Monthly Archives: July 2008

Ticket Chaos in Beijing for Olympics

I have a close friend who lives and works in Beijing. He wrote me an email about his experience getting tickets for the Olympics today, and he said it would be okay to share this with the rest of you- I thought you would find the contracts between his report and the AP interesting.

The Ticket to Chaos in Beijing

July 25 was the first day the general public in Beijing could buy Olympics tickets. As reported in the media, the experience was quite colorful. The trip began well on the newly completed, Line 10 train. The station was clean, a platform was not crowded, and the air-conditioned train took me to my final destination very quickly.

Things changed the second I left the modern embrace of the subway. First of all the ticket area was a very long walk away from the train station. Since it was smoggy and 34¢XC, with no shade, it was not fun hiking around the 2 km barrier set up by the police around the ticket office. After walking several antiaircraft missile batteries, I finally got to my destination. It was not a pretty scene. There was a huge crowd standing in a dirty fenced off area being held back by at least 100 police. It was a sea of light blue normal police and green clothed military police pushing back against the hot and unhappy crowd.

Although I tried to be inconspicuous, the police noticed my camera and assumed that I was a journalist. In one second, I changed from just another white face to a threat that required at least five police officers to take control of the situation. Their immediate response was to tell to leave the area and to say that I could only take pictures in a far-away but somehow authorized place. This is a good metaphor for life in China: In general, the authorities let you do what you want but if you cross a line, force comes out quickly and in numbers. A possible journal story on a near riot during ticket sales would be an embarrassment to China so they did not want me there recording it. Oddly, locals were free to take pictures of everything. Of course, the western press found a way to record the event anyway! I have pasted an AP story below.

Unfortunately for the police, I was not their biggest problem since the crowd was looking increasingly agitated. One woman collapsed from heat while things were becoming a pushing match between people and the police. Seeing that things were venturing too close to violence, I chose prudence instead of valor and went to another venue to get tickets. The good news is that I actually succeeded! There were also lots of happy locals around ¡V some intended to see the games while others bought tickets with the hope of reselling them at a huge profit later. Between buying great but horribly expensive tickets from someone I knew and surviving the heat and humidity to buy more tickets, I’m the proud owner of four Olympics tickets. Best of all, no one confiscated my camera or hit me. Not everyone was so lucky.

Here is the AP Story about the same event!

Ugly Scenes as Beijingers Snap up Last Olympic Tickets

– Associated Press

Violence broke out on Friday among the more than 50,000 people who queued to grab the last batch of Olympic tickets on sale in Beijing, as police struggled to control the frustrated fans. The mood was tense and strained as angry people — some of whom had been queuing for two days — jostled to maintain or improve their place in the long line. At one point the surging crowd broke through a control barrier and lurched towards the ticket counters.

In hot and dusty conditions, some groups in the crowd chanted insults at the police who were seen dragging people out of the line and kicking and punching them before leading them away. “The police didn’t have a clue how many people would come here and there was no organization at all, it was chaos,” said Wang Zhongliang, a delivery worker for UPS.

It was the last chance for Chinese to buy tickets for the Games, with 250,000 on sale at several locations in Beijing from 9:00am (0100 GMT) for events including athletics, diving, and gymnastics.

Demand was so high that more than 10,000 people were in the line by Thursday at one of the main ticket selling centres near the Olympic Stadium, district police chief Xiong Xingguo said. By early Friday huge reinforcements of police were moved in to maintain order as numbers ballooned to between 40,000 and 50,000, Xiong said.

Xiong conceded that police had been taken by surprise by the numbers. “The situation was chaotic and difficult,” he said. “Once the newspapers released the news about the ticket sale, too many people came at once so we had a security problem.”

A Hong Kong journalist was detained by police on Friday while covering the chaotic scenes, organisers and an AFP witness said.

Despite the pushing, jostling and discomfort, Xu Wengang, an information technology expert, said that he thought the method of ticket sales was fair.

“This way everybody gets a chance. But that’s also the problem, because so many people came. It’s a lot of trouble but it’s fair,” said Xu, 30, looking for tickets for the synchronised swimming. There were smiles too from people like 23-year-old Lei Peng, who had slept on the footpath for two nights.

The engineering graduate from eastern China‘s Anhui province was close to the head of one massive queue and managed to score two seats to one of the hottest event of the Games ¡V the final of the men’s 110m hurdles.

Chinese hopes for an athletics gold medal rest on Olympic and world champion Liu Xiang who is defending his 110m hurdles title.

“It was hard but worth it,” said Lei, who had been queuing since midday on Wednesday. Han Ruxiang, 76, had spent two nights sleeping on a bamboo mat so that he and his 67-year-old wife could see the finals of the diving competition.

“How can you be Chinese and not go to the Olympics when it is in China?” he said. “I am tired but so happy.”

Unlike Han, others were not prepared to queue for themselves. Ding Ye, 27, said she had got two tickets for the diving competition for her boss who runs a food supply company. “He sent me in his place,” she said.

There is a flourishing black market in selling tickets at a massive profit, even though scalping has been outlawed. Police have arrested 60 touts over the past two months, according to state media reports.

Outside Beijing, 570,000 tickets for football matches went on sale in football competition host cities Tianjin, Shanghai, Qinhuangdao and Shenyang. Altogether around seven million tickets were up for sale for the Games, with around 75 percent going to China‘s vast domestic audience, with the rest made available overseas through each country’s National Olympic Committee.

Friday’s release of tickets was the fourth and final round of sales for the August 8-24 Games.

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Social Connection

This is a follow up to my recent post on the Social Contract.

Humans have a basic need for social connection.  The experiments done by Harlow and others in the 50’s show that primates need touch and nurturing to do well.  In fact, many of the cases of failure to thrive in infants may be due to a lack of love and stimulation in a caring, loving environment.

This does not go away as we get older.   People most prone to suicide are those with little or no social connections; and elderly people become more and more likely to pass away after a spouse passes away as well.    There’s a great book where you can read more on all these phenomena called Connect: 12 Vital Ties that Open Your Heart, Lengthen Your Life and Deepen Your Soul by Edward M Hallowell, MD (well-known for his work on ADHD.)

As this applies to my previous post on social connections, I don’t think the basic need for humans to connect has changed over time.  Even online in social media, we are essentially looking for connections to others for business and personal reasons- other people who “get us” especially when we are not particularly connected to our real world communities.

People still have to deal with the paradox of wanting to be simultaneously recognized for our individuality and value, while contributing to something larger and more important than ourselves.  Essentially, we want to answer those big questions- What Will I Be Remembered For?  What Will I Accomplish?  Why Am I Here?  Where Do I Want To Be?

I think it has become so easy to chase the job, the money, the dream, or whatever, that we sometimes lose patience with working it out where we are.  People leave jobs, relationships and marriages because they are frustrated and have lost patience in trying to get it right with the job/person they’re with.  Sometimes, the situation is unfixable.  Other times, we leave situations because we are bored, and blame other people for not filling all of our needs.  (Often I think some of those needs are things you should expect to fill for yourself, but that’s another blog post entirely).

I hope we are all on a quest to become better people.  I hope we all understand that no one else or no specific job can make you happy – that’s your responsibility.  It’s nobody’s job to make your life easier unless you are specifically paying them to do so.

That being said, I think we have to take a larger view through the lens.  We can’t always look at what’s best for us without considering the impact we have on others, or the downstream consequences of our actions.  I don’t mean this to imply we all need to become Hamlet and have “paralysis by analysis”.  We need to act, we need to protect ourselves and our families, but we also have to understand that there are real benefits that come from being connected to others, nurturing relationships, sharing, and not giving up just when it gets a little hard.

I hope the transiency that exists in our society today is not breeding a culture based on filling only temporary needs and no longer looking past the next quarter’s profit and loss statement to figure out value.  If we remain myopic about the big picture, all the short term churning is for naught.  Just look at everyone who took out big home loans, thinking interest rates would never go up, and are now losing their homes in the mortgage crisis.  This is looking at the short term- What Seems Great For Me without considering downstream issues at all.  And the cost is gonna be pretty high for them, and now for the rest of us with the bail out currently in the works in DC.

So I guess what I am trying to say here, whether we like it or not, we are all interconnected.  What’s good for you may not always be what’s good for me, but maybe if we work together we can both win, as well.

What do you think?  Do you have online proxys for connectedness that take you out of your real life communities?  Is connectedness to your neighbors, social institutions, things outside of your immediate family important?

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What’s happened to the Social Contract?

There’s a great blog post over at IT Toolbox, on the Original Thinking blog by Dennis Stevenson on The Myth of Job Security- Employer Version, with a promise for a follow up giving the employee’s point of view. I was going to comment, but because my comment was so long, I thought a separate blog post was more appropriate.

Job security is largely seen as old fashioned these days. People are downsized as soon as their salaries get too large and the business feels they can be easily replaced with a cheaper and less expensive worker-widget. Likewise, employees are just as likely to jump ship as soon as a more attractive offer comes along. But what is the fall out from all this movement, seeking out the better, cheaper and faster ways to accomplish everything?

I think the interesting contrast here is when there is no longer any “job security”, there is no reason for employees to have any loyalty to the greater mission or goals of the enterprise, no matter what the size. Therefore, their only core motivation has to be what is best for them and their families- a mercenary “available to highest bidder” mentality. And why should it be different? With no social contract between the employee and employer anymore, other than that of health care and any remaining employee benefits, there is no reason to stick around and keep your money on the table, so to speak, with your employer, since they are just as likely to terminate you without any warning at their earliest convenience. And should you bother to “do the right thing” and provide notice? Why? The favor is rarely returned in kind. The social contract is (has) disintegrated over time- there are no more rules as to what is appropriate.

I grew up in Rochester NY, a company town with Kodak, Xerox and more for many years. The decline of “cradle to grave” job security has changed the nature of the community, now making the town more transient than ever before. People go where the job is more and more rather than stay in their current situation if a job is terminated. Families rarely live in the same town where one or both parents grew up. The social ties of living in a place where everyone knows your name is becoming an anachronism more and more.

This means less long term investment in social infrastructure in real life communities, like museums, art galleries, churches, charitable organizations, etc. Why should people spend their precious time and resources supporting the community when they are just transient residents in nature, and will never personally benefit from any of the good they are doing? Regular towns and cities are becoming mere way stations along a pathway of jobs, and people have no more incentive to make a long term investment in the success of schools or civic organizations than summer time residents of beach communities do in making sure those towns are sustainable 365 days of the year. They only care that their needs are met at a price they can afford during their brief stint to pump some money into the local economy, and then their contribution is over.

This is true just about everywhere- we are seeing the same transition happen in Wilmington, DE now that MBNA has been bought out by Bank of America. The lack of job security means lack of loyalty on both the part of the employer and employee, and people speak of just doing what they have to to get by, not investing in any sort of larger sense of contributing to a company- they are just collecting a paycheck, nothing more.

I agree businesses can’t necessarily be job charities, but by totally forgoing the social contract of employment, they gain no loyalty and thus the same people who businesses have invested time and money to train and educate have no reason to stay in that position if they can get a better deal elsewhere. I’m not sure this is necessarily a long-term success strategy for helping all boats to rise, so to speak, but it does create cut throat competition where people become more isolated and only concerned for themselves. You can’t expect people to “take one for the team” and act altruistically if the team is unlikely to return the favor.

What do you think? How do we balance efficiency and economics with the importance of building sustainable communities for the long term? Is it possible?

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Law of Supply and Demand

In this world, much of it works by the economic theory of supply and demand.  This means that typically, when supply is tight, the price will be higher than when a commodity is in abundance, in which case the “equilibrium” price will be lower.  (see the graph below.)

Take, for example, tickets to a rock concert. Supply is limited, meaning the quantity is limited.  Optimal pricing will balance supply and demand so that (best case scenario) all tickets will be sold, maximizing revenue for the venue and performer.  If the price is too low, the venue and performers are leaving money on the table; if the price is too high, tickets won’t all be sold, meaning a potential loss of maximum revenue for everyone involved.  If the group playing is really popular, tickets may sell out quickly and a secondary market (ie scalping) will develop- but this market only creates profit for those willing to sell tickets- no additional revenue is gained by the performer or venue in this transaction.

If I wait too long to purchase my ticket to an event, I may find I incur a penalty- I may be left to try to find a ticket on the secondary market and have to pay a significant premium, and will have to judge whether or not that “extra” is worth it to me.

Likewise, some events, like Podcasters Across Borders have an “early bird” discount for people willing to commit to attend the event early.  If you register after that date, you pay full price.  Podcamp Boston has an attendance fee this year, and has recently placed a premium on the few remaining tickets.  Why is this?

Each additional person deciding at the last minute to attend the event has placed a stress on the organizers and venue.  Catering menus have to be altered, and additional costs incurred.  Swag was ordered per deadline weeks ago, and the additional attendees mean there may be a shortage, incurred because a few people did not register sufficiently ahead to allow organizers to plan for them.  I understand people have things come up and must alter their plans.  That’s normal.  But I think all of us in New Media who are reluctant to plan our lives more than a week in advance have to begin to realize that failure to plan ahead will begin to make it more and more likely that a premium will be incurred.  If you are willing to pay the premium, please, go ahead and continue to make last minute plans.  If you are unhappy about paying more, please plan a bit more in advance.  But please don’t complain to the hard working organizers of events for the extra cost- they are working hard to meet the needs of many people, and your last minute planning causes them many headaches.  please be considerate and plan ahead, and everyone will win.  Law of Supply and Demand.

Supply and Demans

Supply and Demand

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Your Failure to Plan Ahead Is Not My Emergency

As many of you know, I have been involved in the planning and execution of a number of Podcamps to date, and I’ve also been involved in providing onsite services to people with disabilities at the Super Bowl in the past. Being part of these large events, inevitably there are last minute fires requiring attention and creative solutions, ranging in degree from “tea candle” to “forest fire”.

And I am left with on default position: “Your failure to plan ahead can no longer constitute an emergency on my part.”

When planning Podcamps for example, schwag like T-shirts have to be ordered weeks in advance. Catering menus need to be set at least a week or more in advance. Yet, at almost every podcamp, there is a mysterious increase in the number of people deciding at the last minute to attend or not attend. This includes speakers cancelling at the last minute, not just attendees, after a schedule has been set, and there is no time to get someone to take their place nor disseminate that information adequately.

I’ve come to expect a certain amount of this last minute stuff with our internet/social media crowd. But I still don’t think it’s really okay. And I think unless planners are willing to put their foot down at some point and say no, no matter how much we would rather say yes, we will continue to get people expecting last minute accommodations because they are unwilling to commit, one way or another, in advance.

We all have last minute emergencies. People get sick. Life happens. But if I buy tickets to a concert and find I am unable to go, that is not the performer’s problem, nor the venue. It is up to me to find someone to go in my stead, or simply “eat” the ticket. If I fail to make dinner reservations in advance, I might not be able to eat at the time or place I wanted to. That’s life, pure and simple.

For Podcamp in particular, every additional person means providing an additional bag/shirt/coffee/chair well after the plans have been solidified and put to bed, and if we haven’t been able to “guess” appropriately in advance, we end up with either too many or too few shirts/food/rooms etc. to meet demand. We can’t do our jobs as well as e would like or have planned, because the last minute folks want to come play.

Don’t get me wrong- I am thrilled when Podcamps seem to develop a buzz and people get excited to attend. I love hosting an event that people find engaging and sometimes even life changing. There’s nothing better. But i do hope people understand as well that their last minute changes cost the organizers lots of extra time and energy just when they are most stressed. When you are in the run-up to an event, there are many details to pin down, and all the last minute changes can make you crazy. The more people fail to plan ahead, the more difficult the job.

So I ask for your cooperation. Please plan ahead as far as possible. Be considerate of the organizers, who are doing this as volunteers. Please be patient, and understanding if things aren’t perfect. And please understand, before changing plans at the last minute, how your changes impact others. And please understand if your last minute change is not the only thing on our lists to handle. We love you and want to help, but so does everyone else. And please understand your last minute need can’t always be my emergency. The tickets for that show have been sold out for days.

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Being Smart With Money

One of the things I think we do REALLY poorly in this country is teaching our kids how money works. I didn’t get a course in economics until college, but most of the best lessons I learned about money were through various jobs. One was working as a customer service rep for Citibank Student Loans during college, as a summer job. Another was working for a law firm that did a large amount of collections. If you want to see what happens to people and the bad choices they make, look at someone who is getting a home foreclosed, evicted from an apartment, or having various possessions seized for not paying their bills.

Since I know many people starting small businesses, I thought I would lay out some of the basics of money and business I’ve learned over the years, hoping it can help you avoid learning some painful lessons.

1. If you can’t pay for it in cash, now or in the next month, don’t charge it.

People get into trouble with credit all the time, because whipping out a plastic card doesn’t “feel” like paying for something. This is why I make my kids pay for things in cash, or immediately on returning to the house, pay me in cash for whatever I have “fronted” for them at the store. Anything you don’t feel the pain for at the moment of purchase is likely to be forgotten, and then it’s easy to end up with a surprising and overwhelming credit card bill at the end of the month.

Secondly on this point, the interest charged by credit card companies is enormous. It would be usury, except most credit card companies have located themselves in states like Delaware and South Dakota where there are virtually no caps on the interest that can be charged on consumer loans.

If you need help getting this under control, remind yourself that taking anything from a store without paying for it would be stealing. Also consider how many months it would take you to pay off said item, add the interest you pay on your credit card to the purchase price, and decide then and there, whether that price is such a bargain.

2. Understand how Companies Calculate Interest, and How Your Payment is Applied.
When you send in a mortgage payment, loan payment, or credit card payment, the interest balance gets paid off first, and whatever is left over gets applied to the principal. So if you want to reduce you debt the fastest way possible, consider doubling up payments on that student loan, for example, or tossing a little more money towards your mortgage every month. All that extra money goes directly against the principal, meaning the interest charge is less in the long run (it’s being calculated against the principal owed each month) and you make faster progress paying off that loan.

We used this process to accelerate the pay off of our student loans. Between my husband and myself, we had about $40,000 worth of loans for college and graduate school. By doing this for one loan at a time, we gradually managed to have more monthly money to then pay down the next loan, with the process leading to paying off the loans within three years rather than 10. we are currently planning to start the same process to keep our mortgage balance decreasing at an expedited rate as well.

3. Understand What You Need and What You Want (and how to tell the difference).
I do like nice things, like Coach handbags. The leather ones are pretty attractive and very well made. But I frequently get items like these from consignment shops and ebay- gently used items in good condition. I can have the luxury goods I want at a fraction of the price. And spending $40 for a bag that may have originally cost someone $250 or more works for me- I get what I want, for a fraction of the price. And even if I want a “new one”, I make sure I save up for it- a few dollars each week in the “mad money” jar. Surprisingly, even when I reach the goal, I have a hard time converting that money into one item, and I rethink the purchase, avoiding buyer’s remorse in the meantime. When I do buy it, I feel it’s well earned and value the subsequent purchase more than I might have had I just whipped out the credit card at the time.

Do I need a fancy handbag? Maybe, but unlikely- it may help me feel polished at client meetings, but mostly it’s utilitarian. I may want one, but other bags can fill the need just as well. So if you can merge the want and need and find a cheaper alternative to the want part, you win on both fronts. You get a want and need satisfied.

4. Understanding Necessity.
People get this one wrong all the time. I once had to evict a college student out of an apartment when they were three months behind on the rent. Instead, they were paying credit card bills, the electric, etc. Well, the credit card company will not give you a roof over your head. Having paid the electric won’t help you much if you can’t live in the place where the electric is turned on. So you need to prioritize your spending, big and small. Priorities should be Food & shelter, then other items on the list.

a) Having a roof over your head. Pay the rent and mortgage first.
Without a roof over your head, then you have no where to put the other stuff you might want to buy. Owning a house or condo rather than renting means those monthly payments are giving you an ownership interest in your home, so to speak- it’s investing money you may get a return on in the future, as well as the privilege of living in a place. So when you get ready to move, you get money you can use towards buying your next place to live, rather than having to save up for first, last and security on a new rental somewhere.
b) Next, pay utilities. You need electric, gas, water, etc. they make your home livable. Not optional expenses.
c) Food and clothing. Buy reasonable groceries- you can eat at home for less than you can eat out. You need to be able to buy clothes for work, but consider things that don’t cost you after the purchase, such as things that you can launder at home versus dry cleaning, which is expensive.
d) health insurance. If you have kids, you need health insurance. No way around this one. That next snotty nose could cost you big time.
e) Cash flow and Income Stream.
Before you quit your comfy job because you are bored or want to try something new, make sure you have a way to afford health insurance. I would rather moonlight on a new project and be tired than give up something that is guaranteed to pay the bills. You have got to make sure all the basics are covered, month after month, before you can even consider moving to a job with a more speculative income stream. Being your own boss seems like a great thing, but if you get sick, you can’t work and there’s no money coming in. And bad things happen.

In addition, the escalating costs for fuel and its downstream effect on food and consumer goods means everyone’s budget is in flux. Your budget may not be constant now, and you need to have some “play” in your cash flow to be able to compensate for this moving target. Without a savings cushion, or enough room in your budget to allow for “cost over-runs”, you will quickly find yourself in deep doo-doo.

The deep, dark secret about money is that it is a tool. When you have more of it, it actually becomes harder to make financial errors- you get preferential treatment at the bank, over-draft protection, and the like. When you don’t, you get nailed for a ridiculous amount of added costs penalizing you for not handling your money well- bounced check fees, higher interest rates, etc.

You can’t afford not to understand how money works. Little mistakes will cost you financially, and put your road towards security in jeopardy. Understanding money, budget priorities, and how to get ahead will make it infinitely easier to do.

Take it from someone who used to have to collect money from people, or find legal ways to make them pay what they owed. You can’t avoid the debt collector forever- and if you manage things well, you’ll never have to talk to one of these people ever.

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Helping Others Out

How do we decide when and how to help other people?

We’re all asked to donate to different causes daily.  Over the past month alone, I have been asked to give to Habitat for Humanity, The Nature Conservancy, Doctors Without Borders, The Smile Train, the local food pantry, the fraternal order of police, various alumni groups, public radio, and numerous online causes.  They just want my money.  The people who want my time and energy constitute a list equally as long, if not longer.

I am getting fatigued.  I feel like I definitely have to pick and choose which causes I donate to; what projects I give my time and energy to- I do not have infiinite resources in either department.  I have a family; I have a business; I am stressed like everyone else, and worried about the direction the Country and Economy are heading.

But the bottom line is this: I also have to take care of my own “needs” and maybe even a few “wants” and then I can spare some extra for your project.  I am sometimes foolish with both my time and my money, not always choosing based on “highest value or return” but based on things I care about.  I have ADHD so I often have my fingers in many projects, but if I am working on something, I intend to see it through.  If I help you out on your project or cause, it’s because I honestly believe you can have a positive impact on the world through what you’re doing.

I have no problem helping people out who need the assistance.  But I want them to have made the decision about how to solve their problem on their own before asking me for help, as well.  And then if help is offerred, I expect that it will be appreciated and not taken for granted in turn.

Earlier this year, a bunch of people helped me to help a mom in China running a school for autistic children- one of the few in all of China, trying to provide a lace for these kids to go once their schooling was completed, so they had a future.  The response was overwhelming, and we sent over $1,500 to Ma Chen in China as a result.  Ma Chen wrote and told me about what the gift meant to her and her school- but the most important part to me was that Moms in the US were able to help Moms in China out of the goodness of their hearts.

Some people on the internet start Chip-ins, asking friends, family and complete strangers to help them pay for things like trips to conferences or other “wants” not “needs”.  I think we have to triage out when we ask others for help, and when we just have to be industrious little bunnies and save the money until we can afford “x”.  Or finance it.  Or ask your folks for a loan.  Or have a bake sale or run a lemonade stand or take a second job.  Heck- I even require my silly little new media business to be budget neutral, and took a tutoring job to pay for my “habit” and all the accessories it requires.

So what I am asking, in part because I am asked to help out so very many people, is to turn to your community for financial support as the very last resort.  Be fiscally and financially responsible.  If you have to charge it, do so.  Save the money you need first.  Do whatever you can to solve your problem on your own before asking your friends to solve it for you.  And then, I am more than happy to help you out with a very happy and joyous heart.

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