Monday, May 30, 2011

The commoditization of the American lifestyle

Strongest argument made in this article IMO. Emphasis is mine.
Its first line of defense is to commodify its enemy. You can all supply your own favorite, most nauseating examples of the commodification of love. Mine include the wedding industry, TV ads that feature cute young children or the giving of automobiles as Christmas presents, and the particularly grotesque equation of diamond jewelry with everlasting devotion. The message, in each case, is that if you love somebody you should buy stuff.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rafa looks very vulnerable

To return back to his form of yore, Rafa needs to make slight adjustments and corrections to his current game. His game of 2010 might be a good one to revert to as well, but that might not be possible; people don't have Time Machine-esque features. In my opinion, here are some things that worked for him in the past:

1. The lefty kick serve out wide, especially on the ad-side.
2. Pinpoint precision ground strokes that jumped after hitting the lines
3. Deep balls, especially down the line
4. Impenetrable service games - in 2010, he held the ATP Tour record for being broken the fewest times

Something he needs to add to his game is the ability to take the ball early and from inside the court. Djokovic has been beating him by stepping into the court and taking the ball early. The long grinding matches he is playing aren't really doing him any favors.

The next two weeks will dictate the rest of his year. Vamos RAFA!!

Monday, May 23, 2011

How Apple botched my laptop's repairs

This weekend and today has been quite an ordeal. I found out that the great deal that Apple had about out-of-service warranty can, for people with luck like mine, become quite an ordeal. Here are my grievances with the process:

1. I took the Macbook Pro into the Apple store about two weeks ago because the battery was draining faster than it did a few months ago.
2. After about a day of running diagnostic tests, I was asked to come by to pick up the machine because it had no battery issues whatsoever.
3. It was at this point that I was told that there are other things wrong with the machine that would all be fixed if I availed of the out-of-warranty service/repair.
4. I went back to the Apple store last week to avail of said service.
5. The technicians at the Apple repair facility found that the battery was indeed draining faster than it should. They ran the same diagnostic test as the one run in the store; why did the 2 tests produce conflicting results?
6. I was asked to come in to pick up the repaired laptop on Saturday, but two of the issues they were supposed to fix (documented in the original work-order and communicated over the phone to the repair facility) weren't fixed.
Mind you that by this point, I had been to the Apple store 4 times to have my laptop fixed. That's a lot of time commuting and extreme inconvenience; I haven't had a laptop for about a week now!
7. I got an email today that my machine is ready for pick-up. During my conversation with Brooke, an Apple Store Genius, on Saturday afternoon I was told that the machine would be shipped via FedEx-overnight the instant it was ready. I am hoping I don't have to make another trip to the store because that is going to *really* suck!

Let's wait and see how this unfolds.

Update: They are waiting for another part to come in. ETA: Saturday, the 28th of May. Time spent at Apple: 14 days.

Update 2: A trip to the local FedEx office was needed to get my laptop back; to Apple's credit, the repairs were thorough and my machine is working like new!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Road Runner Sports - missed revenue opportunity

Running, though one of the most boring athletic activities, is one of the easiest to get into. All you need is a good pair of shoes, and you're ready to conquer the miles and miles of asphalt paved all around you. Wait, did I say *good* pair of shoes? How does one differentiate good from bad? This is where a store dedicated to runners comes in - Road Runner Sports.

Road Runner has a wide selection of shoes, but before you buy a pair, you can get a complimentary gait evaluation. Often times something sounds nifty but is a scam; not this gait evaluation, not one bit. Using sensors and cameras, your foot's stability and strength, and your gait's form are evaluated. This evaluation is used as input into determining the shoe that maximizes your endurance on the road without compromising your performance. Road Runner goes one step farther - no puns intended - and builds a custom pair of orthotics so that the shoes you buy fit you perfectly. Sadly, the asking price on this custom pair breaks the bank for too many buyers.

While I was at the store this past week, I saw a number of these pairs made for customers who decided against buying them. Running shoes go for upwards of $75 these days. The orthotics are priced at $80, and they have a life of about 6 months. Based on my non-scientific observations, there were 5 pairs of orthotics that were consigned to the trash can the evening I was at the store. That's cold-hard revenue that  Road Runner is letting go to waste.

A basic study of the American consumer's psyche indicates that the sweet spot for discretionary and frivolous spending is $19.99. Spend one night watching late-night TV and you will be bombarded with promotions for all manner of products that bring comfort and utility to your life that is already so comfortable. The one gimmick used by all these products is their $19.99 price-point. In this recession, infomercial sales have skyrocketed so much so that legitimate companies are piloting new products using this marketing and sales channel. Some back of the envelope math tells me that if Road Runner priced their custom orthotics at $19.99, the product will be a more attractive value proposition than it is today. Given that every customer that gets an evaluation has these made regardless of whether they are eventually purchased, they fixed costs accrued by Road Runner don't increase. The company can gather data on the sell-through rate by offering a 2-week promotion on the orthotics at $19.99; I can bet, with some confidence, that they sell more than 4 pairs of orthotics on promotion for every pair they sell today. Let's say they don't ever get to this blog post or promotion; if you were the one swiping your credit card at Road Runner, would you be more inclined to spend $20 or $80?

Monday, May 09, 2011

Dealing with the unknown

When we were younger, almost every situation we encountered was one we had no prior experience with. We hit an inflection point at a certain age, and most of what we do or experience from that point on is more of the same. If enough time passes without a new experience, the part of the brain that responds to the unknown begins to atrophy. This is when panic sets in...

Our initial reaction to the unknown is panic; the heart rate increases, the ability to think clearly vanishes and breathing gets labored. In such a situation, the key is to take a step back and regain a measure of control over your surroundings. Often times, the onset of panic is triggered as a para-sympathetic reaction to humiliation or embarrassment. The social beings that we are, how we are perceived by other people drives a lot of what we do. The feeling is fresh in my system; I experienced it when getting on the bus with my bike today.

Buses in Seattle have a bike rack up front; riders secure their bikes on the rack prior to hopping onto the bus. Last weekend, I learned how to secure my bike onto the rack thanks to a bus driver's timely intervention. Today, I figured would be a cinch now that I knew how to use the clasps. When I walked up to the front of the bus though, the rack needed to be opened up before I could put my bike onto it. My brain froze...

As the seconds ticked by, the paralysis spread from my brain to my limbs. As I floundered, I heard the driver mention a handle that needed to be pulled, and by some inexplicable instinct, I looked at the middle of the rack. The yellow handle was like the rip-cord that broke my free-fall. I pulled the rack down, regained my composure, fastened my bike securely, and took a seat on the bus.

The rush of blood to my head was invigorating, and it taught me not just how to deal with this situation in the future, but how to handle new and unforeseen circumstances in the future. With a new job and a new role on the horizon, I am going to face a plethora of unknowns. How I react and handle these situations will underscore my future. As the synapses fire in my head, I must remember to stay calm, not worry about being embarrassed because I don't know something, and use my experience to figure out a solution. Net result: profit!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Mantra for success in any job you do

2 words: Manage expectations. How?
  1. Set them appropriately
  2. Schedule time correctly
  3. Deliver on stated expectations
  4. If anything requires resetting, report it immediately
  5. Never get out of sync with your boss

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Panties in a bunch over Bin Laden raid

Everyone that has their panties all bunched up because of either the specifics of the Bin Laden raid, or the unilateral nature of the US Navy's action, or for any other reason kindly take a chill pill and unbunch them under-wares. The guy was responsible for one of the most heinous crimes inflicted on innocent civilians. The retaliatory action of the US military wasn't without fault, but really, if you put your hand in a lion's mouth, there is a good chance he will bite it off.

Please, celebrate the death of the figure-head of International terror.

Unemployed - Day 2

A typical unemployed person's story doesn't start at 4:45 in the morning. Well, this one does and it's atypical for any other story in my life; I never wake up that early, not even when I am jet-lagged. As some friends have already pointed out, there is a lot of irony in this statement - I used to struggle to wake up before 8 when I was working at Amazon, and couldn't get out of bed before 9 when I was at Microsoft. That I went to bed before 10pm last night has something to do with why I woke up as early as I did, but it can't be just that. It's more because a weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and a stress-free Manoj is a better sleeper.

I veered between torpor and hyperactivity yesterday. I had a few things on my list of things to do, one of which was having my laptop looked at. Instead of lazing at home, I started my day with a trip to the Apple store to have them investigate "the case of the draining battery". Yes, all batteries drain eventually, but my relatively new battery was relieving itself of its charge even before the obligatory two hours I expected it to last. After a long chat with the Apple Store Genius, I was told that more extensive tests were needed to ascertain the cause of said mysterious drainage, and that I would hear from them once they had more information. My Mac is 5 years old now, so it's a Vintage. I was informed by the Genius that Apple has a great deal for out-of-warranty Mac owners like myself; bring your old Mac in and for a flat $310, Apple will fix and replace anything that is wrong with it. In effect, you walk into the store with a problem-Mac, and you walk out with an almost refurbished one, complete with a 90-day warranty. If the technicians find a lot of things busted in my Mac, I'm going to avail of this killer deal. No sub-500$ PC is going to be as good as my 5-year old Macbook Pro!

Leafing through The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest at the Barnes & Noble in the U Village was utterly relaxing; I needed it after my hour at the Apple Store (rolls eyes). Justin and I had planned to workout a little after lunch, so I headed over to the gym for a workout at 2pm with the self-proclaimed workout machine. It was a bust! He was eating lunch as I walked into the club, and am glad I didn't wait for him to be limber again - he hadn't started his workout even after I left the facility two hours later. For my own part, I interval trained for twenty minutes on the bike, and followed it up with a solid chest workout. The soreness is beginning to kick in right about now.

The evenings are hard to pass without having a real objective, so I am open to suggestions from you on what would be a meaningful way to spend the hours post a workout. I experimented with lying on the couch and intermittently reading, watching TV and reading the news online. Two problems with the couch setting - it's sleep inducing and leads to binge eating. Help an unemployed person be productive, please...

Monday, May 02, 2011

Unemployed - day 1

There used to be a time when I couldn't wake up before 9am. These days, I sleep before midnight and I am up by 7:30. One of these days, summer will rear its head in Seattle and I will be able to actually go out for a run in the morning. For now, I am up and ready a little before 9am, but without an office to go to, I am going to have to become creative about how to spend my days.

You read that right: I am unemployed. And already, I feel the batteries recharging! It's my first weekday since my emancipation from the clutches of drudgery, so my words might be colored by ephemeral euphoria. Regardless of how long the happiness lasts, damn it feels good to be happy again. I plan to use my time off to read, rejuvenated and recuperate. The adult version of the 3Rs...

Drop me a line if you have interesting things to do or read this summer. I will most likely join you in your endeavor.