3/25/22 (17:16)
  • Work picking back up again. Maybe the economy isn't collapsing after all? Not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from is one of the tougher parts of owning your own business. When we got loans for our home or the warehouse we had to pay about 25 basis points more than average because we're self-employed. The rational is that we have less income security. On the one hand I guess that's true because we have to hustle for work every day. But another way of viewing it is we have more income security than most. If we piss off our boss today then we might lose the job or get a bad review, but there are plenty of other bosses (customers) out there. If you're employed by 3M or the local university or whatever you never have to worry about getting more work because that's your boss' job, but you're also at the whim of their management.
  • Anyway, having faith that jobs will be there tomorrow is definitely difficult. We do email marketing and that's it so there's more potential for work out there, but wading into that and dealing with tire kickers never seemed as good a way to go as organic word of mouth growth. With word of mouth growth your potential customer already has an inclination to have you do the job because their friend, neighbor, etc. said something good about you. If your referral source is a Facebook ad, then the conversion rate decreases drastically because of those tire kickers and the the competition increasing. When you get leads like that you need to separate yourself more based upon your expertise or method or price. It's much more of a sales game in that situation and I hate sales. Meryl does a fair amount of the sales at this point so that's been good all around.
  • Worst case scenario I have to start shaking trees for work with previous customers. Hey Bill I know you wanted to fix that door of yours. Hey Sally I'm slow right now do you have anything for me? I've never had to do it, but I know it's always an option
  • One thing that's nice about service work vs. selling widgets is that cash flow is hardly ever an issue. If it is then that's just a sign that either you're not invoicing the work performed quickly enough (often an issue with me) or you're having one job fund the next and actually aren't charging enough. This is called robbing Peter to pay Paul and a lot of guys do it if they don't know how to run a business. Thanks in part to a steady war against wood shops in high schools and general lack of respect for trades programs, I'm competing in a job market that is understaffed. This lucky for me.
  • Last year we did a lot more jobs for homes that were going to go on the market. I like these jobs because we're working in vacant homes for customers who are more sensitive to timeline than they are to being able to pick every last detail to their liking and worrying about you working in their living space. They give us more design latitude and want the job done in time for their agent to get it on the market. The fact that Meryl does home staging and I do everything else makes it really simple for the agent to deal with one point of contact and get the home listed. So, a home may have a very dated kitchen and a list of 50 things from the home inspection including plumbing, electrical, carpentry, etc. Instead of hiring a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter, a painter, a home stager, a cleaner, etc. they just hire us and we do it all. Last year we did a lot of kitchen counters and painting kitchen cabinets because those have a big impact for not too much. Hopefully we continue to do more of that.
  • Lately I've been trying to think of the business as about acquiring customers as opposed to acquiring individual jobs. The customers we want are agents because they have more jobs than homeowners, for example.

  • 3/24/22 (15:59)

  • NYT podcast this morning said they thought the war in Russia was going to be fast. I'm not sure where anyone got this idea. It's one thing to overestimate the power of the Russian military, but we must have learned from history by now that occupation isn't a quick process. If Ukrainians want self-determination and self-rule then they will fight for it. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Germany in France during WW2...it doesn't matter how outgunned they are or how much you destroy their country, they won't give up easily. I don't see any reason to think Ukrainians are any different.
  • Beyond occupation, how does one country really defeat another? In my understanding of things, it requires a pretty thorough destruction of will. When the usual stuff doesn't work (it won't) and Putin doesn't get what he wants (we'll see if he's willing to take a compromise) then what's left? Go further down the path of war (towards nukes?) or retreat. Retreat doesn't seem like Putin, but we'll see. In other words, I don't agree with the NYT and others on the narrative that Russia was going to have an easy time and I don't agree with those who now say Ukraine is winning the war. It will be a battle of wills. I don't see Ukraine giving up because they have the most to lose. It will be a while before this is sorted out. Some are saying a couple weeks, and I hope they're right, but I'm guessing they're wrong. Putin has been laying the groundwork for this for a decade and he's going to let it all fizzle in a couple months?

  • 3/22/22 (21:44)

  • Having a hard time updating the movie page. I don't want it to die, but it's been more than a year since I've updated it in any real way. I still keep track of all my movies, but don't have the energy to write my thoughts.
  • Meryl saw a kid get hit by a car today. He was crossing the street on his way to school and some old guy just plowed into him. Kid was okay so that's good.
  • I like the way economists think...concepts like supply and demand, revealed preferences, scarcity, importance of incentives, etc. They also tend to be the most likely to be heterodox of all the social sciences. That said, I'm not sure they're all that good at knowing how the economy actually works.
  • Speaking of the social sciences and academia...There's a big disparity in liberals to conservatives. In Economics it's about 3:1 (liberals to conservatives). Overall in social sciences it's anywhere from 44-100:1. In Engineering and Business it's close to 1:1. Why is the disparity so great? Self-sorting is probably part of it. Indoctrination is also probably part of it. There's an effect that has been described and predicted by Glenn Loury and others that basically dictates that institutions get more extreme with time. Essentially there is a silencing effect that ends up pushing an institution towards more extreme views over time. We see this in colleges where you can get called out for not being sufficiently liberal on a topic. I've spoken with many people who will admit to not agreeing with the latest gender politics or COVID policy, but they don't stick their head out for fear of having it chopped off. This leaves only the most rabid and vocal people left. Then conservatives see this and 1) think that all liberals have the same views as are being espoused by the most liberal people who are doing 90% of the talking 2) decide they don't want any part of the institution.
  • There's another theory that institutions that aren't stated as being explicitly conservative will tend to become liberal over time.
  • There's an argument to be made that we'd be better off had Obama not won against Romney in 2012. Liberals would be upset and would cry about racism, but they ended up doing that anyway so no big change there. However, it might have been better because having Romney in charge might have gotten some things done with a Republican Congress. Obama was basically worthless in his second term because Republicans decided not to work with him at all. Further, Romney infamously said that Russia was the greatest geopolitical foe in the world. I thought that was silly at the time. Obama made fun of him for it. But, in retrospect, maybe he was right. Also, he likely would have lost a majority in Congress in 2014 and maybe some actual bipartisan things would have been accomplished. Then, in 2016 it would have been him vs. Hillary (presumably) and maybe she would have won and we'd have a woman president and liberals would be happy for a couple days, or Romney would have won and he'd get 8 years of centrist rule. Either way, we wouldn't have Trump in this scenario. Interesting counterfactual.
  • To what degree is it okay that individuals suffer as a result of the sins of the group or vice versa? Some examples - basketball player is late for a meeting or a soldier can't get a drill right and the whole team has to run laps because one person isn't doing what they're supposed to be doing. Putin starts a crazy war and all of Russia gets hurt by economic sanctions. Some whites make laws against all blacks 60 years ago and all whites today have to pay reparations. BLM protesters get smeared by Fox News because a couple people in the same protest start a fight or loot some stores (same could be said about the Unite the Right protesters in Charlottesville).
  • I don't have the answers here. In general I'm an individualist. I don't want to go to a protest because I don't want to be associated with some of the dumb shit that will undoubtedly be said/done during that protest. I'm my own person with my own strange views and I don't think protests generally reflect my opinions. Overall, I prefer not to be part of a group and that's especially true when it comes to being part of a group I don't have control over (like I was born into it).
  • At the same time, maybe Russians should feel the heat when their president is starting wars. Maybe it's the responsibility of the individual protesters to police their own. I've written about this before with regards to cops - cops should cull the herd from time to time and get rid of shitty cops. If you don't do that then it's no wonder that people will start painting you all with the same brush. Same could be said about any number of groups. I'm not sure how to make the right distinctions or decide when a group should suffer because of the sins of a few or individuals should suffer because of what was done by the collective.
  • Liberal mindset is to tear down walls, start anew, and have a low grade contempt for the old guard. Maybe I have a conservative mindset in this dimension because I think the Burkean model is better. Burke thought that each generation has a sort of contract not just with the future generation, but also the previous generations. We shouldn't just throw away what they had done. He famously said that one should know the purpose of a fence before tearing it down. This could be applied to all sorts of things from marriage or gender or specific laws. I started thinking about this "out with the old and in with the new idea" with football...I was opposed to the 49ers letting Montana go when they did and wished they had kept him. And again with Jerry Rice I had the same feeling. But if they hadn't traded Montana then Young wouldn't have been able to emerge as the Hall of Fame QB that he was. Maybe it was just time for Rice to go so it could be Terrell Owens' team. My bias is towards loyalty and going with the guys who brought you to the party.
  • Another riff on this Burkean idea is the totem pole. The saying is that the new guy, or the least respected guy, is at the bottom of the totem pole. My understanding is the exact opposite, though. First of all, a totem pole is about recognizing that you're standing on the shoulders of giants. It's about respecting the previous generations. This is inherently a conservative idea. Again, liberals are of the mindset of starting anew and getting rid of old, staid ideas. Conservatives, meanwhile, revere the past and hold it sacred - sometimes too much so. So, a being the low man on the totem pole means you're actually the one who made it all possible to some extent. My understanding of Burke here is that society's social contract is a contract between generations. We shouldn't tear down the previous generations and take them for granted. Perhaps, too, we should do our best to anticipate and provide the needs of the next generation. Unfortunately, today I see far too much tearing down the previous generations, and preaching about the supposed moral superiority of today's generation. You're fooling yourself if you think that because you recognize your frog-gendered friends and live a vegan lifestyle that you're enlightened. The next generation will think you're tragically uncool and will deride your lack of understanding of their furry friends who identify as cats and only eat food that doesn't cast a shadow (level 5 vegan).
  • I came across a version of this idea from a customer of mine who told me she would approach big life decisions by having a conversation with her past and future self. How do you justify making money and not being in a band to your 20 year old self? How do you justify being 20 pounds overweight or not spending enough time with your kids to your future self? It works on a society and individual level. Be understanding of the previous generations. Maybe they did their best. If you're a boomer, maybe stopping the Nazis was pretty good for the "greatest generation" and tackling Jim Crow is for your generation to sort out and maybe gay rights is for your kids' generation to tackle and maybe none of the generations in that chain should piss on each other too much or minimize the previous ones because you take for granted what they accomplished.
  • As of last week it was okay to be without a mask inside, but you couldn't be without a mask outside if you were on school grounds. This shit makes no sense man. Why are the kids the last ones to be unmasked? Some, like NYC mayor Adams, said it's because 0-5 aren't eligible to be vaccinated, but they're also the least susceptible to the virus even though they're not vaccinated. Whatever. I wish they would just move on already. Our elementary school said they are reluctantly making masks optional, but they used all the guilt trips in the book to try to convince you to wear a mask all day on campus. I'm telling my kids they shouldn't wear their masks, but it's their choice. I'm guessing everyone will still wear their mask.
  • I've heard, though I'm not sure if it's true or not, that you can have an electric fence up for cows and, after they learn the perimeter for a few months, you can take it down and they will respect the old boundary even though the fence is no longer keeping them in. People are the same.
  • Turns out the Johnson and Johnson vax has proven more durable than Pfizer and Moderna. Also fewer breakthrough cases. When I got the JNJ vax I definitely had the feeling that it was seen as the worst of the 3, but I liked their technology more than the Pfizer/Moderna mRNA tech. It was closer to the types of vaccines that were already available and so I preferred it. I also liked that it didn't require a second dose, especially after hearing some data that the second dose was maybe too close to the first, etc. Overall, JNJ seemed like the better choice for me so I went with that one after it had been out for a long while (I didn't get it until July 2021).
  • Also, Pfizer maybe not as effective on younger kids. Oops.
  • Remember this kind of shit when they tell you everything is okay, the science is in, don't worry about anything, we have it all figured out, nothing to see here. They don't know. They have ideas. They have some (not all) data.
  • This is how a culture of safetism and more is better works. Vaccine for measles is good? More vaccines is better. Chickenpox, COVID, etc. More isn't always better. I'm pretty skeptical that kids need to get as many shots as the CDC recommends early in life. 23-26 doses by age 15 months? Honestly, seems like a bit much to me. The same culture that recommends that recommends vaccines and masking and social distancing and closing schools for a disease (COVID) that has killed 800 Americans under 18 in 2 years. Just seems like a bit of an overreaction to me.

  • 3/13/22 (08:41)

  • Lumber prices continue to be near all-time highs. Work is slowing down for me and everyone I know. Several subs have asked me if I have any work for them. Feeling things might get ugly. I have several jobs that are either signed or waiting to be signed (already approved), but aren't ready to go because of dithering, waiting on materials, waiting on permits, etc. It's amazingly frustrating to have a few hundred thousand dollars worth of jobs ready, but not ready. So, I'm scraping up little jobs here and there and having the guys work on my house or warehouse. Last time it was like this was right after COVID started. This is the downside of having a lot of guys.

  • 3/10/22 (17:25)

  • Latest in the running-a-business-is-more-complicated-than-it-should-be department. We had a general liability insurance audit and it turns out we owe an additional $16k. Turns out that they charge insurance based upon gross income. So, if I buy appliances for the customer then I'm paying for insurance on that. I could markup materials and build-in the cost of insurance, but CA requires I have a reseller's license for that. Of course that would mean more bureaucracy and paperwork and trouble. It would mean not having to pay sales tax (assuming I get set up in each suppliers' system as a reseller), but then I'd need to collect sales tax and remit that to the government at the end of the year. More headaches. So I won't be doing that. Instead, I'll be looking for a better deal on insurance and making customers buy expensive materials from now on.
  • I was at the warehouse a few weeks ago during the middle of the day. I think I was working on storage or something. Anyway, I was preparing to leave and I heard a police helicopter calling out "residents of 1234 12th street come out with your hands up." I should note that the warehouse address in this example is 1234 13th street. The street was blocked off and there were about a dozen cop cars. In our interactions with the neighborhood it's come to our attention that that house houses gang members and this isn't the first time there has been police activity there that I've seen (and I'm not at the warehouse that often).
  • When we first got the warehouse it was covered in graffiti and we paid to get it removed. Sure enough the insurance company saw the pictures from the seller's listing and requested we do that, so we were actually ahead of the insurance company for once. At any rate, that was in September and it's been tagged on a few times since then, including recently by someone who brought a ladder with them. Just spent $300 on brick graffiti removal stuff. Plus the labor to get it done. Either I do it for free or I get one of my low skill guys to do it. Either way it's a waste of human capital because we (society, educational system, their parents) can't give these graf guys a real future.
  • I work on a building about half a mile away and graffiti is a major problem there as well. We cleaned the graf off on Monday and there was more there on Wednesday.
  • During the big rain a few months back the two lane road leading home got blocked by a bunch of rocks and dirt. When I drove up there was one guy with a stick trying to clear the road. There was just no way he was going to clear the road with a single tree branch given how much of a mess there was. I went home and came back with a snow shovel and we took turns stopping traffic and clearing the road. Spent 30 minutes until we were both soaking wet and the road was 95% clear. A few people thanked us.
  • Last week I was getting some lunch and I saw a woman in the parking lot trying to get into her car. It was clear that her keys were locked inside. I generally have an electrical fishing rod set with me in the truck, but it was on the job site this day so I couldn't use that to help her. I pried her door open with a pry bar and my air shim (basically an inflatable air bag that you can use as a shim or lifting device or, in this case, to separate a door from a door jamb on a car. That gave me enough space to fit my long whizz fab paint roller inside and actuate the power lock. Much to my dismay the power lock didn't work (I could hear it clicking, but it wouldn't actually move the lock). I did this on both the drive and passenger side. If I had all my tools and her lock was working it would have been a 3 minute job, but things just got more difficult. My only thought is that the lock didn't work because her keys were still in the ignition? At any rate, I moved on to trying to get her lock pulled up. They were the kind of rectangular type with really smooth sides. If they were the cylindrical type then I don't think I would have been able to get it. I used the end of the paint roller, but it wasn't grabbing because both the tool and the lock are smooth. So I taped some sandpaper to the end and it provided enough grip to grab the lock and pull it up after a few tries.
  • NYT is calling Russia part of Europe. Where have I been that Russia is part of Europe now? Ukraine I can see, but not Russia.
  • Around here the last couple years we've had "pothole vigilantes." These are people who are going around filling potholes with their own money or donations. Oakland and Richmond at least have had these people doing work on a consistent basis. This is a great example of the failure of government and it's clear as day. This is a very basic thing that city government should be able to do, but hasn't for many years. Recently we voted to have our property taxes raised to repave roads. I voted for it and they are actually doing it. The problem is that the deferred maintenance is so bad that they are barely putting a dent in the issue. Private citizens coming together to solve the problem themselves. G fails and individuals act. This is what we are seeing around the world, but especially in the US and we can expect more. This is just about the most basic and harmless example.

  • Last point on that - when the Richmond city brass found out about this their response was basically that it's dangerous work that citizens shouldn't be doing. They talked about traffic management and a lack of compaction of the asphalt as problems. These aren't unwarranted points, but it's hilarious that this is their response. Not, "hey we suck for not doing it earlier, here are some ways we can help you or some ways you can help us." Instead it's "you don't know how to do it right and you're going to die so don't do it." G doesn't trust anyone to do anything. Hence their take on COVID precautions, etc. Revelatory.