I’ll just post this, which I love:
August 2013 was the second time in three months that I left a blank monthly archive. Two out of three ain’t bad, unless it’s a non-updated website.
- I’ve been traveling a lot this year for work. This isn’t always fun, but it has been a tremendous insight into the idea of gamification. I never knew of airline status as anything other than some vague preferential treatment for years and years, but now that I’m on the road all the time, this shit has become way too important.
I finally made Premier Silver on United two months ago — admittedly that’s a pretty weak boast if you talk to any true road warrior — and the arrival of the silver-ish (in other words, gray) luggage tag tag in the mail felt like that time I got called back for the second round of Jeopardy! auditions. Now I’m one of those people who gets the special security line, Economy Plus seating and envious looks from exhausted tourists who know they’ll miss out on an overhead compartment spot. Whatever, haters: go fly into Charlotte-Douglas and John Wayne Airport week after week and they’ll throw you a bone, too.
So the gamification part: no matter how trivial a task or a reward might seem, the desire for recognition and achievement is so strong that the people controlling that task/reward can really draw a lot of extra desire and effort out of the rest of us just by enumerating levels and badges. It’s one of the many psychological tactics out there in the world, and while I know appending the words “Premier Silver” to my boarding pass doesn’t mean anything at all in the real world, here I am caring about it anyway.
I’ll take note of that again when I check in at my hotel tonight. Just eight more nights until Hilton Diamond status!
- The NFL starts up again this week. Speaking of psychological control, I am well aware that Roger Goodell and the owners get away with a huge amount of ethically despicable behavior, yet I’m already right here eagerly consuming their product yet again this fall. I don’t quite know what to feel about this other than to point it out – if there’s some way to separate the fandom from the naked greed that drives owner indifference to both players’ mental health or the public’s finances, all while wrapped in a soggy blanket of fake down-home American grittiness, then I’m all for it, but I know already my fandom is going to win out anyway. If someone could figure a way out of this moral dilemma before the cheese for my nachos finishes up in the microwave, that would be great.
- All I know about the tacos out here in California is that they are amazing. Why does a corn tortilla go so well with grilled seafood and lime? I don’t know, but I am eternally grateful to the person who found this out. You could really enjoy a life of tacos and ocean out here without much effort.
For the first time in more than six years running this iteration of my website, I have a barren monthly archive. (See history menu on the left side of a single-post page.) Sorry, June 2013. I only made July because I thought, “Hey, it’s the end of July and I’d be going two months without sending something into the blogging ether. Not OK.”
- Baseball will forever be dull as paint, but I guess it’s nice that the Pirates are the best paint in MLB right now. People keep telling me “Hey! The Pirates are in first place!”, which makes me think “baseball”, which makes me think, “I could go for a nap right now. I’ll just finish reading this coverage of Steeler training camp before I hit the hay.” That’s what yinzers do.
- Tonight I had a fantastic Belgian-style dinner at The Globe here in Garden Grove, Calif. Highly recommend it, and if you get a chance, also try some St. Bernardus ABT 12, which was awesome. I say that as a guy who doesn’t normally like Belgian beer either – too sour, but not Bernardus. Great name too that makes him sound like a more O.G. Roman version of the brandy-toting dog breed.
I got that Q5 on dubs. OE dubs, but still: dubs.
- There’s a Maserati owner near me who keeps driving his ride down the street when I walk my dog in the morning. This is mostly notable because his car is painted matte black. I don’t know why peeps do this – when you go with a matte finish, you make your $130,000 car look like a 1991 Nissan Sentra, one you painted with black Krylon to hide the mismatched replacement door you bought at the junkyard.
- I’ve been using Google Now on my phone … but I’ve decided I’m not into it. I only say that because I think it’s not all-encompassing enough – I use lots of different sites and applications to do things like read news or tweet, so until Google Now gets Big-Brother enough to read all of my digital activity and then predict the cards
I need that way, it’s limited to my search and email behavior and therefore missing out on a lot of what I need in my day.
- To prep yourself for the next series: go read 10 must-watch storylines for Penguins-Bruins. Then cheer for Pittsburgh.
My first-ever word was “car”. That’s probably not that exceptional for an American kid, but it starts this blog post off nicely.
When I was little, I’d stand on the white leather seat of my Nana’s mint-green Cadillac Eldorado and pretend to drive it. (If only it were here today.) As an 11-year-old I memorized all the makes and models I saw, which in our late-’80s/early-’90s hood were blockish Chevy Cavaliers and Ford Tempos from what I would consider the ugliest car-making era in history. (One neighbor also owned a heinous gold Pontiac Fiero for good measure.) Having never owned my own car, I was more excited at the end of college to finally buy an auto than to get my own apartment – I had the black 2002 Chevy Monte Carlo SS in mind, the one that got a shoutout at the end of “#1 Stunna” by Big Tymers. Birdman and Manny Fresh, you have taste.
But then I moved to New York and to D.C., and the car love was lost and forgotten for the sake of urban practicality. Even after marrying into my first car, the wife’s 2003 VW Jetta GL Turbo, I took good care of the vehicle but never really geeked out over it. Over time it aged gracefully but more and more pointedly, signaling in the past year that it was time for a new whip.
Then last month happened and I’m squarely back in four-wheeled hotness territory with this new machine, which I have named Big Shine:
So as an Internet-enabling pro, how’d I go about that? I’m glad I posed that rhetorical question to myself because it gives me the chance to expound on car-buyer digital behavior.
Three-part staging is nice and neat in consulting slides, so that was how I set my shit up:
- Price-be-damned big list to find the best choices,
- Final four to get down to a chosen few, then
- Negotiation to get the best deal.
First up was figuring out what style of car to get. I’m down with the slow-roller, old-man-luxury American rides (see the aforementioned Eldorado), while the wife comes from a family that’s long been in love with German sportiness and precision. We also had to think about the smaller family members we hope to add in the next few years, so practicality and space were a concern. A sedan might work for this situation, but it’d have to be pretty sizeable to hold any kid stuff, and a contiguous cabin-trunk still has a spatial advantage over a separate compartment. I have a strict no-station-wagons policy having grown up with two nerdwagons – one even had wood paneling – and a full-sized SUV is too big and impractical for the city. That left a crossover as the best option, so I dove into the top-three resources I used in my search:
- Edmunds.com, for reviews and specs,
- Kelley Blue Book, for their useful pricing model of MSRP > Suggested Fair Price > Invoice, and
- A Google Drive spreadsheet to keep track of all the info, consultant-style.
I started pasting relevant info into the first tab in my sheet: price, engine, performance, dimensions, and any other stat that might be even mildly relevant. I went for the new models to pick out our optimal car, because I figured I would do the feature-cutting and used-car-shopping once I got to the negotiation stage. Also had to throw in the photos for visual appeal. I got this:
So then it was all about paring to a test-driveable list. By the time the first available Saturday for both of us rolled around, we made it through seven cars in one day, all 2013 models:
- BMW X5 – nice ride, but too expensive and too big – I did keep the smaller X3 in mind.
- Jeep Grand Cherokee (V6) – too sluggish.
- Jeep Grand Cherokee (V8) – much better with the gas-guzzler engine, but too expensive for what it is.
- Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 – drove great, sweet interior, cheaper than expected, but nerdy exterior and in-laws don’t love theirs. The dealer was my favorite of the day though.
- Audi Q5 2.0T (4-cylinder) – nice pickup, great handling, great interior, slight egg-shaping. Lost some points for the hair-geled dealer rep who was a sleazy douchebag even by car-sales standards.
- Lincoln MKX – luxuriously cavernous old-man interior (cream-colored leather and wood FTW), but sluggish to drive and with an ugly, horse-toothed snout.
- Cadillac SRX – handles great, solid pickup, looks like it will cut you and is a Cadillac (+10 baller points), though it was dark when we drove it so the verdict was unclear.
So for the next week, I whittled it down to a list of 3.5 cars — we kept wavering on the Mercedes and ultimately dumped it — and made spreadsheet tab 2:
That meant the next Saturday we’d be re-driving the X3, Q5 and SRX. Now I also brought bmw.com, audiusa.com and cadillac.com (mobile site built by Acquity Group) into the mix to check out all the available option packages and trims. (Audi of America, your site is terrible at this.) I called up the dealers and made some appointments so we could get our final, more immediate comparison between the three:
- BMW X3 xDrive28i: Fast acceleration even with a 4-cyl, great steering, roomy, but the most expensive of the bunch despite its Spartan, Reagan-era interior. I’d also be just another Lincoln Park jagoff in a Beamer. Keine Bayerische Motoren Werke für uns diese Zeit.
- Audi Q5 3.0T / 2.0T: The 3.0T has the V6, and it was the shiz. Nice, quiet, smooth ride with great handling and a nicely appointed interior. We drove the 2.0T again but were spoiled by the 3.0T, and the 2.0T didn’t measure up anymore. We left thinking this was a really great car, but I still wanted to try the Cadillac.
- Cadillac SRX Performance: We showed up at the dealer and it was a thing of beauty: sharp, shiny, strong-looking, black clearcoat and fitted with the high-polish 20-inch wheels the dealer knew had caught my eye. Yet after driving it, I found it inverted my expectations for a Cadillac: it drove just as nimbly as the high-end German cars, but the interior was disappointingly plasticky and cramped. The cool CUE touchscreen didn’t make up for a weird V-design on the console with buttons that weren’t sensitive enough and, as the true death blow, a tiny backseat with no legroom. This one hurt because I was all about the idea of Cadillac ownership — I had already named my future SRX “The Stackillac”. But alas, the SRX just didn’t want it enough with that weak backseat effort.
Clear winner: the 2013 Audi Q5 3.0T.
It was time to negotiate. While I had wanted to buy a 2- to 3-year-old car to save on the depreciation, the only used Q5s I saw on Carmax, Cars.com or the dealer sites had racked up big miles and were still barely cheaper than a new one. (Ultimately a good sign if everyone’s holding on.) I hadn’t intended to buy a new car, but here we were.
Google Maps helpfully provided me with a list of all the Audi dealers in the area, so I busted out spreadsheet tab No. 3 and started emailing and calling each dealership. I knew I had three areas to work:
- New-car price
- Trade-in value for the Jetta
- Options or extras
I conducted all my discussions through email whenever I could to make things go at my pace and put all the offers in the spreadsheet for comparison, only picking up the phone when I needed to confirm an offer or communicate a better one I had at a competing dealer. This worked like a charm: I got a price just barely more than invoice, a trade-in value for the Jetta right near blue-book value, and a few hundred (at least in MSRP terms) worth of throw-ins like all-weather floor mats and wheel locks. Did I still lose somewhere? Probably, but as far as I can tell from every independent online source, we got a truly phat deal in the end with these awesome LED accents to boot:
This was a firsthand demonstration of the value of information. I mean that literally: access to digital information saved me thousands of dollars. We hear a lot from the news industry about its own disruption, but the auto industry has been equally upended. That’s tough for dealers, but great for us auto buyers. As I gotta say in all aspects of my life: Thanks, Internet.
… I still wish more people would read this list:
Eight Things Not to Do When Starting a New Blog, Social Media Revolver
No. 6? I’m guilty.
There’s an ad on TV right now for the upcoming movie Dark Skies which ends with the character walking into the kitchen and encountering an alien on the counter (0:24 into it). This is almost exactly a recurring nightmare I had as a kid. Needless to say I will not be seeing this movie, because I’m so terrified of the trailer that I don’t think there’d be any point left in going.
- My friend Nathan on the complaining masses of football fans watching that shirtless-guy Calvin Klein ad: “And now you’re gay.”
- It’s a great irony that discussions about marketing — conducted by well-paid people whose job is to grab others’ attention and hold on tight — are a fantastic place to find the most stale, substance-free and back-patting word jumbles imaginable.
I note this because the ad and marketing tweeters in my feed were out in full buzzwording force for the “#brandbowl” and all of its apparently dynamic brand conversations. I found maybe three of these ads approached “dynamic”, but otherwise I thought it was the weakest lineup in years. Of course when your peers are the same people putting out the stale, substance-free and back-patting obfuscations, there’s not really a strong point of origin for most of this stuff.
In summary: There’s way too much marketing of marketing by marketers, so I wish marketers would just stick to marketing.
- No way was Matt Cooke’s skate slash on Erik Karlsson deliberate. Awful, absolutely: the league needs more Erik Karlssons after it came within a hair’s breadth of screwing itself into the ground yet again. But deliberate? Had it been any other player, this wouldn’t even be a discussion point.
- Finally, some photos I took at the Chicago Auto Show last weekend. Love those shiny machines!
Ray Lewis, to me, is sports culture’s most prominent reminder that sometimes, simply by virtue of being the most shameless about their misdeeds, the really hideous people in the world can still be rewarded with a life of luxury, fame and adulation that you and I will never experience. Karma mostly comes around for the great bulk of us, but every now and then, someone slips through the cracks into the good life they don’t deserve.
I can’t even talk about Ray Lewis without getting angry – I’m pissed just writing this. The whole country looks down on Ben Roethlisberger as a disgusting sleaze, and rightly so. Yet looking at Ray Lewis’s example, it seems Roethlisberger’s biggest perception problem is not being loud, brash or televangelistic enough. This strategy has worked so well for Ray that he’s shoved at us by the NFL and the media as someone we should not just appreciate for his play on the field, but actually admire as a human being. This is unacceptable to me.
There’s plenty written about why Ray Lewis is worthy of scorn. I cannot abide this dude going out with another Super Bowl. Please, 49ers: I don’t care about Jim Harbaugh’s tantrums, or Colin Kaepernick looking like a five-year-old in his oversized press-conference hat, or even (holding my nose here) the fact that a sixth SB win would tie your team with the Steelers for most Super Bowl wins by a franchise: you cannot let Ray Lewis win this game. I even picked you against my better judgment just so it’d be one more thing in your favor, although I can’t break .500 for the season even if you do win:
Two weeks ago: 0-1 (push pick for Atlanta); Overall: 129-131
At San Francisco -3.5 Baltimore
Just win. Do it for me and for my ill-defined sense of pro-athlete karma. You must.
- Also, this survey result hews pretty close to my belief that 20% of respondents in any survey are total idiots who should immediately be discarded:
Perhaps the most shocking is that 27 percent of those polled—more than a quarter—believe that “God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event.” Watch a game with three of your buddies. Odds are that one of you wholeheartedly believes that God has a vested interest in the outcome of the game, and will influence it to get His way. This could really throw off Vegas’s lines.
It doesn’t matter if the question is whether the sun rotates around the Earth or whether we should bring back leaded gasoline, you will always find that at least 20% of people answer affirmatively. You’re really surveying 80% of your respondents to get a true feel for how thinking humans think about whatever it is you’re asking.
- Aliens: Colonial Marines will be out in February and looks pretty sweet. One story gripe: this is supposed to be set on the colony planet from Aliens, yet the settlement and surrounding area seems intact in all the trailers. Does this mean the reactor explosion never happened? I’m guessing the game designers haven’t missed this glaring question, but I mean shit, it’s kinda glaring. I’m cool with it thought if it means more aliens to blow up.
- I went to the Soundgarden show here last night, and it was amazing. I forgot how much those guys were the best thing ever to happen to grunge/metal/weird time signatures:
Awesome show and I want to go again. Space-time displacement plz.