Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Things I learned at the aquarium

  • African penguins will chase shadows at the bottom of the pool just like a kitten will chase a lure or a light spot. If you stand in the right place, you can actually play with the penguins.

  • Northern fur seals have an eerily human-sounding yell, and beautiful eyes.

  • As birth control, they give the female seals Depo and the male seals Lupron.

  • Fish swim in a counterclockwise direction in the big tank because it’s easier for them to breathe that way. This explanation from the aquarium staff seemed to be missing a key piece about the tank’s water circulation or the staff having glued the gills shut on the left side of every fish.

  • You can x-ray a turtle despite the hard shell.

    I had a very strange day at the aquarium.
  • Watch the savings add up!

    Andersen Windows e-mailed me a lengthy explanation of the trade-offs between their regular glass and their SmartSun glass, including a phenomenal example of math illiteracy:

    Single Pane Replacement
    % Winter Energy Savings
    % Summer Energy Savings
    % Annual Energy Savings
    Yes, boys and girls, if you save 37% of your energy usage in the winter and 55% of your energy usage in the summer, you save 92% annually! If you want to save more, take your percentage of energy savings every day and add up all of those percentages: you could save 9000% or more!

    Wednesday, July 22, 2009

    Do you care how you pay for things?

    Payment options are proliferating beyond the usual cash, checks, and credit/debit cards. I used PayPal in a face-to-face transaction to buy a couple of books recently, and I use Google Checkout online to shelter my e-mail address. In my typical shopping, I don’t really care if a business takes American Express, even though I personally have three American Express cards at the moment. (I needed some Hilton points.)

    The view from the other side is that over 95% of my customers who pay by credit card use Visa or MasterCard, and only a tiny fraction use American Express. Yet American Express tries to convince merchants that not only will their customers want to use their AmEx cards, but that a high percentage of AmEx cardholders don’t have any other credit cards. It’s certainly possible that American Express is lying, but what if they’re telling the truth? Are there really people out there with an American Express card and nothing else?

    I suspect that American Express is just desperately trying to stay relevant. Competition forced AmEx to start offering credit cards rather than charge cards that had to be paid in full every month, and then AmEx had to strike deals for affinity cards such as the Delta SkyMiles card, and then AmEx had to start letting other banks issue American Express cards in a rare example of vertical disintegration. On the merchant side, the American Express merchant agreement is full of language tying the terms to the Visa and MasterCard terms and preventing merchants from discriminating against American Express. That’s not the usual approach for a company confident in its value proposition.

    I’m trying to decide whether to continue accepting American Express credit cards for my business after their 34% increase in processing fees last month. Will the few customers who would pay with American Express really care if they have to use a different payment method? Could my business actually appear more contemporary if we switched over to accepting nothing but PayPal? When I first opened my credit card merchant account in 1994, accepting credit cards was a vital component of presenting the image of an established business. Now my business is part of the establishment, and I’m no longer sure that’s what customers are looking for.