Feb 24, 2008

Hotel Bathroom Mysteries of Our Generation

I just discovered this weekend that some hotel bathroom mirrors have built-in televisions (that's me watching cartoons while I brushed my teeth). Since when did society demand such technology? The only significant step forward in bathroom engineering I know of are those elliptical shower rods that provide a roomier bathing experience. That and fancier shower heads. Speaking of bathroom curiosities, whatever happened to those weird timed red heating lamp lights classy hotels like The Holiday Inn used to have?

One more thing.

It's funny how corporations can all of sudden become "environmentally responsible" when coincidentally, they save money by doing so. Changing the towels and linens everyday is undoubtedly excessive but I get a bit bothered when hotels take the moral high ground by pointing out this "bottom line benefit" in disguise. I'd be shocked if someone could prove that these environmentally intentioned savings on laundry soap and housekeeping salary hours were translating into anything but higher company profits.

Feb 16, 2008

Not Having the Time of Your Life. And You’ve Never Felt This Way Before. I Swear.

A periodic portion of my real life job (or my “adult job” as friends like to call it) involves traveling to Universities in the Northeast to give job interviews. These thirty minute trials of courage are a freeform mix of hard and soft, allowing sage questioners like me to say and ask practically anything. Don’t get the wrong idea; I take my white collar decider-of-fates role quite seriously. Not only because I want to admire the people I see at the water cooler but also since the ultimate successes and failures of my chosen hires are a direct reflection on my own tastes and values.

Given that one important prerequisite of my job is a penchant for all things analytical it’s common during the interview to pose a question whose answer requires some combination of math, spatial reasoning, and outright common sense. This is the part students fear most. Our hypercompetitive society buries kids $250k into debt to have a shot at this singular not-until-you-answer-this-riddle moment. Imagine The Showcase Showdown, Final Jeopardy, and Double Dare Obstacle Course all rolled into one. Except what’s on the line here isn’t a tricked-out RV, trip to Paris, or cash windfall; it’s what you believe to be your future. And it’s not that we don’t care about all the other things they’ve accomplished but if two other students who are also trilingual, kite surfing national champions, Fulbright scholars, and graduating three years early get this question right, who do you think we’ll be logically obliged to choose?

“How many degrees separate the hour and minute hand on an analog clock reading 3:15?”
“If you painted the surface of a cube made up by 1000 smaller cubes, how many of the smaller cubes would have paint on them?”
“Which investment is most attractive: one that doubles in two years, triples in three years, or quadruples in four years?”
“If there’s an equal chance of rain or sunshine, what are the odds of three consecutive days of rain over the course of five days?”

Depending on how your mind works these questions might sound really difficult, really simple, or just really silly. Exercises like these are one of the prospecting tools used by financial companies, consulting firms, and political think tanks to sieve the not-so apparent analytical dynamos from the sea of “fools gold” straight-A bookworms.

The motivation for this note was to share a question of this sort that’s fascinated me since the day I heard it. “What are the odds of a once in a lifetime event happening once in your life?” First, I must express my condolences to the students who’ve been asked this in an interview. Questions that are infinitely more simplistic and discrete consistently confound the smartest of students. This one is tough. To technically answer this problem you’d have to read up on Simeon-Denis Poisson, the 18th century French mathematician whose work focused on the modeling of improbable events. I didn’t quite get that far in my studies (or was sick that day) and have chosen never to seek out how one would answer such an interesting theoretical query.

Romantic notions of fate and destiny are routinely suppressed by the clockwork nature of my analytical psyche. A psyche that rarely yields at the opportunity to expose unpopular truths or debase myth, superstition, and hindsight bias. This mental framework has blessed/cursed me to see the world as a cold, chaotic set of fluttering stereo equalizer-like probability distributions where strange coincidences are simply tail improbabilities bound to occur during the course of our lives. The “once in a lifetime” conundrum sheds a rare and strange light on the seesaw that balances my conception of hope vs. uncertainty. I’m thankful that my unrelenting analytical pitchfork is willing to leave this notion answer-less and wonder-full.

Feb 8, 2008

Clawing for Premium Brand Toiletry Kits

Dear junior advertising associate,

This photo, taken at a Staten Island roller skating rink, reflects a fascinatingly dense maze of important social, political, and economic concepts. Of the academic, artistic, commercial, and journalistic applications this photo invites I will suggest just one. Your firm will pitch a new ad campaign to Coach targeting ironically conscious but fashionably confused affluent females ages 22 to 32. Companies are always looking for ways to penetrate markets outside their core demographic and if presented correctly, this campaign's oblique sensibility will attract both "savvy" label mavens and "savvy" label maven haters. Keep in mind that Coach's market value has been halved during the last six months. What this means for you is that suits in Coach's boardroom who are under the gun for new ways to grow profits will be more receptive than usual to ideas that radically alter their sacrosanct brand.

Congratulations in advance on your promotion.