Monday, March 30, 2009

a few choice words on SCALPING

It's no secret among people who know me that I like the band, Phish. I came to like them during a very impressionable part of my life (early college), when they were still a bar band. The first time I saw them was at The Haunt in Ithaca, NY in 1990 (The Haunt was on Green Street back then). There couldn't have been more than 200 people there. Today, you can't see them with less than 20,000 people - and it has been incredible to follow them throughout the years and be a part of their growth.

I've always admired their taping policy, which basically allows fans to record shows and trade them for personal use (not for profit). Not many musicians allow this, and this has greatly contributed to their popularity - and the fact that they try to make each show a unique experience. On the same note, they have a "strict" policy on scalping tickets called "A FEW CHOICE WORDS ON SCALPING". It reads:
Phish Tickets has a zero tolerance for scalping and insists that all patrons of our service abide by our policy stated herein. Tickets made available through this site are intended only for fans who are actually planning on attending the shows requested. It is strictly prohibited to resell any tickets obtained through Phish Tickets for more than the purchase price. If you are found to be reselling, trading or brokering tickets that you purchased through our site for profit, Phish Tickets may at its discretion cancel your ticket order and all other pending orders in your name. This cancellation will result in a refund of the total price for the tickets minus a $7.00 per ticket processing fee and any shipping fees that have been incurred with respect to the order. We reserve the right to investigate all orders suspected to be in violation of this policy. (Source)
Before the proliferation of the Internet (and at the most basic level), this may have meant under cover cops posing as fans in the parking lot before a show trying to find someone who will sell them a ticket for over asking price. Today, they have to contend with over the asking price sales of tickets taking place on Craigslist, Ebay, StubHub (just to name a few) months before the event.

My latest experience in trying to obtain tickets the "right" way for the Summer 2009 Tour confirmed; Phish isn't doing nearly enough to prevent scalping. They can spin their wheels all day trying to take down individual ebay auctions or StubHub postings and cancelling people's orders for a mere $7 penalty - but being so reactive is a complete waste of time and barely makes a dent on the problem. Phish needs to find a way to sell tickets so that more people who actually intend on going to the show are the ones receiving the tickets.

I did everything right to get tickets to some summer tour shows:
  1. I ordered via pre-order and followed the rules. My order was for the number of tickets I actually needed. Result? DENIED.
  2. I waited to the exact second that tickets went on sale to the public and tried via phone AND internet to order. Result? DENIED.
I can go on about how both TicketMaster and LiveNation do not have sufficent web applications that can handle the demand of selling for a show that sells out in 5 mins (It was a HORRIBLE website sales experience full of errors). Phish should just completely eliminate allowing TicketMaster and LiveNation to sell tickets - b/c they clearly can't handle the load on their websites. I digress though...

So after being denied tickets by the legitimate avenues, I of course had no problem buying tickets for DOUBLE the face value on StubHub. There were hundreds of tickets available on StubHub for double and I had no problem ordering, but I could not not obtain a signle ticket through the legitimate channel - and I'm the target audience!!! (a fan doing everything right). What's wrong with this picture?

I sent Phish an email expressing my displeasure with their ticketing process (Here's someone else who did the same thing). This was their response:
Dear Fan,
We are aware that tickets to the Hampton shows are being resold on EBAY, StubHub,, etc. We went to great lengths to cancel any suspect or fraudulent ticket requests before the successful orders were selected.
Now that the ticket request period is over and the public on-sale has commenced, we cannot confirm the source of a given auction.

Please understand that the only way to eliminate scalping is to simply not cooperate with it.

Phish Ticketing Customer Service Dept
So this means, Phish, that you were basically reactive to the problem. You are just chipping away at the top of an iceberg. How about thinking of a proactive solution to prevent so many tickets going to scalpers to begin with? Check out how FIFA sells tickets for the World Cup. Eliminate TicketMaster, LiveNation, and the like.

Also, your advice that the "only way to eliminate scalping is to simply not cooperate with it" is noble. I have never sold a Phish ticket for more than the face value. But now that I am left without a ticket myself, does that mean I should BOYCOTT the shows? Does this mean I should just give up and not go? What if everyone did that? Then what you'd have, dear Phish, is a CANCELED TOUR because there would be tons of tickets on sale for double the price (or more) and no one going to the shows!

Scalping has become the backbone of the Phish ticket sales process! What is Phish going to do about it? (other than cancel people's orders, refund money, and penalize $7 - oohh big deal).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Project 2 - go on solo motorcycle trip

As the old proverb says "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" - although most of us probably remember it from The Shining. Well, it's true for me too (minus the insanity part). I realize that with this unique time in my life, I should probably do some things that are otherwise difficult to do with a full time job - or at least some things I've been putting off.

I've taken other long motorcycle trips, but never solo. This was going to be challenging on several fronts: What to pack?, where am I going?, which route to take?, what weather would I have to deal with? I chose Sequoia National Park as my destination.

There is quite a bit of management involved in planning a motorcycle trip, especially one where you plan to sleep outside. You have a very limited amount of space in which to pack so everything you bring must serve a purpose. Overpacking and underpacking are both serious problems in this case. I spent a few days prior to the trip mulling over what gear to bring.

Turns out I did a fantastic job packing. I used just about everything I brought, except -thankfully- for things like the First Aid Kit. A real space saver on a motorcycle is to forgo the luxury of a tent, and use a bivy sack. Sleep gear will take up the most space out of everything.

After riding through Sequoia, I heard from other travelers that the pass through Yosemite was clear - so made a change in my route so I would go through Yosemite before ending up in the western Sierra foothills. What a fantastic decision. Not only was I blessed with spectacular weather, but riding through Yosemite on a motorbike (during off season) was an unbeatable experience.

I spent a night with some friends in West Point, CA - and then the next day made my way back home to SF. It was raining, and I was prepared to drive in the rain - however, I was NOT prepared for the major storm I encountered in Stockton. The sky was black and it opened up with wind, rain, hail, and lightening while I was on I-5. Could not have been worse timing. The wind was pushing me out of my lane and the hail was pelting me. I slowed to about 45 MPH which made it even more dangerous as cars continued to pass me at > 60 MPH. The ironic thing is that if I looked west, I saw sunshine. I was literally a 1 minute drive away from being safe - I just needed to get west. I made it to I-205 and got west and out of danger, only minutes before I was going to pull over. It was perhaps the most harrowing experience I have ever had on a motorbike, and one in which I definitely earned a merit badge!

Here are some random thoughts I had during the trip. Being alone for a few days on a motorbike definitely gives you time to think. I wrote a lot of it down. I've got pictures posted from the trip that you can see by clicking HERE. Also, see video posted at the bottom from Kings Canyon.
  • Riding from water into sand will make you slip.
  • Touring on a motorcycle makes gasoline a constant priority (small tank reserve)
  • Sleeping in a bivy is more challenging than a tent but on a night when the stars are out, it's way worth the hassle.
  • Self registration in National Parks: YES, they will check.
  • Plan your cooking so all you really have to do is boil water.
  • Earplugs on the freeway might be a good idea; not for engine noise but for wind noise.
  • Use everything you bring; or don't bring it.
  • Leave your campsite in better condition than when you found it.
  • Having a bug fly into your helmet can be catastrophic!
  • Building a campfire is more art than science.
  • I question the wisdom of wearing headphones for music while riding, ut it can save your sanity on the long stretches of nothing.
  • Camping in the snow is not as bad as it sounds.
  • I hate tree sap on my hands.
  • Sometimes the most unexpected part of your trip turns out to be the best of the day.
  • There are few Americans in our National Parks.
  • Driving in the city is definitely more dangerous than driving on the freeway.
  • Chevron = favorite gas station. The gas is quality and they always have a decent bathroom.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Project 1 - retain website loyalty

I began working with some friends on a website called My friend Mike has owned this Mercedes G-Wagen enthusiast website for over 10 years, and it gets an impressive amount of traffic from all around the world. The problem is that it has fallen into code-disrepair, and he would like to monetize it - as currently it is a free website community. This is a problem that a lot of websites have today (ie: Twitter?). How do you monetize a website that has become popular BECAUSE it is free?

We have thought of some obvious solutions, like charging users for enhanced services or other subscription fees - but decided that could potentially erode our single greatest asset - our user traffic! Rather than penny pinch the people who use the website, we are working to improve the services and experience that bring them here in the first place. We want to KEEP them here and ATTRACT more people. From there, you have a captive audience from which to launch your monetization strategy. (We have a plan, but I prefer to keep that quiet right now as we have competitors.)

My role in this is to enhance the classifieds pages (and to fix bugs wherever we find them). The classifieds are one of the biggest draws to Some of these vehicles are hard to find and hard to sell, so provides a central location for both buyers and sellers. It is FREE to review and FREE to post. It is wildly popular, as a result.

The classifieds in place now are very manual for the web administrator. A form is filled out by the user, an email is sent to the web administrator with the details, and the information is transferred manually by the web admin from email to html and then uploaded to the site. Boooor-ing!!!!, tedious, and not very timely.

I created a new frontend/middleware/backend system using HTML, PHP & MYSQL that stores new classified ad requests into a Database. From there, there is a backend Administration user interface (UI) application that will allow an administrator to approve a new ad or not. Upon approval, the ad will appear on the website. I'm enhancing the Administration system so that all classifieds can be managed through a web browser so that no technical skill is required by the web admin to manage the content. Even if the web admin does have technical skill, it will be a time saver to use the UI as opposed to having to login to backend components.

There will be 3 separate classified applications, each with Admin site support: Vehicles, Parts, and Wanted. I'm very excited to get this off the ground and see it in action. At current, we are testing it and making adjustments but it is almost ready (it even allows uploading of images, which I am proud that I managed to code myself :-) ). Also, the data in the database looks so clean and organized - I could cry with joy!

This project has kept me sharp in many areas that I will need in my future job: project management, product management, requirement gathering, requirements documentation, estimation, development, quality assurance, and release management. It has been the perfect project to keep my skills sharp, and something I look forward to discussing with a prospective employer when asked "What have you been doing since you were laid off?".

Monday, March 16, 2009

Job Search | Plan B

Well the economy must *really* be bad. I am still without work after nearly 7 weeks. Any illusion that (because of my experience and education) I was somehow immune to this downturn and would find a job quickly has faded. Granted, I am still looking for a job that I deserve - one that I am suited for - for the right compensation. I have not yet resorted to looking for something that I am over qualified (and under compensated) for.

During my first 5 weeks of unemployment I kept myself busy networking, looking for work the traditional way, and participating in LOC (see previous posts) as a sponsor liaison. LOC was a great success, but now it has moved on to other cities. Looking for jobs the traditional way and networking has turned into a part time job instead of a full time job, because eventually you get to the point where you are ahead of the curve and don't have to spend everyday on it.

What now? MORE PROJECTS, that's what! I am finding new things to get involved with that will help keep my skills sharp and ready for the next opportunity. Some of the projects are work related, but others are personal endeavors that I've always wanted to do but have not had the chance. These are the things I plan to blog about, as I move from Plan A to Plan B.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Barely made it to LaidOffCamp

So I tried to extend my trip to NY as long as possible before coming back to SF to attend LaidOffCamp yesterday (3/3/09). Plan was to arrive late the night before. Unfortunately, there was a huge nor'easter in NY and I was not able to get a flight out until the morning OF the event. I was definitely a little disappointed, as I had been looking forward to it and had put a lot of effort into getting sponsors to support the event (and I wanted to meet these people in person!). Long story short, I did what I could and managed to get to LaidOffCamp by ~2pm. Whew...what a day of travel that was!

Even though I missed half of it, I was still able to meet a few people who I had spoken to on the phone about sponsorship. I also got to attend a few sessions. Some sessions that were particularly interesting to me were sessions about personal branding and how to market yourself - both of which I am trying very hard now to do. An "ah hah!" idea I got from LaidOffCamp was to create a video resume. Need to work on that!

Overall, this was a very positive event. Talking to my friend Vikki who is a recruiter and who attended the event as a 'hiring company' representative, she mentioned how traditional job fairs that she has attended have this feeling of desperation and urgency about them. People are frantic, frazzled, and desperate to show their resume to anyone. She called them "depressing". LaidOffCamp was anything but! LaidOffCamp had a more collaborative and innovative feel to it. I did not spend my time there handing my resume out. Instead I learned from other people about what they are doing to find work and cope with unemployment, I made new connections with people, and spent a productive day investing in my job search.

Similarly to how when you are employed, your employer might send you to a workshop to improve your interpersonal skills or some other type of soft skill - LaidOffCamp was the equivalent for an unemployed or non-traditionally employed person.

Took some photos:
Very cool space at Temple for LaidOffCamp

The session board
(made up that morning by attendees)

Sponsors and Hiring Companies

Founder Chris Hutchins working the crowd

The crazy snow that made me miss my flight

Fun video about LaidOffCamp.
There was also lots of Media coverage