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 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, 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 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. 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'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 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)'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, 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 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!

Follow me at:

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