December 2004
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December 31, 2004
rage against the bookstore

I get frustrated every time I visit the UBC Bookstore. Here's an example using two textbooks I need for the upcoming term. I checked the UBC Bookstore, the Discount Bookstore on campus (upstairs in the Village), and two online bookstores that sell in Canadian dollars. I have no idea if the two online stores are the cheapest around, but I should note that shipping is free in both cases because the books are so expensive.

TitleUBC BookstoreDiscount
Modern Control Systems (Dorf & Bishop, 10th Ed.)$145.70 (new) or $109.30 (used)1$132.95 (new)2$132.95$160.90 (non-member) or $152.86 (member)
Introduction to Quantum Mechanics (Griffiths, 2nd Ed.)$127.05 (new) or $95.30 (used)1$119.95 (new)2$115.95$115.93 (non-member) or $110.15 (member)

1 No used copies were available, which is almost always the case in my experience.
2 I neglected to record the price for used copies, but I didn't notice any available anyway.

I'm sure the Bookstore people would argue that their prices are higher (roughly 10% in this case) because, as part of their mandate, they carry every book for every course, which means they have more inventory and related costs than Discount or the online merchants. They even publish a breakdown of their textbook income. First, I don't buy that. Amazon's total selection is orders of magniture larger and they're still cheaper because they focus on efficiency. But even if it was a valid argument, the Bookstore also carries a lot of unnecessary crap like dozens of "Teach Yourself C/C++/PHP/Access/HTML/Excel/etc. in 20 Minutes!" titles. More importantly, the other places are profit-driven corporations while the Bookstore is supposed to serve UBC students. They seem to have huge labour costs, perhaps because they have no incentive to streamline their operation like Amazon. For example, their web site is a mess. Their FastStart system sounds like a good idea, but it's so much less friendly than Amazon/Chapters, so poorly advertised, and no less expensive than buying in person, that it doesn't get much use.

Their texbook buyback policy is also infuriating. They buy books back for 50% of the list price (note that's 50% of the list price, not 50% of what you paid after taxes) then turn around and sell it again for 75% of the list price. That's a 50% markup with minimal labour costs and no shipping costs. I think tax gets charged on the used books too, though I'm not sure because they're rarely available to me. And it's no wonder. Students have little incentive to sell their books back because they lose so much money. Other places pay more and resell for less. The best scenario is to sell your old books to another student, but it's difficult due to lack of communication.

I've long thought our pseudo-elected resume-padding AMS members should take charge and organize a direct student-to-student text swap. I eventually found out they have one but it sure isn't advertised anywhere. There's also another web site run by some students who had the same idea. I hope they catch on. Of course, there's still the problem of new editions. I fully appreciate the importance of updating the information as new discoveries are made or the authors devise better ways of explaining things, but I have a real problem with the new editions that just slap on a crappy Windows-only CD-ROM (which in some places makes the book subject to stricter software return polices instead of normal book return policies) and renumber all the homework problems to discourage people from using the old edition. The administration is always sending out requests for feedback, so I once asked what they were doing to encourage professors to let students use older editions wherever possible or otherwise keep down textbook costs. The answer I got back was basically "that's not our problem."

Posted by tim at 03:15 PM | Permanent Link | Comments (3)
Will and Woody

The universe just got a little weirder. Will Ferrell stars in the new Woody Allen film Melinda and Melinda.

Posted by tim at 12:25 PM | Permanent Link | Comments (0)
December 28, 2004
printing to Airport Express from Windows

I borrowed an Airport Express a while ago and was pretty happy with it. My parents' wireless router broke down a couple of weeks ago, so I gave them mine and I got a shiny new Airport Express for Christmas. Turns out there is a way to get Windows to use an unrecognized printer attached to the AE after all. In a nutshell, you connect the printer to the computer's USB port and install the software normally, connect the printer to the AE and follow's Apple's installation instructions with a dummy driver selection, then change the driver in the printer preferences.

The port forwarding options remain a bit of a nuissance. It only allows one port per entry, so I had to add a lot of entries for things that use port ranges.

Posted by tim at 01:32 PM | Permanent Link | Comments (0)
December 15, 2004
best of 2004

I started a Best of 2004 page on the Antiflux wiki (annoucement). What do you think is worth watching/listening/doing from 2004?

Posted by tim at 02:03 PM | Permanent Link | Comments (0)
December 07, 2004
I need an employee discount connection

It's a long way from Cupertino, but Apple is hiring for their upcoming store in Toronto. I was in the UBC Bookstore today and saw Finding Nemo playing on one of Apple's Ginourmous(tm) flat panel displays. It was stunning, but the Apple department is pretty disappointing overall. People just don't seem to know how to sell Macs, and I think that's why Apple decided to move into the storefront game.

Posted by tim at 07:02 PM | Permanent Link | Comments (1)