Monday, February 20, 2012

If its Monday, it must be about the separation of powers.

I have nothing to write about, so be warned.  This is one of those posts - I have no idea where it will go.

I walk a lot with the dog, and lately I've noticed the dog pays a lot more attention to vehicles when they approach, especially from behind.  I'm not sure why that has started, and I'm not sure how to stop it. 

Yesterday it snowed.  Today the snow is gone.  Just the way it ought to be. 

I find as I get older, more and more people get seriously ill, and more and more people die.   I don't like it.

I dont think Pickles the Dog understands the thermal properties of sun shining through a window.  But she knows it's warm - she's as bad as a cat for seeking out the sun.

I can't remember the dream I had last night, but I know I had it.

I am currently reading "The Death of Ivan Ilych" by Leo Tolstoy.  Many, many pages devoted to a description of a person dying a painful death.   He sacrificed his life for a drawing room.

A drawing room, of course, is not a place where one would expect to find crayons, at least not in a solidly middle class household in 19th century Russia.

Today is president's day, so now I shall expound on government:

The systems of checks and balances set up by the founders to replace the Articles of Confederation after the Revolution has ensured that the United States is a relatively conservative place, politically.  I don't know if that was their intention or not, but I wouldn't put it past them.  These were very intelligent & very wealthy people, for the most part, and I give them credit for knowing what they were doing.

I dont pretend to understand British politics, but it seems that in their Parliamentary style of government, whatever the House of Commons, lead by the Prime Minister, says, goes.  There does not seem to be a separation of executive and legislative powers.

In the USA, that's not the case.  The legislature, in the person of  the House of Representatives & the Senate, have to agree on a bill - which in and of itself tends to moderate things.  The President has executive powers and can veto a bill, and it's not easy to override.  But even if a bill comes out of Congress and the President signs it, it can be challenged in the courts and the Supreme Court can potentially overturn it, and it seems they have pretty much the last say.  The only way to override the Supreme Court is to amend the constitution, a process that takes quite a bit of effort and time, and involves not only the US Congress, but the State legislatures.  Its not often that amendments are attempted, and almost all of them fail.  Which I guess is as it should be.

With our system government, it seems like a miracle that we have anything like Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, or anything in place to protect workers, but we do.  Its not surprising at all that we don't have a national health insurance, that we are only one of two or three nations on earth that don't use the metric system, and that there is no large scale nationwide mass transit network. 

I'd love to be able to take the train from Valdese to Asheville, spend a few hours & come back, but I can't.  Railroad passenger service between small towns and small cities just doesn't exist, and that is not an accident or an oversight. 

Economically, though, we're a giant, even now, even in these times.  The country generates enormous wealth. 

Militarily, we're also a giant, an extremely powerful nation able exert its power pretty much anywhere on the planet it takes a notion to.

Part of this is due to our size and location, but a lot is due to the fact that the USA is fairly conservative when compared to most other industrialized "western" nations. And that is because we have a system of government that makes change difficult. 

The founding fathers set up this system of checks and balances in the Constitution in order to protect against "tyrants".   When they thought of a tyrant, they were thinking specifically of King George III, and what they considered the unfair control of markets & taxation.  And when the USA finally became independent, it ultimately set up a system of government which which separated the various functions of government and was quite radical in the 18th century.  I think it's still quite radical today.  But whether it was intentional (I tend to think it was), or an unintended consequence, an abrupt radical change on a nationwide level is generally not in the cards.  The checks & balances, the separation of legislative, executive & judicial powers installed to keep too much power from residing in one person, insures that it doesn't happen.

I suppose.  I'm just thinking.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The highlight of my day, yesterday

First, happy Valentines Day to everybody who reads this.

Yesterday the highlight of my day was a little grocery shopping at Food Lion in Valdese.  I've written about Food Lion before, and the alternate universe qualities of the experience, but just because I've written about something before has never stopped me from writing about it again. 

Food Lion is a mid-sized supermarket (meaning it's not small by any means, but I've seen larger), in a small town.  It is the ONLY supermarket in town, for a couple of years now.  And though it's not that far to Morganton or Cajah's Mountain or even Hickory, most of the time Food Lion is where people in town end up going for their groceries.

If the people of Valdese were water, Food Lion would be the water purification plant.

If the people of Valdese the dark matter of space, then Food Lion would be a quantum anomaly where the universe contracts and expands simultaneously. 

And so on. 

Eventually everybody in town is going to go in there, buy something and leave. Because of that Food Lion of Valdese is a very big fish in a small pond.  It exerts enormous influence.

The influence starts when you enter the store.  Although there are no signs, no requirements and no physical barriers, the physical layout strongly encourages you to go to the produce section immediately after entering.  You'd have to make a conscious effort to go any other way.  Then once in the produce section, the physical layout strongly encourages you to go down the aisle at the end of the store.  No physical barrier keeps you from going any other way, but you would have to make an effort.  So you head down that aisle, and before you know it you are in the far corner of the store - right where they want you.  The more you walk around, the more you buy.

Everybody in Valdese is subject to this subtle behavior control. Food Lion - the great leveler.

And it is a great leveler.  It is possible for 2 people to go into Food Lion, fill up two carts, and not have bought a single thing in common.  But over time, in a large enough population, people are going to buy the same things, and Food Lion will cater to the items that people buy.    The good people of Valdese have a very similar Food Lion diet.

So any rate, I did a little light shopping at Food Lion yesterday.  I got some milk and some cereal (nowhere near each other, btw), some chicken (parts is parts), ground turkey, a case of water, something for Pickles the Dog to gnaw on and some other stuff.  Though one item I was going to get I didn't, because there were some people who apparently decided to camp out at the section right where the item I wanted was.  They were elderly, and they weren't going to budge for awhile.  So I did a quick cost/benefit analysis and decided it wasn't worth it and went paid for everything and left.  I can only handle so much. 



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Shipping Costs

This is yet another eBay related post.  I'll think of something else to write about eventually.  But for now.....

Sometime back we decided on a flat rate shipping for items we sell on eBay.  We keep it pretty simple, and it works well in 95% of the cases.  We deal with anything odd or out of the ordinary on a case by case basis as it is listed.

Domestically, we offer free shipping on virtually everything, and you can't get much simpler than that.  We've been doing that for over a year now, and it works for us.

We've never offered free shipping internationally - it's just too expensive. 

The United States Postal Service increased their rates on Jan 22, 2012.  The news focused on the domestic rates for letters and postcards, but for us, that didn't matter.  What we wanted to know, and what was surprisingly difficult to find out before it actually happened, was the new rates for first class packages, both domestic and international.   We ship out a lot of packages that weigh 2 or 3 ounces - and the cheapest (& frequently the quickest) way to send them is first class & first class international.

So this is what we found out. 

First class domestic is actually cheaper now, because the post office no longer charges for delivery confirmation if you print the label online.  Before Jan 22, the 2 & 3 ounce rate for an online label was $1.56, and they required you to purchase the delivery confirmation at $.19, for a total of $1.75.    After Jan 22, the rate went up to $1.64 for 2 or 3 ounces, but now delivery confirmation is added on for free.  So it's 11 cents cheaper than before.  That's good for us since we offer free shipping on these items, and over the course of a year that 11 cents is going to add up.

First class international is much more expensive.  We differentiate international shipping between those items going to Canada, and those items going everywhere else. 

Before Jan 22, USPS charged $1.98 for a 2 ounce package, and $2.24 for a 3 ounce package to Canada.  Now the charge is $3.15 & $3.30, respectively. 

For Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, Australia etc the rate before Jan 22 was $2.59 for a 2 ounce package & $3.46 for a 3 ounce package.  Now USPS charges $3.78 & $4.56, respectively.

As a seller, I have experienced international shipping rate sticker shock.  The domestic changes were minimal from our point of view, but we were very surprised at the international increase.  We were forced to increase our rates because of this, though we desperately did not want to. 

International sales are a good chunk of our business.  I'm afraid these increases will hurt our sales.  This was not a minor increase, it was nothing we could come close to absorbing in the price of our items, and I'm not terribly happy about it.   

In reality it won't affect everything - we'll send individual postcards & small photos internationally at the same rate as before.  But CDVs, Cabinet Photos, Antique photos and many other things will be more expensive to ship internationally.  That's just the way it's going to be.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Our eBay Month - Jan 2012

All in all it was a good month, a little better than average, perhaps.  Perhaps not.  It was not as good as December or November, but on par with last January at least. 

In fact the similarities between Jan 2012 & Jan 2011 are remarkable.  Our net this month was less than $7.00 higher than our net in January 2011, but our expenses were also higher, so our gross in Jan 2012 was somewhat lower than a year ago.

In a remarkable co-incidence, our total number of transactions were exactly the same for both months.  The types of transactions were distributed a little differently though - in Jan 2012 we sold fewer postcard "singles", and more photographs than we did in Jan 2011.  That seems to be a trend for us, at least during the last 4 or 5 months, and I see no reason why it won't continue.  Famous last words.

International sales continued to be a significant part of our business in January.  We sent items to 13 countries (with Canada & the UK leading the way) and international sales accounted for about 20% of our total transactions and 21% or our net income.   We sent a photograph to Jordan last month, a first for us, and received feedback for it a few days later.  So cool.

Our net for December 2011 was significantly higher than Jan 2012, and our expenses were slightly lower, making our gross for the month quite a bit higher.  Although we actually sold more postcard "singles" in Jan 2012 than we did in December 2011, we sold many, many more photographs in December.  That more than made up for a slow postcard month. 

The post office increased postage rates this month.    We offer free shipping in the domestic USA, and that's not going to change.  I've discovered that even though the post office increased 1st class domestic package rates, they've decided not to charge for delivery confirmation.  As as result, 1st class postage has actually become cheaper for us after the change.  Over the course of a year, that will add up.  Everything else, however, has increased.

We do charge a flat rate shipping for international sales, and we've not changed our rates.  It is a bit more expensive, but for the time being at least, we're not changing anything, international shipping wise.

So, January was a good but not a great month, perhaps slightly better (or not) than our monthly average for 2011.  Business kind of slowed the 10 days of the month, and Feb has started off slowly, so we'll see how it goes.