Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Product Review: Four Seasons Hotel Pillows

We stayed at a couple of Four Seasons Hotels this past Fall (their New York City and Boston locations) and I wanted to capture some of the magic of those visits by purchasing a couple of the pillows they use in their rooms.

The image at left is the tag from one of their king-sized pillows.  It's a little blurry unfortunately, but hopefully you can see it's manufactured by Phoenix Down Corp and is 75% White Goose Feather/25% White Goose Down.

A large percentage of the pillows we owned prior to these weren't quite right for one reason or another.  Some were too thin, others too thick, and the net of it was that it was difficult to adjust them to just the right height.  One thing I liked about the Four Seasons pillows was that you could adjust them and get comfortable with them regardless of your preferences for big or small pillows.  I would guess this is due to the blend of feather and down in the pillow.

When I was checking out of the hotel, I asked if they sold the pillows and they gave me a sheet of paper that listed pricing for not only the pillows but also mattresses and bathrobes.  The prices seemed pretty reasonable to me, and a little less than I found them online.  The King pillow was listed at $60.

I called up the hotel to inquire about purchasing the pillows directly from them, and see how much shipping was.  The number for purchasing in Boston is (617)351-2000Kevin in purchasing gave me some helpful advice- that for a queen bed, 2 king pillows work quite nicely because although 36" x 2 is 72" and a queen mattress is only 60" wide, the edges of the pillows tend to round off and the actual dimensions a pillow takes up is less than what is specified for the actual fabric dimensions.  Kevin also let me know that the current price on the pillows was supposed to be $75 per pillow, but since the sheet from the front desk said $60 he'd honor that.  I ordered 2 king pillows for our queen bed and arranged to pick them up at the front desk to save on shipping.

When we got the pillows, I was surprised how flat they were since they were kind-of shrink wrapped in plastic bags.  Once we opened them up they got much fuller.  When we first started using them, they had a noticeable gamey odor to them.  Kind of like how I would imagine geese smell.  We aired them out for a couple of days and fortunately the odor went away.

We've been using the pillows for a few months now, and I'm very pleased with them.  They're very comfortable and I'm always able to adjust them "just right".  They're pretty large overall, so I'm glad we didn't buy 4 of them.  They fill up the width of our queen mattress nicely.

Update: I just checked at the Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara and they use the same pillow.

Overall, I'd highly recommend these pillows as an option to anyone in the market for new pillows.

Here's a link to buy the pillows on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1YiF0Dn

Monday, December 21, 2009

24" Dell Monitor for less than $200

Ever since seeing one on a co-worker's desk 3 years ago, I've been wanting to get a 24" Dell flat panel monitor to attach to my work laptop.  I work from a home office so I spend a lot of hours in front of the computer, most of which are when the laptop is docked and I'm viewing the display on a monitor.

Previously, I had a 20" NEC MultiSync 2070NX.  That monitor wasn't widescreen and it wasn't quite as large as I wanted.  I've been watching the price on 24" Dells for the past few years and this year for the first time that I can recall prices are falling below $200.  One thing I've never been able to understand is the price spread on their monitors- $189 to $549 on their 24" models as I'm writing this.  I see that the more expensive models provide height adjustment and offer USB connections- but are there other differences in term of display quality?  I honestly don't know, but the price difference is so much it really doesn't matter to me for the everyday computing I do.

The model I got was the Dell S2409W 24-inch Widescreen.  With a corporate discount I was able to get it for $179 with free shipping.  Such a low price- very easy to justify in my mind.  It arrived this morning and I opened it up and hooked it up.  Using the VGA connection that I used with my previous monitor, I wasn't super-impressed with the quality of the display right out of the box.  Given the sheer size of the monitor, especially its width, I found myself needing to turn my head to see various parts of the display.  Furthermore, when I viewed the upper and lower corners of the display, the letters seemed a little distorted.  Kind of a strange phenomenon- the display was so big that inevitably much of it is viewed at an angle!

It occurred to me that perhaps it was time to switch to a digital DVI connector instead of using the old-school analog VGA connector.  Although my previous monitor supported a digital display, it didn't come with a DVI cable.  And since the image quality was pretty good I never bothered getting a DVI cable.  Since the image of the new Dell with the VGA cable was so-so I decided to try hooking up the DVI cable to see if that improved things.

I wanted to be able to toggle back and forth between the 2 connectors to see if there was a difference, but it turns out that it's non-trivial to do so.  You have to disable the VGA connection through the display settings in Windows, and in order for that option to be visible you have to physically disconnect the VGA cable.  For a while there, I didn't think my laptop supported DVI because there's no DVI output on the laptop itself- only on the docking station.  Anyway, after a little thrashing around I was able to get the display set up via DVI and the image quality improved- especially in terms of how crisp the letters in the corners of the display as viewed on a slight angle appeared.

It doesn't bother me that the height isn't adjustable.  I just tilted the angle up a bit and if it bothers me I'll do the old "stack some books under it".  It also doesn't bother me that there's no USB inputs.  I never used them on the old display anyway.

Brilliance: 7/10
I'd give the monitor a "7" on a scale of 1-10 in terms of image "brilliance".  It's a good clean picture, but not as amazing as some of the displays you see at the Apple Store.

Functionality: 7/10
Setting up the monitor was pretty easy, and the controls are easy to navigate.  Once you get a monitor set up all you ever need to do is hit "on/off" and that button works well.  The unit seems pretty solid overall. 

Style: 7/10
It's not like an Apple Cinema display or anything, but I think it's a nice clean, professional black flat panel that looks nice on a desk.

Value: 9/10
And a "9" in terms of value- this is a ton of display for less than $200.

Update (1/21/2010): I've struggled mightily calibrating this monitor.  The colors either look washed out or unnaturally/unevenly saturated.  I've never had to goof around with monitor settings so much.  We also got an iMac around the same time as this monitor and whenever I look at the iMac it just looks right without any fiddling.

Here's a link to the monitor in the Dell store.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Best $10 Toy You Can Buy a 4-Year-Old Boy

Just back from the toy store where I tried like mad to find a decent $5 toy to buy Sam to reward him for showing good behavior.  That's a tough price point.  Even when I stretched it to $10 I found a lot of toys that I had a feeling would be played with for only 10 minutes.

Although he already had 2 of them, I caved and got Sam another Automoblox toy car.  I think they're a stunning value at $9.99.

Just FYI in case you ever need to buy a top for a boy around 3-4 years old.  He loves the things and I think they're pretty cool too.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Can Smart Cycle Extreme Games Work with the Original Smart Cycle?

So I'm doing some Christmas shopping online today, and I remember we've wanted to buy Sam a new cartridge for his Smart Cycle.  We got it as a gift a couple of years ago, and he really likes it.  It's a cool toy- he pedals while he's playing games on the TV so it provides some amount of exercise while he's enjoying the games.

Anyway, I keep finding these really expensive and out of stock cartridges for the games.  They're like $32 on Amazon.com with no Free Super Saver Shipping, whereas the same game labeled as Extreme is way cheaper, in stock and includes free shipping:
What gives?  I checked out Fisher Price's website, poked around a bit and called customer service.  After just a few selections in their automated menus, I spoke with a customer service rep who answered my question right off the bat.

What happened was, they came out with a new version of the Smart Cycle itself (now called Smart Cycle Extreme).  The old one is referred to as Smart Cycle Classic now.  The difference between the two is the Extreme hardware supports an ability to make the bike rumble when you go off road for example.

The new software triggers this rumbling, but the good news is that the new cartridges will work just fine on the Smart Cycle Classic.  I found this in the PDF for the Hot Wheels game:

Pretty good job of customer service for such an affordable product.  My compliments to Fisher-Price!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Setting Up Comcast Universal Caller ID (in 14 painful steps)

If Comcast is your cable provider, perhaps you're aware that they're long on introducing spiffy new features and short on making them "just work". Their innovative integration of TiVo software with their cable boxes, their iPhone app (which allows you to check Comcast E-mail, listen to your Comcast Digital Voice voicemail, and check TV listings), and now Universal Caller ID are all fine examples of really cutting edge technology...that doesn't work very well without a lot of work on your part.

A flyer in the Sunday paper a few weeks ago announced Universal Caller ID which promises to let you know who's ringing your phone via a little pop-up window on your PC -and/or- on your TV. Pretty cool! Or so I thought.

Here's what I had to do to get it going:
  1. Download the Comcast Caller ID client to my PC
  2. Make a test call to our primary line (didn't work)
  3. Make a test call to our secondary line (didn't work)
  4. Follow the instructions for getting it going on your TV
    We have Comcast TiVo, so the directions didn't make sense for the menu options we have. Although their FAQ page mentions TiVo no working, it's not clear whether this is a statement about true TiVo boxes -or- Comcast TiVo boxes. Later discussions and experimentation would reveal it does *not* work with Comcast TiVo boxes.
  5. I followed the instructions for the FAQ question about why pop-ups weren't occurring on my PC:
  6. I thought perhaps it had something to do with primary vs. secondary usernames. Honestly, I've never understood why we have so many passwords with Comcast. 2 I understand (1 to maintain the account, others for E-mail and such). But unique username/passwords for Comcast Triple Play Rewards that gets renamed every few months? Too much.
    At any rate, that wasn't it- I was using the primary username/password.
  7. I went to the next step to chat with an agent. Even though I'm already logged in, I have to enter all of this information:

  8. Okay, once in the chat session I explain my problem. The agent asks some basic questions and then checks my account and informs me that it's not set up on my account. I ask if there was some way that I was supposed to request it be set up, or documented somewhere that you needed to call to set it up? No worries he said- it'll be all set. In 48 hours.
  9. Okay, wait a couple of days and give it a whirl again. Still not working. Wait another day just to make double-dog-sure enough time has passed. Still no juice. What the heck?
  10. I hit up @ComcastCares on Twitter. I should have just done this in the beginning. No having to fill out the chat room entry form this way and then having to wait for the laggy chat interface to update. Someone responds on Twitter right away and tells me someone will be calling me soon.
  11. Get a call, and the technician says my account isn't provisioned for Universal Caller ID. I tell him that I went through this lengthy chat session on Monday where they said the same thing already- is there a record of that in my account? No record he says. So I send him the chat log which shows I've already had this conversation.
  12. While I'm talking to him, I ask about something I've been curious about- whether it works for primary and secondary lines. He says I have to tell him which line I want it to work with. Bummer! I wanted it to work with both lines, but my secondary is more important. So he changes the provisioning request to work on the second line. And I wait for another 24 hours.
  13. It didn't take 24 hours this time- a little later in the afternoon I get another call back and it's working. Sweet!
  14. Just for kicks, I test it on my secondary line too and it works. Pretty cool- I'm up and running!
Things I like about it:
  • Let's you know who's calling when you can't find the phone
  • Lets you know who's calling on any of your phone lines
  • Lets you know who's calling when you're on the phone
  • The application that runs is pretty harmless, discreet and auto-launches painlessly upon reboot
  • I even think it works when you're out of the house (not certain about that however)
I really like the way Comcast innovates. And uses Twitter. But I really wish they'd get things to work out of the box a little more, and if they can't make that happen let us know on their website what doesn't work and let us know when we have to call and request something on the phone.

Further Reading:
Hope this is helpful. I think it's worth calling Comcast to get it set up, but I'd recommend starting with Twitter to get to the front of the line.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

How To: Buy Authentic Souvenirs at Sea World (without paying a penny to get into the park)

Ever since our trip to Sea World San Diego last June, our little dudes have been Shamu-crazy. It's probably encouraged/caused by me- I'm pretty big fan about Shamu myself. When I let the kids know I was headed out of town on a business trip recently they started crying saying they didn't want me to leave, until I told them I was going to San Diego and would bring them home some Sea World souvenirs.

The only trick then is to procure said souvenirs. On the way out of the airport, I checked the Sea World souvenir inventory at Terminal 2 of the San Diego airport. Not good. Only 1 knock-off Orca stuffed animal:

I'm sure they had a better selection beyond security in Terminal 1, but I was flying in and out of Terminal 2 so I was doubtful they'd let me past security with a boarding pass for another airline. What to do?

I tweeted @Shamu and asked where I could buy Sea World souvenirs in San Diego without going to the park, and I got a response saying "Standby, I'll check." but didn't hear back with a solution.

After my customer meetings on Friday, I was driving past Sea World so I thought to give a shot at checking if they had some souvenirs outside the park -or- better yet working my way into the park for just a quick shopping trip.

It was about 3PM when I arrived at the gates where you pay for parking. Fortunately, nobody was there taking money- score! I grabbed a parking space and headed up to the park entrance gates. The booths where they sell tickets were also all closed (the park closed at 5PM the day I was there) but tickets were being sold at the Group Sales/Will Call window and there were other people in a short line.

I decided to head over to the park exit to see if I could sneak in for just a bit. The gate agent advised that I could get a Shopping Pass at the Will Call window.

Here's how it works:
  • Pay $65 for a refundable Shopping Pass
  • Spend less than 1 hour in the park
  • Buy something in the park and keep your receipt
  • Don't get your hand stamped
  • Go back to the Will Call window and they'll give you a full refund for $65
Once I got in the park I was like a kid in a candy store, snatching a Shamu Believe necklace for Will, a Shark-themed monster truck that Sam's been talking about since June, and a nice stuffed Shamu to boot. What seemed like expensive merchandise at the end of our last visit suddenly seemed like found money somehow. I exited the park, got my refund and headed back to the car a proud papa who would successfully return home with the goods.

When I got home to Boston, the kids were asleep. The next morning when they woke up they were very excited to see what I got them. I was tempted to hold back the Shamu stuffed animal for a future occasion, but since I'd sent a picture of the airport knock-off Orca, 2-year-old Will was searching sadly through the bag after receiving only his little Shamu necklace. I folded and gave him his very own Shamu to match a similar one I'd bought for Sam earlier in the year.

Although I do like bringing things home to the kids after a trip, I'm not a fan of buying junk at the airport. I'm still fuming about the $20 lead-infested cable car with 4 tiny pieces of Ghirardelli I picked up in San Francisco. Hopefully, next time someone does a Google search for "buy sea world san diego authentic souvenirs" they'll find this piece and it will help a traveler get some nice gifts for their kids. Please leave a comment if this helps- I hope it does.

Further Reading: Tips and Tricks for discounted admission to Sea World and other Southern California Theme Parks

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Site Redesign

Just a quick note to mention that I changed the template of this site from a black background to a minimalist white background. I hope it makes the content easier to read- I found the old template's width limiting and it didn't differentiate bold text from plain sufficiently.

I was on the fence about switching over to WordPress once again, but decided to stay with good old Blogger. It might not be perfect but it does 98% of the things I want a blog to do. Even if it's not always the prettiest thing in the world, Blogger is free and I'm familiar with it.

It's still amazing to me how many things need to be tended to in order to get a blog up and running nicely. Selecting a domain provider, Google Blogger custom domain mapping, picking a template, formatting takes forever to tweak sometimes, FeedBurner needs to be set up, icons sometimes need to be changed to accommodate a different background color, AdSense setup, search box setup, favicon needs to be added, nav bar needs to be suppressed, etc etc etc. Whew.

I picked this template up from Deluxe Templates- it's called Thematic. Another site I've used for Blogger templates is Our Blog Templates for their Newspaper theme.

Oh- we have a new E-mail subscription option from FeedBurner. Click HERE to subscribe to updates via E-mail.

Let me know what you think of the new site- especially if you something appears to be amiss. Thanks!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Celebrity Look-a-likes: Carrie Underwood and Betty Draper from Mad Men

Thursday, November 26, 2009

5-Fingers of Thanksgiving Fun

Remember when your fingers were small enough to fit in pitted olives?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hot Wheels Games Provide Perfect iMac Test Vehicle

This weekend, 4 year-old Sam was playing his beloved Hot Wheels games on our 4 year-old iBook G4. He was complaining about the game being too hard for him to play (he couldn't advance levels by winning races) so I reluctantly agreed to try to get him past the first level. After playing the game for a few minutes, it seemed like the computer was running really slowly, so I tried the same game on my work computer (a Lenovo T61p laptop). Wow- it was so fast I couldn't believe it! And the game was actually pretty fun. We spent the next half hour having a great time as he encouraged me to complete each level and unlock new cars.

This gave me an idea: This web-based game would be the perfect test for the 21.5" iMac I've been eyeing for a potential family Christmas present. We stopped in at the Apple Store today to give it a try. We walked into the store and found an open station in front of the machine we're considering. I pointed the Safari web browser to HotWheels.com and navigated my way to the famous "Colors Shifters Track Action" game. A pop-up appeared saying that the Adobe Shockwave Player wasn't installed and prompted me to download and install it. I was familiar with this maneuver on the Mac since I upgraded the version of Shockwave on our iBook just yesterday so I proceeded with the download and installation.

Unfortunately in order to install Shockwave you need admin privileges, but just as I was about to give up, a friendly Apple Store employee appeared. He typed in the admin and installed Shockwave. As it was installing, it said something about 32-bit vs. 64-bit but we plowed forward and completed the installation (don't we always plow forward?). We reloaded the web page and although it didn't complain about Shockwave any more, Safari rendered an empty box where the game normally appears. Hmm... "What's up with that?" I thought.

The employee jumped over to a neighboring machine, did a quick Google search and then came back over to our machine. He did a Apple-key/"I"-key combo, brought up Info on the Safari application, asked it to open in 32-bit mode, and restarted it. We navigated to the game page again and this time it rendered correctly. We played the game and it was very fast.

This little 32-bit flakiness is something that I thought would be an advantage of Snow Leopard vs. Windows 7 (Apple's latest and first full 64-bit OS I believe, whereas Microsoft still asks you to choose which version of the OS you want to install: 32-bit or 64-bit). Turns out, there's components in the system that still need to run 32-bit and you might have to occasionally fiddle with this on a per-application basis.

Lest you think this is going to be a Mac-bashing piece, I thought I'd related a similarly frustrating story from this past week on my PC which also relates to Shockwave. A while back, I noticed a Norton Security Scan application pop up. I thought perhaps it was a work thing, but it was hard to tell. Wherever it came from, it was very persistent and I had a hard time stopping it from scanning my computer once it started. After asking around, it sounded like I may have inadvertently installed it so, I removed it.

I noticed it came back recently when upgrading, you guessed it, Shockwave. Why in the heck would Adobe Shockwave install Norton Security Scan? Bizarre, but it does unless you opt out when you're clicking "next, next, next" to install Shockwave:

So what's the point of the story? The point is that all computers can be a pain in the neck. We can say all we want about one operating system being better than the other, but all computers suffer from some flakiness of one sort or another as part of doing the things we do with them.

But here's the thing... In terms of buying a computer, you've got to do something if you're interested in being online without getting frustrated waiting for a slow computer. And with the iMac, at least you have a snazzy looking machine that can run Mac OS -or- Windows. Look at these alternative all-in-ones from Best Buy. You've got to be kidding me- why can't the PC industry make a better looking computer?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Is Your Credit Card Company Listening to You?


When I got a call on my cell phone this week from a representative from Chase credit cards, my first thought was "unusual spending patterns" and concerns about a stolen card. However, it turned out to be a proactive call to seek to understand why we weren't using the card as much as we had in the past.

I explained that we use our American Express Blue Cash card as much as possible because it offers 1.5% cash back on everyday purchases. The agent did a good job of engaging in a dialogue about some features I might not be aware of with our Chase Cash Plus Rewards card, and I let her know how bizarre I've always found it that they don't offer any incentive to take a $50 gift card in lieu of a $50 statement credit (who in their right might chooses a gift card over cash?). But in the end they don't offer a card that offers 1.5% cash back for every day purchases, so I won't be making any changes in our card at this time.

But here's the thing that got me to blogging about this interaction... Although I thought it was great they were proactively reaching out to see what they could do to retain or earn more of our business, I mentioned that I blogged in detail about why I use the credit cards I use. I asked her if I could E-mail her a link to that blog entry and she told me she didn't have an inbound E-mail address that I could send the link to. Yikes.

For me, great companies should be out doing Google searches to see what people are saying about the credit cards they carry. They'll be searching Twitter for occurrences of their name and responding to criticism and praise. Or better yet, using listening tools like Google Alerts, Twitter search RSS feeds, or Social Mention.

Companies often say they don't have time for social media- but somehow they have time to call individual card holders to engage in lengthy conversations? I just don't get it. Social media, if used effectively, provides leverage and helps companies improve not just one customer's impression of their brand but the impression of everyone that person interacts with.

So, my advice to companies like Chase is to interact with people the way they want to be interacted with. If you really want to hear what people think of your brand, get on Twitter, empower your employees with E-mail addresses, and open up the lines of communication. Otherwise, I'm left with little confidence that you really want to hear what I have to say, and even if you do listen you won't be capable of acting upon the conversation.

Friday, November 06, 2009

He Knows Me So Well

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Apple Mesmerizes with New iMacs (and Delivers Emporer's New Clothes Moment)

So, I'm really impressed with the updates Apple delivered this week. They've reloaded their product line-up quite nicely (after failing to impress with their most recent iPod touch refresh). Particularly interesting to me is the new iMac. Here's why...

When we remodeled our kitchen, I specifically wanted an area where the kids could play games do homework on the computer while still being part of the action. We built in a desk area with a couple of stations that I've envisioned being the perfect place for two little angels to quietly work. It hasn't quite worked out that way, but the kids (now for 4 and 2) do enjoy playing on our 4-year-old iBook for the most part. Occasionally, they'll fight over it and they sometimes get annoyed with it being too slow to run the Flash-based Noggin/Hot Wheels/Playhouse Disney games. I crack up when Sam says he wants to throw the computer (or Firefox itself) out the window. He's a chip off the old block.

So what's the Emporer's New Clothes moment? At about 1 minute into the video, which is a very well done promotional piece, Johnathan Ive is describing the display. He says they've discovered a way to take the glass "right to the very perimeter" of the machine which they have but then he goes on to say "there's just display and then no display".

Huh? What about the inch of the display around the perimeter that's black and is *not* display?

It's this kind of bizarre non-sensical statement that perplexes me and occasionally drives me crazy. First, what are they going to say when the display actually does go right to the edge of the machine? Second, everyone can see as he's saying it that it's not true. It creates, for me, this air of their products being beyond criticism. As in- if you have a problem with your PC, Windows sucks. If you have a problem with your Mac- you must be doing something wrong.

All of that said, I do think the iMac is leaps and bounds ahead of comparable all-in-ones currently on the market from PC manufacturers. I'm really digging the new widescreen display and the 21.5" size looks perfect for our situation. I'm entertaining the idea of running Windows XP (gasp!) on it.

Why? Well first, I imagine it would run incredibly fast, and increasingly I'm simply looking for the operating system to do very basic things. Like run the Google Chrome Browser and get out of the way. Or make it easy to run great free software like Picasa or TweetDeck (or whatever the great new thing is going to be in 2 years) without there being a lag before it is available on the Mac.

Another thing I haven't enjoyed about
Mac OS X on the iBook is that I feel it is better suited to a desktop where you have a very large display and multiple windows up next to each other at the same the same time. Even on my desktop PC I have only 1 window up at a time and I switch through them on the taskbar. Why is this relevant? Well, since there's no right button on the iBook to make it a snap to right-click cut and paste, I find getting around on the iBook with OS X more cumbersome than on a PC notebook with a way to right-click. I know there's a way to create right-click zone on the touchpad with some additional software on Tiger, but that's clunky.

Okay, enough bashing. I love their hardware- think it's beautiful. I want an iMac for the family. This Christmas or sooner. Oh yeah- and I'm thinking about ordering it with a wired keyboard with all of the regular keys a PC has so I can delete-to-the-right/home/end with a single key.

By the way- if you haven't checked out the Fake Steve Jobs blog and you like this kind of stuff I highly recommend it. Here's 2 posts that I think capture the essence of his hilarious style:
What do you think? Is it time for a Mac? If so, is it time to crossover from a PC for the first time?

Friday, June 05, 2009

The garden

We've not done a very good job of writing lately. Well, here at least. You may already know that Bob is a prolific writer elsewhere. My writing has been mostly here. The least I can do in the meantime is share a couple of pictures from my garden. There are few things I love more than having fresh flowers in a clean house on Fridays to enjoy for the weekend. When Bob and I were on our honeymoon, a long long LONG time ago, the wife of a couple we met gushed to me about how her husband always brought her "Friday flowers." The idea seemed appealing, especially because they were celebrating something like their 25th anniversary. It was a sweet and romantic idea until pragmatic me started thinking about how much money goes into those shriveled-by-Monday tulips. For a short time after that, Bob kept the tradition alive. But these days, I'm happy to go outside with my scissors and bring something in that I grew myself. Here are a couple of shots of what was in bloom today. It's the same concept but instead of blow his cash at Kabloom, all Bob needs to do is take me to the nursery now and then, cart mulch, fertilizer and compost around the yard at my whim and keep the children occupied while I pull weeds. Now that's true love.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

3 Reasons I Shop at Nordstrom

About a month ago, I visited the Nordstrom in Natick, MA during their post-holiday Men's sale. I spotted a nifty Tommy Bahama half-zip sweater I really liked. Unfortunately, it was *not* on sale and at $85 I gave it a pass.

Yesterday, I was in their Burlington location and saw the sweater on sale for $41.90. Unfortunately, they didn't have my size. When I asked the salesperson (Natacha) whether they could help me find my size, she went over to a checkout counter and within a couple of seconds she advised that the only store in the company that had the item I was looking for was in New Jersey. She said she could call them and have it shipped to my house for free. Rather than have me wait around, she took my contact information and said she'd call me later in the day to let me know if she could track it down.

Sure enough, a little while later she left a message on my cell phone and said she did indeed have the item and asked that I call her back with my credit card information if I'd like to have it shipped out. I called her this morning and completed the transaction (she gave me her business card so it was easy to reach her.) It couldn't have been any easier.

This interaction is so superior to typical retail customer service I don't know where to begin. All of this for a lousy $40 sweater! Amazing.

Three reasons I shop at Nordstrom:
  1. They give you first class service even when shopping for deeply discounted items.
  2. They carry brands that are interesting to me. Not so high end as to be ridiculously expensive and pretentious, and not so low end that they're available elsewhere for significantly less.
  3. They don't put Christmas decorations up until after Thanksgiving.
For me, there's something about Nordstrom that aligns with my values as a shopper. Service oriented- not pretentious. I see this kind of relative positioning in other industries as well:

Nordstrom is to Neiman Marcus as the Four Seasons is to the Ritz Carlton. As BMW is to Mercedes. Intuitive customer service before appearance of wealth.

Update (2/19/2009): My item showed up today (2 days after I placed the order) and it was just what I was expecting. Not only that, but the tag on the sweater was marked $49.90 (as opposed to the $41.90 I paid) and the receipt in the box also mentioned $10 shipping (which was waived.) My credit card was charged $41.90 just as I expected it would be. Well done, Nordstrom!

What do you think? Is Nordstrom as great as I'm making it out to be?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

16 Things

My friend Michelle from Subtle Revealings tagged me to participate in the 16 things exercise. You have to write 16 random things, shortcomings, facts, habits or goals about yourself. I fought the urge to make this into an all consuming self-evaluative exercise -- and I think I've succeeded. I'm just not sure whether I'm as interesting as she is.

1. My freshman year in high school, my parents moved us from New York to Connecticut over Spring break. The transition was traumatic and made me swear I will never uproot my children when they're in high school.

2. I am compulsive about keeping the floor in my house clean. Except for special occasions, I don't allow shoes in the house past the mud room. There are few things that bug me more than crumbs underfoot.

3. By the end of college I was pretty well able to hold my liquor. Fast forward to two not-even-a-sip pregnancies and almost 2 years of nursing and all that's left is a girl who's flushed and silly after a single glass of wine.

4. Genetically speaking, I'm less than half Italian but I have a strong affinity to all things Italian. I lived with my Italian grandparents for most of my formative years and WISH that I'd learned the language when they could have taught me. I still hope to learn it someday.

5. When I first met Bob I was drawn to him because he reminded me of my next door neighbor when I was growing up, John. He was as close to a big brother as I had as a girl. I remind Bob all the time that if he ever meets John, he has some serious thanking to do.

6. I like going to school. I think about getting another graduate degree. Or at minimum, taking enrichment classes when the kids are older.

7. One of my regrets from childhood is being mean to my sister. I used to torment her because I was so much older and I could. Today, she's my best girl friend.

8. Part of me wants to be just like Martha Stewart. I love things organized, color coordinated and all things monogrammed. I have (almost) every copy of her magazine dating back to 1997.

9. The thing in college that introduced me to the most new experiences was the debate team. I traveled to Louisiana, Utah, Maryland, Michigan, Virginia, Vermont and all those states in between to compete at debate tournaments. Yes, I met plenty of geeks but many more cool, smart people than I anticipated.

10. I love vintage clothes, jewelry and household items. I know I'm too young to say this, but they just don't make things as well as they used to.

11. When we found out we were having another son, we both loved the name Benjamin. But I could not give him that name because I was convinced people would catch on that his name was "bend wire."

12. People closest to me used to call me the Ice Queen. I once sat through the movie Lorenzo's Oil without shedding a tear while all the women around me were whimpering. Ever since I had children of my own, I'm a regular water works. And the thing that gets me worst? Sick kids.

13. I will always be a value shopper no matter our financial situation. The only things I will pay the retail price for are groceries.

14. My hands are like my dad's-- rough, strong, manual laboring hands. Except smaller.

15. I fight the urge to be the grammar police. I like to write but am kept from it because I have to edit, edit, edit to perfection. Even a quick personal email has to meet rigorous standards.

16. I am terrible about keeping in touch with people who mean a lot to me. I never think to pick up the phone and call someone to chat. This has cost me several friendships over time. Sometimes it's so bad that I wonder if I'm phoneaphobic.

At the end I'm supposed to choose 16 people to be tagged. But I like the number 4 better (and I think my chances will be better if I only put the pressure on a few) so... Sarah, Dave, Rick and Laura consider yourselves tagged.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Top 3 Words to Watch In 2009

Number 3: Niche

The ease with which one can publish rich content, coupled with increasingly ubiquitous Internet access makes it possible for anyone to get their thoughts published. This in turn makes for it easier than ever to connect with people who are interested in the same niches (or even micro-niches) as you. Interested in kitchen remodeling? Too broad- how about focusing instead on considerations in countertop selection. How about blogging about Fantasy Baseball? Too broad- consider focusing on techniques for swiftly dropping/picking up relief pitchers. Interested in scrapbooking? Too broad- consider a blog focused on doing video reviews of paper cutters used in scrapbooking. We've all got interests and we're all experts in something. If we care enough to publish it, there will be people out there who care enough to read it. Starting a blog is one of the few businesses that you can truly start for *free* and potentially make money on from day 1 with Google AdSense Ads and Amazon Associate Product Links.

Number 2: Clarity

As a consumer, nothing bothers me more than ambiguity in an offer. And in general, I find the most value in content I read when it provides clarity. It's sometimes unclear to me whether communication lacks clarity because the writer is unable to provide a clear description -or- because a retailer is attempting to bamboozle me. When I encounter lack of clarity in a product description or service offering I assume it is an attempt to bamboozle. When I encounter it in the context of written word I assume it is because the writer is unable to provide a clear description. Either way, in my view, clarity is a valuable commodity and as such it presents an opportunity for clear communicators. Consider using your ability to communicate clearly by starting a blog on a subject you're passionate about today.

And the Number 1 Word to Watch in 2009: Authentic

Classic marketing has developed a bad rap because after a while it all sounds the same. With the rise of social media (lately sites like Facebook and Twitter), we are now able to associate a higher volume of product/service recommendations with people we know. Since we know something about these people and how they operate we're able to assess the recommendation in context with what we know about the person already. It's this kind of authentic recommendation that makes the "social graph" of Facebook (ie, your friends and your friends-of-friends) so powerful. Even if we don't know the person (which is more often the case with Twitter than Facebook) if we're able to quickly verify that the person is not a shill, or at minimum a real person making a real recommendation, we're more likely to consider the word of mouth recommendation than even the most finely crafted sales pitch. Watch for: Twitter to be increasingly polluted with non-authentic noise in 2009.

As you come across these words in the material you read in 2009 I hope you'll remember this little blog entry.

Question of the Day: What do you think? What word do you expect to see an uptick in usage in 2009?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

I was just outside cleaning up a little snow with Sam and I noticed how similar he looks to me when I was a young pup. I thought it would be a good time to bust out a photo of me when I was his age for comparison:

What do you think? Is he my boy?
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