Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

Service of the Custom of Traveling with the Goods

Monday, November 5th, 2018

Photo: travelpulse.com

I was 15 the first time I traveled alone internationally and my parents warned me to never accept a package or letter from a stranger who’d ask me to pop the missive in the mail when I got to my destination. Fast forward and airline agents for years now ask whether you packed your suitcase and if anyone has given you anything to take with you.

Photo: dissolve.com

This custom has changed dramatically with the advent of Grabr, an online company that introduces travelers to shoppers in foreign countries who count on them to carry purchases. Customs charges are the responsibility of the traveler who is supposed to ask enough of the shopper to cover them. They negotiate the amount before the trip.

Wrote Andrea Fuller in The Wall Street Journal, “Grabr works like this: A shopper posts on Grabr’s platform that they’d like to buy an item, such as a new smartphone. A traveler who plans on visiting the shopper’s country then agrees to transport the phone for a delivery fee negotiated with the shopper. The traveler then buys the phone, packs it, and gives it to the shopper, who pays them back via Grabr’s system. The company earns a commission on each transaction.”

Bangkok Airport. Photo: youtube.com

Some travelers pay for their trips. Grabr pays for others “in lieu of per-item rewards.” They “transport suitcases full of goods assembled by Grabr staff.” [The company says it is phasing out this part of the business.]

Duty free limits range from $300 in Argentina to $500, in Brazil, for example. “Travelers to those countries should owe customs 50% of the portion of the value of items over the duty-free limit,” wrote Fuller.

Kevin Hartz, whose company invested $250,000 in Grabr–it attracted $14 million in all–who had also invested in Airbnb which, in its infancy, faced doubts about the legality of home sharing, said about the concept: “This is just a matter of sentiment change.”

Grabr’s co-founders Artem Fedyaev and Darla Rebenok say the company’s terms of service require users to comply with customs.

In my experience, customs officers are smart. They know that a Gucci handbag costs many multiples of $450, should a traveler try to get away with the smaller amount on a customs document, and that people don’t travel with three smartphones and four laptops for personal use. If they don’t already know about Grabr, they soon will so there won’t be any savings at the customs counter for travelers-with-the-goods. I wouldn’t be surprised if customs duties in certain countries increase.

If you’re planning a trip to a country where electronics and other items are pricey, would you be interested to give Grabr a whirl? Do you believe a stranger will pay for the items you give them? Can you predict the success of the business model? Has customs ever stopped you—and have you had to pay up–in this or another country?

Photo: aisino.com

Service of Traditional, Faux and Inadvertent Marketing: Mother’s Day, Gold Toilet & Promposal

Monday, April 25th, 2016

MarketingMost marketing promotions are designed to push product, an organization or initiative and are created by those who benefit. Some are dressed up to look like art or charitable generosity but are really to raise the visibility of merchandise, an association, cause or person. And sometimes groups of people support a concept that, as luck would have it, benefits businesses.

Traditional Marketing

I must have had marketing in my veins when, as a kid, I didn’t get why Mother’s Day irritated my Mother's Daymom so much. She thought it was a fabrication to sell cards, candy, flowers and restaurant reservations. As an adult, I’ve helped countless clients to sell their products, services and concepts, which may be why I always appreciated the Mother’s Day ritual. I also love to give gifts and to celebrate occasions. With the exception of Father’s Day, I don’t think many of the offshoots such as secretary’s or boss’s day have done nearly as well.

Marketing in Sheep’s Clothing

Gold Toilet on NYT pageArtist Maurizio Cattelan or his handlers pulled off the second kind of marketing scheme with his sculpture of a gold working toilet that the Guggenheim Museum is installing. You couldn’t miss a giant shot of it on the front page of The New York Times’ “TheArts” section last week that topped serious copy about it. In fact it appeared all over the place. To pragmatist me, it’s ridiculous, has nothing to do with art and everything to do with getting the artist’s name front and center–but I’m clearly out of step.

Inadvertent Sales Windfalls

Nancie Steinberg, whose son Austen is a high school senior, shared info about a Promposal Austen 1phenomenon—promposals–that help sell pizzas, poster board, flowers, cake and more. I’m betting that unlike Mother’s Day, teens came up with this activity and that merchants benefit from it. Does it matter, as long as it’s all in good fun and everyone wins?

Promposals were new to me but not to Caitlin Dewey who wrote about them in The Washington Post in 2014 and tracked the first mention of the word to a Dallas Morning News article in 2001. She followed the movement to its “going mainstream” in 2002-2005. In “A Short History of the ‘promposal’” she defined it as “the eyebrow-raising high-school ritual wherein students go to elaborate, terribly public lengths to ask each other to prom.”

Austen presented his date of choice with a rose bedecked sheet cake decorated with “Will You Go To Prom With Me?” in orange frosting [photos right and below]. His friends videotaped and photographed the moment. She said “yes.”

Dewey wrote of boys in Arizona who laid trails of rose petals from a prospective date’s home to the school and a chap in Idaho who secretly set his girlfriend’s alarm to ring at 3 am with a message “Hope its not too late—will you go to the prom with me?” These and others such as hanging signs from highway overpasses, filling yards with balloons or wearing gorilla suits were all done in 2006, before high school kids had access to Facebook and pre Tumblr. YouTube was the place to be then as now. Dewey reports there are 40,000 promposal videos and 900,000 tagged “prom proposal” or “ask cute.”

What are some of your favorite marketing ideas? Any that annoy, surprise or fall flat?

 

Promposal Austen 2

 

 

 

Service of Potential Typos: New York State’s Electronic Prescription Drug Law

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

Typo

The new law in New York State that makes it mandatory for physicians to order drugs electronically immediately made me think of a few things. 

  • I worked in an office where if one person chronically left open a window midwinter potentially causing frozen pipes and other calamities or did some other thing management frowned upon, everyone got a memo—not just the offender. The alleged major reason for ordering prescriptions online is to cut down on doctor shopping for pain killers like Vicodin or Percocet. So why make doctors go through the rigmarole for all doctor shoppingprescriptions?
  • An ace editor reporting on product introductions in a trade magazine mistyped one digit in a client’s toll free number, [prior to websites]. Readers calling the number got an earful of porn. We laughed, she was embarrassed, errors happen when you juggle work and are rushed. I predict that when a doctor types a bunch of digits while listening to a patient’s complaints and questions he/she either won’t hear important information or is set up to make mistakes in the order.

Say you’re the receptionist tasked with the pill ordering chore. As you take messages, make appointments, greet patients and mishear the name of the drug the boss yelled in from another room, do you think you’ll get right all the codes for meds and pharmacies? What the patient gets may be a surprise. 

I feel that the more personal information we are forced to put in easily hackable places the worse for all. In a recent comment about a previous post “hb” wrote: “Given that the internet is now totally insecure as to confidentiality… if you catch syphilis cavorting with a prostitute, not just your wife/husband and children/parents, but also all your friends and neighbors are going to know about it within weeks. Maybe the young just don’t care, but I do!” My thoughts precisely.

Drs John LaPook and Holly PhillipsI heard Jon LaPook, MD, chief medical correspondent for CBS News with Holly Phillips, MD, [Photos, Left], on the “Morning Rounds” segment of CBS This Morning Saturday on April 2. Dr. Phillips admitted it’s faster for her to call in a prescription and doesn’t think the electronic logon and pharmacy search is time-effective but she seemed resigned as all NY docs must be. If they don’t comply, they are subject to fines, loss of license—even jail time. 

Dr. LaPook said he loved the system. A patient contacted him while he was on a flight and he was able to submit a prescription from the plane. However, the only additional benefit he could point to, in addition to controlling access to painkillers, was that there will be no mistakes made by bad handwriting where the pharmacist “reads quinine when the doctor meant Quinidine.” He admitted that the checking part of the process—to confirm that the patient isn’t getting painkillers elsewhere–is clunky but predicted that the system will eventually be great.

A young friend, who can fix any computer and is more tech-savvy than most, told me that the only winners in this new arrangement are the people who sold the programs to physicians and pharmacies. Do you agree?

Tech savvy

Service of Internet Love: Security & Swindles

Monday, July 27th, 2015

 

Caveat emptor

 

While a third of couples who have married between 2005 and 2012 have met online, according to a National Academy of Sciences survey funded by eHarmony, Internet love isn’t always lovelier the second or 20th time around. This was made clear by two examples in the recent news.

Caveat Emptor I

I hadn’t heard of Ashley Madison, the online dating site for married people who want to cheat on their spouses and whose slogan is “Life is short. Have an affair,” until I read that its database had been hacked. The hackers warned that they might divulge personal information unless the website, which claims to have 37 million members, is shut down. According to cnn.com, “The hackers called themselves the ‘Impact Team,’ and the potential release includes ‘profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.’”

Apart from the fertile ground for profitable blackmailing, “The hackers — or hacker, perhaps — appear to be upset over the company’s ‘full delete’ service, which promises to completely erase a user’s profile, and all associated data, for a $19 fee.” The hackers claim that the most important information—names and addresses—are not removed. “Avid Life Media also said that it had hired ‘one of the world’s top IT security teams’ to work on the breach.” Between the leaky “full delete” service and the hacking, I doubt that Ashley Madison members are sleeping well at night.

Caveat Emptor II

Last week Elizabeth Olson wrote in The New York Times about women who were swindled by older couplemen they’d met on Internet dating sites. She was unable to report the total number of people pulled in but noted that according to the Federal Internet Crime Complaint Center in just six months–between last July and December 31–grievances representing $82.3 million were made by almost 6,000 people. In one case history in her story, “Swept Off Her Feet, Then Bilked Out of Thousands,” a woman sent nearly $300,000 to a fellow who claimed to be in Ghana on business and ran into snags. Another didn’t tell her family about the $292,000 she sent to another con-person.

Hacking into a dormant dating profile is how it generally starts, Olson learned from Vermont’s Attorney General office’s Public Protection Division. The fake lover alters age, gender, occupation and quickly asks the target to continue to communicate with them via email, phone or instant message. The swindler creates trust and then a sense of urgency/need of cash.

It’s become such a problem for women mostly in their 50s and 60s that AARP has asked dating sites to up their surveillance for romance cons wrote Olson. Its Fraud Watch Network suggests that users check Google’s “search by image” function to see if the new contact’s photo appears on other dating sites under different names. Google also has romance scam sites on which to confirm suspicious language.  The FBI’s Internal Crime Center also shared clues: Watch for someone who says they love you, asks for money so they can visit and then, if you refuse, reprimands that you don’t love them back; tells you that your “romance is destiny or fate;” or that they are from the US and are going overseas for business or to attend to family.

Given the high profile triumph of hackers are you amazed that so many would voluntarily put such intimate information about themselves—not to speak of their marriages–in such a potentially compromising situation? I know people under 40 who have met their life mates on dating sites and others who are older who haven’t. How might older people safely level the online playing field?  In addition to the Internet, local pub, through work or religious institution, where else might people meet once they’ve left school/college?

The Heartbreak Kid

The Heartbreak Kid

Service of Spelling Bees and Videos

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Spelling bee winners. Photo: businessinsider.com

Spelling bee winners. Photo: businessinsider.com

 

Two seemingly disparate events taking place at the same time seemed related to me.

The buzz

The winning words were “scherenschnitte” and “nunatak” and the last names of the spelling bee winners, who are13 and 14 years old respectively were Shivashankar and Venkatachalam. My first irrational reaction when I saw the TV news brief was, “Whew! Vanya  Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam have an advantage over many if they have spelled their last names since they were little.” 

Spellcheck 2The judges called a tie for first place because they ran out of words to give the two students, from Olathe, Texas and Chesterfield, Mo., in the annual Scripps Spelling Bee in which 283 other children competed. Maxwell Tani wrote in Business Insider, on Yahoo Finance: “Loeffler has been EPSN’s go-to television analyst for the bee for a decade.” Paul Loeffler told Tani: “It’s a challenge to comment on the bee because the show is essentially split between hardcore fans and viewers who aren’t very familiar with the whole spelling bee process.” Loeffler himself competed in the contest in 1990 and his sister, who works for Scripps, was a contender three times.

All the news that’s fit to film

Millbrook literary festivalWhile these students competed for the almost $40,000 prize, a copy of Webster’s Dictionary [an example of coals to Newcastle?], and international fame, I heard last Saturday how newspaper editors in the Hudson Valley, like those around the country, are increasingly turning to video to enhance their online coverage and motivate subscribers. [I started to write “motivate readers”–them, too.] The panelists at the Millbrook Free Library, Whitney Joseph, The Millerton News, Jim Langan, Hudson Valley News, Curtis Schmidt, Northern Dutchess News, Stuart Shinske, Poughkeepsie Journal and Rex Smith, Albany Times Union, didn’t argue with someone in the audience who thought that what’s effortless is essential to win customers these days. The panel was part of the annual Millbrook Literary Festival in Dutchess County, N.Y. 

Photo: Pinterest.com

Photo: Pinterest.com

Only one person in the room admitted to never reading news on the Internet when the moderator asked for a show of hands.

A high school instructor said he has a dickens of a time getting his charges to write a news story because they seem only to be able to share their opinions. The panelists empathized. Nevertheless Joseph takes on interns at the Millerton News.

Responding to a young man in the 12-15 age range who asked panelists what it took to be a news reporter Smith, from the Albany Times Union, said he looks for a person who is curious and energetic—with the stamina and imagination to run down all leads–and that writing ability is last on his list of priorities. He said he can teach someone to write.

Is there inconsistency in the public’s fervor to watch kids who spell amazingly well—enough to warrant network TV and news coverage—when at the same time video increasingly gathers pride of place over words in  newspaperland?

iPhone and video

Service of Small Town or Spooky

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Small town

I was born and brought up in NYC where life is as anonymous as you want it to be so I’ll never forget my first adult small town experience. I’d just moved into temporary quarters in a North Dakota town—population 300– north of Minot Air Force base and went to do laundry in one of the few businesses. A woman approached me and said, “Are you the wife of the Air Force lieutenant who just moved in to Sheriff Avery’s apartment?” I was. We’d been there one day. Shudder.

bike with boxA year later on an Air Force base in Turkey, a neighbor asked me: “How was your party?” “What party?” I asked. She explained that she’d seen me riding my bicycle with liquor boxes in the basket so she’d assumed we were having a party. Wrong: I needed the boxes, which were empty, to ship home Christmas gifts. Tremble.

apt mailboxThat old familiar uncomfortable feeling is back. We moved three months ago. I was diligent in letting friends and family know our new address as well as the post office, motor vehicles bureau and businesses that send bills. So when I get advertisements and catalogs from businesses from whom I’ve bought nothing, addressed to me or my husband at this address, I wonder: Who sold this information? I can run but I can’t hide.

I also feel stalked when I see something I researched on the Internet haunt me every time I open Facebook or in emails from a website like Amazon that sells the category of item I was looking for or maybe just researching for a work project.

Is what I interpret as intrusive really someone being friendly? Are businesses simply making me feel at home, trying to be nothing more than a helpful pal? Do you think it makes sense for some regulatory body to limit invasion of privacy whether virtual or actual?

Stalking on the Internet

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