The Sadness of the Suburban City

Over the past 20-25 years, cities around the world have been under assault from the “Starbucks Effect”. You know what that is…when you are in a city on the other side of the country or the world, and all you see are generic Starbucks Coffee shops on every corner. It makes you wonder why you even took the trip? The serendipity of discovery in a new city has yielded to the presence of the multi-national franchised brand. Years ago, going to a different city (here in the States or Internationally) enabled you to truly soak in the unique flavor and atmosphere of that region. Without a doubt, that experience is still present around the world, yet it is discernibly muted when there is a Starbucks on “every” corner, and popular brands everywhere else.

Media outlets like the NY Times have written about how a pillar of British culture, the local pub, is being impacted and becoming (gasp) an endangered species (be sure to read the reader comments). I’m heading to London later in the year, for the first time in more than 15 years, and I’m worried about what I’m going to find there. When the NY Times is writing about it, you know it’s a thing, while frequent visitors to worldwide cities know that this is just a piece of a much bigger transformation.

When I traveled to Paris and Amsterdam in 2014, what stunned me was not the prevalence of US brands in those cities (Starbucks, McDonald’s, etc) but how packed they were with French and Dutch customers! I mean, here we were in Paris, the city that practically invented the sidewalk café, and yet the franchised, vapid, American Starbucks Coffee (sacrebleu!) was packed. Parisians, who have such legendary disdain for America’s lack of culture, seem ready willing and able to fully embrace these American brands (Let’s not lose sight of that irony).

This is not even an International transformation either. Today’s NYC is a shell of it’s gritty, former self. I regularly, and ironically, refer to it as “The Mall of America” due to the prevalence of so many brands and franchises that you find in the strip mall landscape of suburban America. The truly unique elements of what made NYC so special (how many folks under 25 know how big a deal CBGB’s was?) have been rapidly eroding. At least McSorley’s is still around!

The irony of all of this is that when a country, city, town, neighborhood does want to keep hold of it’s independence, keep it’s unique cutlure intact and forge it’s own path (see: Britain, Brexit), the world freaks out because of the financialization of the Global economy. To be clear, I don’t think Britain leaving the EU is the right thing to do, but my broader point is that the desire of cities, countries, and neighborhoods to keep control of their own path is up against some monumental headwinds.

Clearly, we are living in a vast multi-national world today that is much different than it was 20, even 10 years ago, and it is one that continues to evolve rapidly – train has left the station, the toothpaste is out of the tube, so to speak. That is something we should all welcome and embrace. But with all that is changing, let’s not lose sight of those true, unique attributes of a neighborhood that make it special!

Image and ‘motivating article’ via the

Tesla Is Crushing It – No (April Fools) Joke

For all of Elon Musk’s ambition to re-invent the automobile through his bleeding edge electric car company Tesla, the knock has always been that the pricing for his existing models have been way too high for the average consumer – and yes, at $100K+ a pop, that is not a price tag that is going to go over well anywhere save San Francisco, NYC, LA and several international cities.  That all changed today with Tesla’s launch of it’s $35K Model 3, which has generated around 200,000 orders in roughly 24 hours and has produced lines outside of Tesla stores that rival Apple launches (as Re/Code put it – h/t).

As has been well documeted, there is ample environmental change happening around us and the introduction of accessible, affordable electronic cars is a small but important step in the right direction.  To be clear, it’s not the end of the ‘warming’ problems facing us (and I’m not nearly smart enough to take that on).  All I’m saying is that what Tesla is doing, and how they are introducing a relatively affordable all electric vehicle, is an important milestone.  Let’s hope that the principals of “Moore’s Law” applies to electric vehicles and the pricing and innovation can continue to improve and lead to longer driving times (past the ~200 mile distance capabilities of the Model 3) and lower prices all around.

Twitter Tuesday – The Week’s Tweets

Smells Like Team Spirit

In honor of the impending start of the annual craziness that is the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament, I rounded out my collection of computer/device wallpapers & backgrounds by adding several teams that recently qualified for this year’s Tournament.

So head on over to my NCAA Wallpapers page and download a desktop background/wallpaper to show off your team spirit on your computer, iPad, iPhone or whatever device you use.

So if you need to show off your colors in support of the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, we have a background for you. Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs? Yup. My collection already had many of the teams that made this year’s tournament, plus many more that did not make it to “the Dance” this year.

And if College Basketball is not your thing, there are several other collections to choose from including European Soccer, English Soccer, and all the major American Sports leagues.

Twitter Tuesday – The Week’s Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week’s Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week’s Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week’s Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week’s Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – The Week’s Tweets

Twitter Tuesday – This Week’s Tweets

Check Your Email

I’m not sure about you, but the user name for my email address is pretty run of the mill – a pseudo-advantage of claiming my “handle” early. Add to this the fact that my name is far from unique, and you can imagine that more frequently than not, some wayward emails will find their way into my inbox. And I’m not talking about Spam (which most reputable email services effectively control these days) but legitimate emails intended for a person who is not me, but shares the same surname, and initials of their first and middle names.

Over the past week, I have received several of these types of emails – one from a mail order wine company (I would have enjoyed receiving that package!), another from Office Depot and a third from Hewlett Packard – all for orders or actions taken by someone who has mistakenly used my email address to sign in to these online services. There is clearly a worrisome hacking component here – is my identity being compromised? Is someone charging things to my credit cards? However, it quickly occurs to me that what is happening is a case of mistaken emails – someone is inadvertently using my email address because for some reason they think it is their email address. We will put aside the fact that this person may not be the sharpest tool in the shed and did not pick up on the fact that no confirmation emails hit their Inbox or that they appear to have done this same mistake repeatedly across multiple accounts.

And it is not the only time this has happened – in the past, I’ve received emails about book clubs, school events, church events and other mildly entertaining topics. Whenever I receive these, my first and only thought is to connect with the person who shares my last name, to ask, beg, and implore them to update their email address in their account or with the friends. And I’ll get creative too – if there is a mobile number noted in the email, I’ll use my Google Voice phone number to text them and let them know I got their email by mistake. If it is clearly a personal email from an individual trying to reach the other person named “Clark”, I’ll respond with a quippy response and ask them to tell their friend to fix their email. All I want is to stop receiving email that is not mine. I don’t want to get any of this info – I don’t want to know about the bake sales, I don’t care about your orders from a Winery or Office Depot, and I dread the day I get an email with visuals that are, er, a little too revealing. :P

Of the emails I received this week, the one from Office Depot was the most concerning from a security and PII (Personally Identifiable Information) perspective. The email itself was highly informative, telling me all the items that this person had just ordered (which came to just under $500) but also revealing a lot of sensitive information that I could have used to socially engineer the account, including the intended recipient’s phone number, order number, customer number and a link to check the status of the order. Interesting, I thought. email
Curious, I clicked through the “Check Order Status” link, which brought me to a page asking for the order number and the phone number, both of which I had for this account via the wayward email. After providing this info, I was taken to a page that proudly displayed the same order detailed in the email, but this page also included the person’s mailing address!! So now, with little to no effort, I had the phone number AND mailing address of this person. Wait, it gets better. There was a link on this page to “Re-Order” the initial order that was so nicely detailed on the page. So I went ahead and clicked through this link and was presented with a page itemizing a “Re-Order” of this $500 shipment. I could not have gotten too much further as I would have needed to be fully logged in to place the order, but for someone with ill intent, that could easily have been achieved.initial_order

You see, also on this page was a link to “Chat With Office Depot” customer service. Clicking through there, I was prompted for the customer number and email address in order to initiate a conversation with the Office Depot CSR. And whatta ya know, I had this information. A few seconds later, I’m chatting with the Office Depot CSR and I told them what the situation was – that I received this email in error, that I WAS NOT the account owner, and that they should check with the account owner to make sure they update their account email address. But I easily could have posed as the account owner in order to do things such as acquire or change a password (since my email address was mistakenly attached to the account) or check other sensitive information related to the account. The OD CSR couldn’t seem to wrap their heads around the situation that I WASN’T the account owner but was trying to fix this situation. After a few more minutes with the OD CSR, they realized the situation and in turn escalated it, and informed me that they would reach out to the account owner to update their information. re-order

I did two things to reach out to the account owner – First, I texted the phone number via the Google Voice approach noted earlier (UPDATE: They finally responded via Google Voice Text saying they would update the info), and secondly, I printed out all of these emails and wrote a “snail mail” letter to this person (since I had their mailing address), telling them that they should really check their email credentials across all of their accounts to make sure that this sort of thing does not happen with anything more sensitive than an Office Depot account. So on the one hand, I feel good that I was able to get a hold of someone to inform them of this fairly significant error. Sure, I could have called the person directly but honestly, I didn’t want to do that…that is too freaky.

On the other hand, you have to be pretty worried that with a very simple error like an incorrect email address, I was able to find out so much information about this individual WITHOUT EVEN TRYING. Imagine what can happen when people who are intending to compromise your information try to get into your accounts! Take some time to really think through your approach to securing your accounts – no matter whether they are a bank, a credit card or an office supply store.

As a customer, the moral of the story is this:

  • Check all your information to make sure it is correct when you log into a site
  • Take the extra effort to use password services like LastPass or OnePassword to ensure you are using random, difficult passwords that are securely protected
  • If a site or online service offers Two Factor Authentication, take advantage of it! It’s a little bit of a pain to get initially set up but after that, it is fairly transparent to you and it provides an extra level of security that goes a long long way towards preventing breaches

As a online product manager or marketer, the moral of the story is:

  • Double and triple check the communication details of your customers to make sure their email address is correct.
  • Make sure that the information you are revealing within an email communication does not provide an opportunity to breach an account.
  • The email received from Office Depot should not have included anything more than the order number and a link to log in to get more details.
  • The page that offered the ability to track the order should have been behind the log in or it should have prompted for a piece of information (like the account password) that was only known by the account holder before exposing any sensitive information.

Keep Gettin’ Dem Checks

Over the past 3-6 years, the landscape of professional sports and how athletes are evaluated has gone through quite a transformation. The ability of teams and leagues to track performance and collect actionable data has transformed the landscape.

This, however, has not prevented team executives to dole out some outrageous and ill-conceived contracts. ESPN shared a list of the Top 20 Worst “Dead Money” contracts across the whole sports universe. And let’s not look past NCAA schools and school administrators, as they are very well represented in the list.

In total, $527.25 Million Dollars (that’s half a billion to you and me) down the drain across all sports because of some ill advised contracts.

Just a smattering of the lunacy:

  • Bobby Bonilla, a middle of the road outfielder who had a few solid years with the Pirates, is being paid $1.19MM a year by the NY Mets through 2035. That is more than many of those on their World Series roster including Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. The funniest part of this story is that the Mets/Wilpons thought paying Bonilla in deferred payments through 2035 was a better financial position because they thought they would make the money back from their investments with Bernie Madoff. Let’s Go Wilpons!
  • Not to be out done, the Mets then dropped a 6 Yr/$66MM contract on Jason Bay in 2009, another former Pittsburgh Pirate slugger (who also had a pit stop in Boston where he performed well for a year and change). He spent three years with the Mets and had a TOTAL of 26 HRs over that span and they then cut their losses in 2012 while still on the hook for $21MM. Let’s Go Wilpons!!
  • The Detroit Pistons flat out released Josh Smith in December 2014 while still owing him $36MM of a $54MM contract they signed him to in 2013.

I knew I should never have stopped playing baseball in high school.

Source: The 20 worst dead money deals in sports – ESPN

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer

The new Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer has been released in all it’s glory. T minus 56 days to go. I was able to watch it live when it was released at halftime of last night’s Giants disaster in Philadelphia. Watching it a few times afterwards on YouTube really helped put the nuggets of information into more perspective.

We were able to purchase tickets this morning, but not without some major troubles. The AMC Theaters website was crying bloody murder last night over the volume of traffic to the site. Supposedly, Fandango was not any better. It is not surprising as I doubt any tech company save Apple, Google, or Amazon could have handled what I would imagine was unprecedented levels of traffic trying to buy tickets.

Under two months until the re-boot of the Star Wars saga. I only hope that the movie can live up to the hype and expectations.

If you are interested in decorating your computer/device desktop with some Star Wars backgrounds, feel free to check out the Star Wars Desktop Wallpapers that I have created.