Yes We Can!



Why sell to half-price books?

Laura and I unpacked all our books yesterday and realized that we have a shelf-space crisis in our new house, so we decide to try selling some to Half-Price Books. We picked out three boxes of books, probably around 40 books total (though maybe more, I didn’t count). The were mostly hardbound, and many fairly technical, which according to HPB’s FAQ are the kind of books that fetch the most. We carted them down to the Bellevue HPB location, and I waited 30-40 minutes for their buyer to assess the haul. The final offer? Twelve dollars. That comes out to something like 30c per book.

Now, I’m a big believer in the free market, especially for things like this, so I can’t criticize HPB for trying to pay as little as possible for their inventory. What I can’t figure out is this: Why would anyone would ever bother to sell them books in the first place? The HPB is located about 4 miles from my house, and gas here is $4.40 per gallon, so just the cost of driving there ate up about $1 of my gross. Counting driving and waiting, the trip took about an hour. I specially selected books that I thought had a chance of being valuable, rather than just grabbing the many tatttered pulp paperbacks in my library, that probably added an extra hour to the process. If I value my time at Washington’s minimum wage of $8/hour, the whole trip was a net loss for me. I would have been better off just taking the oldest and most tattered books from my library and throwing them away. It would have gained me just as much shelf space with far less time and hassle.

I can’t figure out how selling to HPB ever comes out to a rational thing to do.  If you have a few high-value books (e.g. first editions or collectors editions) HPB will probably offer more than I got, but you’d still be better off selling them individually as an Amazon seller.  If you have just the average haul of old books, HPB will offer you peanuts.  I get a sense that a lot of their customers buy books there, read them, and then sell them back. If the books they buy are high-value, then maybe the fetch more on resale, but it’s still a net loss for the consumer. That’s certainly a nice deal for HPB, getting to resell the same book over and over, profiting each time. But for the reader, it seems like it would be far more economical to just use a library. At least I have the satisfaction of not having recycled any of the $12 back into HPB’s till. I just took the cash and left.

My favorite Obama quote

The thing I think people should feel confident in is that I’m going to make these judgments not based on some fierce ideological pre-disposition but based on what makes sense. I’m a big believer in evidence. I’m a big believer in fact. You know, if somebody shows me we can do something better through a market mechanism, I’m happy to do it.

–Barack Obama in a Wall St. Journal Interview [Seen in The Stump]

It’s been a long time since I heard any politician talking about making decisions based on data and evidence.’s reputation for data-driven decision making is one of the things that attracted me to them.

Seeking good Seattle blogs

After four days at the new job I’m starting to almost have the time and energy to read a few blogs at home after dinner. I’ve been reading some Seattle blogs since I accepted the offer with Amazon back in the beginning of May, including Citizen Rain, Seattlest, Seattle Metblogs, and Seattle Transit Blog. These have done a decent job of introducing me to some of the blogging world of Seattle, but they all seem to emphasize breadth over depth. So far I haven’t found anything with the thoughtfulness or good writing of Pittsblog. I prefer a small number of posts that provoke me to think rather than 10 posts a day about severed feet washing up on BC shores.

I’d love to hear some ideas.

Random things to love about Seattle

We’ve only been in Seattle for a few days, but so far my impressions have been almost entirely positive. Here are a bunch of random things I love so far:

  • Mt. Rainier in the evening sunlight.
  • I’ve seen more Priuses and Smart Cars here in five days than I’ve seen in Pittsburgh in the last two years (anywhere, ever, really).
  • HOV lanes on every freeway.
  • Marymoor Park.
  • Average people who use the internet, and assume that you do to.
  • The mountains and the sea, together
  • Chowder at Ivar’s. (had it today… confirming that I am in fact in Seattle. Keep Clam!)
  • The Space Needle at night.
  • Great coffee everywhere.
  • The nation’s strictest smoking ban passed statewide here in a voter referendum, winning a majority of voters in every county
  • Express buses with WiFi.
  • The transit tunnel.  A subway for busses.
  • Uwajimaya grocery.  Across the street from my office.


Yinz take care

I haven’t been blogging lately, because all my spare energy has been devoted first to job hunting, then getting ready to move, and now moving. I’ve accepted a position the transaction risk management group at, working on automated fraud detection systems. So Laura, Maggie, and I are re-diasporizing to Seattle.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail of my job search, except to say that from the beginning we were willing to relocate to find the right job. When I was in Austin looking for a job, we had already decided that we’d go wherever the work was. That hasn’t changed. That said, I did apply for several positions in Pittsburgh. The median response was radio silence. Fairly late in the process I did get a response from one well-known tech company. At that point I already had the Amazon offer and the position they were trying to fill was not quite the right fit for me.

Although we’re sad about leaving family and friends here (again) we’re super excited about both Seattle and Amazon. Laura has already had one job interview there, too.

The move is really two big changes for me: leaving academia, which would require a whole blog post on its own, and leaving Pittsburgh, about which my feelings are actually not all that mixed. As the kids used to say when I was in high school: it’s been real; it’s been fun; but it hasn’t been real fun. In the two years since moving back here from Austin, I’ve had a strong feeling of “how you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen paree?” Leaving for the second time, I definitely don’t fit the stereotype of the Pittsburgh diasporan who would move back if only I could find a job. But frankly, I think that stereotype is mostly a local myth. I have met many diasporans who are happy where they are, and none who long to be back.

As for me, Seattle is the city I’ve spent the most time in, after Pittsburgh and Austin, and I’m excited to be going there. I know it’s no utiopia: it has a high cost of living, and there’s the Seattle Freeze to worry about. On the other hand, it’s a beautiful wired city full of geeks and book lovers. What’s not to love?

Update: This post has gotten a tiny bit of traction in the blogosphere.  I’ve posted some more thoughts here.

Old Lady to Comcast: Stop, Hammer Time!

This is all over the blogosphere already, but I have to mention the story of 75-year-old Mona “The Hammer” Shaw. After being treated like crap by her local Comcast customer service office, she returned with a hammer and started destroying office equipment.  Hasn’t everyone wanted to do that to their cable company at some point?  I have one word for her: DirecTV.

It’s a good thing she didn’t have to go to a Sears service center in Pittsburgh.