Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Another Edition of Tales from Management Consulting!

:::cue spooky music and thunder clap:::

I thought I'd pop in with another quick story of stuff that's happened during the course of my project.

We're wrapping up my current engagement, the details of which are not important for the purposes of this story. Suffice it to say, there was a conference call scheduled earlier this week with the CEO of our client and other top executives.

Our project team leaders, partners at our firm, had requested the meeting at the end of one of our steering committee meetings (It's called the steering committee because it's made up of leadership that will periodically guide, or "steer" the ongoing effort. You know, like the captains of a large ocean liner like the Titanic only without the large giant iceberg and thousands of hypothermia-related deaths)

Anyway, because we had attended that steering committee meeting, we (myself and the other associate on the project), were included on the invitation to the CEO conference call that was put together by the executive's assistant.

Good for us, because we wouldn't typically be included on such a high-level and relatively impromptu discussion.

Of course, the client executive team, and our own project leaders, didn't exactly give us permission to attend.

So, our plan was to dial in to the call early, to be there right at the beginning when everyone joins, mute our phone, and simply listen to hear what was going on and what the next steps of the project would be.

Simple, right?

So we dial in to the call, when the conference system announces that we'll now be placed into conference and that there are only three people on the call.

:::Electronic Beeps:::

Client Executive: Hello this is the team at Client X, who else has joined the call?

Consulting Firm Manager: This is X with Y Consulting Firm

Client Executive: Hello...


Client Executive: I thought there was someone else on the call?"

At this point, we're not sure exactly what to do. We've just been made, but dropping off might be too blatant. Also, we had received specific instructions NOT to introduce ourselves because of the whole lack of specific permission thing. If we were Allied spies in Nazi Germany...this is the point where we'd dash off for a high stakes life or death chase through the Alps.

But this isn't a movie, so we just cursed in our conference room.

Suddenly, more beeps came on the line, a few, maybe two, maybe four. People began to announce themselves, and we breathed a sigh of relief.

It won't matter, we thought, we just got lost in the shuffle.

The new attendees introduced themselves over the phone, and then there was another awkward pause...

Client Executive: I thought there was one more person on the call..."

At that point we received an email from our team...

"Just drop off the call, now"

We hung up on the conference, leaving them to guess who dropped off, and leaving us to wonder what might be said

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fair Use

I've been living in my new Manhattan apartment for a little over three months now, and I'm starting to adjust to the new surroundings.

The doormen finally know who I am, even with all the long work hours and traveling that meant they often weren't sure I even lived in the building.

I'm also getting used to the workout room here. I won't go so far as to call it a gym, because it's literally a studio apartment on the second floor that's been converted. It doesn't have much in the way of equipment, just a large rack of free weights, two treadmills, and two elliptical machines. Certainly adequate, although I miss UChicago's Ratner center (my workout room also doesn't have the first ever awarded Heisman trophy).

Anyway, one of the nicer touches our workout room does have is a big office-cliche style water cooler. A giant jug of refrigerated spring water, complete with the rack of little cone cups that you can't set down on anything so you'd better drink your water all at once.

It's definitely nice to have, although many times I'll go to work out and find it empty. Not only does it leave me a little thirsty, but it also made me wonder, who was drinking all this water?

I've used the facility on all types of days at all different hours, and I very rarely see anyone else there. Moreover, I very rarely see anyone who IS there actually take some water.

So where is it all going? This morning I got a clue as to the answer.

As I was finishing up my workout, the door to the workout room opened (it's locked, and each resident who requests a key can get their own).

I was stretching, so the first thing I noticed were this man's feet. They had shoes on, but they were flashy stylish casual sneakers. They didn't seem to be workout shoes. He was also wearing jeans. Again, not part of your typical workout outfit, and clearly not endorsed as suitable attire by any licensed professional trainer.

He walked into the workout room and turned immediately to his right, focusing his attention on the water cooler, and in a very matter of fact way, placed two large empty plastic bottles on top of the cooler.

He then took the first bottle, placed it under the water cooler spigot, and began to fill it.

I looked on, horrified as he calmly siphoned off water intended for those in a much sweatier and wearier condition.

The bottle filled, and he brought it up to his eye level, where he examined it like a chemist checks a graduated cylinder for precision. Unsatisfied, he filled it up a little more. Once complete, he repeated the process with the remaining empty bottle, as I stood there, waiting for my now meager by comparison cone cup.

He left, now burdened with the extra weight of two full bottles of water, and as I drank my own I felt a bitter taste of complete irrational indignation.
From my perspective, this water belonged to ME...and to every other tenant who needs water after a workout. Now, I haven't seen this gentleman's apartment, so maybe he doesn't have running water, a refrigerator, or a BRITA. Of course, maybe he just doesn't have any decency.

Who steals water from the gym? And what should I do to combat this problem?

Poison the water! That was my first idea. I dismissed it as slightly problematic, after all, where does one even buy poison?

My second idea was just to quit my job and sit in the gym, all day, every day, patiently waiting for this or another similar bottle-filler to come in. I would pretend to be going about my workout, then when they fill their water bottles and turn to leave, I would snatch the bottles and run away, re-distributing the water to thirsty looking people like a modern-day Robin Hood. Only no tights.

There was also brief thought of rational discussion with the water stealer, but that ultimately was also dismissed as impractical. Settling disputes face to face isn't what we're supposed to do, we supposed to just privately complain, that's what the internet is for!

I also gave some thought to whether I might be wrong in this situation. The water is available for residents of the building. And while it may be intended specifically for those who use the workout room, is it right that anyone should be able to use it as they see fit? Perhaps...

Although if that is the case, I've always wanted to wash my car in clean and refrigerated spring water...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I bet this happens a lot in consulting

In the middle of a midtown Manhattan office, two Associates are working on the same project team

Associate 1: Hey, are you working on the project application map?

Associate 2: Yeah, are you working on the technology process flows?

Associate 1: Yeah...why?

Associate 2: The senior team told me I should use your process flows to create my application map.

Associate 1: Uh, well, the senior team told me I should use YOUR project application map for MY technology process flows.

Associates 1 and 2 (together): Shit

And scene

Monday, November 23, 2009

Atlantic City Adventure

Atlantic City really is kind of a dump.

It's dirty, or dingy, maybe that's a better word. Grimy, that might actually be even better.

It certainly seems dangerous, at least if you wander off the boardwalk where you're comforted by the casino paramilitary security forces.

It's also filled with cigarette smoke and old people, each of which make things a little inconvenient and a little less fun. At least with smoking a lot of places now have 'smoking rooms', which are little tiny glass encased rooms for smokers to sit and puff in. Really just makes me think of a prison gas chamber. Can't figure out why they can't have the same setup for the elderly (note: this does not pertain to the fun old people that occasionally dot the gambling landscape, I'm really talking about the ones who wheel their oxygen tank to the slot machines).

So yeah, Atlantic City can be kind of depressing, and given my gambling track record, it usually has been for me. But I went down there this past weekend, and for the first time in my gambling life (or career? Is career a better term? I guess I don't want to suggest it's a job, so no), everything seemed to be coming up roses.

I was meeting some friends from home after work on Friday, and figured I'd just take the bus down from Manhattan to meet them. Without a car in New York, and with an oddly irregular train schedule (departures at 2pm or 8pm, really?), I felt like Greyhound would actually make some more sense.

I thought I was taking this thing called the Greyhound Lucky Streak, which is a bus that will charge you for a ticket, take you straight to a casino, where a nice casino host will give you money to go gamble. Seemed like a good deal, although Greyhound was essentially pimping us out to the casinos, delivering us right into their clutches with the promise of a few dollars. At least I got to keep my clothes on.

The bus ride itself was its own adventure. Apparently Greyhound's NYC-AC run isn't really popular with young men in their 20's. You know who it is popular with? Overweight people. So I spent the ride fighting over the armrest with a portly older woman like the British and Germans negotiating over the Sudetenland. I ended up with it, which makes her Chamberlain. It also makes me Hitler. Whatever, I really wanted that armrest.

There was also a great moment departing Port Authority bus station. As we rounded a corner in the underground bus terminal, there was a big booth that appeared to house station security or some other group of employees. They had one of those big digital counters that read, "Number of consecutive days without a collision." The counter had four digits, which means it could hypothetically get up to 9,999.

You know how many days Port Authority had gone without a collision?

Five! The counter literally read 0005, in big red numbers. Now, if you're the manager, do you really want to illuminate it when it's at five??? Why not wait until you've at least gotten to 10...then you're in two-digit territory? Or maybe seven, a full week? I guess they just have a lot of accidents. Makes you feel good right before a 2+ hour bus ride.

Anyway, the bus finally arrived at the casino, and after a while, I finally met up with my friends. We threw our stuff in the room (even though we're in our late-20's, we haven't yet reached the point where we're willing to pay for multiple rooms. Blame it on the economy) and we headed out to find our fortunes.

It was safe to say that Atlantic City was glad to have us. The casinos were so dead I actually saw a cocktail WAITER for the first time in almost a decade of gambling! It was an actual dude serving drinks, that has to be some kind of apocalyptic sign. I think the Mayans may have covered that in their 2012 end of the world scenario.

But we wandered around, unfazed by the bad sign, and at some point (and after a few drinks), wound up at a section of our hotel called, "The Ridge"

What is the Ridge? Well, let me try to explain.

Picture a casino/hotel that's a little run down. It's not really got a lot going on, not a lot of young people, and definitely not hip. It's not the Borgata, but it wants to be. Or at least it wants its young blood like some kind of non-Twilight vampire. Like an old vampire.

So what does it do? It colors an entire section of casino in purple. It puts a giant dance floor in the middle of the dance floor. It throws in a bar, a DJ table, and it makes its dealers dance.

Yes, it appears as through they make casino dealers, generally some of the most unfriendly people in the world, shake their respective groove things.

For the record, dancing is usually funny, but forced dancing is always hilarious.

That and $10 table minimums, and we were sold on The Ridge. We started playing blackjack, and I had on of those runs I'd always read about. I hit a couple blackjacks, got some dealer busts, split two eights and got another eight, split that, and won all three hands. It was that kind of run, which I don't think I've ever had. I didn't win a ton of money, but managed to triple my buy-in and celebrated by buying a round of what probably were ill-advised shots. Didn't really matter though, I was the big winner, with our planned poker tournament excursion on tap for Saturday.

Fast forward through the breakfast buffet explosion to the 1pm poker tournament at Bally's. It's a run of the mill hold 'em tournament, with a $75 buy-in (a portion of which goes to the house and portion of which goes to a player prize pool)

They had 111 players for our tournament, scattered across several tables throughout the poker room.

I've played a few of these in the past, maybe 5-10 during my visits to casinos over the year. They almost always go like this:

- I take my stack of chips and sit down
- I get nothing but terrible cards
- I get up from the table with no chips

This time however, things were a little different.

I saw some jacks, I saw a queen or two, even saw a few aces.

And I stuck around.

We played through the first hour, and I was still sitting there. Of course that wasn't a big deal, it seemed like everyone was still there. But I had a decent pile of chips, enough that I wasn't crippled when a really really old guy with an oxygen tank sucked out a runner-runner flush on me (which made me think evil thoughts about the old man which included but were not limited to, messing with his oxygen tank, physically assaulting him, and refusing to get off his lawn)

But I hung around, and hung around, and hung around.

My friend kept coming over from his table to ask how I was doing. The answer was always the same...

"I'm still sitting here"

And I sat there for a while (probably over 5 hours, which was certainly way to much sitting for my tastes)

I stole a lot of pots with pre-flop raises followed by flop bets, and kept enough chips that I wasn't even that annoyed with the losers wearing sunglasses (A brief aside on wearing sunglasses at the poker table: If you're playing in the World Series of Poker, or some super high stakes cash game, then maybe, maybe you can get away with sunglasses. But really, we're playing at Bally's in Atlantic City at a $75 tournament! You, guy or girl with sunglasses, are NOT a professional, I am NOT a professional, we are all amateurs, and you aren't hiding anything with your glasses, you're just revealing the fact that you're an idiot.)

Steps off soapbox)

Finally, as the blind levels (forced betting) got higher and higher, people started to get knocked off. After a while, we finally got whittled down from the original 111 to the final ten.

The final ten is important for two reasons. One, it's called the final table for a reason, it's just cool to have made it there. Two, it means you actually win money.

That was the hardest part of the tournament, when there were maybe 15 people left, and everyone just wanted to make it to 10th place to walk away with some money. In reality, coming in 11th place and getting nothing might be worse than coming in 111th, at least you would've saved some time.

But I had a good stack around then, and generally could avoid the fray and make it to the final 10. And once I got there, I figured I might as well stay a while.

There were a bunch of us with relatively small stacks of chips. And it was clear a bunch of us were trying to wait everyone out and back into more money. Every now and then, I would steal blinds (raising early to drive out other people and take their forced bets) and make sure I could stick around.

The other guys didn't, or they tried to steal from the one guy with a ton of chips and ran into trouble.

And as they got knocked off one by one, I looked up at the tournament payout screen and saw my potential winnings go up and up.

Pretty soon, there were only three of us. One guy had a large share of the chips, and me and the other guy were at about the same level.

Then we kept going, and for about a half-hour, I picked at the other guys. Stealing the increasingly high blinds, picking spots, and gaining ground on the chip leader.

I kept at it of a while, enough so that when the third place guy suggested we split all the prize money, the chip leader was happy to divide all the money equally amongst the three of us.

Just so we're clear on the situation, first place was set to pay out ~$2,500, second place was ~$1,500, and third place was ~$750.

If we all split equally, the tournament director told us, we'd all take home a little over $1,600 each.

Knowing the relatively uncertain nature of heads-up poker, I happily accepted the offer. I think the chip leader was scared of playing me, either that or he was just sick and tired of sitting for that long.

We all shook hands, congratulated each other, and counted out our large piles of hundred dollar bills (which unless the IRS reads my blog, won't get taxed...did I say piles of hundreds? I meant piles of fives). I had to resist the urge to make it rain in the casino.

My friends and I celebrated with dinner, and called it a trip.

I basically had the best gambling trip of my life, particularly given that I've done nothing but lose consistently for the last couple years. And now, as I enter my refractory period, I'm struggling with the strong possibility that it will never get better than this (gambling wise of course...certainly they'll be tons of better moments in my actual life, at least I hope so), turning $75 into $1,600.

But something tells me I haven't seen my last poker room.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hating Belichick a Little Less

I'm on board Amtrak and headed down the northeastern corridor, but have been reading a lot about this past Sunday night's Patriots-Colts game.

I had just gotten into New York that night, and had checked the score as I walked through the airport to see the Colts down by a lot, 24-7 if I remember correctly.

Since I hate the Patriots, this was unfortunate.

But I continued to monitor the game as I headed back to my apartment for the same reason most young guys do, my critical fantasy football matchup.

With Colts WR Reggie Wayne carrying my roster against my opponents Patriots WR (and all-around jerk) Wes Welker, I wasn't feeling too good about my chances and left ESPN gamecast running as I hopped in the shower.

Of course, only after I got out of the shower did I see the final score, Colts win 35-34, on a last minute TD by none other than Reggie Wayne.

Good news of course, especially because the Patriots are cheaters and Peyton Manning should always beat them.

But what was interesting to me was the next morning, when Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has been praised more than any professional coach in any sport over the last decade, was getting hammered by the media.

His crime, he went for it on fourth down, the Patriots failed to convert, Peyton Manning got the ball back, and the rest is history.

Unfortunately, as much as I've hated Belichick for things like his cheating and being an all-around not nice guy, he actually may have made the right decision.

The whole incident, precipitated by going for it on fourth down, brings up an issue I always harp on when watching the NFL. The fact that NFL coaches, by a large, are terrified of doing anything that could get the criticized.

Punting on fourth down, as opposed to going for it in a makeable situation, is the most obvious example and one that happens in just about every game.

Belichick, now that he's reached 'I'm-Keith Hernandez' status from his Super Bowl rings, no longer has to worry about being called a moron or his job security. To be fair, I don't think he's ever been worried about that stuff since he joined the Patriots, and that's one of the reasons he's a good coach.

Belichick knew, as any smart football fan does, that the whole going for it decision boils down to a relatively simple calculation of expected value.

This webpage is a pretty good calculator that will let you figure it out for yourself.


But at its most basic level, I think Belichick was right to go for it and try to end the game, even if he was deep in his own territory.

Had he succeeded, all we would hear about is how Belichick is a tremendous coach, has guts, knows his team, or some other such nonsense.

Instead, his call didn't work out, and he's an idiot.

It pains me to say it, but I have to disagree.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I've got some down time for the moment, and since it's a relatively rare occurrence these days, I figured I'd try to bang out a blog post as quickly as possible. That means there will probably be tons of spelling mistakes, run on sentances, and gushing streams of consciousness (moreso than usual)

As you may have guessed, I've been a little busy. So let's get you guys up to date on how my introduction to the world of full time consulting has gone.

My first project was originally billed as a four week project for a media company assisting them with some new product strategy work. Quick review: great project. It ended up running for an extra week to do some additional analyses, but I thought it was a fantastic opportunity to a) do really interesting strategy work in my favorite industry, and b) get to meet people within my firm that do the kind of work I'd love to keep doing (only catch being there's not a ton of it).

I did a whole bunch of things that I didn't exactly know how to do, but learned on the way, which is the whole benefit of a consulting gig right? I helped create and field a survey to thousands of potential new product customers. I interviewed a bunch of senior executives to talk about their needs. I had to learn a whole new software package just so I could take some raw data and figure out key takeaways from our survey results. I created a revenue model to estimate how big this product could be (answer: not insignificant). And I saw my work essentially leaked in the Wall Street Journal...which was weird, because I sure as heck didn't tell them, and neither did the rest of my team.

The project worked me pretty hard, but I guess I didn't spend all that time in business school to not work hard, that's why I go to casinos.

My new project has actually got me traveling a bit. Turns out, I actually kind of like it and may even prefer it. Sitting in airports/train stations/rental cars is not ideal, duh, but when I travel I get a hotel that will have cable TV (which my apartment doesn't), and I'll usually get a decent gym (better than the one in my apartment). Of course, the hotel I stayed at this week was a rare exception. They had two pretty old treadmills, some weird elliptical model I've never encountered, and one 30 pound dumbbell. Seriously, they just had the one. Who does that? Or did someone steal it? And what would they do with it if they did?!?

But I digress.

This project is focused on helping an insurance company improve their business processes. I could tell you more, but you're head would probably explode from all the excitement.

Other than that, things have been going well. I got to participate in my first few MBA recruiting events, and I'd say they've been just about everything I could hope for. It's very funny to have MBA students, all looking for jobs, under the impression that I can seriously make or break their chances. Everyone is very polite, they usually write me nice thank you notes after meeting me, and maybe the weirdest part, they will literally laugh at anything I say that might be potentially funny.

They're in that weird spot where they don't want to not laugh if what I'm saying is a joke, so I think to play it safe they all will give at least a weak chuckle regardless of what I say.

I'm trying to think of things that are definitely NOT funny that I can test the theory with.

"I got really bad food poisoning the other day. I had to go to the hospital."

"My cat got hit by a car last week. She didn't make it."

"Holocaust Holocaust HOLOCAUST"

I bet you there would be a tremendously awesome awkward moment where they start to laugh, then see my serious face, then get really concerned. I'll have to work to make that happen one of these days.

Apart from that there's not much doing. I actually haven't spent much time in my NYC apartment in the last month. Multiple trips to Chicago for some weddings with the GF, as well as a trip out to see Penn State completely fold to a big 10 rival. The football game wasn't any good, but I did get to eat a 'Fat Doughboy' sandwich form R.U. Hungry that had the following on it:

Chicken Fingers
Mozzarella Sticks
French Fries

It's the little things in life...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

$5.01, really?

I was visiting with my girlfriend this past weekend, and she said something really interesting (not that she doesn't do that all the time, but this was particularly interesting)

It was interesting not just because it was right, but also because it sounded EXACTLY like something I would say!

She asked me if I had seen the new Arby's commercial.

I hadn't, but that didn't matter, she was about to explain it to me.

"Why," she wondered "would Arby's promote their combos and set a price at five dollars and one penny?!?"

"Why the extra penny?" she continued, getting more and more animated as she built herself into an anti-Arby's rant.

The combos, near as I can tell (and now that I've seen the commercials for myself) are just their sandwiches with a drink and fries.

The commercials harp on the fact that the combos are worth the extra penny, or something like that.

My girlfriend just couldn't get it. And I agreed. Why in the world would you create a huge campaign to announce that your combo meal is incrementally MORE expensive than all the other options (Subway, Quizno's, KFC).

Maybe they're trying to establish themselves as THE premium crappy sandwich place.

I don't know much about Arby's, having been opposed to them ever since I heard they were calling their roast beef sandwiches, 'Roastburgers'.

Those things aren't burgers! As someone who cooks 90% of their own meals on a George Foreman grill, I know what the heck a burger is and what it is not and it is NOT a roast beef sandwich!

See, see how animated I got just there? That's how she got.

Either we're more similar than I thought, or I'm rubbing off on her

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Small world, this consulting thing

I've only been in consulting for a few weeks, and I've been amazed at the number of small world coincidences I've already run into through training and my first project:

- During a training exercise, our hypothetical project team had a meeting interrupted by two more senior guys playing 'partners.' As soon as they walked in, I immediately recognized one as my interviewer from internship recruiting at school for another firm. Of course, I didn't get that job, but I had always thought it was because I bombed the other interview so I didn't feel too awkward.

- In getting involved with the Chicago Booth recruiting team, I had to get in touch with the team's recruiting head. When I finally found him, it turned out he was formerly the recruiting head for a different consulting firm. I met him during internship recruiting too, and it was my discussion with him that got me my interview. Weird.

- On the first day of my project, we're sitting in a team room at the client (a large media company that will remain undisclosed). The client team is coming down, and when they come in I recognize the most senior guy. He used to be a pretty senior guy at another big consulting firm, working almost exclusively in media and entertainment. I had spent a good half an hour talking with him at a recruiting even before he jumped off the consulting ship.

Totally weird...I'm half expecting to run into every other person that didn't give me a job during business school...

That would be an awful lot of people

Sunday, September 27, 2009

New New York City

Just in case you assumed I went off to work and forgot all about blogging, I'm making sure to take part of this weekend to give a quick update on what's been happening since I started work on the 11th.

In short, work has been going well.

We had a brief week of training, which was fine and a good chance to see everyone from my former summer internship class.

On the Friday of training week, we were dismissed in the early afternoon, so I went with the other new New York associates back to the office.

Throughout the week, I would keep a close watch on my inbox, looking for anything that would indicate what my staffing situation would be.

I could have been staffed anywhere, or nowhere, and I really really wanted to know.

So I'm back in the office on Friday, and haven't heard anything. Time keeps ticking, and the closer I get to the end of the day, the more I'm convinced I won't be staffed and will start my career on the 'beach'

But late in the day, I finally got an email from an admin in the office.

Later on that day I got what essentially was a confirmation.

I was indeed staffed, on a local project, on a strategy assignment for a media company.


We started last Monday, spending most of our time in our own offices. The work has been really interesting, although given it was originally proposed as a 7 week project and got compressed to 4 weeks, there has been a fair amount of work to do.

I've spent time working on a survey to potential customers, talking with vendors, and competitive landscape analyses on other products in the potential new product's space.

I'm really glad I got put on the project, now I just have to make sure I don't screw up. (That's the downside of getting a first project exactly where you want it, screwing up would make a pretty poor first impression)

Other than that, things have been ok. I'm adjusting to my new apartment (which is nice) and my new lack of cable TV (which is also ok), and my efforts to eat better (not really as ok)

It's definitely different in Manhattan. You have the convenience of everything, with the inconvenience of millions of other people everywhere. I have yet to determine whether it's a zero sum at the end of the day.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Attention MBA students, big brother is watching

With summer generally comes nice weather and laziness. Chicago seems to have kept the nice weather at bay this year, but the city has done nothing to stop me from being lazy about blogging (a nice vacation in CA also didn't help).

I know postings have been long overdue, and I'm going to try and put some more out before I start work in ~2 weeks and I'm lost to the real world forever.

I got an email today that took me back, all the way back to last fall, when I was just another MBA student in the recruiting crunch.

When you try to get a job with a consulting firm (or any firm really) that recruits on campus, you're schedule quickly fills up with all kinds of sponsored events.

- Come meet a few company employees for dinner

- Attend a presentation on new intellectual capital from a company partner

- Swing by your local office to do some interview prep work with the firm

Etc. Etc. Etc., the list goes on and on, and for those trying to juggle multiple firms (which is everyone), it can get rather complicated.

This is only made worse for those paranoid students out there who worry that their every move is being tracked and evaluated. These types (and yes, I was certainly one of them), struggle with which events to attend, which to skip, and how that will be perceived by potential hiring decision makers.

Of course, there were some that dismissed such concerns, some that sat back and felt like these firms had way more important things to do rather than track candidates every move.

Well, score one for the paranoids among us.

Earlier today I got a job postings email from the school's career services office (and no, I'm not looking for a new job, I just like to see what's going on). In today's email there was a posting from a major consulting firm for a 'Recruiting Associate.' I thought that was interesting, not as a career switch for myself, but just as someone who's gone through the recruiting process. Anyway, the description was fairly generic and typical for an HR recruiting description (leaving out the odd decision to recruit MBAs for a position that doesn't require an MBA)

But the following section of the 'Essential Duties and Responsibilities' section caught my eye:

- Database Maintanence
: Maintain candidate records in database, as well as hard copy candidate files
: Maintain event records, including logistical details and candidate attendance

Paranoia justified.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Haven't posted in the last few days (weeks? I really haven't been keeping track), but I guess it's because I'm in the last throes of my summer vacation before work starts in September.

I'm back here in Chicago, and faced with a similar dilemma as to how to occupy my time.

Yesterday I waited at my girlfriend's apartment so the cable guy could come and fix her DVR. That counts as productive I guess. But what was funny was when my girlfriend mentioned she'd DVR'd a lot of movies and that if I wanted to kill time I could watch them.

I just checked the list of movies. I think it speaks for itself...the following has not been edited in any way...

- The Notebook
- What Happens in Vegas
- Atonement
- Sex and the City (the movie)
- Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (apparently there was a sequel)
So, a DVR'd movie didn't exactly make it onto my agenda. However, I'm more concerned with the fact that I scheduled this same DVR to record an Eagles pre-season game. I think it may set off some kind of internal alarm due to a radical gender switch in programming that indicates a kidnapping and/or home invasion has happened.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

You Dropped it in the Toilet?

Just a brief anecdote...

I was at my girlfriend's apartment the other day. I forget the exact circumstances...but I needed to go brush my teeth.

I have a toothbrush there, and although we constantly debate the merit of her orange colored toothpaste, it's not a huge deal.

Anyway, I brush my teeth as usual and look to rinse with one of the three plastic cups sitting on the counter. There was a clear one, a blue one, and an orange one. I chose the orange one, swig some water, end of story.

That's when my girlfriend calls out from the other room.

'By the way, I dropped one of the cups in the toilet'

Now at this point I decide not to ask her why she would still keep a toilet-dunked cup on the bathroom counter...I'm much more interested in the color of said toilet-dunked cup.

'Which color cup was it???'

There was a slight pause.

'Orange.' she said.

I walked out of the bathroom and gave her a great big kiss...now we're even.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

RCN Sucks

I only have about a week left in my apartment, and mercifully, I will soon be rid of RCN as my cable provider. With some good fortune, I'll never have to deal with them again.

Of course, I couldn't just run out the clock on my cable plan without another example of how completely inept and ridiculous this company is.

I commented over a week ago about how my cable bill shot up to well over $100/month. I figured I had been on a promotion, and RCN, being a sneaky company that doesn't genuinely care about its customers (at least until they come perilously close to churning) just opted not to remind me.

I was wrong about that, they did remind me...today, a good 10 days after I got my 'enhanced' bill.

The letter I got today, which is dated July 13th, included the following:

Dear JC,

We want to thank you for being a loyal and valued RCN customer. As a valued customer, you deserve the best services at reasonable prices.

This letter is to inform you that the promotional pricing you signed up for is scheduled to end on your next billing cycle. We'd like to offer you the opportunity to keep all your current services for only an additional $20 per month.

Blah Blah Blah...All of us at RCN appreciate your business.

They appreciate my business and respect me so much that they waited until after I paid a higher bill to inform me that my bill would be going up...Gee, thanks guys. I sure can tell I'm a valued customer.

I also love that I have the great 'opportunity' to pay an extra $20/month. I can't wait for other great opportunities they might have like getting gouged for a premium movie channel, extorted into equipment 'rental' fees, or just having RCN thugs grab me outside my office and steal my lunch money.

This only adds to RCN's rich history of providing poorly functioning cable boxes, providing disturbingly inferior VOD interface, and let's not forget the six months I spent trying to get my internet fixed because my modem needed "re-provisioning" (note: Re-provisioning just means some worthless call center employee in either Bangalore or Salt Lake City types a 3 instead of a 2 on their computer...it took a number of visits from technicians and calls to figure it out)

So to Tom McKay, Senior Vice President of Operations & General Manager of RCN...I'm going to decline your generous offer of having me pay you more money. I look forward to returning your equipment, washing my hands of the whole affair, and never doing business with your organization again, unless it's to acquire your firm, torch the headquarters, and desecrate your remains.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

ESPN Chicago - Follow Up

Back in April, I posted an entry about ESPN's newest foray into sports media, a regionally-focused portal based here in Chicago.

Well...it took five months, but the mainstream media finally caught on to the story. The NY Times published an article on the site

Here's what I wrote in April, shortly after the site's launch...

I would guess, based purely on my own web surfing habits, that ESPN can drive a ton of traffic to this new portal relative to the incumbent players. While I personally read articles from my hometown newspaper on their web site every day...I never go to Comcast's site. With that said, I'll go to ESPN.com's main page at least a dozen times a day. Something tells me I'd click through pretty often if they had a Philadelphia sports portal.

I would assume the new ESPN site will get huge Chicago traffic, and demonstrate that national media players who run successful internet enterprises can pick up niche audiences with regionalized perspectives. Part of this is based on my experience watching regional providers stink, or miss plenty of opportunities to build bigger internet audiences.

So how is it actually playing out? From the NY Times article...

In less than three months, ESPN Chicago has become the city’s top sports site, attracting about 590,000 unique visitors in June, according to data from comScore, an Internet measurement company. Second place went to The Tribune’s online sports section with 455,000 unique visitors.

ESPN plans to announce an expansion of this initiative into New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas.

Just remember where you should've read about it first

Yahoo Stat Tracker and the Benefits of Competition

The score is tied late in the fourth quarter...

The quarterback takes the snap and rolls right...

He sees the tight end open in the corner of the end zone, he passes...


The thrill of victory, for the quarterback, the tight end, and the team's fans.

But for thousands of other football watchers around the country, the thrill of the moment is superseded by the ticking of a computerized spreadsheet.

Six fantasy points for the tight end! Or four if you had the quarterback! Or maybe ten if you had them BOTH!

People like to rail on fantasy football as a destructive force rampaging through the NFL. They argue that it destroys fan loyalty to their team and promotes individual success at the expense of team interests.

Those people are whiners...but that is neither here nor there.

For the past few years I've played fantasy football, and it's a lot of fun. The advances in internet technology has fostered an explosion in both the number of fantasy players and the quality of league management systems. Yahoo! was one of the first to take advantage, becoming, in my experience, the dominant fantasy league management provider.

For absolutely nothing, you and your friends could create a league and run it for nothing.

Of course, Yahoo!, in an attempt to monetize its large user base, offered a Yahoo! Plus upgrade. If you were actually willing to pay, you could get a more advanced package that offered additional research information (pretty useless) and things like StatTracker (very useful).

StatTracker is just some additional software that updates your teams' performance information in real-time. If you don't play fantasy football, trust me, it's nice to have.

Anyway, Yahoo! has always tried to charge for this feature. I think somewhere in the range of $12-$20 for the season. Not a lot, but certainly not something most casual fantasy players would go for.

All that's changed, as Yahoo is now promoting its StatTracker as free to all users.


Of course, this isn't because Yahoo! is some benevolent company trying to give away its products for the betterment of the fantasy football world. For the free giveaway, we should really be thanking ESPN.

I may be wrong, but last season (or potentially the season before), ESPN started making a huge push for its own fantasy management system. They promoted it heavily on its own network (which Yahoo! doesn't have), its sports websites, and things like its podcasts (I specifically remember Bill Simmons mentioning it).

Against the threat from ESPN, who gives away things like StatTracker, Yahoo has reduced its price from ~$12-$20 to zero (which I'm pretty sure is the marginal cost).

Nice to see the economics of competition play out.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


I was at my girlfriend's apartment recently, when she complained that her toilet seemed to be running.

I told her to wait a second, but she seemed convinced it was some kind of problem.

I tore myself away from whatever I was doing and walked over the the bathroom, where I cleared off all the stuff that sits on the toilet and opened the tank.

Everything looked normal, so I took the opportunity to go through all the parts and how they worked together to make a functioning toilet. The chain, the flapper, the float, the whole darn thing.

Much like this photo.

I thought it was interesting, and figured my girlfriend would appreciate knowing how it worked so she could fix it in a pinch.

She looked at me like I was some kind of crazy person.

I guess that will still be my job.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cutting the Cable Cord...at least in TV terms

I got my last RCN cable bill in the mail the other day, and due to the expiration of a promotion I apparently had, the combination of television and internet service cost me approximately $115. That's a lot of money for someone without an income, and it finally got me to the point where I actually researched whether I really need cable TV at all.

I've been thinking about that quite a bit recently, especially since I've had more time to watch TV and can never seem to find anything to watch (other than Law & Order)

Some due diligence on what cable would cost for my new apartment in Manhattan.

A combination package of cable internet and television from Time Warner Cable would cost $112.95 per month before taxes and fees.

That seems like quite a bit, although I would get 100 HD channels, which I guess would be nice. Of course then I actually looked up the list of these HD channels and found quite a few that I would never watch:

Crime and Investigation HD?
Lifetime Movie Network HD?
Style HD?
Toon Disney HD?

Do I really need to pay for all of that garbage??? (Apologies to the country's 3 C&I HD channel fans)

So...it's clear that I don't want to pay $1355 a year for cable tv and internet, so I thought about what I could do instead.

First, I would need internet access. I'm sure I could hope that someone would leave their Wi-Fi network unlocked, but that seems a little cheap, even for me. So let's assume that I need to get internet access and that I get the high speed cable modem from Time Warner without a crazy sports analogy upgrade to a package deal.

High speed by itself would run me $34.95/month, or $419/year.

That would get me my internet, and with it, just about all my favorite shows. I went through the list in my head, and they all seem to be online somewhere like Hulu.

The Office
Mad Men
30 Rock
Arrested Development (still good, even if it's only reruns)

Then, with some of the money I would be saving, I could get a Netflix subscription for $16.99/month that would let me have 3 DVDs out at any time. Further, Netflix also has a library of 12,000 titles that you can stream over the internet to your computer for free. For an extra $100, you can buy a Roku box that will let you stream to your TV.

That certainly sounds appealing, and would give me much more to watch than the action movies AMC repeats over and over (which don't get me wrong, I still love)

With Netflix and the Roku hardware, it would cost $723/year, which would save me over $630 from getting cable TV services. Plus, it would allow me to explore Netflix's deep catalog and become a total movie snob (sorry, FILM snob), which is something we should all aspire to become.

Of course, I'd have to make some sacrifices.

I'd miss out on Flight of the Conchords, but I was going to miss that anyway since I won't buy HBO. I will miss Law and Order, Seinfeld reruns, and the like, but really, do I genuinely NEED to see all those episodes for a 13th and 14th time???

I'll also miss out on ESPN, but since I always watch that at the gym (and live on ESPN.com), I should be ok there. The loss of live sports broadcasts could actually be quite difficult...but much like here in Chicago, I don't really care that much about non-Philadelphia teams. Would I really want to watch the terrible New York/New Jersey teams? Definitely not. The exception would be the NFL...but I know NBC started streaming their national game of the week...and I'll probably be in bars to watch the Eagles anyway.

All in all, it's looking pretty bleak for the cable company in terms of me buying television service.

Of course there's also a third option. Turn off the stupid TV and read a book...or, you know...talk to people...


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Worst Day in Sports

Last night some friends and I were out at a bar/restaurant. Typically, the bar has it's 90+ TV screens displaying a wide array of sports television. You'll see the Cubs or the White Sox, the NHL playoffs, maybe even some NASCAR.

But last night, before the start of baseball's All-Star game, we were aghast at what we were left with without any of our favorite sports.

The majority of TV's had the All-Star game pre-game show. That was closely followed by a set showing the 2008 NBA All-Star game (because baseball's all-star game would inspire interest?). Some other TV's had an episode of ABC's Superstars show, which puts athletes together to compete in obstacle courses or something. I don't know much about it except that T.O. was on it for a brief period.

And of course, the TV right in front of us had a WNBA game on. Yeesh.

That got us talking about whether this time would be the absolute worst time for a sports fan.

The NHL and NFL and NBA are in their respective off-seasons, and all the drafts and big player transactions have largely finished. Baseball is on it's mid-season break, and since the home run derby/all-star game are terrible bores, it's not particularly good viewing. College football or basketball? Not unless it's on a PlayStation.

Unless you're a big cycling fan...we figured you'd be out of luck.

A writer from the Wall Street Journal apparently came to the same conclusion...

So what are the most exciting days to be a fan and which are the dullest? To answer this, the Count developed an “excitement score” for all 365 days (Sept. 1, 2008-Aug. 31, 2009). Different games were assigned different values—one point for a regular-season Sunday afternoon NFL game, for instance, and 0.3 for a mid-season NHL contest. Playoff and nationally televised games (like the NBA on Christmas Day) were worth more. For college, scores depended on conference profile and whether teams were ranked when they played. We also assigned point scores for major golf and tennis events, Nascar, the NFL and NBA drafts and the Triple Crown.

Three dates received a zero—this Monday and Wednesday and last Oct. 8, an MLB playoff off-night. Oct. 7, another baseball off-night, managed 0.1 points, thanks to an obscure college football game. June 15 (just two MLB games) and last Christmas Eve (only a Notre Dame-Hawaii bowl game) were next with 0.5 each.

How soon until the Eagles open training camp???

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pizza Hut and Extenze Commercials...Put Me Down for One of Each

Now that I'm out of school, but not working, I've had more time to watch TV. Not much is on in the way of compelling stuff, but thanks to TNT and others I have a seemingly endless supply of Law & Order episodes.

But I've been seeing a couple commercials recently that I've had some questions about.

The first are those commercials for Pizza Hut. I'm sure the chain has had lots of problems, since they didn't come up with the 555 deal before Domino's did. They've been promoting their new pasta items, because if you're going to get pretty mediocre pizza, you might as well have some pasta thrown in as well.

But it's their commercials that I don't understand, including just recently promoted items like their pizza rolls. They bill the commercials as "Real People on Hidden Camera", and therein lies my question.

The commercial is typical, people sitting around eating Pizza Hut food, enjoying it, and commenting on a) how good it is or b) how affordable it is.

OK, and the commercial tells us they're "real people," which I assume is meant to imply that they are random customers and NOT highly paid commercial actors reading from a script.

I would think we shouldn't be drawing that conclusion. The commercial bills the participants as "Real people," which should mean the following:

A) They are carbon based
B) They occupy the same astral plane as the rest of us
C) They have souls and are NOT aliens, crab people, or pizza-hungry-cyborgs

Of course, this does NOT exclude people from ALSO being professional actors.

And given the fact that they're loving Pizza Hut products, I'd say they're really working hard. (NOTE: This excludes their delicious breadsticks, which are 100% awesome)

The other commercial I've been seeing is one for Extenze...some kind of natural male enhancement. I had to google Extenze the check it's spelling, and I can't wait for that entry in my browsing history to come back to haunt me.

Anyway, I love the Extenze commercial that I keep seeing. They talk about how they provide free samples, and how it improves male performance or size or something that I'm sure is completely fake.

But the best part of the commercial is their simple logical appeal to the potential customer...

"If it didn't work, how could we afford to advertise like this?!?"

I think that kind of blatant ridiculous statement is totally awesome, the idea that because a company advertises, its product MUST work.

Now, I'm not willing to test Extenze to find out if that claim has any merit, but let's just say I'm skeptical

Thursday, July 9, 2009


By now there have been millions of stupid Twitter jokes, and although this post will discuss my thoughts on Twitter, I will refrain from mentioning any of those long since expired.

This includes, but is not limited to, "I think I'm going to starting Twittering...or is it Tweeting? Twittisizing?!? I don't know WHAT to call this thing"

The time for these jokes has passed, but it might be time for me to explore this whole thing.

So, do I get twitter?

Well, I really like the fact that it'll allow me to follow people I like to read (sportswriters mostly, and a few comedians I guess, and if there are any aspiring drug dealers, I could see how that would be interesting).

Of course, I don't like my nagging feeling that signing up for twitter would basically expose me as someone who desperately wants people to know what they're thinking/writing/saying. I'd hate to be exposed for that, although I already blog, so that cat might be out of the bag.

For me to tweet, I'd really have to think I had some really funny stuff to say and that it merited YOUR attention.

But then there's the whole issue about collecting followers. How do you collect followers on the thing...I mean apart from being CNN or Ashton Kutcher?

I guess I could try and find out...

Commencing Twitter pimpage...now!

Follow me at: http://twitter.com/jaredscohen

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chicago Vs. Philadelphia

I'm temporarily back in Philadelphia before embarking on another Manhattan apartment search, and while I haven't spent much time thinking about how Chicago compares to my home city, my travel experience from the Philadelphia Airport really got me thinking about it.

In Chicago, I usually fly into Midway airport. I walk off the plane, through the terminal, and down to the CTA's Orange line, which takes me right into downtown Chicago. There's always a train waiting there, and I've never had to wait very long. The train ride itself costs $2.25, which is certainly more reasonable than a $40 cab ride.

In Philadelphia, let's just say, things don't go nearly as smoothly.

My flight from Midway got in early, and I walked to catch the train into downtown Philadelphia.

I come down the staircase to the outdoor platform (which may be quite nice in July but probably not quite so great in January) and came out to find no train...and no other people.

That usually means the train just left.

Sure enough, I saw the sign that detailed the fact that the train to Philadelphia only arrives every 30 minutes, and that I had just missed one.


Is it so unreasonable to expect mass transit more often than twice an hour from one of the largest cities in the country?

Apparently it is.

To make things even better, the price for a train ride into the city is not Chicago's $2.25, but a hefty $6.00. Of course, that $6.00 price assumes you buy a ticket in advance, which you can't, so it becomes $7.00.

So to recap, that's paying three times as much for a train that is MORE inconvenient.

I was really a little annoyed at how inefficient Philadelphia mass transit is, as I boarded the train today.

I thought about that as the conductor asked me where I was headed, punched me a ticket, and then completely forgot about collecting the fare, even as I was holding money out to him.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Taste of Chicago Bargains

I had my first experience at the Taste of Chicago festival last night, and ended up learning not only about Chicago, but also a little about negotiations.

As a relative stranger to this kind of festival, I'll try to explain it as best I can.

Imagine the largest stadium food vending area you can. Take the quality up by about 75% and the variety up by about 1000%.

That's pretty much what it is. You basically proceed down the streets between dozens of booths, each set up by a different Chicago restaurant. Each restaurant offers you a 'taste' (get it, I just used the title of the festival in the description of the situation, much like a Steven Segal movie).

There's a lot of different variety of food and it all seems pretty good. It's like going to the new Mets stadium, only you don't have to watch the crappy Mets play.

Anyway, what I thought was interesting about the festival (other than having breaded steak for the first time), was what we did towards the end of the night.

At the Taste of Chicago, you don't pay with money, you have to pay with tickets like its some kind of carnival. You go buy 12 tickets for $8, and then you can buy food (or a relatively tiny amount of alcohol) with different amounts of tickets. To put things in perspective, most restaurants have a full portion of a main dish for 8 tickets, while many offer a 'taste' portion (see, there I did it again!) for 4 tickets.

But because some restaurants price their items at odd numbers (e.g., 9 tickets, 5 tickets, 3 tickets) you can wind up with some odd lots of tickets.

Well, this came into play towards the end of the night, when my girlfriend started getting antsy for dessert.

There was a gelato booth, but there was also a fudge booth. The gelato place had a 4 ticket taste portion and the fudge place had a 3 ticket taste portion. My girlfriend, an acknowledged megachocoholic, thought both would be the optimal dessert.

Of course, we only had 6 tickets left and weren't about to buy more.

So the thought occurred to us, could we bargain with the restaurant employees and negotiate a lower price?

My girlfriend didn't think that would work. These places had listed prices.

I didn't agree, and not because I thought the teenagers behind the counter would be sticklers, but because of what time it was.

It was around 8:45pm in the evening, and the festival officially closes at 9:00pm.

At that point, sales stop. Of course, these restaurants aren't making each order individually for each customer. They're batching, doing a whole bunch of them at once. They make a bunch of hot dogs, or pizzas, or whatever, plate each of them for easy distribution, and make another batch as needed.

Well, given that these places obviously had more product sitting ready than they could realistically sell by 9:00pm, that appeared to be an opportunity.

A critical assumption of this idea is that, to a restaurant, 2 tickets is better than 0 tickets. I don't know if they get paid based on the number of tickets they bring in or what, but for bargaining to work, the restaurant musts value the tickets.

Another critical assumption is that once the clock hits 9:00pm, the product ceases to have value to the restaurant. What this means, is that if they have something sitting on the shelf at 9:00pm, they can't simply hold on to it and sell it again tomorrow. For perishable food items, I thought this was a safe bet too.

So we went and got gelato first (not for any specific reason, I think my girlfriend just wanted it more than the fudge), and paid the 4 tickets.

Then, we went over to the fudge counter, where I approached the teenage girl behind the counter with a proposition.

I don't have the three tickets for the taste portion, but I do have two tickets that I can give you.

In about 20 seconds, she had our two tickets, and we had our fudge.

The plan also worked for my girlfriend's friends, who managed to finagle pieces of cheesecake and fudge with the same plans.

It's obvious that bargaining works, particularly as the alternative is throwing food away (or from what I was told, being given to the workers for nothing). It's in the benefit of the restaurant, because the obtain marginal revenue (the tickets) and their costs are already sunk. To those who are going to go out and try this, I'd suggest aiming for things that cannot possibly be preserved and sold (e.g., plated ice cream/cheesecake as opposed to say, caramel popcorn or something).

I would also suggest some Pepto Bismol

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why Do People Watch the Oscars?

In the past few days, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made some headlines by announcing that they've changed the Best Picture process for their annual Oscar awards.

Rather than having five nominees for best picture of the year, they'll now have ten. Apparently that's how they used to do it way back when, and now they're bringing it back.

Why? From what I've read, industry experts suggest that the Academy wants more people to watch the Oscars telecast and that this change is designed to encourage more people to watch.

I'm trying to figure out why that must be true.

A popular argument, and one made below in an excerpt from the NY Times, is that more nominees will then include more popular films that your everyday Joe Sixpack and Hockey Mom will know and love, and THEN they'll watch the ceremonies.

Last year, the academy threw the sticks into the air by hiring the veteran producers Laurence Mark and Bill Condon to re-imagine the broadcast and was rewarded with incrementally better ratings. But when those producers were debriefed, they suggested that the problem was not the presentation of the race but the number of horses.

“The Dark Knight” and “Wall-E,” two movies that thrilled critics and audiences alike, did not have the muscle to make their way into the rarefied confines of the final five. It didn’t help matters that “Slumdog Millionaire,” a smallish film that most Americans had not seen or really heard much about to begin with, went out front to stay.

I have two concerns about this theory and the change in general.

- Let's assume that the Academy's assumption is true, and that more people will watch the Oscars when a popular movie is nominated for best picture. I would suggest that this past year was an anomaly in terms of popular movies that also happened to be of significant quality. Yeah, the Dark Knight and Wall-E were really good movies, I enjoyed them both, and wouldn't have minded if they got nominated for best picture (although let's not forget I would have also given the 1985 best picture honors to Death Wish 3, so I'm clearly not the best judge).

However, if the Academy's motivation for expanding the best picture nominees is that popular films will get nominated and therefore attract a bigger audience, I think that's a decision based on an insignificant sample of last year. I went back and looked at the top 10 grossing films from each of the last five years to see how many "high-quality" films were in the bunch. If I really wanted to make it data-driven, I would've gotten their rotten tomatoes scores too, but I figured my opinions alone would be good enough.

Here is a list of the top 10 grossing movies from each of the last five years, you tell me how many you think would be reasonably considered for a best picture nomination:

The Dark Knight
Iron Man
Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Kung Fu Panda
Madagascar 2
Quantum of Solace
Dr. Suess' Horton Hears a Who

Spiderman 3
Shrek 3
Pirates of the Caribbean 3
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I Am Legend
The Bourne Ultimatum
National Treasure 2
Alvin and the Chipmunks

Pirates of the Caribbean 2
Night at the Museum
X-Men 3
The Da Vinci Code
Superman Returns
Happy Feet
Ice Age 2
Casino Royale
The Pursuit of Happyness

Star Wars 3
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
War of the Worlds
King Kong
Wedding Crashers
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Batman Begins
Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Shrek 2
Spiderman 2
The Passion of the Christ
Meet the Fockers
The Incredibles
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The Day After Tomorrow
The Bourne Supremacy
National Treasure
The Polar Express

OK, now you've seen that list. Notice anything other than the crazy number of sequels? How about the fact that, apart from Dark Knight and Wall-E, I would argue NONE of these movies would EVER come close to a best picture nomination, even if the field were extended to 1,000 movies and ended up including most of the hardcore pornography industry. I really liked the Incredibles a lot, I think that would be my most likely (unless you dug the Passion of the Christ, which I obviously never saw)

The point is, even if you expand the field of best picture nominees to 10 from 5, you aren't going to all of a sudden get a bunch of popular titles in there, unless the academy starts nominating things like Wedding Crashers and the Day After Tomorrow, which I doubt.

So that's a reason this thing doesn't make a lot of sense to me. But if you'll remember the beginning of my diatribe, I said I had TWO concerns about the change.

- I honestly don't think a majority of Americans CARE about who wins at the Oscars

I know that might be heresy to the academy, but let's look at their strategic goal. They want as many people as possible to watch the Oscars. Right now, we know that the Oscars attracts a wide swath of people (I think it's still the most watched program for the week whenever it's on). Anyone who really cares about the Oscar winners, like my friend Paul who's memorized the entire list of historical winners and has actually SEEN each one, will obviously be watching the Oscars already.

The move to include more nominees, if it is designed to attract more casual fans, assumes that they actively CARE who wins. But if they do care, I would argue they'd already be watching!

So, since I already said a wide swatch watch, why are these casual people watching?

Some watch as an excuse to party, some watch as an excuse to gamble, and some watch so they can trash celebrity fashion choices, but I would argue the primary benefit to watching the Oscars (because they are NOT objectively entertaining) is based on network effects.

The Oscars do NOT make for compelling television. There are a TON of awards, the scripted banter is always terrible, and the speeches are essentially people reading from scribbled lists of people they need to be sure and thank.

Oh, and if that doesn't excite you, it also goes on for FOUR HOURS!

So why would you watch? Because you think everyone else you know is watching and you want to be able to talk about it with them and laugh about how boring/long/unexciting is was!

The shared experience of watching a program many other people watch makes for much easier conversation during the next week for anyone regardless of whether they want to make small talk with office mates or if they're trying to bang their Starbucks barista.

In my view, that's why people watch, because it creates shared knowledge that enables more conversation and relationship building.

Based on that assumption, the academy doesn't NEED to expand the field of nominees to get more people to watch, it needs to make sure the ceremony is filled with things people WILL talk about. Such changes would increase the number of conversations dedicated to the Oscars, raising the relational benefits derived from watching, and imposing a higher cost on those who choose not to watch (in the form of being left out)

Incidentally, one could argue that the nominee expansion announcement has some of this effect, in that some people are talking about it, but I think that's small potatoes.

So I think we need to increase the network effects of watching, which can be accomplished by increasing the number of discussions about Oscar events, which is something the academy can actively cultivate through a number of initiatives.

First, I would BAN all written acceptance speeches.

Why? Well, for one, that's offensive to me on a personal level. These are professional filmmakers/actors who obviously have dreamed of winning an Oscar since they got off the bus in Hollywood. You're telling me they haven't thought about EXACTLY what they'd say up there? Nonsense. Further, some of the moments I remember from watching Oscar ceremonies, you know, the ones I would talk about, were unscripted.

Like this one, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnCMqr1QRQw

See...makes for much better television than some jerk reading a cocktail napkin for 75 seconds.

Second, I would take the gloves off with regard to making fun of Hollywood. I've read many accounts that the academy has little/no regard for those that would poke fun at the movie industry under the argument that Oscar night is too prestigious or whatever. I would counter that this is the industry that just gave us Transformers 2, relax a little bit and have a gosh darned sense of humor. Get some funny people up there, and while I'm not talking about Artie Lange or someone who'll go completely batsh*t crazy, at least let someone point out how absurd all of the pomp and circumstance really is

Lastly, make things a little more spontaneous and a little less like Operation Overlord. I'd prefer to watch something where I didn't know exactly what was going to happen. Take some chances or something. Stop scripting everything, throw out some free booze to the celebs, turn on the mics and give us something organic.

It could end up being hilarious, or hilariously awkward, but I'm sure everyone would be talking about it the next day.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


And as an addendum to my previous addendum...

A couple of hours ago (maybe 20-30 minutes after my last post), the second broker called me to tell me the landlord accepted another application instead of mine.


I hate searching for apartments...

I really hate apartment brokers...

And at this point I'm really getting off on the wrong foot with New York. What is it about this place that fills it with complete jackasses?

Apartment Brokers in Manhattan

Thanks to some recent developments, I wanted to update my blog on another lesson from the Manhattan real estate world.

Brokers will most definitely screw you over at every opportunity if it means more money for themselves.

I know that seems fairly obvious, but I hadn't actually been screwed over by a broker until the other day. As my experience might serve as a good example to Manhattan novices, I thought it could be valuable. Of course, experienced Manhattan real estate seekers will dismiss this as standard operating procedure, but they also won't troll the internet for advice either.

Anyway, after my four day journey through the streets and avenues of Manahattan, I had finally decided on a one bedroom apartment in Gramercy Park. The building was decent, the rent bordering on criminally indecent, but with the knowledge that I could technically afford it, I was ready to take the plunge.

I called up the broker and made him an offer for the apartment, at a reasonably large discount to the landlord's asking price. I got a counter-offer from the broker, which was a non-trivial reduction from listing price, and content with the offer, accepted it for a July 15th start date.

We had agreed to terms, and I began the process of gathering and sending him the requisite supporting information (which is particularly bizarre in NYC, but that's a different issue).

That was last Friday-Saturday-Sunday. I was relieved that I found a decent apartment and wouldn't have to fly back for a second expedition.

Of course, late Tuesday night I get an email from the broker in which he said they actually approved a different application and he'd let me know if any other 1B apartments come on the market.

Obviously, this wasn't the best news I got that day.

I was more than a little pissed, as we had negotiated back and forth over a couple days, and as I had already FedEx'd him certified checks for a large amount of money.

My guess is he found a new prospective tenant who was a) willing to pay listing price, b) willing to move in July 1st, or c) a smoking hot chick.

Regardless, it left me slightly screwed over.

So, as a soon to be New Yorker, I did what anyone in my position would do.

I immediately screwed someone ELSE over.

The next morning I sent an email to another broker who had showed me another one bedroom place I liked. The rent was the same as the first place, it was only a block away from the first place, so it was fairly comparable. I asked if anyone had rented it or whether it was still available.

The broker replied that someone else had in fact put in an application, but it was for the end of August, and if I wanted it for the beginning of the month (which is ideal for me), that I could have it.

It took me about 2 seconds to stab that unwitting prospective tenant in their now-homeless back...welcome to Manhattan I guess.

(Caveat: I still don't know that I've gotten this place, so I could be tempting fate by even mentioning it. But that hasn't really stopped me before, so meh)

I realized that I just willingly aided and abetted (which is worse than just aiding!) a broker in the act of screwing someone over. As such, I feel conflicted.

This must happen all the time, and it seems fairly ridiculous that it has to.

It got me thinking of what my ideal real estate marketplace would look like...

I started by eliminating all apartment brokers (don't worry, in my world, I didn't have them all killed or anything. I imagined they all went on to doing what they were second best at, which is usually either a) selling knives door-to-door, b) gym membership consulting, or c) abject prostitution.

The real problem we as apartment seekers suffer from is a lack of perfect information. We don't know what apartments in the area are available, we don't know which ones will become available, and we don't know who else is looking at them with any real interest.

This information deficiency is the only reason brokers have any power at all. They can tell us the apartment has seen a lot of interest. They can say that there are offers on the table at the current listing price. They can tell us that much like Jon Voight's LeBaron, the apartment has a built-in celebrity quotient.

And we all don't know any better, so we have to take everything they say with some level of skepticism.

If only there was a way to know more of this information without having to trust a broker whose only incentive is to get you to sign a lease ASAP.

Craigslist is certainly a step in the right direction, and PadMapper furthers that along in overlaying location information.

StreetEasy.com, which I found during my search and became an invaluable resource, may be the closest we can get to real estate Utopia (of course I'd argue real estate Utopia would be a world where every apartment included a full service gym, a washer/dryer in unit, central air, and enough internet capacity to satisfy a South Korean middle school)

StreetEasy tracks sales and rental listings in the New York area, and has a lot of great information including historical listings, length of time on the market, and price adjustments. I think it's a great website, and anyone looking to move to Manhattan should use it.

One underrated metric the site has is the ability to save listings to look at them later. How is that a metric? Well, each listing tells you (in small font), how many users have saved that listing. I'm sure I'm not alone, but I figured that the better the apartment, the more saves it'll have from other users. I know it's not exactly like a public auction (which as any economist would tell you is probably the preferred way to allocate the good in question...though I'd need to check with a real one for the answer), but at least this gives some directional information as to market interest.

The one problem with the site, is that the information is supplied by, you guessed it, brokers.

So it's not exactly Utopian, but I think it's another step in the right direction.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Apartment Hunting in Manhattan: Lessons Learned

So my efforts to detail my adventure apartment hunting in Manhattan got off to a rocky start when I completely ignored the actual apartment hunting. Let's fix that.

I started off in Greenwich Village, where I had set up two appointments with different brokers. I had packed light for the trip, with only my backpack stuffed with changes of clothes, a notebook, my camera, a tape measure, an umbrella, and my giant brick of a laptop.

At this point, it's worth mentioning that I really really could have used a fancy iPhone or netbook. I needed the computer in the event that I wanted to find new apartment listings and/or set up appointments on the fly. Unfortunately, that meant lugging this Inspiron 2200 and its charger along for the ride.

Anyway, I met my first broker at 1:30, and to say I was cautious was something of an understatement. From everything I've read and heard, brokers are the enemy. In the crazy world of Manhattan real estate, these people actually charge YOU to rent an apartment from them (of course, the economic collapse has greatly reduced such practices). These people earn a living based on asymmetric information and keeping the market from being transparent. That's a cynical view I suppose, brokers could provide some value if you really do not know you're way around a neighborhood, and apartment owners have high opportunity costs of showing and leasing their own properties. But still, they're motivated more by short term incentives of having you sign a lease ASAP than painstakingly searching until you find the perfect place.

Of course, it seems the perfect place doesn't exist (at least I didn't see it)

But I met with the broker, and we went off to look at places. He was the first of many brokers I would see over three days. Here's how my schedule went:

Tuesday: Visited 9 apartments, used two brokers
Wednesday: Visited 9 apartments, used 3 brokers
Thursday: Visited 2 apartments, used one broker

So I was kind of busy.

The following are lessons that I learned during my trip:

- So some apartments in Manhattan are actually duplex layouts. There's a living area on the entry level and then its up some stairs to another floor that usually contains a sleeping area. On paper, a great idea to use space. Of course, it seemed like all the sleeping areas I saw were designed for midgets. And not just short midgets, but short AND skinny midgets. The Kate Moss of midgets would do well, and that's about it. Obese midgets would need to take out a wall with their mini-sledgehammers. It's not like I'm even a really tall guy, and I had problems standing up in those things.

- In Manhattan they have these things called walkups. Essentially it means you pay a crap load of money for a really old building that's so old it has no elevator. It's really not that bad a deal, unless you need to go to work, the grocery store, any department or big box store, a bar, a date, any kind of convention, a job interview, the airport, or anywhere you need to look presentable. So apart from that, it works. I visited a couple walk-ups, and actually would've been ok with them. I did look at a 7th floor walk-up (the stairs weren't bad in my view), of course, my girlfriend, family and friends swore they would never visit me if I got it. Even with that incentive, I feel like if I took it you'd probably end up reading about the consultant who got hammered and took a rather nasty fall.

- Brokers are most definitely professionals. A broker and I were in one apartment, with me asking questions, taking notes and pictures, etc., and him answering them. Perfectly normal interaction when the broker's cell phone rings. The broker answers, asks what's wrong, and clearly hears bad news. The broker then asks if hey should come home, and I'm just hoping everything's alright. The gets off the phone and tells me that a relative of his just found out they have cancer. Wow. I tell him that we certainly don't need to keep looking at apartments and he should probably go home. He declines, and moves right into a description of the central air. The awkwardness gods would approve.

- Many brokers will tell you about the super that lives in the building and helps maintain the apartments. It's certainly nice to hear, but based on one visit, you might want to actually meet the super before judging it as a positive. We (a broker and I) went to one building and were greeted by the super, who must've been approximately 128 years old. He also couldn't hear, which was awesome when the broker would ask him questions and he would have absolutely no idea. The broker, who couldn't bring up the fact that super was clearly deaf, pretended like nothing was out of the ordinary. I actually wanted to ask the super about the building, you know, like how many units were in the building, who's the cable provider, and what was it like when they invented electric lighting?

- If you need to live in Manhattan, you really should start by earning at least a million dollars. Otherwise it probably doesn't make sense.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Manhattan Apartment Search: We Got a Plane

I'm here in Manhattan, fresh off three days of hardcore apartment searching...I've spent a lot of time, walked a lot of blocks, toured a lot of buildings. I've found a place I kind of like, which is good, it's also more than I'd like to pay, which is bad.

The whole trip has been, well, a trip. So I thought it was certainly blog-worthy, especially given that I have a lot of time before my flight back to Chicago tonight. I'm breaking it up into multiple parts for ease of reading (and no, they aren't titled anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Although they definitely could be.)

Actually, this first entry has absolutely NOTHING to do with apartment hunting, this is only about my trip to Manhattan for my first appointment in Greenwich Village.


My journey started early on Monday morning. With a 9am flight out of Midway airport, I took a couple trains and got there somewhere around 8am. I had booked a Delta flight to LaGuardia for a decent price, and actually got to select an aisle seat for no extra fee, so that was a big win.

Of course, I arrive at the gate and take my seat...and notice a good number of people sitting around. As we all wait, a Delta rep announces that anyone who was scheduled for the 7am flight to LaGuardia should wait by the gate, because they have another plane for them.

That raised my eyebrow a little bit. Another plane? I thought. That probably means they're taking MY plane!

I payed more attention to the rep as she made more announcements. This time, she said they would board the 7am passengers on this plane, and that they would squeeze as many 9am passengers on to it as they could.

As soon as I heard that, I booked it for the gate, where I made it 5th in line amongst the 9am passengers.

It turned out there were over 30 extra seats for 9am passengers, so I was in the clear. But what of my aisle seat? The rep informed us we'd all have to switch to general seating and that we should just take what we can find.


So I get on the plane, hoping for an aisle seat, and start to walk down the aisle. Most aisle seats near the front of the plane seem occupied, but I do see one aisle seat open in the 4th row. I approach it cautiously, wondering what the heck is wrong with it because obviously people are avoiding it. Upon closer inspection, it seems fine, I don't think there are any bodily fluids on it.

Then I realize that the seat is way bigger than normal. And there are bottles of water sitting on the armrest, which is similarly gigantic.

Wait a minute, this is a first class seat!!!

Why didn't anyone else take it? Maybe they were afraid of being shooed away by the real first class passengers. Maybe they were confused. Maybe I shouldn't take it either.

But as the Latin proverb tells us, fortes fortuna adiuvat! (I knew the proverb, but had to look up the latin)

Yoink! I said to myself as I threw my bag under the seat and comfortably set myself down.

I started to worry that someone would call me on the fact that I didn't pay for the seat, and readied my defense with the whole 'Sorry, General Seating' spiel.

But no one called me on it, and in first class I remained.

It was my first first class experience, a first^2 class experience that may have ruined air travel for me forever. I felt like a 10 year old kid finding a $20 bill. Or more appropriately, a 10 year old kid who finds a $20 bill and spends it all right in front of his 10 year old friends that don't have $20.

Would I like a hot towel??? You bet your ass I would!

The flight attendant treated me with respect, you know, like I was an actual human being. I could stretch my legs. They served a complete nutritious breakfast (just like in the cereal commercials!). It was wonderful.

So I have to thank Delta's partner airline, who's malfunctioning 7am flight allowed me to slip into first class for absolutely nothing.

I got into LaGuardia with relative ease (although my girlfriend, not knowing I switched planes, continued to fret over what the hell was going on)

Once we deplaned (which was easy thanks to being in the front and avoiding the average coach air travelers, who becomes incapacitated when instructed to get the hell off the plane and stumble about the cabin like deranged homeless people...but that's an opinion for another time) I walked quickly to try and catch the bus that I thought would take me to Grand Central, where I could catch a train and still make my 1:30 appointment on time.

I wandered outside towards the area marked public transportation, and I waited. The signs said the M60 bus would take me to Manhattan, so that sounded good. Of course, there were no machines to get a MetroCard, and the sign was quite clear that you needed to pay the $2 with either exact change (no paper money) or a MetroCard.

I didn't have any change, but I did have my old MetroCard from the last time I was out here in December. Of course, I had no idea how much money was still on it. Knowing me, it could've been $0.10

As the bus pulled up, I realized I had no time to get change and figured I'd chance the embarrassment at not having enough money on the MetroCard.

Turned out I had over $4, phew, I was allowed to ride the bus. Of course, no one told me that the bus in fact did NOT go to Grand Central. It went through Queens, and it did go onto Manhattan...

It just went straight through Harlem.

After a brief and uneventful stop at 125th street, I boarded the express 4 train to Union Square and hopped right across the platform for the 6 down to Bleecker St. Who says I can't get around New York?

I made the whole trip from LaGuardia in less than an hour, at a cost of approximately $4, and was on time for my 1:30 appointment.

Now I just needed to start looking at apartments!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What to do this Summer?

Graduation is this weekend, and while I'm really really not excited about rejoining the real world, I am excited for my family to finally make their way out to Chicago.

The parents and two of the brothers should have a good time, eat some deep dish, catch a game at Wrigley, and hopefully not get rained on down in Hyde Park come Sunday.

But other than that, I don't have a ton going on right now and probably won't until September when I start my new full-time career as a management consultant (or if you prefer, PowerPoint jockey, or as I prefer, strategy god)

That got me thinking, how the hell will I spend my summer???

I've got all kinds of time, and thanks to a certain game show, still have some kind of money...with that as the premise, let's see what a Vegas bookmaker would make of my summer...

Find a Great New Apartment
Theory: Well, I'm starting a new job in New York, and that only becomes possible when I have a place to leave (no really, it's actually stipulated in my offer letter that I have a place to live within X miles of my home office). I've started my search, and can't imagine what people did before the Internet, I'm guessing it had something to do with talking to real live people. Anyway, I'm flying there next week and have set up several appointments to look at places in a city that's actually MORE expensive than Chicago.
Pros: Well, it's kind of mandatory unless I want to live at the airport terminal (considering my career choice, maybe that's not a bad idea)
Cons: Hmm...I don't like spending money...that's a con
Odds: 1,000 to 1 (Note: that's the odds of finding an AMAZING apartment...the odds of finding an apartment I'm just settling for is actually 1 to 1,000,000)

Take a Crazy Vacation
Theory: The hallmark of any business school summer, blowing lots of dough to go someplace exotic before you end up with three kids and can never have fun again. Run with the bulls, train for muay thai fighting, climb a glacier or something
Pros: Certainly a unique opportunity, plus I'm not working so I wouldn't have to bring a razor. Macroeconomic collapse has left the tourism industry desperate for money (hello Iceland!). There might also be willing and able companions
Cons: Would require some diligence and money, foreign language skills are also generally recommended. Also , kidney theft.
Odds: 25 to 1 (Although it should be noted that my awesome girlfriend has swung us some sick deals to take a trip to San Fran and Sonoma in August, so really that should count)

Get Back Into Online Poker
Theory: I used to play a lot of poker online, you know, back when it was really cool to sit at your computer for hours in a sitting. I could very very easily reinstall some software and light it up again. Suggested handle: PkrStud69
Pros: Simple to set up, requiring minimal upfront investment. Good way to keep quick math skills fresh (in the event my new employer isn't sure I'm qualified and hits me with a surprise final final round interview). Then there's the profit
Cons: Well, there certainly is a reason why I stopped. I think the whole 'negativity dominance' principle in psychology explains why I took bad losses much worse than I took nice wins...that and a number of furniture punching incidents
Odds: 50 to 1

Learn a New Language
Theory: Look people, this whole U.S. economy is going down for the count. It's only a matter of time before we're loading up the ships to head off for greener economic pastures (Hello again Iceland!). So, with that, another language is probably a worthwhile investment. Plus this Rosetta Stone thing Michael Phelps keeps talking about sounds REALLY easy. I think they show you pictures or something.
Pros: Increases my own personal globalness, also allows me to travel somewhere that speaks whatever language I learn (unless its Latin...unless they speak that in Latvia)
Cons: I just spent two years in class, is that how I should spend my summer? Plus I would have to actually CHOOSE a language to study, which would essentially require picking a culture over others, and the part of me that's NY Times-liberal is not quite sure that's not racist.
Odds: 30 to 1

Hire a Personal Trainer and try to get Jacked
Theory: With nothing to do during the day, it may be a great time to spend it all working out. Combine that with a shady online pharmacy based in Mexico, and we might have the world's first 5'8" 296 pound consultant HULK
Pros: Imagine THAT in a client meeting...

Client: I don't really agree with your recommendations



Cons: That'll take a lot of money, and having spent a couple years in New Jersey gyms, I know it's not quite all it's cracked up to be.

Odds: 250 to 1

Write a Complete Novel
Theory: If I don't do it now, I probably never will. That is of course, assuming my business career pans out...if it doesn't I'll have all kinds of time. But let's say it does, should I really deprive the world of my amazing literary voice (let's face it, the world NEEDS a "pair of odd couple robots hilariously solving crimes novel," or a novelization of Death Wish 3)
Pros: Fame and glory, and possibly riches
Cons: Might require me to become self-important, grow a beard, and start hanging out in hipstery type places drinking something I've never even heard of yet.
Odds: 75 to 1

Get Married
Odds: A bazillion to 1!
Ha...figured I'd throw that in to make sure my girlfriend DOES in fact read this

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

On the Weakness of Cohorting

It's official, my last two finals are turned in, and with the assumption that they're both good enough to pass, I'm officially done business school.

Putting the emotions aside for a minute (because I still don't know 1. how I feel and 2. how I'm supposed to feel), all of a sudden it's a huge amount of stuff off my plate.

I just went through my blackberry and deleted all the school-related emails left in my inbox and I'm down to just 11 emails! (spoke too soon, now it's 12, but still)

I sat around this afternoon and wondered what to do with my time...I still have a number of unread books (and a $30 credit to amazon that should get me a couple more). Of course, I could be spending time trying to find an apartment in Manhattan, but I'd really like to procrastinate I little more on that arguably important to-do.

One of the things I did want to do is look over the classes I took during my time at UChicago. One of the major differences between UChicago and other programs is that here you're allowed to go completely nuts with your own class schedule. Lots of business schools put you into groups, cohorts, or mini-cults of around 60 people, and you spend your entire first year with them in a regimented program schedule.

I'm sure that's nice if you never took a business class before, or if you really want to get to know 60 people really really well, but it always seemed crazy to me. What if they're all losers who sit around and do things like analyze their schedule in excel (oh, wait)

I thought about that again as I looked over my class lists and wondered, how many different people did I have the opportunity to take a class with during my first year, as opposed to a fixed number of 60???

10 minutes of data collection later and I had my answer.

In my two years at UChicago, I have taken at least one class with 733 different people! If we assume roughly equal distribution over both years, that means I had class with 367 different people in my first year as opposed to 60.

You could argue that I didn't form very deep bonds with most of the people in my classes, and you'd probably be right, but I would argue that more opportunities to meet more different people really gives you the chance to find those you ultimately click with.

Sure, the bigger number of classmates also exposed me to a larger number of ignorant and/or self-centered people...but I guess that's a big part of the real world too.