Saturday, March 28, 2015

Walking It Back

One of the hardest things to do is to actually say something. That's as opposed to saying nothing, which is what most people prefer to do. Saying something means having to take a stand, make a pronouncement or state a point of view, and that puts you on the record. If you're a politician, it means saying "This is what I believe in." If you're the CFO of a company, it means saying "This is how much money we're going to make." And if you're introducing a new product or service, it means saying "This is what it can do for you."  

And while you might be right, the possibility exists that you might also be wrong, or have a change of heart or mind. And that means you will have to reverse course. In politics, they call this "walking it back." The most benign way of describing this change is to say your position is "evolving." That is, because of updated information or circumstances, your stance is following a natural progression to a different state, whether the topic is same-sex marriage or climate change. Looked at less charitably, some might say you are flip-flopping, the most famous formulation being John Kerry's "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

The past few weeks saw two especially good examples of this, one deliberate, one not so much. In the first, Benjamin Netanyahu won reelection to a fourth term. In the waning days of the campaign, he said emphatically that he was against a two-state solution to the Palestinian question, and there would never be a Palestinian state under his watch. All well and good, he is entitled to his opinion. Only it was directly against him saying he was for such a proposal a few years ago. And then just 2 days after the election, he said he really didn't mean what he said when he said it, and appeared to revert to his pre-election viewpoint. So depending upon your preference, it was a flip-flop-flip or a flop-flip-flop, or alternately, he evolved than devolved. The more partisan among us might say he was simply lying, though on which side of equation is the question.

Then you have the case of Ryanair. The upstart Irish discount airline made headlines when it announced its new transatlantic service, including a possible promotional fare of $10. It got a lot of press, and certainly seemed in character with the company's aggressive marketing campaigns. But no sooner had the ink dried on the press release than the company called the plane back to the gate. They said that while we would like to do that sometime in the future, there is a slight gap between "like to do it" and "making it a part of our strategic plan and appropriating the millions of dollars required to make it happen." Or as CEO Michael O'Leary said, "We screwed up."

However, I would propose that the yardstick by which these reversals were measured is the problem, not the reversals themselves. Regardless of the reason or intention, sure, if you judge them by the objective measure of "mean what you say" or "taking a stand" they do indeed look like they changed course. But our world is increasingly defined by technology, and a concept called "beta." That is the idea that nothing is ever really final, everything is a work-in-progress, and all is continuously improving based on user feedback. We have come to accept that and even expect it from the apps that run our lives; why should we not do the same for the people and institutions which do the same?

Just as Watergate was not about the crime but the cover-up, so is changing your position not about the change itself but how and why you explain it. Speaking for myself, it seems to me that we want people to examine all the facts, and then be willing to change their position without fear of looking like they erred. And I'm OK with that whether I agree with the position or not. What I don't want them to do is try and convince me they never really changed or meant to change. Were Napoleon around today, I'd be fine with him saying he was retreating from Moscow. Just don't try and spin it that you're advancing on Paris.


Marc Wollin of Bedford thinks changing your mind about something is OK. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

You're The Top

It's not really that hard to decode the logic. The iPhone 6 is newer and has more goodies than the iPhone 5. The Boeing 787 is a more efficient airplane than the 737 or 767. And just like Olympic medals, health insurance gets better the more precious the metal, working your way up from bronze to platinum. That being said, while I get that Windows 10 will be solve a lot of issues than surfaced with Windows 7 and 8, I do wonder about the black hole that would have been Windows 9. But I digress.

If you move up the scale in value, whether that scale is empirical or subjective, it's supposed to be better. That makes it an easy shorthand to let us consumers know that the new whatzit is worth spending our hard earned dollars on, even if our old unit is functioning just fine, thank you. Of course, the question is whether the step up is worth the trouble and cost, whether it is incremental or substantial. In software they deal with that issue by numbering big changes in whole numbers, while small tweaks and bug fixes are denoted in decimals, resulting in versions like Evernote 5.8.4. But would Delta rush to spend $100 million on an Airbus if the model was labeled A320.3? And perhaps just as important, how would you feel about flying on the 320.2 version, knowing there's a dot three plane with the bugs fixed parked at the next gate?

However, it's not always that easy to figure out which is mo' better. In my case, since I have some overseas trips on the horizon, I was doing a little advance leg work to see if all my stuff was up to snuff. I used to travel beyond these shores a good deal, but have been mostly confined to domestic sojourns of late. So I was doing a quick inventory of to see if what I had was still the best for going over there.

From a physical standpoint, my gear has mostly morphed to be international enabled as it is. Most everything these days is dual voltage, so no need for those bulky and heavy transformers I used to carry. Likewise my phone. Most smartphones today are multi-band, so they work in just about every country. Once on the ground, all you need to do is procure a local chip, and you could make and receive calls like a native.  

But then there's the financial angle. A little research revealed that much of the world now relies on credit cards that have an embedded electronic chip for security, a change which is just starting to migrate its way into the US. Additionally, overseas merchants rely on a PIN code to approve the use of a given card, while in the US, cards with chips are usually matched to signatures. So if you want to spend money like a local, you really need Chip & Pin, vs. Chip & Sign,

So I did a search to see what cards have that feature. And here's where the ranking get fuzzy. Multiple card issuers have multiple products with multiple designations. Some are labeled Premier, some are Premier Plus. Others are Rewards, others Rewards Prestige. Making sense of which is best is, well, confusing to say the least. Is Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite on a par with Chase Sapphire Preferred? Is that the equivalent of Citi Diamond? It's a weird game of rock paper scissors. Does Diamond cut Sapphire? Does Elite cover Premier? Does Prestige top all? One, two, three, shoot.

The problem is that the names don't help me. I need something simpler, something more direct than making a massive spreadsheet which details all the pluses and minuses, which correlates the latest features with the widest acceptance and the lowest fees. It all recalls what Nigel Tufnel told Marty DiBergi in "This is Spinal Tap" as to why the band's amps are better than any other: "You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?"  Where, indeed. Call it Platinum or Elite, Prestige or Titanium, but what I really want is a card that goes to eleven.


Marc Wollin of Bedford carries just two cards, one for personal and one for business. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Inner Wear

Because of all the crappy weather we were having, the setup running late and the meeting starting early, the client thought it would be a good idea to put us up at a hotel. A good call, and very considerate. But since it was a game time decision, I hadn't packed a bag. No matter; there is a drug store every 73 feet in New York by civic statute, so obtaining basic toiletries was not an issue. Likewise, there are clothing outlets ranging from discount to specialty to full service department stores, so inner and outer wear was there for the buying.

After making a quick stop to get shaving supplies and the like, I headed into a large emporium in Manhattan called Century 21. It has just about everything, billing itself as a designer outlet. Indeed, it has such good prices on iconic names that it is often filled with foreign tourists anxious to experience American consumerism at its finest. After all, coming to the Big Apple means not just seeing the Statue of Liberty, but scoring a Gucci blouse at 40% off.

Now, at one point in my life I enjoyed shopping for clothes and would cruise around looking at shirts and sweaters and the like. While I still appreciate nice things, I've become more utilitarian as I have aged. And so I'm less likely to buy a new thing to wear unless I have a specific reason. If my blue shirt starts to fray, I will get a new one. If the elastic in my socks gives out, I'm all in for a new pair. And when the freshly laundered underwear my wife puts back in my drawer starts to resemble the Shroud of Turin, I will head out to buy a new package.

Note that I said "package" and not "pair." While you can certainly buy underwear for men one by one, far more of the stuff gets sold in sets of 3 or 5. Walk into your favorite store for basics, be it Macy's or Kohl's, and you can find packages of Jockey or Hanes or Fruit of Loom, all more or less the same, and all usually on sale. Pick your size and style, and you can be out the door in under 2 minutes. Contrast that with women's undies. While also available in similar packaging, change the name from "underwear" to "lingerie," and it has become the basis of an entire ecosystem and industry, spawning everything from the Victoria's Secret chain to Madonna's tour wardrobe to John Paul Gautier's entire spring collection.

Men's underwear, by contrast, usually flies below the radar. I dare say (and surveys back me up) that most men buy a few pairs, keep the stuff until it's time to replace it, and that's the whole story. There are a exceptions when it moves to the headlines, like Bill Clinton's infamous boxers vs briefs spotlight on MTV in 1994, and a young Mark Wahlberg posing in his Calvin's on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1992, echoed this year in an ad featuring Justin Bieber. To paraphrase Lloyd Benson, Justin, you're no Marky Mark.

But back to my shopping expedition. I quickly scored a few shirts that would work, and grabbed some socks. But when it came time for underwear, I was stopped in my tracks. It wasn't just the basic boxer or briefs (or boxer briefs) assortment, but half a floor of designer men's necessities. There were offerings from virtually every major name in a rainbow of colors in cottons, silks and blends. And while there were rack after rack of single drawers, there were an equally intimidating assortment of the packaged version. It took me a good 15 minutes of picking up and putting down to find some basic basics that wouldn't test my credit limit. In the end I found got my usual 5 pack, but only after I wandered into the furthermost reaches of the department, almost like they were trying to hide them.  

Were it not for my immediate need, perhaps I could have done as I do for almost every purchase today and turn to the internet. There I could go to a place like, and even order the 365 pack. Yes, that's right: for just $4000 you can have a fresh pair of basics (men's or women's) for every day of the year. Marky Mark would be proud.


Marc Wollin of Bedford sleeps in boxers. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Scammed, I Think

It all started when I got a LinkedIn request from a technology writer in Greensboro, NC named Jenifer Lawrence. Her profile said she wrote for a publication called Chronicle Quest. Nothing alarming here. If you have almost any kind of online profile, you get these regularly from some people you know and some you don't. While I didn't know her or the publication, there was a picture of Jenifer, her credentials looked legit, and she had connections with some others I did know. I figured no harm in saying yes; perhaps it might lead to some opportunity down the road. I clicked on "Accept" and promptly forgot all about it.

A few weeks later, I got a similar request from a writer in Rochester, NY named Heidy Lawrence writing for Techno Times. Again, by itself, no real flags. A picture, credits from several web sites and publications, and several folks I knew in her orbit. But while we all like to think we're reporter-worthy, it seemed a little strange that I was being sourced as some kind of source. I mean, I like to think I'm a reliable expert. But if I'm honest with myself, why would a reporter (or 2) suddenly find me a go-to person? While nothing was obviously wrong, something didn't feel right.

I decided to do a little digging on Heidy. When I went to one of the web sites she wrote for, it was a broken link. Again, it meant nothing: publications, especially web-based ones, come and go all the time. I tried a second: it led me to a Japanese language page, which, when I ran through Google Translate, turned out to be gibberish. Each further link got me absolutely nowhere.

While it all seemed fishy, I couldn't put my finger on it. I finally decided to search the one thing I hadn't tried: her picture. I clipped it, then tried an image search. And bingo, up came a hit. Except it wasn't for Heidy. The exact same picture was tied to the online profile of a woman named Michelle Breau. Michelle wasn't listed as a writer, but a customer services representative for a credit union in Ontario, Canada. I punched around websites in her community, and found her name mentioned. Her profile also said that she was a yoga instructor. And when I searched for Michelle and yoga studios, up came a hit for a class she taught. If Michelle was a fiction, it was Shakespeare to Heidy's pulp.

Going on the assumption that Michelle was real and her picture had been stolen, I decided to drop her a line. I started with a long preamble, giving multiple links to prove I was who I said I was. I continued on with what surely seemed like a very strange email, saying that I thought her identity had been stolen. She quickly wrote back, confirming exactly that. In fact, she told me that when she did a search with another picture of hers that had been online, she got back half a dozen hits using her photo. She face was simultaneously that of Katelind Root, Petra Anderson, Renee Schoof, Dalton Agency and Natalie Hanson.

Michelle had been unaware that someone had stolen her photos and wondered who might be responsible. With identity theft so pervasive, my guess is that it's some kind of phishing scheme. I have had some on-line challenges be visual based rather than answering a secret question. And so take the next step: if someone connected to you was asked to ID your photo as part of a password response system, it's not hard to see how it could lead to the theft of more than just that image. (Out of curiosity, I backtracked to that first reporter who contacted me, Jenifer Lawrence. When I image searched her picture, I found half a dozen matches, from Sara Farley to Sonia Ruscoe. I suspect I won't be getting a call to comment on an article for Chronicle Quest anytime soon.)

The bottom line is that I think I'm being scammed. Trouble is, I don't know by whom, what they are actually doing, nor why they are doing it. And I can't figure out the end game, whether it involves money, access or something else. But other than that, I've got it nailed. I mean awareness is half the battle, so there's no way they can con me. Right Heidy?


Marc Wollin of Bedford tries to be secure online. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.