Saturday, January 16, 2010

America Can't Get Enough of Sully

It's been a year since Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger acted calm under pressure, relied on his training, showed leadership acting as a team with a very capable co-pilot, Jeffrey Skiles, and successfully put US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River in New York after a bird strike during takeoff.  "Cactus" 1549, as the air traffic controllers called it, had 155 passengers on board and except for a few bumps and bruises - and quite a scare - were no worse for wear.

In this Associated Press photo, many of the members of that short flight gathered Friday to commemorate the event's anniversary.  And who (rightfully) was center to the proceedings?  Sully.

Captain Sullenberger has been on the speaking tour, he has written a book and others have written about the event, and has become something of an icon.

In these days of irresponsible Hollywood types that get press for extreme misbehaving (the topic of another RANT! some day), Sully is a breath of fresh air.  The right kind of media topic we can enjoy seeing plastered everywhere.

My favorite example of what has come out of this event is a computer reenactment of the flight, complete with bird strike and air traffic control audio.  Exoshpere3D is a "visualization" company that used the released information from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report.

I can't stop watching it. Take the time to allow it to load in HD and watch in full screen mode. If you are a pilot or have even a slight fascination with our our air traffic control system works, you may not be able to stop either.


Way to go, Sully!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Starbucks Responding to Incentives

It has been a while since I posted a Memorable Merchant, but I was so pleasantly surprised recently during a Starbucks visit, I had to dust it off.

While hanging out waiting for the girls to finish shopping a while back, I ran across a brochure talking about a relatively new program called My Starbucks Rewards.  Although I'm a loyal Starbucks customer, I did not know about this until now since my regular visits are at my local Safeway Starbucks kiosk and not a physical store. The current program is a nice evolution to something actually started in the past.

In the past, Starbucks had various forms of rewards programs that included the use of their Visa card to track purchases. Believing that one credit card and a debit card are all the plastic I need, along with no doubt countless other customers, Starbucks saw the wisdom in not requiring a proprietary Visa and combined the program.

They did it right.

Now (and long overdue,) Starbucks is tracking purchases via registered gift cards, using the typical "frequent flier" model:  the more you use it, the better the rewards.  The only change in my habits is the use of a gift card (and regular re-loads.) Three levels exist:
  • Welcome (black; beginner): free drink on your birthday; 2 free continuous hours wi-fi access
  • Green (5 stars earned): Black level rewards; free beverage customization (syrup and milk options/soy); free refills on brewed or iced coffee; free beverage with whole bean purchase; free trial offers
  • Gold (30 stars earned): Green level rewards; free drink every 15 stars; personalized gold card; personalized offers and coupons

You can get more details here.

Being someone who is always in the hunt for "miles," I appreciate getting credit for my purchases. It is interesting though (and a testament to Starbucks' dominance in the past,) that they are only in the recent past, becoming "competitive."  As recent as only a couple of years ago, they told Safeway to stop the "buy 7 and get one free" promotion as part of the Safeway Club Card.  The message: we don't need to entice people to drink our brew.

That has changed.

My economics professor in college, Dr. Ted Scheinmann, used to say, "people respond to incentives."  I quote him often since it is not only his, but the overall basic axiom of economics.  Starbucks originally (and for some time) had people responding just because they could afford expensive, but very enjoyable drinks, in very pleasant environments.  As competition has tightened from the likes of McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts (another good thing for consumers from an economics point of view,) Starbucks has needed to employ Dr. Scheinmann's axiom to keep customers responding.

It's working for me.  Since the sign-up via Blackberry from the "shopping" Starbucks, I have seven stars.  I'll be Gold in just 23 more.  Safeway kiosks aren't equipped to deliver the "rewards," but my everyday purchases count as stars.  At my pace, that's only about a month. 

Dave is "responding to incentives."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Memorable Merchant: New Choice Health

I know, you're thinking I'm going to pitch the merits of some insurance company.  Blah, blah, they paid everything, blah, blah, blah.


I learned about New Choice Health today from a podcast on NPR's Planet Money.  NewChoiceHealth, Inc. is a leading online comparison shopping marketplace built for the sole purpose of providing healthcare consumers a way to save money. Consumers can easily locate medical facilities and compare medical procedure costs for common procedures such as MRIs, CT Scans, Mammograms, and more.  You can shop nationwide or right in your own local market from over 20,000 medical facilities for over 400 of the most commonly performed medical procedures.

The podcast's topic was related to health care and why hospitals charge so much.  That's a big bucket and a topic all by itself for another time.  The part that struck me was the ease at which the average patient (consumer) can shop for medical services using

First some background about the founder.  From their About Us page:

"Brad Myers is a medical cost expert and a founder of Brad has over 24 years of broad experience in the healthcare industry with extensive knowledge in medical cost informatics, healthcare insurance, managed care, clinical laboratory, and health and life insurance. It was his passion that drove him to bring price transparency to healthcare consumers through the web site It’s a simple message we are trying to bring to consumers, "shop and save!"

Being a "50-something" I decided to select an example of something near and dear to my... well... er... um... heart.  Here's a partial look at a search done for a colonoscopy in the Portland, Oregon area and the dramatic differences in pricing:

As I said before, the overall cost of health care is a topic for another day.  But I need to make an important point.  Many of us are fortunate enough to have insurance coverage, and our out of pocket costs for a procedure like this is small, relative to the published prices.  Because of that insurance, we simply don't have a good feel for what something costs.  Frankly, I was shocked to know the cost - and the range of costs.

For everyone thinking about any sort of medical procedure (even you, "Perfect Specimen John,") shop around.  You will likely save yourself some money.  For those procedures covered by insurance, the more we take action to reduce costs, the more competition there will be, and the lower costs will become.  Economics 101 - yet another topic for another day.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Friday, January 1, 2010

My Other Blogs

Recently, I added two badges to my sidebar, sharing my other blogging properties.  There was a period of time recently where all of my blogging activities ceased.  As I've refocused on my existing blogs - and have begun designing a new one - I have taken some steps to promote them by making them more visible.  In this case, it's creating their own badges.

The Ultimate Blogging Toolkit is a place where I've been documenting my experiences blogging.  As the badge indicates, it is a place for Free Blog Reviews, Blogging Resources and of course, Rhetoric.

Energication is a relatively new effort, tying into my past experience as a school board member.  Here, I attempt to connect the many aspects of renewable energy to their application in our schools.  Making the critical nature of renewable energy sources, the science behind them, and the impacts to our society relevant to students and educators at all levels is the number one priority.  This Welcome post provides the best background and Energication To Date provides an easy way to start at the beginning and walk your way to the present.

I hope you enjoy my other projects.