Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How To Opt Out of Interest-Based Ads on Yahoo!, and Transition Frustration Just Prior

Earlier today, I logged onto Yahoo! Mail as usual. Suddenly in the middle of my session, a dialog window popped up over my screen, informing me that I needed to accept Yahoo's new privacy policy and agree to interest-based ads to continue:
"Yahoo! Mail is now even faster, safer, and easier to use. Yahoo! now automatically identifies items such as words, links, people, and subjects from your email to learn what matters to you so that we can deliver exciting new product features and relevant ads.  Before you can access Yahoo! Mail, we need your consent to our new Terms of Service and the Yahoo! Mail Privacy Policy. Learn more about how we protect your privacy."
I tried to get out of it, clicking "Cancel" numerous times, but to no avail.  The only way to get back to reading my emails, or using my account in any way for that matter, was to succumb and press the "I Accept" button. I wasn't even able to get to the "Help" pages to email Yahoo! any questions I had about this new Terms of Service agreement.

Also beyond that, the link to the new privacy policy and "Learn More" link in the dialog just brought up error pages. I'm assuming this was a user overload glitch due to updating too many accounts at once?, but look at the user experience here. You have to agree to something you can't even see at the moment, and all to continue writing that important email reply that needed to be sent asap. How unfair a tactic Yahoo has pulled on this one.

This whole "locking me out of my account until I accepted" seems pretty forceful if you ask me. I had no choice in the matter, apparently. Or my only other choice, rather, was to switch to a new email provider?, but while leaving all my now-invisible emails and contacts at Yahoo!.

I finally got so sick of the whole thing that I just went ahead and accepted the new policy, if not just to temporarily read my important emails for the day. But instead of taking my confirmation, it just threw up the same dialog box over and over again, continually asking me the same thing.  My account was completely blocked.

It finally did work, though, after I went back to it an hour later.

Yahoo should have allowed time or given a warning notice so as not to force us users to accept the new terms so fast. I also searched the web and found other users in similar situations who were also very frustrated with the entire matter.

I later found out that such a terms acceptance would not only allow Yahoo! to use the text of my emails to help choose ads to show me, but also my searches, visited pages, other ads clicked, demographics data, location information, saved interests information, and any other personal activity on Yahoo's site as well.
After I tended to my immediate emails, I had started browsing through the site looking for an option to shut off this new targeted ad feature. I looked under "Options" and its sub-menus, "Profile", "Account Info", for any settings or preferences I could find on the matter. I found nothing.

Finally, I randomly clicked on the "Help" pulldown menu and then "About our Ads":

Buried in the middle of the resulting page is a "Manage" button where you can opt-out of interest-based ads!

Clicking that button brings you to another screen where you can opt-out altogether (or on an individual basis based on certain categories).  After clicking "Opt Out" there, your screen should look like this:

Note I don't have a copy of the first "Opt Out" screen, as I don't feel like opting back in in order to get it.

So what you can do then is accept the terms, then right away follow through on the above to opt-out.

There is also a url which goes directly to the opt-out page as well:

The main reason I'm writing this article is because I hate it when things are hard to find in any UI. So I'm hopefully making it easier on anyone who couldn't figure it out.

UPDATE (Aug 1, 2012, 6 pm): Yahoo Mail team Twitter feed has acknowledged at least the lockouts (and possibly link glitches) with tweets from today and yesterday.

Note screen snapshots are property of Yahoo!, and included here only for informational, instructional, and educational purposes.

Copyright © Matt Soscia, MS9, and, 2009. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both text and images, in any form or medium, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. No commercial or reproduction rights are granted. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matt Soscia, MS9, and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. This article is available for publishing in your newspaper, magazine, or other periodical, either online or in print. Please contact me for licensing arrangements. Thanks.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Getting Wes Welker's Autograph at a Poorly Designed Signing

Wes Welker, wide receiver for the New England Patriots, appeared at Whole Foods in Bellingham, MA on the evening of Tuesday, Dec 20, 2011, for a free signing to promote Bonk Breakers, a new line of energy bars. It was billed on the Whole Foods website and Facebook page as a “Meet and Greet” which would take place from 5-7 pm. It was also eventually propagated to some local newspapers, radio stations, and a prominent autograph signings site list. They had stated elsewhere that only the first 150 people would get autograph tickets, it would be “first come, first served”, but limited to 1 autograph per person. Fair enough.

Announcement on the Whole Foods website calendar:

Tuesday, December 20th
Wes Welker Comes to Bellingham!
5-7 p.m.
Join us for a great opportunity to meet wide receiver, Wes Welker here at Whole Foods Market in Bellingham!
Wes will be on hand sampling his new line of energy bars, known as Bonk Breakers!
More details to follow, but please save the date!

Event listed in the Milford Patch (posted by a Whole Foods employee):

Wes Welker from the New England Patriots Meets and Greets at Whole Foods Market in Bellingham
Wes Welker Coming to Whole Foods Market in Bellingham
Welker to sign autographs and promote energy bars
WHAT: Calling all football fans! Whole Food Market Bellingham is proud to host New England Patriots wide receiver, Wes Welker for a meet and greet! Welker will be at the community market on Tuesday to promote Bonk Breakers; a new line of energy bars, and to sign autographs for fans and for customers looking for the perfect last minute gift for the football fanatic in their life!
WHEN: Tuesday, December 20
5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: Whole Foods Market
255 Hartford Avenue
Bellingham, MA 02019

Hearing about the signing just the night before, I had to rush to find a football in time. I went to my local Sports Authority but couldn't find a football I liked, i.e. an official-sized one that said "NFL" on it. And this was despite all Wilson footballs being 25% off. I then went to my local Dick's Sporting Goods who were having a 50% off sale, but that particular model was already out-of-stock. I managed to find ONE football left there that would work for my purposes, and I grabbed it. $19.99 + tax for a Wilson NFL "Competition" Official Size composite leather football. Game on.

This Whole Foods location was just shy of a 45-minute drive for me each way. I arrived early at 2 pm, hoping to be one of the first in line, only to be told that there was no lineup allowed until 4:30 pm. Huh? How is that supposed to work? I was at the tent inside where they were just setting up. They clearly did not want anyone around.

"The quiet before the storm"

So we had to wait outside in the cold the whole time? I found a couple others hanging around who had gotten there as early as 1 pm. We started to form a line off to the side of the main door, planning to keep it along the wall, with plenty of room for passers-by, and without blocking any store fronts (even at a 150 count it would hold). But employees came out and told us we couldn't stand on the sidewalk as it blocked traffic. It didn't, though. I mentioned if they were waiting to form the line at 4:30 pm, if they were going to have police detail to handle all the fights, and they said the police were coming at 4 pm. Our response: What is your plan for 3 pm when you have hundreds of people out here? Apparently they had no plan.

So they wanted to be "fair for all of our customers" by having everyone line up at the same time (i.e. 4:30 pm), but how it is fair if someone who got there later has an equal chance to get in front of someone who was there earlier? It’s a recipe for altercations, and disaster. Now did they just assume, or want, that everybody would just show up at 4:30 and form a nice line? Naturally people would come early. Shouldn’t those people get the passes first! They said they were going to do "first-come, first-served", so isn’t that a true "first-come, first-served"? Either make a line, do wristbands, or start giving out the tickets as people show up. Come on, people.

Even live on the store’s Facebook page, people were trying to warn them:

Brendon Roy: “This welker signing is going to go terribly…..there will be crazy fights at the door between people waiting since noon and people just showing up to get in…I hope they have a few police details there. this could be like black Friday all over.”
Tuesday at 3:02pm

Whole Foods Market Bellingham: “Have no fear Brendon! We have a great event planned for this evening! Hope to see you here!”
Tuesday at 3:19pm

So we had to stand around in the parking lot all afternoon, keeping alert as to how this would proceed. Would they smarten up and start a line early?, or maybe come and pass something else out? Who knew. But if you weren’t there and they did, well you might just get screwed. So we had to hang around.

Event info in store window

But any attempts to create a line or to explain to employees what was going to ensue here otherwise were scoffed at. They wouldn't announce where the line would be, either, despite our repeated questioning. So we organized ourselves, creating a nice line of about 100 people in the parking lot with me and my friend at the front (we both got there between 1 and 2 pm, first ones), but store employee Marybeth then came out with a megaphone and told us that this was NOT the line and to disperse.

We were belittled and mocked at by the employees. Employee Crystal told someone, "If you don't listen to me, I won't give you a ticket", was snickering at us "You guys are not going to get tickets", and mocking us for trying to organize things ourselves. Where were we supposed to go? Now these two employees were being downright rude and disrespectful to those of us waiting. Complete intimidation. They clearly stood out, while I felt the rest of the workers were fine throughout the evening.

A new person who arrived asked employee Marybeth, “Hey, where do we line up?", to which she responded, “I'm not telling you", and bluntly walked away.

I heard someone else was threatened to be arrested and escorted from premises for complaining.

One of my other friends went inside to check out the situation. Maybe the lineup would start inside perhaps, so we would have to constantly keep tabs on things. Once inside he spotted a tray of Bonk Breaker samples. He tried grabbing one, but was scolded, “No, that's not for you. No!”. Who were they for then? He then asked where to wait, and was told, “No, not here, you will have to be outside”.

Sign inside tent display

The numbers of us grew and grew, easily going over 150 of us by 4 pm, 30 minutes before the tickets were to be distributed. The police arrived and immediately went inside the store, not doing anything about all of us outside in growing numbers.

More and more people kept coming and coming. I think as the event start time approached, people started coming at an exponential rate.

A mob scene eventually formed outside the main doors to the store which cops had to break up numerous times. The police officers came out waving their arms, “Clear it out, guys! Clear it out! We need customers to be able to get in and out. We need this space clear.” We exclaimed out to the employees present, "We tried to tell you!.. See?, we told you this was going to happen!"

It was complete chaos. There were about 4 different lines being formed, hoping yours would be the right one, and fans kept flip-flopping between them based on their gut instincts at the moment. Now if they had let us line up early, this last minute mob scene could have been well avoided. At 4:30 pm, they placed a ticket line marker in the parking lot, creating another mad rush. I didn’t know it had been placed until I saw a stampede of people running over there.

And lo and behold, they ended up putting that line marker EXACTLY where me and my friend had tried to form the line 2 hours prior! The SAME line, mind you, that the megaphone lady said was NOT the line! We both had already moved away, though, but luckily the nice people waiting there didn't complain when we made our way back into line, or maybe they didn’t even notice. Sure, we were not first and second anymore, but still up towards the front good enough to secure a ticket anyway. I can tell you, though, I saw at least 25 people cut into the front of the whole "line" here. And these were new people who had just arrived, not there all day like us. This had to have pushed back and out 25 people who were supposed to have gotten in and gotten an autograph. They were now out of the equation. Not fair to them at all. And I put "line" in quotes above, as it wasn't really a line at all, but more so a mob of people.

The mob eventually funneled into a single-file, at least at the extreme front anyway, where someone was passing out tickets. So there were 150 tickets being distributed, numbered in groups from "1" to "5". I assume 30 tickets in each group. I managed to get a "2".

My ticket. I took this photo in case they took it away once I got through the line.

After that, I felt a big weight off my shoulders. I was set to get an autograph. So far, so good. We then all went into the store, where we’d wait for Wes to arrive and then our group number to be called. The group numbers were to at least somewhat be able to organize the line inside the store, as they could call up the fans by group numbers. They had said “like an airline” is how it would work.

I later found out there were a set of 35 "VIP" tickets as well, given out to customers who purchased a Christmas tree beforehand. Those were sold-out when I had first arrived at the store, though. I also heard a rumor that someone bought a tree only to get the ticket, actually leaving the tree behind at the store. I did later read, though, that some left them behind to be donated to needy families. There may have been an additional 15 VIP tickets for other contest winners, making a total of 50, but I can’t be certain.

So that makes 150 + 35 = 185 tickets distributed total. Or that is what I thought, but I later read that it was only 150 total. I really don’t know for sure then. It could be anywhere from 150-200. The store contradicts itself all over the place.

Inside the store in the signing line was unfortunately not much different from the mess outside. A little better, but still with its faults. To start, there were people milling all around the aisles, and shoppers had a tough time getting their carts through the masses.

Wes entering the store

Wes finally arrived at 5:40 pm. He came in through the front door, and everyone cheered. He then almost immediately sat down and started signing a bunch of whose items I don't know. It wasn't anybody in the line yet, not even the VIPs. So what exactly was all that stuff setup on the table for him? Maybe employee stuff? I don’t know, but hope not. Not after all this.

Wes starting to sign items at the table

They went through the VIPs, and then through the “1”s. Finally they called the “2”s. We were lining up down one of the aisles, to be reused by all the groups in turn. When I was in line, I noticed someone with a "VIP" pass who in with us "2"s. We all told him to go forward as he was first. Why was he so late, though? When he reached the front of the line, the Employee Marybeth wondered who he was, "Where did you get this?", she said, "I handed out all these myself but never saw you". Not sure what he said, but whatever it was, it was to get around the fact that he had bought the pass outside from someone who had just left. And after this point, they started ripping off all the numbers off the ticket corners as people passed through.

Much more easily, all they really had to do was collect the passes at the table as people went through. Easier than ripping, and this procedure still prevents: 1) re-selling outside, and 2) re-using yourself to go through the line twice. I read later that some with big grins had performed this #2 tactic as well. And for people who want to keep their passes as mementos? (yep, I’m one of them!), you just put them in a pile after Wes leaves where people can take them back again. Also they wouldn’t be ripped. I bet half would go unclaimed anyway.

Back to the signing, I had to keep showing my ticket over and over again as I stood in line, and quite a few more times as I made my way up through the front of the line and finally being next for Wes under the tent. Understandable, I guess.

Posted "One Item" notice

Each autograph ticket got you one autograph. The handler asked for my item, and I showed him my football which was tucked under my left arm. He said great, and handed it to Wes. The next thing I see is Wes holding a blue sharpie up to the ball. I quickly exclaimed, "Noooo!, I have a silver", as blue won’t show up very well at all on a football. He noticed and said he also had a silver. I was trying to give him mine, which I had been prepping the whole way through the line, but he still went with his.

Wes holding my football after signing it.

When I asked Wes to inscribe “The Natural” on it as well, he told me, “I think they want to speed this along”. So there was no time and they wanted to rush through all this. I must’ve been in front of him for only about 5 seconds. And there was no chance for photo ops with him, either. He was tucked behind the table anyway, so I couldn’t even really snap it myself.

Wes signing for the next person in line after me. The only way to get good photos was when you were at the table up close to him. Otherwise there was too much commotion going on.

I then left the tent area and stepped aside in the store, to look at the graph. It was nice, but kind of a thin silver. Mine was thicker, but oh well you can control only so much at these things. I did get my item signed, and that was the biggest thing here. I was happy I was able to get my football signed! The is the first real football I've ever gotten signed, actually. I did have Joe Montana sign a 49ers Nerf football for me back in 1999, but that's it as far as footballs are concerned.

Wes finished up through the “3”s, “4”s, and “5”s. The line was moving fairly quickly. There were people left behind the “5”s hoping to get in, too, but to no avail.

Now when Wes was done signing, he gladly posed for pictures with a number of employees and cops who were present. What about the fans who had been waiting all day to meet him?! Who was he there for anyway? Not only that, but they were doing it right in front of everyone, the fans who never got theirs and the extra people who were trying to get into the line if Wes had more time to stay to sign more.

Cops getting their stuff signed

He finished through those, signed a few more autographs for the police officers and maybe employee friends/family were in this coterie, too? Then what happened? To top it all of, Wes leaves early. The signing was supposed to be from 5-7 pm. He arrived late at 5:40 pm and left within an hour of that. That left another 300 or so fans hoping he'd do more than the set 150 out in the cold, literally. There was still a line of hopefuls outside the store as well. No wonder those customers were found using “foul language” back there.

Now I heard Wes was late coming in due to Patriots practice, but then later heard it was a car accident on the road. Ok, but then why did he leave early then? Apparently at least from Twitter he was having dinner with the event group.

I also heard a rumor Wes was paid $75,000 by the snack bar company to make this appearance and sign 150 autographs. I’m not sure the figure is true or not, though. I did read he has invested in the company and is now part-owner. So why would he pay himself then? If true, though, that rate of $75k/hr is 36x his normal rate for playing with the Patriots, given a standard 40-hr work week at 50 weeks/year anyway (and $4.125 million salary for 2011).

As two cops walked Wes out the back door, I was right behind him. I called him and asked if he'd take a quick picture with me before he left, but he never even looked back. I was really the only one there, too. I went as far as I could go, before spinning around and running to the back of the building with a couple of friends. Unfortunately, this Whole Foods is in a big shopping complex, and it took almost 5 minutes to get all the way around on foot. By the time we got there, his car was gone.

This was not a "Meet and Greet" as billed. It was a very impersonal "Rush Sign and Go".

And for the 200 people or so who were outside in the cold waiting and who never got in? All the store had to do was put a worker at the end of the line, after the 150 marker point, who said this is end of line as he can only sign 150 today. Then the people would understand as they arrived, well before the 4:30 pm point even, and not waste their time in the cold. But this was not organized in such a way nor apparently ever communicated to them. False hope, I guess.

I'm not complaining that Wes was set to sign only 150 autographs. I already said fair enough. It was the disorganization, miscommunications, and downright rudeness of the employees to the customers.

Although Whole Foods is a great market, and I shop there all the time, I think they need to take a lesson or two from the bookstores on how to operate and organize a signing. They do them all the time and have experience.

I'm an autograph collector, and have been doing this for over 15 years now. I’ve been to 75-100 signings over the years, but I have NEVER seen anything more disorganized than this one. It will go down as my story of worst organized signing ever.

Yeah, I did get an autograph, and I'm happy about that. But it may have been only my experience that helped me to obtain it. But for all the stress involved, I'm not sure it was really even worth my time and aggravation.

It’s funny, I even went grocery shopping after the signing. When I went to check out, I was trying to use the pizza coupon on the back of my Wes ticket. But when they had ripped off the number on the front corner, they had consequently ripped off a crucial part of the coupon on the back which now the clerk couldn't even read!

Whole Foods is awesome. We do 80% of our grocery shopping at Whole Foods. My impression of the chain itself cannot change in general, but with respect to this particular location it can. I don't like this location at all and am pretty sure I will never return there ever again. If I were to, all I would have is memories of this horrible day.

Reading the Whole Foods Bellingham Facebook page in the couple days after the signing, it is clear that a lot of people feel the same way, that it was a poorly executed signing. A list of complaints include VIP ticket-holders who were supposed to have gotten a picture with Wes, fans who got yelled at in line for whatever reasons, kids who were denied autographs at the table since someone in their party had already gotten one (we’re talking kids here, come on, guys), parents whose kids were so upset they didn’t get to meet Wes that they came home crying, and fans who waited out in the cold for 2 hours for absolutely no reason at all. And you can work your way back to things the store said in the posts, like “We promise that this will be an extremely well-organized event.” Oh my god, no it wasn’t!

Now a lot of people are upset. Most of those people didn't even get Wes' autograph. I did get it, but I'm still upset, at how things were run, and how stressful the whole day was. That should say something about how bad it really was for the other people.

Now was any of this Wes’ fault? Probably not. I’m sure he was just following along with whatever the event administrators were saying to do. We can rack up the mess to a poorly run event.

Whole Foods should be thankful that nobody got hurt over there. All kinds of children were there, there was gridlock in the parking lot with cars all blocked in by a big line of people, and the mob scene in general.

Anyway, Thanks Wes for signing my ball! :)

My signed ball back in its protective box

UPDATE (12/31/11):
Whole Foods Market sent me the below Direct Message on Twitter on Dec 27:

"So sorry for your experience. We've let the store know about it. Wes is a popular guy but still."
from (@WholeFoods) to (@ms_9)

in response to my public tweet to them on Dec 23:
@WholeFoods You might want to look into @WFM_Bellingham store wrt rudeness of employees @WesWelker signing. My story..

And here is my response back to them per Direct Message on Dec 28:
"Well, thanks for reading my concerns and responding. That is good customer service. We shop at Whole Foods all the time."

Copyright © Matt Soscia, MS9, and, 2009. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both text and images, in any form or medium, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. No commercial or reproduction rights are granted. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matt Soscia, MS9, and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. This article is available for publishing in your newspaper, magazine, or other periodical, either online or in print. Please contact me for licensing arrangements. Thanks.

Monday, December 7, 2009

My Lady Gaga Concert Story


I recently have become a big fan of Lady Gaga, in particular right after her Saturday Night Live musical guest appearance on 10/3/2009. I felt she gave off a great energy while singing live there, and I also loved her off-the-wall NYC song, too. It was just real. What an up 'n comer. I heard she was coming to Boston for a concert, so I was all ears. I haven't been to a concert in ages. She did perform at House of Blues, Boston not only a few months ago. I did know of that show at that time, but didn't know who she was at that point. She probably had only her first couple of hits out back then, including "Poker Face", the one I had first liked. She now has broken records with four #1s from a debut album ("The Fame"), one for each single she has released so far, emerging onto the pop scene with full force. What great songs they are, too. At this rate, she will probably never play such a smaller venue like this ever again. Considering I missed her HOB show and that she would probably come back only to play a much bigger venue like the TD Garden next time around?, I figured the medium-sized venue of Citi Wang Theatre (aka Citi Performing Arts Center), Boston at this point would in fact be my best bet while I could still grab it. So she turned out to be playing two nights for her “Monster Ball” tour here (both Tues, 12/1/09 and Wed, 12/2/09). Great, so I should be able to find a ticket, right? I did miss the on-sale date as I didn't think I was going to be able to make the show at that point, but then things changed closer to the show dates. Ok, I would have to find a ticket on the secondary market then.

Getting a Ticket

About a week prior, I started looking for tickets on eBay, StubHub, Craigslist, whatever will do, even signing up for Jammin’ 94.5 FM’s contest. Of course I first checked Citi Wang's website to verify both shows were indeed sold-out, and they were, of all ticket types. In fact, Gaga's upcoming show next month at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut (almost a 2-hour drive away) was also sold-out as well. So Boston it would be then, somehow. Most of the tickets I could find were 2-3 times face value. I guess hosting such a hot star who has risen so fast, this Wang venue (although medium-sized) is now justifiably a small venue for her and hence accounts for the higher demand and likewise higher ticket prices in this case. Face values were $43-$53 for balcony, $53 for mezzanine, $63 for orchestra, and $385 for VIP (seat in first 2 rows, backstage ”meet & greet” pass with photo op and autograph before the show, pre-show hospitality, and free headphones, CD, and laminate) + normal ticket fees. I saw some balconies go for about $110 or so on eBay on the low end and orchestras for $150 on the low end. But none of those lasted long. Also StubHub and other lesser-known ticket scalper sites had exorbitant costs like $150 on the low-end even for balcony, all the way up to $600s and higher for better seats. Then you've got big fees on top of that which go to the house, too, as high as $33/ticket in some cases on other sites, then a big shipping fee for $15/tkt on top of that, too. No good. Craigslist from time to time would get some honest folk who would put up their tickets for face value, and you had to be one of the first ones to respond in order to even have a chance there. Also I found tickets for her 2nd show to be somewhat cheaper in general than her 1st show. I guess people would rather see her first, and also this 1st Boston show is also the 1st stop of her American tour as well. After a few tries, I was able to snag a balcony ticket to her 2nd show for face value off Craiglist. Not bad. It cost me $70, which basically covered the face value plus normal fees. Someone had answered my "wanted" ad, and just before posting their own ad. Since it was in my email, I was one of the first to see it, and hence ended up with first dibs. Later on, after the show, that seller mentioned to me that she had gotten 75 emails after mine from potential buyers for that one ticket. That goes to show just how high in demand this concert really was. By the way, I also had had a chance at a VIP ticket for face value, too, but didn't take it. I had called and offered the seller $300 (vs. $385) but without any of the extra gifts, but she had put me on her waiting list in case nobody else wanted it. After checking Craigslist again the next day, it was already gone, and I would never see one of those ever posted again anywhere for any price. If Gaga does in fact become the next Madonna (she's certainly on the road to that), then this may have been a big mistake on my part. Also I re-checked all the sites closer to the show dates and noticed that the prices gradually got higher and higher. So a tip in general then is to find a ticket early on if you can.

Getting There

I took the T (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Subway system) in to avoid a parking nightmare. For the $3.40, it's certainly worth it. Last time I parked near this theatre, my window was smashed in when I returned, too! Yeah, T. I exited the station and walked past AMC Loews Theatres where a guy on the side had flyers exclaiming, "Free movie... Free movie at 8... go right in". I was like, "I'm already doing something". When I was within 1-2 blocks of the theatre, I was already being accosted by scalpers, "Do you have tickets to sell? We are looking for tickets to buy right now". Further up the street they were already at, "Anybody need tickets? tickets?". I overheard another one of them tell his peer, "I better do good tonight. I put my life savings into this". At the front door was a girl holding up a sign, "I need a ticket". Obviously the scalpers must've been charging too much. I didn't ask. Since I did have a few minutes on my hands, I went back around the corner to the stage door. Three to four big tour buses lined the side street. There were some guards at the door as well as some groupies hanging around, but obviously she was already inside. I knew the meet&greet was before the show anyway, after 4:30 pm or so. As I'm walking back around the corner I hear someone ask, "Where is she from anyway?", to which her friend replies, "I think she's British". "British?...", I say to myself, "British?!... No she's Italian and from NYC, dummies". What the hey? Of course, they could've been talking about someone else, though. I could hear the opening band (whom I now know to be Semi Precious Weapons) playing on the other side of the bricks. Plenty of time here. I walked around a bit taking pictures before making my way in.

Going In

Posted signs at the doors read among other things, "No cameras or recording devices". I will say that although I had my camera in a hidden pocket, this was still the easiest venue to ever sneak a camera into even had i not! They didn't even really check anything. I had bulges in every pocket. The lady frisked me in less than a second, then let me go. She didn't even ask what the biggest bulge was under my jacket left side. I said after I was already practically through, "binoculars... that's binoculars". It didn't matter, she was already waving me by. Wow, simply too easy. And my ticket had already passed the checker as well. I’m thinking now it must have had something to do with Gaga’s people allowing cameras, but off-the-record sort of. I entered into a swarming lobby of patrons hanging around and getting drinks. Very nice building with intricate, ornate walls, ceilings, chandeliers, and staircases. I'd never been inside until now. I had no cash with me, and that was probably a good thing. Beers were $7-something, and mixed drinks were $9-something. Had I known that, I might've grabbed a drink outside first, but despite security being so easy to get through, I figured I still didn't want to risk going back out and in again. Also I found a trick to avoid the long lines for drinks, guys. Go upstairs to the first level balconies. There are bars hidden in the walls like closets. I went there and talked to the bartender. It was a full-fledged bar like all the others, but no line. She said, "Nobody comes here cuz I'm in a closet". I responded, "That's a good thing! [for me]". But once I heard those prices, I was done anyway. Too bad.


I made my way up to my seat, first walking up many stairs. The balcony in this venue goes up at a high angle, so everybody can see, by looking down. I was in the 2nd Balcony (way up there) on the right side, Row Y, on the aisle. Not a bad seat at all, well for the price anyway. "Not bad", I said to my neighbor, who agreed. And everybody had cameras, everybody. If not, then iPhones or camera phones. It was really just nuts with all these devices in hand and security doing absolutely nothing about it, the way it should be, actually. As far as ages in the crowd, I would say the average fan was in their 20s here, some younger, some older, but that's about it.

Kid Cudi came on shortly after I arrived. He was 2nd act. I immediately threw in my ear plugs when I heard how loud it all was. It was funny nobody really had them here. After many a time suffering from ringing ears for 3 days after concerts, I finally succumbed to putting them in and looking a little weird while doing so. It's worth it. At a previous concert one guy once asked me, "But with those how can you hear anything?!". I explained to him, "Oh no no no, it's not like that at all. You can still hear everything, just that now I have my own volume control [by how deep or not you put them in]". He nodded, but hopefully understood. Anyway, Kid Cudi rapped some songs, then when he started to sing "Day 'N' Nite", I really knew whom he was now. I think that's a great song and actually heard it on the radio on my drive to the T this evening. Once Cudi left the stage, the house lights came on, and Michael Jackson's music began to fill the room. It must've been about 8:45 pm now. Show started at 7:30 pm. I got in about 8 pm, then Kid Cudi came on about 8:15 probably. Lady Gaga should be out no later than 9:15 then. And I had called the venue in the afternoon, asking the show's end time, to decide whether I could take the T or not. The lady had said it ends at 11 pm. Ok, so since last T is just after midnight, we should be all good here.

Actually, after writing all this, I had gone back to the venue's website ( and noticed that they had added in band times, something I hadn't seen at the time I had been looking for my ticket.
"Lady Gaga
the Wang Theatre
12/01/09 at 7:30pm
12/02/09 at 7:30pm

International pop superstar Lady Gaga kicks off her North American tour "The Monster Ball" in Boston at the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre with Kid Cudi and Semi Precious Weapons opening the shows.

'The Monster Ball' is a multimedia artistic experience in the style of the first-ever 'pop electro opera.'"

Lady Gaga released a re-package of her breakthrough album, The Fame,
called The Fame Monster, on November 23. The re-package includes eight brand new songs, including the club-banging first single "Bad Romance."

7:30-7:50 pm - Semi Precious Weapons
8:05-8:35 pm - Kid Cudi
9:00-11:00 pm - Lady Gaga"

Note that they are incorrect about her kicking off her North American tour in Boston, though. She actually had some shows in Canada just prior.

Anyway, it was Michael Jackson song after Michael Jackson song. There were two African-American girls in the center balcony area who were creating quite the storm dancing at their seats. They were doing wild moves, etc., and attracting a lot of attention. They pretty much became the waiting act. You could see everybody turned towards them, hundreds of people forming a big area ring around them while all still in their seats, too. It was amazing. Some guards came to stand by and be a presence but didn't bother the patrons. Good move, guys. So they didn't bother them as long as they were staying at their seats, I guess. There were some who wanted to join in the fun by dancing with them at the aisles, but they didn't last long before being escorted back to their seats by security. Keep the aisles clear I guess is always a rule, and rightly so. The dancers soon got tired and stopped anyway, though. Still, Michael Jackson kept spinning. Then an African-American guy dressed up as Lady Gaga [transvestite] proceeded up the stairs right near me in my balcony area. He was a big hit. People kept taking pictures with him and wouldn't let him go. At this point I will say that there were a lot of gay guys at this show in general. So Gaga has a strong fan base in that sense as well. There was a girl dressed up as Gaga who took a picture with him, too. From now on, I’m going to call these people “Gagabees”. I haven’t heard the word yet, so perhaps I’m the first to coin it? I haven’t checked any of the boards, though, so can't be certain.

Anyway, it was a very, very long wait. What the heck was going on?! Was she sick or something? After what seemed like an eternity, some girl announcer came on stage to rev up the crowd, "Lady Gaga was just nominated for a Grammy!", she bellowed, followed by, "She's gettin' ready to come out right now, so sit tight", or something to that effect anyway. But now, this was like already 45 minutes after she was already supposed to be out. About 15 minutes later, the house lights went dark and everybody got up and cheered. The stage was lit up. This lasted about 2 minutes, before the house lights came back on again. Huh? Everybody sat down again and boo'ed. Was this show going on or not? I was already thinking "ticket refund" to myself and how would I do it. But what about all these other people who paid way more than face value? Would they get screwed in the process? Or maybe they would just reschedule the whole thing. Yeah, that would be better. But then all these people were already here spending their night. Geez. The guy sitting next to me was like, "What are we gonna get... 2 songs?". More Michael Jackson came on. Even with Michael's vast resume of songs, I was thinking they would soon run out of those, too. Then what? Anyway, about 10:15 pm it must've been, the house lights went dark again, the stage lit up, and this time it was for real.


Everybody stood up, yelling and screaming. Lady Gaga was appearing on stage amidst smoke, screen, and bright, strobing lights. I took some initial video, then switched to my binoculars. Now these binocs easily increased the value of my seat by 100%. Being in the balcony and with no big screens to look at, they helped to a great extent. I could see her very close, even down to it looking like her heels were too big for her feet. Were they? Anyway, I was surprised nobody bugged me to borrow them as in previous concerts. I guess taking them out while it's already dark can help in this matter. So Gaga did her thing, a lot of dancing, with a great set of 10 backup dancers, and she changed costumes and backdrops for quite a few of the songs. They put up avant-garde type video interludes on the stage screens in between songs. She hit on all her #1 hit songs: "Just Dance", "Poker Face", "LoveGame", and "Paparazzi". She also performed her newest song "Bad Romance" which is #2 right now, approaching her 5th #1. And I was happy she did the full version of "Poker Face" as well. She had done the piano acoustic one prior, so I wasn't sure if she was going to do both or not. She did some other songs I guess off her new album (I don't know them all yet), and also a couple other piano pieces. This is where her true singing voice came out, actually. And that said, I'm quite sure a few of the other songs were lip-synched as well. I'm always a fan of live, but sometimes when they're dancing so much, don't they have to do it that way? She also did a cool duet with Kid Cudi. It was nice to see them performing together while on tour together. I took a few video clips in general, but then ran out of memory card space about halfway through the concert. Actually, I had brought only a 256 Meg SD card purposely to avoid spending too much time with the camera. That way, I could be forced to rather enjoy the show (for once). Also I know the quality is low here on my photo and video clips of the stage, but if I tried tinkering with my camera settings to get it better, then I'm sure I would've missed a bulk of the show in the process.

My quick take of the evening in photos and video clips...

Gaga also talked to us in between quite a bit, too. It's always nice when they come down [to Earth] and try to relate to the audience. She mentioned New York, and I was the only one cheering amidst a bunch of Red Sox fans who decided to boo her. Sure it's ok to be a die-hard Red Sox fan, but when you boo the star you're supposedly a fan of just because she hails from New York, that makes you a knuckle-head Red Sox fan. She also said her mother was in the audience, and that her dad would be at the next show on her tour, which would be in Camden, NJ the next night. She also apologized for coming out late. Let's see well over one hour late, my god, that is bad. She also mentioned she's just been nominated for 5 Grammys! That is such great news. I'm just hoping that that's not the reason she made us wait a whole extra hour and fifteen minutes for her to come out! I did verify with TV Guide afterwards to see that the Grammy announcements did happen to be right during the time she was supposed to be on our stage:
12/2/09, 9-10 pm, CBS
"Grammy Nominations Concert Live!---Countdown to Music's Biggest Night

Nominations for the 2010 Grammy Awards are announced in several key categories. LL Cool J hosts the hour, which includes performances by the Black Eyed Peas, Sugarland, Maxwell, and the debut of Nick Jonas and the Administration, singing "Who I Am." Broadcast from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. (CC)"

Coincidence or not?, hmmm. Not good, if not. If anything, they should’ve just broadcast that on the screen where we could all watch it live with her. Now that would've been something, instead of being bored the whole time.

Gaga also made it a point that it was all about the fans, multiple times. Great gal, so far. I won't say much more about the concert itself, other than that it was a blast. For just starting out on her own big tour (and yes, agreed good move for dissing Kanye West's headlining tour), she certainly has gotten the hang of things fast. I don't want to spoil it for all the rest of her stops on the tour (and again, after all, these two Boston show dates are the first shows of her American tour), but I will just say it's a dazzling treat, very colorful, artsy, and lots of stylish dancing. Also note some very skimpy outfits and some very, very dirty dancing moves. She also played the piano while standing up on the chair and leaning over, as well as at one point having her feet on the keys as well. Again, thanks to my binoculars for giving me all the details here. And Gaga really closely resembles Madonna here more than anybody else, and I said this to myself before reading any of the news articles that have been saying the same thing. I'm also a fan of Gwen Stefani, but she's different. Gaga is totally more like Madonna. It's the individuality, the strong pop/dance grooves, the sexuality, the rough-toughness, the cursing of the audience, overall confidence in herself, and even down to the gay following. It can be hard to put into words, but it's all there. And she's got the stuff to take her to the next level as well.

So as the show progressed, it was getting later and later. This is where the stress set in, for everybody. Not just that I was barely going to make the last T back, if at all, but even before that people had to start to leave early. These included mothers with their young daughters, people who had to work early the next day, etc. I even felt bad for the couple sitting next to me who had to leave early as well. I myself wanted to stay to see the whole show, too, and was probably stubborn enough to miss the last T for that as well. On her last song, Gaga and all her dancers bowed to the audience, and it looked like it was over. Encore had already passed, so people started to flee the joint. Only thing, though, was that the lights stayed low, and then more visuals started to come on the screens. Oh no, it's not over after all?! I waited now at the back of the upper balcony, watching for anything else. Another avant-garde movie bit came on. These were great, by the way, but harder to appreciate when in a hurry. I watched that last one, and then all the house lights finally came on. Ok, she wouldn't be taking the stage again after all. Then I said to myself, "Ha!, so that's her exit strategy", i.e. for getting out of the building alive. Anyway, it was now 12:15 am. Her concert had run the full 2 hours. I guess that's better than cutting material out, though! Hopefully this would all work out in the end. The last Ts usually run sometime between 12 midnight and 1 am, depending on the train and the day. Really it's not something you want to fool around with, though. The idea is always to be there by at least midnight or not much thereafter.


Leaving this venue was nuts, as there were just mobs of people everywhere. And there's at least 3 sets of separate staircases to get down from the 2nd balcony, too. It was all very tight and slow-moving. I was thinking if there was a fire in here, this would be hellish. Nobody would get out of there in time. All they have are those front doors. It took 5-10 minutes to get out, even weaving in and out between people and finding shortcuts, one of my strong points. On the way out I passed by the bars and then those expensive souvenir booths. $35 for a concert t-shirt, was it?! Been there, done that. Don't need to do it again. And some of the dancers were off to the side in a roped-off area signing autographs and taking pictures. I passed by them quickly as well. I needed to get to that damn T! It was raining outside. Even if I did happen to have the time to check the stage door for her exit, she'd be whisked out anyhow in the rain. Or she was probably already on the bus anyway, or perhaps even gone. No point then. I ran in a mad rush to the T station dodging cars. I even went down the wrong staircase. Needed Outbound, not Inbound. Went back out and around again, barely making it for the last trains. It must've been about 12:30 am now. The station was mobbed with Gaga show people. Within a few minutes, all the last trains came by, with people filling them up, one after the other. My train came, too. So made it just in time.

So in the end, was it worth the ticket price? For me, yes! How about even at a little higher price for my same seat? Yes. But much higher than that and you'd be pushing it.

The Official Web Site for Lady Gaga. Get the latest News, Photos, Video, Tour Dates and more.

Copyright © Matt Soscia, MS9, and, 2009. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both text and images, in any form or medium, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. No commercial or reproduction rights are granted. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matt Soscia, MS9, and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. This article is available for publishing in your newspaper, magazine, or other periodical, either online or in print. Please contact me for licensing arrangements. Thanks.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Call to Indian Merchants and/or their Suppliers to Stop Putting Rocks into their Rice!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Imagine you sit down to eat your breakfast, taking a spoonful of it, but only to bite down into a little rock. Ouch!, that's what happened to me this morning. My in-laws (whom I'm staying with here in Kolkata, India for a month) made a nice chira dish, which I'm now going to use for analysis. As an American, I didn't really know what chira was, so I looked it up. It's a type of rice, in this case a flattened rice.

"Chira (Flattened rice, also called beaten rice) is a dehusked rice which is flattened into flat light dry flakes. These flakes of rice swell when added to liquid, whether hot or cold, as they absorb water, milk or any other liquids. It can be eaten raw by immersing it in plain water or milk or curd, with salt or sugar or jaggery to taste, or lightly fried in oil."[1]

And the actual dish we were eating is called Chniré'r pulao, which is a type of Bengali food.

"Chniré'r pulao :- A snack prepared by immersing the rice flakes in cold water, drying them, and then preparing pilaf-style with nuts, raisins, black pepper, green chillies, and salt and sugar to taste. This is very popular as a breakfast or evening dish in families, and may not be available in any stores or restaurants."[2]

Ours was a slight variation from the above, though, with potato chunks instead of raisins.

So my father-in-law had previously searched the cooked breakfast dish before any was served and had found 8 rocks! Now it is better to search for them before you cook the rice, but we didn't think of it until afterwards this time.

Data points for our breakfast of chira this morning then were:
ConsumerRocks FoundPlates Consumed
My wife31 1/2
My father-in-law21
TOTAL94 1/2

Average (and pretty consistent average at that) = 2 rocks per plate

That made for a total of 17 rocks found in our family-sized serving tray (which made 4-5 servings) this morning. If we hadn't pre-searched, the average per plate would've doubled to about 4 rocks per serving plate. That is one too many, if you ask me.

I took some photos. Click any of them to enlarge them.

The first photo is of my full first plate before eating. Looks fairly innocent, eh?

Here's a close-up shot of it. Still can't see anything.

Last two photos are of 2 rocks I had found in my helpings (I ate the other 2 rocks by accident!) side-by-side with some grains of chira and an American dime to get a sense of scale.

The first one shows the whole dish for an outer sense of scale,

while the second one is a macro shot.

Also note that this data is slightly skewed as these helpings were made from the end of the bag of rice. We all know that heavy things fall to the bottom, so there tends to be more rocks at the bottom.

These rocks are small pebbles. When you bite into them, they are quite hard at first, then crumble into little bits inside your mouth. You can then feel the sandiness spreading around as you crush the remains with your teeth. It's too late at this point to do anything about it. Unless you can pinpoint them before biting down into them, they become very difficult, if not impossible, to fully remove.

This issue also occurred the last time I came to Kolkata almost 3 years ago as well. I was initially shocked and inquired to my in-laws right away as to what was going on, but they said it was normal. Oh, so rocks just happen to get mixed in during the process? Hmmm, that's interesting. Oh wait, you mean you are saying they purposely put them in?! That is another story entirely then. And these rocks are not just in chira bags, but in all types of rice bags. Since it was still going on on my second trip here, I feel something needs to be said about it.

So my call to Indian merchants and/or suppliers (I list both here, as I don't really know for sure who the culprits are) is this: Why? Actually, that is a dumb question to propose. Of course we can determine why... because some "schmuck" started it all. So everyone else has to do it now, too. So rather than ask why, I will just pose a suggestion. Get a name brand for your rice, distinct and unique. Market that brand as not containing rocks. Stick to that promise. Eventually people will realize your rice is honest and will pay more for the same bag size as your competitors (just enough as if it were all 100% rice, though, or heck, maybe even more). You will get more and more customers as word spreads, too, and it will save them all time and aggravation. Then when your competitors start to see themselves trailing in your dust, they may even catch on and revert back into the right direction as well. Then consumers of rice in general don't have to eat rocks or waste time sifting through their food for them, while at the same time, you merchants/suppliers save the extra step of adding rocks in yourselves as well. Nothing at all is otherwise lost for you. Win:Win.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

We had chira again for breakfast this morning, but this time no rocks! My father-in-law had asked at the market for rice without rocks this time, and they gave him a different brand. It cost more, though, which would make sense, and is a good thing. He said the normal chira costs about 18 rupees/lb, while this new one here costs about 20 rupees/lb. He bought it in a 2 lb sack, so it cost only about 4 rupees more total. In general that's an increase in cost of a little over 10%. Now it didn't come in a labelled package, but rather from a bin which they scooped out from. So it must be a word-of-mouth thing then. Either way, great!, I see hope.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

We had more chira for breakfast. Interestingly enough from the same apparently "no rocks" rice from above, I ended up getting 2 rocks! The first I had already eaten. It was too late for that one. As far as the second, I accidentally bit it into bits, so then had to spit the whole clump out. So we still have the rocks issue then after all.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I did some "googling" to see what I could find on this subject. There turns out to be not that much at all, or definitely not any major articles about it. I did find a handful of tidbits alluding to the issue, though, and I will now detail four of them.

Firstly, according to a comment left in response to a blog article online, "Congress published a chargesheet accusing BJP govt of CG [Chattisgarh] of being involved in 30 scams!!", quoting, ”The scams highlighted by the Congress included the Public Distribution System scam, mixing pebbles in rice, ..."[3]. Wow, so the Indian government has a hand in this?!

And there is a poem about it called "Pebbles In The Rice!" by Subbaraman N V (born 1941). It begins, "Pebbles in the rice / Surely not a spice..."[4], and goes on to indicate that no laws currently prevent it, that it's very prevalent, and that nobody seems to be doing anything about it, but should.

It's also known to be a common thing among Indians. For example, in the following quote it's used as part of an article to make a point about something another level beyond it: "When wise old men say, 'Milawat ka zamaana hai', they might be talking more than pebbles in rice. Brides and grooms in urban India are changing the way they look using surgery..."[5]. The translation of the Hindi words here is: "This is the age of adulteration", meaning the corruption of food. So the "pebbles in rice" can be inferred to be somewhat commonplace then.

But the biggest source I found really is the book "The people of India : a series of photographic illustrations / India Museum, 1868 - 1875", which delineates the different types of people in India, or at least from that particular time period, with a page-long description for each along with a picture. Section "184. BUNNEA" describes the bunnea, who is a tradesman or merchant.
"Although the Bunnea is a very useful, indeed indispensable, member of society, he is rarely a popular one. He is strongly accused of false weights, or, if the weights be true, of a peculiar and dexterous knack in managing the wooden beam of his scales, which have no centre pivot except a cord fastened to the beam, as shown in the Photograph, by giving it a cant in weighing, which is not detectable even by the sharp-eyed customer, and may make a difference of an ounce or two in the weight. He is considered an adept in sanding and watering sugar, and also in sanding flour, which has a peculiarly unpleasant effect upon his customers' teeth, and, not unfrequently, produces violent subsequent altercation. In short, he is suspected of adulterating, more or less—but in all cases as far as he can—everything that he sells ; and the amount of white pebbles in rice, and of dark stones in horse gram, are best known to those who have to sift them out."[6]

Notice in the preceding excerpt how the schemes go way beyond just putting pebbles into rice! Also from the date of the book it came from, we can see that this scheme has been going on for well over 100 years to who knows how far back!

So it seems then that pebbles in rice is a common thing that Indians know about, a facet of eating that they have come to accept, perhaps. It does seem to be getting better, though, which is good.


1. Courtesy article "Assamese Jolpan" from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Retrieved 8/4/2009.

2. Courtesy article "Flattened rice" from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Retrieved 8/4/2009.

3. Comment by Reema on article "Corruption is the greatest stumbling block to infrastructure development in India" in blog "A Wide Angle View of India". Retrieved 8/18/2009.

4. The entire poem is currently available for viewing at PoemHunter.Com - "The World's Poetry Archive", and is worth a read. Retrieved 8/18/2009.

5. "Indian couples go in for cosmetic surgery", MiD Day Infomedia, December 2008. Retrieved 8/18/2009.

6. Quellenkunde zur indischen Geschichte bis 1858, von Alois Payer, 16. "Quellen aus der Zeit des British Raj", 8. "Zum Beispiel: The people of India : a series of photographic illustrations / India Museum, 1868 - 1875 ". Not in copyright. Retrieved 8/18/2009.

Copyright © Matt Soscia, MS9, and, 2009. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both text and images, in any form or medium, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. No commercial or reproduction rights are granted. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matt Soscia, MS9, and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. This article is available for publishing in your newspaper, magazine, or other periodical, either online or in print. Please contact me for licensing arrangements. Thanks.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Making Your Own Stock Charts vs. Getting Permission from Big Corporations to Use Theirs

This post is a follow-up to my last article.

I had originally written that article the Friday evening of the last day of its embedded chart (July 10), just over a week ago. It was all done and ready to post in a timely fashion until I hit a snag. I realized I needed permission from ETrade to post the screenshot I had taken of their stock chart (and had Photoshop'd green arrows over). So I emailed ETrade internal support and asked if I could post it as part of an article I was writing in my blog. I told them that the chart already contained the ETrade logo, I was going to put a link back to ETrade, and the article was also favorable to ETrade as well. Was there anything else I needed to do or was this OK. Next day, they referred me over to their Media Relations department. I emailed them with the same questions, but they never replied! A whole week had gone by. I also tried them by phone, but all I got was an intimidating voicemail greeting in return. I figured there was little chance at this point, so why bother then? All they've done so far is waste my time.

I also looked into Yahoo. Sure I'd have to make a new chart, but getting permission might be easier over there? So I browsed their site and actually found some useful information about their process, whereas ETrade had literally nothing. But then Yahoo states it can take up to 10 business days to get the "OK" for a screen snapshot! Who feels like waiting around for that? And besides, it looks like a big, complicated process anyway.

So I decided to make my own graph with Microsoft Excel. Enough is enough. I found it was easy to make a simple chart, but much harder to get something more exactly aligned with what I was looking for. I wanted to show Volume data (Columns) underneath the Stock Price data (Line) to keep them correlated in one nice view, with a common x-axis. I was eventually able to do it, although it took quite a while to figure out how.

Now I'm going to delineate how I made this graph, as it was quite a frustrating experience, and I don't want to ever have to go through it again. It could also help a reader who wants to do something similar as well.

First up, Excel (I'm using version 2003) doesn’t really have a way to create vertical panel charts. Its combination chart type of "Line - Column on 2 Axes" is close, but still doesn't really provide enough flexibility, i.e. the Column data always has to be on the Primary axis. But I wanted "Stock Price" to be on the left side, but found no way to swap the y-axes to do it. There didn't seem to be any other available charting types I could use, either, so I ended up making a custom combination chart.

I first created 3 columns of raw data (Date, Closing Stock Price, and Volume) in a normal sheet. I then created a "Stacked Column" chart from the data, added a Secondary axis, then changed the individual "Stock Price" data series to be a "Line" chart instead of "Column". Then i adjusted the Scale of the right y-axis to squish the "Volume" Columns down. I also adjusted some other cosmetics to make the chart look nicer in general. Finally, I took a snapshot of the chart into Adobe Photoshop where I erased the labels of the lower portion of the left (primary) y-axis and of the upper portion of the right (secondary) axis, in order to make the graph less confusing and easier to read. This feat may be possible in Excel, I don't know, perhaps with custom labels?, but even if so, I wasn't about to spend any more hours trying to figure it out. Finally, I re-drew back in my green arrows, the ones I had first made on my ETrade chart over a week ago. Voilà!

So I guess ETrade lost some free advertising here, a link back to their site, and potentially new customers (as well as current customers) to make lots of trades per month with them, i.e. if they were to follow my strategies in this article. Oh well, too bad for them. That's how incompetent they are. They should follow up their leads, or at least answer their customers' questions. So I guess Microsoft Excel will then get all the credit here?, or well at least some of it anyway. Still, their graphing features could be expanded to be more flexible and diverse. If my graph was easier to make, then I would've put an actual link to Excel here.

Actually my graph can even be consider better than ETrade's. Their graph has a plot column for July 3rd where the market was closed (as July 4th fell on a Saturday this year). In my chart, I left it out.

Also another interesting thing to note is that I couldn't find a way to get the granularity of intraday prices in ETrade chart tools nor Yahoo chart tools for that matter, either. So the shortcoming I mentioned in my last article (where we couldn't see more exactly on the graph where I made my trades) would still be there, even with an ETrade or Yahoo chart present.

Copyright © Matt Soscia, MS9, and, 2009. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both text and images, in any form or medium, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. No commercial or reproduction rights are granted. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matt Soscia, MS9, and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. This article is available for publishing in your newspaper, magazine, or other periodical, either online or in print. Please contact me for licensing arrangements. Thanks.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How to Make Money on a Falling Stock Without Shorting: Case in Point, Panera Bread (PNRA)

Over the past month I've had fun trading the stock Panera Bread (ticker = PNRA). I've been watching it for quite some time now, getting a sense of it and its trends, before finally diving in a month ago. I flipped it 7 times this past month, making a small gain each time, and all while the stock was going DOWN in general over that time period. I want to illustrate how this is possible and how it's done. I've figured this out, as one of my own trading strategies. I also did this for another stock Unica (ticker = UNCA) in the past, too. I had always wanted to write a little story on that one, but never got around to it. Now it's slightly old news. So I figured I'd write something similar now, but fresh for PNRA, then I can always go back and illustrate UNCA at a later date as well if I want.

I've attached a chart just below I created in Excel showing PNRA over the past month (from June 10 - July 10, 2009). Note the chart just simply "connects the dots" between the prices at the close of each business day. Hence we don't have the granularity we really need to illustrate this properly, but we can still make-do. Just imagine the intraday humps where I've placed my green arrows on the chart (using PhotoShop). Each arrow I've drawn represents one flip I made, that is a buy and sell pair. Some turned out to be faster than others.

If you take a close look (click the chart to enlarge it), you can see I got almost every hump visible in this chart. There are 2 humps I didn't get, but for those, I was able to compensate with 2 other smaller intraday humps that are not visible on this chart. So the reason I missed that first bigger hump (at start of chart) was because I figured it would go up some more first, but then it rather went way down, most likely due to Jim Cramer of "Mad Money" trashing it! So I had to wait for it to go back up again. I wouldn't buy again at the bottom, as I don't want to put too much funds into one stock. I set a limitation on myself that I can't buy more until I sell what I have first. This strategy keeps a consistent investment amount, minimizing risk. And I missed the last hump (at end of chart), as I sold it too fast thinking it was going to go down again. The trend for the week had been down, down, down all along, so I was expecting more of the same. I simply didn't want to take any more chances with the price, and as the market had been falling in general, too. But then PNRA decided to make a quick jump back up again nonetheless, back up into the 50s. That was a surprise.

So my strategy involves attempting to guess the range the stock would be in for a day or small set of days. That is how you make your money. You try to buy at the low of that range, and sell at the high of that range. I never get it exactly right, but that is not expected. If it's close enough, it's good enough. So during the past month, I noticed the range kept going down. First a range of 50s to 51s, then a range of 49s to 50s, then high 48s to 49s. So I kept moving my trades to match the stock's fall as such. You see, a stock is never going to fall straight down. Well, some do, in crashes. But in general, as they move down, there are always usually smaller ups here and there as they go. Call it wavering. It's your job to find those curves, determine ranges from them, then capitalize on that with trades. If a stock falls too much, like if it goes below or close to the bottom of the range it's been in, it's a good time to buy, and when it rises too high, like goes above or close to the top of the range it's been in, it's a good time to sell. It's all about timing.

Oh yeah, there are a couple of caveats. The first is that you have to really watch the stock closely. But if you are at your computer all day long anyway, then this is not that difficult to do. The second is that you will have a lot of trading fees to pay. For the month above, I had 14 trades total. But even taking that into account, I still gained a little bit each time, and those bits add up over time. That said, I still didn't make that much money at all here, but that is only because I traded only 100 shares at a time. This same strategy could always be applied to larger share loads, though, to make a bigger buck. For the general case of assuming no trading fees, my gain on a cumulative basis was 8.93% for the one month. For the case of taking into account my broker's trading fee of $10/trade, my gain was then backed out to 6.11% cumulatively for the month (but still much better than current interest rates of like 1% for the year!). I give both these numbers here, as the former would be more accurate as a limit you'd approach if trading in larger bulk.

Also a big point to notice is that if I had bought at the beginning and held it for the entire month looking for a longer-term gain, I would have LOST money. Go ahead and look at the start and end points of this chart, and you will see what I'm talking about. So longer-term investing is not always all that great, or at least not in this particular case for this time period. Actually, contrast my two numbers above with -4.96%. That is how much PNRA fell during the month above, even including its high jump back up at the end.

So am I going to trade more PNRA and if so, what am I going to buy it at next, you might ask? Well, the answer is NO, or well, not right now anyway. 7 gains at once is too good a record, so I'm "cashing in" at this point. Once you have too good of one thing, it's bound to come back and bite you in the face if you get too greedy. I've already learned that the hard way for other stocks which I won't get into here. Now I originally had said to myself that I would keep flipping PNRA until I lost once, but even now I'm rethinking that. If it does go significantly down, though, then of course I will have no choice but to jump back in.

Note that all my analysis above was really based solely on trends and my feelings about how the stock would move. The only exception to that was my entry point, where the stock had just gotten upgrades to "BUY", yet at the same time dropped a bit! That was my signal to jump in. Besides that, there wasn't much significant news for this stock over the past month at all, and definitely not any earnings reports or anything like that. That state is actually good in a way, though, as then the stock becomes more predictable, believe it or not. Without heavy news to send it way up or way down, it just kind of sits there, floating in little waves. These are the waves you want to catch.

And of course, another more obvious way to make money from a falling stock is to short it. But my method here is more safe, as shorting means going against the general market trend over time, which is UP.

I figured I'd write and share this article as a fun thing, and if any readers have other stories of similar successes or future successes due to this article, please pass them back to me as well.

Happy trading.

Update 7/20/09 2:30 AM...

And of course, now the stock has changed from a week ago as well. It has shot up even more, closing this past Friday at 53.58. Right now, it's the wee hours of early Monday morning, before the pre-market open. I wanted to get this article out before anything else happens! It's unfortunate about having this week delay in my article posting. See my next posting for an explanation of this. I haven't traded PNRA anymore since, though, and despite my "long-term gain loss" point above becoming a little silly here now, my analysis for this particular set of 30 consecutive days as originally intended does still hold on its own nonetheless.

Copyright © Matt Soscia, MS9, and, 2009. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, both text and images, in any form or medium, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. No commercial or reproduction rights are granted. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matt Soscia, MS9, and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. This article is available for publishing in your newspaper, magazine, or other periodical, either online or in print. Please contact me for licensing arrangements. Thanks.