Monday, March 20, 2006

For anyone who's ever kicked the shit out of office hardware

(Admit it. We've all been there.)

A limerick from the Blogger Blog (there are pictures, too!):

There once was a router so crappy
That it made all the Bloggers unhappy
It caused pagers to beep
And kept us from sleep
So we smashed it on the ground with golf clubs and threw paving stones at it and kicked it and someone filmed part of it but that’s not up yet and then we dropped it off a dumpster and kicked it again and gathered up the parts and sent them to be recycled quite snappy

Strapped for cash

I finally made it to the fundraising list.

I suppose I should be flattered that USC thinks I've made enough money by now to consider giving any of it back to them. (They should really concentrate more of their efforts on graduates from their professional schools.) Or maybe ticked that they have the nerve to ask me for money when I was still paying them thousands of dollars per year as of 3 years ago and, for all they know, could still be paying that money back in the form of student loans, and will for years to come. And just a little weirded out that they got their hands on my cell number, which I don't remember giving to them. Shouldn't my parents be suffering this call instead of me? But mostly, I'm amused. Whoever arranged for students to call and wrote their script knew what they were doing. A quick analysis:

1. Get your foot in the door by immediately identifying yourself as an undergraduate from the prospect's alma mater. Awww.

2. Allay their suspicions of fundraising by asking if they'd participate in a short survey. Just a couple minutes of their time would be much appreciated.

3. Ask easy, nostalgia-inducing questions. Did you enjoy your time at USC? Did your follow our football team this past season? And have you been on campus at all recently and seen all the new construction and campus improvements?

4. Enthusiastic responses to the answers, be they yes or no. They're your ticket to the segue to...

5. Asking for a lot of money. $125 in honor of USC having its 125th anniversary last year. And when you get turned down,

6. Totally go with it, and ask for a lot less money. Not just less money, but a nostalgic amount of money: $20.03, as a tribute to the year they graduated. And when you get turned down again,

7. Be ok with it, and launch into how important it is to stay involved with USC, and how it was ranked 30th by US News and World Report last time and how involvement of alumni helps that rating improve and just a small gift of only $5 would indicate your involvement...

8. And when you get turned down again, now's the time for the guilt trip. Not even $5? You'd really be helping... are you sure you can't even give that much?

At which point I totally shut down the junior who said she was in Annenberg and said no, not even that much. I'm sure that, had I caved, she would have immediately started trying to upsell me, because once you get someone's permission for something small, it's a lot easier to get them to agree to something a little bigger. Yeah, I've read Robert Cialdini's book too, and know that that's also why the conversation started off with a survey, so I'd let my guard down (surveys are also a very successful direct mail tactic, particularly in B to B--not only does it generate more leads, but you give the sales team exactly the information they need to construct the right pitch). And another rule taken advantage of is that of contrast: she began with a big number like $125 and dropped it down to only $20... that contrast makes that $20 sound a lot more acceptable than it would if that were the starting bid.

I suppose I should've caved. I mean, I did have a good time in undergrad, I went to at least half the football games this past season, and was on campus for a number of those because, well, it's almost unavoidable when you go to home games. I'm even sitting here in a USC sweatshirt as I write this, one that I won in a raffle that my mom entered me into at an alumni function a few years ago. I should give back. And I will. One of these days. But that USC education has to be worth something: Professor McClure recommended Cialdini to me way back when (Guns, Germs and Steel, too--dude knows what he's talking about), and today, it saved me $5.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

What if baseball had a single championship game instead of a championship series?

In the midst of all the St. Patrick's Day articles on Slate, I found this one about the World Baseball Classic, which is employing single-elimination playoffs to determine the champion. This is a significant departure from what we're used to watching come October every year, and I remember reading an article once that asked why the Superbowl and football in general drew so many more viewers than did the World Series or baseball. The answer seemed to be how the season was structured: in baseball, there are 162 games, in which teams play each other multiple times, and even the best teams still lose a lot of games. In football, there are only 16 games, and how your team ranks against others is judged solely by whether or not you beat them. And trash-talking is a lot more fun when you can say your team flat-out beat the other guy's, rather than saying your team beat the other guy's team more than his beat yours.

But what if baseball was structured that way too?

Here's a thought experiment: What if baseball, like football, played one game a week for a 16-week season? The team's ace pitcher could now start every game. The best positional players would never get a day off. The intensity and focus would never wane (as they necessarily do in the midst of six games in six days in two cities).

In these circumstances, the best baseball teams might well go 12-4. Or even 14-2. And we might be less apt to consider baseball a game of chancy vicissitudes and random luck. The big upsets ... would not be chalked up to the baseball's nutty nature, but instead would be recognized for what they are: one team outplaying another on a given day.

Interesting article. Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

When I gave my two weeks' notice, my boss said,

"I guess some things are just meant to be."

To be honest, I don't really feel comfortable making a definite decision on the whole existence of fate debacle. Partly because things seem to be going pretty well, and I don't want jinx myself, and partly because I'd like to believe that I myself have had something to do with the things going pretty well. But I won't say that I don't have my doubts. (That goes for regular use of double negatives, too.)

When I finished grad school, I had a plan: I was going to travel around the South Pacific for a couple months and then move back to Chicago and get myself some sort of job related to what I'd studied. I undertook part A of that plan and succeeded with flying colors, but did not anticipate the resulting financial straits that left me stranded at my parents' house in LA. So I delayed part B. I got a temporary job in LA while I looked for a full-time job in Chicago. Then I got a full-time job in LA. I delayed the move to Chicago further, giving myself 2 years at my present job (and my present apartment lease) before moving back. Well, the plan is being revised yet again.

Just over 2 weeks ago, I got an email from a guy I'd known in grad school with a job title in the subject line. I figured it was one of the few queries sent to my grad school listserv, but opened it anyway just to see where my former classmate had ended up. Turned out it was an email asking me personally if I was interested in the position described--he'd found out I was in LA and tracked me down. The job description was working in the search engine marketing department of a shopping comparison website. (FYI, am a huge SEM fan.) It took me all of 2 seconds to figure out that yes, I was interested, so I emailed him back with my answer and a quick update on what I'd been up to for the past two years and went to bed (had gotten up at a quarter to 5 that morning to go the account executive extra mile--marathon, really--for our client). My friend called me maybe an hour later (he kind of woke me up, but I was willing to overlook it) and we talked for half an hour about the job, in such a way that it was really a preliminary interview. (Though in a real interview, I'd never ask about salary, work hours, or "Do I have a shot?"--that last one because I have a number of interviews under my belt to which the answer to that question was a resounding "no" and I didn't want to waste my time.) At the end, he asked me to forward him my resume by Friday and he'd see about setting up an interview.

This happened on a Wednesday. On Thursday night, I revised my resume and forwarded it to him, and on Friday morning, I got a call from HR to schedule an interview--first thing Monday morning. I spent all weekend studying, learning everything I could about AdWords, search industry current events, and reminding myself of some of the concepts I'd learned in grad school. I am not, by the way, someone who naturally gravitates towards studying. I got up at 6 am on Monday to get ready, study some more, ingest a sufficient amount of caffeine and arrive there early. I interviewed with both my friend and another manager at his level, and was so wound up during and after the interview that it took me 3 hours to remember that I was back at work and it would help if my mind was too. Right about when I'd calmed down, I got a call from HR asking to schedule another interview--did I have any availability on Wednesday?

I lied to my boss and went to the interview on Wednesday. (I was fooling no one by saying I had yet another doctor's appointment, but you need plausible deniability on your side in case the job interview doesn't work out.) I arrived a little after 2 and didn't leave until 6, after having interviewed with 6 people, all very smart and very demanding when it came to requiring answers of me. I had barely slept since Saturday due to anxiety, and had consumed nothing that day but coffee and Red Bull--I simply couldn't work up the energy to get anything else down. It's remarkable that I was able to communicate anything coherently at all.

Then I got a call Thursday afternoon: “We’d like to move ahead to the next step of the process with you.” They were calling my references. Oh shit. I had to call my references and remind them of my existence and simultaneously ask them to do me a favor and say nice things about me to a recruiter.

But it must have worked out, because after a very tense Friday, at 6:30, when I was on my way home, steeling myself for a weekend of anxiety, the recruiter called and informed me that I was going to be receiving an offer letter on Monday, pending a couple signatures from the CEO and CFO and other people who are clearly very busy and not likely to suddenly take against hiring me.

The offer came. And I gave my two weeks’ notice on Monday. One week after my first interview, and less than two weeks since the whole thing had started. My first day is Monday, March 27th.

I still can't get over how quickly this happened, and what a huge change it really is. Three weeks ago, I was simply dealing with the constant chaos of work, looking forward to another promotion in a few months and my first profit-sharing check. I was looking forward to summer in the Valley (I love driving home on warm nights), and counting down to my move to Chicago. When I got there I'd probably look into work at an ad agency, as that's what my resume would show me to be best-suited for.

And now... A complete change in my career path, one I'd really wanted but had never hoped for, at least not for a number of years. I've only been at my first job for nine months, and even after several years of agency work, it would still be difficult to segue into search engine marketing. Nothing on my resume really shows me to be well-suited for it. Unless there's someone who can vouch for me, and give me a chance at an interview, as my grad school friend has done.

Now, who can tell where I'll be in five years. But I am so excited to be where I am now.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

There's just something in a swagger...

...that says, 'I just picked 16 out of 24 of the Oscar categories correctly... that's 67%, biatch."

...and "I didn't even see any of the movies and didn't know there was a contest so I made all my picks in like five minutes."

...and "And I totally won! Like, an actual prize and everything!"

...and "These boots that I chose to wear to the Brokeback Mountain-themed Oscar party friggin' hurt."

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The price of chic

Last night had all the makings of a great night out. I met up with friends at the W Hotel in Westwood, and upon giving the clipboard-bearing velvet rope guy my name, I was immediately let in, because I was on the list. I found my friend and she led me to the table next to the dancefloor where they'd all just been seated, to the dismay of a couple girls who'd been sitting there who were asked to leave by the hostess who let us in. There's fun music. The waitress shows up with a bottle of Grey Goose, ice, glasses and mixers. We hear that Ludacris is hanging out at a nearby table and wander over to gawk in the most subtle manner our drunken selves could accomplish. Little John showed up a bit later. (I know absolutely nothing about Little John that I didn't learn watching Chappelle's Show, but that little bit was enough to make me want to get a good look at the guy.) We talked (or at least gave it our best shot). We danced. We enjoyed feeling posh.

Then our bill showed up.

Clearly 'posh' is much more than just a state of mind. Our surprise bottle of vodka cost us $400. I ended up ponying up $50 for my single Grey Goose and cranberry. The one that I had to make myself. Another friend, who had none of the vodka but had ordered a mojito, paid $70.

Then another bill showed up, this time for the few drinks ordered in addition to the bottle of vodka. $70. I threw in another $10 for having some of a vodka and soda that had been brought to the table and never found its owner.

The night was ruined, for everyone. I'm still angry at what happened, and at the guy (a coworker, as it happens) responsible for it. It is absolutely inexcusable to put one's friends in that situation, making them financially responsible for your error in judgement without their knowing it. We trusted that, if a bottle showed up at our table, that someone had made an informed cost-benefit analysis. A mistake, clearly, and I won't be hanging out with that guy ever again.

I should put this in perspective. When I was in Chicago a couple weeks ago, I met my friend at a house party for someone's birthday. We didn't know the guy whose birthday it was, so we left to go to a club downtown, but her boyfriend, who did know him, and everyone else hung out and then all went to a club in Boystown. At least, that was the plan. One of the girls at the party went around offering to carry everyone's cell phones and wallets in her purse so they wouldn't have to worry about them. And just about everyone complied. They cabbed it to Boystown and, upon trying to gain entrance to the club, realized that the girl who'd tried to do them all a favor left her purse in the cab.

I wasn't even affected, but the sheer idiocy of the person so careless with her friends' belongings still makes me angry, and I suspect that's why I can't let go of what happened last night, either. No one's asking that people have all their wits about them and exercise common sense at all times (I'd recommend it, but realize that it's a standard I myself could not live up to), but they should at least try to do so when people other than themselves are involved.

Whole27: Seven (Eight?) Months Later

Breakfast this morning was cinnamon rolls. In fairness, I'm sick right now with something resembling that monster flu--hopefully it...