Price and Value

It is time for me to get a new fridge for the kitchen. There is only one problem. One of my wall cabinets hangs directly over my existing fridge. And the new ones I have been looking at are taller than my current fridge which barely fits. At fist I started limiting myself to smaller fridges. But then I realized that was crazy. I am about to spend a lot of money on my new fridge. I might as well get the one I want.

So I called up a handyman I found in the yellow pages. A guy came out and gave me an estimate of $250 to remove the cabinet and paint the wall behind it. That sounded like a reasonable price. In a few hours, another guy from the company came out to do the work. He complained that the wall had wallpaper under the paint. He said the wall would require "mud" to be applied before painting. Then he told me he did not do mud jobs. All I cared about was getting the job done.

Later this guy left me a message that somebody else would come do the mud and paint. And this would cost me an extra $50 to $75. Now I was not happy that a fixed price job was turning into a time and materials one. But as long as they got it done quickly I would not worry. Nobody came out that day. I called the original estimator. He said he would schedule his mud and paint person to come out the next morning. Nobody came. So I called back and asked what happened. Apparently there was some mix up and the person went somewhere else to work. I told the guy that I needed this work done immediately.

Miss mud and paint came by later that day. She seemed to know what she was doing. I was disappointed when she said her boss asked her to collect a $350 check from me for the work. By this time I just wanted to be done with these people. I did not even argue the second increase in price. I normally vote with my feet in these situations. That means I will not be using their services again in the future.

The only positive surprise was when there was some extra mud left over that was starting to harden. The handywoman asked if I needed any other things patched up. I showed her some holes in the wall that she proceeded to fill in, sand, and paint. She did this at no extra cost. She told me she was going to start her own business in about a year. I will not hire her company again. But perhaps I will swing some work her way. It is all about good customer service after all.

Executive Compensation

There is a lot of financial turbulence in the United States right now. Many companies are turning to the government for bailouts. This started with the government sponsored enterprises (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). It then spread to the banks. It quickly started with insurance companies. Now it seems the automotive industry is trying to get on board. Most of the time, this bailout money comes with some strings attached. One such stipulation is that there is a cap on executive compensation.

I do agree that if a company is about to go bust, and they want the government to save them by providing taxpayer money, then the company needs to keep its CEO pay in check. You don’t get a bailout, then turn around and hand out a huge CEO bonus. The CEO or other officers should only profit if they run the company in such a way that it creates a huge windfall, not a need for a bailout.

Here is where it gets interesting. Suppose a company did not ask for a bailout? This is the case with some of the banks that the government decided to include in its plans. Essentially they were forced to agree to help from the government. They were made to agree. This might turn out to be the best for everybody. But do those companies then need to submit to rules on executive compensation?

What this boils down to is a fundamental question. Should a CEO be able to make unlimited profit from working at a company? Suppose you are the founder. Does that not entitle you to most of the profits? Looking at this another way, should you be able to negotiate whatever compensation the market will bear if you are the CEO? I am sure it is hard to attract top talent to banks these days. A company may need to really pay out to get the best. In theory this should work out, as the best CEO would be able to run the company in such a way that it is ultra profitable.

This post raises more questions than it answers. At heart I think I am a believer in the free market. The government should not normally step in and mess with business. If a company makes good profits, the government should not interfere. And if a company does not, the government should let the company fail. This is the law of the free markets. The market itself should decide which companies stick around, and which ones are profitable. CEO compensation should be determined in the same way. Whatever the market decides, let that be the pay for the CEO.

Making a Game

I read some advice on how to get into game development. This coincides with me reading about a class offered at the local community college about writing games. I remember back at a small development shop where all the developers wanted to be games programmers. However we wrote uninteresting applications for clients there. The hard core developers said that the best developers write games. In their spare time, they were writing code for the next Doom or Quake. We also played a lot of multi player PC games there.

So what does it take to actually learn game development? Should I be like my old coworkers and start up my own Quake variant? The blog post I read said that this was just not realistic. You need to start with baby steps before you are ready to join a team that works on games like Quake. The first recommended task is to knock out a Tetris clone. That sounds like an easy task. But I don’t want to speak too soon before I actually try it out. Tetris has the advantage that the user interface is not too complicated. You don’t need an art degree to draw some blocks that make up the Tetris game.

The blog post I read went on to recommend that you try writing a breakout clone. Then you should attempt Pac Man. And finally you should try to replicate a Mario Brother style game. I tell you what. If I can knock out a game as complex as Mario Brothers, I am going into the game development business full time.

I actually have a great idea for a game. The problem is finding spare time to actually work on the thing. I get a chunk of time and then write some code. But the constant business of life makes me shelf it for another year. Who knows? Perhaps you just need to get good enough and leave the day job to get something like this done. It would sure be nice to be one of those game developers that my old peers said were programming gods.

Bad Experience

I noticed that 87 octane gas was selling for a low $2.15 at the local Exxon gas station. This looked like a great deal given the high price for gas in the area. So I pulled up and found a spot. I pressed the 87 octane button. Then I entered my credit card. The pump screen asked me to choose the fuel type. Even though I already had done so, I pressed the 87 octane button again. Then I was able to pump the gas.
The strange thing was that the gas price was not displaying over the 87 octane button. I looked around the gas pump and found that a $2.63 price was highlighted above the 93 octane button. So I immediately stopped filling my gas tank. I had filled about half my tank with the high octane gas. I tried to enter my credit card again. I wanted to fill the rest of my tank with 87 octane gas. The machine said I needed to see the attendant.

At this point I just left. The gas station overcharged me by selling me the higher priced gas. Then it was about to waste my time by having me go talk with an attendant. This defeats the purpose of paying at the pump. Furthermore I do not like the new gas pumps. They dispense three types of gas from the same nozzle. It sounds nice in theory. But it is no good if they are going to trick me into buying the high priced gas.

Normally in these types of situations I vote with my feet. That means I would get gas from another location. In theory, if enough people did this, the places with bad services would go out of business. Since this gas station is close to my home, I might give them one more chance. However today I went to another gas station. I am not punishing Exxon as a whole. I went to another Exxon today that had separate gas nozzles for different octane levels. The price was a little higher. But at least there was less chance of getting ripped off.

Things are getting tighter in this economy. Now more than ever you need to provide good customer service. Otherwise you are going to lose customers like me. You will not only lose me if you provide bad service, I will also tell my friends. And there is another effect. I will write about you on my blog. Nobody wants bad PR like that.

Customer Service

My buddy stayed home today. So I decided to eat lunch alone. I went to this Chinese food place that has great food at reasonable prices. I was taken aback a little by the large number of cars in the parking lot. However I went in for lunch anyway.

I got seated quickly. But it took a while for my waiter to arrive. I ordered a lunch special and chose white rice. These specials come with a spring roll and soup. I got the soup fine. However the spring roll did not follow. The waiter showed up with my main course. It had fried rice instead of white rice.

The waiter said he would go get my spring roll. I had to ask for hot mustard. There was not anything out of the ordinary about my needs here. You would think this should be easy work for a Chinese food restaurant. Today the service was poor. I will give them a little break because they were busy.

What do you do in these circumstances when service is sub par? I have read that you are supposed to speak with a manager. Personally I reduce their tip. And as a habit I make sure I go elsewhere the next time. In this case however, I will be returning. The fact that the food is so good and the price is right makes me overlook some service issues.

This is the lesson here. If you do not have consistent service, you run the risk of losing customers. However there are other ways to produce excellent goods that might override the normal course of business and help you keep your customers. The goal should be to have great products plus awesome customer service. Then you succeed with the one-two punch.