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Let’s Face It. It’s About Ego

Over the past several days, my Twitter timeline has been filled with dad bloggers who are rallying behind a cause. They’ve been using phrases like “words matter,” ” be inclusive” and “equal rights.” The sheer number of tweets, retweets and posts created have caused news outlets like CNN, FOX News and The Today Show to run features on the issue. With all this attention, it must be important. Is it for equal rights for same-sex parents? Perhaps it’s about access to healthcare or voting rights. Nope. 

The goal of these dad bloggers is to get Amazon to change the name of one of their programs from Amazon Mom to Amazon Family. Seriously? When we look at issues and problems we face every day, the way a company choses to deliver a marketing message to potential customers seems like it should be low on the priority list. Where is this type of groundswell for issues that could actually help save lives? As dad bloggers, we should be putting our collective energies behind helping our children, not protecting our egos. ABC News reports that 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying with 160,000 kids staying home from school every day because they fear bullying. Teens who are bullied/bullies are 2-9 times more likely to commit suicide. According to the CDC, teen suicide accounts for about 4,400 deaths each year. Yes, those are numbers we can help change if we come together and work toward educating parents, teachers and students about how to effectively change an environment where people are being bullied. This is just one example where dads can make a difference, there are many others.

Why did so many people jump on the Amazon Family bandwagon? I have some ideas.

  1. It isn’t controversial. It can be posted to Twitter feeds and FaceTime timelines and not have to worry about offending anyone or risk losing followers.
  2. It’s easy. It doesn’t take much effort to write a tweet – after all, it’s only 140 characters. 
  3. You get to be “political.” You get to feign outrage at a social injustice that is tearing the fabric of American families apart.

Let’s be honest. It’s about ego. Dads want to be recognized for the fact they are taking a more active role in raising their kids. It’s great that they are, but the only place a dad needs to look for validation they’re doing the right thing is in the eyes of their children. In twenty years what will matter more, the fact your child had a role model who loved and cared for them or that a company (which may or may not even be around anymore) tried to sell cheap diapers to “moms?”


Back in the Saddle

It’s been an awfully long time since I last posted on this site.  A lot has changed over that time which has given me plenty of new material. A sample of the changes that have occurred: my wife has changed jobs, we’ve moved across the country and all of the kids are in school full-time. My goal is to spend some more time writing about some of these events. It’s possible you will be entertained, although I make no guarantees. Hopefully you will join me on the journey. Until my next post, thanks for reading!

Six Songs of Me

A friend from college recently posted on Facebook about a project recently launched by The Guardian called “Six Songs of Me.”  The objective is for people to name the significant songs that are part of the soundtrack for their lives in six different categories.  My friend’s choices are here.  Keep reading for my own selections and thoughts on the project.

1. What was the first song you ever bought?
Cool it Now,” by New Edition

I’m not really sure if it was the New Edition cassette that was first (yes, I said cassette) or Hall and Oates “Big Bam Boom.”  Both were released in 1984 and it’s even possible that I purchased them both at the same time.  I’m pretty sure I made the purchase at ALCO and it was one of the first times I had actually spent my money on something.  Up until that point I would save any money that I had.  I recall being very nervous and worried that I was making a mistake.  Turns out, I liked both albums A LOT and kept playing them over, and over again.  If you’re wondering how I know I was at an ALCO, I grew up in a small town so it was either ALCO, Pamida or K-Mart.  I have a one-in-three chance of being correct.

2.  What song always gets you dancing?
(It Must Have Been Ol’) Santa Claus,” by Harry Connick, Jr.

I know. A Christmas song is an odd choice for the song that gets you dancing, but this one gets me moving every time.  There was a Christmas television special that Harry Connick, Jr. did back in 1994.  I tried to find the video on YouTube but was unsuccessful.  If my memory hasn’t failed (which at this point in my life, it has several times already) they were in a log cabin complete with snow falling outside the window, a roaring fire in the fireplace and a baby grand piano (which all snowed-in cabins have). During this song, he and his band got up and started parading around the room while singing. It struck me as funny and now every time I hear it I start parading around the room, too.  Happy Ho! Ho! Ho! to you!

3. What song takes you back to your childhood?
In My Room,” by The Beach Boys

Really it’s not just one song that takes me back.  One of the greatest things I remember about growing up is that there was always music in our house.  Yes, my mom liked Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond and Mannheim Steamroller but it was the Beach Boys and the Everly Brothers that I connected with the most.  Whenever I hear one of their songs, I’m able to vividly picture sitting in my room – the desk, the bed, the posters on the wall, etc.  When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing what a 4 minute long song can trigger in your memories – which I’m sure is the point of the Six Songs of Me project.

4. What is your perfect love song?
When I Fall in Love,” by Nat King Cole

When I sing along to this song, there is just something inside of me that resonates “this is what love feels like.”  Of course, when you have lyrics like “when I fall in love, it will be completely” then you know you’ve got a serious love song.  Yes, if you clicked on the link, you were just Rick-rolled.  We all have those songs/artists that we are embarrassed to say we like.  Well, it turns out I happen to like Rick Astley.  That being said, the Nat King Cole version is better – but they’re both better than the Celine Dion version.

5.  What song would you want at your funeral?
Harry’s Game,” by Clannad

I don’t know why I picked this song.  It’s just the first one that popped into my head when I thought about death.  There’s a haunting quality about the song that evokes several different emotions.  It did bring some interesting thoughts that I’ll save for another post about friends and acquaintances and who would actually attend my funeral.

6.  Time for the encore. One last song that makes you, you.
Homecoming,” by Green Day

Actually, it’s difficult to pick only one song from the American Idiot album.  When I go on bike rides, the album what I have playing.  I find myself able to lose myself in the music and use the driving beats to pedal faster on uphill climbs.  I chose Homecoming specifically for some of the lyrics that describe how I felt through much of high school, college and even some today.  “Nobody likes you. Everyone left you. They’re all out without you havin’ fun.”  For right or wrong, growing up I felt very lonely.  In high school & college I was active in sports and music and was involved, but I didn’t feel like I had any friends.  I’ll save the psychotherapy for another post, though.

What does it mean?

As I mentioned above, it’s really interesting what memories come flooding back when you hear different songs.  This project actually brought back so many, I find myself overwhelmed by thoughts, feelings and memories (both good and bad).  What this project doesn’t take into consideration is that it’s almost impossible to narrow it down to one song for each category.  If I was overly ambitious, I would sit down with my iTunes account and song by song chart what memories come back.  There’s no doubt I’d end up with the complete story of my life in 4 minute increments.

How to Ruin a Retail Promotion

Planning retail promotions has taught me that the number one reason promotions fail isn’t because the campaign doesn’t resonate with customers or even because of poor planning. The best way to ruin a promotion is to fail to execute it at the point-of-sale. Last weekend I took Yakko and Wakko to the 3-D showing of Star Wars: Episode I. AMC Theatres was running a promotion during the opening weekend where everyone who attended a showing of the movie would receive a free Hasbro Star Wars Fighter Pod toy. AMC’s social media team did a very good job with promoting the campaign. I saw announcements on Facebook and Twitter encouraging customers to attend opening weekend to receive the toy. They even had some pretty good creative to support the campaign.

However, all of the money and resources that was spent on promotion was completely wasted as soon as we stepped into the theater. There was no signage about the promotion visible as we walked in. For the record, there actually may have been signage, but since I was trying to keep track of Yakko and Wakko we didn’t notice any. The person taking tickets informed us that the 3-D glasses would be at the door to the theater. When I asked about the toy, she didn’t know anything about it. She directed us to the Guest Services counter where we got to stand in line behind a customer who couldn’t print the tickets they ordered online at the kiosk. If you’re curious, they were told it was because they used PayPal. The solution Guest Services gave them for the future was to visit the Ticket Booth (doesn’t that defeat the purpose of ordering online?). However, we’ll talk about online ordering issues another time.

The Guest Services person then assisted us by checking our tickets and scribbling on the back of them…then reached under the counter and gave us the toys. The family behind us in line had apparently heard me ask about Star Wars toys because they also wanted some, but they were turned away because they didn’t have tickets to see Star Wars. Other than us and the other family, I didn’t see anyone else inquire about the free toys. I glanced around the theater before the movie started and only saw a small handful of people with the toys. I did, however see several kids with lightsabers and other Star Wars toys they had brought with them. That’s a strong sign Hasbro was targeting the right customers. If I’m a representative from Hasbro, I would be extremely upset with AMC Theatres. Hasbro was trying to capitalize on the re-release of an epic franchise and their promotion is sitting out-of-sight behind the counter. I know my kids have both asked repeatedly when they can go to the store to purchase additional fighter pods. It’s safe to say that was the point of the campaign – they want to sell more toys. Holding them behind the counter is a complete failure of the campaign.

I’m not very familiar with the take rate for toy marketing campaigns but for the sake of argument, say Hasbro expected 10% of customers who received the toy would go to a store and buy more. To keep the math simple, let’s say AMC sold 500,000 tickets to Star Wars during the promotion (Star Wars grossed $23 million at the box office opening weekend). Even if 85% of customers were given the free toy offer (which I think is being generous) that still leaves 75,000 people who didn’t receive/know about the new Hasbro fighter pods. If each customer spends just $25 on new toys, that’s a potential $187,500 in sales that was left on the table because the retail location failed to execute the campaign.

There are also repercussions beyond the financial impacts for Hasbro. Failure to execute at the store level also impacts customer loyalty and retention. One of the reasons we went to the movie during opening weekend was because of the toys. I’ll admit I’m thrifty (my wife would use cheapskate) when it comes to movies. If there’s a choice, I’ll always take the least expensive option. I’ll watch the cheaper 2-D version of a movie if it’s available. Since Star Wars was only in 3-D, getting a toy as a bonus was a good incentive to go opening weekend. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say there are people who knew about the promotion that either didn’t ask where to find the toys or didn’t want to wait in a line at Guest Services. How do you think they feel about AMC right now?

Governing Through Soundbites

This time of year is very frustrating for me.  I’m discouraged by all of the political campaigns that only seem interested in informing people of what’s wrong with the country and who’s to blame for it.  It really doesn’t matter which political party is in control, both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of using the same tactics.  It’s very effective in getting people elected to office.  Unfortunately, it does little to solve the problems we face as a country.

My wife and I have been watching episodes of The West Wing lately.  There’s a scene in one episode that really resonated with me.  President Bartlet is in a debate when his opponent gives a ‘ten word answer’:

“Every once in a while, every once in a while, there’s a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts. Other than that, there aren’t very many un-nuanced moments in leading a country that’s way too big for ten words.”

I wish that only happened on television shows.  It seems political candidates are looking for that quick soundbite.  They are looking for that key phrase that moves them away from the B-roll footage into the headline.  My Congressman recently sent a survey (at tax-payer expense) that was designed to do nothing more than to provide vague statistics that can be twisted into supporting his legislative platform.

There are so many issues with this survey that it’s hard to identify where to begin.  Let’s start with the basics – the number of questions.  If you skip to the last page, you’ll see it shows there are 22 questions in this survey.  The problem is, there are actually 23 questions – there are two that are labelled #4.  If he’s looking for a soundbite, he may want to find one about the importance of proofreading.

Another issue with this survey is that there is no return date specified.  I assume he wanted to get the survey completed and returned fairly quickly so I sent it back right away.  Without specifying a date, some important opinions may be ignored because they weren’t returned in a timely manner.

A third point regarding this survey has to do with the questions themselves.  “Are you interested in ‘x’ issue? Yes or No”  As a concerned citizen, I’m interested in all of the issues.  There are certain issues I care about more than others, but this survey doesn’t ask HOW important or even rank WHICH ISSUE is most important.  It only asks if I’m interested.  The follow-up question for each question is even better. “Which do you feel has a better grasp of X issue? The President, The Congress, They both have a good grasp, Neither has a good grasp.”  Well, Congress has 535 members (435 in the House of Representatives, 100 in the Senate) so I’m sure at least some of them have a good grasp on the issues, but which ones are we referring?  Again, these questions are purposely vague and provide little (if any) insight into how his constituents’ feel about the issues.

The final thought I have with this survey is the last question asked.  “What would be your ideal plan to repair the United States’ economy?”  He provides three lines for the reply.  What could you possibly write in three lines that would be effective in repairing the economy?  This question (and the entire survey) isn’t a serious attempt to help shape his legislative agenda.  It’s an attempt to shape soundbites for the upcoming election season.

Winterize your touchscreen

Guess what?  Winter is just around the corner which means cold temps and, if you have a touchscreen device (iPhone, iPad, etc), you may be faced with cold fingers too.  You’ve probably already realized that typical gloves do not work with your device.  I saw a tweet from my babysitter that she used her nose to unlock her phone.  Although that solution worked for her, I’ve got a big nose that would make it harder to type.  Can you “fat finger” keys with your nose?  When I was searching for a solution that would work for me, I discovered that most advertised “touchscreen friendly” gloves meant they left the fingertips off of them.  Hello?  My fingertips are what I’m trying to keep warm!  It’s possible to always walk around with a cup of hot chocolate (you can even use my homemade hot chocolate recipe) but it turns out it’s hard to use your device while holding a hot beverage.  As I discovered this summer at the pool, liquids and electronics definitely do not mix.

So what other options do you have?  I found a pair of gloves from The North Face that would work.  The North Face is known for their cold-weather gear but at $40 it was more than I was willing to spend and it only gives you the ability to use your index finger and thumb.  Thanks to a recommendation from someone on Twitter, the best option I found was from a company called Agloves.  Agloves’ uses silver-coated nylon fibers to provide conductivity between your fingers and touchscreen device, all while staying snuggly warm.  Since the silver fibers are woven throughout the glove, it gives full 10-finger functionality to type, tap, scroll, swipe and play.  So you’ve got that going for you, which is nice.  The company now makes three different versions of the gloves.  The original version, in black, is priced at $17.99 and now they offer both Bamboo (white) and Sport (black) versions for $23.99.

I bought a pair of the original Agloves for my wife last year and it’s the only pair of gloves she hasn’t lost.  I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s a sign that she really likes them.  For those of you wondering, Agloves has not paid me for this recommendation.  We just really like the product.  (p.s. If any reps from Agloves happen to stumble across this blog, feel free to send me a sample – my wife wants a bamboo pair)

The Top 5 iPhone Apps You Need Right Now

There are certain standard apps I have on my iPhone that I’m pretty sure everyone uses such as Instagram, Twitter, etc.  This list talks about some of the apps that perhaps you aren’t familiar with but should be.  These are my favorite apps that I use almost every day and I have a feeling you’ll find them equally useful.  And best of all, all of these apps are free.

5. iMapMyRide
is an app that uses the GPS of the iPhone to track and record workouts.  Personally, I use it to track my bike rides but there are also versions for walking, hiking, fitness, etc.  It’s great for keeping track of my rides and to look back and see my favorite routes but the feature that earns it a place on my top five is the ability for live tracking.  Like most apps, there is a social element that let’s you connect with friends and family.  When you connect, your friends can see where you actually are on the trail which is nice if you’re going to meet up with someone.  However, I like it because my wife and I can track each other’s rides.  With three young kids, we rarely get a chance to ride together…one of us stays home to watch the kids.  It just so happens that on one ride I hit some mud and wiped out.  Other than some scratches and bruises, I was able to finish the ride but it was comforting to know that if something had happened, my family would know where to find me.

4. Fooducate lets you scan the bar code of a product in the grocery store and find product details and healthier alternatives.  Certain grocery stores have nutritional information on their store shelves such as the NuVal system but the Fooducate app looks at specific products – even store specific brands (i.e. Trader Joe’s).  The app also gives you an option of sending them product information if it isn’t already in their database.  For example, I scanned a new Bisquik Complete Pancake & Waffle Mix with Whole Grain but it wasn’t in the database.  I sent them an email and they replied once it had been added.  They gave the product a B-.  Like all products it gives several alternatives in this instance, they also included a recipe for homemade pancake mix that could be made with minimally processed whole grain flour.  Again, helping me make healthy food choices.  The other thing I enjoy about this app is that it lets you compare several products side by side.  Overall it’s a handy way to make healthier options at the point of purchase.

3. Peel.  A while back the O’Doyle’s cut cable (read the adventure here).  I still have no regrets about that decision, but one of the things we missed was the ability to view the channel guide.  We enjoyed being able to pull up the on-screen guide and see what was on, rather than channel surfing – which usually means hitting all of the commercials and wondering what show really was on.  Peel provides a visual guide of programing.  It’s nice because it’s not the name in a chart but shows a picture of the program. (lets face it, I’m a visual person so I like that).  The app allows you to customize multiple rooms which is nice.  I showed the app to my parents because they have over-the-air programming in one room but DirecTV in another so the app lets them switch between providers.  Peel also lets you select your favorite shows or channels so they show up as your top picks to make sure you notice they are on.  You can also sort between TV shows, movies, sports or conduct a search for your show.  You can also select the day and time to see when a program will air in the future.  I find this app much light-years ahead of the other apps available.  As a side note, I was having issues loading the programming and their customer support was super helpful and they even offered to send me a t-shirt.  For the record, they would have been listed here even without the t-shirt…but it was still nice.  Peel also has a remote control feature to control your tv/cable/satellite/DVR/blu-ray from your phone but I haven’t tried that feature.

2. Orchestra is probably one of the apps that has most impacted my life.  I’ll say it’s been a totally positive experience (but really just because I know my wife reads this blog).  As a stay-at-home dad there are many tasks that my wife and I balance between us that sometimes fall between the cracks. So far we’ve avoided forgetting to pick up a child from soccer but you never know.  Communication errors happen.  This app helps make sure we’re all working toward the same goal.  As Orchestra’s tagline says “everyone plays a part.”  This app lets you create a task and then assign who should complete it.  My wife has found this incredibly useful for her “honey-do” list…while I find it harder to plead ignorance. Orchestra lets you send tasks to people even if they don’t have their own copy of Orchestra.  You can send messages and status updates by individual tasks and even forward tasks people send you via email directly into Orchestra.  A nice feature is with iOS 5 tasks in Orchestra appear in the Notification Center.  I would love it if they added future functionality such as setting a date for a task to be completed.  I’d also like to see location-based reminders.  There are times when we’re at the Dr’s office and I wanted to stop at a nearby store on the way home but got distracted by a screaming child that didn’t appreciate their flu shot.  If there was a location-based ping to remind me that I needed to stop, my life would be complete.  This made the top 2 just because of the ability to manage our family life but you can also sort between personal and work tasks (or create your own lists) and manage everything in your life so the benefits are really far reaching.

1. Vlingo is my number one app.  I purchased this app when there was a fee for some of the functionality but it’s now free in the app store.  This app was worth the fee.  Many people have been jumping over themselves about the iPhone 4S and Siri but for my money, and my iPhone 4, Vlingo takes the cake.  Vlingo is a voice-activated app that lets you send email, text messages, social media updates (Twitter, Facebook), driving directions, web searches and voice dialing.  Seriously, this app does everything…and it’s free.  I like this app so much that I added it to the iPhone’s menu bar at the bottom of the screen so I always have it accessible.  It takes a little getting used to, especially composing emails since you have to speak the punctuation but once you have some practice it’s an incredibly slick app.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I did win a Twitter contest with Vlingo but it had no bearing on my decision to put it in the number one slot.  The reason I was interacting with Vlingo on Twitter was because I was already in love with this app.

There you have it, my top 5 iPhone apps.  What are you waiting for?  Go download them!  Did I miss one?  Agree or disagree with my choices?  Please let me know in the comments.  Thanks!