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My lovely (and newly minted) wife and I are off adventuring in Cancun. But when we return I will try to get into a regular posting schedule again. I’ve got lots to post about from my last week of work before the wedding. In the mean time I wanted to leave you all with this image. Betcha wish you were here!


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My Monday

Well as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, Mondays are my Fridays. And for the time being I’m the closing manager, which means being here till 10 PM. Lovely.  Mondays are a cruel and fickle beast. Sometimes Mondays are total snooze fests, which has its own drawbacks because it’s my Friday and I’m counting down till my days off start. Other nights it’s totally insane. I guess this one has been somewhere in the middle. The first 6 hours of my 10 hour shift were madness. And then it got really quiet. Stuff is probably just waiting to go wrong until 9:45 so that I’ll be here late (again). Being a salaried OT exempt employee has major pros and cons.

So far, got yelled at for 30 minutes by a guest that had very carefully selected a room online, but hadn’t communicated to us that she had done so and was livid when during our confirmation calls she found out we had assigned her to another room. Her original room was one of our few ADA accessible rooms, and we had a guest in a wheel chair that needed that room for those nights. We’re required to make reasonable accommodations, and in this case that meant switching out the able-bodied guest into a room of the same type. This is really pretty common place, in fact the only unusual thing is that at most hotels, you don’t really get the option of selecting your room number ahead of time. You just book a room type, and you can throw in some special requests like “High Floor” “Away from Elevator” “Away from Ice Machine” blah blah blah. For some Science forsaken reason our website booking engine requires everyone to not only pick a room type, but also a room number. It’s quite horrible from an operational stand point for a whole variety of reasons. So all I could do was listen to her for 30 minutes, occasionally apologize, explain our reasons, explain that we didn’t make the change maliciously, and that we had been unaware that her heart had been set on that exact room number (she’s stayed there before), but that I really couldn’t change it back. She wants a discount. I’m not inclined to offer anything really. She’s still getting the same room type, she wasn’t downgraded. So I’ll just bump that up the chain and let my GM decide. When he says “no discount” which I’m anticipating, she’ll likely cancel when I follow up with her on Thursday. Don’t really mind that either.

The real fun of the evening came when one of our motorized housekeeping carts, broke free from its parking break, rolled down the drive, and slammed into a nice fairly new Jaguar. And of course, one of the doors was open and essentially worked like a spear punching a hole right through the exterior of the car (whatever Jaguar’s are actually made of). That guest was surprisingly un-vocal about how upset she was. It probably helped that I was already on scene as she walked up and I was able to say more than “I’m sorry” I was able to say “It’s totally our fault and our insurance company will cover everything.” She was upset, but if anyone had a right to be screaming a little at me today, it was that lady.

Overall this was a very productive week. My 6 month project to upgrade our Hotel PMS (property management system) is in the home stretch. Installation scheduled for Thursday. Really going to be awesome to see all that hard work pay off. Also I recently developed and implemented a new system to organize, catalog, and store all our Lost and Found. The system has been up and running for a week and so far working like a gem. Very proud of those too accomplishments.

Well the storm just hit. Accounting issues in the closing drawer, and technical issues with Wi-Fi and our TV channels. Time to put on my cape!


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Netflix again…

Alright, so I’m still intrigued by the Netflix firestorm, and I wanted to share these two articles I came across during a break today.

Why Netflix Raised Its Price – on Yahoo. This one was nice because the author was able to actually speak with a Netflix spokesman, versus most of what I’ve seen out there, and most of what I’ve written which has just been pure conjecture. According to the spokesman, some of my conjecture is right, and some of it missed the mark. I think it’s significant that Netflix admits that they foresaw the backlash that arose, the decreased membership, and are still happy with their financial forecasts. This was not a spontaneous decision on their part.

And then this article was referenced in the first, but I just wanted to share it separately, because it seemed to warrant it. Netflix Alternatives: Other Places You Can Get Streaming Media, DVD Rentals – from PC World. I like this one, because it proves part of my argument right, that even with the price increase Netflix is still the better deal for most people.

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Space, the final frontier

Boldly going

I’m a huge Star Trek nerd, as you may have noticed, and by extension I’ve always had a special place in my heart for NASA. I love the idea of the space program and manned missions into space, even though for the last 30 or so years it’s only been to low orbit. So I had mixed feelings this last week as Atlantis hurtled into the sky for the last time. On the one hand, I fear that it’s the death knell of the American space program and the lofty ambitions envisioned for us by great Sci-Fi authors like Arthur C Clarke and Gene Roddenberry, and our own previous generations that had the commitment and vision to take us to the moon once upon a time. On the other hand, I recognize that the shuttles were a dead-end at this stage, sure there are countless more experiments to be conducted from low orbit, but the real adventure and I truly believe, mankind’s true destiny is much further out than that. The shuttles will never take us to Mars after all and that should be our next lofty ambition in space exploration. And trying to keep the shuttles running while trying to launch other major missions would be cost and resource prohibitive. Sometimes we have to say goodbye to something we love, in order to embrace the great opportunities out there. I truly believe, that if mankind is going to survive (in one form or another) for essentially eternity, than we will have to get off Earth. We’ll need to spread ourselves out across the stars, whether faster than light travel can ever be attained or not. We know that there have been extinction level events on this planet in the past, and we might be prolific enough to survive one or maybe even two of them, but there’s more to worry about then that. We’ll bleed Earth dry of resources eventually. We’ll pollute our world into a waste land, nuke ourselves away with war, a planet killing asteroid will collide with us, or someday our Sun will even die. Statistically speaking most of those things are likely to happen, and our Sun dying is inevitable really. It won’t happen in our lifetimes sure, but shouldn’t we strive now to protect our entire species? And yes, I also hope that there’s far more out there for us to discover. I hope that there’s intelligent life out there, hopefully alien life we can even exist with peacefully to our mutual growth and benefit. That’s a lofty dream to say the least considering humanities history amongst our own species of the result when one species, especially with wildly different levels of technology encounter one another. I still dare to dream though.

In the end, when we have such amazing goals out there for us, I don’t think anyone can really justify keeping the shuttles functioning. All of that money that has been going into maintaining the aging shuttles and launching missions can now go into research and development for our next launch generation of launch vehicles and for other major missions and ground breaking research. And when you consider the longevity of the shuttles themselves and the Mars rovers, you can certainly say this for NASA, we damn well know how to build this shit to last. So while I’m sad that I never got to see a shuttle actually launch in person, I would have loved that, I’m hopeful that this won’t be the lasting end to our own launches. I’m even hopeful that within my lifetime commercial manned space flight might some day be possible and that Space Tourism might some day become an industry and not just some weird fantasy of mine.

And yes, maybe if we’re lucky, someday Holodecks. Wistful Sigh…

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It is possible to have too much business

The recent firestorm around Netflix reminded me of a recent conversation my GM and I had about our hotel occupancy. Last year our annual average occupancy was 89% which is amazingly high especially in this economy, most properties in our competitive set would kill for a 70% average right now.

How did we interpret this number? Our rates were too low, and so in 2011 we raised rates for the first time in 3 years. Not a gigantic amount, between 10-20% depending on the room and time of year. The reasoning for this was that we had been too busy. Our goal is 85% occupancy, which was our average in the 3 years before 2010. Not much less and not much more.

Less occupancy and we see a drop in revenue which we obviously don’t want. Above 85% and we’re literally too busy, it becomes difficult to get into the rooms to do bigger maintenance projects and deep cleaning while the wear and tear on the rooms continues and the quality of our product falls resulting in discounts and lost revnue. 85% is the magic number we’ve picked. So when we hit above that, it was time to raise rates, in the hope that it would actually lower our occupancy closer to 85%. We’d be less busy, but hopefully make the same or greater revenue as a result. July is the first month of the new rates, but so far the change is paying off as planned. We’ll get to do maintenance projects easier without having to sacrifice revenue generation. It’s actually a tactic that we never discussed in school and I found very interesting. We’ve done the same thing with our spa rates over the years. When the spa gets too busy, and we’re sold out every day and slamming with business, it’s time to raise rates so that we can work less hard, provide a better spa environment, and either increase or maintain profits.

Netflix is likely trying to do the same thing to a certain extent. That is to say, they’re trying to encourage their customers to choose one of their new standalone packages, which will decrease the need for infrastructure in one or both of their services. And charge a premium for those that want the option of both. I saw the argument out there that they haven’t added any value to either product, and with the DVDs that might be true, you can’t really add any value to that service already, other than adding additional DVDs rented simultaneously for the same price. But the streaming service, they’ve adding value constantly. I blogged not long ago about the addition of most of the Star Trek catalog to the streaming service. And while they aren’t adding the “newest releases” to the streaming service (yet) they’re constantly expanding that library with the products that the big studios will license to them. The added value just wasn’t tied directly to the new price points. Hell considering I’m planning to save $2/month the added options is added value for me.

I guess I’m saying this. Netflix knew they were going to lose customers over the new prices. How could they not after all? And a lot of them are probably the customers that already weren’t getting their full value out of the service. Essentially dead weight in their membership. Sure those members weren’t costing Netflix in postage or bandwidth, but I’m pretty sure Netflix doesn’t pay for stamps, they’re contract with the post office is probably a lump sum determined by their membership numbers, not their actual use (that’s pure conjecture, but it kind of makes sense). And then they’re asking the members they hold onto (like me) to make a choice, select a more limited plan that reflects your actual demand, or pay a premium for the option of both. Once again, this is deliberate strategy. Netflix is about to go into negotiations with the studios, and I’m hoping they want to show them that DVDs are a dying medium and that digital distribution (preferably through Netflix) is the way to go. The writing is on the walls in this regard, DVD/BlueRay are rapidly going the way of VHS, Betamax, and the Dinosaurs. And though it’s not plainly stated I imagine being able to demonstrate the clear divide between steaming customers, DVD customers, and those with both will factor strategically into Netflix’s negotiations with the studios.

Remember this old gem?

Anyways, I just wanted to put that thought out there. It seems counter intuitive to a lot of people that a business can have too many customers and be too busy. Just think of high school Econ class and those old Supply and Demand graphs and the old invisible hand of the market making them intersect. That’s all we’re looking at here.

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Avengers Assemble!…oh and Netflix and Game of Thrones talk….

So a little nerd talk today…

Avengers Assemble

Just watched the last episode of the latest Avengers cartoon series that Marvel has put out (thank you Netflix Instant watch). All told, I think it’s one of the better cartoon series that Marvel has put out. They didn’t stay true to comic book cannon, but I think even most diehard fans have to admit that trying to do so is a fool’s errand. After all with a comic like the Avengers where would you start? Back in the 70’s at the beginning? That wouldn’t pull in the mainstream, heck there are comic fans that would have trouble with that. No, they did a very good job in my opinion of staying true to the characters and the themes of the Avengers and even adapting stories from the comics into a different format. They told a few origin stories, and just as that was starting to become a drag, they assembled the team, in a manner very similar to how the original Avengers team formed. In fact I quickly realized that they used the exact original team roster for their starting cast and was very pleased by that. I’ve always been frustrated by the X-Men cartoons for never even trying to honor that piece of cannon, especially when it would have been so much easier to do so. They made the team form in the modern era which was perfectly OK with me. And they used bits and pieces from the movies, specifically the Iron Man movies (like a black Nick Fury). They also haven’t been afraid to play with the team roster, subtracting and adding new members. That was something they did well with X-Men Evolution, but that the original X-Men cartoon series always drove me nuts with. That is bringing in team members from the comics for just one or two episodes as a guest start, but never having them join the team or stick around for long. I could never understand that in a cartoon where voice actors are relatively cheap compared to adding a cast member to a live action series, but I’m sure there was some weird business reason for it. The entire process of watching this Avengers cartoon has even got me going back to read some comics again via my Xoom.

Also, over at ThinkGeek I found this DVD of every Star Trek comic book released from 1967-2002 stored in PDF. It makes me ask the question, why isn’t every comic book company doing this with their franchises? For a long time I’ve referred to myself as a recovering comic book addict. In my teens I collected a lot, and read every issue and loved comics. When it became time to pay rent, go to school, work, and all around support myself as an adult, I stopped having time to read comics and so I couldn’t really justify the expense anymore. I still have my entire collection, stored in Rubbermaid containers in my closet. I’ve considered getting back into the hobby multiple times, but I’m the sort of collector that would feel the need to gather up every back issue in between now and when I first quit, or at least graphic novels of the major story arcs. That’s a major and daunting investment, and a high barrier of re-entry for me. I know that much of the information is out there to figure out what happened in the interim, Wikipedia is actually fairly helpful for that. Aside from the expense of getting back into the hobby, comics take up an insane amount of space, and I just don’t have anymore room for them in my physical life. But I think the DVD containing digital copies of the comics is absolute genius. I’m told that Marvel has much of their issues available via a digital subscription package, but they haven’t built an app for the Android OS yet, and the only way I see digital copies working for me is if I can read them on my Xoom. The screen is actually perfect for that purpose. So for the time being, I’ll use less legitimate sources…. shhhhh don’t tell anyone.

And if you’re curious, I started reading an old Avengers mini series from a few years ago titled Avengers Forever, and loving it so far. I plan to move on to some of the other major Marvel Universe story events afterwards, like Civil War and House of M. Or go back and actually read Age of Apocalypse and/or Onslaught in their entirety. I haven’t decided yet.

Netflix raises prices? Not really....

Elsewhere, I received an email from Netflix yesterday, as did the rest of their subscribers I guess concerning their new membership plans. My morning news told me that Twitter and Facebook are all abuzz, mostly with outrage over the plan, and I can’t entirely see why. I’m paying $10 a month right now for unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs (1 at a time). I never really use the DVD features though, if it’s not available on instant watch then I usually just don’t watch it, or I go see if it’s on OnDemand on my cable box. I’ve only ever gotten 1 DVD from them, I never opened it and haven’t sent it back yet. So their new plan makes perfect sense for me. I’ll change over to unlimited streaming only and save $2 a month, thank you Netflix. I imagine there are other people out there with Netflix subscriptions that never use their streaming and only want DVDs, they can also save some cash. This is only a price increase for those that use (or want) both features, and I guess I can understand their consternation, because this is pretty much a 50% rate jump and they’re not getting anything new. But who isn’t raising their prices these days? At least they’re offering an option that allows some of us to safe a little cash, they didn’t have to do that. They could have left the “stand alone” packages at $10 a month and jacked the combined package up to $15 still and told us all tough cookies. Seriously, who else offers a service like Netflix and offers it as good as they do? No one. Blockbuster has a DVD mail service, and I imagine they have some sort of streaming, but I don’t know for certain. Other places offer purely streaming services but most of them you have to pay-per-view (Apple and Amazon I’m looking at you). Netflix just does it better, and they have to make a profit still. Ultimately, I hope this will let them demonstrate to the movie companies that their subscribers really want Instant Watch and don’t care about the physical DVDs as much and we can get new releases when they’re actually new. That’s where this is all heading after all.

The Dragon is also the Hotness!

I’m most of the way through the Game of Thrones audiobook. Maybe I haven’t discussed it here, but I do most of my “reading” via audiobook these days. I find I want to consume all these stories, but I don’t have a tremendous amount of time to just sit and read. Comics are easy to pick up and put down, but generally I want to spend more time with a book. Right now I save my “book reading” energy for two series of novels The Dresden Files, which the newest book is coming out later this month (FINALLY!) and the Emberverse books (see my books page) which the newest will be out this fall. Otherwise I generally listen to audiobooks. I listen while I’m in the car especially since I spend over 2 hours every work day commuting (round trip) and usually as I’m falling asleep at night, or at the gym, or doing chores around the house if there’s nothing on TV. A well produced audiobook is a pleasure to enjoy. And Game of Thrones has been especially great after watching the first season of the HBO series. To my surprise and delight, I’ve found that the series is a tremendously accurate rendition of the book. Some people seem to think that the best compliment to a book is that they turn it into a movie. That’s just not true. So many books are too big for a movie, and Game of Thrones is a perfect example. Doing a short 10 episode season of TV allows for a far better translation of a complex book onto a screen. I just wish more people in Hollywood had figured this out sooner. There are many scenes that are practically torn from the pages, and even exact dialogue put straight into the actors mouths. Now that I’m almost done with the audiobook and the series is awaiting the 2nd season, I’m torn with a dilemma. Do I carry on with the audiobooks and listen to the rest of the series? Or do I wait for season 2 to come out entirely and then listen to the audiobook? Either way, I’ll be technically “spoiling the story” of one format for the other since they’ve stayed so true. A problem I haven’t faced with a similar series like True Blood since the book and TV show, which I both enjoy, are just different enough from one another to let me enjoy them independently.

I’ll have to consider this further.

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Diary of Hospitality and Stupidity: Fighting the Free Stay (via justlivelovelaugh)

I found this post on the Tag surfer. I wrote a response to this person, and wanted to share the whole thing here. Read the post and my response is the first one. Thanks JustLiveLoveLaugh! Great blogging!

Diary of Hospitality and Stupidity: Fighting the Free Stay Dear Diary of Hospitality & Stupidity, I've always known I've grown up in a relative "bubble"– I went to a top 10 private school & two top private universities. However, I've also dealt with my fair share of "real world." I grew up a street behind a half-way house & a block over from gang territory. I've grown up understanding what happens in the world & that people can't just skate by in life– it can suck & requires hard wo … Read More

via justlivelovelaugh

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Memo Monday!!!

Mondays are my Friday here. That is to say my regular “weekend” days are on Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s also the day that I have affectionately named Memo Monday, because I’ve had an entire week in which small and large operational issues or updates might have come up that need to be addressed. Generally over the real world weekend Saturdays and Sundays I don’t have the time to write them up and distribute my sage words of wisdom to my….people (I’m not supposed to call them “minions” anymore).

My staff as a whole has a love/hate relationship with my memos. That is to say, some of them love memos, and some of them hate them. When I first got here, I tried a more face-to-face approach. That being the first time I had information that needed to be conveyed to all of them, I went around and talked to them all in small huddles. And it took forever! So I quickly changed over to sending out memos, a practice my predecessor used sparingly. In my first 6 months here I sent out more memos than she sent out in 2 years.

I enjoy writing memos oddly enough. I put a little bit of my personality in them. Sometimes throw in a little joke or word play. I once even put out a memo right before I left on a week long vacation to let them know there would be no memos that week. That one still tickles me a little. Memos are also the easiest way I have to convey a message to all 14ish of my staff rapidly and ensure that the same message is transmitted to all of them (sometimes the same message isn’t always received by all of them though). We don’t have the ability to have daily, weekly or even monthly staff meetings. Usually a departmental meeting happens every 2 or 3 months, but it’s kind of a big deal to schedule and since people come in on their days off or outside of their normal 8 hour shift, it involves a lot of expensive over time.

Sometimes my memos are just updates for everyone, sometimes they’re policy changes or reminders, sometimes they’re scolding (when the entire department needs a scolding) and sometimes they’re encouraging (when the entire department has earned it). And considering that when I got here we didn’t have a consolidated binder of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) my memo binder has become the closest thing we have sometimes. SOPs for the entire department will be my project this winter I believe. Proper procedures and policies are essential for smooth operations, and my goal is that if my entire department dropped dead tomorrow someone could come in, read our SOP binder and be able to run this department and train replacements.

Aside from memos, I love writing and designing new operational procedures and systems. In my first 2 weeks here I created an excel spreadsheet the revolutionized the way they balanced their cash and credit card transactions each evening. Using a 10-key adding machine? Really? In 2010? Have you ever heard of Excel? And despite initial resistance, my people shudder at the thought of doing it the old way again, and my newbies can’t even imagine it. I’m confident that it will be my longest lasting legacy on this property. Today, I got to roll out an entirely new procedure to hopefully revolutionize the way we handle our lost and found, and I’m super excited about it. It’s quite a bit more involved than our old procedure, but I hope it will be far more efficient and effective than the old system (otherwise what’s the point?). I used Google Docs for the first time for this project, but I think it will fit exactly the roll I need it to. I’m not one of those people who thinks every problem can be solved by technology. I try to keep things low-tech whenever appropriate. For example, even if each and every member of my team had a corporate email account, I probably wouldn’t send out my memos via email. I’d probably still print them out and post them. But there’s a reason that we’ve developed all this technology that exists in 2011. It makes our lives easier and solves problems or makes lower tech solutions are less efficient at.

I enjoy this process of streamlining systems and procedures or designing new systems and procedures so much that I’ve often considered the possibility of leaving daily operations and becoming some sort of “hired gun” type consultant for hotels, that comes in and builds effective operational procedures and systems. It would just make my Venn diagram of Nerd and Hospitality overlap that much more I think. And when you think “consultant” you just think money too, and less weekend work.

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Park it buster

Designated parking seems like such a simple concept at a hotel, but you’d be surprised at how people can mess it up. When you check out of your room, move your car from your designated spot, because it’s not yours anymore! You checked out of the room remember? And then, when you get out to your assigned space, if someone is parked there, contact the Front Desk, don’t just park in a space that belongs to someone else and then be surprised when I come and ask you to move your car! Sweet Science people! It seems so fraking easy! Am I wrong? Everyone just remember Wheaton’s Law please and Don’t Be a Dick!

Wheaton's Law: Don't Be a Dick

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This is not an appropriate housekeeping gratuity.


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