I know it's been a while since I posted.  Planning season, lots going on with the know the story. Anyway, there's been a post rattling around inside my head for a few days now, and I gotta get it out there.  It deals with one of my biggest frustrations - the lack of good rock music.

Part of me wonders if this is what my Dad must have felt like as Doo-Wop died and the music he grew up on started to fade away.  It must have been frustrating to not be able to replicate that great feeling you get when you buy a record you absolutely love, go home and literally wear out the record because you love the song so much.  As far as I'm concerned, there have been precious few of those records since I graduated college.  Worse yet, they've been more difficult to locate.

I think the advent of digital technologies forever altered the way music is put out.  But there was one change that I thought would come about that never really did.  Whereas when I was a kid, a band could put out an album with only one or two good songs on it and still chalk up album sales, the dynamic is completely altered in the age of iTunes.  Now that every song is a single, kids can and do cherry-pick the songs they like and pay only 99 cents a pop for them, rather than blow $10-15 on an entire album and be disappointed when they listen to it all the way through.  I thought this would force artists to weed out the weak stuff and give us more songs that could stand on their own.  Fat chance.

I think I must have underestimated inertia.  I can rattle off dozens of bands that put out a great song and pushed it on satellite and Internet radio and got me interested enough to buy a whole album.  Maybe they won't score album sales with the kiddies, but they might be getting full-album sales from older buyers like me who are used to supporting artists with good tracks by buying the entire thing.  Problem is, I'm probably now going to switch my habits because I'm tired of getting burned.

I think the overall problem, though, goes back to weak songwriting.  There just aren't that many artists who can continually and consistently churn out great songs.  Mind you, I'm talking about great songs, not great tracks.

There's another problem.  My mechanism for discovering great music has completely broken down.  When I was in high school, my friends and I would spend a lot of time listening to music together.  We'd cruise around in one another's cars, or we'd sit around in someone's basement listening to stuff, and it was a great way to find out what everyone else was listening to and discovering.  I recall eagerly anticipating bringing an album that no one had heard yet to the next gathering, popping in a cassette tape and saying, "Wait'll you get a load of THIS!"

When I was in college, we'd all be going to see new bands every weekend.  When I lived in a fraternity house, everyone would have stereos in their room and would be blasting stuff they liked all the time.  It was impossible to NOT be exposed to new stuff.

Now that I'm old and lame, I can do two things - 1) Ask my buddies what they're listening to, and 2) Log on to stuff like Pandora or get Apple to make music recommendations for me.  Problem is, the technology just isn't there yet, and my friends are all stuck in the same ruts I'm in, their mechanisms for discovering new music having broken down the same way mine have.  As a technologist, I have some faith that someday, a technology solution will emerge that will help connect people with music they like.  But it's just not there today.  Apple tells me I might like AC/DC.  Great, I knew that in 1980.

Since 2000, I've discovered maybe a dozen albums that I like to listen to all the way through.  Here are some of them:

  • Coheed & Cambria - Second Stage Turbine Blade
  • The Click Five - Greetings from Imrie House
  • Creeper Lagoon - Watering Ghost Garden
  • Further Seems Forever - Hide Nothing
  • Gringo Love Show - Gringo Love Show
  • Jack's Mannequin - Everything In Transit
  • Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American
  • Mae - The Everglow
  • Matt Wertz - Twentythree Places
  • My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade

Of the artists listed above, only a handful released anything afterward with strong enough songwriting to carry me through the album all the way through.  Coheed drowned in their own concept albums.  Gringo Love Show broke up.  Mae released disappointing follow-ups.  Jimmy Eat World put out albums with a couple strong songs per release, but with junk strewn throughout the rest.

My point here is that I really don't have too many artists to cling to anymore.  When I was a kid, I'd wear out just about everything that Van Halen, AC/DC, Def Leppard, the Police, Pink Floyd and Ozzy put out.  Where are those consistently good artists today?

I guess no one wants to slide into middle age and become that nostalgic old fart who sits around dismissing what kids are listening to and comparing it to what was popular "back in the day."  But you know what?  I am.  I'm hoping technology will save me.  Then there's what my cousin is doing.  I can only hope that he and Sandy decide to take Dromedary off hiatus and help us get guitar-driven rock back.  I don't always like everything Cousin Al recommends, but he's responsible for my finding at least two or three of the really enjoyable albums I listed above.

Screw my MTV.  I want my rock back.

Some Tips for PayPal

I can't believe that something that was invented in order to streamline online payments has made it MORE difficult to make online payments almost every single time I've used it.  If it weren't for eBay and all these little independent merchants who don't have their own credit card processing, I'd never use it to begin with. Here are some suggestions for PayPal to help make things easier for the end user and make some more money in the medium- to long-term.

  1. Stop defaulting to the payment option that's most profitable for PayPal. I have my checking account linked to my PayPal account.  But it's often better for me to use one of the credit cards linked to my account.  PayPal always defaults to take money directly from my checking account and makes it a huge pain in the butt to pick another payment type.  The end user, though, doesn't care what's most profitable for PayPal.  They just see that PayPal is picking the option most profitable for it, and not the one that's most convenient for the end user.  I find myself changing my payment option out of spite - to the debit card that draws money from the same checking account PayPal wants so desperately to directly debit.
  2. Make it easier to change information after you change addresses.  Having just moved, I now know that this process is a pain in the ass.  You can't just change your home address in the system.  You have to log in, delete any credit cards associated with your old address, then delete the old address.  Then you have to add your new address, add the credit cards back and then designate that address as your new home address.  All credit cards have to be reconfirmed.  How about an "I'm Moving Wizard?"
  3. Change the whole process for confirming credit cards. The existing process is screwed.  PayPal wouldn't let me use my Discover Card because it was "associated with another account."  I just found out it was associated with the right account, all right - just the wrong address.  So I went through the steps described in #2 above and found out that I needed to reconfirm the Discover Card.  How PayPal does this is to charge the card $1.95 and have the owner of the card confirm it by entering a code that appears on their statement.  Once confirmed, the $1.95 is refunded.  The transaction takes a few days to show up in electronic billing, assuming you don't want to wait for the statement to come in the mail.  Meanwhile, PayPal gave itself a $1.95 interest-free loan on your credit card.  Doesn't sound like a big deal, but what if you're confirming a few million credit cards at any given time?  That's a lot of float, to say nothing of the breakage.  I should point out that when I've opened checking accounts with ING Direct and Emigrant, they send you a micropayment of something like 8 cents or 12 cents and ask you to confirm the amount.  They don't take money out.  Interesting...
  4. Quit trying to upsell when you should be streamlining payment processes.  People resent it when PayPal wastes the chance to make a payment process shorter and simpler and tries to upsell a Mastercard or whatever.  Do Not Want.  Keep doing it and its a big Do Not Want for the whole service, which exists (ostensibly) for simplifying payment.

There are a lot more tips I could give.  PayPal ought to give serious consideration to fixing some of this stuff.  The big picture is that they're screwing up their brand.  They look like a company that scrapes for every nickel and dime it can get out of customers in exchange for adding minimal value.  That may cut it in a world where PayPal is pretty much the only game in town for folks who don't want to spend money on payment processing, but how much longer can that last?  It can't be too long before PayPal will see serious competition (most likely indirectly).

My guess is that PayPal will leverage its user base, the eBay ownership and other assets to enforce the status quo.  Should be good for a 4-7 year slide into oblivion while users slowly find and exploit other options.

List of Complaints Du Jour

Lots of things going on, as usual.  And because the tasks are piling up, so is my general list of maladies and complaints:

  1. Dear Best Buy, CostCo and all other brick-and-mortar retailers - I bring the product to the register and pay for it.  You give me my receipt.  Transaction over.  No, you can't peer through my bags to see whether or not I'm stealing something.  (Oh, and nobody's buying that "We're making sure you got the right item" bullcrap, either.  If I didn't have the right item, I wouldn't have brought it to the counter.)  You can't stand in my way and block my exit until I give you a receipt, either.  Think I stole something?  Call a cop.  You don't get to BE the cop.
  2. Dear New Next-Door Neighbor - Keeping pets requires responsibility beyond leaving giant mounds of cat food on your porch outside for the cats that live in the woods behind your property.  You're supposed to make sure they're spayed/neutered, get them their shots and keep them off other people's property (namely, mine).  You can't have it both ways such that you feed them, cuddle them, etc. but bear no responsibility for what they do.
  3. Dear Mother Nature - Make up your mind regarding whether or not you want to wash out the weekend.  This "two hours of sun followed by two hours of rain and then back to sun" thing is getting old.  My vegetable garden looks like the mud pit at a monster truck rally.  And, please don't wait until I've brought a bunch of boxes out of the garage into the driveway before you decide to make it rain again.  Can I have a sunny weekend, please?  It, is, after all the second half of June, not the beginning of April.
  4. Dear Guy at the Brookhaven Town Dump - It sucks that I got there five minutes after closing.  You don't have to shoot me a self-satisfied smile at me as you're closing the gate in my face.
  5. Dear Brookhaven Sanitation Workers - If you're not going to pick up two tall kitchen trash bags filled with ordinary household trash, I need to know why.  You can't just skip my house for garbage pickup and leave me wondering whether I did anything wrong.  (Was I supposed to put pink bows on the bags?)


Minor Presentation Annoyances

I spend a lot of time not just giving presentations, but listening to them.  There are a lot of presenters who are better at it than I am, and certainly I've been guilty of a presentation gaffe or two.  (Or five, or thirty-six.)  I'm starting to encounter a lot of the same presentation annoyances lately, though.  Here are some of them:

  1. Starting off answers to questions with phrases like "To tell you the truth...," "Honestly..." or "Truthfully..."

    If you're presenting, and you're answering a question by first telling me that you're about to tell me the truth, it subconsciously makes me wonder about whether or not you've been telling me the truth up to this point.  It also makes me wonder if honesty is a habitual problem for you.  I know that presenters tend to use these phrases as filler while they organize their thoughts, but really - choose something else.  I'd even prefer umms and ahhs to hearing "honestly..."

  2. Using "amount" and "number" incorrectly

    My rule of thumb here is that you use "number" to refer to things you can easily count and "amount" to refer to everything else.  Thus, you can talk about an "amount of ad inventory" or a "number of ad impressions," but not an "amount of impressions."  I know this is minor, but I cringe when people screw this up.

  3. Screwing up plural/singular of certain industry terms

    Many times in the media business, we show syndicated research runs featuring composition indices in order to help back up assertions about the right media vehicles for a particular audience.  (I know - We use indices for other reasons, too.  Bear with me.)  When we refer to these in the singular, we use the word "index."  The plural of that word is "indices."  There is no such thing as a singular "indice" or a plural "indexes."

    People mess this up when it comes to the word "medium," too.  A medium is a channel of communication.  When you talk about multiple channels of communication, use the word "media."  All the usual subject/verb agreement rules apply.  So if you're referring to television, radio and print collectively, don't say "mediums" or "medias."  It's also appropriate to say "Media are..." as opposed to "Media is..." when you're talking about more than one medium.  Yes, there are permissible exceptions, like in colloquial speech when you're really talking about the media business and you just happen to be leaving out that implied word.  But please don't say "mediums."  It hurts my ears.

  4. Starting off answers to questions with meaningless phrases like "Actually...," "At the end of the day...," "Many times...," etc.

    Sometimes, presenters do this to give themselves a couple seconds to organize their thoughts.  Sometimes, they're using hedging language designed to mentally give themselves a fallback if their assertions are challenged.  It makes a more powerful statement if someone says "More moms visit iVillage than visit" rather than "Many times, more moms visit..."  Don't hedge.  Hedging makes your audience think that you can't back up what you say.

  5. Overly florid language

    Presenters in our business often have a tendency to use a lot of unnecessary language.  Cut to the chase.  "Our users tend to be affluent" works a lot better than "On a household income basis, our unique user base has an index of 125 against household income $150K+."

I don't want to give the impression that I sit in the back of the room grading people on their presentations, or that I'm nitpicking.  None of this stuff really keeps me up at night, and I doubt I'd ever call somebody out publicly for any of the minor annoyances I've listed above.  It just grates on my nerves when people who give presentations don't notice that they've lost half the room because they keep using language that makes them appear less professional.