curious monkeys

Doubling Down on Facebook

I have struggled with Facebook– as a concept — for the last several months. Much as with my friends, I find the election year did it no favors with howling political rhetoric and drama around every corner. It’s not the Facebook I joined.

Remember when you could “poke” someone? And then at the holidays, you could “send candy canes” or throw sheep at them? Remember when the status updates had your name in them, so instead of saying things like “Today I discovered the best maple bar doughnuts are to be had at Tully’s!” you’d type something like, “is enjoying a maple bar doughnut from Tully’s” because it would show up as “Bobbie is enjoying…” and so forth. But over the years Facebook functionality has changed; I can’t throw sheep anymore and it lets me do things like tag people and “react” to their posts and serves up ads to me (that are, I must say, pretty on the mark).

I appreciate Facebook needs to evolve and some of these evolutions I truly enjoy. I’m Facebook Friends* (that is a new definition of friendship, I think: you wouldn’t go interrupt them at 3am in the airport in Hong Kong, for example, but if you saw them wine tasting you’d wave hi to see if they wanted to be friends in person again) with a few dozen folks I haven’t seen in many years and I *like* seeing how they are doing. There’s the guy I used to work with who quit his day job and went full time DJ (and is making a damn good living out of it and seems to be having the time of his life). There’s the gal who decided to become a photographer, the Canadian who got his US citizenship and goes rock climbing all over the place, the gal who became a florist (and again, nice work!), the guy from the old SLT job who is raising two daughters *right*, the couple moving to Austin because they can get a brand new mid-century modern house and you know they are going to make it look good.  I can check in on my  cousins in Buenos Aires, my friends in London and my friends in Australia. I can check on my friends from high school– curiously I haven’t any from college — and my friends that I see regularly so when I see them, I can say things like “so how *did* the mustard sauce turn out on the pork?”.  Facebook is particularly useful to getting out the word for civic responsibility and nonprofit work, as well, and for word-of-mouth business (that’s how I found out about Silver and Salt, for example).

Perhaps like most people the part I am unsure of — unsure because I am not certain how much of it is my perception or how much of it is Facebook’s reality — is how much of what I am being fed is representative of the “real” world. That is to say, I have the power to mute people (which I admittedly did do during the last 2 months of the election — I’ve since unmuted everyone), I have the power to “react” to ads (don’t show me this because it’s not relevant, don’t show me this because I see it all the time — they really need to have a “don’t show me this because you are tempting me and if  it goes down much further in price you’ll have my visa card”), and I have the power to say “don’t show me so much of this” or “show me more of this”.

There’s been much discussion of the “bubbles” we live in and how Facebook feeds into that, I won’t retread the ground. With all due respect to Mark Zuckerberg, I don’t believe Facebook should be my only news source — something that is/was the case with many and contributes to the aforementioned bubbles. (I don’t believe Reddit should be your only view to the world, either)**. It is evident though that as you choose your circles and selectively mute or “show me more of this” to ads and content you are tweaking the algorithm in the background and reinforcing your bubble. (It isn’t clear to me how to re-set it back to 0, incidentally — remove all of the “customizations” I’ve either explicitly or implicitly requested and see what a “new user” sees).  I therefore have my bubble, reinforced and evolving, and that is just what Facebook is going to be.

My options are thus: I can leave Facebook (directly as in closing my account or indirectly as in just not visiting), I can stay on Facebook passively (the occasional thumbs up, the occasional “Happy Birthday” as it reminds me and I remember to look), or I can actively participate. I’ve been waffling between the latter two and seriously considering the former (I know a few who have cut the cord, as it were).

The problem with divorcing Facebook is that I would no longer have a ready answer to “I wonder what so-and-so is up to?”, and I don’t have contact information (short of LinkedIn) for many of the so-and-so’s. I would miss more birthdays, I am sure. I wouldn’t get the reminder of where things were at five, six, or ten years ago; in short: I wouldn’t get the things I signed on to Facebook for.  I would not at all miss the ads, the requirement to curate the content (“see less of this”), and I would certainly not miss the uproar that echoes through the platform whenever there’s an election. (To be clear: I have political opinions and leanings just like everyone, and I back them with money and action. I am just not a yell at the top of my lungs person.)

I think, therefore, I am going to stick with one of the three options as an experiment: I’m going to carefully work with Facebook. I’ll go and like all of the things I like, and work harder to engage with the platform; I’ll use the tools it provides for privacy and for filtration, and we’ll see.  I will not make it my only source of data for news (social, local, national, or global) and if this experiment fails I’m basically fine with that. I just figured I’d give it an official run.

*see Dunbar’s number for context.

**I much prefer the Economist and then I use Flipboard to subscribe to topics rather than platforms; so for example I’m just as likely to see an article from the Wall Street Journal as I am to see one from Fox News or USA Today.  I’m also a big NPR fan. I blame my dad for that, I can remember riding in the back of a 1981 Volvo 240DL on the way to and from school and listening to NPR, thinking it was the driest, most boring stuff on the planet. Somewhere in my late 20’s that changed and now I’m putting my son through that.

Advertisements

Elephantine

“You’re like an elephant,” she explained to me. “You walk in to the room or you say something and everyone notices, because it’s very forceful. Not everyone can handle that. You need to learn to change your communication patterns.”

That was real-life advice I got from a real-life professional.

The year was 1996, and I had just moved to San Diego to be with my then-fiance. He was in the Marine Corps, and I was a recent college grad, with a degree that could get me $7/hour at Scripps or $10/hour temping with my typing skills. As the Marine Corps enlisted man gets paid atrociously small (I think it worked out to $5/hour or something because the Corps assumes that until you are married, you live on base with their provided food and housing) it was unfortunately a no-brainer. (There are times when you have those late night “what-if” conversations with yourself, and mine start with “What If” I had gone to Scripps instead and resolved to eat beans and rice every day).

One of the temporary jobs I had was with a company that had a rigorous FTE hiring process: you were welcome as a temp with whatever the agency said you could do, as an FTE you had to go through a Myers Briggs assessment and a 1-hour coaching session to determine your personality type. It wasn’t the first MB I had taken and would not be the last (I’m an ENTJ, in case it wasn’t horribly obvious). From the coaching session the quote above is what I remember the most.

In the spirit of the recent articles on how women couch their conversations differently in the workplace (to their perceived or actual benefit or loss), and in particular of memes like this, I’ve got a couple of things to say.

I do it too. I try hard not to, and I’ve found that when I get on a roll — of not apologizing, or not being “we-centric”, etc., I get a different reaction. For the most part, stuff gets done.  And for the most part, I don’t have any lingering perceived/actual issues with coworkers.  I know however it would come as a shock to some friends and family to learn that I have learned to be hyper-deferential. For the person who had to take a whole Traci Mercer class on the art of saying “No” without *actually* saying “No”, this is a surprise.

Then again, I just had that conversation with my boss: namely, he suggested that everyone should be aware of how they are perceived, and maybe that should be my goal (?) for the year (?).  My boss has 3 female employees, none male. All but four of the 25-person engineering team is male. One of my coworkers and I were in a seven-person meeting the other day and she had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get a word in for about 3 exchanges. I finally had to do the “rude” thing and speak up and say “hey, I believe [A] has something to say… [A]?”

I shouldn’t have to do that.

In the hallway after the meeting, she and I were talking, and she noted that even I as the “brash American” in the group had to try more than once to get the sentence out or the point across. It stung me, because it made me realize that 1. I’m still coming across as brash, but 2. that’s somehow considered a bad things, and 3. whyinhell are we still fighting for a say at the table?

The real kicker is, I would bet you any amount of money you care to that no one else around the table even noticed. And by “I bet they didn’t notice”, I mean all of it: that we were trying to say something, and that I had to get forceful to say it. (Incidentally, yes our point was taken, yes it was considered valid, and yes it shaped the meeting: we were not dismissed.)

I am not entirely sure what my boss was driving at — and I was very conscious that we were ending the meeting in two minutes because he had another one, and I suspect that if I had pressed the conversation would be longer than 2 minutes.  I’m also not entirely sure I want to entertain it any more than as a casual mention of one thing I could pay attention to during the course of the year. For someone newly promoted, with a whole sheaf of new responsibilities, with the volume of work I have and need to help facilitate, I don’t think that my best efforts for shareholders and coworkers and customers alike should be me sitting and worrying about how others perceive me. While I agree that work is not just about what you do but how you do it, there are multiple ways in which to provide feedback to someone, and the only constructive feedback I’ve had in this position to this date is that there was one time a customer got me riled up too easily and it showed internally to the group. (Not externally to the customer). Save that, everything else was positive.

In the light of all of the recent articles this is forcing me to think about it as, “would my boss have said this if I had been a man?” In other words, would my focus for the year have been “how I am perceived” if I had been male and the brashness and posturing that is/does come with that socially were expected? I honestly don’t know (and since we don’t have a male counterpart, will not know).

Right now I am on my day “off”, and I’m working on some metrics and analysis — my “comfort” work, if you will. I like data: it’s clinical, it’s discrete, and it can help frame decisions and actions. I’d much rather live there than this current world of “how am I perceived”. In my mind, though, I’m conflating the two, and thinking about requesting a change to our internal anonymous surveys: to ask everybody if they have ever been TOLD to consider how they are perceived, and to ask them if this actually is forefront in their mind.

I’d bet it would be illuminating.

Pink and Blue

I was at a child’s birthday party/dinner last night and we were discussing pedicures. One of the boys was running around with his nails done and I had stated that I had asked my son if he ever wanted to do that (for he was welcome to come with me) to which he assertively said “no”. When I retold the story I included my pointing out to him that they have “plenty of ‘boy’ colors” to which a friend of mine (appropriately) chided me with the question: “What is a ‘boy’ color?”

She and I both knew the actual text of the conversation was my attempt to clarify to my son that if he wanted to have his nails done a color other than pink or red that that was available these days, and that my use of “boy” was to appeal to a child who had already had societally-driven color choices drilled into him; and that her attempt to tease me was the sort of thing friends do. I am sexist in some ways but not that one. That said it did open the wider discussion of gender color stereotypes, which is one reason I like hanging out with the people I hang out with, because we didn’t have to devolve into a contrived political correctness or a stunted conversation about color choice equality.

To provide some background: one friend has a boy and girl each, another has the same, a third has two girls. I have one boy, and elect to dote on girls by proxy. But this conversation, plus a recent review of the Mindware catalog, got me thinking.

It’s no secret that the toy aisles of Target, or Toys R Us, or really any other mainstream store, are segregated into three types: “Gender Neutral” toys, “Boy” toys, and “Girl” toys. The “Girl” toys aisles are helpfully marked by pink signage and include things like dolls, baby dolls, Barbie dolls, domestic dress-up games, and (possibly) Pink Legos. The “Boy” toys aisles are manfully black and blue and red and include Nerf guns, trucks, traditional Legos, new movie-themed Legos, and Legos that look fairly militaristic. In the middle you have card games, balls, and Slip-and-Slides.

Why do my friends’ daughter’s Legos need to be pink? They are defaulted to build houses and ice cream shops, fine: you can build a perfectly serviceable house out of red and blue and yellow Legos, because we all did that when we were growing up. And if they are red or yellow or blue you don’t have to build a house or ice cream shop, you can build a rocket. Or a scale model of the Revolutionary War.

Why does her son’s Medieval Lego kit have only armed soldiers? Anyone who spent time in their History class knows that most of those soldiers were buffeted 10:1 by peasantry, either in terms of someone to go get the grain that fed them to someone who took care of the horses. There’s no queen, no princess, no baker-lady (for gender roles *were* explicit in those times and so Lego would be perfectly correct to have them in a set identifying as that part of history). But no females of any kind can be found in the kit. This very manful Lego kit is full of manly manliness and action. Girls need not apply.

The Star-Wars new Lego minifigures this year at Target have two (2) females out of what looks to be about 50 new minifigures. They are Leia in the gold bikini and Padme in the ripped-midriff shirt. Not Leia in her Cloud City costume, or Padme in her full regalia (Lego has found a way to make capes, they could’ve rocked this). (If you go to lego.wikia.com you can see the full minifigure line-up, and there are plenty of other female Star Wars minifigures. But they’re not on display at the Target.)

Why must Goldieblox, that bastion of gender correction in educational toys, be pink for girls? The whole point to Goldieblox was to get girls interested in engineering, to rail against the pink conformist aisles of toys for girls. Why, then, is it pink? Why are the cookware “play sets” for children almost always manned by a girl? My son loves to cook. But the photos on the box are clearly stating that this is a largely female domain.

While there are darned few pink toys in Mindware, there are far more boys in the pages of toys that are about engineering and far more girls shown next to the beading kits. If we can’t get our arched-brow, intelligent-snowflake-producing toy catalogs to play fair how do we ever hope to rescue our girls from the clutches of Barbie?

From the 20’s to WWII, the color “ownership” between boys and girls was inverted: boys wore pink and girls wore blue. Before that children wore white (which, if you think about it, is practical as long as you have a ton of bleach lying about). After WWII this reversed and we have the color “preferences” we see today. With all the challenges our kids have and will have (underfunded schools, bullying made easier via the internet — and this is not just kids, as adults have been doing that for years) can we please not heap upon them color “correctness”?

When you’re first pregnant the question you are asked is “do you know yet if it’s a boy or a girl?”  Some parents elect to make it a surprise and there’s that moment of “discomfort” for the families because now they “have” to shop for yellow or green baby gear. I honestly don’t think the baby will care if s/he is housed in blue or pink; the larger purpose is the social signaling device for this tiny creature to his/her audience as to what his/her gender is. I’m considering making onesies for babies that say things like “Manly enough to wear pink” and “Girly enough to wear blue” just to poke fun at this.

We live in a country of astounding wealth and opportunity and we have larger problems than the color or gender appropriateness of toys. The only way to shape and change the offerings is to vote with your dollars; it’s effective but it takes more patience than some of us have.

 

Learning As I Go

I see I’ve forgotten to do hotel reviews, updates, and other things I learned on my recent trip. Mea Culpa! I blame my economics class.

Patro/Matro-nymics as a Dating Tool

Probably the most fun thing I learned on this recent trip is that Icelanders have dating down to a science. I am not kidding.

In Iceland, the child traditionally takes the father’s first name plus the word ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ (dottir) as their surname. This came up recently about the girl named Blaer, and you can read all about that and link off all you want here, but it got me thinking: you could totally tell if a girl has Daddy Issues if she choses her mother’s name for her surname, and/or if a boy has Mommy Issues likewise. It’s like a window into their childhood and you don’t even have to “wink” at them on Match.com.

Also, one of the best people I’ve got on my London job has the surname Thorisson. We did ask if his dad was named Thor, and it’s pretty close — the name means “worshipper of Thor”, and hey, who isn’t?

It is Possible to Over-Assume as to What Wi-Fi Means

This being my fourth trip to Rome (wow, that sounds really pretentious, trust me when I say as much as I love my Rome team and the fabulous food it’s not as glamorous as it sounds) I was told emphatically that I would not be staying at “that sad little hotel next door”. No, this time I got myself a fancy hotel in the old city, the Valadier, and it was very lovely. They serve a nice espresso. They have wi-fi in the room!

That crashed every. fifteen. minutes. I am not exaggerating. And since my midterm exam was available only for 24 hours, of which 8 I hoped to be sleeping, 4 I had to reserve for dinner (European dinners are breathtaking both in quality and stamina), 9 for work, I really needed my wi-fi to work in my room. A panicked conversation with the front desk man assured me that HIS reception on HIS phone was great, therefore don’t worry.

Thanks to the immense resourcefulness of a lovely gal in the Rome office, I had a quiet conference room and busted out my midterm in 90 minutes right before we left for dinner. Not ideal, but, as the company is/was paying for the class I assume they’ll understand. And yes, I got an “A”.

The Best Laid Plans Will Go Awry. Just Plan For It. 

My flight into Rome was late. My flight into London was late. My flight out of London was really, really late. Jet lag hit harder than any other trip I’ve been on. I broke one of the coffee machines. I lost a meeting room. I totally meant to spend time with someone and didn’t realize I hadn’t until I was almost to Seattle. My plan to have extra room in my bag was thwarted by the fact that it’s winter and all of my clothes were heavy sweaters. Pret changed their menu.

This last trip was a constant reminder that whatever you’re counting on, make sure you’re not counting on it. Or something.

The Best Things Happen When You Take Chances

I went for a run on the Friday, my only morning in London where I’d actually be staying in London that night. Following a map saved to my phone (which got no reception, so it wasn’t a moving map but a pic), I ran about 2.5km up a road and around a park, and then trotted back… or so I thought.

I was about a mile in before I realized *nothing* looked familiar. Not a blessed thing. No buildings, no shops, etc. As most of Islington looks charmingly alike this did not engender much confidence, so I walked into the nearest gas station and asked directions to the Angel Building in Islington. No dice. Walked across the street to a shop, same question, same result.

Hm.

Now, I had no service on my phone, so I couldn’t call up Google Maps. I did not think to bring anything with me but my hotel key, so I had no cash or card to grab a cab back to the hotel. I had run a mile in the *wrong* direction, but which *wrong* was debatable. And so…

I ran back from whence I came, back to the park, and then leveraged every tube station map and bus station map I could find around that park to figure out where I had to go. And got back to my room eventually, ridiculously pleased I didn’t have to give up and get a cab with the promise of “and then wait outside the hotel whilst I go get my wallet”.

Other successful chances included: trying a new place to eat (Meat People. It’s very yum), using my static Starbucks iPhone app to purchase a latte while I had no connectivity (totally forgot Sbux has wi-fi even in London!), and, for the first time in more than 3 years, checking my bag on an international flight. Contents arrived safely both ways.

I therefore declare this trip a success not only for the original needs met, but for the additional learning items. My next trip will be much more local but no less adventurous — please send me your ideas for Portland and the Oregon Coast, with a 10-year-old. 🙂

Moving On

It goes to show that it’s been a while since I’ve blogged that the entire user interface of WordPress has changed since I last visited. Apparently I’ve been gone for a couple of months, courtesy of the legal quagmire I was in.

Now, to address the usual questions, NO I hadn’t done anything illegal and NO it wasn’t anything that impacted anyone else but my immediate family — such is civil law. But the entire affair — which could be measured at 15.5 months or 19.5 months or slightly over 3 years, depending on whose ruler you use and how petty you are — was exhausting. My ability to blog and post was limited to the most vanilla of subjects, as the process proved when you are in civil court the “other side” (or, more likely, their attorney) will write and say and twist things truly ridiculous given any length of rope.

I therefore had visions of scenarios like: “Bobbie posts about how stressful her job is, therefore she spends too much time working, therefore she is an unfit mother”. Or, “Bobbie posted about her recent dental appointment, where her dentist suggested teeth whitening, therefore she drinks too much coffee, therefore she is an unfit mother”. Like it or not, I was able to successfully (?) imagine in some weird six-degrees mental exercise all roads leading to the “other team’s” desired output, namely their contention that I am/was All Things Evil, Ever.

Now that that is finished, I’m free to post about whatever. Which, I am happy to say, I’ve actually given some thought.

My mother-in-law-to-be recently spent time with me in my kitchen and was extolling the virtues of a gardening blog she happened upon. When asked why I blog, I deferred to my older blog (which was divorce, and then dating, therapy), and then the current one (which before the Event was about physical triumph over a traitorous body and mental exercise over that which occupied me at work). The only consistent running theme has been “this is something that is occupying a percentage of my brain space”, but there was no consistency in the volume of the space it occupied or the genre of space. Nor, I must say, is it terribly useful (per se) to read. It’s more of a voyeuristic window in the frenetic ramblings of a mid-30’s (or, nearly 40) single mom with an interesting (to her) career and an inability to finally decide, once and for all, if she should get chickens.

Going forward, this blog will have three aspects: initially, I’m going to brain dump about all of my learnings of Court. It was a fascinating process, from beginning to end, and I certainly got my money’s worth (which, at best guess, is somewhere in the mid-priced luxury vehicle range). There will likely be a spike in Economics posts as I pursue my degree. There will be the occasional work vent, and possibly a vent or two in the parenting line, as my son is at the interesting and challenging age where I spend a lot of time playing chauffeuse, financier, and guidance counselor. You are hereby put on notice. With that, we begin again… seven years after we started the first time.

Welcome, again.

Here We Go Again…

Greetings from South Satellite at SeaTac! Yes, I’m actually writing BEFORE I get on the plane, which has no WiFi. More awesome is my pre-planning on this, so I am the smug owner of both the most recent issue of Discovery and the most recent issue of the Economist. That plus hopefully some decent sleep will aid in the 9 hour flight to Heathrow, and the 2 hours down to Rome.

The verdict on the back/neck was essentially I’ve got degeneration in a joint and in a disc — so, um, I’m old. And apparently we fight age with muscle relaxants (which suck, because if I take one, I have to plan on not doing anything for 12 hours), anti-inflammatories (which suck less but the digestive tract does not like), and lots of Physical Therapy (which sucks because it means the nice PT dude pokes all the owie spots and makes them more owie).

I know I promised more on the Legal Fun, but since it turns out getting a Summer Schedule in place ran a tab of about $850, I think it’s safe to say I’m still in it, and won’t be out of it for a while, so maybe those blog posts can come in October or November. Hey, just in time to scare people for Halloween!

At the rate time is flying, though, that’s not long. The major milestones of the summer are flying by, Kevin and Margaret got married, STP has come and gone, our Leadership Summit has passed (short: YAY US! And… there’s a lot more to do); there’s this trip and then the next trip (fun trip!) and then camp and back to school and PTA and aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.

Net-net (and I say that because it makes the Editor cringe, and that looks almost like a smile on his face, so it’s nearly the same thing) this has brought me to the Big Decision to… Not get chickens. I just added on a running routine (to replace the cycling one), a knitting class, I still have a quilt, and I keep having to remember that in about a month I’ll be back in school, too. I think chickens may drive me nuts, as fun as they sound. In a way this feels like giving up, or maybe it’s just streamlining. The male person is not secretly relieved.

So. If you’re in Seattle and you’ve got chickens, I’d like to come help out once in a while, and buy some eggs off of you. The same way I like to occasionally go to the dog park to pet the pups but do not foresee another puppy for some time (Bulimikitty, I’m looking at you).

With that I sign off… as the long metal tube of the jetway beckons to the OTHER long metal tube that will take me to Olympic-land, and then to the land of caprese and carbonara. I can’t complain, try as I might :).

Correlation & Causality: Why Money Won’t Drive an Economist, Exactly

In 1992, the beautiful notion that a bunch of disparate countries could get together and form an Economic Union came to pass: the Maastricht Treaty. Like a giddy young couple (well, this would be technically a plural marriage, but anyways…), the countries went to the altar, ’til death do they part.

Because, as is widely touted now, there was no exit clause.

This on its own is enough to give me pause: how, in this litigious, finance-driven society, can ANYONE go to the altar and not have a pre-nup? (No, I didn’t last time — there was nothing to ‘nup, to quote Kirstie Alley — but I will next time).  I get that it’s extremely unattractive to go into a marriage acknowledging the prospect of divorce, but the odds are not in your favor for success. (Nor are they in your favor for combined economies — see “Austria-Hungarian Empire”.)

Lack of forethought aside, someone has come up with a way to arrive at the solution: Simon Wolfson has created a $400k ($250 pounds sterling, 300 Euro) prize to the first person (likely Economist) to come up with a successful, practical way to exit the Euro. (He has a nifty title in addition to the money: Baron Wolfson of Aspley Guise). It’s the second largest economics prize in the world, behind the Nobel.

And here’s where things get interesting: if you read Drive by Dan Pink (or check out the RSA Animate if you’re averse to reading too much), you’ll know that heuristic tasks/jobs cannot, beyond a sustainable living salary, be rewarded via income.  That is to say, if you take someone and you give them an algorithmic task — follow process “A”, exactly — then you can monetarily incentivize them. If their task requires innovation, or creative thinking, though, a monetary incentive will backfire: their solution will be less creative and delivered under greater duress (and likely late).

So why offer a large monetary reward for what is absolutely certain to be an incredibly heuristic task? Clearly they will not be incentivized by the cash.

Best answer? Because they are incentivized by recognition — and this prize is, as stated, second only to the Nobel (one could argue you may win BOTH if you figure out how to do it elegantly). The money itself buys the recognition from people who would otherwise not ordinarily care *who* solved the problem. Think about it: if, some six months from now, someone in a government building figured out how to make this process work, you won’t care — if there’s no prize. The very existence of the prize, by virtue of its sum, is what drives the recognition, and in turn drives the Economist, or Economists, that figure this out.

Here’s hoping it works.

Ceramic Penguins And You

What drives you to purchase something?

There’s a general notion that in this spend-shift economy purchase behavior is driven by a dollar (or price) vs. quality debate within your average person. That person identifies the most they’re willing to pay for the most possible comfort/quality they perceive the item is worth. In most companies, the department that determines the retail price of a good or experience  is NOT the same department that describes the good or experience,  and the store shelf that displays that good or experience is determined by a wholly third department. Then there’s a fourth department that drives eyeballs to your properly priced, properly described, properly displayed good or experience.

It’s very simple to evaluate the relative price of an object. Let’s say you’re pricing ceramic penguins. Your Aunt Martha loves ceramic penguins, and you have to get her one for Christmas, because if you don’t she will retaliate on your birthday with socks, and you rarely wear pink argyle knit socks. Ceramic penguin, then: you price them out at Target, at Amazon,  at Macy’s, and at Overstock.com. You then discover that, generally speaking, ceramic penguins are $10.  In some stores, though, there are ceramic penguins that are $12, and in others there are ceramic penguins that are $8.

You have thereby evaluated the price strata of a ceramic penguin. Go you!

Now, you know you can afford $8 or $12 for a ceramic penguin just fine, and you may be able to even buy two, if it will get you out of argyle pink socks. Your next step, then, is to evaluate the quality of the penguins, right?

How do you do that, on the other end of a computer? All you have to go on is the content on the site. The photos, the videos, the description, maybe there are user reviews of ceramic penguins. Chances are, though, you instantly evaluate off of the photo FIRST: does the penguin look cheesy? Does it look more like a seagull? Is the paint in the right spot? Is it attractively lit? This is done in a split second.

Now assume they all have decent photos. Maybe there are only 3 ceramic penguin manufacturers who supply the online stores you’re looking at, and they all have the same photographic style. Fine. Now you are going to read a bit about the description: oh, this penguin is only 3″ tall. This other one is actually RESIN, not ceramic, that was a close shave. That one uses the word “durable”… I don’t know if a good quality penguin has to list itself as “durable”, do you?

Note: all of these things are HIGHLY subjective. There is no facile way to quantify the quality of the content you are seeing outside of being in your head (or polling you, which by the way isn’t very accurate: most people polled on merchandising decisions often behave contrary to how they say they behave).

At this point you’ve whittled it down to two ceramic penguins. They’re mostly the same price, they both look good, their descriptions are free of warning words like “sturdy” or “robust”.  What’s the kicker?

User reviews.

Welcome to web 2.0 (finally): you are not going to trust Big Brother, you are going to trust your Fellow Man. And there you find it, buried amongst the 2 and 3 star reviews of your ceramic penguin options: the ones from Store A consistently arrive broken. You had to dig quite a bit to find the four user reviews that mention it, though.

And now, my dear readers, how do you quantify THAT? It’s  all in someone’s freetext upload somewhere. As the SELLER of ceramic penguins, how do you know it’s your user reviews tanking you? How do you know it’s not the photo, or the text description?**

As a company, you can benchmark your pricing against other companies; you can even attempt to benchmark your content (number of photos, relative sizing, what they capture; number of words, etc.). It is however the quality of the Store, and the Product, and the Content that will determine the actual purchase behavior. Great SEM and SEO will drive eyeballs to your ceramic penguins: you need to also have a reliable brand, a good product, and shiny, shiny content to get someone to press “Add to Cart” — and even then you’re hoping that that trifecta garners you the User Reviews you need to keep it going.

 

**PS yes there are ways of doing it — evaluate time on given pages, relative clicks, etc. — but it’s not as simple as a price evaluation. And humans are so not simple!

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

If you think of “warp” not as in Rocky Horror Picture Show, but as in “Star Trek”, it’s the ability to warp space to get from A to B faster. Extrapolated, you can create temporal shifts with enough warp, and then Harrison Ford’s comment “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage” are more accurate than anything he said as Han Solo. I find it funny that there’s more science in Indiana Jones than there is in Star Wars. Ergo, Star Wars = Fantasy, but Star Trek = Science Fiction. And we can put that to bed.

Now that this pop culture mashup has been burned indelibly to your brain, much like a Katy Perry song, for which I should but won’t apologize, I can get to the actual point:

I am suffering from both old age and recidivist youth.

Two weeks ago I had my high school reunion. It was interesting to see how everyone had changed (or not) since high school: the age ranges looked far beyond the purported year we all shared. Some people gained weight, some did not. Some got bald, some did not. The universal take seemed to be, “It’s great to see you all, regardless of how much we liked or disliked high school, or each other for that matter”. I will note that I wasn’t all that enamored of high school, and it was less enamored of me; I just assumed that had to do with my ranking on the social totem pole (somewhere near the bottom). After a few conversations with those I had perceived were at the top, I arrived at the conclusion that no one was really enamored of the ego bruising experience that high school dishes out. At one point or another you’re on the receiving end of it, and we all agreed it sucked.

Studies have shown (is there a more self-important phrase in the English Language?) that people who share a traumatic event are linked at that level for life, like those who survive a car accident or war. I’m not akining high school to war, although there were times it felt like it.

Fast forward twenty years when parts of me seem to be doing very well (I’ve been reassured I have very good skin) and most of me is not doing well. Trips back to the Sport MD for a busted knee have me on anti inflammatory drops (40 each knee, 4x day, 2 weeks), a nitrogen patch (take it off if you feel like you’re having a heart attack, the paperwork says), and more workouts. I have arthritis. A trip to my regular doc tells me it’s time to actually watch my cholesterol, and no that doesn’t mean watch it go up. A trip to my dentist tells me it’s time for braces.

Braces. At 37.

Granted, they are “bottom only” braces, and it’s completely elective, but when I am told it’s my teeth that will age my appearance faster than my skin or hair (which is dyed), off to the orthodontist I go. And so, at 37, I will have little metal boxes on my lower set of teeth, and it will feel like the one damning high school experience I never had.

Please, please do not bring the acne back.

Great Wolf Lodge

I spent a night at the Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, WA.

Now, before I left, I had done much reading of reviews and perusal of their site. I knew, much like going to Disneyland, I was to hand over my wallet at the door and let them tell me how much I should be left with.

I had a fantastic time.

Great Wolf Lodge is a place for kids: an oversized, indoor water park with a hotel and multiple eateries and shops attached. The catch is that you must stay the night in the hotel, you can’t go into the water park without a room for the night. I went, not as the typical nuclear family (2 adults, 1.7 kids), but as the typical single mom: 1 adult, 1 kid. This is important to note as it impacts how you operate within a water park (for example — you stake out your table and need to go to the lockers to retrieve something?  You’re both going — there is no other parent to hold on to things.)

At a nominal average price of about $180-$200 for a night, depending on seasonality, you get:

1. Wristbands to let you in to the park. The adults get RFID wristbands that allow you to do things like open the room or charge things to your room. Ergo, your wallet stays in the room and you are not tethered to it.

2. Access to a large water park from 1pm to 9pm on day of check-in, and from 9am to 9pm on day of check out

3. Access to an arcade. (Games cost the same as everywhere else).

4. A relatively nice, standard hotel room.

For $40 more, you get a wand and an interactive game that will take you the whole day, even if you rush at it. It involves climbing a lot of stairs and running around, and I enjoyed it as much as the small child.

Taken together, your total outgo minus food is about $230 for one kid and one mom. GWL has a reputation for being hideously expensive but, I will note that same room would run you about $120 or so elsewhere. The remaining $110 then is to cover the magic game and the water park and the convenience of your RFID tag. (That convenience goes both ways — proffering your wrist to pay for something removes you from the emotional attachment you may have for your cash).

With the magic game prepriced at about $40 (there’s the cost of the wand and the cost of the game itself), you’re left with $70 for two day’s access to a water park for two people. And here’s where the “it’s overpriced” argument fails: 4 water slides, a wave pool, an activity pool, a kids pool, and an indoor-outdoor pool and sunning area, unlimited clean towels, thorough and plenty lifeguards are yours for 2 days for $35pp. That is on par with local water parks — even those without as many slides.

YES, you will pay $10/day for locker rental (you check out at 11am, so if you have things like car keys or cell phones or wallets, and you don’t have a spousal unit out of the water at all times, you’ll need a locker). YES, the food is relatively overpriced (relatively = overpriced for “normal places to eat”. Not overpriced in the context of amusement park food, theater food, etc.) and it isn’t really all that good: but your admission comes with in and out privileges, and there are plenty of local restaurants (La Tarasca, Dicks Northwest Brewhouse) to go to. There is a Starbucks inside the building and it’s priced normally, too.

More to the point, there isn’t a single place in the edifice where you are not responsible for your own child (I regard this as something worthy of kudos). If your child is in the water park, so must you be. There is no day care, kids club, babysitting service, etc. If you want to go play in the spa or the bar, better have your spousal unit watching the kids and trade-off with you — because you, parent, do not get to abscond your responsibility. This, to me, was great. Also, the entrance to each water slide is monitored, and they ask you EVERY TIME, regardless of if they remember you (and they did remember us after 5 or 6 goes) if we met the height and weight requirements. (I’m not 700 pounds yet– that’s another post).

Now, there was one down side to GWL: I blew out my knee going on the Howling Tornado. It’s six flights of stairs to the two largest water slides, and we went on them multiple times. We were both eight years old this weekend — we’d ride down the slide, tumble out of the inner tube, scream “AGAIN!”, run up the stairs, wait in a very small line, and ride down again. After a day and a half of this, my knee has started making audible cracking sounds, and it is rather swollen; I’m going back to Mme. le Docteur next Monday. At least I will have a really fun story as to why it is doing that. I expect I’ll get a bunch of physical therapy, some more exercises, more taping to do, maybe another injection.

Just in time for my next GWL visit! AGAIN!