Going online…

I had a pretty normal undergraduate experience – 4 years, a couple of summer or winter classes, and done. I managed to earn a full academic scholarship at least for tuition, so fortunately I didn’t have to pay the freight for that education. I won’t say I loved every minute of it, but I look back very fondly on those four years.

In the early stages of my federal career I was on the road more weeks than not and opted for an online MBA. I don’t know what the fees for such a thing are now, but back then I was paying $1,850 per six week class, for a total of $24,050 by the time I earned my degree. My impression of online education, based on that MBA experience, is that you could get as much or as little out of it as you were willing to put into it. It wasn’t hard to slip through doing the minimum, but to really learn the subject you needed to put in extra hours beyond the homework and discussion boards. I didn’t love it, but I ended up learning a lot and it served its purpose for a guy whose schedule wouldn’t have otherwise supported getting a degree. 

I’m seeing articles indicating that brick and mortar schools largely plan on charging full tuition for their slate of online classes for the fall semester. I fully realize that these schools have sunk costs that they need to keep paying regardless of how instruction is delivered, but at the same time I can’t fathom by what logic an entering freshman would pay full price for severely reduced services. Better I’d think to take your intro level classes from the local community college, save your money, and transfer them on when your school of choice opens back up for learning in the flesh. Under the circumstances, I’d even argue a gap year could be a better investment of time and resources.

Pretending that you’re completely justified in charging full price for the undergrad college experience while providing significantly reduced service feels distinctly like perpetrating a fraud… although if you have a large enough group of people willing to unquestioningly pay the bill, I suppose you can take every cent they’ll willingly hand over. 

The virtue of Prime…

After getting my notice of another Amazon Prime subscription price increase, I’m realizing that I either need to start using it for more than watching 10 episodes of The Grand Tour a year or get rid of it. I signed up way back when Prime’s major benefit was two day shipping on books. Although it offers many more features now, I find I’m barely using it for any of them. With many of items I’ve bought from Amazon recently not making the 2-day shipping window and/or being damaged to some degree in packing or transit, it’s starting to feel like less of a bargain overall – especially when Amazon has opted to push it over the $100 price point.

I’m well aware that arguing over the value of $21 per year increase is patently ridiculous on its face, but there’s just something about that three-digit bill that really sets me wondering just what the hell I’m paying for and if it’s actually worth it. In all likelihood I’ll just go along letting apathy and inertia carry it along, but don’t let that in any way be confused with my willingness to bitch and complain every year when that $120 bill shows up in my list of financial transactions… because I still want my dented and damaged crap showing up in two (or three or four) days.

I supposed that’s what Amazon has been counting on all along.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Ghosting. If you thought dating at 18 was an exercise in the absurd, you should really try dating at 38. I don’t do it often, which is a testament more to my incredible shrinking tolerance to people than it is the number of opportunities available. As obnoxious as I find most human interaction, I think the thing that bothers me most are the ones that just disappear. You plug along being your normal charming self, go on a few dates, and *poof* suddenly they disappear from social media and stop answering texts. It’s one of those times when having generally low expectations of people is such a valuable trait. If you had any kind of decent personality I’ll probably spend a day or two wondering if you ended up in a ditch somewhere, but after that I’ll file you under T-for-twatwaffle and move on with my day. In retrospect maybe I shouldn’t be annoyed and just appreciate that I’ve been saved from discovering that factoid six months down the line after I’ve invested more than a few hours and a couple of meals into figuring out if you are a total asshat.

2. EpiPen. I’m always a little perplexed when people seem to be surprised that it costs money to keep yourself alive if you’re not in perfect physical health. As I pointed out to a colleague, a hundred years ago, people who needed EpiPens or really any significant medical intervention to save them from the earth’s flora and fauna just kind of dropped dead. While I’m not endorsing that as the ideal solution for people with allergies, but when death is the consequence, spending a few hundred bucks to stay alive doesn’t feel like too stiff a price to pay. Somewhere along the lines in this country we’ve developed the idea that more and more “essentials” should just come at no cost to us. I have no idea where that kind of mindset comes from. There’s a cost for everything in life, the only real question is whether it comes out of our pocket in the retail line when we decide it’s a necessity or at the point of a gun when government decides the next installment of our tax bill is due. We can give the government enough power to feed us all, to house us all, to clothe us all, and to medicate us all… and on the day that happens we’ll all be well and truly slaves.

3. Accountability. I’m bombarded multiple times a year with reminders to fulfill approximately 178 yearly training requirements. Among them are such classics as ethics and cyber security. Let me not check those boxes on time and there’s hell to pay. Let me violate one of the rules, policies, or laws they cover and there’s a good chance I’ll end up seeing the inside of a courtroom if not the inside of a federal minimum security prison. I’m smart enough to know that the rules are always somewhat different for the rich and powerful, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. It certainly doesn’t mean I have to give my vote to a candidate who doesn’t feel in any way constrained by the rules and requirements that have a tendency to make the job such a pain in the ass for the rest of us. Just once I’d love to see a little accountability and a story of a senior official caught in a web of misconduct that resulted in more than solemn-faced apology or blanket denial.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Sales tactics. We live in the real world. I’m perfectly capable of understanding that the price of everything generally tends to go up over time. It’s the nature of inflation. Fine. I don’t know who the marketing executive who decided it was a good idea to make everything smaller while also charging more for it, though. I really truly don’t mind paying more for a product I was going to buy anyway… but I hate the hell out of paying more for less while being expected not to notice that everything from packaged coffee to toilet paper is half the size it use to be.

2. Parties. You’d think retirement parties would be moments of supreme satisfaction. In my experience no matter how nice they are they can’t help but being a reminder that we all spend our lives trading youth for a few bags of cash and some nice words at the end. No matter how well laid on, I always find them just a little bit depressing.

3. Information. I need to get my fingerprints taken. The why isn’t germane important to the story. What is germane, however, is that I spent some of this week calling several of the places the State of Maryland say are approved on their website. Each of the three places I called were only too happy to inform me that they don’t do those pesky state-approved prints any more. It seems to me that if the state is going to mandate prints they might at least be able to tell you where to go to get them. Then again that presupposes that the state has any interest in actually facilitating this particular type of lawful commerce instead of making it enough of a pain in the ass that the average person might be tempted to give up.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Big Pharma Guy. Despite the public outcry it’s actually not the physical embodiment of Big Pharma that bothers me about someone who ramps up the price of their product from $13 to $750. The dude might be an MBA, but he clearly wasn’t paying attention in the “shaping public opinion” part of class. Sure, it was a douche move, but hey, I’m going to tell you to go out there and charge whatever the market will tolerate for your product. The fact that he’s been so quick to backpedal gives me a pretty strong indication that he didn’t think things through all the way to their logical conclusion. What annoys me more than anything though, is that I’ve never had the foresight to buy the patent on some widget I can make for less than a dollar and turn around and sell to a willing marketplace for thousands of percentage points in mark up.

2. Volkswagen. Someone established tough standards and then someone else found a way to lie in order to beat the standard. That’s how it works. That’s how it’s always worked. While I agree that Volkswagen did a very bad thing, I’m not sure why anyone is reacting with surprise. People, almost as if by nature, look for the loophole that lets them do whatever they wanted to do with the least amount of trouble. In this case, jiggering with the onboard computer was the path of least resistance. A test is only as good as the way it’s validated, or as a wise old Warrant Officer once told me, “You don’t do what the boss don’t check.” If you’re going to insist on having regulations, at least then insist that someone is responsible for making sure the testing mechanism works. I don’t blame Volkswagen for following their own self interest so much as I blame a system that was put in place that let them get away with it for the better part of a decade.

3. Delayed interest. When I’ve been working on something for months, there is no conceivable way I can bring you up to speed on the intricacies of each bit and piece of the puzzle 37 seconds before that particular thing is done. Thirty seven seconds may be an exaggeration, but only a minor one. At some point when I tell you something needs signed it’s going to have to be ok in believing that I know what I’m doing. At least we can put that dirty rumor that we’re trusted professionals to rest now.

Feeding myself…

I’ve written before about my love of roast beef for Sunday dinner. It’s the ultimate comfort food that takes me back a few decades in a single bite. Plus, it makes the whole house smell amazing all day long. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love the smell of roasting flesh permeating every square inch of their home, right?

As usual, of course, that’s not my point. What I’m trying to figure out this morning, is when a basic rump roast weighing in at a little less than 3 pounds (and needing another 1/3 of a pound of fat trimmed) started costing almost $20. By my back-of-the-napkin math, the steer that roast came from sold at auction for approximately $1.7 billion, or roughly the cost of 1.5 stealth bombers.

While it’s true that I’m probably going to make 4 complete meals from this roast and with sides the average cost per meal will still be about $5 a plate, $20 for a roast is a price point that bothers me on a philosophical level. I’m not what’s called a price conscious shopper. I have a list and I want to cross everything off that list in one stop rather than chase nickels and dimes all over the county. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

So look, I’m not going to start having Tofu Dinner Sundays or anything but I am starting to think it may be time to invest in a chest freezer and buying the whole damned cow direct from the source. The chances of it getting any cheaper from here on out seem somewhere between slim and none.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Priorities. So here’s a little friendly advice from your kindly Uncle Jeff: When everything is the most important, absolutely nothing is important. All claims of being able to multi-task aside, it’s been my professional experience that when you’re trying to give equal attention to three things at once, all there of them are going to end up being half-assed at best. Want to do a good job on something? Go ahead and focus on that one thing until it’s finished or at least until it’s at a logical place to pause and then go work on something else. Repeat this process as needed until everything is done. Jumping randomly from this to that with no actual planning or thought behind why you’re doing what you’re doing is mostly guaranteed to end badly for everyone involved. In those cases where you can’t take this advice, be prepared to apply a large helping of “I told you so” when things go to hell in a handbag.

2. The happy customer… 12 hours later. About 12 hours after singing the praises of Amazon Prime and Amazon customer service, an email landed in my inbox informing me that the price of membership is going up $20 a year. Sure, it’s probably just a fluke, but it feels an awful lot like this Amazon just decided that since I like them so much, I won’t mind paying an additional 25% premium for it. This is clearly what happens when you say something nice. Therefore in the future, I’ll try to remember to only raise criticism and keep the kudos to myself. From here on out everything sucks and is bad, regardless of how much I like it.

3. Situational awareness. Snap judgements aren’t always right, but I’ve got a pretty decent talent for looking at where things stand and knowing when there’s a bad moon rising. I almost wish I didn’t. I’d probably be a happier human being if I wandered around not particularly aware of what’s likely to be over that next rise. Some days having decent judgement is a gift, but lately it’s felt like a real curse.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. 2:30 PM. Everyone gripes and complains about early mornings. Those have always been pretty easy for me, even before long commutes and unholy start times turned me into a de facto morning person. The mid-afternoon is the part of the day I dread. It’s the time that turns me into a near catatonic meat sack. By the 2:30 mark on the typical weekday, I can’t pour coffee down my throat fast enough to do much more than keep up the basic appearance of not being asleep at my desk. Forget about being able to actually concentrate on something, I’m using all available power to keep myself from going face first into the keyboard. Fortunately, most days by about quarter of four, things start looking up a bit, happily just in time for the drive home. Although that’s convenient and all, it would be awfully nice not to feel like a zombie for a good third of every shift. Sadly, thus far, “more coffee” has not been the solution.

2. Price drops. I’ve noticed on the last few things I’ve ordered online, that a few days after I fork over my credit card number, the same item is available on the same site for slightly less than I paid for it. Of course most of these business are reputable establishments and would probably give me the discount if I spent 45 minutes finding my receipt, calling customer service, and complaining to two or three levels of CSR. Usually, though, the general hassle involved isn’t worth it to save the couple of dollars I’d end up getting back for the effort. Sometimes knowing time value and opportunity cost is a real pain in the ass.

3. iPhoto. I think it’s obvious that I’m deeply committed to the Apple family of products. My iPhone talks to my iPad which talks to my MacBook Pro which talks to my Mac Mini which talks to my AppleTV. Everything digital is basically available through any device all the time. It happens without much behind the scenes interface from me. And that makes me happy. But then we come to iPhoto, Apple’s dedicated photo management software. I’ll confess: I hate it. Like a good fanboy, I tried hard to like it, but I really do despise this little piece of software for not giving me control of the underlying file structure and letting me organize my pictures the way I had them filed on my PC in 2002. In this one little thing, Apple has made my life infinitely more difficult. I don’t need smart albums, or tags, events, or social media integration. I just need my photos stored in a logical file structure with folders, sub-folders, and sub-sub-folders that make sense to my OCD addled brain.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

By popular demand, I’m pleased to post the 15th installment of What Annoys Jeff this Week. I promise, unless I’m cut down by another bout of the sickness, that I’ll do my best to keep up with it as a regular feature.

1. Primary Elections. The field of potential candidates starts out vast, but by the time a state with a real population gets around to voting the field has already shrunk to just a handful. By the time the great State of Maryland gets around to holding its primaries on April 3rd, it’s a pretty good bet that the field will have already narrowed down to one. Letting the party unite behind a single candidate early is great… for the candidate and for the party. It’s pretty crummy for the voters, though. If we can all agree that our national general election day is always going to be the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, surely we can come up with a similarly convoluted methodology for holding primary elections all on the same day. So, you know, my vote here in Maryland is worth as much as the ones cast in New Hampshire or South Carolina. I’ll hold my breath waiting on that good idea to take hold.

2. Sub-freezing Weather. Sure, I know everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it. This is a blog after all, so it’s only real mission in life is to serve as a voice box for all the bitching and complaining I can come up with… Which is why I’m going to announce my official opposition to temperatures anywhere below 32 degrees. The only purpose of being that cold is to enable snow production and if there’s not going to be snow (and the accompanying day off from work), then it has no business being below freezing. There. I said it.

3. Ground Coffee. I’d be willing to say that my daily intake of coffee is probably higher than the average person, but that’s a topic for a different discussion. All I really want is just to be able to buy a pound of ground coffee. I don’t want a 12 ounce package, or God forbid, the 10.5 ounce size that I almost picked up. One pound of coffee gets me exactly through one week. It’s the perfect proportion of requirement to availability. 10.5 ounces, on the other hand, gets me to about Wednesday… for the same price I was paying for a full pound back in the “good old days”… You know, four or five years ago. I’m sure someone ran a focus group and said people would rather get a smaller size for the same cost than get the same size for a greater cost, but what that didn’t take into account was the people in that focus group were apparently morons. Seriously. Just give me a pound of coffee and if you have to charge me $12 instead of $8, I’ll live with that. I’m perfectly comfortable with the idea that decreased supply means increased price and with the notion that inflation drives up the price of everything over time. Trying to pull a slick one with packaging, though, just makes you look like a bunch of tools.

Gas Lines…

Coming home from the office this afternoon, I swung into the Costco parking lot so I could feed my 5.8 liter beast. The first sign of something being not quite right was the guy standing in the middle of the lane waiving people away from the pumps. No problem, I think, I’ll just go around and come at the pumps from the other side of the lot. No dice there, either… another guy in a orange safety waiving traffic around. Stopping to ask what the hell the issue was, all he did was point to the 30-40 car deep line waiting to even pull up to the pumps.

All I can say is what the hell are people thinking? I know there’s a hurricane and that refineries in the Houston area are going to be shut down for a few days. I also know that prices are going to spike by 30-45 cents because of that… But waiting in line for 40 minutes to get gas $.30 a gallon cheaper than it will be tomorrow just seems silly to me. I mean, just do the math… for me: 30 gallon tank x $3.45/gallon = $103.50. Same 30 gallon tank x $3.75/gallon = $112.50. Sorry gang, but my 40 minutes on a Friday afternoon are worth a damned sight more than $9.00. I’m just sayin’.