Thursday, February 26, 2009


Villagers, rejoice! I'm not drooling blood anymore.

I think I'm going to have my newly-extracted wisdom teeth set into cufflinks. That way, the next time I'm arguing with an creationist or ID'er, I can just point at my cuffs and say,

"See these? You're an idiot."

A little less wisdom: Okay, God?

I just had my wisdom teeth out. It hurts like a motherfucker. The general anaesthetic and the Nitrous Oxide are wearing off, leaving only a general contempt for everything.

So, just as I sometimes whack my broken toaster on the off-chance that it will learn its lesson, I'm going to write an open letter to God on the off-chance that he exists.

As the capital G suggests, I'm addressing the god of Judeo-Christian tradition. I will, however, happily accept replies from other gods, demigods, or their non-corporeal messengers.

BCC: Eric "Slowhand" Clapton

Why, God, why?

Why would you have given me a special subset of teeth that cause nothing but pain? Is there just a little of Job in all of us? It it a vestigial reminder of some Original Sin?

I've got to say, I'm a little vexed. I know you have a Plan for all of us, but for the life of me I can't figure out how my wisdom teeth fit into it.

Pain, I thought, was a necessary result of free will. But this had nothing to do with free will! There's no choice that I or anybody else I could have made differently that would have avoided this, save for to have had these teeth removed years ago.

I can't drink alcohol, I can't have a cigarette, I can't chew solid food; I'm in pain, I'm still a little high on laughing gas, and frankly, I'm more than a little pissed.

Feel free to let me in on the joke if I'm missing anything.

Sincerely, Phaedron.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Phone Dump

Hell of an open. I fully intend to try this.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Let's Get It On, Wendy Colonna with a solo acoustic cover

A great cover of one of my favourite songs.

Wendy's an amazing singer, and I just had to email her for the chords to this =p

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Fine Art of the Haggle.

Some prices are fixed. Some aren't. Knowing the difference helps.

Yesterday I was at the Yorkdale, a local mall in Toronto. While sifting through the meandering populace for cute girls' numbers, I came across a kiosk booth selling cosmetic skin products from the Dead Sea.

Now, I'm not one of those prissy primping douchebags; I don't gel my hair, spray-on a tan, or spend long tracts of time in front of my mirror. I'm a man. But I do care about the way I look and I do have mildly dry skin in the winter, so when the saleswoman approached me as I walked by, I let her reel me in a little for a closer look.

We bantered a little: about what products I already use (limited to a simple pre-shave scrub and my shaving cream), and about the astonishing fact that nearly all the standalone kiosks in the mall are manned - or womanned - by full bore, to-the-core, Hebrew-speaking Israeli expats. Then she worked her pitch.

After a demonstration of a face-cleansing product, she went went into her the-list-price-is-$130-but-I'll-let-you-have-it-for-$60 routine. Here's where I was suddenly faced with options:

1) I could take it for $60. The product wasn't something that needed to be used anywhere close to daily, and it seemed to be a very good one from the demonstration. It was probably worth the $60 she pitched for it.

2) I could walk away. Sure, it was a great product, but $60 can buy a lot of beer.

3) I could negotiate.

Now, knowing when price-negotiation is an option means assessing a little bit about how the sale is structured. When a wage or salaried employee makes a sale, there's little incentive for them to enter into a negotiation: they get paid whether or not you buy what they're selling. The situation changes, however, in either of two cases: if the salesperson works fully or partially on commission, or is the salesperson owns the business and sees a perfect correlation with the profit margin on a sale and the money in their pocket.

Many kiosks like that one are either corporate or franchised, and most of the sales staff work on commission. The lady working there probably made 20%-35% commission of any sale made above cost price, so she has something to gain from any sale above that price, and everything to lose if I walk away.

It seems trivial to analyze when we're talking about a face cleanser, until you realize that the biggest financial decisions you will ever make in your life fall into the same organizational category. Buying a house or a car both entail working through either a commissioned salesman or a commissioned real estate agent. The difference is only a matter of degree.

The incentives on each side of the consumer and the vendor are important to understand. The consumer has demand for a product, and if the perceived value of that product exceeds the cost, he will buy it. If it costs more than it's worth, he'll fuck right off.

On the other side of the equation is the vendor. The vendor has a derivative sort of demand in the transaction: the revenue or commission earned from the sale. If that revenue exceeds what the product costs them, they profit from the sale. If it doesn't, they'll tell you to fuck off.

The negotiating room, in our case, is the margin between the list price ($130) and the vendor's cost (probably between $15 and $30). Within that range, the game is zero-sum. The difference in those two numbers will either end up in my pocket, or be divvied up between the sales lady and the owner - assuming it's not the same person. It's in that magical margin that negotiation takes place.

She had made the first move. The $60 pitch didn't come out of nowhere. From before we'd even made eye contact, she had began analyzing me. Did I wear clothes that indicated discretionary income or did I look like a moneyless waste of time? Did I carry myself in a way that indicates confidence or do I project insecurity and the impression that I'm a bit of a pushover? Did I seem like the type of person who would be interested in her products in the first place?

All of those calculations - and a whole lot more, I'm sure - ran through her head from the time she first saw me to the time she offered me the skin cleanser for $60. If I'd given her a different impression of myself and my interest, it could just as easily have been $100, or even $50. Maybe, if I seemed interested enough and willing to pay it, she'd have neglected to pull out the price list and offered me dermatological salvation for a mere $150.

But I wouldn't have paid $100 for it; I wouldn't have paid $75. And if I buy the product, anything less than $60 is money in my pocket.

I pushed a little, and she pushed back. I ended up walking away having traded the skin cream for $40 of my hard-earned cash.

So beyond my hefty preamble, here are a few insights I've gleaned about price negotiation.

Demand Asymmetry. When either the consumer or the vendor cares more about the transaction, they end up with less money in their pocket. If the mall were more crowded, and there were tons of potential customers strolling by with less of a spine than me, she'd have been happy to hold firm at $60, take it or leave it. If there were a competing business with a similar product nearby, and she'd have held firm at $60, I'd likely have walked.

That really is the biggest sticking point in a negotiation. You have to be willing to walk away. If you're convinced that you can't live without what they're selling, and there's no better place to get it, the salesperson will pick up on that. And you can bet your ass they'll have a high asking price. What's important to understand is that there are very few things you can't live without. She's not selling the only glass of water amidst miles of desert sand.

And you have to be willing to actually make a counter-offer. It's astounding to me how many people never do. We, in our modern Western culture, are so used to fixed prices that we take them for granted, and seldom even think to bargain. She has been doing this for a while, and has likely calibrated her price pitch very well-tailored to her assessment of the customer. Most of them - if they'd sat through the impressive demonstration - probably took the price at whatever figure she named.

Be the exception to the norm. Know how the incentives break down, and be willing to walk away. If the seller wants more than you're ready to give up, then do so: actually walk away.

If there's one piece of advice I can offer for people making a bigger purchase such as a car, here it comes. After you do some solid research on some options you're interested in (you should always do research, and never only have only one option), go to a few of your lesser choices first. Treat them as practice runs. Unless you're offered an unbelievable deal, you'll probably end up walking away from those. When you finally walk in the doors of the dealer selling the car you're more interested in, you've already internalized that I'm-willing-to-walk-away-from-this-deal-if-you-
try-to-bend-me-over-and-fuck-me-in-my-wallet frame of mind.

The salesman will pick up on that. And you'll benefit as a result.

Negotiation isn't shameful. It's the purest distillation of the free market. It's part of the economy that makes modern society possible.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Former Ku Klux Klan leader Johnny Lee Clary

When Facebook Memes Attack!

"The "Rules" : Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you. Copy and paste this and then go to the notes section of your profile."

1. My body's sleep schedule seems to run on a 25-hour rhythm. If I have no pressing reason to get up for an extended period of time, I'll be waking up at 9am, then 1pm, then 4pm, then eventually later, until it cycles all the way back.

2. I'm in the Army reserves. It's like no other job on this planet.

3. English is my second language.

4. I'm the only person I know that shaves with a straight razor. They've got a bitch of learning curve, but once you're through it, the result is phenomenal.

5. Apparently, I was "Most Promiscuous Brother" of AEPi's Ottawa chapter, 2007/2008. There was a vote. For once, I abstained.

6. Karaoke is my guilty pleasure.

7. I don't leave answering machine messages. There's no reason why, I just don't. I've probably left 5 in the last year.

8. I've had my M2 license since I was 16. If I don't do my final road test soon, it's going to expire.

9. I procrastinate. It's ridicu... fuck it.

10. I'm teaching myself - slowly - guitar.

11. Songs that recurringly get stuck in my head:
"Proud Mary," Ike and Tina Turner
"City Blues," Brian Wilson and Eric Clapton
"You Can't Hurry Love," either the Phil Collins cover or The Supremes' original.

12. Dvorjak and Dr Dre are next to each other in my iTunes. My taste is eclectic.

13. I've been to Israel 15 times, and I'm STILL eligible for Birthright.

14. I put all my private thoughts in a blog, but I don't share it with people I know in real life. Tried that once, it didn't go well; for their own good, nobody should ever know what I'm actually thinking.

15. When I have the time, I take hot showers that last easily 45 minutes, sometimes 60. I'm not even masturbating in there, just chillin'.

16. Questionable Content. Favourite web comic.

17. If I've got the time, the money, and the means, I have never turned down a road trip.

18. I've been to the fundamentalist Christian "Creation Museum" in Kentucky. Great shit.

19. I've been arrested.
While on a public bench.
For trespassing.

20. I love my bathrobe. It's big and purple, and I'm wearing it right now. I take it anywhere I'm staying for more than a night. I've driven across Tennessee in it, and I was the one driving.

21. I've elevated public nudity to high art, and I don't have to be drunk to streak.

22. My addiction, aside from nicotine, alcohol, and carnal sin, is raw oyster. Sit me down in front of them, and I'll eat oysters until you run out of shellfish, or I run out of money.

23. My cell phone and laptop don't get turned off.

24. I'm swearing off Hamilton Karaoke bars for at least two weeks. Those of you who were there know my reasons.

25. I am the least organized person you will ever meet. At my last place, all my floorspace went missing.

26. I'm terrible at math.
27. I'm invisible.