Sunday, May 5, 2013

Bad Guinea Pig

I had an epically bad psych teacher in high school who once randomly told our class that we had to decide how much we were worth.  That if we found a wallet on the street with $100 inside and chose to keep it, then we were selling our souls for a mere $100.

I get where he was going, but he used a terrible example.  My friends and I agreed that it was worth questioning where we draw the line for money, but it seemed to us the more you found on the street the more likely you were to return it.  If I find a nickel on the ground I'll likely keep it, and don't feel I'm selling my soul for a pittance just because I don't search for the person who dropped the nickel.  A bill I'd probably look around for evidence of where it came from and give it back if possible, but not feel bad if it seemed unclaimed and I decided it was now mine.  A wallet with any amount inside I would definitely return.  A bag with a million dollars?  Straight to the police.

But there are interesting questions to explore concerning money and integrity and feeling like you've sold your soul that are worth exploring.  I run into them every day when I make decisions for my business.  For instance, I use really nice strings on my rental violins.  It makes them sound better, which is important to me.  But none of the major stores in town do that because it's expensive.  They expect renters to buy their own strings if they want to sound better.  I think that's short sighted, because sounding good is the whole point, and what if they hate the sound and don't know it's the fault of the strings?  Anyway, I seldom decide what to do at the violin store based on money first.  I start with what's best and appropriate and what seems fair, and then factor in money enough to stay in business, and so far so good.  I will not be making the Fortune 500 anytime soon, but I'm happy and my kids are fed so we're a successful small business in my book.

When it comes to blogging I find the range of what people earn from it fascinating. 
There are full-time bloggers who can make their living at it, to people who accept products for review, to people with no tie to advertisers whatsoever.  On this site I decided to put up the minimal Google ad option because it didn't seem too intrusive, and the generous estimate of what those ads have earned me is around $50 in a year, so why not?  If Google wants to give me fifty bucks I'll take it and not feel like I'm selling my soul.

When I used to write at Babble every once in a while I would be offered the opportunity to receive samples of a product if I would promote it in a post.  It was always things like baby wipes which I didn't need, so I was never really tempted.  After Disney bought Babble and I left I saw bloggers being sent on cruises to review.  Wow.  Would I have taken the free cruise?  Probably, since it's not an experience I'm likely to ever pay for on my own, but I'd be more comfortable with something smaller.  (Again, the reverse of the way my unfortunate high school teacher seemed to look at the question.)

In any case, I don't think it's selling out for bloggers to use advertising or to do product reviews, but I think it depends on how they do it.  Google ads are about the limit of my own personal comfort zone, but there are others who manage to do much more and it seems to work for them.  I have concluded, however, that even if I were the kind of blogger who enjoyed doing product reviews, I am the wrong candidate for it.  I am a bad guinea pig.

The only product I have ever accepted for free in order to review it was a splinter removal kit as a favor to another blogger whose father started a site for selling simple medical equipment to the public.  She said as a doctor her dad always had the best tools at home for dealing with basic medical problems and now wanted to provide those things to others.  I thought that sounded like a cool idea when she posted it on Facebook, and said that having three splinter incidents in our family in the two weeks prior I might just have to invest in the splinter kit.  So she sent me one and asked that I give her dad some feedback about it.

Ask me how many splinters we've had since we got the kit.  Yes, of course there have been NO splinters.  In a year.  So I feel bad about having this kit in my possession when the only thing I can attest to is it seems to keep splinters away (which would be awesome if provably true).  So to assuage my guilt here is my review having not actually used the thing:

The kit comes with two tools in a box, a pair of tweezers and a long handled tool (called a "splinter liberator") that has a sharp end that can be stored safely inside its own handle when not in use.  I like the general feel of both these tools.  I like nice tools, and the tweezers seem up to the job of grasping a splinter well.  But I will admit to being confused about the other tool in the kit.  It seems like a small spear for helping cut a splinter out of your skin, but I'm not entirely sure what to do with it.  Do you slice along the top of skin stretched over the splinter?  Do you bore it out on one end?  I don't know.  The worst splinter I ever had was a sharp metal one that got embedded in one of my fingers and was sealed over in such a way I didn't know which direction to push it out.  I suffered with it for days before having to cut it out with a sharp knife.  I believe the little spear in this kit would have been good for that.  I think the kit could also be improved by some kind of magnifier.  Maybe one built into the lid of the kit?  Something that could be set up without your hands so you can work the tools and still see better?

Here's the thing about doctors' tools--they are only as good as the knowledge and skill of the doctor.  What would make this kit more useful is a set of clear, simple instructions for treating different splinter problems, and suggestions on what to do afterward to prevent infection.  Possibly even a link to a YouTube channel with reassuring demonstrations using the tools?  Just a thought.  But I like the site and many of the items offered there.  Here's hoping we continue to never have a reason to ever use this kit, however nice it looks.

What, you say?  This doesn't really show evidence of my being a bad guinea pig since I didn't technically try the product?  Well, let me tell you about the face stuff.

My next door neighbor's sister moved to town not long ago and she left a box of expensive looking face cleanser/lotion/spray/cream stuff on my doorstep in the hopes that I would try it out for a few weeks and give her some feedback so she would know if it was a product she should try to sell.  I protested that I was the wrong person to be passing judgement on such things but she said no, it was fine, and she knew I would be honest and thorough and wanted my opinion.  So okay then.

Here's the thing about my facial routine: I don't have one.  Until I turned 40 I just used regular soap in the shower and that's it.  The only reason I use a real face cleanser now is that swimming every day is drying me out all over and I thought I'd give something nicer a go, but I'm not convinced it's any better than normal soap.  The skin on my face has always been pretty low maintenance.  I get breakouts here and there that annoy me, but nothing chronic and horrible.  I have one wrinkle and a couple of creases between my eyebrows so I'm not scrambling for some anti-aging cure.  I don't wear makeup so there is nothing to scrub off at the end of the day.  I just don't bother about the skin on my face.

So the box of products was mysterious and daunting.  My children gathered around to ask what all those bottles and things were, and what was I doing to my face?  I told them it was an experiment, and they were fascinated.  I had to read the instructions in the morning and again in the evening to keep everything straight.  There was a cleanser to use first, and then a lotion (I think) followed by a spray mist.  There was a small dispenser for something under my eyes in the day, but a tub of cream with a tiny spoon for under my eyes at night.  I think there were five steps and six products.  I found it hopelessly complicated, and I hated the feel of all that stuff on my face, especially before going to bed.  I'm just not used to it.

Anyway, the most hilarious/humiliating part of this whole exercise was that I could not for the life of me remember which bottle was the spray and which was the lotion.  So at least once a day I would close my eyes, pump the top of the bottle waiting for a mist to settle on my skin, and then discover I'd simply sprayed lotion on my shirt or the counter.

I had to give up after a week.  It was too much work and I didn't look or feel any different.  My kids kept rubbing my cheeks to see if they felt softer or smoother and admitted they couldn't tell.  So there was that.  I gave my friend's sister her box back and said I was just the wrong person to be giving her feedback.  The kind of person who would be interested in such a product I'm sure enjoys spending that kind of energy playing with all those bottles and likes using creams and thinks mist in the face feels good, but that person is not me.

Here's a product I've been using that I can give some decent (unsponsored) feedback about: The Silk'n SN-800 Flash & Go hair removal zappy thingy.  I got some money for Christmas and decided to splurge on something not particularly necessary, and after reading some reviews online decided on this.  It's a noisy contraption shaped kind of like a hair dryer, and it zaps your skin with a bright light that somehow slows down hair growth (if you are pale with dark hair, so check, and check).  It has not helped anywhere but on my legs, but I have to say, I love not having to bother shaving my legs.  I'm in the pool almost every day and it was getting time consuming to shave regularly, and now I almost never have to.

You start off zapping yourself every two weeks for the first four treatments, and then once a month after that until the bulb dies I guess.  The day it occurred to me to actually mention this device on my blog, however, I managed to do a treatment on one leg and then promptly forget which leg it was.  So now I have to wait a month to do them both again and I will remain one leg behind.  Thus far I still cannot tell which leg I missed.  Regardless, I recommend cementing in your head a routine if you use this product, so you always do the same leg first and can keep track better than I did.  And apparently don't distract yourself by watching The Daily Show online while operating this equipment.

The only other product I can think of that I've blogged about is the Diva Cup.  I wrote about that (unsponsored) back on Babble a long time ago, and I may do an updated version here sometime because that's still the best thing ever.  I had one brief experience where I was caught off guard and needed to go back to pads and tampons for a few days and I HATED it.  Never ever never never not ever again.  Diva Cup rocks, and until I hit menopause someday I'm sticking with it.

So I guess the message of this post is that there are many people better than I for doing sponsored product reviews, and that my high school psych teacher does not, in retrospect, seem any wiser than he did back in the day.  (But I think I'd be amazing at reviewing fully paid for trips to Italy.  Just sayin', in case someone reading this happens to be looking around for a willing candidate for that.  Can have my bags packed in an hour and my legs are smooth.)


  1. Interesting, Kory. I hadn't even noticed the Google ads on your site. That's good if being unobtrusive is the point. But that's not usually the point of ads. Now that I'm looking at them, I guess I had seen them, but never would have guessed they were something that anyone but Blogspot would have been compensated for. As for doing with reviews, I think you can be comfortable taking even large freebies if you disclose in the review that you got something for free. Sunshine, as they say, is the best disinfectant.

    I've also faced some interesting ethical issues on the legal blog to which I used to contribute. For instance, when is it okay to talk about a case in which I had previously participated as an attorney? Obviously it would be wrong to discuss attorney-client confidences and the like; there are some bright lines. But what if I'm just commenting on an appellate opinion in a case where I had been a trial attorney? If the court of appeals does something unfair or idiotic, and I would ordinarily comment on it for the blog, should I refrain just because I had previously been counsel? And if I fix it with disclosure, for whose benefit? The former client? What duty do I owe the reader?

    When I became a judge, the Chief Judge told me to knock off the blogging altogether. So I did. I do miss it, sometimes. Keep it up!

    1. I didn't know you were a judge! Interesting. Probably wise advice to quit blogging in that situation because opinions are no longer some casual sideline, they are your professional function. But take good notes and when it's over write a book, please!

  2. I'll take that trip to Italy too, please. I could do a bang up job of a review. ;o)

    1. Hey hey hey that's MY free trip to Italy! We'll have to share.

  3. Bloggers put a lot of time and some money into their sites, so advertising seems like a way to recoup some of this very real investment. I think each writer has to find what works for her as each blog and its purpose is so different. Great post with lots to think about!

    1. I think it's great when talented bloggers get paid for what they do, because it's not particularly easy (even though good ones make it look that way). Some bloggers find a balance with ads that I think is great. But sites where the ads overwhelm the content bother me. There were ad campaigns at Babble from time to time that would literally color the entire homepage and obscure all content. I found that short-sighted because it just irritated everyone and made them want to leave. I've never been delighted to get a pop up ad. Plus there was the fun of people being directly offended if the site advertised something like baby formula. I get comments and emails from time to time when the ads on my site are in direct conflict with a post (a pro NRA post on a gun control piece, for instance) but I have no control over what Google chooses, and I think different people sometimes get different ads.

  4. Diva Cup is awesome. I agree. And I'm in the same boat with you when it comes to the product reviews. I'm more often trying to figure out how to make my own something so I can stop using all products. Exception being bar soap. The soap man on Delaware does such a great job that I'm going to let him keep making soap. But shampoo/conditioner...gone. Razors/shaving...gone. Lotion...gone. Currently working on sunscreen. Next up is laundry detergent and toothpaste.

    1. What soap guy on Delaware? I want to know the soap guy on Delaware! Good luck with your sunscreen.

  5. I'm intrigued by the "Silk'n SN-800 Flash & Go hair removal zappy thingy" - I didn't know such a thing existed! Maybe I'll ask for it as a future birthday gift. My only hesitation is that I want to use it on my legs and I'm thinking the cartridges could add up if they need to replaced frequently... How long has the cartridge lasted for you?

    1. Well, the thing comes with two cartridges, and the first one lasted for I think about 5 treatments before I had to switch it, and that second one is still going. But I'm also not bothering with my thighs because they are just not hairy enough to bother. Replacement cartridges seem to be about $40, so depending on how my legs look when the second one dies I may or may not replace it. I still give my legs a once over with a razor before a nice event, but for day to day I'm pretty happy with the results!

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