Category Archives: commerce

Full professors make more money than bus drivers

Former Republican Congressional candidate and current UW-Madison history professor John Sharpless stands up for us against the Governor:

He said he arrives no later than 9 a.m. and leaves no earlier than 5 p.m. During that time, he said he’s either teaching, preparing lectures, doing research, attending required committee meetings, advising students and managing teaching assistants. Sharpless added that he often spends his evenings reading and grading papers.

“None of this seems like work to a guy like Walker because he lives a different life,” he said. “And I’m not going to make fun of what he does. I’m sure being a governor is a lot of work. He has to spend a lot of time in Iowa and South Carolina and North Carolina and courting other Republican big-wigs. That taxes the man horribly.”

But just to make it clear he’s still on board with GOP, he drops this in:

“I will retire with a salary that’s less than a Madison bus driver,” he said.

UW-Madison salaries are public records, so I can tell you that Sharpless’s is just under $80,000.  In 2012, only 9 employees of Metro made more than $70K.  And the ones who made that much, I’m pretty sure, are the ones who worked tons of overtime.

In other words, what Sharpless said is likely true in the strict sense of

“There exists a Madison bus driver whose salary this year exceeds mine”

but gives the wrong impression about typical full professors in the history department and typical bus drivers.

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A very How Not To Be Wrong Christmas

My bookselling friends tell me that December is the big book-selling month of the year.  (These Census figures show even bigger spikes in January and September, but these are from textbooks, which make up a really big chunk of the total book market.)

And indeed, sales of How Not To Be Wrong shot up in a very satisfactory way during the holiday season; according to Nielsen BookScan, the book sold more copies in the Dec 15-21 week than it had any week since the first month of release in June.  The book also rose up the Amazon rankings; having settled in in the #1500-2000 range for a couple of months, it popped up to around #700, about the same level as August, and stayed there for two weeks.  Two days after Christmas, pop — immedately back down to four digits.  The increase in ranking suggests that How Not To Be Wrong was unusually popular around Christmas, even relative to other books.

One thing I don’t quite get, though; the Kindle edition also got a notable rankings boost in the second half of December, though a bit smaller.  Where is that coming from?  Do people buy books for other people’s Kindles as Christmas presents?

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Trader Joe’s is the Disney World of grocery stores

We’re back in Madison after three days at Walt Disney World.  CJ and I went to Trader Joe’s to pick up stuff for dinner and realized:  Trader Joe’s is Disney World.

Reasons:

  • Part of what you’re paying for is a sense of, well, “fun.”  WDW employees — who are called “cast members” — wear costumes.  Trader Joe’s employees — who are called “crew members” — wear Hawaiian shirts.  It is part of their job, not just to be pleasant to customers, but to appear actively happy to be talking to customers.  And maybe they are!  You can imagine that if you were the kind of person who likes chatting with strangers you’d be drawn to working at WDW or TJ.
  • Iron-clad branding.  Just about every single thing you can buy, see, or eat at Disney is Disney-branded.  Same for Trader Joe’s (even if the product is surplus Sabra hummus repackaged in Trader Joe’s tubs.)
  • Limited selection.  Disney World restaurants have short menus; they need to get thousands of people in and out fast.  There aren’t twelve roller coasters like at Six Flags, there are two.  At Trader Joe’s there aren’t a hundred different kinds of Cheerios.  Just the Trader Joe’s kind.  The problems of choice are taken away from you and this release is itself a kind of fun.

Unfinished thought:  both Disney and Trader Joe’s are trying to project a spirit of California.

 

 

 

 

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What’s so great about JetBlue?

JetBlue is changing its practices to run more like other airlines, and people are going nuts.

While all other airlines save Southwest switched to charging for checked bags, JetBlue made a free bag part of its unique selling proposition

What does United charge for checked bags?  $25, I think.  According to Google Flights, and a NYC-Chicago round trip costs $303 on JetBlue, $250 on United.  So you get your choice — pay your fifty bucks in extra airfare, or pay it in bag fees.  I’m not sure why the former is more customer-friendly.  It’s certainly not more friendly to me, since I rarely check.

Then there’s the seat issue:

Starting in 2016, JetBlue will stuff 15 more chairs on its Airbus A320s, bringing the seat count per aircraft to 165 from 150. That means JetBlue will fly its A320 at a higher seating density than many major competitors, including United Airlines (138-150 seats), US Airways (150) and Virgin America (146-149).

In other words:  customer-friendly JetBlue is now operating at the same density as USAir and a higher density than United and Virgin Atlantic!

I sympathize with JetBlue here.  People seem to want to pay a low base fare and then pay for things a la carte.  Food in the airport is much better than it used to be and people would rather pay 10 bucks for a sandwich (or bring food from home) than buy a more expensive ticket and eat airline food.  People would rather watch their own stuff on a tablet than buy a more expensive ticket and watch the airline’s stuff on a seatback.  And etc. and etc.  I think the one thing people do want is more room to sit.  But if you want to pay $50 extra for that, you can do it on the big three by buying a premium coach seat at checkin.

OK, to be fair, this actually costs more like $50 each way.  On the other hand, United Economy Plus gives you 37 inches of seat pitch; a standard JetBlue seat is 34, and a standard United seat 33.

 

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So you think you can shop

CJ and I, on the plane back from Thanksgiving today, had a good idea for a reality show:  somebody has to buy every item in the Skymall catalogue and then make use of all of them in one day’s time.

 

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Let us now praise Delta Airlines

I flew home from Montreal yesterday via Minneapolis.  MSP was still kind of messy, recovering from a snowstorm, and my Montreal-Minneapolis leg was delayed.  Delta told me I wasn’t going to make the last flight back to Madison, gave me a hotel voucher for Minneapolis, and rebooked me for the first flight the next morning.  But when we landed in Minneapolis, there were still 5 minutes left until the Madison flight was departing.  The gate agent got a guy in a motorized cart to take me all the way from the end of concourse C to the beginning of concourse F.  Those things can go pretty fast when there’s nobody in the airport!  Even so, we got there two minutes after departure time and the gate was shut.  But I could see the plane still parked at the end of the jetway.  So the agent opened the gate back up, took me down, and got the pilot to re-open the main boarding door so I could get on the plane.  The whole thing was awesome, I was extremely happy to sleep at home, and I’m feeling very warm towards the people at Delta for making it happen.

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1. Produce defective cars 2. ? 3. Double profit!

“Profit Doubles at G.M., as It Strives to Move Past Its Litany of Recalls”:

General Motors’ quarterly earnings report on Thursday was noteworthy mostly for what it lacked: another big financial charge for safety recalls.

After running up special charges of nearly $3 billion in the first half of the year for safety problems, G.M., the nation’s biggest automaker, avoided additional charges for recalls in the third quarter.

While G.M. did incur $700 million in costs for fixing recalled vehicles during the quarter, the company had already booked those charges in previous periods….

By accounting for the bulk of its recall costs in the first half of the year, G.M. has turned a corner — at least financially — in its struggle to move beyond the worst safety crisis in its history.

So let me make sure I understand this:  GM is still blowing trainloads of cash fixing its mistakes, but they decided to declare that the money they’re spending now was actually spent earlier in the year, so that their official profit in the first half is below the real figure, and their official profit for the third quarter is above the real figure, and then they get a sunny headline in the New York Times saying they “doubled their profit?”

My grandfather the CPA would not approve.

 

 

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Where are people buying How Not To Be Wrong?

Amazon Author Central shows you Bookscan sales for your books broken down by metropolitan statistical area.  (BookScan tracks most hardcover sales, but not e-book sales.)  This allows me to see which MSAs are buying the most and fewest copies, per capita, of How Not To Be Wrong.  Unsurprisingly, Madison has by far the highest number of copies of HNTBW per person.  But Burlington, VT is not far behind!  Then there’s a big drop, until you get down to DC, SF, Boston, and Seattle, each of which still bought more than twice as many copies per person as the median MSA.

Where do people not want the book?  Lowest sales per capita are in Miami.  They also have little use for me in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Houston.  Note that for reasons of time I only looked at the 30 MSAs that sold the most copies of the book; going farther down that list, there are more pretty big cities where the book is unpopular, like Tampa, Charlotte, San Antonio, and Orlando.

It would be interesting to compare the sales figures, not to population, but to overall hardcover book sales.  But I couldn’t find this information broken down by city.

 

How do you share your New York Times?

My op/ed about math teaching and Little League coaching is the most emailed article in the New York Times today.  Very cool!

But here’s something interesting; it’s only the 14th most viewed article, the 6th most tweeted, and the 6th most shared on Facebook.  On the other hand, this article about child refugees from Honduras is

#14 most emailed

#1 most viewed

#1 most shared on Facebook

#1 most tweeted

while Paul Krugman’s column about California is

#4 most emailed

#3 most viewed

#4 most shared on Facebook

#7 most tweeted.

Why are some articles, like mine, much more emailed than tweeted, while others, like the one about refugees, much more tweeted than emailed, and others still, like Krugman’s, come out about even?  Is it always the case that views track tweets, not emails?  Not necessarily; an article about the commercial success and legal woes of conservative poo-stirrer Dinesh D’Souza is #3 most viewed, but only #13 in tweets (and #9 in emails.)  Today’s Gaza story has lots of tweets and views but not so many emails, like the Honduras piece, so maybe this is a pattern for international news?  Presumably people inside newspapers actually study stuff like this; is any of that research public?  Now I’m curious.

 

 

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The Amanda Palmer TED talk

They showed it during TEDxMadison.  Here’s what struck me.  She talked a lot about art, a lot about selflessness, a lot about performance.  Many forceful moments.  But there was only one point at the talk where the audience stopped her with a wave of applause, and that was when she put up a slide referring to a large sum of money.

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