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The Net Takeaway: Page 22


Danny Flamberg's Blog
Danny has been marketing for a while, and his articles and work reflect great understanding of data driven marketing.

Eric Peterson the Demystifier
Eric gets metrics, analytics, interactive, and the real world. His advice is worth taking...

Geeking with Greg
Greg Linden created Amazon's recommendation system, so imagine what can write about...

Ned Batchelder's Blog
Ned just finds and writes interesting things. I don't know how he does it.

R at LoyaltyMatrix
Jim Porzak tells of his real-life use of R for marketing analysis.






Skype annoys... · 06/29/2005 03:07 PM, Tech

I usually love Skype; we’ve called Russia, Israel, and the UK and connected with family and friends that used to cost a fortune to call. Yes, its free if both sides use Skype, but it costs (a small amount) to call landlines and a big amount to call mobiles, so always ask people if its their landline or not.

That being said, they have a really annoying “feature”. They don’t allow a credit card to pay for more than one account. So, when I filled up my wife’s Skype account, that was it. We share a credit card (as do most familes), so when I went to fill up my Skype account, it was rejected. Better still, CapitalOne put a hold on the card assuming there was fraud (sounds like Skype is not well respected, not a good sign for VOIP). Skype says that this is to prevent fraud, but I’ve never had another online service need this level of fraud protection, which sounds like they have security problems.

Got it all cleared up, but still have no way to pay for Skype other than using Paypal. They won’t take Amex, and I am not going to get another Visa just to fill up Skype.

I don’t understand why people have such a tough time with the Small-N situation. Instead of allowing just one, let a card be used for 4 total accounts. After that, reject; if you see abuse, close all accounts until its straightened out. That way, you don’t inconvenience real users, but you do stop mass abuse. Same for software license codes, by the way.

So, really want to give them my money, but they are making it exceedingly hard.

Lots of competitors popping up (JaJah, reviewed here) and first mover advantage may fade if people literally cannot get the money to the company.

BTW, ran across this article about an open source alternative called Gizmo. This is run by Michael Roberts of fame and now Linspire, a linux for windows users.

Anyway, its hard enough to get people to want to pay you, so a simple rule of business might be to try not to prevent that payment from happening via poor process. And perhaps time to consider some better fraud protection than the one card per account, since that substantially reduces my confidence that you can stop fraud. Silly me, but I am the customer.


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R Graph Gallery · 06/29/2005 01:32 AM, Analysis

This is a really interesting site. They show lots of samples of very complex and impressive looking R graphs… and then they show you how they were put together. Worth a cruise to see how powerful R graphs and charts have become.

Plus the site is nicely done with clever popovers driven by mousing over the graph (for example, on the home page). Make sure to use the “switch to code” and other features (even the keywords in the color highlighted code are hotlinked to an online R help file!).

R Graph Gallery:

PS: If you want to learn more about R, check out my whole section focused on the R Statistical System.

Comments? [1]

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"I don't have my cards on me..." · 06/27/2005 04:24 PM, Marketing

I’ve seen this more and more recently. In the past, people loved to share business cards… but in the last 3 months, I’ve seen everyone, from entry level employees to CEOs, conveniently “forget their cards”.

Why is there such a huge amnesia to business cards? We still can’t beam cards to each other (I know, bluetooth eliminates the IR issues, and vcf is read by everybody… but it still don’t work) so we still need this anachronism). Also, no one I know has a card scanner, so most of this content just sits on the card. Some folks say “I don’t need cards; just read the footer on my emails”… but that may be the biggest problem.

Many of the people I’m meeting are ones I haven’t emailed. So, without their card, I have no easy way to contact them again. And that may be their point.

Maybe, just maybe, they’ve made the decision that either a) I’m not worth wasting a card on, or b) I shouldn’t have permission to mail them.

In America, we don’t have a polite way to say “I actually don’t want to give you my card; you might mail me, call me, or give my info to someone else, and its out of my control at that point”… so we say “I forgot my cards” as the only polite out. Its even worse if the other person offers you one first; now you are obligated to give one even if you weren’t planning to… and out comes the excuse. It feels transparent to me, like “the dog ate my homework” or “a trans-dimensional muon had a probability sphere collapse right by my car, and I had to clean it, making me really late”, just excuses. (Ok, maybe that muon one feels even more transparent, but its so creative that you would give the person points for trying, I think).

You know, maybe its true. Maybe all these people just forgot their cards each time we meet. But I doubt it. I wish we could just be honest enough to say “If I want your card, I’ll ask for it”. I often say “Do you need a card?” to give the recipient an easy out. Perhaps its a good habit to get into. (Oh, another is not leaving the card on the table as you get up to go. Tacky on both sides).

(No post without links: lots of people tried to put business cards in their emails but most of them seemed to have gone. Here is one of the only ones I could find still around:


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Notes from London · 06/21/2005 10:31 PM, Personal

A few observations, none deep:


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Great Windows tips in recent PC Mag · 06/14/2005 10:59 AM, Tech

PC Magazine tends to forget that its about PCs, with more articles about digital cameras than computers these days. But every once in a while, they trip up and print something useful.

The June 28th, 2005 issue reprints some very useful Windows tips. If you find the below helpful, spend the money and grab the mag…

Also has stuff about Firefox, firewalls, and “save the day” tips. Some of this may get online at but I doubt much of it will… so grab it while you can.


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Custom Sort Order in Excel... · 05/31/2005 12:15 PM, Tech

Seen in the Lockergnome collection of tech resources (some good stuff here, by the quasi-famous Chris Pirillo).

By Diana Huggins, orginially published here:

You can instruct Excel to sort the data in a worksheet. If the sorting orders within Excel do not meet your requirements, you can create your own sorting order. For example, if you type in Red, Green, Blue, and Black, Excel would normally sort them in alphabetical order. However, if you do not want them sorted this way, you can create your own custom sort order by completing the steps listed below:

  1. Within Excel, click Tools and click Options.
  2. Select the Custom Lists tab.
  3. Under Custom Lists, verify that NEW LIST is highlighted.
  4. In the List Entries field, start typing in your list elements in the order they should be sorted. Make sure you press Enter after each element.
  5. Once you have typed in all the elements, press Add.
  6. Click OK.

You can now use the special sort order to sort your data. Select the cells that contain the data you want to sort. From the Data menu, click Sort. Select the Options button. Use the drop down arrow to select the sort order you created in the previous steps. Click OK. Click OK to close the Options dialog box.


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Histogram Table in SPSS? · 05/17/2005 07:30 PM, Analysis

You know, its pretty hard to get the table underlying a histogram in SPSS. Frequencies are easy to run, but if you want to bin the data and see how the buckets size up, you are sort of out of luck.

SPSS will gladly make the histogram graph for you (from many different places, including FREQUENCIES, GRAPH, IGRAPH, EXAMINE, etc.), but if you want to use the bins or pop the data into Excel for better charting and easier formatting, tough.

SPSS doesn’t want to make it easy. First off, they don’t want to tell you how they calc the bins. The below is from the SPSS Tech Notes, circa Sep 29, 2004.

Q: How are histograms binned in SPSS Base for Windows? I’d like to know the algorithm.

A: The algorithm is part of our intellectual property so we’re unable to provide too much detail. If you specify either the bar width or number of bars, that determines the interval directly. Otherwise the number of bars is calculated by an algorithm that uses statistical theory to suggest a number of bars that is optimal for a data set of the size provided, under an assumption of normally-distributed values. This optimal value may be overridden if the algorithm detects granularity in the data (i.e. values distributed at discrete locations). This granularity will be used to calculate interval widths when the number of bins suggested is not much larger than the value derived from the other algorithm.

Ok, great, but how do I then get the bins myself? There appears to be no way for me to call that process directly to create bins, so I have to rely on eyeballing the histogram graph to figure out the breaks. (BTW, Edit the chart, change the X axis to count of 1, and then the eyeballing is easier. Still insanely manual, but easier).

So, my current silly solution is a multistep and annoying process. First, hope you have v12 or above. Use Visual Bander to make some bins… but assume you will have to fix them. Then, either igraph or graph them… but of course, you will have to apply a chart template or risk getting either the fire-engine red or kakhi-on-grey color scheme, neither of which are client-ready.

If you don’t have the visual bander, the syntax winds up looking like this:

*Visual Bander.
RECODE mailcnt_mean
     ( MISSING = COPY )
     ( LO THRU 0 =1 )
     ( LO THRU 10 =2 )
     ( LO THRU 20 =3 )
     ( LO THRU 30 =4 )
     ( LO THRU 40 =5 )
     ( LO THRU 50 =6 )
     ( LO THRU HI = 7 )
     ( ELSE = SYSMIS ) INTO mailcnt_bnd.
VARIABLE LABELS mailcnt_bnd 'mailcnt_mean (Banded)'.
FORMAT mailcnt_bnd (F5.0).
VALUE LABELS mailcnt_bnd
        1  '<= 0'
        2  '1 - 10'
        3  '11 - 20'
        4  '21 - 30'
        5  '31 - 40'
        6  '41 - 50'
        7  '51+'.
MISSING VALUES mailcnt_bnd ( ).

For some reason, SPSS made the labels 11.00 vs. 11, so I hand edited them for my purposes. And yes, I wasn’t really n-tiling, I wanted things which made sense for my viewers, hence the even breaks. Rank and a few of the other procedures can help with n-tiles, but even that is a pain.

This was really tons of work. I think SPSS should allow the histogram (no matter what procedure made it, including graph or igraph) to also generate a table.

Ah well, another thing to dream of getting.

BTW: to change the variable “level” from Scale to Nominal or Ordinal, try

Variable Level
     Var 1 var2 (Scale)
     /var3 var4 (Nominal)
     /var5 (Ordinal) .

Comments? [1]

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Benchmark Study of Desktop Search Tools... · 05/05/2005 11:59 AM, Search

The University of Wisconsin at Madison E-Business Institute has reviewed a slew of desktop search tools. Some nice findings. Like me, they like Copernic. They also menion some that I haven’t paid much attention to, such as Wizetech’s Archivarius. Note that some of these tools are free, others cost.

Full report is a PDF.


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Too Much Advertising? · 05/02/2005 03:46 PM, Marketing

In my rush to get out of Heathrow recently (Lufthansa lost my return ticket, then found it, etc. etc.), I was stopped by one of the more annoying advertising gimmicks I’d ever seen.


Appears to be more popular in the UK than here… but I’m sure its coming.

More examples here.

Trust me, the last product I want to buy is the one that’s so desperate that it buys space on the escalator rail. Oh, and great recall factor: I can’t remember who it was who advertised there. Good use of money.

Now, if they provided a service by giving scrolling news or something, so as I went up, I could see stocks, news, or sports scores… now that is something worth sponsoring… but this is just plain dumb.

BTW, HowStuffWorks has a great section on how escalators work, in case you are wondering how they clear all the leftover stairs out of the basement.


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Good, not great, pens. · 04/24/2005 06:15 PM, Trivial

I enjoy a good fountain pen. Like my fascination with quality watches, its great fun to just have the ink flow the way it used to, no balls, no feeders, just ink and pen.

But, fountain pens in the US is a strange market. In Europe, its easy to get affordable and quality pens in any office supply shop. Every school-kid has at least one. And though Bic (a French company, dontcha know) ballpoints are becoming more and more popular, its still easy to get an affordable and fun little pen.

Not so here. The best pens are all imports. Yes, our local Cross brand (Rhode Island, USA) makes some OK stuff… but for the most part, you have to get French, German, or Japanese pens if you don’t want to spend too much.

But even these have problems. Note that these are not “collector” pens; these are nice pens that are affordable enough that you don’t mind walking around with them and possibly losing them.

For example, Lamy is a stylish German brand making modern looking pens. I particularly like the Aluminum Safari aka AlStar (I have no preference for this shop; it was first in a google search) but after only a year of use, the cap started falling off from a hard stare. Put the pen in your pocket, and walk… and the cap comes off and the big ink stain ruins yet another pair of pants. What a pain. The plastic ones, like this transparent Safari are just as good looking… and just as poorly capped.

Another famous brand is the Rotring (also german). I particularly like the Rotring Newton but same problem. After less than a year of use, the snap cap has stopped snapping. Instant useless pen. Yep, if the cap won’t make a seal, the ink dries out at the tip requiring constant cleaning.

Waterman is another high quality brand which uses these snap caps… which stop snapping within a year. And these cost more than the above, which makes it all hurt more.

Like everything else, conglomerated. Sanford owns Rotring, for example, as well as Waterman and Parker (see the whole list)... and they are owned by Newell Rubbermaid.

Anyway, what to do? One option: get over it, and just use cheap pens. Another: many fountain pens are screwtops, but few of the low end pens are available with this feature.

Another option, and my current fave, is the Namiki Vanishing Point... well, now known by its parent company name as Pilot; did you know they were Japanese? (BTW, this link goes to the Fountain Pen Hospital, a great shop and repair place). Actually, these new versions look kinda fat and I don’t really love the look, but the original version of the pen was slim and svelte… Note how the clip glides into the nib holder, not tacked on like the current version. That old one was a beautiful pen, and they had to ruin it.

Anyway, the cool thing about the VP is that it clicks like a ballpoint. Press the top, and the nib slides out. Click it again, and the nib slides back behind a door sealing it. Great compromise, and no caps to fall off in one’s pocket. Around $100 us in many places, sometimes as cheap as $92 if you hunt, or cheaper on Ebay.

BTW, nice article on the history of the pen. Always fun to compare engineering and tech history of these old things to our modern world, and to see how history repeats, even when you switch from ink to silicon (or photons). Follow the money… and hopefully, we can create an aspect of technology which creates snapping pen caps… which actually stay snapped on after use.

Comments? [1]

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