Hit Coffee is the story of Will Truman (trumwill),
transplant in the mountain west with an IT background who bides his time
substitute teaching while his wife brings home the bacon.
This site is a collection of reflections
on the goings-on in his life and in the world around him. You will probably
be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the
third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.
Greetings from Callie, Arapaho, a red town in a red state known for growing
red meat. And from Redstone, Arapaho(Aw-RAH-pah-hoe), a blue city with blue collar roots that's been feeling blue
for quite some time.
Nothing written on this site should be taken as strictly true, though
if the author were making it all up rest assured the main character
and his life would be a lot less unremarkable.
This website is maintained by Guy Webster (web),
who also contributes from time to time.
Web hails from the midwest and currently lives
in Truman's home city of Colosse, Delosa. He works as a utility IT person at
Southern Tech University, their alma mater.
Also contributing is Sheila Tone (stone) a West Coaster, breeder, and lawyer
who has probably hooked up with some loser just like you and sees through
your whole pathetic little act.
Bloomberg ran a piece about the inadequacies of the Internet in the United States, making the oft-mentioned point that we really don’t get much bang for our buck. She wonders why broadband isn’t more of a government venture, citing some municipal initiatives such as the one in Lafayette, Louisiana:
In 2004, the Lafayette utilities system decided to provide a fiber-to-the-home service. The new network, called LUS Fiber, would give everyone in Lafayette a very fast Internet connection, enabling them to lower their electricity costs by monitoring and adjusting their usage.
Push-back from the local telephone company, BellSouth Corp., and the local cable company, Cox Communications Inc., was immediate. They tried to get laws passed to stop the network, sued the city, even forced the town to hold a referendum on the project — in which the people voted 62 percent in favor. Finally, in February 2007, after five civil lawsuits, the Louisiana Supreme Court voted, 7-0, to allow the network.
From 2007 to mid-2011, people living in Lafayette saved $5.7 million on telecommunications services.
Since Lafayette went down this path, other communities have followed. According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a group that advocates for municipal fiber networks, these community-owned networks are generally faster, more reliable and cheaper than those of the private carriers, and provide better customer service.
I have seen one of these municipal networks in action, and I have to say that they are a pretty great deal. Especially when the local utility companies are charging too much or dragging their feet on upgrading service. More generally, there is a strong argument to be made that utilities that lend themselves towards natural monopolies, like cable internet, cable TV, and phone service, ought to be government rather than private ventures. I mean, if you’re not going to have actual competition between suppliers, why not cut out the middle man?
Sometimes, it’s because the middle man has something to offer. Out here, broadband began as a co-op but eventually was sold on the private model in large part because the cable company had access to more and better resources for expansion and upgrading. The co-op more or less abandoned the city right about the time I was arriving, though they still cover the outlying part of the county. However you look at it, there’s no good reason that a private company shouldn’t have to prove itself to the people.
There were other aspects of the article I was less keen about, however. Where I felt like the article was misleading.
It’s true that in the past private industry had little interest in covering rural America and needed the pitchfork of the government to do so. Rural America and small towns owe a debt of gratitude to the FDR and the federal government in that regard. And, as is the case in Callie, a lot of it they had to do themselves because they were (and in some places still are) below the radar of corporate America. However, it has to be said that (as far as I can tell) this is a lot less true than it used to be. Proclamations that but for the government, national communications and entertainment companies would tell small towns and rural places to go to hell no longer seems to be true except for a relatively small sliver of what we would consider to be rural.
My current town, Callie, population 3,000 with nary another town of remotely comparable size (or larger) for 50 miles in any direction, has 3G from Verizon and (non-LTE) 4G from AT&T. Verizon’s LTE network extends to cover almost 90% of the country, which includes a lot of small towns. Places such as Butte, Montana, and Twin Falls, Idaho, are covered. You see something similar with local channels in satellite. Back when I used to work for a satellite carrier, they had all but said that there were some DMA’s that they would never bother to cover. Now, Dish Network covers everybody and DirecTV covers almost everybody. Twin Falls and Butte both have their local channels broadcast by satellite. And they aren’t actually charged any more than the big cities are for the privilege (a hat tip to arguments about the USPS being a giveaway to rural America because letters to the middle of nowhere cost the same as letters between population centers). There is, in fact, money to be made in rural America and small towns, and the same subsidies that the government has actually apply to private industry as well (ie Dish Network makes more per subscriber in Seattle than Twin Falls because of per-capita usage they get out of resources expended).l
Another issue I had with the article was any comparison whatsoever between the United States and South Korea and the like. You simply cannot compare the two in any meaningful sense. Not with Internet, and not with cell phone coverage. The US faces enormous challenges that smaller and more urban nations do not. The degree to which we are spread out makes coverage more difficult. This applies to rural areas, but also suburbs (and the fact that our urban cores themselves are not remarkably dense, in most places). This is one of the downsides to American settlement patterns, but it’s not going away any time soon. So coverage of such things is going to be weaker, and more expensive.
Which brings us, of course, to questions of how and where the federal government should promote service. I’ve written on this before. Now, as a rural-liver, I wouldn’t mind it one little bit if the federal government decided to lay broadband out here. I’d use it and happily so. The only downsides are the extent to which the same people who would champion a national broadband policy will turn around and complain about “rural subsidies” and, more substantively, I don’t think it’s actually the best allocation of resources.
While we do need to make sure that everybody has access to high speed Internet of one sort of another (I’m a commie that way, I suppose), I believe it only makes sense to approach each areas needs individually. Callie doesn’t need fiber. A lot of places don’t. As satellite internet gets better and more affordable, this may well be a problem that takes care of itself. So long as we keep expectations reasonable.
Which is why, ultimately, I think this should be mostly a local issue. More cities should either do what Lafayette has done or use the threat of doing so to leverage a equipment upgrades by the local suppliers. The primary role I see in the federal government is to use fiber for redevelopment zones. Take cities that have capacity outstripping their population or that are simply struggling to keep their population numbers stable, and start offering it to those areas. Places like Detroit or Redstone. That could be helpful in enticing employers to utilize these services and attract and retain local talent. But beyond that, different places are going to have different needs. The alternative starts to look like this.
I want to be excited about this. Or, more excited about this than I am. This is, to my mind (as with Yglesias’s) how things should work. And T-Mobile, as a company, has always done business the way that I want cell phone companies to do business. I am not a T-Mobile customer due to their complete lack of coverage in my part of the country. That’s a bit of a cop-out, though. There was a regional carrier that I could have signed with and chose not to. Good people though they were, they couldn’t provide me with the service I wanted.
I am currently under contract with The Dark Side. They were the only ones that could.
Anyhow, T-Mobile is in a similar situation where they are virtuous because they have no claws. It is not likely the other major carriers will follow suit. Further, for it to be really advantageous, we’d need common standards and unlocked phones so that I can take my phone from one company to another. If I were to switch to T-Mobile, I’d need to buy a new phone. So whether we’re buying our own phone or accepting a subsidy, we’re talking about significant barriers to exit.
My sister-in-law recently recruited my help to set her up with a modern smartphone and mobile plan for her relocation to Alaska. Alaska is a peculiar case as far as mobile phones (and many, many other things) go, but it got me looking at the various options out there. For a whole lot of people who aren’t me, the arguments in favor of prepaid plans are becoming stronger and stronger. It may even be something I look at when our contract with The Dark Side expires. The prepaid market works more closely to how I think things should work and are increasingly including things - like unlimited whatever - that keep me deciding between the big boys.
Now, most (all?) of those carriers rely on either AT&T and Verizon’s networks (do any of them use Sprint?). Which makes me wonder about the long-term viability of this, if their leasing out their lines is cannibalizing their own business. I don’t think such leasing is actually required (I remember reading that T-Mobile was approached but declined), so if the downmarket carriers get too competitive, the big two can put a stop to that.
Honestly, though, I’d actually consider it desirable to have two overlapping national networks if we ended up primarily having competition on the storefront level.
The other day at Safeway I happened to end up in line in front of the young lady I sold Crayola, my old Ford Escort, too. I was particularly happy to sell the car to exactly the kind of person she was: young and poor. I offered the car for a really low price and even knocked another $150 off after I met her and her boyfriend, the prototypical struggling young couple. I almost had an offer for the full asking price, but I ended up glad that didn’t work out because it was a gift for a grandson who was apparently less than impressed that his first car was going to be a compact. I wanted the car to go to someone that would appreciate it the same way I appreciated having any car that would run.
While we were waiting, I asked them whether they still had the car, and they did! I thought that I had seen it around town, but I hadn’t seen it in a while. Apparently, the old car successfully drove from the Mountain West, to the Great Plains, to the Texas, and back. I was pretty stunned since I had become reluctant to try to drive it to Redstone.
I will confess, however, that “wait, so you’re saying I could have held on to that car for two more years?!” crossed my mind. But a greater part of me was glad that I didn’t rip them off with a car that had less than a couple months left on it. Besides which, the car had become unreliable in extreme cold conditions. We haven’t really had that since I sold it to them, but piece of mind was also one of the things we purchased along with the new car and warranty plan. Also, with little Lain, the two-door compact would no longer have been useful to us anyway.
Meanwhile, my sister-in-law is asking me about smartphones and is interested in upgrading to one. That sort of stuff makes my day to begin with, but it worked out even better when it turned out that a phone I have that’s been gathering dust (literally - I’m looking at it now and it’s very dusty) fit her needs perfectly.
I always like it when things I can no longer use can find a home with someone who needs them.
A little while ago, I got a really sweet deal on a used smartphone off eBay. It had a crack running through a corner of it and was a lower-range model to begin with (though the specs were fine). I buy most of my smartphones off eBay, and there have rarely been problems. I’d recommend it, generally. This post is not one an “I got ripped off by eBay posts”.
However, this purchase started off on an odd foot. The seller had not reset the device, so after booting up the phone, I was locked out of it. Not a big deal as I could reset the device myself. After that, I set the phone aside to take a look at when I got the time. When I picked the phone up again a week later, I learned that not only had the device not been reset, it hadn’t been deactivated. It was still receiving text messages and calls.
I did my part. I contacted my carrier to inform them that somebody out there (at [phone number]) was still being charged for a voice and data plan that they weren’t using. I was informed that unless the account-holder called, there was nothing I could do. (They also informed me that I couldn’t activate my new/used phone until it had been deactivated by the accountholder of the number it was assigned to.) I also found the email address of the original owner of the phone. I wrote them an email explaining the situation and that they needed to contact the carrier to cancel their coverage.
To which I got a six word response: “Who are you? Leave me alone.” I started to respond, but then realized that I was merely repeating what I’d said in my last email. The end result of all of this being that some girl or woman in the rust belt is going to be continually charged for a wireless phoneline that she isn’t using. She’ll probably be wondering why they are contacting her since she dispatched the phone and that obviously terminates the account right? At some point, debt collectors will be involved. Her current balance is over $1,000 in payment due.
Meanwhile, I have a smartphone that I can’t really use yet. Actually, I could use it as a separate phone line if I were so inclined. But I have a phone. I bought this for backup purposes in case I lost my phone. I assume that service will indeed be cut off at some point. Hopefully before I need this one. The next-to-last text message said that I needed to contact the carrier within 24 hours. That was over 24 hours ago, and I just got a text message from an irate friend wondering why he or she is being ignored.
It’s actually somewhat amazing to me that I have never actually lost a cell phone. I ran over one, once. I crushed one under an exercise bike. (By the way, never insure your smartphone. Trust me.) I have misplaced my phone on a couple of occasions, but I was quick to realize it was gone and recovered it.
Of course, I don’t know if she lost this phone, whether it was stolen*, or whether she just sold it. The bigger issue is that upon the dispatching or disappearance of the phone, she didn’t get it replaced or cancel the account. This is actually the sort of thing that I am bad at when it comes to wallets. I wait a week or two for it to pop up. I keep an eye on my credit card usage, and then if it hasn’t popped up I start making the calls.
I get the sense that there is no such deliberate process involved with the original owner of this phone. That she is like the guy who thinks that since his car was repossessed that his relationship with the creditors was terminated. These are the sorts of things that genuinely depress me. We live in an increasingly complicated world. The deck is enormously stacked against those who aren’t equipped for it.
* - A lot of people are under the impression that used phones are always stolen. I’ve actually never bought into this. As people continually upgrade or replace their phones, the old phones have to go somewhere. In any event, the girl in question had an opportunity to declare it stolen. She didn’t. My conscience is clean.
The situation with Audible has been resolved. The issue, basically, is that when I signed up for an account, they gave me two. One had an account, one didn’t. When I asked them to delete the surplus account, there was some resistence on the basis that there was no reason to since it didn’t hurt to have the second account, but once I explained the problem with email confusion over the status of my membership, they killed the account.
The situation with the optometrist has not been resolved and has in fact gotten worse. When they finally send the prescription to Walmart, they sent a contacts prescription. I don’t need contacts, I need glasses. I haven’t been able to check with them in order to see whether or not they even have a glasses prescription or whether they were under the impression that it was specifically for contacts. I’m never going to get my new glasses. If I have to get a glasses prescription, I’m just going to go to the Walmart eye center. The most frustrating thing about all of this is that my vision hasn’t changed. This was confirmed on my last visit.
In response to the subject of a post-consumerist society, NewDealer writes:
What is an economy that is not built on consumerism? What is the alternative?
This is a serious question. I am not saying that being a consumer all the time is good but critics of consumerism have yet to come up with an alternative model that I consider to be sustainable and/or pleasant.
Most critics of consumerism seem to be filled with Freshman 101 sort of rebellion. As I once joked about on facebook but got a lot of likes, one day these people “will want nice things to”. In other words, most of them will end up just as middle class as the backgrounds they came from and are currently rebelling against.
The modern notion of a vast middle class is more or less based on consumerism and is a continuation of the Victorian Industrial Revolution’s ability to take former luxury items and make them affordable for the masses. Now we do it with clothing, electronics and vacations and restaurants instead of chocolate, candles, and soap though.
I was listening to NPR’s Planet Money once and they were interviewing a very thrifty woman who basically urged everyone to stop buying anything new (furniture, books, clothing, electronics, etc) and also to stop going to restaurants. If everyone took her advice, the economy would collapse and we would all be more miserable. Plus life would be really boring without restaurants.
That being said, I agree we should think more in terms of sustainability over growth, growth, growth that creates boom and bust cycles. But I will still take post-consumerist talk more seriously when I hear a serious proposal about how to do so in a nation of 300 plus million people. It is not sustainable to imagine every American becoming a hippie on a commune and that is what many anti-Consumerists [seem to] want.
It is comparatively easy to be against consumerism, at least in the abstract. When we’re not careful, we typically mean the poor consumption decisions of others. I mean, I don’t think of myself as particularly consumerist, but I have a whole boatload of electronics that would beg to differ. I love electronics. I don’t know that they make me happier than I would be if they did not exist, but given that they exist I would rather have them than not have them. Is this worthy of criticism? I’m not sure. But I doubt it’s going away.
Of course, the real enemy is status consumption, as far as that goes. This is an area where I do reasonably well. In a way, though, it’s at least sometimes a form of image-making in and of itself. It was hard for me to mentally go from that guy who owns an aging Ford to that guy who has a relatively new Subaru. I bought the latter out of utility, and with more than a little bit of discomfort. That tells me that my previous consumption habits were at least a little bit about self-image. Not all self-image consumption is created equal. Even conspicuously opting out of a material arms race has pluses, and maybe minuses, compared to the waste created by an unwillingness to make do.
The arms race, though, itself has material repercussions. This is where any sort of post-consumerism is going to get really difficult. Our houses don’t need to be as big as they are in the absolute sense. There is utility in having large houses, as well as costs, but one of the driving factors isn’t about absolute size, but relative size. Big houses don’t just give you more space, but they price undesirables out. The comparative importance of this, for a very large section of the population, can scarcely be overstated. There is the natural desire to live amongst one’s peers. There are concerns about crime. There are lifestyle clashes that occur across economic lines. There are schools to consider if there are children involved.
The notion that large numbers of people might opt out of this strikes me as extremely unlikely. The collective action problem here is immeasurable. The most that could be hoped for is to change the parameters. That involves, among other things, having less to spend money on. Or, alternately, having less money to spend. The end result, though, is not a significantly less consumerist mindset, though the end result could be less waste and more “sustainability.” The hard part would be accomplishing this without adversely materially affecting the bottom. I have enormous difficulty figuring out how you accomplish that. I have a lot of difficulty envisioning it.
Back in the 90’s and early aughts when I was collecting comics, prices were in pretty rapid rise. The publishers always blamed the increased cost of paper. So when they were $1.25 when I started collecting and $2.25 when I stopped several years later, it was all about the paper. Comics cost upwards of $4 a piece now. Now, you can get an ecomic, and it will cost you… about $4. Dang the rising costs of paper.
To get a sense of where the pricing issue now stands beyond the legal battles, I embarked on this simple exercise: I went to every major on-line retailer and a selection of traditional booksellers to find out what they were charging for Krugman’s End This Depression Now. The title was published last April and reached as high as number 17 on the New York Times bestseller list for printed books. A starred review in Publishers Weekly concluded, “Krugman has consistently called for more liberal economic policies, but his wit and bipartisanship ensure that this book will appeal to a broad swath of readers from the Left to the Right, from the 99% to the 1%.” According to Norton, the book has sold 30,000 copies in print, with e-book sales of 25,000. The list price for the book is $24.95, and every bookstore I called is selling it at that price. You can also order it directly from the publisher’s website, but that comes with a shipping charge and sales tax where required.
Here is where the pricing becomes interesting. Amazon’s hardcover price is $14.71, with no shipping charge for customers who pay an annual fee of $79 for Amazon Prime and two-day delivery. The Kindle edition is $9.48. At BN.com the hardcover is $14.71, but the e-book price is $13.72 (BN.com has free shipping for orders over $25). Moreover, in the Barnes & Noble bookstore, the hardcover is $24.95. On Apple’s iBook, the price is $11.99. The Sony store charges $14.99, and on Kobo, which was recently named the e-book provider in the coming year for independent booksellers, the price was $15.49. Only Google Play matched Amazon at $9.48.
The end result of all of this, Osnios believes, is that cheap will rule the day and that those who are able to sell cheap, like Amazon, will be able to force the price down to the point that everyone but Amazon will be harmed, including the consumer. The consumer, Osnios explains, will be harmed by the publishers because “the result will be fewer books that matter — like [Krugman’s book] — whether in print or digital formats. ”
Well, I can safely predict that he is wrong on Krugman. So wrong, in fact, that it calls the rest of what he has to say into question. Books like Krugman’s will always do well because they’re safe. They might not give him as much of an advance, but I don’t think Krugman is going to forgo writing a book because his advance is $x rather than $2x. The danger, to the extent that there is one, lies in unsafe authors. Any sort of risk-taking.
This may be inevitable in any event. It may ultimately not actually matter insofar as the reader is concerned. With self-publishing becoming increasingly economical, the publishers can essentially force would-be authors to make a name for themselves before signing them anything with an advance. Maybe a tenured professor at George Mason University won’t write a book to be self-published that he otherwise would if he were to get an advance, but… vanity is a pretty powerful thing.
There is a possible concern that quality will drop and we’ll have to start getting used to typos and shoddier editing, but this is not end-of-the-world stuff to me. and honestly, the risk of such is not worth the upcharge the publishers are demanding. The lack of sympathy I feel for publishers who have been trying to keep ebook prices comparable to physical book prices is not insignificant here. It’s not just that Amazon is wanting to sell me the books for less. It’s that Amazon prices actually make sense to me in terms of what I am getting.
Arguments about the increasing costs of paper aren’t going to cut it anymore.
Last week I got an email from Audible saying that I was eligible for a special deal. I click on the link, and my account is not eligible for the special deal. The email said that I was emailed specifically because my account was eligible. This week, I got an email from Audible saying that I was eligible for a free Audiobook if I sign up for Gold Membership. I already have Gold Membership. Ergo, I am not eligible for the deal.
In other news, my optometrist’s office apparently refuses to send my prescription to the Redstone Walmart because the optometrist is on vacation. I cannot for the life of me figure out why that matters and why they don’t have my prescription on file so that they can send it out. Meanwhile, Redstone Walmart won’t let me place an order with a prescription to be named later, nor will they let me order over the phone even though they have my frame preference on file. This is going to set back my glasses order by a couple of weeks, most likely. My glasses are getting scratched up.
My credit card company blocked my credit card. I finally called them about it and for some reason it was the purchase of Audible (that Audible forgot about) that triggered it. Is there an industry of credit card fraud with audiobooks? Of all the things…
My father-in-law embarked about three years ago on finding the perfect cell phone arrangement. He had one plan with one company and his wife had another plan with another company. This cries out for a “family plan”, but he wouldn’t go forward with that until he could find the right one, which didn’t exist. He just couldn’t stomach the cost.
The first thing he did was go with a prepaid variant of US Sprint. This, despite the fact that Sprint had no coverage in one of the two towns where they live. He thought this was something that you work around. I tried to convince him that it’s not worth it saving 10-20% on a cell phone you can only use half the time. He went forward, but within a few months realized that this was not money well-saved.
The story has a happy ending as he has gone with a prepaid setup that uses Verizon’s network and now he gets coverage on the campground in Genesis. He finally found something that I had actually believed probably didn’t exist: a way to beat the cell phone companies.
The NYT has an article on the superiority of the sort of monthly plans that the in-laws have:
Prepaid phone plans, where you pay the full price for a cellphone and then pay lower monthly rates without a contract, seem to offer what most budget-conscious people want. So why haven’t they really caught on?
Contract-free phone plans account for only 23 percent of the wireless customers in the United States phone market, according to the research firm Ovum. The rest are subscribers locked into contracts and paying higher monthly fees.
That’s despite the fact that prepaid phone plans are generally a better deal for most people, who can save hundreds of dollars over the course of two years compared to a contract plan.
The iPhone with a two-year contract on AT&T, for example, costs $200 for the handset and then upward of $90 a month for the plan; over two years, including the cost of the phone, customers pay at least $2,360. With a prepaid plan on Virgin Mobile, which is owned by Sprint, the iPhone costs $650 for the handset, and then $30 a month, including unlimited data (the type of data plan that people are happier with, according to J.D. Power). Over two years, that would cost about $1,370.
The Verizon-to-Sprint comparison is problematic for many (just as my in-laws discovered), but I suspect you are talking about some real savings despite that unless you are an avid user. Certainly for more than a quarter of the market.
As long-time readers know, I am skeptical of the US’s contract-based/phone-subsidized model in many respects and so articles like this just warm my heart. There is an argument to be made that the contract/subsidy model is actually better for less well-to-do customers insofar as they are the ones most likely to have trouble affording the phone in the first place. I have the sneaking suspicion, though, that the end result has not been making the acquisition of cell phones all that much easier, but rather enticing more and more people onto plans that they cannot afford.
But here’s the thing, though: Like “cutting the cord” for cable and going with all of the free options, can these plans continue to exist as affordably as they do if more and more people switch over to these sorts of plans? I might consider them to be a net bonus - even if I myself am not on one - even at higher rates simply because I like the “model” better. On the other hand, I found myself thinking that people on these plans shouldn’t necessarily be encouraging people not on these plans to get on them.
We will probably stick to our regular Verizon plan. We’re under contract and on the whole as we move from one place to the next it makes more sense to us not to play games with our cell coverage. I may revisit the issue in two years.
I am looking at getting some more Bluetooth earpieces. I am looking for ones that fit very specific criteria. The model I have is one of the few affordable ones that can do it, but it’s hard to find because it was a free magazine give-away for Car and Driver a while back. Anyway, I found some! Only $19.95! But $12 for shipping. So, add three more, still $12 for shipping. Add one more to round it out to five, and shipping is… $600. I kid you not. Try it.
Add one more, shipping is $16.95.
Well, having shipping for five cost $600 is one way of making $17 shipping seem awfully cheap.
For those of you who have never heard of it, IGA is the Independent Grocers Alliance, a sort of franchising model among grocery stores and supermarkets in contrast to a chain of them. They’re independently owned but also work together. As with fast food franchises and the like, though, someone with a successful IGA store here may also start an IGA store over there.
The IGA in Summit closed earlier this year, after being in business for some 20+ years. Nearly everyone is attributing this to something that they already opposed. One faction blames Walmart, which opened up right down the street. Another faction is blaming unions, as IGA ran a union shop. The people who owned the IGA are actually busy working on getting a new location opened up in Callie.
Here in Callie, we have two supermarkets, a dinky little IGA downtown, and a large Safeway on the side of town. I uniformly shop at the latter. Partly because it’s closer. We live on the same side of town. Also, it’s less expensive. Also, it keeps better hours. Also, it’s more convenient. This is rather a common theme. Don’t like big box stores? Try living in a place without them. It’s uncertain to me how IGA stays in business, aside from community loyalty and being slightly on the west of down. I’m not sure if that’s going to be enough to keep Chain IGA from driving Dinky Little IGA out of business. Two large and convenient locations on each side of down, and LDIGA sandwiched in between.
I believe the ultimate answer to why IGA is leaving Summit has little to do with Walmart, per se, or unions. To the extent that CIGA’s leadership has commented, they said that Summit’s supermarket market is oversaturated. There are six large supermarkets and that appears to be one too many. It was profitable, but not profitable enough. And not as profitable as the new location in Callie should be.
I don’t fully understand why this community needs a second store. Then again, we also something on the order of five auto part places, several garages, and broadly more choices than I would expect to exist in a community of a few thousand. That’s been one of the surprises of ruralia, to be honest. When debating whether or not a pharmacist should be able to refuse to fill a prescription for birth control, the spectre of “the town where there is only one pharmacy” comes to mind. But if towns of only a few thousand have three pharmacies, how many towns of a single pharmacy exist? How many are in places that people aren’t used to regular trips to a larger town.
It’s been an interesting experience, living in a place smaller than I had ever intended. The commercial options are certainly more limited, but a lot less limited than I would have guessed. I guess I had sort of envisioned a Mayberry, where there was the grocier, the pharmacist, the mechanic, and so on. The number of things that come in ones are quite few. Even large supermarkets, apparently.
This is part of a series of recommendations for western states. The recommendations range from serious to more of a rant than anything serious. In the case of Montana and the penny, it’s more serious than not.
Montana should do away with the penny. Unilaterally. Of course, Montana can’t exactly do away with the penny unilaterally, but they can and should be the first state to render it useless. Or, at least, I don’t see why they can’t.
Montana, you see, has no sales tax. Like Oregon and other states, it lacks a statewide sales tax. Unlike Oregon, though, it does not generally have local sales taxes, either. You might think that this means that this obviates the need to do away with the penny, but in reality it only makes the problem more pronounced. In Montana, as with everywhere else, prices are set to ninety-nine cents. You know what this means? Lots of pennies. LOTS OF PENNIES. The take-a-penny-leave-a-penny bins overflow with them. Buy something, get a penny back. Buy two somethings, get two pennies back. You have to buy things in increments of five not do deal with pennies back.
How does this differ from states that have a sales tax? There are, after all, a lot of pennies exchanged there, too! Here’s the deal, though: If you’re in Idaho, and you give a penny here and take a penny there and it all evens out in the end. In Montana, however, the exchanges are asymmetrical. You get a lot more pennies than you give, because when you buy something, you have to count out four pennies (three pennies for two somethings) in order to get rid of them. A good portion of the time, you don’t bother. They keep the penny, you put it in the overflowing penny bin. Whatever. You’re not going to mess with it.
On its face, this exposes the problem with pennies in general and why we should do away with them nationally. But nowhere is this more pronounced than in no-sales-tax-states.
So what should Montana do? Montana should require that all transactions within its state be priced to the nearest five cents. Vendors should be required to round down, or alternatively if they round up they should have to post the rounded price on all single-purchase items (a gallon of gasoline, for instance, would be immune because few ever buy a single gallon).
With this, Montana would hopefully be setting the stage for other states to follow suit. Even though the other states have the sales tax which supplies symmetry to penny transactions, it’s still a counterproductive exercise. The states that have a sales tax can simply redesign their tax to x% plus whatever it takes to get an increment of five.
Now, there are some people who say we should do away with the nickel, too. I am not opposed. One step at a time.
There are between three and four coffee places in town, depending on how you count them and if you exclude all convenience store and restaurant coffee. One is a to-go stand, one is a Starbucks inside a Safeway, and two are conventional coffeehouses. There’s one (”Perky’s”) in the downtown area that I like to go to, though I’m less than enthusiastic about the quality of their product and their hours. The other one (”University Cup”) is in a less interesting part of town, but I like the product an hours more. I frequent the latter.
Here’s the thing, though: the owner-operator of the University Cup has never been very nice to me. I could never figure out why, but I always got the impression that I was intruding every time I walked in. It was enough that, in other circumstances, I would have stopped going there altogether.
I think I’ve figured something out, though. I don’t think it’s that she doesn’t like me. I think it’s just that she is a rather unpleasant person. The story of how I came to this conclusion is too long for even HC standards, so I’ll spare it to you.
Anyhow, knowing that she’s simply unpleasant makes me less reluctant about going back.
As Verizon customer, I fall under the $80 plan, and rarely ever go over my calling or text message caps. I don’t particularly relish the notion of a forced “upgrade” to a $100 plan — $60 for 2GB of access and unlimited voice and text messages and a $40 access fee for a smartphone — if I move to Share Everything.
For a couple, the new share plan would cost $150 for access for two smartphones, 4GB of data, and unlimited text and voice. That’s not much different than a current share plan that comes with 700 minutes, 1,000 text messages per phone, and 2GB of data each. Current couples, however, would have to give up their unlimited data plans in exchange for unlimited voice and text messages.
Part of the problem are the high access fees for devices, which make it tough for individuals who want to sign up multiple devices under one plan. The access fee for a smartphones is $40 a month, while a basic phone is $30, and laptops, Netbooks, and mobile hotspots are $20. Even the lowest rate — $10 a month for a tablet — seems excessively high.
To me, the tablet is the only one that isn’t obscenely high. Maybe it’s because I had already read about the tablet rate and so I was expecting a ballpark of $10 instead of $40. But $40 for a smartphone? Seriously? That’s what people to pay to connect a smartphone now ($10 for the line, $30 for the data plan), and it comes with data. In this case, you’re merely asking to permission to access the local data pool. Okay, you’re asking for another line, too. But $40 is excessive all the same.
I’m sitting on a tablet that is Verizon-network ready but not connected to the network. The goal should be, I think, trying to convince me to put it on the network. Because if I do, I might have to consider a higher data plan. Back when I first heard about the data plans going up, I’d figured that I would just shell out and do it. As it stands, I am thinking that I’ll want to avoid the data plan altogether.
Whether the new plan would save us money or cost us money depends on our data usage. If I assume more usage, it’s actually cheaper for me to add $40 to the bill by adding the tablet than it would be to switch to a family plan and add it for $10. I don’t think that’s a calculation that serves Verizon well.
Now that Verizon has made its dumb pricing move, it’s time for AT&T or another competitor to offer something groundbreaking—what I imagine to be the perfect wireless plan. Here’s how it would work: First, you select a data tier. That’s it.
You wouldn’t pay extra for texts, voice calls, and for additional devices. You’d pay just for the amount of data you use—the more you use, the more you pay. This plan is simple, fair, and—depending on the price of data—it could save a lot of people a lot of money. Over the long run, this plan would be a boon to any wireless carrier that rolled it out. It would bring in more customers with more devices, and—as all those people spend more time using their various mobile devices over the next few years—the network would cash in. The only problem with this plan is that it’s so transparent and customer-friendly that it’s hard to imagine there’s any wireless company forward-thinking enough to consider it. Especially not AT&T.
Like Manjoo, I really think that the goal should be to bring as many devices into the network as possible. It would encourage people to use more data, which in turn would make them more money. In that sense, I actually like Verizon’s decision and hope that it becomes a norm. The longer I keep the tablet off their network, the more money I save.
Since Clancy and I switched smartphones, we’ve had to over a new host worth of parts. We had variations of the Touch Pro going back four years and the Touch Pro 2 specifically going back two. We had a lot of accessories (some for all the devices, a couple limited to TP2s). The new phones switch from Mini-USB to Micro-USB, so new everything is required, pretty much. Because they are standard cables, however, they’re dirt cheap. On top of this, I needed new earpieces and I keep an army of 5 or so handy. On top of that, the tablet has a proprietary cable (surprisingly not too expensive). And battery chargers. And batteries. So it’s been a parade of accessories as all of my eBay orders arrived. It’s been difficult to keep the dining room clean.
The late arrivals came from China. A universal charger for batteries. I thought this was good because it would work with the HTC, Motorola, and Samsung devices. It might be good, if I had any idea how to use it. Everything is in Chinese.
So remember how I had to replace all my credit cards and was waiting to see which accounts I’d need to update? I overlooked one. A very important one! Internet! So our internet account almost got cut off. To make sure it wouldn’t, I decided to call in and pay by phone.
It turns out that my local ISP was purchased by a larger ISP and the larger ISP has lower prices for faster maximum speeds. So, because I actually called in because I screwed up, I now have a better deal.
Of course, a part of me wanted to know why in the world they hadn’t called me to tell me about this amazing new opportunity. Other than the fact that they were previously giving me less while charging me more for it and that’s a pretty good deal for them. So I asked. She said that all customers were called and notified. I almost objected, but then I remembered what I always do when I get a call from the cable company: Tell them I’m not interested. Oops.
I also had a startlingly good interaction with Verizon wherein I will now be getting more for less rather than less for more.
I’m on a roll. Albeit not necessarily for the right reasons.
We were pretty late in filling out our 2010 taxes, because the student loan people couldn’t get us the information that we needed. But we are supposed to be getting a refund in the ballpark of $12,500 dollars. I’m beginning to wonder if that money isn’t fictitious. When I filled it out, I requested Direct Deposit. Apparently, if you’re post-deadline, they can’t do that. So I sent it in by mail. A month or so later, we got a letter saying that they couldn’t do direct deposit and that they would be sending it to us by mail. Contact them if it hasn’t arrived in 3-4 weeks. 5-6 weeks later, and it still hasn’t arrived. So I call the IRS. They tell me that they’ve sent it before they even sent the letter saying that they were going to send it. So now I have to fill out a form to inquire where the check is. They will then investigate and get back to me. That’s going to be another 6-8 weeks. The only problem is that I didn’t write down the information on which day they sent the check, which the form needs. So now I am going to have to call the IRS again.
I’ve also been having to make calls to various banks, cancelling the credit/debit cards on my lost wallet and requesting replacements. Three cheers for Discover, who had a new one out to me in two days. By two days, I thought they meant three. I thought that if I called on Sunday, they’d mail it out on Monday and it would arrive on Wednesday. It arrived early Tuesday. The Bank of the Northern Hemisphere was less responsive, giving me what I had expected from everybody: either five to seven (for debit) or five to 10 days (for credit). The cards are coming from Lakota, which is in our mailing unit, so I’m hoping it’ll be close to the former. This is important because I will be heading to Vegas on Wednesday and it would be helpful to have more plastic rather than less (though never again will I have all my plastic in a single wallet. Back to Discover, the only annoying thing about that process was that, when it came to activating my card, they made me talk to a live person who had a script about asking me what I loved about my Discover Card. I truthfully answered: “You got me a new card in two days.”
The last round of phone involved medical bills. Evidently, our insurance company carries nothing when it comes to pregnancy. I’ve never seen so many “Insurance payments: $0″ in my life. In the first case, they simply didn’t have our insurance information. So I played phone tag for four days while we tried to get that situated. After looking at all of the other bills, I am expecting that insurance won’t pay for anything anyway. There are arguments against insurance covering pregnancy, though it brings up one of my constant irritations with our health care system, which is that you never know if something will be paid for until after you do it.
The cheap signs smashed into lawns and along the corners of busy intersections are hard to miss. “We Buy Junk Cars!” ‘’Cash for Your House!” ‘’Computer Repair.” The eyesores have vexed Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober for the past few years as he wastes valuable resources plucking up the signs only to watch them pop up in even greater numbers.
While stopped at a red light a few months ago, Bober studied the unsightly signs and came to a realization that would help him fight their proliferation: The criminals had left their calling cards in the form of business phone numbers.
“These people want us to call them, so let’s call them so much their head spins,” said Bober, who bought a $300 software program in March that makes robocalls to the businesses. The volume of calls has reached as high as 20 calls each to 90 businesses in a day.
Not sure if it’s legal, but I like it if it is. I’ve had that thought before. It’s not like we don’t know who is putting up the signs. The companies in question can say “Hey, that must have been done by some overenthusiastic boy we hired, sorry or whatever” or something, but this gives a particular incentive for them to take it down. There’s little more obnoxious than repeated calls. And unlike tickets, you don’t end up losing money due to court costs (if the businesses are smart, they collect the fines and then go to court and demand a separate hearing on each ticket).
The other day, I actually came to the defense of cell phone companies. Sort of. I basically argued that we are better off with the national consolidations we have than we were in a more competitive market with more local and regional carriers. So I guess I had it coming when later that day my carrier, Verizon, pissed me off. So much so that I am considering returning the phones we have on order and going off-contract.
Our contract ends two days from now. I looked around and determined that yes, we are to be with Verizon for at least two more years. It also turns out that we are due for some cell phone upgrades to finally leave Windows Mobile Island. Android is finally ready for me, or ready enough (more on this later, if anyone cares). So it all works out.
The truth is, I hate being under contract. I avoided it for years and years by buying my own cell phones. But two years ago, Verizon basically made an offer I couldn’t refuse. And then, as now except even moreso, I was sure that I was in for at least a two-year haul. I’m less sure that’s the case now, but still pretty sure. AT&T has raised prices to the point that they’ve lost their price advantage and I don’t like their cell phone selection as much. Sprint and T-Mobile are not options.
So I sign up to extend the contract and lo-and-behold, Verizon has joined the other carriers in offering an “upgrade fee.” It’s $30 a line. Truthfully, I’m paying $200 less than I had budgeted for on the subsidized phones, so the $60 doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But on principle, I am really angry about this. It reminds me why I hate cell phone companies and why I don’t like being tied to any single one of them.
So why does this irritate me? Because they’ve made it abundantly clear they want me under contract. They provide all of the incentives to get me to reluctantly agree to sign on for a period of time in exchange for a cheaper phone. So why are they charging me for something they want me to do? Like it’s a convenience for me to not be able to change carriers or downgrade service for two years? If they’re not making enough money on the subsidized phones plus contract, then charge more for the dang phones. Rationally, this is a distinction without a difference. Except that this way they get to tack on the $30 only after your mouth is watering at the new toy.
I struggle, however, to come up with a rational basis not to move forward. As long as we’re with Verizon on our current data plans for another year, which is a given, we end up ahead. There is the possibility of downgrading Dr. Wife’s plan since she doesn’t use data all that much, but I remain eternally hopeful that she will someday use the phone to its capability. There are various companies I boycott or avoid due to what I consider dishonest, antagonistic, or otherwise bad business practices (Best Buy, HP for a while, and one other one whose name escapes me). This is a reminder that there are no cell phone companies for which this is not the case.
As the header image, I primarily smoke three different brands of cigarettes: USA Gold, Maverick, and Liggett. When I am out of pocket, I will sometimes go with Winston or Camel. When I first started smoking, I went with the gold standard: Marlboro. Eventually I found suitable cheaper replacement brands in Doral and Pall Mall. Over time, both either watered down their product or they stopped doing the same thing for me. The above three are both inexpensive and either reasonably or very strong tasting.
USA Gold is the cheapest of the set. The problem with USA Gold is that it has the word Gold in the title. This means two things: First, they are similar in name to Old Golds, which are more popular, more expensive and less worthy. Second, as with other brands they come in various strengths. They can’t call the lighter variations lights or ultra-lights anymore, so they go by color. Almost universally, light cigarettes have gold color. I prefer red-color. So I have to specify that I want USA Gold 100s RED. If I leave off the red, the gold is in their minds and if I’m not looking, I just bought a weaker cigarette than I intended to. This happened recently. Very frustrating.
Mavericks and Liggetts do not have the weakness problem. In fact, I think their limited popularity is due to their rough taste. Mavericks used to be Harley Davidson cigarettes and for a while (even after they became Maverick) had an awesome black-and-gold box with an eagle on it that would be different in color depending on what you were getting. Now they’re colored similarly to all of the others. My wife hates Mavericks and can smell them from two miles away. Liggetts fall in between the two. They’re the most expensive of the three. Both Maverick and Liggett take a toll on the lungs more quickly than USA Gold.
Living in a small town as I do, I have an internal catalog of what is offered where. What’s rather frustrating is that all of them seem to lack good inventory control. Which is to say, when they run out of boxes, they don’t get more until they’ve run out of softpacks. The fact that they always have left over soft packs suggests to me that that they ought to stock more of those than the boxes. The same goes for regular size versus 100s. I go to the Supply Store a lot, and would get all of my cigarettes from there, but they go months with only the short packs and soft packs, and so they lose my business for weeks at a time.
Way back in the day, when Mom smoked and I didn’t, I did not understand why the hell cigarette brand mattered. They didn’t offer Kent in our home state, and so whenever we were the next state over she would buy a bunch of them. How different can something you’re lighting on fire and consuming the smoke taste? Pretty different, it turns out.
On a sidenote, I don’t think the main reason for my preference for strong flavor is that I have particularly strong lungs (I don’t) or even my diminished tastebuds, but rather because I don’t inhale. Never have. Didn’t even realize I was supposed to, when I first tried them. Which is not the same thing as saying that they don’t get into my lungs. But not through breaking it in from the cigarette itself. The other big reason is my preference for longer-lasting 100s, which tend to have longer filters.