Marchbooks' Blog

February 13, 2010

Another Example of Corporate Wastefulness – M.J. Claire

Filed under: Comments from our Authors — marchbooks @ 8:00 pm
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As exciting as this week’s historic ‘blizzard’ was, it paled in comparison to the water woes I experienced over the past four days. I don’t know if it was freezing temperatures in my basement or just the ravages of time on my water filtration system, but something caused one of said units to give out at about 2 a.m. this past Tuesday, shooting water all over the one finished room in my basement. Fortunately, I caught it quite early, resulting in only one inch of water covering my entire basement and soaking into my carpeting.

Early the next day, the day of our eagerly anticipated ‘blizzard’, I called all over CT looking for someone who sold the type of filtration systems I had. For those who are unfamiliar with these filtration systems, here is a picture. With my system, it was only the clear case that cracked and it stood to reason, to me in any case, that I should just be able to purchase this piece and my problem would be resolved. I quickly discovered that no one sells just the casing. This didn’t make any sense to me, as this is the definition of a replaceable part.

I then decided that all I had to do was buy a new system that matched the one I had. I could then use the clear case, thus avoiding a call to the plumber. Wasteful, yes, but it was the best I could do. Unfortunately, it was not doable. On driving to the one dealer that carried filters made by the manufacturer in question, I discovered that they no longer made the model I owned. Furthermore, neither of the models carried by this store matched the size of the case I owned. I purchased a couple of new units.

Although the snow had started to fall, I decided to drive to the nearest Lowe’s to see if they carried a brand that might match the size of the case I owned. I struck out on that score but purchased another two units in this new style. The driving was now getting a little bit slippery, but I was on a mission. Why should it be so difficult to find a case that would match the units I had? If you looked at the picture , you will see that this is not a high-tech piece of equipment. Essentially, the heart of the unit takes water in from one side, passes it through the case which holds the filter, and then sends the filtered water on its way through the other outlet. I stopped at two other hardware supply stores with zero success.

Meanwhile, I had contacted three plumbers, only to find that all were occupied with heating/plumbing emergencies. A day after the first unit was replaced the second one cracked and showered the basement with even more water, necessitating another plumbing call. Three days without water and several hundred dollars in parts and repair charges because these manufacturers make what I am sure is a very calculated decision not to standardize and sell what is, or should be, a very replaceable part.

It was expensive, inconvenient, wet and required an expert to complete a repair that I should have been able to handle myself with under $50 in parts. Yet another example of corporate, calculated wastefulness and greed.

February 6, 2010

The Problem With Government Spending by Janus Kane

Filed under: Comments from our Authors — marchbooks @ 11:01 pm
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I try not to wax political too often, but that is easier said these days. The current economic climate makes it difficult not to ponder how we got here and what the ramifications will be for ourselves and our children. When one starts talking about American debt in numbers that are more suited to science fiction than real life, one can’t help but wonder what went wrong.

The U.S. government, on its face, has gone to great efforts to try to avoid the pitfalls of our predecessors. But, I don’t think you have to be a great economist to see that something is not working. I believe in Obama, I believe in his vision of change, but I don’t envy the job he has before him.

I make no claims to being a great economist or mathematician but, early in my life, I learned some basic, fundamental concepts that the bureaucrats in the White House should be reminded of. ‘Don’t spend money you don’t have’. It’s a simple concept. I’m not talking about the fiscally responsible use of credit. Banks capitalize on the velocity of money. They take your money and charge you interest for the luxury of borrowing it back. It’s a profitable business. Money sitting in a bank is stagnant money. This philosophy does not work for the consumer, even if that consumer is the American government. When you write a check, you need to deduct that amount from your check register. The fact that the recipient of that check takes a month to cash it does not entitle you to go out and spend that money again. That is economics 101.

Budgetary planning is essential for individuals, businesses and governments alike. It is not sufficient to just come up with a budget and then ignore it. Let me say it again. Budgets are only effective if you follow them. Admittedly, you cannot plan for every eventuality. No one could have foreseen 9/11 or Katrina, but you do your best to plan for the unexpected (a smart homeowner tries to anticipate the need for a new roof or furnace). When you are off the mark, you regroup, adjust your budget and move on. Unfortunately, the government does not have to worry about how they will make up a budgetary shortfall – they have us.

According to David Walker, the former Comptroller General of the United States, balancing the budget by the year 2040 could require cutting federal spending by 60% or raising federal taxes to nearly two times today’s level. How could the American government, arguably the single largest consumer in the world have gotten so far behind the eight ball?

I am not suggesting that our government should be run like a large corporation, but some basic business principles should be recognized. When WalMart buys product, do you think they pay a premium for it? They are a huge corporation with a tremendous amount of clout. They, for all intents and purposes, dictate terms to their sellers. Those terms are (surprise, surprise) to their advantage. And yet, this large corporation amounts to only a drop in the bucket of this country’s budget. So why is it that the American government is paying $300 for $15 dollar hammers, $75 for a screw and $3.4M for a turtle walkway? Why are contractors falling over themselves to scoop up lucrative government contracts?

It’s clear that a serious budget analysis is necessary. Politicians have to start acting for the benefit of their constituents rather than culling the favor and financial support of big business by selling the American taxpayer down the river.

If you would like to look at American debt in all its glory, go here. It’s a real eye-opener.

February 2, 2010

Google Book Settlement

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 7:09 pm
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I have been trying to track this issue in several publishing forums that I follow. There has been some heated discussion and passions are running high on both sides of the fence. I came late to the party, perhaps I was two busy publishing our first two books to see what was going on.

I don’t pretend to be completely educated on the matter. Perhaps I am missing some essential facts, but, for the life of me, I don’t see what there is to debate. Apparently there is a great deal of legalese and subterfuge involved in this settlement, but as in most such cases, it can be boiled down to one basic principle. In this case, that principle is whether or not Google has the right to infringe on the rights of numerous copyright holders; authors, publishers and their family members by trying to bind them to what is essentially a publishing contract that they did not agree to and for which they would get little if any compensation for.

As I understand it, Google has taken it upon itself, over the last several months, through their library affiliates, to scan countless books into their system with little or no regard for copyright. Their claim, again – as I understand it, is that their interest is in preserving older titles and protecting them from disappearing from the grid.

I am all for protecting the great legacy of the written word, however, it seems that Google’s motives might not be so altruistic. First, and probably most importantly, it seems that they made only a token effort to confirm that copyright had actually expired on these texts. Furthermore, it seems that, in their fervor, they blatantly stepped on the toes of numerous existing copyright holders. So now, there is this settlement in the offing which basically groups all authors and copyright holders together (regardless of the status of their copyright). Rather than allowing authors to opt-in to this book scanning program, it places the onus on the author/publisher to opt-out of it, promising little or no compensation for staying in and not even guaranteeing that an author’s books will not be scanned if they opt-out. Huh???????? It begs the question – why strongarm people into this agreement? If this settlement option was such an attractive deal, wouldn’t authors and publishers flock to get on board, without the need for coercion or underhanded tactics?

Confused – yes, incredulous – yes, pissed off – yes, yes, yes. I think the idea of a world library database of out-of-print, orphaned (expired copyright) books is a wonderful idea. I DO NOT THINK THAT PROVIDES AN EXCUSE TO INFRINGE ON THE COPYRIGHT OF COUNTLESS HARDWORKING AUTHORS!!!! These are two completely separate issues. Preserving a heritage of printed material which is no longer covered by copyright law is a terrific goal. Usurping the rights of legitimate copyright holders is unconscionable.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I know from first hand experience how much time and effort goes into writing, editing, formatting, publishing and marketing a book. Because of archaic discounts and return policies, it is hard enough to break even in this business. Now, we are supposed to accept that a company like Google can come in and scan the fruits of our labor (based on their unilateral decision and with no compensation) to use it as they like?

It’s not okay for someone to steal a book out of my hands, it is not okay for someone to print my books and sell them without my knowledge or consent and it is not okay for someone to copy my book and use it for their own benefit. That is the essence of copyright law. So, again I say, what is the debate over? Unless I am missing an important part of this equation, Google is attempting to do a major end run around well established copyright law.

If any of you feel that I am missing some facts and would like to enlighten me, I welcome it. If you are an author/publisher who also feels that your rights may be at risk, let me hear that as well. I welcome any and all feedback on this issue.

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