Category Archives: Marketing

Overpackaging

I purchased a Sandisk 16Gb USB stick drive (~$10 on Amazon.com) to transfer large files between machines rather than having to burn multiple DVDs.  (Also because I ditched my optical drive to install a second hard disk in my ancient MacBook.)  While shuttling files, the USB stick went into some kind of lock-out mode.

The consensus from the Interwebs was the device committed seppuku and was a lost cause.  Rather than toss it into the abyss, I thought I’d see how long the warranty was on these devices.  To my delight, I was only halfway through it.  I should at least try filing a warranty claim.

Finding the customer support contact mechanism is always difficult.  With each two steps forward came one interstitial step back to read some frequently answered question.  Invariably, these all devolve into “is your computer up to date?,” “is the device plugged into the computer?” and “Are you a moron?”   Nonplussed, I eventually found the sUpEr SiKrEt form to request a RMA (return merchandise authorization).  The form asked for a lot of information, including a copy of the receipt and the device serial number, etched in a subatomic font.

A day later, a customer support person contacts me asking for “supporting documentation,” taking photos of both sides of the USB stick, because why the hell not.  Oh, and would I please provide a copy of my receipt?   Because I could respond via e-mail, I supplied largest resolution, highest “quality” photo I could take of each side.  I also discovered something really useful: the phone’s camera makes an excellent magnifying glass.  Also: Two can play at this game.

The next morning, I had three emails.  The first acknowledged receipt of my supporting documentation.  The second indicated a verdict was reached by the warranty cabal.  The third included RMA instructions with a UPS label that I’d print out and slap on my extremely well-packaged sarcophagus sent to their return center.  Once received, there would be another evaluation period, after which the disposition would be determined and revealed to me in a deeply symbolic dream.  Okay, maybe I imagined the dream part.

After a few days, I received an email update as my deceased USB drive completed each stage of its journey to the warranty after world.  When it eventually reached the Asphodel Meadows the final notification indicated a new stick drive would be on its way.

Tonight, this arrived:

Huge Envelope
Huge Envelope

The replacement USB stick was enclosed within another envelope (not shown) in the larger, yellow, padded envelope.  For scale, I have placed a quarter next to the stick drive.

I estimate the cost in excess of the original product:  $14 for UPS both ways, $1 packaging, $2 for the device, $5 for people to interact (the dude sending me email, packaging, typing stuff).

What Is Your OTT Strategy?

As I was walking through the exhibits of O’Reilly’s “Making Data Work” Conference a few weeks ago, a vendor stepped in my path:

Vendor: “What is your organization’s Hadoop strategy?”

Having done a metric crap-ton of events as a vendor, I was sympathetic to what he was trying to do.  However, his premise of a tool being the One True Technology (OTT) for which my business would be expected to have embraced as a strategy struck me as absurd.  He might as well asked about what we’re doing about Microsoft PowerPoint or vim.

Jim: “We’ve been using it the last five years as a floor wax. However, I recently discovered it also makes an excellent dessert topping.”

Behold: The One True Yellowphant
Now in tasty floor wax flavor!

Flummoxed by a non sequitur his Solution Selling course could not prepare him for, he disengaged, letting me go about my business.  There seemed to be a lot of businesses offering Hadoop Business Strategy Optimization.

It was great being out of the office again, talking to people working on similar types of data problems but in completely different environments.  This is one of the things I miss most about leaving Tecplot.

I’m still compiling my notes for an internal presentation, but several of the keynote presentations have been posted.  My top three:

  • David McRaney, Survivorship Bias and the Psychology of Luck, which is a redux of his podcast, but still a great talk.  The premise is that when failures become invisible, you tend to focus more on successes, not realizing that you’re missing some vital pieces of information.

    Illustration by Brad Clark
    Illustration by Brad Clark
  • David Epstein, Small Data in Sports: Little Differences That Mean Big Outcomes – this was timely given the Olympics starting.  The performance between the winner and runner up is typically less than 0.5%.  While there are efforts to gather lots and lots of data, there are successful applications using small data, reducing a sport to a small handful of things they could affect.  (His longer talk went into this in more depth.)   The punchline: the 10,000 hour rule is missing the +/- 10,000 hours.
  • Rodney Mullen, The Art of Good Practice.  What I liked most about this was the meta-message that “Everyone from the community comes with their own backgrounds, own attributes, something you don’t have.”  Though it would have been easy to gloss over the presentation because of the skateboarding vernacular (“bracketing the feeble grind”), he offered some interesting ideas about focusing the type of practice.

The tutorials were generally good. I’d planned to sit in on the MLBASE track, but at the last minute, switched to John Foreman’s, Dissecting Data Science Algorithms Using Spreadsheets, based on his book, Data Smart, where he provides an overview on a handful of important algorithms using Excel.

Excel.  For Machine Learning? (image credit: John Foreman's blog)
Yes, Excel  (image credit: John Foreman’s blog)

While you’d be unlikely to use Excel for any non-trivial problem, it lets you learn the underlying algorithm (so you can apply it in the appropriate business context) rather than learning programming.  For the non-trivial case, you’d likely use R, Weka, or the Berkeley Data Analytics Stack (BDAS).

Fun with Amazon.com

I was surfing Amazon.com a few nights ago and ended up with a rather odd assortment of “items to consider.”   Here are some examples where product reviews and customer photos have become art.

You’ll never find *these* in Gold Box!


Horse Head Mask – It looks pretty creepy, but then on the product page are over a hundred examplesof it being worn in the field.

Satisfied customer: “I totally nailed that interview!”

Yodeling Pickle. Because we’re out of sizzling bacon?  The vendor’s product description is fun: Are you sick and tired of trying to teach your pickles to yodel? Pickles can be so stubborn. At last, the yodeling pickle you’ve been waiting for. With a mere press of a button (yes, it has a button) this little pickle will yodel its heart out. You’ll think you’re in the Swiss Alps listening to a yodeling pickle.

With nearly 2100 reviews, many of them utterly hilarious and claiming the Three Wolf Moon shirt endowed them with supernatural powers, the T-shirt needs no further introduction. Many of the original customer contributed images were photoshopped, but newer ones appear legit.
Because so many reviewers have used the initials, TWM, reviewers have also had fun with Tuscan Whole Milk.

For example, consider this ditty by “Edgar”:

Once upon a mid-day sunny, while I savored Nuts ‘N Honey,
With my Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 gal, 128 fl. oz., I swore
As I went on with my lapping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at the icebox door.
‘Bad condensor, that,’ I muttered, ‘vibrating the icebox door –
Only this, and nothing more.’

Not to sound like a complainer, but, in an inept half-gainer,
I provoked my bowl to tip and spill its contents on the floor.
Stupefied, I came to muddle over that increasing puddle,
Burgeoning deluge of that which I at present do adore –
Snowy Tuscan wholesomeness exclusively produced offshore –
Purg’ed here for evermore.

And the pool so white and silky, filled me with a sense of milky
Ardor of the type fantastic of a loss not known before,
So that now, to still the throbbing of my heart, while gently sobbing,
I retreated, heading straightway for the tempting icebox door –
Heedless of that pitter-patter tapping at the icebox door –
I resolved to have some more.

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
‘This,’ said I, ‘requires an extra dram of milk, my favorite pour.’
To the icebox I aspired, motivated to admire
How its avocado pigment complemented my decor.
Then I grasped its woodgrain handle – here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams of Tuscans I had known before
But the light inside was broken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only words there spoken were my whispered words, ‘No more!’
Coke and beer, some ketchup I set eyes on, and an apple core –
Merely this and nothing more.

Back toward the table turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
‘Surely,’ said I, ‘surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!’

From the window came a stirring, then, with an incessant purring,
Inside stepped a kitten; mannerlessly did she me ignore.
Not the least obeisance made she; not a minute stopped or stayed she;
But, with mien of lord or lady, withdrew to my dining floor –
Pounced upon the pool of Tuscan spreading o’er my dining floor –
Licked, and lapped, and supped some more.

Then this tiny cat beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grand enthusiasm of the countenance she wore,
Toward the mess she showed no pity, ’til I said, ‘Well, hello, kitty!’
Sought she me with pretty eyes that seemed to open some rapport.
So I pleaded, ‘Tell me, tell me what it is that you implore!’
Quoth the kitten, ‘Get some more.’

Wheelmate laptop desk – well, um, the photo on the left was supplied by the vendor. “Customers” have supplied over a hundred other photos of various car, truck and tank wrecks.

The Army is still perfecting the military model. There seems to be a glare problem and they are now considering teflon coating.

For those attending Burning Man or having suppressed Jabba the Hutt/Princess Leia Fantasies, look no further than the ‘Donk. The custom-made vehicle has a 400 watt sound system.

Liquid ass – when you can’t find your own with a map and a magnifying glass?

Everything by Icon Group International. There are over 300,000 of these electronically-produced, subatomic-nichlet subject matters, all priced to discourage window shoppers. According to Dr. Pedia, these works are the output of Philip M. Parker’s version of SkyNet.

Fun with Yelp…

I started playing with Yelp as a way to track what places I frequent. Its schtick is you can become “Duke” for checking into a place the most times. Completely different from Four Square, which only confers mayorships. While wandering around Issaquah, I noticed this fellow appearing as Duke for 1300 businesses.

That’s a lot of dedication, and the excerpts almost tell a story:

Royalty is strange.

The paperless office needs a paperless toilet

While wandering the industrial section of Issaquah’s Costco last February, I saw this product on the shelf:

Because you need to tweet *all* *day* *long*?You are the Mayor on FourSquare!  Shop online!  Tweet!

Naturally, a $500 toilet seat with a remote control piqued my curiosity. I spent a few minutes poring over the outside of the box trying to understand what function it serves.  The box’s messaging didn’t resonate:

  • Easy to use – Toilet seats have a pretty straightforward user interface: raise the seat if and only if you’re going to pee standing up.  Otherwise, leave the seat down.   It was amusing that they would fomplicate it buy adding a handheld control.
  • Germ resistant – This one was especially funny because I had recently re-watched the Mythbusters episode where they tested germiness of various things.  The conclusion: toilet seats were far less germy than kitchen sponges or remote controls … like the one that this device comes with.
  • Friendly to the environment –  At this point, I tuned out at the attempt at eco-guilt.

I forgot about the IntelliSeat until today, when I was in Costco to buy a cube of printer paper.  What do I see at the end of the aisle?  The IntelliSeat!  Despite the premium placement, its marketing is unchanged.  Savor the vendor’s web site:

IntelliSeat, is one of AMDM’s featured innovations, and after one use you will understand why it is the premiere electronic toilet seat on the market today. Intelliseat is a germ resistant electronic toilet seat that is easy to use and friendly to the environment. Intelliseat also offers a stylish design and a multi-function zzzzzzzzzzaewt;lweasd’asdf

I’m sorry, I fell asleep while pasting that blurb into my blog editor.

Their FAQ is rather bizarre.  For example, consider question #9:

How to you operate the Intelliseat?

Simply turn it on and let the comfort begin.

The first thought that popped into my head: Um… are they talking about the same product?  FAQ #10 is almost as weird, especially the placement of air quotes:

Can the Intelliseat be used by children, elderly, and handicapped?

Yes. Children will love the fun of using the Intelliseat and the elderly with limited mobility will relish in the fact that they simply need to stay in one position.

I finally downloaded the manual and finally get it: IntelliSeat is a way to retrofit the standard, North American commode with a bidet.  This could be a godsend for mobility-impaired people or those with hemorrhoids. Why couldn’t they just say that?

Wikihow even offers clear instructions.

Mission Criticaler

A webinar is essentially conference call combined with a PowerPoint presentation.  Of the dozens I receive a month, few meet my rigid criteria: educational content, straightforward delivery.  It’s usually easy to tell from the email if it’s likely going to be some kind of lame marketing presentation.

Speaking of which, here’s an invitation I received on Friday for a webinar this morning:

We invite you to reserve time to listen in on how [we] are transforming mission critical computing based on industry standard technologies and modular/converged infrastructure.

Hear directly from [six-figured vice presidents representing each company] on how businesses can leverage next generation […] technology into business performance that can improve your bottom line.  [Our products] meet the needs of mission critical workloads for the next decade into the most resilient, easily scalable, and completely integrated virtualization platform that delivers mission critical business outcomes every time. Learn more about the new processor platform that delivers a big leap in mission critical technologies, standardization and longevity.

When I read this the first time, I immediately had sympathy for the poor marketing communications person who was forced to send this.  They probably started off with something simple like:

Our new [product] will run Microsoft Word 7% faster than the previous version.

With each review, the sentence was tossed in a blender with a random New York Times Business Book Bestseller and set to Frappé until it had enough “pop” (or, perhaps, one “mission critical” for each six-figured vice president involved).  I imagine the ideal recipients of these marketing messages also speak in tongues.  If the email address was from a human, I would send in the Mystery Matador.