Tuesday, 10 July 2012

08:10 – I see that the mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania has cut the pay of all city employees, including himself, to minimum wage. Predictably, the howls of outrage, particularly from the public employee unions, are loud and continuous.

A basic principle of economics is that if qualified people are lining up to apply for jobs with you, you’re paying too much. And there’s no doubt that many of the government jobs in Scranton are overpaid, as are most jobs with most government organizations. I shudder to think, for example, what Winston-Salem pays garbage collectors, a job that’s minimum wage by definition. These people aren’t even required to be able to read.

A minimum-wage job pays roughly $15,000 per year. It seems to me that government at all levels should have three tiers. At least 50% of government employees–garbage collectors, clerks, and so on–should be making minimum wage to 2X minimum wage, with the average for those 50% no higher than 1.5X minimum wage. The second tier, 45% of government employees, should be in the 2X to 3X minimum wage–call it $30,000 to $45,000 per year, with the average for that group no higher than 2.5X minimum wage. That group includes police, firefighters, teachers, and so on, along with most federal employees. The final 5% should be at 3X to 4X minimum wage–$45,000 to $60,000 per year, with the average for that group no higher than 3.5X minimum wage. That group includes management.


11:35 – If you’ve ever wondered what I went through shooting videos for my TheHomeScientist channel on YouTube, here’s a true-to-life example. It’s the uncut version of what was to become a 21 second promo for Heartland. Graham Wardle (Ty) and Amber Marshall (Amy) star in the promo. Amber is a consummate pro. Graham is kind of like me, except he doesn’t make (quite) as many mistakes or need (quite) as many reshoots.


12:58 – Speaking of shooting videos for my YouTube channel, it’s about time I started doing some new ones. I posted the most recent one two years ago next month, and between writing books, starting the business, and doing kits, I just haven’t had time to shoot and edit any new ones. Amazingly, I still have something like 8,000 or 9,000 subscribers.

My current camcorder is an SD unit that records to mini-DV tapes. There was some discussion in the comments recently about an HD Canon model that records to flash memory and has an audio input. I suppose I should order one of those. There seems little point to recording SD video when a decent HD camera for my purposes sells for $300.

I suppose I should start my first new video by shouting “Stop! Don’t pay the ransom! I’ve escaped!” Or something like that. I’ve been MIA for two years now, and some of my subscribers are likely to be surprised at my return. I suppose I’ll just tell them what I’ve been doing all that time, as well as announcing the biology book and the forensics book, along with their kits. Then I have some good ideas for follow-up videos about some really neat stuff. Some of it’s trivial, but obscure. For example, a lot of home scientists occasionally need some 30% hydrogen peroxide. You can order it from a lab supplies vendor, but it’s fairly expensive and in anything but the smallest amounts requires paying a hazardous shipping surcharge. But there’s a trivially easy method that requires no special equipment to concentrate drugstore 3% hydrogen peroxide to 30% or higher. I think I paid something like $1.59 for a quart (almost a liter) of 3% hydrogen peroxide at Costco. That’ll yield about 100 mL of 30% peroxide.

Sometimes the USPS rates make no sense whatsoever. We normally ship kits in a USPS Priority Mail Regional Rate Box B. I just processed an order for two chemistry kits from a woman in California, which is Zone 8. Those two boxes would have cost $15.46 each to ship in the RR Box B, but substituting a Priority Mail Large Flat Rate box cuts the cost to $14.65 each. The FR box is larger than the RR box and its weight limit is 70 pounds, versus 20 pounds for the RR box. So why is the FR box $0.81 cheaper to ship to Zone 8? I just slide each pre-packed RR box into a FR box and thereby saved myself $1.62.

30 thoughts on “Tuesday, 10 July 2012”

  1. The City Manager job in K-town pays $150,000 per year. It’s an unelected job, and is the sort of government job that getting rid of the current occupant would result in a golden parachute being deployed, so it’s also a job for life. The Mayor, who is elected, only makes $86,000 per year. City Councillors get even less. And they’re the ones who get all the blame for any poor decisions by the unelected city staff. And yet they persist in rubber stamping whatever the city staff proposes.

    I think more jobs should be voted for, like City Manager. And I want a job with the city driving garbage trucks. $28/hr (2.73X BC’s minimum wage), and full perks.

  2. “The final 5% should be at 3X to 4X minimum wage–$45,000 to $60,000 per year, with the average for that group no higher than 3.5X minimum wage. That group includes management.”

    I don’t see why management should be paid that much. Anyone can do it.

  3. What I really meant was it should include people like high officers in the police and fire departments, professionals (in the traditional sense; CPAs, attorneys, physicians in the public health department, etc.), mayors, and so on.

    And while it’s true that anyone can fill a management slot, good managers are a lot less common than some people suppose.

  4. Of course there is also the difficulty in sorting out the good managers from the political cronies. Unfortunately the latter seems to be put in charge far more often the former.

  5. The promo reel uncut is fun. Those things tend to be done at the end of the day when the cast is tired and ready to go home, which explains their attack of the giggles.

  6. I can honestly say that I never got an attack of the giggles. Except maybe the segment that I shot where I was speaking a language that kind of resembled German. That one never made it up to YouTube.

    My favorite was when I blew the standard opening line, “I’m Robert Bruce Thompson…”

  7. A good manager or mayor could easily be worth $200,000. The top of the command chain has the ability to make a company or town shift itself to be much better. A town or company with say 10M budget could be swayed in its efficiency/profits/return by 10% or more, and that $1M sway is well worth the $200K salary! This same argument applies to lower levels as well, where a good mid-level manager can affect a department in ways that easily pay for his say $100K salary.

    The flaw with this in practice is that BAD managers will then often get the same salaries! It’s not easy to find a good leader, and sometimes it’s even hard to tell quite how good a leader is. So maybe only 10% of a company’s mid-level managers are worth their salary, and 90% are getting paid similarly but they’re actually counterproductive.

  8. Speaking of managers, if I had been managing Heartland, whoever let that raw clip out in the wild would have been fired. Not that I am a control freak by any means, as anybody who has worked for me will attest.

    Can’t believe they let that last take go with all the clearly discernible talking in the background.

    And this series is good?

  9. Yeah, I was surprised too, but I figured they’d re-record Graham and Amber in a studio. Isn’t that the norm for dialog recorded on location?

    What’s wrong with releasing the raw clip? It’s on the official CBC YouTube channel. I’m not sure how it’s any different from outtakes or gag reels.

    Yeah, Heartland is one of the few series I’ve rated five stars on Netflix. (I also gave five stars to I, Clavdivs, Buffy, Firefly/Serenity, Breaking Bad, and a very few others.) I didn’t really expect to like it, let alone love it. I figured it would be tolerable and put it in the queue mainly for Barbara.

    If anyone wants to try it, Netflix has only the first half of season one on DVD. They have all 13 episodes of season one streaming, in addition to the first 9 (of 18) episodes of season two and the first 14 (of 18) episodes of season 3.

    I decided to watch the whole thing about two minutes into the first episode. Amber Marshall really is special. She reminds me a lot of Emily VanCamp.

  10. I just slide each pre-packed RR box into a FR box and thereby saved myself $1.62.

    And almost certainly violated some USPS regulation about use of RR boxes.

  11. …a job that’s minimum wage by definition…

    I agree for the most part, but also keep in mind that job pays what it has to to attract and retain employees. If you advertise jobs for garbage collectors at minimum wage and hardly anyone applies, then you’re going to be bumping pay or benefits. So, a garbage man should make however much it takes to get him to apply for the job.

    Sort of the same basic premise as something is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it.

    We could also get into the discussion about how silly having a minimum wage is.

  12. I just slide each pre-packed RR box into a FR box and thereby saved myself $1.62.

    And almost certainly violated some USPS regulation about use of RR boxes.

    I don’t think so. I actually asked both the postmaster at the post office and the telephone support person, specifically if it was okay to enclose a PM RR box in a PM FR box. They both said that was no problem. What they don’t want is to have people using USPS-provided boxes to ship stuff UPS or FedEx.

    I’m very careful about obeying laws if there’s any realistic chance I’d be caught violating them. I remember the classic WKRP episode where the Phone Police came after them. I don’t want that happening.

  13. I agree for the most part, but also keep in mind that job pays what it has to to attract and retain employees. If you advertise jobs for garbage collectors at minimum wage and hardly anyone applies, then you’re going to be bumping pay or benefits. So, a garbage man should make however much it takes to get him to apply for the job.

    Well, sure, if you give people food and housing in return for no work, you can expect to have to pay them more to work than you would if they had to work for food and shelter.

  14. The City Manager job in K-town pays $150,000 per year. It’s an unelected job, and is the sort of government job that getting rid of the current occupant would result in a golden parachute being deployed, so it’s also a job for life. The Mayor, who is elected, only makes $86,000 per year. City Councillors get even less. And they’re the ones who get all the blame for any poor decisions by the unelected city staff. And yet they persist in rubber stamping whatever the city staff proposes.

    I thought that cities and towns either had a manager or mayor, but not both. If the guy who runs the town is appointed by the council, he’s called a manger, and if he’s elected, he’s the mayor. Although how would I know, as the town I live in has neither a manager or mayor. Yes, the police chief, fire chief and about four others report to the town council, not a chief executive.

  15. A basic principle of economics is that if qualified people are lining up to apply for jobs with you, you’re paying too much. And there’s no doubt that many of the government jobs in Scranton are overpaid, as are most jobs with most government organizations. I shudder to think, for example, what Winston-Salem pays garbage collectors, a job that’s minimum wage by definition. These people aren’t even required to be able to read.

    Well, yes, but given a choice, I’d rather work at Wal Mart than as a garbage collector if the wage were the same. At least as long as my job at Wal Mart didn’t involve being in the parking lot the entire time, or cleaning toilets the entire time. As a job, garbage collection stinks. And riding on the back of the truck isn’t much better. As I said when reading someone’s article that it was wrong for librarians to make less than garbage collectors. Lots of people volunteer at the local library, but I’ve never heard of a volunteer garbage collector.

  16. Our garbage collectors now ride in nice air-conditioned trucks, with gripper arms that pick up the rolling bins and dump them into the truck. We’re just transitioning to rolling bins, so it may be temporary, but for now I notice that there are two people in each truck, which is one too many.

  17. What they don’t want is to have people using USPS-provided boxes to ship stuff UPS or FedEx.

    When USPS first started providing boxes for free we ordered several bundles. We then turned them inside out and shipped via UPS. Well USPS finally got smart and started stamping logo and text information on the inside of the boxes.

  18. Dave B. says:

    …I’d rather work at Wal Mart than as a garbage collector if the wage were the same. At least as long as my job at Wal Mart didn’t involve being in the parking lot the entire time, or cleaning toilets the entire time.

    Based on what I see at the Tiny Town Walmart, I don’ think you would have to worry about being assigned to toilet duty. I don’t think anybody is. Same with shopping carriage control: looks to me like a twice a day job. But I wouldn’t mind that one; they have this little gizmo that pushes the collected carts from behind, while the worker just steers the front.

    Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    We’re just transitioning to rolling bins, so it may be temporary, but for now I notice that there are two people in each truck, which is one too many.

    New mayor in Tiny Town mothballed the nearly brand-new robot gripper truck and went back to 3 man crews in the old style truck. Patronage jobs don’t cha know. The Democratic party here, filled with hardcore unionists (I mean like in National Guard called in because company owners/managers have had their homes and cars shot at, during strikes) has been responsible for killing Tiny Town and making it a near ghost town. Over half the downtown buildings are empty. Democrat mayor has reversed just about every cost-savings initiative that the previous Republican mayor instituted. (Note to self: GET THE HOUSE SOLD AND GET OUTTA THIS TOWN!)

    Yeah, I was surprised too, but I figured they’d re-record Graham and Amber in a studio. Isn’t that the norm for dialog recorded on location?

    Looping. Avoided these days almost always because of cost—even though computers have made the techniques astoundingly simple, compared to the old days of actually cutting audio tape or full coat magnetic film and chopping it up into sections. Usually, the only time it is used nowadays, is in high-noise location shooting. These days, principals get full scale pay for looping, as if they were on-camera. It really is a drag to be in those sessions and having your subconscious push dollar signs into your mind while you are working—almost always at a slower rate than anticipated.

    But that scene sure does not look like a location. Looks like an extraordinarily cheap set. Lighting is awful, and I wouldn’t have accepted it. And Graham sure does not have good diction in that promo. Smart people usually talk too fast. That is why it is so much easier to work with people who have performance training. Doesn’t look like Graham has had more than some passing one-on-one lessons.

    Ah, well. Like ech says, those are usually done at the end of the day when everybody on the crew is tired and wanting to just get it over with.

    What’s wrong with releasing the raw clip? It’s on the official CBC YouTube channel. I’m not sure how it’s any different from outtakes or gag reels.

    Well nothing wrong if it was planned. No place I ever worked permitted blooper reels, and I am against them. Destroys the whole ‘this is real’ image one is trying to create. Okay for comedy, but that’s it.

    Yeah, Heartland is one of the few series I’ve rated five stars on Netflix.

    I guess I should watch at least a few episodes.

  19. Wow, is it just me, or is the site really, REALLY slow today?

    And it keeps logging me out, and when I go to log back on, the “Remember Me” checkbox is always unchecked—even though I check it every time I sign in.

  20. Just you Chuck. (I never log in.)

    Chuck wrote:

    “(Note to self: GET THE HOUSE SOLD AND GET OUTTA THIS TOWN!)”

    How long has the house been on the market? Sounds to me like you’re throwing good money after bad.

    RBT wrote:

    “Amber is a consummate pro.”

    Yeah, she is kinda cute. Pity about the drongo she’s sitting next to.

  21. @Chuck: Where do you want to move to? Back to Germany, somewhere else in the Midwest, or???

  22. He undoubtedly wants to move to Australia, but at his age we probably wouldn’t let him stay.

  23. Yeah, she is kinda cute. Pity about the drongo she’s sitting next to.

    Yeah, at about 1:50 he almost made her pee herself.

  24. Grrr. The trashmen mafia just passed through, with the 3-man crew to do the job that the robot gripper-arm truck did with 1 man for more than 2 years. Old mayor: 1 guy 3 days to do the whole city; new mayor 3 guys 4 days for the same workload. And yet the natives are baffled why this is a ghost town.

    I am not going to move far. Either closer to Indy or down to Stoneyville (that’s what we called it when I went to school there), home of my alma mater and setting for the film “Breaking Away”, where my son seems intent on settling. New nickname used by current students is B-town. In my days at that uni, townies were known as Stoneys (stone cutters) and not Cutters as portrayed in the film. There was a double-meaning to the real term there, because the word Stoney also portrayed the townspeople’s absolute stone-like refusal to accommodate students politically. This was during the Vietnam era, when kids were forcing the issues, and a lawsuit suddenly allowed students to vote in elections there; the next thing that happened, is the mayor was a student, not a Stoney.

    There is still a lot of political pressure of townspeople against students, but from what I have observed through my son, it is now the threatening kind—lawyers on the city council saying, if you don’t play the game our way, we will see to it that it costs you plenty financially. Kind of like the story of the RIAA backers hanging that rap singer out the window by his feet in that link a few days ago to the Doctorow review of the legal research paper on the music industry. This is the mafia-like life people in Russia live, no? I have maintained for quite some time now, that Russia and the US are way more alike than most people are aware. They just do not try to cover-up their corruption like America does.

    Minimal chance I will ever return to Germany, although I never intended to leave there. Being a realist, I notice that I am not capable of doing all the things I was just 10 years ago. Germany was a snap with a partner, and had I been able to stay continuously, it is quite probable I could have coped just fine. But with stepson needing the contribution of both Jeri and me in order to make the house payments, and me not being able to cover both our contributions anymore (although I probably could have, had Social Security honestly informed me I could receive a death benefit from Jeri’s passing), it was not fair to him, when he could do a little remodeling and rent our space for more than we were paying. There was also a lot of pressure from my own kids, who wanted me back in the US, in addition to Tiny House, which was not selling. It is far more economical for me to take care of a lot of the things necessary to get it sold, than to send money from abroad and never know what is really going on.

    Going back there to live alone, is most likely something I will not do. I have a zillion contacts here, and I know my way around with my eyes closed. Germany was a great ride and a FAR better, more convenient, and healthier life, with clearly superior food available there,—which 99% of Americans positively refuse to believe is possible,—but like all my former jobs, the leaving is permanent, unless I were to get a job over there.

    As far as Tiny House goes, I really don’t see that as throwing good money after bad. I have to make sure the house stays attractive to potential buyers, and the money spent is more like keeping a car in working order—a necessary expense if one uses the car or house and intends to sell or trade it eventually. In an unfortunate circumstance last year, the next door neighbor let his house go to the city in back taxes, and they sold it for 1/10th the 2007 appraised value of Tiny House. I took Tiny House off the market when that happened, as did every other person trying to sell a house on this 2 block long street. But foreclosures are dwindling dramatically from their high of 500 on the market in 2010, and I expect that, without the competition of similar houses at half the price, the market for Tiny House is finally starting to firm up.

  25. Chuck, I wish you well selling Tiny House, but I’m reminded of a friend who held out for a bit more when selling his souped-up Apple II many years ago. He wanted $2000, was offered $1800 but held out for the extra $200. It didn’t sell and he ended up giving it to a friend.

    The way you describe Tiny Town I really wonder who would like to live there of their own, dare I say, freewill. What employer is going to move there to create the jobs TT needs to attract people?

  26. But foreclosures are dwindling dramatically from their high of 500 on the market in 2010, and I expect that, without the competition of similar houses at half the price, the market for Tiny House is finally starting to firm up.

    I’ll offer my unsolicited and free advice. (Hopefully it isn’t overpriced!) It seems to me the trick to selling a house in today’s market is to price it right from the start. In a seller’s market, you can risk overpricing it and reduce the price later. In today’s market you can’t. Buyers have the impression that if your house has been on the market for a while that it must be overpriced, no matter how much the price has been dropped.

  27. Well, in this case, it was not pricing. We started at $59k when the house was appraised by 2 experts at $72 and $74. When the housing bubble burst, banks quit lending. No way to compete with that. We had a bonafide offer for $57k, which we accepted, contingent on bank financing, and the woman had a substantial cash down payment; but after months of wrangling with banks, she could not get the loan. IMO, it was not at all a matter of pricing, but the fact that loan money was not there, people with cash were not in the market for our type of house, and 500 competing foreclosures for sale was an attraction most buyers could not refuse. My realtor, who had the listings for many of the foreclosures, said the psychology is that people really feel buying a foreclosure is getting them a “deal”, when the fact is that there were many other houses on the market that were not foreclosures, and those would require little or none of the fix up the foreclosures needed, and were therefore better buys—Tiny House included.

    I really am not going to give Tiny House away. It has been in the family for almost 90 years. No one ever accused me of having no patience, and I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

  28. When mum sold the family house in 2007 she got about $100k more than the highest pre-sale estimate. My father and his father built it in 1952, the land (a double block) had been a 21st birthday gift from his father back in 1945. They did most of the labouring themselves and only sub-contracted the fiddly bits they didn’t know how to do themselves. Because it wasn’t long after WWII there was still a lot of rationing, so the bricks didn’t look very pretty.

    It was in a pretty good position, on the Adelaide-Glenelg tram line about five miles from the CBD. Almost immediately after mum sold it was announced that an overpass would be built 400m down the street where the tram would be elevated to cross over a major arterial road. Prices in the area tanked but mum had already finalised the sale (for about $525k, IIRC, which we thought was miraculous.)

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