Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Target Math

A few months ago, I visited my local Target store with the objective of purchasing a bicycle. My wife had been eying a particular model with the intention of adding a child seat so that she could take our son out on nice days. While removing the bike from its rack, I noticed a tag that offered a 10% discount on any bike helmet with purchase of a bicycle. Knowing that we would need a child’s helmet for our son, I grabbed one and headed for the register.

Once there, the cashier rang up the bicycle and attempted to scan the 10% off coupon. Despite several tries, the register would not recognize the barcode. This forced him to manually enter the discount and, after keying in the UPC code, it prompted him for an amount. Now the helmet was priced at $19.99 and he was attempting to calculate a 10% price reduction in his head. After several seconds of staring blankly at the screen, he turned to me and sheepishly asked “What would 10% off be?”
Somewhat taken aback that anyone would look to me for mathematical guidance; I replied that it would be $2 since the helmet was essentially $20. Obviously relieved, he dutifully entered the new price and apologetically commented that “math was not his thing.” Unfortunately, we hit another snag and our transaction had to be rerouted to guest services.

Once there, I was assisted by a friendly young woman who soon discovered that the 10% coupon would not ring up for her either. She asked me if the previous cashier had been successful in applying the discount and I replied that he must have had to enter it manually because I had to help him estimate 10% of $20. The young woman laughed in disbelief for a few seconds before leaning in toward me with her hands on the keypad and asked without a hint of irony, “And what did you tell him?”

Incredulous that I was being asked for an arithmetic consultation twice in the same shopping trip, I responded (perhaps somewhat more harshly than was necessary) “It is $2! Just move the decimal!” These people must spend hours agonizing over whether or not they tipped appropriately at restaurants. By no means did I inherit my father’s mathematical prowess, but even I can mentally run those numbers.

It was only after we had vacated the store that I realized we are failing these youth. How in the world do our high schools produce personable, gainfully-employed young adults who cannot move a decimal effectively? Heaven help them if they ever find themselves negotiating for a raise or comparing interest rates on a loan.

My contention is not that every high-school student should be a CPA candidate, but we should work to equip each and every one of these people with a fundamental mathematical skillset to assist them in common decisions. Otherwise, this poor guy is going to hop on Twitter one afternoon and post:

“Just scored a sweet 29% interest rate on my car, they tried to offer me 2.9% but I wasn’t born yesterday!”  #FinancialBeastMode!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sleep Number

My wife has been experiencing intermittent back discomfort of late and after watching a few educational infomercials, it would appear that her uneasiness is the result of sleeping on a “traditional” coil spring mattress. Doesn’t her twenty-first century spine deserve more than a nineteenth-century support system? What kind of husband was I? Forcing her to slumber upon a Serta Pillow-Top I found at Sam’s Club instead of cradling her vertebrae to promote overall wellness. It was for this reason that I foolishly suggested that we visit our local Sleep Number showroom.

Upon entry, we were greeted by a courteous and friendly associate who eventually suggested that we subject ourselves to the Sleep Number pressure determination system. This consists of lying on a mattress while a pair of strategically-placed projectors display a silhouette of your embarrassingly-unrested body. During this time, you are asked to select your “sleep number” which is a level of firmness designated by a numeric value between 0 and 100.
Like all “non-traditional” sleep systems, I was informed that this one utilized technology “developed by NASA.” I have always wondered what the end of that statement is. “This was developed by NASA….. but was ultimately abandoned after four astronauts died from epidermal asphyxiation”.  Either way, I have never understood why NASA would be the leading experts on gravity-related ailments like spinal compression. I suppose that is still a better selling point than “technology developed by Waste Management.”

We perused the floor models until we settled on the i10 king with the independent adjustable bases. As I manipulated the bed’s remote control, the store manager printed out an estimate and gingerly handed it to me as I sank into the comfort layer. As I glanced toward the bottom of the page, he reminded me that the “$400 instant savings” is only good until Sunday. I was almost intrigued until I realized that the model we were currently reclining on ran just under $10,000. I came dangerously close to wetting the proprietary memory foam.  

The manager seemed taken aback when I asked, “Any wiggle room here?” and quickly informed me that they “don’t haggle” at the Sleep Number Store. I responded that if I was going to be asked to spend a Hyundai I should at least be given the satisfaction of quibbling with the sales manager. I further elaborated that for $10,000 it ought to alleviate marital problems in addition to providing a refreshing night’s sleep. Both he and my wife were conspicuously unamused.

Moving on, he highlighted the 90-Day in home trial whereby we could return the sleep system if we found that it performed less than admirably. Again, this was tempting until he revealed that the in-home trial did not cover the $3,000 adjustable bases and there was a return fee on the mattress itself. Even supposing we had 10K lying around, they recommended that we get a stain-repellent cover so as not to damage or discolor the top-secret astronaut stuffing. This added another several hundred to the tab.

Conveniently, they offer 24-month financing with a retroactive interest rate only slightly less than what was currently available from an organized crime syndicate.  I almost asked what the procedure was for mattress repossession in the event of non-payment, but I was afraid he would reply that it too had been developed by NASA. The more we spoke to him the more I was convinced that he was also sleeping on a Sam’s Club Pillow-Top. For this reason, I chose not respond as my wife and I were leaving the store and he reminded us that we only had a limited time to take advantage of the $400 price-reduction. Maybe there is a more economically-feasible bedding technology developed by the Russian space program we could look into.   

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Too Much Information

As some of you know, I utilize Blogger to host this site. Blogger is an online publishing service that was acquired by Google in 2003 and has since received several design improvements along with some valuable analytical tools. Having just published my 400th rambling, I decided to delve a little deeper into the statistical side of Blogger learn more about my audience. What I found frightened me.

I was initially delighted to learn that I had a much larger audience than I thought. Who would’ve thought that hundreds of people were taking the time to visit my site and expose themselves to my admittedly juvenile observations? I was given about twenty seconds for this to inflate my ego before I clicked on the “Audience” tab to retrieve more detailed information about my newly-discovered fan base. Let’s just say that if I had been hoping for a large swath of redirects from The New Yorker, I was to be sorely disappointed.

I was stunned to find that outside the United States, my largest audience resided in the Ukraine. The United Kingdom and Canada didn’t even make the top five, which was surprising since they were the only other countries on the list that were predominately English-speaking. While this was a minor setback, I simply convinced myself that my literary prowess was potent enough to transcend any language barrier and the inconvenience of having my work translated was quickly overshadowed by its merit. Perhaps, given the political unrest in the region, some of the populace found solace in my musings on American culture.

Any delusions of grandeur were quickly dispelled when I clicked on the first referring link with a .ru suffix and found myself on a Ukrainian porn site. It would appear that nudity also transcends all language barriers. Subsequent links revealed more of the same (albeit with varying degrees of artistic integrity) until I finally stumbled upon a Russian newsgroup with an inordinate number of Teen Wolf movie posters and an animated Panda promising the cheapest hotels in Kiev. In all cases, I was unable locate a link to my site.

Since geographically-based analytics was quickly becoming depressing, I decided to look at redirects from Google occurring only in the United States. While many of the top entries were to be expected (various incarnations and misspellings of the phrase “exceptional mediocrity” and “reach inc.”); I was chagrined to find that much of my traffic was generated when people searched for “hot pharma reps.” While I have no doubt that these individuals sought thought-provoking exposes on the influence of pharmaceutical sales tactics on patient care, they did not seem to linger very long on the page before heading back to Google. Perhaps they were simply fast readers.

The other area of interest was the Google image search links. Again “hot pharma reps” made an appearance along with “denise richards tattoo” and “nudist.” What was disconcerting was the number of times this image (from a previous post) was returned:

I could not see the exact queries that would repeatedly return a picture featuring a young woman and a donkey, so you can draw your own conclusions about people's search habits.

At the end of the day, I decided that ignorance is indeed bliss and I choose to believe that those who spend their time perusing my page are academics searching for succinct essays of mild amusement rather than those seeking inexpensive Ukrainian lodging or connoisseurs of random images. For this reason, I have decided that just seeing the raw numbers is plenty.