xkcd: Amber Waves of Grain

October 28th, 2011

Colorado is working to develop coherent amber waves, which would allow them to finally destroy Kansas and Nebraska with a devastating but majestic grain laser.

Colorado is working to develop coherent amber waves, which would allow them to finally destroy Kansas and Nebraska with a devastating but majestic grain laser.

thanks to xkcd.

The Free Monkey Problem

October 20th, 2011

 This is an entertaining take on the high cost of free:

The Free Monkey Problem: The High Cost of Free Things | Credit Karma Blog
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, unless your monkey steals it for you.

They mention one of Dan Ariely’s findings (from Predictably Irrational)  – when Amazon introduced FREE shipping, sales skyrocketed everywhere except France.  It turns out that the French division offered 1 Franc ($.20) shipping instead of FREE.  Apparently, skipping the Franc expense was worth buckets of money to consumers.

There is no question that things exact costs from us, even when they are FREE – we have to store them, insure them, clean and maintain them, perhaps even use them (so we won’t have wasted our money).  Try calculating the cost of the storage space in your home and compare it to the value of the stuff you have in it.

xkcd: Working

October 18th, 2011

And if you drive a typical car more than a mile out of your way for each penny you save on the per-gallon price, it doesn't matter how worthless your time is to you--the gas to get you there and back costs more than you save.

From: xkcd.com

Spherical Photos – pretty cool!

October 16th, 2011

This is pretty cool:

The Throwable Panoramic Ball Camera which captures a full spherical panorama when thrown into the air. At the peak of its flight, which is determined using an accelerometer, a full panoramic image is captured by 36 mobile phone camera modules.

No one goes there any more, it’s too crowded

September 29th, 2011

Seth Godin says it’s the law of large groups at work, messing with the way we perceive the world.


It’s also true that most of your friends have more friends than you do.

The law of large groups is at work here. This explains why the people you see at the gym tend to be in better shape than you are.

People with lots of friends are more likely to be friends with you than people with no friends, right? And the people who are at the gym a lot (as in the people you see the most often) tend to be in better shape because they show up more often.

Discernment is the hardest part of marketing–seeing the world as it is, instead of how you experience it.

It’s also true that the other lane in the supermarket or freeway is faster than yours and your toast does land butter side down.

Why do Some Companies Just Not get Customer Service? (and some do)

September 16th, 2011

I’ve been meaning to write something on customer service inspired by the following.

FollowSteph.com – Why do Some Companies Just Not get Customer Service?

I can understand that customer service might not be as important if you’re a company working on volumes with extremely small margins, but if you’re a “service” company, such as a restaurant, the experience your customers receive will ultimately affect the amount of business you generate. Such a simple concept, do right by your customers and they will come.

Which is why it baffles me when restaurants get this completely wrong. To show what I’m trying to explain, I’ll share with you the terrible experience I had recently eating lunch at Pizzadelic (a local Pizza restaurant). This includes having someone else’s bill in my pizza crust!

How you treat your customers has a HUGE impact on how your company is perceived.  Good service-oriented companies know that people will buy more and more quickly if they know any defects or problems, or even second thoughts, will be dealt with in a comfortable, friendly manner.

All that said, I had an experience last week that must be published.

Almost a year ago – call it 330 days ago, I managed to purchase a laser rangefinder (Sightmark brand).  It was heavily discounted and much cheaper than most rangefinders — but still more than I really wanted to spend.  I used the rangefinder one time in October, and it worked delightfully and proved to be very useful.  I tried to use it on a very cold elk hunting trip, and it failed on me.  I assumed it was a cold-induced weak battery.  When I got home, I bought replacement batteries and thought no more of it.  I replaced the battery and tried to use the rangefinder this September and found that it still did not function — and it had a rattle.  I opened the case and found that a part had come unglued – maybe because of the cold.

So – now I have an expensive toy almost a year old that doesn’t work.  Good news – Sightmark’s manufacturer warranty is one year, and I have a couple of weeks in which to act.  Bad news – Sightmark no longer sells any kind of rangefinder.  They told me they could not repair it, probably would not get a refurbished unit any time soon, and they could offer me credit (not cash) toward something else I don’t want.  My best bet “since I still have the receipt” is to “take it to Big 5 Sporting Goods” where I bought it in the first place.  As If.

So, since I don’t currently want anything Sightmark sells, I took my 330 day old receipt to Big 5 Sporting Goods, with expectations  of rejection.  I spoke with Jason, who happened to be the manager on duty.  He explained that the closest comparable unit was not really comparable – it’s $100 more and has never been on sale.  He offered a modest discount and I offered that they could cut further into their margin to make me happy.  For the record, I actually offered to split the difference, which would leave me $50 out of pocket.   Jason told me that he did not have the authority to discount that deeply, but — and here’s where the lesson starts — “corporate” did have that authority, they often were willing to work with customers like me, and he would send an email to start the discussion.

This all happened on a Friday, so I had to wait until Monday to check back.  I didn’t get to it on Monday, and called on Tuesday, when a different manager was on duty.  She picked up on my issue and realized that there was an email for me.  “Corporate” gave the go-ahead on a discount to $139 plus a 10% discount if I signed up for their email list.  That brought the price down to three cents over my original purchase price!  On top of that, the manager found a loose nickel and paid the balance for me.

I started this whole process a year ago with the opinion that Big 5 was a discounted close-outs, buyer beware kind of place.  I had an item almost a year old that the manufacturer wouldn’t support, and Big 5 (and Jason) stepped in with compassion and respect and made me more than whole.  I now have a better Simmons rangefinder, I’m not out any money, and I have a very different impression of Big 5.  Thanks Big 5, and Jason in particular.

New Webcam

September 16th, 2011

Grandma and Grandpa try to take a picture with their new webcam.

You can read some background here:

Grandparents with webcam become new online stars – Yahoo! News

Read the rest of this entry »

The Alternative Secret History of the World – The Progressive Revisionist version

September 13th, 2011

Read on if you care to:  The Alternative Secret History of the World

Password Strength – you’re doing it wrong

August 26th, 2011

A confluence has occurred – time to write a post!

password strength explained

Wow.  That’s very observant, and kind of funny (to me anyway).

So, my corporate password was expiring shortly after I read this, so I decided to change my pattern, chose three motivating words, and set the new password.  Then I went to a meeting.  Then I went to another meeting.  That meeting slid right into our Friday afternoon bash, with pizza and beer (though I’m sure that is an irrelevant detail).

After that, I went back to work and for the life of me could not remember the first word.  A co-worker brilliantly pointed out that I can VPN in to the network using my RSA key, and can thereby access the password-reset application without providing a password.  It’s late on a Friday, so I put my laptop in standby and go home.

At home, I do the VPN trick from another computer and reset my password.  Then, I see the flaw in my plan.  The laptop is locked with the old password with a missing first word.  To unlock it with the new password, it must be connected to the office network.  I can connect using VPN, but must unlock it first…

So, I ended up working a couple of days from a krufty old back up laptop using the Outlook Web Interface to mail and without any support tools.

The workaround (for next time) is to install a  local administrator account while I have access, then use that account to establish VPN.  Our Very Smart IT Guy says that when I then switch users, it will use the active network session to check for access and change the cached password.  Note: I don’t actually anticipate there will be a next time.

This came up today:

You're doing it wrong

I like it.

Cover the Moon in Yogurt

August 2nd, 2011

I stumbled upon these two gems in close succession. Regardless of how you feel about the competing budget “plans,” the debate is absurd.
Paul Ryan puts it beautifully in this clip:

“Let’s pass a bill to cover the moon with yogurt that will cost $5 trillion today. And then let’s pass a bill the next day to cancel that bill. We could save $5 trillion.”

He [Ron Paul] puts it more seriously in this post:
When a cut is not a cut

One might think that the recent drama over the debt ceiling involves one side wanting to increase or maintain spending with the other side wanting to drastically cut spending, but that is far from the truth. In spite of the rhetoric being thrown around, the real debate is over how much government spending will increase.

In reality, bringing our fiscal house into order is not that complicated or excruciatingly painful at all. If we simply kept spending at current levels, by their definition of “cuts” that would save nearly $400 billion in the next few years, versus the $25 billion the Budget Control Act claims to “cut”. It would only take us 5 years to “cut” $1 trillion, in Washington math, just by holding the line on spending. That is hardly austere or catastrophic.

In Washington terms, a simple freeze in spending would be a much bigger “cut” than any plan being discussed. If politicians simply cannot bear to implement actual cuts to actual spending, just freezing the budget would give the economy the best chance to catch its breath, recover and grow.