Showing posts with label Economy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Economy. Show all posts

Monday, March 13, 2017

60 cents equals 1.43 dollars

It's one those mornings where I pay cash for some breakfast and the math works out to this:
  • Check = $6.42
  • Cash = $7.02 (five dollar bill, two dollar coins and two pennies)
  • and the change you get back is $1.43. 
Being the guy that I am, I don't attempt to just take the extra 83¢.  Knowing that something is seriously wrong since there's a dollar bill and 3 pennies in my change, I immediately notify the cashier that something is wrong.

The cashier tells me she thought the two dollar coins were quarters.  Of course, that meant that the change she should have given me based on this mistake was 10¢, not $1.43.  So, the manager comes over to help out.  At first, he insists that my bill was $6.52 (the change that the cashier thought I tendered). I had to correct him twice.  He finally figures it out, takes the change back and hands me 50¢.  I don't know where everyone learned math, but that isn't quite right either.  After correcting him one last time, I finally get back my 60¢ change.

That will learn me not to pay cash!

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Significantly higher rate of foodborne illness and death in cities with plastic bag bans

In 2007, San Francisco, CA became the first county in the US (or anywhere) to ban plastic bags at grocery stores. A 2012 study titled Grocery Bag Bans and Foodborne Illness by Jonathan Klick University of Pennsylvania and Joshua d. Wright of George Mason University stated the following,

We find that the San Francisco County ban is associated with a 46 percent increase in deaths from foodborne illnesses. 

The study not only links deaths to the plastic bag ban, but also the additional costs of illness for those who get sick, but do not die.  What is the reason for more people getting sick?  The study claims it is because we are reusing our reusable shopping bags without cleaning them between uses!

The study goes on to point out that similar increases in illnesses from foodborne diseases have been seen in other communities that have since also banned plastic bags.


I pointed out this potential problem about six years ago in my Tuesday Two/Epoch-Fail series, where I stated,

And what of reusable canvas bags? Heh. Guess what. You have to buy them. They get very unsanitary very quickly. Wanna guess how many patrons are not washing them regularly? There are reasons behind our strict food handling guidelines, and canvas bags now represent a very weak link in food safety

The Grocery Bag Bans and Foodborne Illness study isn't perfect, but it does coincide with my statements.  However, it's not just about keeping bags washed.  The study finds that we store the reusable bags in places that tend to breed bacteria, such as car trunks.

The study also points out that the overall cost of the ban doesn't come close to breaking even with the benefit seen to the environment as a result of the ban.  In other words, the cost of plastic bag bans is substantially greater than the cost benefit to the environment!

The problem is that we have local governments making rules about society without proper research in vain attempts at social engineering.  Before the plastic bag bans went into effect, these governments should've found and implemented safe alternatives.  It's been eights years since that original ban, and we still do not have safe alternatives even being proposed!  What we do have is more cities and counties pushing for expansion of the ban, despite the harm it causes us and the lack of actual benefit to the environment.

Monday, June 15, 2015

There is increased awareness of general problem with #scientific studies right now, with #preclinical at the crux

Over reliance on study conclusions and flaws within scientific studies is a troubling problem that is recently getting more attention, finally.

Flawed preclinical studies create false hope for patients waiting for lifesaving cures; moreover, they point to systemic and costly inefficiencies in the way preclinical studies are designed, conducted, and reported. Because replication and cumulative knowledge production are cornerstones of the scientific process, these widespread accounts are scientifically troubling.
The problems go beyond preclinical studies.  I've approached this topic before in two previous articles.
As more studies and data are revealed about this issue, the problem seems to be far worse than some may have believed.  This most recent study suggests that 50% of preclinical studies are plagued with errors which prevent their results from being reproduced.  As any high school graduate should know, reproducibility of a study's result is the cornerstone of the Scientific Method.  Anyone must be able to use the same methods of the study to find similar results.  If results cannot be reproduced, the study has no scientific value and cannot be used as a reference or source for further discovery.

To sound the alarm even louder, Nature's article Irreproducible biology research costs put at $28 billion per year cites that as much as 89% of studies may have irreproducible results.  They state,
Overall, the team [study researchers] found that poor materials made the largest contribution to reproducibility problems, at 36%, followed by study design at 28% and data analysis at 26%. The team estimates the overall rate of irreproducibility at 53%, but cautions that the true rate could be anywhere between 18% and 89%. That puts the potential economic cost of irreproducibility anywhere from $10 billion to $50 billion per year.
This is a problem that needs to be tackled.  It is costing billions of dollars, and perhaps putting lives at risk.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line Improvement Project

Getting into Boston by car isn't a horrible experience on the weekend. It is just really bad, and expensive to park. So, travelling into Boston is often best by mass transit. However, when trying to casually plan a journey into Boston today, I discovered that they shut down the only commuter line in my area of the state, the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line.

Trying to get into North Boston from the Highway 2 corridor using mass transit is impossible while the Fitchburg Commuter Rail Line is shut down for maintenance until late November 2014. ‎MBTA‬ didn't even setup replacement bus service to replace the rail line. There was already 1 to 3 hour intervals between trains. Seriously, how hard would it be to have a limited bus service on a similar schedule to those stations?

Thank you to the MBTA for thinking about your riders؟

Saturday, May 31, 2014

When did the Fastlane on Highways start to be called the Passing Lane?

When did the fastlane on highways start to be called a passing lane? From what I seen, a few years ago there was was a big nationwide push to change the concept of our highways and freeways; from fastlane/slowlane to the idea of a weaving-between-lanes-to-keep-a-constant-speed. Constant weaving between lanes not only is more dangerous, it actually slows down traffic. Every time there is a lane change, there is potential to slow down traffic behind the change. Also, forcing more traffic into fewer lanes inherently increases traffic back-up and congestion. What is this passing lane concept trying to solve? It's not solving the problem of traffic congestion. It appears to be making things worse.

 The problem is that highways in US weren't designed with passing lane concept in mind. Passing lane concept makes little sense in the context of driving on a highway or freeway within most larger cities with current infrastructure. If law enforcement and lawmakers want to create new driving rules that change our driving habits this drastically, they need to fund changes to road system to support those new rules. This would in line with HOV lanes, where current lanes are not converted HOV, but rather the highway is expanded to add a new lane for HOV.

 The US actually does have some designed to be passing lanes. These are usually found when going up long or particularly steep hills. It usually involves a lane being added to the right side, rather than the left side of the road. This makes the most sense in the US. Slower traffic is supposed to move over to the right! That is how our road system was designed.

 A slower driver who refuses to move over to the right is the problem, not everyone else trying to drive safely at a constant speed! How about instead of trying to magically change US driving habits in a way that just isn't supported by our infrastructure, let's enforce the rule that slower traffic move to the right!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013's double-whammy for Massachusetts comes in one more day (Nov 1)

Whammy #1

Despite the illegality of applying a state tax (of any kind) to an interstate purchase (in direct violation of U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause found at Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3), has capitulated to Massachusetts' harassment.  As of November 1, 2013, will begin collecting the state's sales tax on purchases sold by  This does not include third party vendors which sell their product through's website, who are responsible to handle their own taxation (if any).

The problem I have with this is that is really is illegal.  Until such a time that Congress actually passes a law granting states the authority to apply their intrastate taxes to interstate sales, these states are in willful violation of our Constitution.  There are exceptions this that have been allowed by Federal Courts, but (nor most online retailers) does not have a business that operates in such as way as to fall under these exceptions.  Besides that, there are ambiguities that Congress needs to resolve.  Allowing taxation of purchases that do not originate within the state may be an open door for states to outright tax purchases that have no origin or destination within their own territory, but are rather just passing through.

There are a lot of nonsensical justifications for taxation of interstate sales, and there are a lot of good reasons to not allow such taxation.   I would go into detail here as to why, but I've actually covered this pretty well in a previous article about California's similar attempts to harass and other online retailers.

Whammy #2

Not quit as annoying, but still bothersome is that last week raised their minimum purchase for free shipping.  Instead of the $25 threshold, the minimum purchase for free shipping is now $35.  What does this mean for most casual shoppers who don't buy into the Amazon Prime plan?  There may be some short term gain in sales from customers who are not aware of the change and planned on making immediate purchase.  But over the long run, my guess is that many will wait longer between purchases rather that purchase more each time.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

WP on MJ legalizatoin; and the prohibition

The article Five myths about legalization of marijuana has a lot of interesting points about legalization of marijuana and what is likely to really happen.
When the United States’ 40-year-long war on marijuana ends, the country is not going to turn into a Cheech and Chong movie. It is, however, going to see the transfer of as much as 50 percent of cartel profits to the taxable economy.
I don't really agree with the tone for the conclusions about the 5th myth in the article regarding the politics of the matter. The Marijuana Prohibition (and prohibition on all drugs for that matter) is neither a liberal or conservative battle.  Many individuals from both camps have reasons to support the Drug Prohibition. And, many individuals from both camps have reasons to end it.

For me, these are reasons to end prohibition:
  • personal liberty
  • disproportionate application of the laws massive federal investment into the Drug War has not decreased drug addiction nor substantially affected overall use
  • expensive drug related battles (literally) that only make our enemies stronger and us weaker by the day
  • allows focus on treatment for those are prone to addiciton rather than turning them into career criminals
  • better use of local funds to help other areas of society and infrastructure
  • tax money from the regulation of drugs, etc.
These issues cross the political spectrum.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tipping point

Wow, there sure has been a lot of back and forth online recently about customary tipping (gratuities) in America for the service provided by waitstaff at restaurants.  A lot of it is playing out on Reddit.  There was this pastor who protested an 18% automatic tip on a split bill for a large party, citing God has her reason for protest.  That event lead to so much buzz that there's no point trying to cover any more it. 

Another Reddit posting appeared more recently of another posted receipt.  This receipt actually shows a reduction of the automatic tip from the final bill.  An interesting backlash has come out of this second posting.  Several problems arise.  First, the assumption is the automatic tips are some how compulsory.  Second, 20% automatic tip is just nuts.  I've seen 18%, and I still have to wonder why so high.  Third, how can a tip ever be considered compulsory!

I suggest reading the comments of the Reddit links.  There are a lot of good statements (some of them even sourced).  Legally speaking, tips are not compulsory.  By definition (IRS and at the state level), they must be voluntarily offered by the customer in order to qualify as a tip.  Sure, a restaurant can charge a service fee, but a service fee is not a tip, and not taxed the same. 

Overtipping is creating a monster

There's a general issue at the heart of all this: overtipping.  There has been way too much overtipping since the late 1990's.  People feel good about themselves when they overtip.  This is pure arrogance and selfaffirmation.  I know, I used to be one of those overtippers.  Why did I stop overtipping?  Sure, it helps the one individual, but it hurts the overall system.  The more overtipping occurs, the more waitstaff come to expect the higher tip rate, regardless to the level of service. Bad servers are rewarded for being bad.  The value of good servers is diminished over time.  Plus, waitstaff often don't connect the dots well enough to understand why they are getting a good tip and why they are not.  I was taught this lesson a very long time ago by a friend of mine who was a former waitress.  It took me a very long time to accept it. 

Another reason I stopped overtipping is because 15% is now considered a standard tip.  Really?  I remember when 10% was considered a great tip!  And now, some in the restaurant industry are claiming a minimum tip is 25%!?  Really?!   Waitstaff aren't the only group of people that aren't making a lot of money.  Overtipping is making it harder for average Americans to go out and enjoy dinner.   That actually hurts our overall economy.  Less people will dine out, consume less when they do dine out, or dine out a places without a waitstaff.  This means less overall money finding its way into the full service restaurant industry. 

No more overtipping

Can I afford to overtip?  Yes.  But I've stopped doing it after realizing the harm it is causing to the overall system.  Since 15% is now the normal and legally recognized tip, I consider that to be the minimum for normal/good service.  I will often push the tip up for great service.  However, that rarely exceeds 18%, and is usually 16-17%. 

And, just as important.  Do not tip on the whole bill.  Tipping is on the subtotal.  Sales tax is what we pay to the local government.  You really want to tax your sales tax?  People who pay their tip on the sales tax portion of the bill may think they are being good people, but this is just another form of overtipping.

How to handle bad service

If service was so-so, I normally just ignore it and move on.  What I have learned, that if service is particularly bad, do not take it out of the tip (or at least, don't wait to take it out of the tip).  Depending on the degree of the problem, talk to the restaurant staff about the issues you are experiencing.  For extremely minor issues, I will say, just get over it.  For simple matters that need to be addressed, talk to the waitstaff.  They should be able to take care of the matter.  I've found that waitstaff will often forward bigger issues to the Manager without you asking.  If the waitstaff isn't helpful or the problems are bigger, then ask for the Manager.  Again, depending on the degree of the service problem, you may wish to wait until after the meal.  Some waitstaffers will resent you for complaining.  If it is a problem that must be addressed before the end of the meal, then if at all possible, wait until the food arrives.


Having travelled much of America now, I've found that some areas are just better than others when it comes to the quality of service.  Set your expectations accordingly.  Of course, it is still not OK to receive rude service.  However, I've found that coastal regions of California tend to have better service on the average than other areas, such as Massachusetts.  Many times, trying to get your waitstaffer's attention can be a bit of a chore at many places in Massachusetts.  Training seems to be biggest cause for issues in Massachusetts, since normally the waitstaffers are willing to serve, they just aren't always as aware on how to be attentive.

Don't punish waitstaff for kitchen and systematic problems

Now, the flipside of this is that there are many areas of the restaurant that are not under the control of the waitstaff. Judge a tip based on the service itself. For example, if a steak comes cooked incorrectly, it's a 50% chance that the waitstaffer got the order wrong. However, it is 50% chance that the kitchen got it wrong too. Give the waitstaffer the benefit of the doubt.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lots of jobs available, but no one with skills to fill them

With over crowded Universities, still only 30% of the total population with any form of a College Degree, and the high pay for tradesmen these days, I am amazed that so few people are going into the trades. To make matters worse, the high school drop out rate is as much as 30% in many areas now (and even much higher in particular areas). It's almost like people either go to college, or they don't bother trying to get a good start on a career at all.

We don't all need college degrees to have a lucrative career. In fact, the wrong college degree can stifle a career. There's a lot of money to be made in the trades. Good examples are Electricians and Plumbers. Plumbers are already making as much money per year near the start of their careers as many people with well positioned degrees from a University. (Some degrees will command nothing more than $30K/year for someone just out of college, which is much less than a Journeyman Plumber who spent the same period in an Apprentice program.)

I got my start in the trades as a Drafter. I was working my first professional job when I was 18 after graduating Trade School (I had been working since I was 13). I didn't get paid a whole lot at the start, but even as a kid, I was aware of the need to have a marketable skill set (though I would've never used those exact words as a teenager).

There is a tremendous and growing skills gap between available jobs and those available to fill them. A recent article by Rick Badie discusses this problem. The article points to a machine shop with positions to fill, a stack of resumes, but no one qualified to take the available positions. This problem is happening all over the country. It's even a little frustrating. There are availble jobs. By some estimates, openings are literally in the millions that aren't getting filled!

mikeroweWorks was started by Mike Rowe, who is also trying to raise awareness of the opportunities in the trades, but also working to improve respect for the job that these tradesmen perform.