Cash for Clunkers

Is the program almost out of money?

I briefly considered participating in this, but I’m too cheap to spend more than $10k on a new car. Seeing news on how popular this program is got me thinking about unintended consequences, though. Conventional wisdom says that the most economical car is the one sitting in your driveway. How many folks out there just took on a car payment that they can’t really afford? The MPG improvement with the new car is likely canceled out by the environmental cost of the energy and raw materials used to create the new car.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people would use their down payment to maintain their existing car and plow the would-be car payment into the stock market as a contingency fund or for a future all-cash car purchase in a few years?

Bookmooch Update

Last year I published some thoughts on the future of Bookmooch and some graphs that seemed to support my experiences using the site. Almost another year has passed and I thought I would update the chart again.  I don’t have much time these days to analyze in more detail, so I’ll only give a few thoughts and comments about my latest experiences.

In the past six months I have consistently added more books to my wishlist, but have seen an abrupt decline in the number of wishlist books becoming available. This may have something to do with books being reserved for others without ever being available to the general public. It may also just be an indication that I desire popular books people aren’t willing to give away.  I did find my recent experiences with Bookmooch summed up nicely by this quote from the recent survey:

When I first joined Bookmooch a couple of years ago, wishlisted books were much more readily available and I was constantly mooching and sending. With all of the changes, I very rarely get notification for any books on my wishlist. Often when I do get a notification, the book is already reserved for someone else or it is no longer available.

The graph below is an update of the one I published on 9/24/08, showing points, inventory, # of wishlist books, and number of mooches over time.  All of these have been normalized to the number of members listing at least one book in inventory, with the last one per 100 users.

As expected, points and wishlist books are rising while inventory is falling. I suspect there is a lot of unsatisfied demand out there, or too many points chasing too few books. The mooches / 100 users trend is showing some interesting behavior.  I did expect this to level off somewhere below 100 mooches / 100 users.  There have been a couple of periods of declining activity recently and I’m not sure what to make of that. There was also a sudden spike – maybe a purging of bad accounts?

As I mentioned before, I love the Bookmooch concept. However, I’ve recently started donating books to the library again because I find myself sitting on a pile of points with nothing to mooch and I don’t want to spend money shipping books to accumulate points I probably won’t be able to use.  That mentality certainly isn’t helping increase the availability of books.

Helping People Win at Work

Last week I attended a local PMI chapter meeting. The speaker for the evening was Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40 Company, giving a talk on “Helping People Win at Work” and how he’s shaped the culture at WD-40 and inspired people to perform their very best. Garry was one of the best speakers I’ve heard in a long time; by the end I was ready to drop everything and go work for the guy, even if it meant pushing papers in the mail room.  During his talk you got the sense that you would never have a dull moment with Garry, and that he was loving life and wanted everyone around him to love theirs as well.

There were so many good sound bites out of the 60 minute talk, but I’ll try to share a few that I remember.  And I’ll completely butcher this, he was way more inspiring than I’ll be in my retelling.

Garry started off with an amusing anectode about an around-the-world trip capped off with what was suppose to be a quiet night in a London hotel room.  Alarm bells start going off, and after delaying for a bit,  Garry eventually finds himself in the cold night wearing only his underwear and slippers. The episode caused him to reevaluate his standing in the world; how many other ‘alarm bells’ were going off in his head that he was not paying attention to and that would leave him ill-prepared for the future?

I really liked his beliefs on mentoring and the proper context of the manager / subordinate relationship.  To paraphrase his analogy, the shepard is there on behalf the sheep; the sheep are not there on behalf of the shepard. The people you manage need your guidance and leadership to understand how to perform at a higher level, not your threats, criticism, and scorn. You are there to help them succeed; they are not there to do your bidding. This is also referred to as a Servant Leadership model.

There are no mistakes, only “learning moments”.   A learning moment occurs when you review an outcome, which may be positive or negative but never bad, and act on that to make yourself better. Of course, according to Garry, if you experience the same learning moment multiple times, “we’ll have to share you with a competitor”.

An organization needs a hierarchical set of values to drive behavior, otherwise people won’t know what to do when faced with difficult choices.

I haven’t had a chance to check out Garry’s book yet, but based on what I heard during the presentation, I’ll definitely pick it up soon.

Apollo Trivia

I’ve been completely sucked in to the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, which you can follow along in real-time here.  I have to keep reminding myself that there aren’t three astronauts halfway to the moon right now.

I’ve been reading annotated mission transcripts yesterday and today, and in honor of the mission I thought I’d share a few interesting facts I’ve found.

1) The astronauts were given off-the-street Omega Speedmaster wristwatches with Velcro straps to wear during the mission. Omega has always been very proud of this fact, with numerous advertisements touting that they made the first and only watch on the moon.  The watch passed all of NASA’s rigorous testing, whereas other models from Rolex, Heuer, Breitling, etc. failed, so Omega has definitely earned bragging rights.  However, Buzz Aldrin had a different opinion of the watch, one that you certainly won’t see Omega publishing anytime soon.

It was a lousy watch to have on the surface. It just didn’t give good numbers as far as a stopwatch type thing. To have gone to all that expense and then to have crews out on the surface with just an ordinary watch, in retrospect, is a mistaken priority somewhere.

Neil Armstrong also left his watch behind in the lunar module during his first moon walk, as a backup mission timer.

2) I’ve always felt bad for Michael Collins missing out on the moon walk, but felt even worse today when I found out that he was on the far side of the moon during Neil’s and Buzz’s first steps on the surface.  As Collins orbits the moon, there is a period of about 45 minutes when the moon is between his spacecraft and the earth, blocking out all radio signals.  An estimated 500 million people watched Neil Armstrong step on the moon.  Collins was the closest man to the action but he couldn’t even hear it take place.

3) Photos of Playboy playmates accompanied the astronauts of Apollo 12.  Someone snuck in a few scanned images into the lunar surface checklists.  Check out Miss December 1968 and Miss January 1969!  Pete Conrad and Al Bean didn’t flip to those pages until a little over two hours into their moon walk.