Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Would you like a service plan with that?"

When I bought this $7 USB thumb drive at the local Office Depot, the cashier asked me, as he is required to do, if I'd like a service plan to go with that.

"How much is the service plan?"


"Don't you fell kind of silly asking people if they want a $5 service plan for a $7 USB drive?"

"Yes, but we're required to."

Suggestion to Office Depot: Allow your employees to use some common sense so as not to embarrass themselves.  Sure, give them a quota of service plans to sell, but let them use their judgement.

From Innovation Bootcamp

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pick something, and be great at it

We have a fantastic bagel store in our neighborhood: Brooklyn Bagel and Coffee.  When I buy bagels there and take them to an event, people always ask where I got them.  Better than most bagels I've tasted in Manhattan.

A new entrant in our neighborhood is called Astoria's Finest Bagels.  Haven't tried them yet.  Already, they are trying to convince the neighborhood that they are about more than bagels.

Advice: Pick something, and be great at it.

Second advice: Pick a name that reflects what you want to be.  Easier than rebranding yourself right after you open.

From Innovation Bootcamp

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Great retailing at local delis

I'm impressed by the entrepreneurial energy and willingness to experiment by some of the local delis in our neighborhood.

At this green grocer, the owner has arranged all the fruit and vegetables into a set of terraces to create a wonderful vista as you enter the store.  This is new - just a few weeks ago all the fruit here was at the same height.  Now when you walk in you are greeted by a veritable cornucopia.

From Innovation Bootcamp

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Build a fort in the woods with your kids

It doesn't take much for a child's imagination to start working.  Here we built a fort in the woods - just a few dead logs piled together to help get their stories started.  Samuel takes notes in his notebook while Alejandra and Grandma rest.

From Innovation Bootcamp

Friday, May 27, 2011

What time is it? Look again

Two faces of a clock on 41st St between Seventh and Eighth - photos taken minutes apart.

From Innovation Bootcamp

From Innovation Bootcamp

Thursday, May 26, 2011

No visitors. Wait, visitors this way

Two signs at a parole office on West 40th St show conflicting ideas on how welcome visitors are:

From Innovation Bootcamp

From Innovation Bootcamp

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Simpler library drop-box solution?

Here is my local library branch - the Steinway branch of the Queens Public Library system.  The Queens Public Library system is one of the biggest in the world, and they do a fantastic job.  I have many great things to say about them.  I stop by and pick up 50 (the limit) books to read to the kids and swap them out every 3 weeks.

From Innovation Bootcamp

I'd like to be able to drop the books off at any time, including the evening and on Sunday.  But the drop box is only open when the custodian is in the building, usually from 6:30 a.m. to whenever they open.  Unfortunately, if it is the custodian's day off, the drop slot is closed, and you could bring an armful of books by in the morning and then have to carry them to work or walk home.

From Innovation Bootcamp

I asked one of the librarians why they don't just leave the drop-slot open 24/7.  I was told that they've had problems with people dropping all sorts of unfortunate things through the slot, including items on fire, and live animals.  She told me that on branch - on Broadway in Queens, has a machine that accepts library materials 24/7.  But you need to swipe your card, and then you can put in one item into the slot at a time.

They have a plan to install this machine at the Steinway branch.  But there isn't enough space in the current configuration.  So they plan to switch the handicap ramp to the other door.  And inside the building there isn't enough room, so they are going to have to move a wall and expand into the area currently occupied by the local library's director's office.

There is a cheaper, more elegant solution:

From Innovation Bootcamp

If they don't want to put it on the street in front of the library (there is certainly room on the sidewalk out front), they could put it in the CVS at the end of the block.  Good for CVS: more foot traffic.  Good for the library.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Free eyeglass repair

The other day my glasses got squashed and both lenses fell out.  The closest optometry place I could find was at a Costco.  The technician in the eyeglass shop there repaired my glasses for free.

A couple years ago, I had the same experience at a Wal-Mart optometry shop.  They repaired my glasses for free there too.  In both cases, in lieu of payment they asked for a donation to the Children's Miracle Network.

Is there a law that prohibits these shops from charging for repairs?  I found it odd that at both stores they did a service for free that I would have been happy to pay for.

Also, I found it interesting that at the Costco where I got my glasses fixed, right in the same building, but with a separate entrance, there was an optometrist office, very clearly labelled as independent from the store.  Is it illegal for a store to employ an optometrist?  Perhaps similar rules that prohibit a physician from working in a place that also retails pharmaceuticals under the same roof?

From Innovation Bootcamp

The independent optometrist office:

From Innovation Bootcamp

Monday, May 23, 2011


Met two men driving around our neighborhood in a van, scavenging, on the evening before trash day.  They told me that what they most preferred to find is metal: brass chandeliers, heavy steel pipes, aluminum.

From Innovation Bootcamp

They sell it somewhere along Maspeth Avenue in Brooklyn.

They skip right by furniture like this, which has been set out for anyone to take, for free:

From Innovation Bootcamp

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Be the last one off

On little commuter planes, it can make good sense to be the last one off, unless you just want to stretch your legs.

Personally, I find it more comfortable to keep sitting than to stand up, only to be kept standing in line for five minutes while they fuss with the door:

From Innovation Bootcamp

And then kept waiting for another five minutes standing around for my gate-checked carry-on:

From Innovation Bootcamp

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Abandoned plaques in public places

One danger of giving out an annual award and then putting the plaque with their names in a public place is that you'll get out of the habit.  It is always a little sad to see management drop the ball like this.

Here is the Tower of Dulles award - the plaque is in the passenger terminal.  Apparently no one has won the award since 2000.

From Innovation Bootcamp

From Innovation Bootcamp

Friday, May 20, 2011

More driftwood forts

We made a trip out to the beach at Fort Tilden, a beautiful stretch of beach in New York City, practically deserted in May, and built another driftwood fort.  Samuel and Alejandra had a half-hour of fun playing with the loop they are holding.

From Innovation Bootcamp

We also went back to our fort on Randall's Island and Alejandra helped expand the radio tower built out of mangled iron bars:

From Innovation Bootcamp

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Where are the United Airlines and US Airways iPhone apps?

Delta, American, and Continental all have iPhone apps where you can check your flight status, check-in to flights, and get a mobile boarding pass.

What is the causing the delay at United and US Airways?

Was it simply an issue of funding the development of the app?  Or is there some kind of turf battle going on inside the organization?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Eye exam at a college of optometry

Instead of getting your eyes checked at the local optometrist, consider a visit to a College of Optometry.

The University Eye Center, on 42nd St between 5th and 6th Ave, run by the SUNY College of Optometry, conducts the most comprehensive eye exams that I've ever had.  Students conduct the eye exams, and then their instructor, a fully licensed optometrist, stops by at the end to give your eyes a quick check as well.

The exams last about an hour, and cost only $100-120, depending on what extra tests they do.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Still buying stamps at the Post Office?

Buy them online, instead, at the USPS store.  And you can pick any stamp design you want.

Beautiful charts from NYT

Two recent data visualizations at the New York Times worth a look:

The Art of Economic Complexity

Graph of Education and Income by Religion

And an interesting article on how students learn more from collaborative problem-solving than from traditional lecture.  Seems so painfully obvious that the objections some researchers raise to the study's conclusions are bizarre:
Less Talk, More Action: Improving Science Learning

Monday, May 16, 2011

Beer samples in shot glasses

For bars that pride themselves on their wide selection of beers on tap, I can't understand why they don't offer a beer sampler: get 6 shot glasses with the beer of your choice for, say, $6.

Makes it easy to sample their wide selection. Gets people tasting the beer and talking about the beer, and adds an element of fun.  To really make this work, you could have coasters for each of the beers on tap that would have a short description of how they are made and with what ingredients.

If you have to commit to a whole pint of beer, you're less likely to be adventurous than if you are just paying for a sip.

Then if a customer finds a beer that she particularly likes that is on tap at this bar but not at other ones in the area, it builds customer loyalty.

They could probably charge more per ounce of beer than if selling it by the pint, balanced by more work washing all those shot glasses.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Don't get mad, get points

When you receive poor service at a hotel, ask that the hotel to comp some portion of your stay.  I've found that often the front desk has limited leeway on comping the daily rate, but they'll often take incidentals off your bill.  If they won't do that, then see if they'll give you points as compensation.

Some recent examples:

I found out a few weeks after the fact that a hotel had charged me for an extra night by mistake.  This wasn't on my folio when I checked out - I only found it by looking at my credit card bill.  When I called the hotel, they reversed the charge and gave me enough points for a free night's stay at that property.

Once, at a Westin, they checked me into a room that hadn't yet been cleaned from the last guest - the bed was still unmade. This was a hassle because it was 11 p.m. at night and I had been up since 4 a.m.  The front desk put me into a clean room and gave me 5,000 Starwood points - worth about $100 to me.

At a Hilton in Hartford, CT, we had a real fire drill - they made the whole hotel evacuate.  I emphasized how my two kids had been sleeping and how I had to carry them both down 11 floors of the fire escape.  They comped three days of valet parking charges.

The worst the hotel can do is say no.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Recommended reading

I've reorganized this site's list of recommended reading.  The list is now in a downloadable MS Word document on its own separate page, and I've added some short notes to indicate why I recommend the book.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Grande drip in a venti cup

Starbucks tip:

Instead of ordering a venti and asking the barista to leave room for milk, just order a grande drip in a venti cup.  You get the same amount of coffee and save thirty cents.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Idea for the Tooth Fairy

An idea for anyone with a child who is about to lose the first tooth:

Under the pillow, place the George Washington Presidential $1 coin.  Then for each subsequent tooth lost, you can give the next Presidential coin.  For $30 on Amazon you can buy a set of the first 14 coins.

You'll probably also want to get a collector folder for your child to collect the coins.

A way to sneak in a little history lesson.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Wall Street Journal Guide to Prophecy

After the financial crisis of 2008, which I'm just guessing was not predicted by either of the authors of this book, and the publication of The Black Swan, the idea that it would be possible to predict the next crisis using a set of 50 economic indicators seems hopelessly naive.  Does the book include chapters on divining rods, knuckle bones, and bird flight?

Click Here to Order Now!Dear Reader:

Investors know that they should pay attention to well-known economic indicators like inflation and unemployment, but only a smart few look at a broad range of other indicators to see when the next crisis may hit. In THE WALL STREET JOURNAL GUIDE TO THE 50 ECONOMIC INDICATORS THAT REALLY MATTER (Harper Paperbacks; $15.99) Simon Constable, host of The Wall Street Journal's News Hub show, and Dr. Robert Wright, the Nef family chair of political economy at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD, provide an entertaining and essential guide to the indicators that you aren't following—but should be if you want to beat the market.

"A short, sweet and savvy introduction to economics, indicators and investing."
- Nouriel Roubini, chairman and co-founder, Roubini Global Economics

Among the essential 50:

  • The Vixen: Also known as the hot-waitress indicator, it tracks the attractiveness of wait staff at your local diner to help you judge where the economy is in the business cycle.

  • Big Mac index: If you're looking for currency trading opportunities, you'll want to understand how the value of a Big Mac differs from nation to nation.

  • Fertility rates: This fecund indicator can lead investors into or out of sectors sensitive to a nation's age structure, like education or health care.

    To order now, please CLICK HERE:

    For more information about this and other books from The Wall Street Journal, please drop me an email at: roseellen.d'angelo@wsj.com.

    Best Regards,

    Rose Ellen D'Angelo
    Director, Wall Street Journal Books

  • Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Build a driftwood fort

    While trying to get into Manhattan recently with the family, there was a big traffic jam on the Triboro bridge, so we decided to try to make the best of the day and explore Randall's Island.

    We followed the street signs all over the island looking for a promised nature center, but when we couldn't find it, we decided to just take a stroll down by the waterfront.

    Someone had found a bit of driftwood, and left this sculpture for us to find:

    From Fort on Randalls Island

    That provided the spark.  We found our own piece of driftwood and stuck it in the sandy soil, then we found a few more pieces, then some pipes.  We at first thought we might make a crocodile, and then it morphed into an airplane, and then we found a few more boards and it became a one-room house, and then we needed chairs and a bed, and keys, and then we needed to expand to have one room for my son and one room for my daughter.

    Randall's Island is technically part of the Borough of Manhattan, and this may have been the only driftwood fort built on Manhattan that day.  There are about 100 baseball fields on Randall's Island, and all of them had games in progress.  At least 2,000 kids playing by a set of rules, monitored and supervised.

    I was glad to have this serendipitous outdoor experience with the kids.  While I did the heavy lifting, it was their imagination that took over.  Samuel saw a waterbird floating and called it a sea serpent.  A piece of driftwood became a light saber to fend it off.  An old iron pipe became a tube that would send him messages of impending danger.

    Go and build something without a plan.

    From Fort on Randalls Island

    From Fort on Randalls Island

    Monday, May 9, 2011

    Guerrilla gardening

    Add a little something to your environment, even if you don't have permission.

    Last fall, I took an empty plot on my street that looked like this:

    From Innovation Bootcamp

    and planted some bulbs, so this spring it has added some color to our walk to the subway:

    From Innovation Bootcamp

    Sunday, May 8, 2011

    Power of the default option

    In New York City, you can now avoid getting flyers from the supermarket and restaurant menus stuck in your front door if you take the action to post this sign below.

    Advertisers know the power of the default option.  While I expect most people would prefer not to get the ads, it takes effort to get the laminated sign and tie it to your front gate.  On any single day, it is easier to just throw the circular away.

    If the city council had managed to pass a law in which homeowners had to opt in, the whole industry of dropping off ads would have been dead the next week.  Would anyone have taken the trouble to say, "Please do place unsolicited advertising on this property?"

    The difference between opt-in and opt-out can determine the fate of an industry.

    From Innovation Bootcamp

    Saturday, May 7, 2011

    What's the deal with the Jeffrey Modell Foundation?

    Advertisements about Primary Immunodeficiency by the Jeffrey Modell Foundation are all over the airports these days.  While traveling over the past couple months, I've seen at least a dozen different ads: here are a few samples.

    I've never heard of this foundation before, and with these ads suddenly so ubiquitous, I've been curious about what is going on.  The Foundation's website indicates that it was founded by Jeffrey Modell's parents, Fred and Vicki Modell:

    From the hardship of their own experience, Jeffrey's family learned the enormous medical, emotional, and financial difficulties associated with Primary Immunodeficiency (PI). They found that families with this problem had nowhere to turn for help.
    Since Jeffrey's death from pneumonia in 1986, the Modells have been committed to supporting those afflicted with PI. They established the Jeffrey Modell Foundation to help patients, their families, physicians and researchers understand the nature of PI.

    While the Modells may be committed to supporting those afflicted with PI, it seems they are also committed to supporting a fairly comfortable lifestyle for themselves.

    The Form 990 below gives the latest available financials on the foundation.  In 2009, it had total contributions of $8.4 million.

    Out of this, Frederick Modell, the President of the Foundation, had reportable W-2 comp of $352,962, and other estimated comp of $291,654.

    Vicki Modell, the Vice President and Secretary, had reportable W-2 comp of $255,769, and other estimated comp of $276,276.

    So out of contributions of just over $8 million, the two founders took home comp of about $1.1 million.

    The Form 990 doesn't give the details on where the Foundation gets its donations, beyond the breakdown that $3 million came from government grants and $5.4 million came from all other contributions.

    Why would the government need to funnel money through a Foundation that uses such a high percentage of funding for the personal comp of its two officers?

    Who is providing the other $5.4 million in funding? I'm curious if a pharma company with a treatment for PI is providing that funding so the foundation can raise awareness of the condition.  When a pharma company advertises a condition that we didn't previously recognize existed, it seems obviously self-serving.  While if a foundation raises awareness, it seems public spirited.  Not sure if this is what is going on here, but it does seem to me highly unusual to start a foundation devoted to the disease that killed your son, and then to take home comp of over $1 million a year from that foundation.

    From Innovation Bootcamp

    From Innovation Bootcamp

    From Innovation Bootcamp

    Jeffrey Modell Foundation 2009 Form 990 -  

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    Dog food at the airport?

    When I first saw this ad from forty feet away, I thought it was promoting a new service at the airport where you could buy pet food for your dog while in route.  "Well, you can buy diapers in the Nanny Caddy, and you can buy an iPod Touch in the Best Buy vending machine, so this doesn't surprise me," I thought.

    Then, when I got closer, I realized it was promoting the food court.

    Is it possible that Au Bon Pain signed off on this?  Could there be any clearer message that airport food is equivalent to dog food?

    From Innovation Bootcamp

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Save $30 per month on your iPhone bill with AT&T

    If you are on the Nation Unlimited plan with iPhone on AT&T, check your bill.

    They've been charging me $99.99 per month for that plan, and when I compared it to my wife's recently, I discovered that she has the same exact plan for $69.99 per month.  They lowered the price on my plan well over a year ago and never bothered to ask me if I'd like to pay less.  Serves me right, I guess, for not checking the bill more carefully.

    When I called up AT&T, at first they offered to backdate the $69 rate to the beginning of my current billing period.

    Then when I asked to speak to a supervisor, they told me that they would go back three months, but that was as far as they were legally allowed to do.

    Then I said, OK, fine, just please give me your names, because I want to write to the FCC and my Congressman and the Better Business Bureau and the Chairman and CEO of AT&T because it doesn't seem like a very good business practice, and perhaps even illegal price discrimination, to charge different people different rates for exactly the same plan.

    After another 5 minutes on hold they agreed to backdate the $69 plan for a full year, for a $360 credit.  Not bad for 20 minutes on the phone.

    Here's my old plan, and then my new plan:

    From Innovation Bootcamp

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Surgeon General Warning for watching television

    Why shouldn't the Surgeon General insist on a health warning to be broadcast before every television show?

    Recent research has concluded that sedentary screen time can be deadly:

     They found that each hour a day spent in front of the television increased the risk of death from all causes by 11%.  From the Guardian
    So television is responsible for more deaths than all illegal drugs.  But the media industry has better lobbyists.

    Incidentally, this same article from the Guardian shows a math-challenged reporter at work.  In the lede, the reporter wrote:

    Every hour spent watching television each day increases the risk of dying from heart disease by almost a fifth, say scientists.
    So 11% is almost 20%?

    Please excuse me while I step away from the computer to take a walk.


    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    Doctor recommends sugary snacks

    An article in the April 26 edition of the WSJ, "Out Front in the Fight on Fat" profiles the efforts in Portland, Maine to fight obesity by promoting 5-2-1-0 principles (5 servings of fruits or vegetables, 2 hours or less of screen time, 1 hour of exercise, and zero sugary drinks.)  After spending $4 million, the obesity rate dropped only 1.4%.

    I was surprised that the reporter didn't follow up on the doctor's advice in the second paragraph:
    It took grit and determination for 17-year-old Sean Speckin to lose 80 pounds last year, after a doctor warned him he had high blood pressure and might have to go on medication. "I was angry," says Sean, who was 5'10" and 260 pounds. "Pretty much all I did was eat junk food" and watch TV, he says. He and his father, with whom he lives most of the time, would often eat burgers or pizza.
    Acting on his own, he ditched burgers and fries in favor of chicken, vegetables and fruit. He asked Dr. Rogers, whose son is a good friend, for advice. She suggested granola bars and yogurt instead of cookies, and walking.
    A doctor suggested granola bars and yogurt??  The majority of the calories in both comes from sugar.  Images from www.sugarsnacks.com.

    From Innovation Bootcamp

    From Innovation Bootcamp

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    The McKinsey Approach to Problem Solving

    One of the best papers I've ever read on the problem solving process that consultants use is a McKinsey Staff Paper (Number 66).  When I was at the Firm, I read it a dozen times.

    This paper is available for download here at Scribd.com.

    It should be required reading for every MBA and anyone whose job involves solving problems (i.e., everyone.)

    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    Free vintage children's books online

    Just found this site - I suppose it is well known to millions.

    They have three thousand (and counting) vintage children's books available to read online, as scans of the original, with all the gorgeous illustrations.  Check out what kids were reading in the 19th century at archive.org.

    or copy and paste this URL

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