School Daze

I calculated today that my son comes home with, on average, 1/4 tsp of sand in each shoe from his school. Extrapolated to the pair, that’s 1/2tsp per day, and extrapolated to a school year (roughly 180 days), so that’s roughly 90tsp of sand per year or just under 2 cups of sand.

I wonder if they’ll add that to the back to school supplies.

Home Improvement

Editor’s note: I’m right now dealing with a bunch of poo on the non-work, non-house, non-man front, but I can’t/won’t really talk about it and it’s now in the hands of competent professionals and I’m sure it will all get sorted out. Like a pre-or-post trip cleaning frenzy, I’m focusing my post on something completely unrelated.

Choice. Choice will be the end of us.

When the Male Person and I first started cohabitating — 3.3 years after we started dating (there is a certain mathematical harmony in a lot of our relationship dates) — Everyone Was Wondering: what would be the first sign of conflict? The toothpaste tube? My habit of putting things away willy-nilly vs. his habit of specifically ordered piles? We had long since successfully negotiated the proper positioning of the toilet paper roll, but would it be household chores or division of labor to start the angst?

No angst. Not a bit. We see each other a bit more, and he eats better and I don’t have to take the waste bins out.  The expected shortcomings of cohabitation — bulimic cat aside — aren’t.

That said, in light of our economic and real estate forecasts for the areas — do please believe me when I say there are hours of research and many convoluted spreadsheet calculations supporting these — we are staying in my 1800 square foot,  1970’s rambler. Instead of putting a huge amount of money towards a down payment on a larger and somewhat fancier house, we’ll be putting a slightly smaller amount on this house making it that much more comfortable. And therein lies the choice.

Specifically, choices like: Fully tiled shower or get a one-piece shower pan? Do we tile 2″ or 4″ or 6″ up around the vanity? How much is okay to spend on a dual-flush toilet in the aforementioned 1970’s rambler? How much black speckling is okay in what should be a mostly red glass shade for the mini pendant lamps over the bar? Is this particular semi-flush-mount ceiling lamp Harry Potter enough for the boy? How silent should a bathroom fan be? Cherry floors or dark walnut or ubiquitous beechy/piney wood floors? Boulders or cottage stone for the terraced area out front?

As you can see, these are *really nice* problems to have. They aren’t really PROBLEMS. But they do cause endless evaluation, decision, question, re-evaluation, and re-deciding as we go through the cost-benefit analysis against a five or ten-year plan.

Micorosoft did not have us in mind when they created Excel.

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 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!

Burn, baby, Burn

As per usual, I find myself horribly sunburnt. As per usual, my son is a light tan color. 

This time we stayed at the Hyatt Grand Cypress, which is gorgeous and had more amenities than we could possibly use (climbing wall, full gym, golf,  bikes, shuttle to the major parks). It had the Orlando-typical waterfall pools (complete with waterslide), great pool service (THANK YOU VONDA AND EDWARD!), and wonderful restaurants. (Note: when the chef comes out of the kitchen and hands your son a chef’s hat that he can keep and then talks cooking with you for like 15 minutes, you feel pretty awesome).

We spent three days at Magic Kingdom, including obligatory Pirate Adventure Makeup and 3 back-to-back turns on Space Mountain, and one day Harry Pottering at Universal. Note: I don’t care how bad you feel about whatever may be going on at work or in your personal  life, it’s hard to not grin like an idiot after 3 rides on Space Mountain.

It was hard coming back home. It was very hard getting on the scale. :p