The Price is often Not Right

Fact. We're all sucked in by marketing positioning on best price. No matter how long we've been consumers or actually in the game. 


Here in New Zealand, Mitre10 is a good example. Byline: "Best price. End of story." Well, actually it's neither best price nor end of story.


In Mitre10's campaigns - yet interestingly not on their website, where people are far more able to quickly match prices - they promote a 15% guarantee. This states that if you find a better price from a competitor for the exact same item (they get to define competitor), they will not only match that price but charge or reimburse you at 15% lower. Sounds good, for a consumer, and it's not too bad a positioning for a marketer to assess.


Marketing texts, when I did my MBA in the 90s, were full of examples of those who offered guarantees and those who didn't. It was a growing experiment of the time. Overwhelmingly, those who didn't offer any form of guarantee (aside from their legal obligations) stated financial reasons. Those who did also stated financial reasons.


In the former, companies worried about claim exposure. In the latter, companies understood better not only the customer's access to information, but the personal cost of follow up. Their argument, robustly proven over the years, is that the inflow of customers who felt comfortable and secure based on the promise far outweighed those who took the company to task at the business' risk of line-item margin.


My purchase decision today was based on that same sense of trust and security. I went slightly out of my way to purchase lightbulbs in bulk at a Mitre10 Mega. I try to support our local community supermarket wherever I can, to the extent that I buy at a premium often. I know it, and it's fine. Their access to national contract pricing is poor. But that company is here in our small town, keeping people in jobs and adding to economic wellbeing.


When it comes to bulk purchase - which four teenagers in a household will force one to consider, after summing the food bill on the bank statement (toilet rolls and milk, anyone?) - we shop accordingly. Moore Wilson's is good. So long as you don't buy the smaller quantity, less consumed items, you'll buy fine. 


So, I presumed Mitre10 would be a location of good value for lightbulbs. I have a trade account, so I figured: good price, even better with the discount. Not so.


On the way home, I stop into the community supermarket to buy dinner and casually check the lighting area. The same lightbulbs, $3.02 each at Mitre10 - less my discount, so $2.57, are $2.25. 


None of us will never buy the absolute best every time. If we can manage that, we're probably compromising a bunch of other things in our lives. However, it's a lesson to me today that if I'm too sucked in by marketing to the extent I presume where I will get the best price, I've learnt nothing from 25 years in the game. 


...I bought extra lightbulbs tonight from the supermarket which I don't need. I also don't need the chase-up on Mitre10 for the pennies under their guarantee. I'd rather devote the energy to talking about it.






"Steve who?" That's what my son and another musician he plays with said when I announced we're going to the G3 concert this March. "Heard of Toto," say I, "Rosanna?" Sort of. Which seems to typify most people's awareness of Toto, and particularly Guitarist Steve Lukather. 

The back-end of Rosanna could easily be interpreted as a tack-on jam, particularly by those used to the high rotation of the radio version; that and Africa on early fade out, in days when songs over four minutes were counter to networks' desires to cram as many songs into an hour as possible. 

However, without it, the song is musically, emotionally unsatisfactory. Drummer Jeff Porcaro, with his deceptively difficult shuffle groove, needs something punchy to play against to lift the whole thing, rather than the 'with' of the horns and keyboards, or indeed the mid-song lead break. Lukather launches into it off a jazz piano riff at 4:48, pauses, then lets rip. Jazzy hooks, but very definitely a great rock solo.

...Those boys are coming with me to G3, by the way. They think it's G2 and some other guy. I'm picking they'll remember Lukather afterwards just as much as Vai and Satriani. I might also tell them beforehand that whilst Eddie Van Halen delivers the knockout guitar punch in 'Beat It', the guy going the full twelve rounds on the song's great riff is - yep, Steve Lukather.





Comfortably Numb

I've been trying to play Gilmour's lead work right for thirty years. Even now, I still pick up stuff that's eluded me technically after all that passage of time. 

Sure, NME threw him into their list, unsurpisingly, but for Shine On You Crazy Diamond, not this. Nothing wrong with that, but both should have been there.

There's no better example than this song to illustrate the argument I've had with many folks over the years about whether the signature of Pink Floyd is Waters or Gilmour (stick Syd on the side for sake of a shorter blog).

Waters wrote much of Pink Floyd's stuff, certainly. But Gilmour took it somewhere unmistakable. And here, in Comfortably Numb, he had more influence than usual. He wrote the music, argued over Waters' too-soft treatment of the verses, eventually winning out in the composition, structure and feel with lead breaks brought in from material otherwise destined for his first solo album. His work dramatically lifts the piece.

If you're unconvinced, 32.8m You Tube views say so.





Ride On

In the early seventies, a school mate with divorced parents would return from visiting his father in Sydney each school holidays. 

Invariably he'd return with AC/DC records, not then available in NZ, which I found astounding. We thrashed them. Wore out the grooves. 

Ride On is a beautifully measured, well-tempered piece. Contemplative, with the honest emotion of boys in a rock band just oozing out of it. 

Angus has never bettered his lead work here - a brilliant follow-through to Bon Scott's scratchy lyrics 3:38 in, echoing an earlier fill, humbuckers humming, fingers flying and, quite rightly here, no care for technical competency over expression.





When NME recently published their list of the 50 greatest guitar solos of all time, I found myself both surprised and not. A publication which cut its teeth on and steadfastly holds to contentious opinion, all these years on, simply will be surprising by nature. No surprise there. Probably why I continue to read it.

There were some good and undeniable calls. Yet, some strange entries and even stranger rankings. Always open to new stuff, and stuff I may have missed, I methodically went through all. Quite prepared to be convinced, I found myself skeptical as to how much exposure to good music some contributors have really had.

So here, in no specific order, are those I reckon should have been there. No doubt I shall think of more, and the list in any form could well be as contentious to others as NME's own. Great! Tell me what you think as I post on each in turn.

1.  Ride On - Angus Young, AC/DC
2.  Comfortably Numb - David Gilmour, Pink Floyd
3.  Rosanna - Steve Lukather, Toto
4.  Forever Now - Ian Moss, Cold Chisel
5.  Red House - Jimi Hendrix
6.  All Right Now - Paul Kossoff, Free
7.  Still Got The Blues For You - Gary Moore
8.  You Make Loving Fun - Lindsay Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac
9.  China Girl - Stevie Ray Vaughan, David Bowie
10. Crazy Train - Randy Rhoads, Black Sabbath
11. Profession Of Violence - Paul Chapman, UFO
12. 316 - Eddie Van Halen, Van Halen
13. Child In Time - Ritchie Blackmore, Deep Purple
14. Brothers In Arms - Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits
15. Black Magic Woman - Carlos Santana, Santana
16. Heartbreaker - Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin




I'm not a fantastic photographer, but supportive folks often tell me they see a talent for framing and picking a shot. Often such comments are accompanied by the mild complaint that they would love to have the same ability, especially as I rarely resort to cropping an image; I attempt to shoot a 'complete' picture.

A number of years ago, I was forced to literally change my view on life, and it appears to have had a significant effect on my ability as a photographer.

Photography, as with many pursuits in life, can be a tussle of varying proportions between artistic and technical matters. I tend to be an analytical person, though the artistic is strong too. I can get rather technically-oriented with f-stops, depth of field, focal length, aperture, shutter speed, lighting - and pride myself on my competency with these aspects. At the same time, I'm looking for the composition, the art in the shot. Sometimes too technical means I turn out a Japanese car: well-constructed but lacking a touch of elan, soul, emotional expression. Or, conversely, too arty and I'll frame a great shot that I'll never get again. Beautiful but technically dodgy, like an Alfa Romeo.

There's a lot going in a brain, clearly. Generally, our left brain is the process centre for logic, reasoning, mathematics, science. It is where we develop facts, rules and strategies. Our tendency, then, is for the right hemisphere to be the generator of imagination, shapes, symbols and spatial interpretation. It's true for most people that this is where we explore possibilities, estimate and explore concepts rather than be exact. It is the creativity centre of the brain.

Human beings are cross-wired in the brain department to the body. The left hemisphere of the brain mostly controls our right side, the right the left. There is no conclusive evidence as to why, merely theories. One I like is that by crossing over it creates somewhat of an automatic aid to the balance system to reduce the tax on the brain to do all the hard work. An elegant solution if correct.

Thinking about the eye, this of course means that the left hemisphere is wired to the right eye, and vice versa. That's bi-directional. Light signals received by the left eye concentrate in a nerve bundle which flows to the right hemisphere processing centre at the back of the brain. It's interesting, too, that the lens of the eye is already creating on the retina an image that's upside down and mirror image (remember pinhole camera experiments as a kid?). So there's a double-switch which occurs.

Beyond the eye, if you're right handed, that's being controlled by the left side of your brain. Generally then, if you're right handed, you're right eye dominant. It's not always the case though, and this is the interesting situation in which I find myself. 

What do we mean by 'dominant' and why? Like a hand or a foot, we rely on one of any two things we have to be the 'authority' on certain things, such as kicking, or writing. With our eyes, we must rely on one to provide the most pinpoint, precise information to be accurate in many tasks, such as taking aim. 

In 1996 I had an accident, spraying, under some pressure, a cocktail of sulphuric acid and silicon into my eyes. Don't ask how or why, just accept it as plain dumb; lifelong experience acquired just after I needed it.

It was a neat trick. The sulphuric acid burnt off the epithelium, allowing the silicon to fuse directly to the raw, exposed cornea. After two weeks of having my eyeballs scraped daily, my vision returned sufficiently in my left eye. In time, it returned almost to normal, with slight ghosting. My right, however, was left with significant scarring and has remained so, designating me legally blind in that eye to this day.

Photography to that point was a right-right pattern. Right hand use of the camera coming easy as a right-hander; right eye on the viewfinder. That's how cameras are built, I guess.

Now, I was left with no choice but to stick my left eye on it. It felt weird at first, and I became immediately annoyed by the smudge I left on the LCD display. The other thing I noticed almost immediately, is that my photos got better, to the point where I would often surprise myself. I'd frame, think about and set the technical aspects, and shoot. Later, I'd be intrigued by what I'd taken. After a short while, I also began to notice that my identification of interesting things got a bit better, too. Further, I discovered that I got faster, even subconscious in identifying what I wanted to shoot. So, artistically, in a short space of time, my photography had come on leaps and bounds. Just what was going on?

Funnily enough, with both eyes open, I could see OK. I discovered I am left eye dominant. Closing or opening my damaged right eye affects only my peripheral vision, nothing else.

As an aside, if you're not sure which of your eyes is dominant, a simple test is to stick your thumb out in front of you. Focus on it, both eyes open, then close your right eye. If your thumb moved its position slightly, you're right eye dominant. Do the double-check: open both again, then close your left eye. Your thumb should have retained its location. There's another interesting test here. (BTW, I see the dancer spinning clockwise, but can get her to move the other direction with concentration). 

For me, I'm sure there are a few things going on. First, I'm composing my images using my dominant eye. Previously, I likely had my left dominant eye, with the right, roving around the subject, then being cast aside when I went to viewfinder with my right. Secondly, my left eye must now have even more dominance, in the sense that the haze I see from my right is of lesser effect and influence than before. 

These days I don't mind the smeary marks on the LCD screen.


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