Monthly Archive: September 2015

William Levitt

Fascinating story of Levitt creating suburbia. It strikes me that while home construction stayed more efficient than it once was, the process later migrated away from his sheer assembly line, low skill version. Also, had it not been him, it would likely have been someone. The time was right. On the other hand, it might have been more organic and varied, filling that housing need affordably. I am no construction expert, but most of my life I have had the idea that there has to be a better way – a new better way – for housing to be made efficient and affordable. I mean, above and beyond rethinking the ridiculous burden of local zoning and other regulation that does more than anything to contribute to homelessness and excess cost.

Personal angle on this is my late friend Tom had been born in Levittown, NY, and had moved in his youth to Massachusetts, even though his father still worked as a flight engineer out of New York. That was how I first heard of Levittown and its origin.

Another personal angle: I would have absolutely hated the rules Levitt imposed. If such rules are attached after you own property, then it’s not really your property. I’d have been the first person to rebel and add a fence or a clothesline, if for no other reason than because it was forbidden. More likely, though, I’d have moved elsewhere.

Pricing for Freelancers

Pricing is always a favorite topic of mine. I have always had a tendency to undervalue my own skills and efforts, and to price too low, then be just as disgusted as I am with people not valuing the work enough to pay what the actual price should be. Worse, it doesn’t actually get you more work to lowball yourself. There’s a psychological element with me. First, what I find easy, I can’t imagine people wanting to pay much for. Second, I have spent a lifetime at generally limited means, and I can’t imagine paying the amount that is generally charged for most services, including those I could provide. Third, I was raised, somehow, not to think well of my own work and skills. This has tended to make me sound to others like I brag when I state how good I am in some way, when that is more of an attempt to convince myself and perhaps thwart negativity from others that would persuade me downward. But I digress.

The actual point of this post is to link to pricing advice for freelancers that explains why you should remove the zeros. Excellent thinking.

Medical Elasticity

How elastic are medical costs versus demand? Higher deductibles, outpacing wages, are putting that to the test. Personally, if my cardiologist hadn’t switched me from visiting twice a year to once, I might have done that myself. I managed to get last year down to one physical and one cardiology checkup. A physical is fully covered, but the grand in blood tests associated with it are not. I’m still paying for the almost $500 my share of the cardiologist this spring, and a somewhat lower cost specialist’s bill should bring the running balance back up soon.

On the plus side, the more than $300 a month that I pay toward coverage through my employer is easily offset by what we save on prescriptions, and the dental part of the coverage, low in cost, was a boon.

In any event, a serious medical issue would likely mean the insurance keeping the medical providers from being completely stiffed by my total inability to pay, but would otherwise mean I’d owe and be unable to pay a bill that would amount to a substantial portion of my income.

In theory, if you need medical attention, you need medical attention. In practice, you can skip or delay appointments or tests to some degree, as the article discusses. Delays can be problematic, or they can simply trim the revenue from an overzealous business. After all, medical practice is a business.

Happy Birthday

I was thrilled to see the news of summary judgment declaring what we’ve all known for decades to be true: The copyright cash cow for the 1800s song Happy Birthday is invalid. It’s sort of like the ultimate patent troll, but with copyright. It’s astonishing that nobody has pursued this sooner, but perhaps it’s been a matter of the right evidence becoming available to make it stick.

It’s The Regulation, Stupid

I couldn’t resist the title, which would make a great theme/reminder for a Presidential candidate. At the risk of redundantly linking Warren Meyer, I wanted to note his latest post, describing through his own experiences how growth in regulation and compliance has led to a fundamental shift in the economy. I don’t need the firsthand experience to see that this is the case. This is a great way to stifle growth, making people hesitate even to go into business, or changing their approach to one that limits regulatory overhead. It becomes more than just a matter of tax avoidance or minimization. Don’t grow too large. Don’t hire. Don’t expand. Or, in the linked post, can’t expand any longer. A business that doesn’t start or expand reduces jobs or sales to that business that otherwise might have been.

Yellow Pages

Warren Meyer has a post about a Yellow Pages (now YP) nightmare that begins to smell like fraud. Talk about desperation, continuing to bill you after you’ve closed a location and informed them as much repeatedly.

Anyway, this reminded me of my experience with Verizon Yellow Pages when I ran XTreme Computing. It’s more humorous than anything, although we never got the slightest little bit of work from an ad in our local book and listings in the books for a large chucnk of Southeastern Massachusetts. All we did was generate a phone bill that peaked at over $800 a month when most of it was the monthly charge for Yellow Pages.

When I spoke with the sales rep about getting an ad, she gave me a number. I was excited, because the number was low compared to what I’d expected, to the tune of half what I thought it would be for the year. I went all expansive, pricing listings in other books than our own.

Then I found out that what I had taken to be an annual rate was a monthly rate! No wonder it seemed low. It was, in fact, high. Extrapolating from my initial perception, that would make it about six times what I had expected.

After a year, I canceled most of it. After 2-3 years I canceled the local ad, too. We couldn’t afford or justify it. Heck, eventually I canceled our second line, for faxing, and well before we closed entirely, I canceled our phone service entirely. There really was never any excuse for it to be as costly as it was. By that time, I could be reached by pager, cell or e-mail more readily than by the office phone, and I worked from home more than not.

In retrospect, we should never have done the Yellow Pages in the first place, and arguably should have skipped the second line.

Gone Galt

Be it unintentional or not, the economy isn’t the same after many workers have gone Galt, dropping out of the full-time workforce on an extended, if not permanent, basis. This hits close to home. I didn’t start out intending to participate negligibly in the economy until the economy rejected me. Now it’s about stability, bare adequacy or making do, and refraining from helping the economy any more than necessary until at least 2017.