or completely eliminate:

-Having to trudge out of your car on a snowy or rainy or scorching hot day
-The ever-pleasant gasoline smell on one's hands after filling the tank
-Toxic gas spillage on the ground
-The delay it takes for a gas station attendant to come to your car to ask what you want, start the pump, walk away to help somebody else, come back, top it off, get your payment, swipe your card (or count your cash), and finally send you on your way... this is totally inefficient for all involved
-Idling time as you wait for the pump to finish, and as other cars wait in line for the cars in front of them to finish filling up

All in all, the current manual system we have has no real advantage to it, as far as I can tell. An automatic system would still require at least one person to be on premises to monitor any problems, help people as needed, or, like the good ole' days, squeegee each car's windows.

Now let's get pumping on how to make this happen...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

5 Predictions for (the Remainder of) 2009

Ok so I'm a little late to the game to make predictions for 2009, seeing as how we're already nearing the end of February, but what the heck, I'm gonna do it anyway...

Here are trends that I think will become readily apparent in 2009:

1. Fewer people buying bottles of water. It's long been assailed that buying bottles of water is essentially a waste. The water in these bottles is often just tap water, and the markup for these bottles is incredible. (Consider: a gallon of water from the tap costs somewhere in the realm of 1/2 a cent. Meanwhile a 12 oz. water bottle can easily cost a buck in a vending machine or *gasp* $3.50 at a sporting event.) I think people will finally catch on to the scam at hand, now that budgets are getting tighter in an ugly economy and because of the green movement that discourages consumers from buying bottles that take up energy/resources to make. Bottles of water will certainly be needed, such as for emergencies, or traveling, and the like, but I think we'll see the demise of people spending gobs of money on these bottles for daily use.

2. More scrutiny on personal finances. It is quite obvious that people across the country need to focus on where their money goes. With the 2008 stock market crash, the Bernie Madoff pyramid scheme, the mortgage market mayhem, and hosts of other financial debacles that have unraveled, it goes without saying that we need to collectively take better care of our money. Buying cars on a whim is already a thing of the past, as we have seen with the rapid decline in auto sales, but even more abstract measures, such as determining how best to allocate one's 401(k) plan will take up a lot of Americans' time this year, and for good reason. These issues have been ignored for way too long and it has come back to bite us.

3. A decline in interest in what celebs do. This is just a personal hope of mine, anyway. How ridiculous is it that there's such a massive industry based around following celebrities around to see what they're wearing, where they're shopping, or what their kids are up to? To me this is a sickness and proves that too many people have way too much time on their hands. And what irks me is when these minor happenings (not to be confused with actual real-life events) make the local or national news. Not to be morbid, but unless there's blood, sickness, or death involved, there's no reason to be discussing a celebrity's life on the evening newscast.

4. An increase in hard work. This economy will, metaphorically speaking, separate the wheat from the chaff. The people willing to give their best efforts at their jobs will ultimately come out of this recession in relatively good shape. The folks who just cruise on by or lose motivation will miss a tremendous learning opportunity and fall behind... be it financially, socially, or emotionally. Hopefully more people fall into the former category than the latter category. A lot of people made a lot of money without truly earning for a long time, but that will certainly change this year.

5. Decline in sporting attendance. While sports are relatively recession-proof, (even in bad times, people need an outlet, as the theory goes), I have a hunch that this may be the year where people relax their passions for watching pro sports. Let's face facts here... hundreds of thousands of people are being laid off each month, and meanwhile athletes are landing contracts of 10, 20, 30 million dollars a year. Personally, I'm tired of spending gobs of money to support these skyrocketing sums. And when you hear that the ever-popular NFL is laying off people in its home office, that sends me a signal that all is not well in the sports world.

There you have it. 5 predictions for the remainder of 2009. Knowing my history of making predictions, chances are I'll be dead wrong on all of them, but whatever, it's a blog, not stone.

(Image from:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Billboard Vacancies

Riding around, I'll often see a billboard that is unsold, and a message on it reading, "Your Ad Here" + a phone number to call to buy the ad space.

Just a thought-- you've got this massive square footage of unused sign space, can't we use it for something for the public good in the meantime? Perhaps a photo of a missing child on one half and your ad on the other half? Or maybe you donate the ad to a charity for a week at a time, until the space gets sold. Or display a work of art by a local artist. Something, anything.

Billboards are considered to be an eyesore by many people. Why not try to counter that opinion with an engaging message instead of just shamelessly self-promoting yourself? In the end, if potential clients see the great possibilities that a billboard can offer, they'll be more inclined to want to rent it. Plus, seeing a sign that essentially says "nobody else wants to place an ad here, why should you?" is not exactly all that enticing to a prospective customer.

In other words, let's see billboard companies get creative and put their Monet where their mouth is.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cold Blooded Killers

Another weekend, another cop killing in Philly.

Eighth cop killing in three years. A sickening trend indeed. Way too many police officers, and civilians, being caught up in the line of fire by sinister gunmen.

(Side note: Not sure about you, but it irks me when people use the phrase "cold blooded killers" who do the killing. Is there such a thing as "warm blooded killers?" Aren't all killers despicable, evil, and a scourge on society... which is what cold blooded implies?)

Whatever the case, it's long past the time to weed out these killers from our world. Sooner than later.

Rest in peace, Officer Pawlowski. May this be the end to the "cold blooded killers" in Philly...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Ups and Downs of Electric Service

The winds were a-whippin' around on Thursday morning. And at about 6:00am the power in our house blacked out here in South Jersey.

I called PSE&G, our power service company, and was sent to an automated system. At first I was annoyed because I wanted to speak to a person to find out what was going on. But in the end this system was quite helpful and easy to use as it let me know within a minute what the status was (there were many reports of outages in the area) and when power should be back up (around 8:30am).

So I went about my business and got ready for work--in the dark-- and left for work around 8:30 with the power still out.

Around 10am I called PSE&G back to see if I could get a status update since I would go home at lunch to check on things if it was still out. This time, instead of an automated system I got a customer service representative right off the bat. Unfortunately, this rep was rather curt with me but let me know that power had been restored around 9:30. So I was quite disappointed that I would have rather dealt with an automated system instead of this rep. In this economy, there's no excuse to be rude to customers when there's most certainly 100 other people out there who would take your job in a heartbeat.

Hopefully this was just a one time thing with PSE&G... not just the power outage, which happens and is understandable, but also the unfriendly customer service, which is not.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Personal Planners: Paper or Plastic?

As phones become "smarter," more and more people are using them for various everyday uses, that were, up till a few years ago, never really thought about before.

Your average iPhone or Blackberry, among others, allows you to check email, surf the internet, play games, take photos, and maintain a personal calendar. Though I have not yet taken the plunge into smart phone territory, it is tantalizing to consider buying one due to all that they have to offer. At this point my main hesitation is a monetary one, but another one has since surfaced. For my personal planner, do I prefer paper or plastic?

Let me start by saying that I've never been all that proficient in maintaining a calendar on a regular basis, electronic or otherwise. Somehow I manage to make it to all of my daily appointments, but traditionally it's been a scramble for me. For instance, I don't always get into the habit of looking at my calendar a few days/weeks ahead to see what I have coming up, I just kind of wing it and look at what I need to do soon. Additionally, I've never been good about keeping one single calendar; in other words, I'd have a calendar at work, scraps of notes at home, etc.

However, that has all changed since the start of this year. I bought an old fashioned pocket-sized weekly planner (at a cost of about $5) and attached a thin Moleskine cahier notebook to the front, with a handy rubber band, and I use another rubber band to keep a refillable pencil on the side so it's available at all times. You're probably reading this and thinking it's quite ridiculous that a person in this day and age is carrying around a pocket planner, note pad, and pencil all day long. And to this I say... haha, yes, you're probably right!

But to be totally honest I actually dig it!

Here are my thoughts about this...

-I sit at a computer all day at work and then spend many more hours in front of a computer at home (like, ahem, now). So do I really need another computer to tag along with me and run my life? Well, maybe a smart phone could be helpful and fun in some ways, but I don't think it would make a huge difference in planning my life.

-I love writing with a pencil on paper. So much better than tapping an electronic keypad. And faster... I can flip to the page and write a date down faster than most phone users.

-An elder business colleague of mine, a man who is highly regarded and extremely successful, totes around a similar small personal planner. If he's successful with this simple, almost primitive calendar, then that system can work for me!

I'm going to stick with the paper planner for now and see how it goes. Call me if you have any better ideas...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Procter and Gamble: Stealing Marketshare Thru Coupons

As a frugal shopper who's always looking to save money when buying groceries, toiletries, and, well, pretty much anything, I've learned to take notice of when there are good deals going around. And lately I've noticed that Procter & Gamble is loading up on the discounts in recent weeks.

For example, I shop at BJ's Wholesale Club because I like the fact that I can get certain items in large quantities at reasonable prices. Things like cereal, which I eat every day and run thru rather quickly. All in all, it's a good place to go to refill the cupboards once a month or so, since things are cheaper in bulk.

To add to it, BJ's has its own circulars with exclusive coupons on a wide variety of products. Procter & Gamble always has coupons in the circularas, such as $2 off a package of 10 boxes of Puffs tissues, or $3 off Tide laundry detergent. But lately they've been laying the deals on heavy. My guess is that they're trying to build up on market share while the economy is in a dive and consumers are being pinched.

Some examples I've seen from their coupons include:
-Buy one package of 30 rolls of toilet paper, and get a package of four tubes of toothpaste for free... a $7.59 value.
-Buy a large bottle of Tide laundry detergent, get a large bottle of Joy dish detergent for free.
-Buy Bounty paper towels, get Zest soap for free...
Etc., etc.

As you can see, these are pretty substantial offers that they're pumping out, and they all tend to be $7-8 values. I suppose that they're big enough and can handle these discounts for the short term with the goal of trying to scare off other competitors. Seems like a reasonable marketing strategy since consumers are always looking for good deals, and it gets their products in people's homes to try out, even if they've never used them before. When the economy improves, my hunch is that they'll gradually go back to advertising their normal coupons.

But hey, when the economy improves, I think we'll all be much happier to go back to any sort of normalcy.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cats and Money

I recently opened my end-of-year 401(k) statement that was mailed to me. I looked at it, and, like most individuals in recent months, felt my heart stop momentarily. Yes, it's an ugly scene for investors out there; open statements with caution.

So as is customary, I set it aside on my desk to file it away for future reference.

Today, I went to pick it up to file it and noticed that my cat also had reviewed this 401(k) update. I could tell because there was a gigantic, mushy hairball on it. I promptly filed that in the circular bin, which is what I should have done in the first place. Perhaps we don't give cats enough credit for their investing skills...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Branding Geniusness by Chicago... The Band...

Heard the classic song "25 or 6 to 4" by Chicago on the radio today. Realized just how subtle yet effective a job the band did to market themselves...

Consider how the word Chicago is used in many different contexts, but primarily referring to the city.

Now think about Chicago, the band.

You immediately conjure up the word Chicago, but in that classic script that just oozes 70s rock. Maybe you even hear a horn section playing in your head. Pretty amazing, isn't it? That's the power of branding, folks.

My bet is that the script was just an afterthought, not a blatant attempt to distinguish the musical group from the city. But whatever the case, it worked. And after all, does anybody really care how it got that way? Or for that matter, does anybody really know what time it is?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Decline in Driving: Decline in Other Problems Too?

As you've probably heard, Americans have been driving less in the past year or so, in large part due to the high gas prices in 2008, the recession, demographic factors, and so on.

Some follow up questions to this behavioral change is... have road problems declined as well? Are fewer people getting in accidents? Are moving violations dropping? Are incidents of road rage diminishing?

If the answer is yes to most or all of these questions (and granted, it may take a while to determine the answers), it makes me wonder if there will eventually be a fundamental change in driving patterns in the coming years.

As the saying goes, the most dangerous person thing most people will do in any given day is get in the car and go somewhere. Yet we collectively take this risk every day without even putting much thought into it. Perhaps some people will start to realize the inherent downsides of driving, and change their behaviors to drive as little as possible.

But judging how much people love their cars, I'm guessing this won't pan out for a looooong long time...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Spare Button Dilemma

I vaguely remember a Jerry Seinfeld bit, where he talks about the buttons that come in little packets when you buy a new shirt or pants. His point was-- does anybody really keep all of these spare buttons?

Over the holidays, I got some new clothes, and one of the pairs of pants came with a little packet of spare buttons. Seinfeld is right-- what am I supposed to do with these buttons? Store them in a little filing cabinet with a description of the pants they belong to? Unlikely.

The real question to me here is... why can't we make clothing where the buttons just stay on permanently? Seems to me like there's got to be a better way to keep buttons on a piece of cloth than by using a tiny piece of twine to keep it attached. Or at least find a way to secure that piece of string on better. Whoever can invent a method to help permanently attach buttons to their pieces of cloth will surely revolutionize the button industry.

Are you that revolutionary person that us clothing wearers so desperately need?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hungry for an Answer

I just had the honor and privilege to see one of those commercials advertising dirt cheap artwork for sale produced by the ever-enticing "starving artist" community.

This is perhaps the lowest form of American consumerism ever.

Everybody knows that these "paintings" are done on an assembly line and cost next nothing to make. They're not originals, nor are there any artists even remotely near the painting at the time of production, starving or not. And everybody knows that these paintings look like crap (the proof is right there on the commercial). I'm no art snob, but these framed monsterpieces entice no emotions or mental interest like a true work of are would.

Yet somehow the people selling these things are making money... or if they aren't they sure don't mind wasting it.

So I just have to throw it out there to the world: why in the name of Vincent van Gogh would anybody buy these pathetic things?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Sometimes the things that people do are just so incomprehensible and reprehensible and other words that end with -ible, that you just have to wipe your face with your hands and hope that it's just a bad dream.

The title of the article from the TCPalm newspaper pretty much says it all, but the story of what happened pretty much will make you lose all hope for humanity. There's just so much wrong with this on so many levels, not to mention the grammar in the headline, that I don't even know where to begin. So I won't. Read and be the judge for yourself:

Police: Suspicious wife who demands to smell husband's genitals beaten

So, ummmmmm, yeah, that's all I got...

Friday, January 2, 2009

Prediction: Barring Any Change, Facebook Will Fossilize

Over the past few months, I admit, I've become a frequent user of Facebook. It's a fun, useful site that enables you to easily connect with friends and get an occasional glimpse into their lives, while also letting others into your world, one chunk at a time.

I never really got into MySpace because I felt there was just too much going on and it was more designed for kids to use or it was too corporate or something. Facebook is a lot cleaner and more straightforward. And it seems like others agree with me because I don't know anybody who uses MySpace anymore.

But interestingly, the same benefits that Facebook has over MySpace may actually become Facebook's downfall.

For starters, when I think of Facebook now, even though I still do use it, I can't help but often think about the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza's wife becomes friends with George's friends Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer. In other words-- "worlds collided."

The easy accessibility of Facebook means that your network of "friends" can grow, perhaps not in an exponential manner, but certainly to an unmanageable level. What happens is that you start off becoming friends with the people you are closest to in your real life. And then a friend of a friend wants to be your friend. And then a kid you knew in middle school who you hardly talked to wants to friend you. And then your parents start an account and want to see what's going on in your life. And then your co-workers. And then people you don't even know, who just want to rack up more friends than other people. And then all of a sudden you have 500 people on your friends list, and anything you post becomes virtually public knowledge.

So what does this all mean? It means you either have to be a person who really has nothing to hide in life and doesn't mind sharing everyday experiences with the world. Or, in reflection of Shakespeare's famous line-- "All the world's a stage... and one man in his time plays many parts." Meaning: different people know you in different ways... can you truly be "one person" to everybody when they can see everything that you post?

This makes you think... do I REALLY want to post that photo of me passed out at the party?" Or, similarly, "what if my friend posts a photo of me passed out at the party, and my boss sees it?" To quote another famous writer, "Big Brother is watching you," is what it can feel like when using Facebook, as any reader of George Orwell's "1984" can attest.

So here you have a personal limitation in what you can say-- though of course you have the other choice of denying a friend request so somebody does not get let into your world, which makes it look like you really do have something to hide. Ultimately, you have to make a lot of decisions about what you write, unless you really have nothing to lose by posting it, whether in your mind or in reality. After a while, I think people will tire of having to make these types of decisions.

The other issue at hand is that of advertising on the site. Big Brother is indeed watching you on Facebook... even if it is Big Brother of the Marketing World. I think nothing says this more than when you go to sign up for an application and you get this message:

"Allowing (name of application) access will let it pull your profile information, photos, your friends' info, and other content that it requires to work. Allow or Canel"

Ok, if that doesn't make you wonder about things, then I don't know what does.

So then, let's say you agree to allow access to this application, and let's say that you take part in a game application. Well, the game, being free, is advertising supported, so you're getting hammered with ads everytime you play the game. Oy!

To top it off, each Facebook user will have different pay per click ads hovering on screen anywhere within Facebook, and each ad is tailored to things that you have a tendency to like. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it tracks the sites you go to and homes in on hitting you up with ads for similar sites. On one hand, yes, this is good marketing (reach out only to the people who are inclined to like your product, rather than wasting money on people who are less inclined), but on the other hand, it feels, well, a little creepy.

As a Facebook user, I'm not sure how long I will be able to put up with these downfalls of the site. It's possible I will just overlook them and enjoy the site's functionality. Or, I, along with others, may just ditch the site altogether like has happened with MySpace, due to getting burned out by the constant ads, or the milktoast conversation that ensues due to not wanting to give away too much info about myself to my world of "friends."

Now let me go search around on Facebook and see what kind of shenanigans my boss is up to...