Archive for Personal

Friday Lunch with Takashi

It’s a running joke with one of my colleagues that I often force him to drive with me up Takashi in Salt Lake City before it opens in case there is a line around the block. Usually there are only five or six people waiting in front when we pull in; once in a rare while, there are several dozen, even at 5:00 (the restaurant opens at 5:30 most nights) and we’re lucky to get a table. 

Jason, Tim, and I did the same for lunch this past Friday, arriving a few minutes before they opened at 11:30, but this time was different: We were there to interview Takashi Gibo himiself, at his eponymous restaurant. The premise for the meeting was two-fold:

  1. Eat delicious sushi with friends, obviously. 
  2. My session at Adobe Summit is going to use an analogy comparing analysts and sushi chefs, and getting Takashi’s perspective on his practice will inform the story I tell. 

Our group with Takashi

I had sat in front of Takashi before, at his sushi bar, while he prepared rolls and fish for me, but I had not taken the opportunity at that time to introduce myself. I wish I had. Today we found Mr. Gibo to be soft-spoken, humble, and patient. We stumbled through hastily prepared interview questions that probably seemed rambling and incongruous, but he thoughtfully, slowly answered each one, talking at length about how he got into sushi, where his inspiration for his menu comes from, and why he is in Salt Lake City of all places. 

Jason and I were both a bit intimidated, since Takashi is something of a local legend as well as the owner and proprietor of our favorite restaurant in the world, but I think Takashi was also intimidated in his own way, and behind his teal-framed glasses his eyes were as furtive as mine. 

He speaks with an accent blended from the three countries where he has lived: Japan, Peru, and the United States. I did not expect to hear a Japanese chef speaking English with a hispanic flavor, but this also explains his menu, which features ingredients that, in his words, “could get me arrested if I tried this in Japan.” Spicy peppers are a mainstay. Ceviche, a Peruvian dish, is featured in a few places. He mentioned his Strawberry Fields roll several times, as it happens, was inspired not by the Beatles song which lends the roll its name (although Takashi mentioned loving the Beatles), but by an experience where Takashi gazed on a strawberStrawberry Fields rollry cake and got the idea to combine strawberries, escolar, and almonds with thai chili peppers rounding out the unorthodox combination. 

This is a man whose life, going back to his earliest memories, has been about delighting the taste buds. Takashi’s parents first owned a bakery, and then got into the restaurant business themselves, first in Lima when Takashi was a small boy, and then in Okinawa beginning when he was 12 years old. While there was sushi in Peru, it was not until his brother took him to a proper sushi bar in Okinawa that Takashi fell in love with the craft. He is, I got the sense, the only sushi chef at his restaurant who has been formally trained in the ancient Japanese art of sushi preparation; he mentioned that he has several times hired chefs with zero experience making sushi. In fact, he prefers them; they are often better learners. I am amazed at how well he is able to teach them, as I have never had a bad sushi experience in however many dozen pilgrimages I have made to his sushi mecca. 

In fact, the flavors that he has crafted over the years are so delightful that I was taken aback when he said that the one he believes represents his restaurant best is ponzu sauce, the citrus soy-based sauce that his chefs use on many of their dishes. While it is a common addition, and they use it well, there are so many others that I would have gone with. Their lemon pesto adds a tart zing wherever it goes. He mentioned that they use garlic quite a bit (again, flying in the face of the Japanese tradition in which Takashi trained). Or their spicy mayonnaise, which they always use sparingly, but which is also much more intricate than the lazy Sriracha-and-mayo like most American sushi joints. I happen to know from experience (attempting to recreateScreen Shot 2016-01-24 at 9.30.54 AM it) that it is a blend of mayonnaise, tobiko, togarashi, Sriracha, and sesame oil. The fact that they have their own unique take on spicy mayo is really what Takashi is all about, but it is not the flavor that he thinks best defines his restaurant. On the other hand, ponzu sauce may be the perfect epitome of Takashi’s sushi, because it is an ingredient that anyone can use—they sell it every grocery store—and yet nobody uses it as well as he does. While he certainly has his exotic ingredients too, he is a master of taking fairly common ingredients and using them better than anyone else can. 

Takashi’s wife, Tamara, is the general manager at the restaurant and brokered the interview for me. We sat at a table for four, and talked while I ate a Black Magic Woman roll and a Buddha roll, the latter of which was invented, it turns out, not by Takashi, but by one of his chefs, who needed something to serve to a vegetarian friend. It is a fairly pedestrian roll if you simply list the components: tempura vegetables, rolled in rice and seaweed, and drizzled with a bit of eel sauce (but, unlike most other sushi restaurants, not to the point that the roll itself tastes sweet). To Takashi’s point about ponzu sauce, the quality of these very common ingredients makes the roll quite a different, almost purer experience than a similar roll from another restaurant. 

Perhaps the best thing I can say about Takashi comes from his answers to my final questions. I asked him why he still serves from behind the sushi bar. He certainly does not have to. He has a large staff, and many capable chefs. “I love it,” he said, as softly as ever. These are the people Seth Godin wrote about in Linchpin: people who take genuine pleasure in sharing their art with you. Takashi sincerely wants to dazzle you with sushi, to have you love what you just ate, and the pleasure he gets fromScreen Shot 2016-01-24 at 9.23.55 AM providing you with that experience is enough to keep him on his feet for five hours a night most nights of the week. Lastly, I asked him whether, with waiting times for tables commonly reaching two hours even on weeknights, he has ever considered expanding, perhaps opening another restaurant in the area. He smiled, but firmly answered no. Why not? “My inventory list is very long,” he said. His concern comes down to quality. He would not be able to ensure quality in two places at once, and he does not want to have to hop between both restaurants. He believes, I got the sense, that it would degrade the experience in both locations. He is choosing quality over money. Fortunately, as long as Takashi is in charge at his own restaurant, he probably does not need to fear losing either one.

Thoughts on Breaking Bad

One of the advantages of having consumed Breaking Bad entirely via Netflix (with the exception of the final eight episodes, which AMC aired as part of a marathon on 12/30 and 12/31) is that I missed out entirely on all of the reviews and the commentary that must have happened immediately following (and during) each episode as it aired originally. This means that, as far as I know, all of the rambling, unrelated thoughts that follow in this post are original and have never been published by anyone else.

(Of course I know that any such pretense is delusional; nothing you will read here is unique, or even terribly thought-provoking. But, after that finale—which I watched, alone, last night at around 1:30 AM—and that series, like many of you, I need to say something, even just for my own edification.)

So, here I present my assorted thoughts and reactions and would love to engage in some “therapy” via comments if you agree/disagree, or just want someone to hold you digitally after seeing what went down in Albuquerque.

* * *

My text, as it were, is Alan Sepinwall’s entertaining (if not exactly life-changing) The Revolution Was Televised, which chronicles the rise of television as the preferred medium for crafting and consuming drama over (primarily) the past 15 years. Of the 10 shows Sepinwall discusses, I have heavily invested in only three: Friday Night Lights, LOST, and now Breaking Bad. Those other two shows serve, for me, as points of comparison in judging Breaking Bad. I am going to add a fourth point of comparison, which Sepinwall mentions as having been so close to making his list, but ultimately left on the cutting-room floor: The West Wing. These four shows represent my four favorite TV dramas of all-time, by far.

I won’t bore you with an exhaustive tale-of-the-tape, but in my mind I have to refer in particular to LOST and West Wing when I try to put Walter White into some context.

* * *

Perhaps the most striking thing about Breaking Bad to me was its complete and utter lack of preachiness. It had no objective—no real lesson to teach us. And why should it? Once you decide that your show is going to lay wisdom on the audience, aren’t you sort of boxed in? Plot has to develop in a certain way; characters do and say things according to a code that you have established.

Breaking Bad was total anarchy. Was there ever a point at which you were sure of how the plot was going to break? Or how a character was going to react to a stimulus? Well, okay, maybe when you still believed Walt that he was doing everything for his family. But even that turned out to be a falsehood.

Contrast this with, say, LOST. It was far from preachy, but it was far more heavy-handed in the way that it warned about the consequences of actions, usually via flashbacks. With the benefit of hindsight, we could easily see how characters’ poor choices had made them unhappy. In Breaking Bad, even though we see Walt’s steady transformation, we are never given a clear window for reflection.

The West Wing, far more than either of the other two shows just mentioned, had not just a political agenda but also a moral agenda. It did not just want you to believe in a platform, it wanted you to be honest and make good choices and be patient and weigh both sides of issues. It wanted to teach you how to live. Personally, I found its approach not to be holier-than-thou, and so it didn’t bother me that President Bartlet, and really Matt Santos after him, seemed to be a little too perfect. Even LOST, though, could not help philosophizing on its way out the door, with Christian Shephard explaining how people need each other.

It’s not just that Walt was incapable of reflection by the end of the series—I’m sure the writers could have come up with an elegant way for him to say something about his purpose that would have made us all stop and say, “Ah, wisdom!”—it is that they had the wherewithal not to take the bait.

And that is both refreshing and disorienting. We are used to TV shows (again, even the good ones) trying to bestow wisdom. Instead, Breaking Bad said, “Here is some stuff that happened. Any lessons that you want to draw, you can draw, but you do so only from the events you observed, and not because we were trying to convey something.” And we loved it.

* * *

There is this rumor, now apparently confirmed, that Sir Anthony Hopkins wrote a letter to Bryan Cranston in which Hopkins said, “Your performance as Walter White was the best acting I have seen—ever.” And later: “If you ever get a chance to – would you pass on my admiration to everyone—Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Aaron Paul, Betsy Brandt, R.J. Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Steven Michael Quezada—everyone—everyone gave master classes of performance . . . The list is endless.”

At first, I was skeptical of the authenticity of the letter—the tone seemed a little too ebullient and complimentary—but I also couldn’t argue. TV is so good at plucking little-known actors seemingly out of thin air and turning them into Emmy winners. With the exception of Cranston and Odenkirk (well, and the episode of Parks & Recreation where Jonathan Banks plays Ben Wyatt’s dad), I had never seen any of these actors or actresses before. But Hopkins is right; from episode one it was a set of performances unlike anything I have seen before.

But there is one casting choice that stands out—at least to me personally—as particularly dissonant, and I hope it was intended that way: Jesse Plemons as Todd, the nephew of the neo-Nazi crew that Walt begins hiring to do his dirty work in Season Five. Why dissonant? Because Plemons is best known as the nerdy, kind Landry Clarke from Friday Night Lights. Unlike with the dad from Malcolm in the Middle, we don’t see a lengthy transition in Todd. It is true that we do not know the depths of his depravity from the start, but we only know him for 13 episodes. And, by the end, it is clear that he is a different sort of psychopath than Walt: incapable of empathy, happy to kill innocent people, and lusting for misery (typified by the way he gives ice cream to the captive Jesse and then cheerfully executes Andrea seemingly within a matter of minutes). Even though he has the same manner of speech, he is the polar opposite of Landry Clarke. There are two kinds of “bad guys,” and Breaking Bad used both kinds perfectly: those who look the part, and those who look anything but. Turning Landry into Todd was almost better than the slow revelation of Gus’ depravity, or Walt’s. It was a fascinating, almost manipulative contrast from the very first frame, and the sort of thing that Breaking Bad was all about.

* * *

As I sat alone last night watching the last six episodes, I came to the point where Walt leaves the house with Holly, while Skyler falls her to knees in the street. As a father of three young kids, this was the most panic-inducing scene of television I have ever watched. I almost had to turn it off but I knew that I would not be able to settle down if I did so.

I’m rarely “affected” by media. I can point to a handful of scenes across a number of shows and films that drew a real emotional reaction from me, but never anything quite like Holly’s kidnapping. I am told that this was generally regarded as the best episode of the series, and on the basis of IMDb ratings it might be the best episode of television ever; unless I am reading this wrong, it scored a perfect 10/10 based on almost 44,000 ratings.

There is no way I can argue with that score. It was a 10.

* * *

So, where does it rank on my list? I have been struggling with this question since last night. I have decided that I can’t rank Walter White and Jesse Pinkman against Josh Lyman and Leo McGarry, or against Jack Shephard and Kate Austen, or against Eric Taylor and Matt Seracen. Breaking Bad is too different. Perhaps all four of these shows are too different to be ranked against one another.

Come to think of it, I am not sure why we are so obsessed with ranking things. Does the fact that Breaking Bad is so tremendous somehow disparage Friday Night Lights?

Of course there is the “if you were stuck on a desert island, which would you take?” test, and (amusingly, given the premise of that scenario) I would have to take LOST, because it spurs the imagination in a way that the other three shows don’t.

Fortunately, I am not stuck on a desert island, and the ability of Breaking Bad to suck you in to this world of relative morals and the perfect anti-hero puts it right up there. I’m going with a three-way tie. A Mexican standoff, if you will—a place where Walter Hartwell White would have been very much at home.

Pickup Basketball Purism

I tweeted about this last night, but 140 characters just wasn’t enough for me to state my case regarding the scoring in pickup basketball. (I only tackle the really important issues on this blog.)

pickup basketballI love pickup basketball. In fact, the widespread availability of pickup basketball is one of the best reasons to live in Utah. Not only do we have YMCA-like fitness centers in every town, but on any given weeknight or weekday morning there is an 87.9% chance that there are four churches where guys are playing ball within a one-mile radius of any given location along the Wasatch Front. I love that every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 6:00 AM I drive for two minutes and I’m at basketball. Same thing on Thursday nights. Oh, and sometimes I play during lunch at work. (Despite all of this, I’m pretty terrible.)

What I don’t love is keeping score by 1s and 2s. You know, what would normally be a two-point field goal in high school, college, NBA, or really any organized form of basketball becomes a one-pointer, and a three-pointer counts for two.

Here’s my argument:

  1. Basketball—real basketball—has what I consider to be a fairly simple scoring system. If it were, say, pickup figure skating, or even pickup tennis, I could see wanting to simplify the score-keeping. But honestly, how hard is it to credit each team with two points for any basket inside the three-point line, and three points for any basket outside it? Am I missing something here?
  2. More importantly, counting by 1s and 2s fundamentally changes the game. By making a three-pointer worth twice as much as a two, instead of 1.5x, you’re possibly incenting people to play outside; you’re giving them a good reason to play bad (i.e., not very fun) basketball. When a three is a three and a two is a two, the upside of jacking up a bunch of threes probably doesn’t outweigh the upside of good ball movement and working for a decent shot inside. But when you’re counting by 1s and 2s, suddenly it might make more sense to play three or four guys around the arc and hoist up three point tries all game. Three-pointer after three-pointer is great for the shooter(s) when he’s hitting. . . and completely annoying for everyone else. Everyone hates the guy who brings the ball up the floor and then calls his own number by pulling up for a three. I’m not saying people consciously decide to play differently when counting by 1s and 2s, but the possibility is there (and it doesn’t need to be; see point #1).
  3. Along these same lines, remember, there are no free throws in pickup basketball, so even if you’re counting by 2s and 3s in a pickup game, the incentive to shoot a lot of threes is already higher than it is in organized basketball. Let’s say I’m an NBA player who shoots 50% generally from inside the three-point arc and 40% outside of it. Some fans look at this and say, 40% * 10 three-point tries = 12 points and 50% * 10 two-point tries is = 10 points, so shouldn’t you always take the three? The answer is no, primarily because this faulty analysis ignores the fact that in organized basketball you are far more likely to get fouled and produce valuable free throws when shooting inside the three-point line (driving to the basket or helping to create shots for teammates), so your two-point tries are more valuable than they seem on the face of it. The possibility of creating free throws does not exist in pickup basketball, whether you’re counting by 1s and 2s or whether you’re counting by 2s and 3s, so you’re already more incentivized to play outside than you normally would be; why make things even worse by increasing the value of a three-pointer unnecessarily?

As you can tell, I’ve given this some thought. And maybe that’s because I’m too much of a purist; the NBA and college ball have been playing with 2s and 3s since the early 1980s, and the ABA had it even earlier. It just seems silly to change something that works so well.

So now I am counting on you, all three of my blog readers (hi mom!), to tell me what I’m missing. Who invented counting by 1s and 2s and why did they do it? Do you have a preference and why? Did I miss something important?


Eight months ago, on this blog, I described with excitement my decision to leave Adobe and join ESPN as an analytics manager. At the time, I knew that I was embarking on a tremendous learning experience, and I thought I even knew how everything would go. Sports, analytics, and New England; how could I lose? Call it a youthful sense of invincibility, if you will.

Well, as of this past Monday, I have rejoined Adobe, and I am thrilled, excited, and grateful for the entire turn of events. The Adobe Digital Marketing Summit took place this past week in Salt Lake City, and as I wandered the halls of the Salt Palace among colleagues, customers, and industry folks, a few things happened.

First, I felt like I was home, immediately. Second, I answered a barrage of questions about the past eight months. I took mental note of these questions and I’m going to answer them here, in good old FAQ form. So here we go.


Q: So. . . what happened?

A: This is actually a tremendously complicated question, but I will simplify it by saying that once I started at ESPN, I quickly started to realize that making software is what gets me out of bed in the morning. When one of the engineers at Adobe asked me this question, I told him that I was sure he could go be a fantastic analyst, but he probably wouldn’t enjoy it—he needs to be programming and solving problems using code. That’s just in his DNA. I certainly could have stuck it out—and, in fact, tried to stick it out—but it wasn’t for me. If I needed to spend this time in order to learn that lesson, I can’t say that it wasn’t worth it. I’ve got a strong sense of direction for the foreseeable future, and that’s valuable.

Q: How were the people at ESPN?

A: They were great, and I consider many of them friends. In fact, I saw them at Summit and it wasn’t weird. . . well, it wasn’t too weird, at least. I’m so grateful that they gave me a chance. They’re brilliant and they are doing cutting-edge things with digital analytics. If you ever have a chance to them talk about cross-platform analysis, as my former VP Dave Coletti did at eMetrics NYC last October, you will know what I mean.

Q: What will you be doing at Adobe?

A: I’m returning to the Product Management team, working on analytics products—SiteCatalyst and more. When I originally joined that team almost two years ago, I wrote that I felt like a minor-league baseball player getting the call-up to the majors to play with his heroes. I still feel that way, and am excited to be part of such a bright and talented group. It seems that Adobe’s recent acquisitions have only added to the brainpower and passion. I hope that I now bring at least a little bit of unique insight having been an analytics practitioner for most of the past year.

Q: Are you staying in Connecticut, or moving back to Utah?

A: Actually, we have really enjoyed our time in Connecticut. The area is beautiful and our neighborhood is full of kids who want to play with our daughters almost constantly. But we still own our home in Utah, and rented in Connecticut, and it’s time to get back to the family and friends that we’ve missed so badly. But we had a great quality of life in both Utah and Connecticut. We will definitely miss Connecticut and hope to visit our friends there in the future.

Q: Why did you go back to Adobe?

A: First, as I mentioned above, I need to be in tech/software. That’s a given. Second, I believe in what Adobe is doing in digital marketing and I want to be a part of it. Third, there is a reason that Adobe consistently appears on Fortune’s “top places to work” list. It really is a fantastic company in too many ways to list here, but I especially love the way Adobe trusts its employees and values input from all over the organization. At least, that has been my experience, and I hope it will be again.

UPDATE: AT&T Hits a Home Run

Earlier today I wrote up my perspective of what had become an unfortunate situation: AT&T was telling me that a.) I had to pony up $200 for a Microcell so I could get service in my house and b.) enjoy the two-year contract into which I had never entered.

I have to be honest: I was skeptical that blogging and complaining on Twitter would help. Sure, I did Twitter customer service myself for a couple of years. But I know how hard it is, even in a B2B environment, to care about every emotional complaint and to really do something for everyone who needs help. With the volume of social media mentions that AT&T must see, I didn’t expect much.

What I got was, in a word, impressive.

Within a few minutes of my initial tweet at @ATTCustomerCare, a user behind the @ATTTeamTatiana handle, Evelyn G., had responded to offer help. So far, so good. She asked me to send her an e-mail with the full details of my situation. That is the e-mail that became my lengthy post earlier today.

About an hour after I sent that e-mail, I got—yes, it’s true—a phone call from Evelyn. She was patient, understanding, and knowledgeable about the AT&T system. This was a welcome change from the agent with whom I had spoken on the phone earlier in the day, who had told me:

a.) “There is nothing we can do about the Microcell.”
b.) “There is nothing we can do about you being under contract.”

Within about 10 minutes, Evelyn had actually done both of these things. She couldn’t reimburse me per se for the Microcell (I had known this all along; “reimburse” was always the wrong word), but she could do exactly what I had hoped: she could credit my monthly bill $200. And that she did. Perfectly good enough. $200 is $200.

She also confirmed that I am not, and likely never have been over the past several weeks, under contract. Where the other agent was getting this from, we have no idea. But Evelyn authoritatively confirmed that my suspicions were correct, and that I am not entirely crazy.

Well done, AT&T. I’m always pleased when companies listen, especially when they are the size of AT&T. As a former colleague pointed out today on Twitter, barriers to entry allow telcos like AT&T to treat customers horribly, if they want to. After all, where are people going to go—to the next telco that will treat them just as poorly? So for Evelyn to be as empowered as she is to get the information she needed and to make things right showed me that there is hope for AT&T, and while I hope not to need Evelyn’s help again in the future (because I hope not to have frustrations like these again), it’s still comforting and reassuring to know that people like her are out there.

Yet Another Whiny Complaint Against AT&T

From: Benjamin Gaines
Date: Thu, Aug 11, 2011 at 3:19 PM
Subject: @benjamingaines from Twitter.

Buckle up and grab some popcorn. Apologies in advance for the length. Anyway, this is a continuation of a conversation which began on Twitter with Emilia G. Here is the situation.

My number is (801) XXX-XXXX. On July 15, I spoke with an agent at AT&T who helped me transition that number to a personal account, as I was leaving my company. It had previously been part of my company phone plan since December 2008. When I transferred it out, the agent on the phone was very clear that I would not be put into a two-year contract. I stuck with the iPhone 4 which I had bought about a year earlier.

My new job brought me to Farmington, Connecticut. Most of my area gets decent AT&T reception, but my neighbors and I get zero bars in our neighborhood. I am at [address] in Farmington. I literally could not make or receive calls or use data when I got to my condo for the first time. I went in to an AT&T store and asked what I should do. They gave me a new SIM card and also looked up the coverage map. My area is supposed to get 2-3 bars at least, but I talked to my neighbors and they all reported the same problem with AT&T (and, in AT&T’s defense, Sprint and T-Mobile as well, although Verizon gets 3-4 bars). It seems the dead zone extends about half a mile west as well. One of my neighbors told me about the AT&T Microcell product, so I looked into it, but I certainly wasn’t going to pay $200 of my own money just to get the level of service that I was already paying for via my monthly bill when AT&T’s own map says I should have decent coverage.

I called an AT&T agent and told her that, regrettably, I was leaving for Verizon. I do a significant amount of work from home, and I need reliable service. I believe this was on 7/22. She told me that she wanted to open a support ticket to have the engineers look at some things, and that if they could not get me some service in my neighborhood, she would call me back on Friday, 8/5, and we could discuss the possibility of having AT&T reimburse me for a Microcell. I asked her whether it would be okay if I went out and bought the Microcell in advance and then we could figure out how to credit my bill later, and she said that would be fine. In all honesty, she never said that AT&T would definitely reimburse me, but it certainly sounded like a possibility if the engineers had no luck, and she did say that we would figure out some way to make this work for us. My company gets a sizable discount on both AT&T and Verizon plans for employees, so my options were (and are) very real, but I’d love to stick with AT&T since I like using voice and data simultaneously. That said, I need to be able to make calls and check e-mail from home.

The engineers did their thing, and someone called me the next day to check in. I still was getting zero bars in my condo connecting directly to AT&T, but I had bought a Microcell the night before and it worked okay. Sometimes it cut in and out, and it was still annoying that I couldn’t get service a quarter of a mile down the road on my way to and from work, but whatever. I think could live with that. I waited for my return call on 8/5.

In the mean time, I returned to Utah to pick up my family and bring them to Connecticut. My wife’s phone had been badly damaged the previous month, and I knew she was eligible for upgrade on 7/17, so when I got back to Utah (on 7/27) we went straight to the AT&T store. She picked out a Motorola Atrix and we entered into a two-year contract for her line, at the same time bringing her number under my overall account. We didn’t go with a family plan for a few reasons, but mostly because my corporate discount would be slightly higher if the two lines were treated separately (but under the same account). The lady in the store was very helpful, and I asked her twice whether this would affect my own number or place it under contract. She assured me that it would not. She even helped me sign up for my corporate discount which, again, she assured me would not place my number under contract. (My wife soon returned the Atrix and switched back to a feature phone. Her number is 801-YYY-YYYY, in case that helps.)

Fast forward to 8/5. The call never came, so I called in today. After explaining the situation, I was told that AT&T does not offer the Microcell for free (or reimbursements) anymore, apparently under any circumstances. I guess I had been mislead on that count (again, not that it had been explicitly promised to me, but it was abundantly clear that the original agent, a few weeks earlier, was going to do something for us; she said something like, “I’ll call you back on 8/5 and we’ll figure out how we can get you a Microcell”). Anyway, the Microcell works, but it’s slightly annoying, as I said. I told the agent that I don’t want to pay $200 to get the minimum level of service that I expect from AT&T, so if AT&T can’t help me out, I’ll have to leave.

This is when the real problem began. She informed me that I was now under contract, so it would be something like $325 per line to cancel. I told her that she was half right; my wife’s number should be under contract, but mine should not. She insisted that I had agreed to put (801) XXX-XXXX under contract as well. As I’m sure you can tell, I am very protective of my month-to-month status, and I had been very careful to ensure that nothing we were doing with my wife’s line would affect my own. In fact, paradoxically, not being in a contract is basically enough to keep me with AT&T! Even though Verizon gets service in our area, I would resist switching if I knew I were not under contract with AT&T. The agent told me, however, that I had been under contract since 7/27 (the day when we picked up my wife’s new phone), and that I was under contract through July 2013.

According to her, somewhere in “the 30-page document” that AT&T gives out, it had said that I was agreeing to put (801) XXX-XXXX under contract. Sure, maybe that’s legally true, but I’m sure you can see the bind this puts us in. We get no natural service in our neighborhood, so we have to shell out $200 for extra hardware that can be wonky at times (it loses reception fairly often), OR we can cancel and pay $650+ to get out of our contracts, one of which I never willingly entered.

The agent told me that I should have received an e-mail containing the full terms and conditions to which I had agreed, but I don’t delete e-mail and I have nothing in either my work inbox nor my personal e-mail account from AT&T that includes any sort of legal documentation. I’d be happy to forward over the e-mails. I do have one which details the changes made to our account when we pulled my wife’s number onto my account. It says, “The process to assume financial responsibility that you requested for 801-YYY-YYYY has been completed. In addition to monthly service charges, you will be billed for all applicable taxes and fees; including the monthly Regulatory Cost Recovery Fee of up to $1.25 and any local surcharges, such as the gross receipts surcharge in Missouri.” No mention of contracts. That’s all I got at the time.

She then told me that I had been put under contract because I upgraded my phone. This is entirely untrue, as I explained, and I think she got it. I am using the same iPhone 4 that I bought from a friend last summer; the last phone I received from AT&T was an iPhone 3G back in December 2008. I love my phone and I love experimenting with new phones, so I certainly would never have allowed myself to be put under contract without getting a sweet discount on the latest Android phone! My wife had gotten an Atrix when we renewed her contract, but she eventually returned it and got a new feature phone, still under contract. I never disputed that my wife is under contract.

Finally, she suggested that I got put under contract when I applied my corporate discount. If that’s true, it was never explained anywhere. The salesperson in the store certainly told me it would not affect my contract status. The e-mails I received, all of which I still have, say nothing whatsoever about contract implications. Ultimately, she told me that the only way I could get out of the contract would be to call the store where I entered into the contract (which I never actually entered into).

That’s fine, and if you tell me to call the store, I’ll call the store. But I don’t see how it is possible that AT&T can be this powerless to help someone who is trying to remain a loyal customer. Just because I did business with an AT&T store in Lehi, Utah, I now have to do all of my business through them? Nobody there can fix the situation by letting me out of the contract which I did not sign — or, at least, did not knowingly sign — OR at least giving me the upgrade that a new contract should provide me and reimbursing my Microcell? I find it hard to believe. I would like to see one of those two things — or something equivalent, if there is a third, mutually agreeable option of which I am not aware — happen so that I can stay a loyal and happy AT&T customer.

I also did not appreciate that the agent did not seem to believe my claims that a.) I never got an upgraded phone in July, b.) I never received any of the supposed legal documentation by e-mail, and she claimed I did, and c.) the salesperson in the store was crystal clear that I would NOT be placed under contract.

Look, I really don’t want to bolt for Verizon, but it’s hard to argue with three bars and no Microcell required, especially when I am made to feel like I’ve been offered a bait-and-switch by AT&T. I really hope that somehow this can all be ironed out. You know my phone number if you think it would help to discuss it.

In Support of Homers

Wisdom from @usujason:

I have more respect for people who say “I’m a homer for X but I’ll try to be [impartial]” rather than a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

If you have a preference for a certain brand, product, or service and you tweet/blog/speak negatively about its competition, it’s insulting and deceptive for you to then pretend that you have no preference. I see too many supposed “independent seekers of truth” within a given topic who secretly (or not-so-secretly) harbor strong preferences that guide the way they perceive that area of their lives.

Look, it’s not a bad thing to be a homer. We all have things that we love and prefer over alternatives. Among other things, I’m a homer for Apple, ESPN, Omniture/Adobe, Boston Red Sox, BYU sports, and Diet Coke. I’m very clear about this. These preferences guide the way I view certain things. . . as well they should! We need schemata to help us navigate our lives.

At the same time, I can certainly try to see other perspectives and I’m willing to discuss, learn, and even change my opinions given the right circumstances.

You probably don’t have an opinion on every topic. That is also good, as long as it is genuine. My point—my request—is that you please not claim to have no opinion when you quite clearly do. Integrity demands this level of honesty.

You don’t have to come right out and say that you’re a homer, but don’t insult all of us by telling us that you’re independent if your words and conduct say otherwise. The people around you are smarter than that, and we deserve more respect.

Android versus iPhone: an analogy

If you could have either a Porsche or a Trans-Am, which would you choose?

If you could have either a Porsche or a Trans-Am that would turn into KITT (from Knight Rider) with the push of a series of buttons, which would you choose?

First, answer the second question.
Second, tell me whether it’s an appropriate analogy for the decision between iPhone and Android, in your opinion.


The move

(I thought this post would be easier to write.)

I don’t want to bury the lead, so I’ll just say it: At the end of this week, I will be leaving my post as Product Manager on the SiteCatalyst team at Adobe and taking a position as Manager of Research Analytics for ESPN. I’m tremendously excited, although I will miss many people, places, and things that my family and I have come to love during our time here in Utah, and specifically at Omniture/Adobe.

(Fortunately, the world is a lot smaller than it used to be. I’m still going to pester you, Jeff Jordan. I’m keeping your number in my phone. You’ve been warned. Oh, and Ambria? I’ll be giving out your e-mail address to everyone who wants to participate in one of your beta tests.)

The past five years at Omniture (now Adobe) have been an honor. I feel it’s important to mention that there is probably one company on the planet that could wrestle me away from Adobe at this time, and that is ESPN. In case my blog hasn’t made it clear already, I’m a sports nut who loves analytics and grew up in New England. ESPN combines all three of those things. (Plus, Bristol is only two hours from Fenway Park.) The point is that I am not making this move out of frustration, disenchantment, or fear about the future.

I don’t want anyone to think otherwise for even half a second.

My greatest concern is that people in the #omniture community that I helped build on Twitter will jump to foolhardy conclusions. That’s the downside of having been one of public faces of a brand on social media—when you leave, it never looks good. I know this because I’ve been in the “rush-to-judgment” camp before. For example, I wondered about Comcast when Frank Eliason left last year. How could Comcast have lost Frank? Things must be really bad for him over there.

How could Omniture have lost Ben? They didn’t. ESPN won me. There’s a huge difference.

I’m looking forward to writing often here as I begin to explore life as a daily practitioner of analytics. I performed analysis frequently as a Product Manager (and previously) at Adobe—as I hope you’d assume, we do use SiteCatalyst heavily to analyze and optimize SiteCatalyst—but I also spent a lot of time on other things. Fortunately, I’ve been taught well by mentors too numerous to name, and I hope to do them proud.

You can expect plenty of continued involvement in the analytics community, as well. In fact, I hope that I can participate in new and exciting ways, now that I won’t be a “second-class citizen” (as described—correctly, I think—by Jennifer Day on Emer Kirrane’s blog). On this site, I’m hoping to continue to write posts similar to those I’ve been publishing on the Omniture blog since 2009, discussing implementation, analysis, and more, as well as whatever else I decide is worth writing.

So, there you have it. If you’re ever in the Bristol, CT area, please drop me a line.

Behind the times

Who starts a blog in this day and age, when blogging is supposed to be dead?

I do. What can I say—I’m anachronistic.

You can expect roughly equal parts web analytics, personal life, sports, and thoughts on business. Does that mean I will alienate parts of my audience? Sure. But at least I’ll tag everything clearly.