On Hustles

A friend of mine in the Bay Area had what he called the "BART scam" when we were temps living in Berkely and working in San Francisco. BART (the local subway) has distance-based fares assessed by running a card through both when you came in and came out. He arranged it (I think by jumping the turnstyle once) so that he had two "active" cards at the same time, then would alternate adjacent stops at either end each day, with the upshot being that he'd trick the system into thinking he'd only travelled one stop each way instead of across the Bay. This would cut his commuting money in half, which, if you're making $7 an hour like we did, is no small thing. Anyway, this distance-based arbitrage reminds me of the U-Haul hustle described here. I don't even think you could call that a "scam," since I'm assuming they don't put any mileage restrictions on you or anything. Pretty brilliant.

Posted on April 17, 2014 at 2:08 pm 1

On How We Think About Class

Here's a random suggestion that I'm not sure is true or not but I'll put it out there for discussion: the decision to serve you guys alcohol and not the well-to-do white people may not have been a "reward" for you being Latin@, Hispanophone, and/or working-class. Might it have been more nervousness that the people who aren't "us" would be more likely to rat out the restaurant for serving booze without a liquor license? Even if that wasn't an explicit or realistic fear, there might've just been an extra willingness to trust someone within their community -- for however you want to define community, ethnic, linguistic, socio-economic, whatever -- over a fairly minor and harmless violation; this is trust you wouldn't necessarily have with outsiders, particularly if the outsiders fit the profile of "the man", the dominant group who enforces these laws in the first place.

Posted on April 9, 2014 at 2:29 pm 9

On Weird Jobs Around The World

Curious what the American version would be. Something to do with our health insurance system, maybe? A friend of mine who just moved to California paid $50 to a health insurance broker to help her navigate the process -- I imagine that job doesn't exist in many other places. Medical offices have full-time billing people whose whole job is dealing with insurance companies; they're probably a lot rarer too.

Posted on March 25, 2014 at 5:30 pm 0

On Lizard Heads, Frogs, Crickets: The Things We Find in Our Lunch Salads

@LookUponMyWorks he actually tried to organize a boycott of them in the dorm (note: do not try to organize a ramen boycott in a dorm) then succumbed to the siren song of free ramen like three days later!

Posted on March 12, 2014 at 11:19 am 0

On Lizard Heads, Frogs, Crickets: The Things We Find in Our Lunch Salads

My wife found a giant mantis-like bug in her bagged salad once (that she got from a supermarket). While it is of course gross, I actually have a hard time getting too worked up about it because, I guess, the plants are coming from an environment (i.e. THE OUTSIDE WORLD) where there are bugs and frogs and things all the time? On the other hand, my freshman year roommate in college found a dead little black beetle in his cup-o-soup ramen that he pretty much lived off of that year. He wrapped in tape and mailed it back to the Maruchan company with an angry letter; they sent him a note apologizing, and, in the least reassuring explanation ever, said the bug must have gotten in there during the warehousing process after it was packaged (gross) because any organic material would have been broken down into invisible parts during the noodle-steaming/frying process (GROSS). They also sent him a bunch of coupons for free cup-o-soup, which he used.

Posted on March 12, 2014 at 9:20 am 0

On Trying to Level the SAT Prep Playing Field

Ever since this bounce of SAT-themed articles has come out, I've been telling everyone who wil listen that they need to read The Big Test, about the history of the SATs. That history has a lot of implications for this topic in particular. Basically, the SATs were invented in the early 20th century in order to impose a meritocratic order on the U.S. collegieate system. In the 19th and 20th century, people got into college based on a combination of ethno-religious background, wealth, membership in the social elite, and attendence at feeder prep high schools. As soon as people started admitting to themselves that these factors didn't necessarily make someone smarter or more prepared for college, the search was on for an "objective" means to assess high school students. So far, so good, but the test-makers still worked on the assumption that there was an elite, and a "natural" one at that; they just believed the old method of discovering and prepetuating that elite was incorrect and leaving potential leaders undiscovered in the slums. They wanted a test that would assess the student's inborn intelligence, and to that end they considered just administering IQ tests or even the Myers-Briggs (!) before coming up with their own. They never wanted anyone to *study* for the SATs, as they considered what it tested to be something you would either know or didn't. This is obviously absurd, but they really thought they had come up with a test that was the equivalent of putting on a brain helmet and getting a number about the student's natural smarts. Kaplan Test Prep was started by a Jewish immigrant from Queens who wanted to help (and profit from) kids who didn't go to fancy schools or have a leg up. His view was in many ways meritocratic too, in the sense that he thought anyone could beat the test if they knew the tricks. But the SAT creators were horrified, since this went against their whole idea of what the test was for. They're probably spinning in their graves right now.

Posted on March 7, 2014 at 3:45 pm 2

On Cities Cutting Property Taxes to Help Longtime Residents Affected by Gentrication

Baltimore has a system where, for owner-occupants, your property taxes can't go up by more than 4% a year, no matter what your property assessment; for many people who owned before the bubble hit hereabouts in the early-mid '00s, their taxes are creeping up a little bit every year towards a theoretical assessment that it won't meet for decades. My wife was lucky/smart enough to buy our house in 2001 and I know for a fact that we pay less than half the taxes that our neighbors in near-identical houses do. Baltimore property taxes aren't cheap, either, which means that we're saving more than $150/month on our mortgage because of this.

Posted on March 4, 2014 at 9:20 am 0

On The Most Effective Product Placement in True Detective

@bgprincipessa @Logan Sachon ok, but ... why did the cell phone lady have sex with him? I mean, guys who don't have long-term partners and/or daughters do NOT carry big bags of tampons into bars, right? Her come-on was so weird and out of the blue that I kept thinking "OK, this has to be some weird plot, she was in that strange prostitute-compound, maybe she's luring him to his death for the Yellow King," but nothing seems to have come of it and it really made me more sympathetic to the argument that women in the show are basically there to advance the plot/screw up the men/prance around naked and beg to be fucked in the ass. :(

Posted on February 28, 2014 at 2:14 pm 1

On I Don't Sleep I Just Dream of 1 Thing

My 1 Thing is actually something that wasn't in my control but it came together today. My mother (who hates buying things online) wanted to get my stepfather a record player turntable for Christmas last year, and I ordered it for her from Amazon (with my credit card, on the understanding she would pay me back). I live in Baltimore and had it shipped to their house in Buffalo. He decided he didn't really want a turntable, so we returned it -- I was in Buffalo for this part, so I printed out all the return slip info and boxed it up, and then he took it to the UPS Store in Buffalo to ship back. This was, as you might imagine, in late December. I didn't bother having my mom write me the check because I figured I'd just get the refund on my credit card once it all got sorted out. Well! The third-party reseller from whom I bought the record player (Amazon was only the intermediary, it turned out) claimed they'd never received it, despite the fact that UPS's records showed it being delivered and signed for at their warehouse address, and basically told me it was UPS's problem to solve, not theirs. They were frankly pretty rude about it. So began a long, desultory process by which UPS launched an "investigation" which as near as I could tell involved trying to call the warehouse and not getting any answer; after several weeks, during which I would intermittently call UPS's national number to check on the status, they eventually told me that the people I should *actually* be talking to were the ones at the UPS Store in Buffalo from which we shipped the package. Those people actually turned out to be super nice, and they eventually reported that UPS had decided to just pay me for the cost of the turntable, which was fine, except that (a) UPS HQ would only send the check to that UPS Store, and (b) they would only make the check to my stepfather, since he's the one who brought it there to be shipped. This news got to me a week and a half ago, and I just moments ago got a call saying that the check is there for my stepfather to pick up, which is great because my parents are actually leaving Saturday to go spend a month in Florida, and I'd worry they'd miss it. My mom, who was increasingly mortified by the whole thing, finally wrote a check to me and put it in the mail this week (I kept telling her not to, because I was expecting to get recompensated myself eventually). This has not made her any more likely to order things online, despite my repeated reassurances that this is by far the worst online ordering experience I've ever had. So honestly I guess really my 1 thing, once I have it double-confirmed that the check is in my stepfather's hands, is going to be leaving some shitty feedback for this reseller on Amazon.

Posted on February 27, 2014 at 1:17 pm 1

On Nothing Leprechaun Gold Can Stay: Financial Lessons From "Harry Potter"

There really is all this class/money stuff about Ron's family being poor (supported on a civil servant's salary, no less) and Draco's family making fun of him for it and Harry having grown up deprived of material things by his middle-class aunt and uncle but then discovering that he actually has wizard-wealth but not a lot of understanding of what tha tmight mean in practice ... but it never really takes shape into a coherent system, does it? Sort of how there's the "MInistry of Magic" which is supposed to be a kind of parallel Wizard government but it's never clear exactly how they're chosen or what relationship they have exactly with Muggle authority. Do they ever explain how people like Hermione, raised in the Muggle world, go about obtaining wizard money? What did she pay for her books and supplies with? Is there a special scholarship? All the wizarding people tend to be pretty baffled by British cash.

Posted on February 27, 2014 at 10:03 am 3