Archive for October, 2010

Every few months the news media seems to get into a cycle of “poor women, they’re all treated so bad” followed by a series of headlines and sound bites of “Women earn 73% of what men do” or “women can’t get a fair shake” or “the proverbial glass ceiling” followed by a bunch of statistical nonsense that no one questions.   I beginning to see that this cycle often coincides with the election cycle but that’s another story for another post.

So let’s start the ranting.  First, women don’t earn xx amount less than men and if by some chance in some industry they do then there is probably a good reason for it.   As I’ve pointed out before, I have a good friend (yes, he’s a MAN) that owns his own small business.   He confided to me long ago at lunch that he preferred not to hire women if he could avoid it.   Shocked, I asked him why he would say such a thing because he isn’t a sexist male chauvinist as he would be painted if he dared said that in public.   His response was fairly pragmatic and told me that it was too expensive for him to hire women AND pay for their health insurance.   I don’t remember the official insurance costs but he said it almost cost double to pay for health insurance for a women than the same comparable man.

This discussion was about three or four years ago and to this day, he still doesn’t have a single woman on his staff.   Fortunately for him, his firm has less than 30 employees so he doesn’t fall under the eye of sauron (a.k.a. Department of Labor) and has had no compliance issues so far.

So to continue our story, our Hero (me) has been traveling a great deal these past few weeks, hence has not written any posts in a while,  and finally gets home to write a ranting post.

Day 1 of travel: Business trip to Chicago.   I’m sitting on the plane (one of the first to sit down because of my elite status) and as I sit down I see woman after woman carrying large overstuffed overpacked suitcases.   First woman can’t lift her 19″ bag over her head into the overhead compartment, man behind her gets suitcase and puts it in overhead for her.    Second woman shows up with suitcase that is not only too heavy but has side pockets over packed with the usual woman junk (make up, hair dryer, etc).   The bag will NOT fit into the overhead compartment (no bigger than 19″) and she can’t figure out why it won’t fit since it’s a 19″ suitcase.  Never dawns on the woman that stuffing 8″ of junk into the side pocket turns a 19″ suitcase into a 27″ inch suitcase.

Day 4 of travel: Return trip Home.   I’m sitting on the plane (one of the first to sit down because of my elite status) and as I sit and watch people board plane I see woman after woman carrying large and/or overstuffed suitcases.   Rinse & repeat from Day 1 above except a couple of women flight attendants struggle with the same bags and the same spaces.

Day 12 of travel: Trip to Calgary.  I’m sitting on the car rental bus and as I sit and watch people board the bus I see woman after woman carrying large and/or overstuffed suitcases.  These women can’t carry their suitcases onto the bus nor load them onto the racks so the bus driver has to stop and load each one then repeats the cycle to offload.  Fortunately I have Gold status and get dropped off first so I don’t have to wait and see the carnage.

Day 16 of travel:  Return trip home.  I’m sitting on the flight back…you guessed it….women piling into the plane and unable to lift or carry their bags, women stopping and trying to open and unload bags to make them fit into overhead compartment.

Yeah I know ladies, women can do anything a man can do except lift a bag over their own head.  It then occurred to me that perhaps that is what is wrong with the world and pay disparity.  We can all play a game of pretend and say that women can do anything a man can do and then the reality and visual hits us every day:  a man changing a tire, a man lifting the heavy suitcase, a man carrying a man out of a burning building or a battlefield or a sinking boat.    There is only a finite amount of administrative work that can accommodate a finite amount of office workers then at some point, the real work needs to get done and then reality hits us all.  The whole American population can’t all go and get MBA’s and sit in marketing, human resources or other pointless meetings all day.

The solution is obvious, to avoid this embarrassing incapability, women should all simply check their bags and let the men baggage handlers take care of the problem behind the scenes.

I’ve written about this before, I won’t purchased a major item or service without first checking out online reviews about the product or service.   I read this article today and found it interesting that many people now threaten to sue if they don’t like the comments.

That sentiment is gaining fast traction across the global hospitality industry. More than 700 hoteliers and vacation agencies have joined KwikChex, a British company now threatening to file a series of defamation lawsuits in both the United Kingdom and United States against TripAdvisor on behalf of travel businesses.

Ironically, TripAdvisor is just one of the many websites I now use to vet my vacation purchases.  Here’s my top list of website review sites:

1. – I usually use this site to check out hotels when I travel for business.   When I travel for vacation, I use it more extensively to find out about restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions and other activities.

2. – I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon and I’ve finally settled on a truce whereby I use the site to read reviews on products, occasionally I will make a purchase but I often purchase through alternative sources as Amazon has been playing too many games with pricing fluctuations that I can’t stand.

3. – Let’s face it, Costco shoppers are in a bit in their own league and are generally higher demanding than most.   I’ve been in the market for THREE new LCDs and I have yet to find one that meets Costco shoppers expectations as the online reviews are no higher than 4 out of 5 stars for a TV.

4. – I’ve become a fan of Groupon although I’ve only used it once.   The big plus however are online customer reviews and forums that give you how well the coupon worked or didn’t work.

5. – I recently became a subscriber to ConsumerReports again after a long departure because I plan on making some large purchases this year and next.   I got a special $12/year rate so I figured $1/month is a good deal.

6. – The Better Business Bureau (check local chapter) is one that I use primarily before engaging a contractor to work on my property to find out how many complaints have been filed against someone.

7. – A site mainly for deals of the day but there are often fairly good reviews about products and services.  I often heard this site was for cheapskates and frugal people that want to screw over corporations but I’ve come to respect the people on this site as savvy shoppers that want value for their money.

8. – This used to be a fun place to read about customer service but it’s now mostly a ranting site and has considerably fallen of my list of sites that I used to frequent for shopping advice.

9. – On occasion when I’m bored and trying to figure out what movie I might want to watch I’d visit RottenTomatoes but I’ve been way too busy lately to go see a movie.

10. – While not exactly a review site, whenever I plan on buying a purchase, I’ll check out youtube to see if there are any instructional videos, complaints, or innovative uses for a product.

I’ve used all of these sights throughout the year and have made serious purchase decisions based on reviews and information I’ve found on these sites and it has saved me a ton of money and grief!

Well it seems as WordPress advances and upgrades, some of my older plugins become obselete or don’t work they way they should.  I’ve recently noticed spammers have gotten a bit more creative and the math comment spam protector doesn’t seem to work as well.   Essentially, the math comment protectors asks a question like “what is 4 + 3” and expects the correct response.   I always wondered why someone couldn’t right a script to do the math and respond but it seems we’re entering a new level of spammers creativity.   In any event I’m cleaning up my plugins!

I’ve now dumped the math comment plugin in favor of SI Captcha so I hope that will do a better job of catching spam.   I still do have Akismet but that doesn’t always work well.

I have also been on heavy business travel and MBA school work so sorry for the lack of posts.  I do have quite a few rants, raves and other observations to write about but just don’t have the time…

We have a pretty strange meals at our household.   I generally prefer to eat something that my kids won’t eat.  My wife occasionally cooks what I eat but she prefers her own meals too and my kids often have something for them cooked or bought.   It was much to my surprise when I came home one day and found that my wife had bought the kids McDonalds Happy Meals as we sat around for dinner.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when my kids chicken nugget happy meals were just sitting there uneaten.   I asked the kids why there weren’t eating and they said they hated the food.  I asked why mom had bought them the meals in the first place and they said they were in a hurry to do stuff that evenings and didn’t want to cook anything.    The kids then said that the food is terrible, a conclusion I reached many years ago only to see the food quality deteriorate over the last decade.

Seriously, a double cheeseburger at McDonalds used to cost $0.99 twenty years ago and it pretty much has the same cost now so what changed?  Taste and quality of course.   I think most meat is now washed through ammonia then pressed into patties with loads of preservatives and I can’t believe people eat that crap.  My kids now refuse to eat any of that crap and I’m surprised yet pleased.   We have been slowing moving toward organic foods, kobe beef and other fresh foods for a long time so I would imagine it will now start to accelerate.

McDonald’s has a limited life span anyway, at least domestically in the U.S. as the boomer population and their kids and grand kids age, they won’t eat that crap.   Oh and I don’t mean to single out McDonalds here, KFC, Burger King, and pretty much all fast food chains serve crap in my opinion.   I am still amazed that someone hasn’t developed a business model around organic “fast” food if there could be such a thing despite the paradox.   I guess Subway is what comes closest to that model for now…..

Any takers out there?

I have to admit, I just haven’t had the time to blog as much as I’d like… Between business travel taking me all over the place, a busy family life, a return to MBA school and all the other things that happen in life, my pf blog has fallen to the way side.   I remain firm in my convictions that the employers are taking advantage of employees.   Everyone I know is doing at least twice as much work often doing the work of two or three people because employers don’t want to hire anyone to distribute the load.

No one vocally complains about the job stress because people all know there are millions of people waiting outside to step in and do your job for less pay.  I can only surmise that my own personal observations are what are keeping most PF Bloggers from bloggin’ like the good old days of 2005, 2006 and 2007.   Perhaps some PF Bloggers have lost faith in the economic ecosystem and simply dropped out but all I see these days on the PF Blog circuit are wanna-be economists pretending to know what the cure is to all the country’s ills.

So what happened to the PF Bloggers out there?  Disillusionment? Depression? Despair? or just plain too busy? I need to do another roundup, maybe over the Christmas Holiday to find out who the bloggers out there are today.

I really miss the discovery, I really miss the intrigue, I really miss the debate and most of all I really miss The Breakfast Club.

I’ve been seeing something new, or at least new to me, on a scale that perhaps hadn’t existed before in the work force and economy.   Lately, I’ve seen a great many people “retire” from my employer only to see the same people that retired come back and work either on a project basis or a temporary basis rather than replace those positions altogether.

It then occurred to me that if this is happening across corporate America then the work force may suddenly change to a full time employees to part-time, project based employees.   On the flip side, about 80% of boomers haven’t saved enough or prepared enough for retirement so they’ll be forced to work in some capacity to survive.   Of course, boomers don’t consume much of anything other than perhaps medical goods and services so where does that leave the economy?

We’re entering a bold new world here, where manufacturing jobs might have been a safety net for anyone outside a white collar, those jobs are gone and for those white collar workers, the gray collar workers are doing the work part time.    This isn’t going to be good for the young no matter what.

Perhaps I’m getting a little paranoid but there seems to be a huge movement to turn TV’s into Internet connected devices.  Many TV’s now have “internet apps” built in to them and while I initially thought this was a good thing, I’m starting to change my mind.   Google is planning on soon releasing Google TV and Google has a bad track record of logging absolutely everything you do.   So I’m guessing the next logical step is for Google to become the next “Neilson rating” by logging everything you download and watch off the TV, everything you browse off the web, and god knows what they’re tracking off your cell phone.

Is it just me or is it creepy to think there is a company out there logging absolutely everything you do and see?   I have been debating which TV to buy going so far as to wait until Black Friday to make my move but I recently went to Costco and saw the guys trying to clear inventory of old TV’s for the new models coming in and I’m guessing the new models are all going to have internet on them at some point.     One main problem I have with all these Internet enabled TV’s are the filtering capabilities which no one seems to be thinking about to protect one’s sensibilities.

I’ll probably buy a new TV soon and I will be sure to keep it as “naked” as possible and hook up my new Apple TV when I get around to it.

So Southwest is buying AirTran and United and Continental are happily married now.   The air travel industry already sucks and this is only going to make things worse.   I’ve been on so many flights this year that I’m really burned out but I’m even more burned out of these tiny jets airlines are using to keep their planes full.  Even on three or four hour flights, I’m sitting on these small jets that don’t hold more than a hundred or so people.

Unfortunately, these mergers also mean that your elite status is cut in half.  If there are 1000 United Elite flyers and 1000 Continental elite flyers, then you are now competing against 1000 of the other guy’s airline after they merge.   It is now doubly so for Southwest and Airtran, all airlines that I fly on.

I guess the only thing left is for American to merge with US Air or Delta and that will make things really bad.   What I am really interested in knowing is how any major increase in the price of oil is going to impact the airlines.

So I’ve been experimenting with Groupon and I can’t decide yet if I like it or not.    The way Groupon works is that it basically acts as a giant “coupon” discount repository but the coupons are only good for a period of time.   The plus is that often the coupons have a 50% discount value so you could buy $50 worth of services or products for $25.   I recently purchased one however I was told that the coupon wasn’t immediately available for use and I would need to wait a day for the coupon to work.

This is certainly understandable but a disappointment nonetheless because a one day delay means you have to wait a day to use the coupon.   I will follow up with my experiences with this but does anyone out there have any good or bad experiences with Groupon?   I found this very interesting discussion here on Groupon’s partners and it seems the best thing to do is avoid services places (restaurants, massage spas, helicopter rides) and stick to consumables (CafePress, online retailers, etc.)

So last week, I headed out to the mall a couple of times.   The first time was midweek when I decided I wanted a Chik-Fil-A sandwich but unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to get one because the three lines were 20 people deep.   I was taken aback at how many people were at the mall.

A large percentage of people at the mall were women with babies or young kids so I’m guessing these are your typical stay-at-home moms.  Next were quite a few men milling about the mall not buying anything since they weren’t carrying any bags.   I did see a few suits so I’m guessing these people were workers on their lunch break.   The parking lot was absolutely packed and I couldn’t figure it out.   I am guessing that the unemployed are hanging out at the mall along with the moms since the AC, WiFi and entertainment is relatively free at the mall, this is the place to go.

The second time I went to the mall was this weekend where I ended up buying that new Apple TV.  I haven’t even hooked it up yet and won’t get to it till next week but the Apple store was jam packed with people.  Actually, the whole mall was packed with people and there were quite a bit of shoppers.

What I suspect happening is that as more and more retail outlets go bankrupt, the masses are gravitating to the better malls and keeping those retail shops in business.   There is a great deal of consolidation going on in retail and I don’t doubt a few more chains going Chapter 7 before it’s all over but for those that survive, business must be good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t spend too long at the mall to make detailed observations to find out what/where people were shopping to get investment opportunities.   I only wish Chick-Fil-A were a public company because they’re always busy!