Amazon CD Trade-in Program Review: Fail

So, thought I’d give the Amazon CD trade-in program a spin. The payoff isn’t great, only a few dollars at best for most titles, but it saves the hassles of selling it myself. I picked four CDs from my stack, neglected ones I never bothered to burn.

I ended up 0/4.

Two were not eligible in any way, shape or form, even one that was still shrink-wrapped.

Two others I *thought* were eligible, and sent them in with the pre-paid label, but were rejected. I did not have the right edition, apparently, which in retrospect was my fault, but it’s annoying nonetheless.

Turns out the program is pretty picky. Looks like only the latest reissue of a title is eligible, if at all, and it’s not always easy to tell if what you have is indeed the edition they want. The latter was my case. I had perfectly good CDs in excellent condition, but not the “right” one. And the payoff is only a couple of bucks even for these latest reissues.

I give the Amazon CD trade-in a “meh” for me at least. My old catalog just isn’t what the young folks are buying these days.

How to Frack Properly

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process by which natural gas is extracted from deep veins of shale. It’s big, really big, in the northeast US. The process is used on the large and productive layer of marcellus shale, thousands of feet down. It’s a gold rush of opportunity. Rural landowners are being offered truckloads of cash to give permission for drilling. The practice is controversial for several reasons. Not done properly, it can be environmentally messy. And if the contract is not carefully reviewed, the landowner can be cheated. The details of fracking are available elsewhere. But here’s the Short List of Things to Demand if You Are Approached by a Fracker.

1. Get the best offer, not the first offer. Lease the rights and demand royalties, do NOT sell rights completely.
2. Make sure the company has a proven track record of protecting groundwater by aggressively casing and grouting the well.
3. Demand that all frack water be recycled or treated completely, not just dumped, and that no used frack water is stored in open pits on site.
4. Pads should be cited as close to existing roads as possible to minimize new roadways through undeveloped areas.
5. Your municipality should demand full compensation via tax or fee for all services. Screw “tax breaks” to “encourage business.” Fracking is very lucrative. They can afford it. Fracking is temporary…once the wells are drilled, most of the jobs will move on, so the municipality will not make up current losses with future revenue.
6. Demand frequent inspections of every step of the process. Fracking involves many independent contractors, any one of whom might be tempted to cut a corner to save expense or time. They must be watched.

You heard it here first. If you forget ANY of these rules, I guarantee you will regret it.

CAFE Standards: Junk Science?

The increase in CAFE standards is based on junk science, says Rush’s guest host, Dec 31, 2007. Why? “Because there is no scientific evidence that increasing MPG will lower overall consumption. How is this so? Because if you raise the mpg, people will simply drive more.”

Sure, if it’s cheaper to drive, you’ll be inclined to drive more. No doubt about that. But if the mpg is increased, will people drive enough to negate the efficiency gains?

That goes to how much people will increase their driving. I assert there are two sorts of driving most people do: Routine necessity and discretionary. Routine necessity is largely driving to work. What percent of our mileage is commuting? Will we take a longer road to work because we get better mileage? Oh, maybe eventually if mpg goes up, they may be more inclined to buy a house further away from work. Will we rush to make our commute longer just because the CAFE standards are better? If we do, will it negate the gains? I think not.
So, all those commuting miles will use less gas.

Discretionary driving might see a bigger increase, as trips to the store, to Grandma’s, on vacation, will be less expensive with a more efficient car. So, some gains will be lost there.

But will the losses offset the gains? How do we know they will? Is there a study that shows this, or are people just making crap up because it sounds good on a talk show?

Here’s an Idea for a Class-Action Lawsuit

Any lawyer types out there looking to score big? I have an idea for you: Automobile Repair Labor Pricing.

Did you ever notice that when you go to a dealer, or to a franchise shop like one of those muffler/brake places, how they charge labor? They have a computer that tells them exactly how much time the job will take. And they charge that. If the computer says a brake pad replacement will take 1.5 hours, that’s what they charge, no matter how much actual time it took. Most of the time, it takes considerably less. I’m sure sometimes it takes more, but I’ve rarely seen that. I’m pretty sure that time estimate is comfortably in the shop’s favor. What I have seen is my car on a rack for 30 minutes with no one near it.

Now, mind you, this would not be such a big deal if labor weren’t upwards of $90 an hour in my market. Meanwhile, my local independent shop does great work, and his labor prices are a fraction. Why? Because he charges me for the work done, not the work imagined. So, essentially, we are being charged for labor that is not being performed, and it is an industry-wide practice for dealers and franchises.

Some lawyer somewhere has a pretty big second home in the Hamptons waiting for him with this one.

Two Life Lessons from the Minimum Wage World

The minimum wage workforce does not get a lot of respect in our country. The typical goal is to get out of a minimum wage job to a “real” job as quickly as one can. But these are essential jobs. Assembling, serving, packing, cleaning, schlepping. They are very often our first exposure as teens and young adults to the work force. Even though they are simple jobs skill-set wise, there is much to be learned about working life, principals that apply to every job from bottle washer to CEO.

I was only briefly part of it for a couple summers in high school. I worked for a temp agency, working short-term jobs (from a few hours to a few weeks) at small businesses and factories in my town. One stint in particular was where I learned two important life lessons. They may seem trivial on the face of it, but to me the were profound.

It was a bottle-filling factory, to put it simply. We tended machines that filled bottles and tubes with various glues, oils and liquids, then packaged them for sale and shipment.

Lesson #1: Stay Busy.
In my bottle-filling job, the machines were temperamental. They would frequently malfunction. The first time the machine I was on shut down, I simply sat and waited. Mistake. Within minutes, the boss came by with a putty knife and explained how to get glue off the floor. I felt insulted, until I looked around and noticed how everyone else on the line looked busy, even with the machine down. They cleaned, they stacked, they sorted until the machine came back up. Moreover, they were doing essential activities that were hard to keep up with when the machine was running. They remained useful. And employed.

That putty knife was my friend the rest of that gig. Anytime my machine went down, I was the glue master. I stayed employed at the bottle-filling factory while several other temps came and went. I only moved on when the entire temp force was released when the work dried up. At every temp gig after that, I made sure I kept busy when the machine went down.

In the temp world, staying busy is a survival essential. You are only employed for exactly as long as you are useful. The moment you are seen as no longer needed, back in the queue you go. And in today’s employment environment, every job is a temp job it seems, no?

Lesson #2 Use your freaking head.
Back in the bottle-filling factory, a group of us worked this one particular line for several weeks. I was the young kid, a fresh 18, waiting for college to start. The others on the line were older, in their 30s give or take, working temp jobs while awaiting a better gig. It was a fairly slow-paced and quiet machine, so we chatted while we worked.

I made a rookie mistake. Once again, the machine went down. Not wanting to look un-busy (see #1 above), I took to cleaning some of the tubes of product that had gotten dirty in the machinery. I found myself with a big box full of ones ready to go to the packer at the end of the line. The guy running the packer was kind of a mysterious guy. He looked like he probably led a pretty hard life outside the factory. We did not say much to each other, but we had mutual respect going after this long time on one machine.

I took the big box of cleaned product and dumped it on the conveyor belt. The big slug hit the packer and snarled up the system. The guy at the packer growled at me “Use your [freaking] head!!” All I could do was smile sheepishly and go back to cleaning.

The “freaking” part is very important here. He used a more…choice…term, but the expletive is what makes this phrase work. It conveys the exasperation at the sheer foolishness that not using your head yields.

Those four words stuck with me. I should have known dumping a slug of product would screw things up, if I’d only taken a moment to think about it. Life in general is like that. Think ahead about how your actions will affect a others, particularly those down the line. Miss a deadline, dump a project on an underling, finish something in haste that really needed more care, and you can bring down the whole line. In life, yack on a cell phone in traffic, hit your little brother with a toy, make an insensitive comment to a friend…all these things lead to trouble that could be avoided if you “Use your [freaking] head!!

To many adults, these lessons seem trivial. But we are not born with the knowledge. I’ll bet you know an adult or two who never learned these lessons.

It may have been minimum wage, but my experience was gold.