Sunday, December 30, 2018

Review: This is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn To See

This is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn To See This is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn To See by Seth Godin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book had so much potential! It showed up on Amazon Charts out of the blue, as a nonfiction "most sold", and I bought it immediately. I began reading intensively soon after purchase, but about halfway through, I bogged down. And being honest with myself, although I have tried reading other books by Seth Godin, and remember being entranced by some of their ideas and examples, I eventually stop reading. Until "This is Marketing", I don't think I have ever finished one, even though his books are typically really small.

So what did I like this time? First and foremost, I was intrigued by Godin's idea of engendering "tension" in potential customers, the emotion they feel when the product or service you are offering, and the way it is communicated, leads to people who are no longer at ease with what they currently have. Godin recognizes, as he should, that there is a real, legitimate unmet need being filled, but it is his customer-eye view and the idea of growing tension, expressing it very well and in a unique way, at least for me.

Least? I realized about two-thirds of the way through that Godin insists, much of the time, on using a "second-person" voice that gets very annoying. I realize this point-of-view analysis (first, second, and third person) belongs more to the realm of fiction, but he pounds hard on the "you must do this" and "you have to do that" style, and it got very old to me. Yes, I am seeking a certain level of advice here, but treating me and other readers as helpless until now and his imparting of tremendous wisdom in commend form is naive. (I just noticed - he uses "You" twice in the book's subtitle.)

Another strong dislike? His choice of the NRA as a wonderful example of marketing excellence is ill-advised and not valid. This is one readers will have to stick around until near the end to find, so my guess is not that many will!

BTW the book has never appeared again on the most-sold Amazon Charts list, and I don't expect it to appear on the most-read list.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Review: All for Nothing

All for Nothing All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to The New Yorker's James Wood and his article, "Four Books That Deserved More Attention in 2018", I picked up this historical novel via Kindle, and never looked back. It paints a picture of 1945 Prussia and an aristocratic German family making it through World War II with relative little struggle, other than having their patriarch off serving the nation in a kushy administrative job in Italy. As we are introduced to the family members and their immediate circle, we also meet travelers and others who stop by their estate. Each portrait is fascinating, and as the war's final chapters close in, we are drawn into increasing turmoil and decision-making. The stories are compelling and I learned a great deal from reading this novel.

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Review: The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk W. Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable "slow read" for me, as it touched on so many areas I find myself interested in these days. Of course, there is the bird angle - as a lover of all things avian, it is disturbing but necessary to understand the history of the slaughter of so many beautiful birds resulting from the demand based on frivolous human wishes, whether it be collecting or millinery. The fact that in this day the demand for exotic bird feathers exists, from of all places fishing-fly enthusiasts, provides the backdrop for this enthralling true-life crime tale. The author takes us back to help us understand the competitive battle between Wallace and Darwin, back in the mid-1800s. These are just a few of the interesting subjects covered by Kirk Johnson in The Feather Thief. One of the book's blurbs suggested parallels with The Orchid Thief, a book I also loved, but I wouldn't look for too many similarities, as this book stands on its own unique elements.

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Monday, November 12, 2018

Review: The Library Book

The Library Book The Library Book by Susan Orlean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Skillfully and even artfully written, very informative and at times poignant, I loved The Library Book. The future of the library is on display, and living in a community where we are debating a new library, this is a very timely book. Over the past few years I have been a much more active user of our libraries, both in person and online, and as a result Orlean's stories are all that much more meaningful. I loved The Orchid Thief, and The Library Book did not disappoint.

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Friday, October 26, 2018

Review: Horrorstör

Horrorstör Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A great Halloween-season read! Recommended by Amazon for an October special, I bought in with both hardcopy (thanks to my local library) and ebook. While I almost always prefer reading on Kindle (devices and apps) the traditional paperbook offers much better views of the graphics, which enhance the story. While not really qualifying as a member of the Nordic Noir category, the whole sendup of Ikea is a major feature of the book.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Google+ shutting down - "Google what is shutting down?"

I remember the launch - a place to share this blog and not much else!
As much as I tried to like it back when it started, Google+ just never got into my social media routine. It was a place to share a new post from Jim Lyons Observations (which shares Blogger, a Google platform, as a common host), and that was about it. No big loss!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Review: Measure What Matters

Measure What Matters Measure What Matters by John Doerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With John Doerr and I sharing much the same era of the technology industry, his part-memoir, part-advice book was a great read for me. Going back to his Intel days and admiration of Andrew Grove really hit home - I read Grove's book and admired him, and quoted him, during my early HP days. Later in his career, Doerr has been a tremendous influence on Google and their development as a tech power, and I found his stories very interesting reading. The OKR technique, which he reviews in businesses big and small, is a winner, and I was able to use it as a "what if" on my current job and see the failings that result from not having such a system. Part of the book for me was an audio experience - my second this year - and I really enjoyed hearing the voices of the subjects, rather than just reading a dry pages of an interview.

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Is the importance of "prescience" fading away?

A screenshot from my Google search for the definition of "prescience" - this expanded version includes an Ngram analysis
Having been interested and/or employed in the world of forecasting for much of my career, I feel I have only recently discovered a great word that relates. That is the noun "prescience", which along with its adjective form "prescient", generally describes seeing into the future (see the top of the screenshot above for definition details). The search I captured came about the other day, as I was using the word in nothing more elaborate than a tweet, wanting to make sure I had the meaning just right. What was included is the graph on the bottom of the screenshot gave me some unexpected alarm!

Except for a minor uptick in the past few years it's a two-century downtrend, as displayed by the Ngram viewer, which tracks vocabulary frequency as used in the English-language books Google has scanned as part of Google Books. I had to wonder - does the shape of the graph add evidence to the societal trend of rejecting logic and science, and thus an eye to the future? (A quick interpretation of the word "prescience" as printed on a page or screen may lead to thinking the word is an expression of the world before science, i.e. "pre-science", but I will treat that as a coincidence, while sure there is an etymological explanation.) But with the trend with the word's usage, are we witnessing the downplaying the value of visions of the future?

I decided a little research was called for. I was in the middle of reading Bad Blood and that saga surely shows the value of a vision can be overdone. Elizabeth Hughes' idea that in the near future a drop of blood from a finger stick could be used for myriad blood tests was easy to see, but impossible to execute, at least in the recently ended lifespan of her company, Theranos. Going back farther, I tried to remember who mocked "the vision thing" and it turned out it was during the successful 1988 presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush. I even remember as a quite young kid that a prescient (there I go) aunt forecasting someday soon that our drive down Interstate 5 would be accessible only by attaching your personal vehicle (car) to a rail, to be safely and quickly pulled along.

While that 50-plus-year-old forecast about hooking passenger cars to rails could be seen as "foreknowledge" of the upcoming autonomous car revolution, it could also be interpreted as missing the mark. With "prescience" trending down ("foreknowledge" too), what about that adjective form, "prescient" that I just found the need to use in the previous paragraph? Well, it's doing all right - as can be seen from the Ngram graph just below. Leading to the conclusion that my quick analysis about the status of the importance of vision into the future might just be all about how and what words are used to describe it. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Review: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Secrets and Lies - I'll say! What a great book, that meant so much to me as much of it takes place around the old haunts in Silicon Valley, and specifically Palo Alto, where I spent lots of time during my 25-year Hewlett Packard career. In addition to the geographic familiarity, I greatly enjoyed learning about the blood-testing field, so important as we learn "doctors base 70 percent of their treatment decisions on lab results". It's a skillfully woven tale, leading right into the author's wheelhouse as an investigative reporter at the Wall Street Journal, when it becomes a first-person narrative of breaking the story of fraud and deceit, so viciously defended by Theranos CEO Elizabeth Hughes and company. Interesting, too, as she plays to the political big-hitters of her present (Obama, Biden, and eventually Hillary Clinton) and past, including the nonagenarians who inhabit her board of directors, Hughes and her thugs' tactics are actually extremely similar to the current POTUS (DJT) and his thugs, in seeking out and trying to crush whistle-blowers and truth-tellers. The book couldn't be more timely, with the Theranos shut-down just last week (early September 2018). Here's a real spoiler - Rupert Murdoch comes off looking good!

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Friday, August 31, 2018

Review: When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With the subject being "perfect timing", there is something ironic (or something else) about the fact that I read this between January and August of this year. Stretching out a read like this would be horrible if it weren't for Kindle highlights, which allowed me to catch up from a long time lag in reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found unexpected insights, including the importance of the word "time" in the English language. Don't miss the final chapter.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review: Educated: A Memoir

Educated: A Memoir Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very interesting glimpse into the lives of "fellow Idahoans", albeit from a very different region of our state. (Seemingly another century as well, at least at times.) Westover's story includes both the familiar and the shocking - but none all that surprising. A page-turner, for sure.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

This Old (Apple) Watch

The hype - and my curiosity - got me to buy an Apple Watch in June 2015, and it became my next bright shiny thing.

Three years ago this month I bought the newly-released Apple Watch. With that purchase, I was proud and excited to continue my early adopter streak in the computer wearables category. Now with a mostly happy record of wearing and using that original Series 1 watch every day for three years, I have "moved on up" to a new (for me) model, the Apple Watch Series 2 Nike edition, which I have been wearing for a week now. This transition has given me an opportunity for a few reflections, which I will share here, with a future post scheduled to comment on my new Series 2 and the future.

My new Apple Watch arrived in June 2015 and I have been wearing it ever since.

The original Apple Watch purchase in June 2015 coincided nicely with my withdrawal from active (i.e. traveling) work as a blogger/analyst for the printing and imaging industry. It led me to lightheartedly view it as my "retirement watch" in the fine tradition of such things, even though it wasn't gold and it was a self-funded award. (I have found, by the way, that going from "working full-time and not retired", to "semi-semi-retired", to "semi-retired", to "still working a bit", leads to many transitions. These changes are quite the contrary of the "knife-edge rolls", aka product-development checkpoints, that I learned to live by during my early days in the tech industry.)

As already mentioned, the Apple Watch I chose was not made of gold, but it was expensive, at least in my book. Apple's line of watches introduced by CEO Tim Cook during the iPhone 6 launch event in Fall 2014, went from the least expensive Sport models, up to a yellow 18k gold luxury edition. (see Business Insider's "A Timeline of how the Apple Watch was created".) I opted for the 38mm Sport model, one of the least expensive available, at $349 plus tax. It featured a metallic case and a bright blue rubber watchband.

The box reminded me of one that would hold a set of baseball cards
About a week after placing my order (direct through Apple) a box arrived at my front door that looked like it should hold a complete set of Topp's baseball cards, but instead held the watch, nested in packaging several levels deep. There had been lots of Wall Street anticipation that the watch would be Apple's "next big thing", revenues- and profits-wise, had me thinking that delivery times should be longer than a week if sales were robust, just a month and change following the very first sales. The quick shipping gave me a first-hand clue that order rates weren't exactly shooting through the roof, but I was very happy to get my new watch as soon as possible.

At that time, Apple offered personal training, via Facetime-like software, where new owners signed up for a one-on-one appointment with a specialist. I did mine right away, but admittedly remained a bit confused about the meaning of watch-specific software things like "complications", but I moved on as an active user and even sometimes something of an evangelist. (See "Watch complications: What is Apple talking about?" )

At the time Smartwatches were not a totally new category for me, as I had been wearing a Pebble for a while. Its much lower price and simpler feature set were quite satisfactory for me, and I joked that it was my money-saving "placebo" keeping me from buying an Apple. But all the media attention paid to the Apple Watch at the time of its announcement and launch were too much for me, and I caved. The short gap between first shipments and getting mine certainly still qualified me as an Apple Watch early adopter, and I joined in some of the extra-curricular activities like participating in the Wristly weekly satisfaction surveys with my fellow innovators*. The high-water mark for that organization (which let their once-weekly surveys peter out about a year after launch) was when Tim Cook quoted their "user satisfaction level" (See screen shot below and "Have You Given Up on Your Apple Watch?", from a few months later when the natives were restless as to the new product's success, or lack of. )

With the pressure on Apple to hit a home run with Apple Watch, Wristly and its survey data were there to help.

The Pebble had me accustomed to watch-based notifications of activity on my iPhone, like texts, calls, and others messages, so the Apple watch offered little new there. The "Apple Pay" function was something I was eager to try, though, especially at the local McDonald's where years before I had an experimental "wand" that allowed wireless payments. I got the watch to work for that a few times, thanks to patient and helpful McDonalds employees, but I stopped trying as the actual utility very little if any benefit compared to swiping a credit card. It was the same with software like the Fidelity app. I got it to work, but reviewing and trading in my IRA account did not seem like a natural fit for a watch!

What I did like was its Activity Tracker and a few other things, and when the one-year anniversary of the Apple Watch got some media attention and some responses in the press including that of Ed Baig of USAToday. I responded to Baig's column (see "Would I still buy an Apple Watch? On balance, yes - USA Today") with an answer of my own to the question. Looking back on that two-year old post (See "State of the Apple Watch - Inspired by USAToday's Ed Baig - I would buy one again too!"), things haven't changed much after two additional years.

The biggest watch-related event of the past two years was shortly after that one-year anniversary, when my watch stopped taking a full charge (often an early warning sign of big problems in many a gadget), and then went completely bonkers and stopped working altogether. I was out of warranty by only a month or two, and an appeal to Apple to make an exception to the one-year window was successful, based on a phone call with one of their support managers, who reviewed my activity with Apple including lots of purchases of iPhones and iPads, and made that exception, leading to a swap to a perfectly-working watch that has continued on to this day. (Also noted - when I wrote at the beginning of this post that I have been wearing that original Apple Watch I bought in June 2015 on a daily basis since then
, that's not quite accurate. I have been wearing it, and its warranty replacement, ever since.)

My suspicion of what may have caused the problem was exposure to water as I have always kept the watch on in many wet situations including the shower. The final failure was also in late-summer, highly humid Philadelphia, which I suspected played a part. Regardless, Apple's willingness to give me a break on the warranty greatly strengthened my loyalty towards the company, just like the marketing book predict will happen!

But when reading recently that the next big operating system roll would work only with the Apple Watch Series 2 and later (see "Here's Why watchOS5 Is a Game-Changer for Apple Watch"), I figured it was time to upgrade. And while my new watch is not the newest, latest and greatest model, I am pretty happy with it so far. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on some of my experiences.

* - The original customer adoption model popularized by Jeff Moore's "Crossing the Chasm" in the 1980s distinguishes between innovators and early adopters. I don't, for the most part.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The three leading "voices" weigh in on a basic (dumb) question

There's a well-known saying that "there's no such thing as a dumb question" but I beg to differ. One of those truly dumb questions has to be, "Is a dolphin a fish?", but that did not keep one my grandsons and I from having fun teasing each other with the answer a few weeks back. It was one of those quasi-arguments that bonds the generations!

Of course, during our current times (2018), it doesn't take too long to pose any open question to one of our "smart assistants" and their varied answers were revealing. The Amazon Echo Alexa gave a nice, short, definitive answer. Apple's Siri found some reading on the web we might like to do. And the Google Home Assistant went even deeper than Alexa. I have to admit I prefer the "just give me the answer" approach rather than the homework assignment.

And now back to that dumb question... The Miami Dolphins football fans often root on "the fish", and there is a popular gamefish called the "dolphin" - in fact I caught a few in the Atlantic some years back. But beyond that, what of this smart-speaker connection with dolphins? Weirdly, in the scandal about these assistants being able to "hear" and respond to high-frequency voices beyond human hearing range, reference is made to "dolphin attacks"!

Probably mostly random observations, but I find them interesting!

Friday, March 09, 2018

Two of my famous economics professors - Thaler and Navarro

Through my years involving higher education, both student and teacher, I have encountered a number of memorable educators. Two of my economics professors have come to prominence in the past six months or so, and their similarities and differences are worthy of a few "compare and contrast" notes.
In the Fall, it was announced that the year's (only) Nobel Prize winner in Economics was the behavioral economist Richard Thaler. He was my Microeconomics professor during my first semester of my MBA program, at Cornell's Johnson School of Business. I had followed his career, which found him ending up at the Economic mecca University of Chicago, and in my teaching the past dozen years, I have used a range of Thaler's examples going all the way back to Cornell and his "sunk cost fallacy" - lessons which never left me - as well as his more recent work, which includes the well-known book Nudge, co-authored with Cass Sunstein, who served in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012.

Fast-forwarding a few decades, but back to me on the student side, Peter Navarro was my instructor for several courses, including refreshers in Micro- and Macroeconomics, just in the last several years. The educational forum where I studied under Navarro was, appropriate in keeping with the times, Coursera, the Palo Alto-based start-up that has helped pioneer Massive Open Online Courses, i.e. MOOCs. Navarro's courses were fast-paced, to the point, and among the earliest offered. I was only marginally aware of Navarro's reputation as a China-phobic trade protectionist, something that has become newsworthy in the past few weeks, and as he is considered for the nation's top Economic Advisor job.

Was my experience different, with the live, in-class encounters with Thaler, versus the online video experience with Navarro. Of course, in many ways, but the economists are different enough, and memorable enough by themselves to make the learning format only one of the variables. I enjoyed my time with both, learned a lot, and while I may not always agree, at least I have had the opportunity to hear and ponder their views. 

Thursday, February 01, 2018

What's in a trending topic? After the Era That Made It a Verb

For those who follow me on Twitter, you might have seen me acknowledge trending topics, at least on occasion. I find them fascinating, and often the mysterious ones (mysterious at least at first) are the most enlightening in the end. 

February starts with some interesting Trending on Twitter topics - some need an explanation
Today's "After the Era That Made It a Verb" had me at bit puzzled. it became all too obvious with a single click, relating to a quite large industry story I had become aware of yesterday morning. The trending topic matches a New York Times headline, which of course refers to "Xerox" and its being absorbed by its joint venture with Fujifilm. (See "So Long Xerox...")  While the two companies have been aligned for as long as I have seriously following the printing and imaging industry, this is in many ways the end.

The Times piece has a very short but still enlightening quote, which I will share here.
“'Xerox is the poster child for monopoly technology businesses that cannot make the transition to a new generation of technology,'” said David B. Yoffie, a professor at the Harvard Business School." 
-via "After the Era That Made It a Verb, Xerox, in a Sale, is Past Tense", NYTimes Dealbook, by Steve Lohr and Carlos Tejada, January 31, 2018.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Post - Just hit "Print"!

I just saw the Oscar-nominated "The Post", using MoviePass of course! (See "MoviePass - Fulfilling those 2018 resolutions".)

The movie does a great job of bringing back the look and feel of the Vietnam-War era, but I did notice one concession to modern times. Early on, where scenes show the illicitly gathered "Pentagon Papers" being photo-copied. While the nearly room-sized, single-page input machine seemed to correspond to what I remember of photocopiers in those days, the "button" shown being pushed to initiate the copy process was labeled "Print" - something I find implausible in those days. It was "copying" not "printing" after all!

Only a few decades later, when the Multi-Function Peripheral era was beginning, that the idea of reproducing a printed page was just another way of printing!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

My 12th Anniversary on Blogspot

Being someone who is tuned in to timelines and history, I like LinkedIn for its emphasis on anniversaries. While they seem to come along more frequently these days (!), it's nice to hear from friends and contacts who are prompted to "like" or send a note when one of my anniversaries comes up. (It's also a good way to get a reminder that perhaps the old LinkedIn profile is, yes, a little old - anniversaries don't count when they're for jobs or other endeavors that are no longer active, in my opinion anyway.)

This month (January 2018) it happens to be my 12th anniversary of beginning to blog on "Blogspot", i.e. right here! While I have experimented with Medium and other platforms I keep coming back to "old reliable", so the anniversary is valid and any and all likes and comments are appreciated!

Friday, January 12, 2018

MoviePass - Fulfilling those 2018 resolutions!

A deal between MoviePass and Costco was quite popular, and extended beyond the holidays.

Unlike many, I am a pretty big believer in New Year's resolutions. I give them thought in the weeks leading up to the beginning of the year, and don't feel the need to finalize them until sometime after the year has started. I like to spread them around between categories including the more typical health and fitness, professional, hobbies, and to me, the most important, fun!

Like many other to-do-list advocates know, there is great value in making sure at least a couple of my New Year's resolutions are very achievable, if not already in the bag. For 2018, one of those has been obtaining and using MoviePass, which I had become aware of during 2017 but had not acted on. In what seemed like a deal too good to be true, MoviePass requires a modest monthly fee (around the price of seeing one first-run movie), but then lets the holder attend theatrical-release movies (2D only) at the clip of up to one per day for no extra charge. This seemed like something I had to get going on for 2018!

So with the resolution of "get a MoviePass and use it a lot in 2018" I took advantage of an even somewhat better deal (available in December and early January but expired as of the 10th) and ordered a pre-paid annual MoviePass for $89.99 to Costco members. (See graphic and link above.)

So I now have hands-on experience with MoviePass, and can relate a mostly positive outcome but can also offer some advice. First, the good news - as you wait several weeks for the fulfillment cycle to get your MoviePass card (essentially an "ATM" MasterCard debit card) you will no doubt have questions and one will be, "What theaters accept the pass?" From my experience, and in my community, the simple answer is "all". That includes a favorite "indy" (aka "art house") venue and the multiple second-run theaters around town.

The bad news, though readers may not foolishly make this mistake, is the MoviePass is for one person, only. Maybe as the result of being part of a "couple" all these years, somehow I managed to figure the MoviePass I was buying through Costco was going to be good for two people, i.e. two simultaneous admissions. It's not!

When the one-card/one-person rule dawned on me, it was time to order another one for my partner. Not ready to make a commitment to a second annual pass, I ordered a three-month pass directly from the company, for $30. That was several weeks ago, and I expect the card in the mail any day now. However, that's where a final piece of advice comes in - be patient (or more accurately, forgiving.) I found their web site to be pretty glitchy and incomplete, and was faced with an inexplicable error message the first time I tried registering card number two - thankfully, it went through the following day, triggering a confirmation email and initiating the two-week (hopefully) wait for the physical card to arrive in the mail.

(BTW the patience/forgiveness thing was not applied universally. A recent Marketwatch story chronicled frustrations on the part of other would-be users. See "Thousands of MoviePass customers have been charged for cards they never received.")

Four movies in the first 11 days of the year - as captured in this iPhone screenshot. "Check" on this one for 2018!
I promised that "forgiving" advice was my last, but let me add another tidbit or two. Since using your MoviePass is a two-step process, first comes confirming the movie on your smartphone (I forgot, smartphone-less individuals need not apply). Then, interacting with a person in the box office who will swipe your card comes next. Don't worry, all the theater personnel know what a MoviePass is, so don't be afraid to ask for their help!

As they used to say closing my favorite movie-reviews show, "We'll see you at the movies!".