The Social Media Enabled Quest for the Isunda Gray Whale: in which twitter sends me out on a mid-century modern run in a snowstorm

The elusive EkenasetDespite what you may have heard, I do not spend all of my time following IKEA’s every move and hacking their furniture into cat habitats. But I do enjoy good design at prices that are actually within my reach, so I was bummed to have missed the limited-edition re-release of IKEA’s Ekenäset chair. By the time I clued in to the sleek wood and slubby linen-blend cover, it was still on the website but out of stock at every location I checked. And I checked every location in the US.

So I had nothing to lose trying to get the inside track on social media. I didn’t expect anything but I tweeted anyway.

asking for a friend

I’ll spare you the additional tweets and DMs, but eventually I got the tweet I was looking for, my twitter buddy at the store spied some Ekenäsets in the “as-is” section. The race was on. The goods were on the showroom floor, I was in a race against anybody who might be wandering by with an eye for some mid-century revival seating at 30% off. Having already studied the assembly instructions online, I packed up my cordless drill with allen key bit and a couple of wrenches – as-is items is usually assembled and I would have to disassemble the chairs to get them into my car – and headed out.

Into yet another Boston-area snowstorm. At rush hour. On 93 South. A horrible 90 minutes later, dizzy, dehydrated, shaking with road rage, I staggered into the store, not even pausing for fortifying meatballs, and made a beeline for the as-is section.

Thar she blows!

There they were, two Ekenäset chairs, just sitting there, one up on a little platform right at the entrance to the as-is section. I sat in one, then the other. They seemed sound, clean, unblemished, not covered in pet hair. I put one on my cart and turned the other over to double-check my plan of disassembly. A woman nearby said, “you know there are some in those boxes over there, too, right?”

In the boxes? As in new? NIB and NWT? Could it be? I checked the boxes. I matched the product numbers. I asked a passing associate. Yes, there were four more Ekenäset chairs. They were all 30% off. They were still packed in their boxes, nothing as-is about them but the price. What crazy Swedish capitalism makes things cheaper when they get scarce? I could buy the lot of them and flip them on craigslist for full price if not more!

I backed away from that madness and heaved two boxes onto my cart. On the way out of the store I dropped a tweet of thanks to my inside informant and noted that four chairs remained, two still in their boxes. I hope they’ve gone to good homes.

Even marketing software companies need a marketing plumber sometimes

You’ve heard, and probably experienced, at least metaphorically, that old saw, The Cobbler’s children have no shoes, or some variant thereof. I know lots of professionals, especially consultants, who can’t seem to find the time to apply their skills or advice to their own businesses.

The other day, I was working on an email preference center for a client, one with over a dozen different email streams. Email preference centers, if you don’t know the term, are those pages where you can adjust the kind and sometimes the frequency of the emails or other communications you get from a company. It’s pretty convenient for people to be able to change these communication settings themselves, and companies benefit by getting some data on which of their email streams people really want. Also, allowing people to have some control over the sort of stuff you send them can help reduce the incidence of complete unsubscribes.

As it turns out, I’m working on email preference centers for more than one client – and using more than one marketing automation product – right now. With HubSpot and Pardot, preference centers are pretty easy – any list you create can be made a part of the preference center. Pardot even allows multiple preference centers, which makes a lot of sense if you have different customer types or segments. Hubspot probably does too, though I didn’t see an obvious way to do it. I’m a little surprised that Marketo doesn’t seem to have a native preference center function (at least not one I’ve been able to find) but it’s not too hard to cook one up.

With much debt to the estimable Josh Hill’s guide, here is my short recipe for how to set up a preference center in Marketo.

New Checkbox Field
Click to embiggen this cromulent screenshot.

Set up boolean variables for each of your content streams. Marketo calls them checkbox variables and the values are true/false, yes/no, or 1/0. Think carefully how you want to assign these values. It feels backwards to me but Marketo’s generic unsubscribe field uses “true” to mean unsubscribed. I think of “yes” for send me mail, and “no” for don’t, but there’s no changing the default variable, so you just have to decide if yours will follow that convention or invert it.

Edit radio button display values - don't cross the streams
Click to embiggen this cromulent screenshot.

Create a form for your preference center. This is where the guts go. Put in whatever contact info fields you like, but be sure that email is there and is required. Then toss in your boolean content stream variables and Marketo’s general unsubscribe variable. You can leave these variables in their native checkbox state, or display them as radio buttons or dropdowns. If you’ve reversed the polarity of your variables compared to Marketo’s, this is a good way to cover your tracks.

Create a landing page for this form, or embed it into a page on your site. If it drives you nuts that Marketo displays radio buttons one above the other and you really want them side by side, I suggest you take a deep breath and count to ten. After that, put this CSS into the landing page with the form on it. You may want to tweak the margin and padding to your liking.

.mktoRadioList input, .mktoRadioList label {
 float: left !important;
 margin-left: 0.5em !important;
 padding-right: 1.5em;


Advanced thank you page
Click to embiggen this cromulent screenshot.

Write a simple confirmation page. If you want to get fancy, you can segment the confirmation page and serve one version for unsubscribes and another for folks who have changed or added subscriptions. You do this in the settings after you create the form.

Write a simple confirmation email. This is probably 99% the same as the page you did in the previous step. It’s not really necessary, but in the odd event that somebody subscribes/unsubscribes somebody else, accidentally or otherwise, this confirmation email will tip off the victim and give them a chance to reverse the change by visiting the preference center.

Email sending logic
Click to embiggen this cromulent screenshot

Create trigger smart campaigns to send the emails. Create smart campaigns that send the confirmation email with the form submit. If you have several confirmation pages and confirmation emails, you can create several campaigns or use split logic to send the appropriate email. Remember, if you send a confirmation of total unsubscribe, you have to make that email “operational” or it won’t get sent!

Put it in the footer. You should link to your new preference center in the bottom of your emails where the unsubscribe info is. We hope this will reduce unsubscribes. You can also link to this page from your main website as a “subscribe” or “preferences” page. Hill also recommends you link to your preference center from your privacy policy page.

Keep your promises. Here’s where you realize how much more awesome it would be to have a native preference center in your markeitng automation software. Unlike the default unsubscribe variable, your new subscription variables are not magically applied to every send. Therefore you have to go into each and every one of your campaigns and flows that sends emails, and add in logic to avoid sending to anybody who used your preference center to opt out of that particular stream. You asked them what they wanted to receive and not receive, you’d better keep that promise.

So there you go, you’re more or less ready to make your own preference center in Marketo. What’s all this got to do with the barefoot cobbler? Well, while I was building these preference centers, I got a message requesting some help with some marketing automation emails. Not so unusual in itself, but then they said “it’s the [redacted] install of [redacted]” in other words, I was being asked to consult on the marketing automation install of the marketing automation software maker itself. Sort of like an aircraft mechanic getting a call to work on Boeing’s corporate jet. So even the maker of the software, who no doubt has plenty of experts and programmers on hand, for whatever reason needs a little outside help working on their own product. I don’t for a minute think those experts don’t know how to do what I did, just that their schedules or priorities made it necessary to call in outside help. And there’s no shame in that.

Cheap Kablet for your Kitchen Cabinet

It’s been some time since we’ve had a kitchen technology update, not since the the two-port usb kitchen, in fact. So pull up a chair and I’ll tell you more than you wanted to know about how I installed a dedicated kitchen tablet.

My people call them "tomahtoes"Every now and again, via some design, gadget or kitchen blog, I read about some fabulous new gizmo for using your ipad or other tablet in the kitchen. By and large these things make me laugh.

Specialized kitchen tablets seem foolishly overpriced and not all that specialized. Kitchen ipad holders are not so different from old-fashioned cookbook holders, just more expensive and sometimes far less well designed. Maybe these work for some folks, but I just don’t see it – mostly they seem to be terrible wastes of that most precious of kitchen resources, counter space.

If you’re going to have a tablet in the kitchen, it seems to me it should be mounted on the fridge or a wall or a cabinet, roughly at eye level as you work.


So I hatched a plan: try out the idea of a kitchen tablet with a cheap android tablet and mount it to the cabinet door with by some means that will leave no trace when I move out. This device will carry a handful of apps that will make cooking and cleaning up in the kitchen a little more convenient and pleasant.

Hardware & Installation

I hit a minor snag as a surprising number of “white” tablets (of course it has to be white, the kitchen cabinets are white) have black bezels on the front. Ultimately, I settled on the expansively-named iRulu X1s -Quad Core 7″ Google Android Tablet, HD IPS Screen, Quad Core (4* 1.4Ghz), 1G RAM, 8G NAND Flash, Bluetooth, Android 4.4, Google Play Preinstalled, Hottest tablet for 2015 -(White) for $66 and picked up some Command Picture Hanging Strips too. These things, by the way, contain some seriously weird and wonderful material science.

These Command Picture Hanger things are amazing.

Knowing that I wasn’t likely to actually experience the advertised 3 hour battery life on this device, I planned to keep it plugged in at all times. Luckily, I found an open outlet inside a nearby cabinet – if you have a microwave or convection oven mounted above your cooktop, there’s a good chance it’s plugged in to an outlet installed nearby for that purpose. Unluckily, the white iRulu X1s comes with two white micro-usb dongles and one black micro-usb AC charger. At some point I’ll have to paint it white or cover it up with some white electrical tape or something.

Lucky for me there was an outlet in the upper cabinet

So there you have it, a small and cheap but fully-functional tablet just about at eye level above my primary prep space, the two feet or so of counter between the oven and the sink.

Breakfast of champions: toast with avocado and chia seeds, served with iced coffee in a peanut butter jar

Software & Apps

As cheap as this tablet was, it contains a slightly more recent version of Android than my phone, which cost a bit less than 10x as much. It also has a refreshing lack of the crud that mobile phone carriers glom on to their Android devices. These are the apps I’ve installed for kitchen use:

Kitchen Timer. There are a lot of timer apps, and I didn’t spend too much time shopping around. This one’s free, has two timers you can configure with different sounds, and if you ignore the ton of buttons on the left, it looks nice enough.

Kitchen Timer App

There are a ton of recipe and nutrition apps, but for now I’m skipping them. I downloaded Chrome (why is Google Chrome not installed by default as the browser on Google Android devices?) and will most likely view recipes and other info there.

Colcannon in Chrome (it was delicious)

For shopping list management, I was already using Wunderlist on both my laptop and phone so that whenever I actually remembered something I needed, I could quickly add it to the list and have that list in my hand at the store. Accessing the list in the kitchen seems like good sense.

The other killer kitchen app, at least for me, is audio. There’s already a radio in there perma-tuned to NPR, but sometimes what’s on is not what you’re in the mood for. I added Google Play Music and NPR One. I thought the hardware would let me down on audio, especially since the tiny speaker is on the back of the device that I just mounted to the cabinet door, but the air gap created by the mounting strips seems to be just enough. It’s not hi-fi but it’s good enough for the setting.

Kablet Home Screen

And finally, in case my meal plans go down the drain, perhaps literally, there’s Foodler. I made a point of not setting up mail and instant messaging clients, but of course one could.

Summary of Findings

For well under $100, I’m pretty proud of this kablet. I can definitely see how a larger screen would be helpful, as scrolling while cooking is a bit of a drag. The cheap tablet is, well, cheap, and I’d be a little worried about how well it would hold up as a child’s tablet – neither build quality nor computing horsepower would likely be up to the task – but it seems quite sufficient for the limited role I’ve assigned it.

Having the grocery list always right there in the kitchen might be the most life-changing part of this install, since I’m prone to completely forgetting that I used the last egg the instant I leave the kitchen.  I’ve cooked up a few meals already with the recipe on screen while using the timer and music apps, and it’s working well. It turns out that music helps make washing dishes easier, too.

If I were the owner of this kitchen and handier with tools, I could see possibly mounting the kablet permanently in the cabinet door, and definitely running the power cable through some holes to get it out of sight.

I’m not a very messy cook and the tablet is probably far enough from the stovetop and sink to get splashed or spattered, but maybe a layer of plastic wrap would be a smart addition to the setup. I’m not about to buy a fancy kitchen ipad stylus, but I will report back at some point if vegetarian sausage can activate a capacitive touch screen.

There’s Nomageddon Like Snowmaggedon

There’s nomageddon like snowmageddon
Like nomageddon I know
Not a thing about it is appealing

There's nomageddon like snowmaggedon

Everything in traffic will go slow
Nowhere could you get that trapped feeling
When you are shov’ling that extra snow

There’s no people like snow people
Their tops they will all blow
Even with a virus that you caught from mold

You may be stranded inside and cold
Thinking to yourself, this sure gets old
Let’s get over this snow

Your neighbor, the asshole, so selfish, that jerk
He’s secretly a happy guy because
Your neighbor, the asshole, so selfish, that jerk

Got a riding blower but for no cause
Fills your driveway up with snowy gobs
Goodbye to common sense and decorum oh my

There’s nomageddon like snowmaggedon
And I tell you it’s so
Skiing on the train tracks is so thrilling

Standing out in front and watching the fights
Smiling as you watch the spaces filling
With folding chairs, and slashings by night

There’s no people like snow people
They sneer when the winds blow
Potholes come from nowhere with an awful crack

And when you lose it, there’s no way back
Where can you get french toast for your snack attack??
Let’s get over this snow

There’s nomageddon like snowmageddon
Like nomageddon I know
You get nuts before the snow has started

In this drama you are just a pawn
Top of that, snow season has just started
You’re broken hearted but you go on

There’s no people like snow people
They flip you off and go
Massaholic if you don’t move in your car

Last night it snowed and there you are
Freezing and trudging just to get to the bar
Let’s get over this snow

Sincere apologies to Irving Berlin, Ethel Merman, and you, dear reader.