_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New old laces

My great grandmother, who emigrated from Finland at middle age, kept lots of stuff. In fact, even though she passed away a number of years ago now, it has taken the family all that time to clean out her house, which was next door to my grandmother's house. Many of the things she kept had to be thrown out, but some are neat mementos of her life. (I had previously posted about the vintage postcards she kept from her time traveling with a wealthy family she and my great-grandfather worked for.) Some of the things left in the house are even useful -- for instance, we came upon a cache of old but unused men's shoelaces, which I took with me.

Last week, one of the laces on my brown work shoes snapped while I was tying them in the morning. So I re-laced them with these, which I would guess date to the 60s. I don't think anyone will notice how retro-cool I am, though...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stacking Your Deck

In a fit of nesting instinct, I spent a few minutes yesterday afternoon browsing a website called Lamps Plus. As you may have inferred, I was looking at lamps -- I clicked through a few styles made by one particular manufacturer, and then wandered off somewhere else on the internet. Shortly afterward, I was on an unrelated web page and saw an advertisement for Lamps Plus. I sighed at the reminder that my online activities are being tracked.

As I was again browsing online last evening, I saw another Lamps Plus ad -- this time featuring photos of four lamps I had looked at earlier in the day. Even though this only added a little bit of specificity beyond the targeted ad I had been shown earlier in the day, it violated some subconscious sense of my personal space online, and I felt a bit creeped out. It was as if a salesman I had talked to at a furniture store suddenly tapped on my bedroom window and held up a lamp I had considered purchasing.

From the perspective of marketing efficacy, the problem here is that they weren't subtle enough. They'll probably refine that over time, as they have access to plenty of data regarding the rates at which various strategies lead people to make a purchase. But even if they figure out how to avoid creeping me out, I'm not sure that makes it better -- it's probably worse, actually, since subtle techniques may have the ability to influence my decisions without me realizing it. Marketers have obviously been influencing our decisions for quite some time, but the vast new quantities of data and targeting/tailoring techniques now available change the game, and make this more insidious. As I've written about before, it's not an entirely fair fight if marketers spend all their time identifying the factors that can influence your decision so that they can control those levers, while you make a decision without being aware of many of these factors that are influencing your decision. At the same time, scientific understanding of what goes into our decision-making processes is getting more advanced, which adds to the number and effectiveness of the tools of influence that marketers have at their disposal. (For example, the blog I had linked to in that previous post recently had an entry about "facial coding" of expressions, where webcam views of faces as people consume content record where eyes look and what emotional reaction people have to the information they're receiving.)

This may seem like a lot of paranoia touched off by a slightly over-eager lamp seller, but I do think the cumulative effect of all this scheming to influence our decisions can be insidious. To take a more overtly problematic example, in a recent Planet Money podcast, they featured an interview with a former economics professor who is now CEO of casino operator Caesar's Entertainment Corporation. He talks about how they use data from loyalty cards to actively monitor their customers and intervene to make them more likely to keep gambling. If someone loses a lot of money in their first 30 minutes playing slot machines, management can see this and, for instance, give them a free drink. The company is actively experimenting to see what freebies, and what points of intervention, are most effective at keeping people in the casino. The CEO frames this as making sure everyone has a good experience, but of course the goal here is to make sure customers part with as much of their money as possible. Casinos are already fairly sophisticated about manipulating psychology, and this is just taking it to the next level using data with a level of granularity that hasn't been available in the past. The type of information gathered by Facebook, furthermore, is far beyond what Caesar's has -- if marketers want to tailor their approach to single women from 25 to 30 who like Maroon 5 and have no religious preference, they can do that.

As marketers' ability to target us individually grows, it will require greater awareness on our part, and hopefully some new rules to address the changes (and I don't mean new Facebook privacy settings).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What Shall I Be?

While in Connecticut over Thanksgiving, I played Scrabble with my parents one night. Their copy dates to 1968, and an insert in the box advertises other games by Selchow & Righter (Scrabble's publisher at the time), including this pair:

Here's the text of the caption:
WHAT SHALL I BE? An important question for children when they think about their future . . . . Our two What Shall I Be? games, one for boys, the other for girls, teach youngsters about planning careers while having loads of fun. Boys follow the career road to becoming an astronaut, doctor, scientist, lawyer, pro football player, or engineer. Girls reach for careers in dancing, acting, teaching, nursing, modeling, or as airline stewardesses. These are really different games for boys and girls. Here's to your children's future!

These are really different games for boys and girls.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Every fall I make sure to catch at least one leaf before it hits the ground. Here's this year's, caught last night while biking up 11th Street:

I believe this is the second time I have caught my annual leaf while biking, but I do not have a photographic record of the previous occasion, in Minneapolis.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Dr. Dog - Heart It Races (Architecture in Helsinki cover)
> M83 - Midnight City
> Pinback - Good to Sea
> John Vanderslice - Exodus Damage
> The Octopus Project - An Evening with Rthrtha
> Dr. Dog - Shadow People

Two doses of Dr. Dog might be a bit much, but I'm really loving both of those tracks right now. The Shadow People video is great, very earnest and well-done.