Personal

Dairy Queen

I saw today that Dairy Queen plans to open sixty new stores in Massachusetts. We actually have one in walking distance, but there aren’t many around besides that. It’s very popular, even in a town with a Friendly’s and with a branch of one of the best ice cream places in the state, also in walking distance.

It intrigued me to learn that DQ is owned by Berkshire Hathaway. That’s the first I’d heard of it. I can see it being a good turnaround or expansion target. The brand is well-known, reputable, and for some of us has nostalgic associations.

When I was a kid, we regularly went to the DQ in Kingston or East Bridgewater, both long gone. I believe at least the Kingston store had food, not just ice cream.

In 2004, driving the new wife from California to Massachusetts, we stopped to eat at a Dairy Queen. Might have been in Virginia. The food was fantastic. That made me with we had some around here. Or some that served food, anyway.

So that was my question, seeing the news: Would they try to be full DQ stores, or mere ice cream shops? I guess we’ll see.

Reviews for Sale

I guess there really is a market for everything. It would never have occured to me to sell reviews, or to buy reviews if I were a seller. Amazon is suing 1114 individual reviewers, as well it should. I rely, to some degree, on reviews when buying things.

I have perhaps a bad habit of never getting around to reviews, though sometimes if I am especially pleased, or vice-versa, I will. There are products you can’t review until you’ve used them a while. I recently bought an Android tablet that was well reviewed, seemed reasonable in quality, and had a higher price than three ill-fated tablets I’d ordered from Walmart. The cheaper ones disappointingly lasted only a few months, and were flaky in the meantime. I bought the seemingly better one to replace one of those. It lasted ten days. Technically, eight, since the date of the order is two days before we received it. The weakest point of all of them seems to be the screen. This one at least had wi-fi that worked reliably, plus it charged reliably and lasted well between charges. It breaking inspired a review. But I digress.

If I am going to look at reviews and average stars to help steer my buying (not that I haven’t bought things that had no rating at all yet), I want to know they are legitimate. I was dismayed enough that the company from which I bought my daughter a clarinet rewards a review with a second year of warranty.

Dell And EMC

The big news today is about Dell buying EMC. This hits close to home, EMC being a Massachusetts company and employing people I know. It also reminds me of all the people I knew who worked for DEC before it was bought by Compaq, which still seems odder to me than the current merger. But then, DEC was shortsighted in some ways, missing the boat when it came to microcomputers, even more than IBM, which at least grasped things enough to create a market and widely adopted standards. IBM has been seen to varying degrees as the walking dead for decades, yet somehow kept going, even thriving. Then again, installed base creates inelasticity on the way to doom. Just ask COBOL. This is why, in the absence of total annihilation, civilization itself will not collapse absolutely and immediately in the face of many possible disasters. But I digress.

EMC is arguably more focused, robust and nimble than was DEC, and a better fit with Dell than was DEC with Compaq. It could work, until enough of their combined business goes obsolete. We’ll see.

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.

I Didn’t Realize It Was THIS Bad

However, this corroborates my view that there is indeed a new/continued housing bubble and, naturally, the potentially for it to fuel another crash. I’m lucky to be in an apartment with rent that doesn’t routinely increase, but what was barely affordable market rent ten years ago is now slightly less affordable below market rent. In a world in which we need either an even larger apartment or, better still, a house rental. Neither of which will happen any time soon, though certainly they will happen sooner than home ownership. The only way I’ll ever own property is if I pursue my old dream of buyng a piece of insanely cheap land in the middle of nowhere so I can at least camp out on it now and then, perhaps build a cabin getaway, or if the housing market fully crashes next time and I am in a position to take advantage of it. It was a big surprise to me that houses didn’t deflate to what they were worth in the last crash, and tended still to be overpriced. The house next door last sold in a $100,000 short sale, at a price that was somewhere between 20 and 70 grand more than I’d have considered appropriate.

Shoney’s

I was intrigued by this news about Shoney’s reviving. I hadn’t heard the name in years, which itself is telling, if not as much as it would be if they existed in New England.

I first heard of Shoney’s from the CPA I worked for in 1985. He had a place in Florida and went there for an extended time twice each year, after tax season ended, and then in October. He just loved Shoney’s, and had been investing a lot of money in their stock. The very next year, I stayed in Florida for six weeks, so I went to Shoney’s once or twice. One in Raleigh, NC was my first exposure to a breakfast buffet. Yum.