Right to Work

Indiana is currently embroiled in the discussion of Right To Work. Right to work is a bill put before the Indiana legislature that would, if passed, make it illegal for employers to require employees to join a union or pay union dues (HB 1468). Currently, if you are hired at an employer that utilizes union labor, you are required to join the union and to pay union dues. These union dues are often deducted from your paycheck automatically.

I've had first hand experience with this scenario. In my teens, I worked as a bagger at a Kroger grocery store. Kroger employees are members of the AFL-CIO. As a condition of my employment, I had to join the union, and union dues were automatically deducted from my paycheck. I only worked part-time, and I was paid minimum wage. My union dues were around $5.00 on each two week check, which means that for one hour every two weeks, I was sending my pay directly to the union. That was a pretty significant portion of my income when I only worked a few hours each week (between 8 and 24 depending on whether school was in session). I never met my union steward, attended a union meeting, or really felt a part of the union. Still, every two weeks an hours pay went to the union. It was frustrating! Still, the union did negotiate our breaks (one paid 15 minute break if you work 4 hours, two if you work six, and two paid 15 minute breaks plus a paid 30 minute lunch if you worked 8 hours). I believe that unions have their place, and that there is definitely a need to unionize. I believe that unions can and do provide benefits to their members. However, I also feel that our nations largest unions are no longer effective.

On the one hand, I can definitely see the argument for eliminating the requirement to join or pay dues to a union. As a teenager, I definitely would have taken the option to keep that money for myself. What I wouldn't have realized then is that, without the union, I might not be making that same hourly wage. My break times might not be paid either, or even exist for that matter. If I didn't pay those dues, I would effectively be free-loading on the union. I would be receiving the benefits of union membership without joining the union.

Attempting to make an argument on whether or not a Right to Work law is good or bad based on states that do or do not have such a law is difficult. There are many more factors at work than just the Right to Work law, such as tax breaks for the employer, or other pro-employer benefits. Those in favor of unions will quickly show statistics that demonstrate states with Right To Work laws have lower wages and high on the job injury cases than states without. Those in favor of Right to Work will talk about how employers specifically seek out states with a Right to Work law when expanding their business.

Growing up in a manufacturing town, I've heard the arguments back and forth. The unions argue for higher wages, better benefits, and better working conditions. The employers argue that the union demands are putting them out of business. The Right to Work bill is clearly an attempt to diminish the power of unions in our state. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I just don't know.

Is Barnes & Noble Scamming Groupon Users?

On February 4th Groupon ran an offer for "$10 for $20 Worth of Toys and Games, Books and More at Barnes & Noble". As an avid reader I was interested in what could be a great deal on some new books. I checked the terms and conditions and saw that the Groupon could also be used for Nook purchases, which was the clincher for me. I purchased the Groupon and registered it with my Nook.

One of the terms of the B&N Groupon is that it expires on April 10th. If you did not spend the full amount of the Groupon by April 10, the remaining balance would be reduced by $10, or to $0 if less than $10 was remaining. I was a little concerned about this as I already had a $50 gift card registered with my Nook, and there is no way to re-order gift cards on the B&N website. Unless I spent $70 on books in the next two months, I wasn't going to get to take advantage of the deal.

On February 18th my wife and I were on a date and we had some time to kill after dinner before we went to a comedy club. We stopped at the local B&N and had coffee and browsed books. I found a paperback copy of "Good Omens" by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman for $7.99. This book isn't available on the Nook and it was on my to-read list, so I decided to use my Groupon for it. When I presented the Groupon to the cashier, he gave me a funny look and asked if I wouldn't like to get something more. He explained that any unspent amount from the $20 Groupon would be lost. This was news to me, as my understanding of the terms was that it worked just like a gift card. He went on to say that all of the Groupons used the same number, so there was no way to tell them apart. We were pressed for time to get to our show, so I returned the book to the shelf and we left without purchasing anything.

The next day, I got to thinking about what the cashier said. It made no sense that all of the Groupons shared the same number. If they did, either the first customer to use it would use it for everyone, or I could go into the store and use my Groupon over and over again. I double checked the terms and conditions. Based on the wording regarding the April 10th expiration, I was certain that the Groupon would retain the outstanding balance. I went to a different Barnes and Noble location and picked out the same book, along with "Anansi Boys" (also by Neil Gaiman). Each book was priced at $7.99. I again approached the cashier with my Groupon. The cashier looked at the Groupon and said that I had to spend a minimum of $20 before I could use it. I held my ground this time. I said that there was no minimum purchase, and the remaining balance would be retained. She shrugged and we entered the number and pin. Sure enough, the receipt showed that the Groupon had a remaining balance of $2.90. I also confirmed the remaining balance on the B&N site.

I thought about this situation some more, and it started to seem more suspect. I had visited two different Barnes and Noble locations and spoken to two different cashiers. In both cases, the cashier instructed me to spend over the $20 Groupon amount (one in order to avoid forfeited value, the other as a minimum purchase). Are the B&N stores intentionally misinforming their cashiers in order to encourage customers to spend more than the Groupon amount? If you took advantage of the B&N Groupon, did you receive similar information from a cashier?


I did a little research to see if anyone else was getting the same feedback when using the B&N Groupon. This thread on one of the B&N blogs details how some Groupon users were able to purchase multiple Groupons and use them in shady ways.

In addition, I sent a support request to both Groupon and Barnes and Noble to let them know about my experience. I'm not looking for anything in return, just to inform the businesses about the confusion surrounding this deal. I received two replies from Groupon within a few hours of submitting my e-mail (wow, fast feedback!). However, the two responses conflict.

Simon, Feb-21 11:39 am (CST):

Hi Adam,

I'm so sorry you ran into some problems when trying to redeem your Groupon.
Typically, our Groupons are used in one transaction and while this was an exception, that is no reason for the Barnes & Noble staff to not be better informed.
Thank you for your feedback and I appreciate your email informing me of your experience.



Simon, Feb-21 11:39 am (CST):

Hi Adam,

Sorry for the confusion and thanks for your feedback. These are the universal restrictions that apply to every Groupon (unless specifically contradicted in the deal's fine print):

- Not valid for cash back (unless required by law).
- Must use in one visit.
- Doesn't cover tax or gratuity.
- Can't be combined with other offers.
- Can't use until day after purchase.

In summary, I am positive that your receipt (with the remaining balance) cannot be used for future Barnes and Noble. If it does work, please email us back so we can correct this immediately for all Barnes and Noble Groupons.

Sorry again for the inconvenience.


Mark P.

Two messages sent at exactly the same time with directly conflicting information. Looks like the cashiers at B&N aren't the only ones confused about how this offer works.

Controlling your Home Theater PC

Last year I converted one of our PCs into a Home Theater PC (HTPC). We had moved to a rural location that didn't offer cable, and I didn't want to pay a monthly subscription to Tivo just to be able to record Over The Air (OTA) television broadcasts. I purchased a Silicon Dust HDHomerun Dual Tuner unit and connected the PC to our television using an HDMI cable. This worked really well for setting up recordings of broadcast television for later viewing. One of the hurdles that limited use of the HTPC in our household was how to control the HTPC. Using a television or DVR is fairly straight forward. Most people are familiar with a remote control and will intuitively understand how to use them. What do you do when someone hands you a keyboard and mouse instead? I made several attempts at finding a good control solution that everyone could understand.

Attempt #1 - Wireless mouse + wired keyboard

Mouse - Logitech MX Revolution

Keyboard - Logitech Wave Corded Keyboard

These were already in the house, so it was the first thing to try. It worked ok, but there were some major annoyances. The range on the wireless mouse was terrible. The mouse was very touchy about detecting movement on fabric. It either wouldn't move, or it would jump all over the screen. We didn't need the keyboard often, but it was an irritation to have to get up to use it.

Attempt #2 - Wireless Multimedia Keyboard

Keyboard - BTC 9019URF

I also had this keyboard, which I'd picked up at Fry's on sale for $40 a few years back. It is a wireless keyboard that includes a joystick for moving the mouse as well as mouse buttons (right, left, click wheel). When I originally bought it, my intention was to strap it to my treadmill so I could get some exercise while doing my regular browsing, e-mail, bills, etc. It uses some custom RF protocol for communicating back to the USB dongle. It worked fairly well when sitting close to the receiver, but the range is really poor (less than 15 feet in my experience). It also chewed through batteries like mad. The mouse would tend to drift, as the joystick sometimes wouldn't right itself. Typing was painful, as it often missed or doubled keystrokes. I wouldn't recommend this keyboard.

Attempt #3 - Windows Media Center Remote + wired keyboard

Remote - Siig Vista Media Center Edition Remote

Keyboard - Logitech Wave Corded Keyboard

After the batteries died on the wireless keyboard, we ditched it and went back to the corded keyboard. Fry'shad the Siig Vista MCE remote available for $30, so I picked it up. Like the wireless keyboard, it uses a usb dongle, but is IR rather than RF. This worked really well on our Win7 HTPC. All of the buttons on the remote work as expected within Media Center, and the family felt comfortable using the HTPC this way. It was familiar, and it was a lot less like using a PC and a lot more like using a DVR. The remote also worked within the Hulu and Boxee interfaces to some extent. The only negatives were the need to get up to use the corded keyboard, and the slight ugliness of an IR dongle at the front of our media cabinet.

Attempt #4 - Logitech DiNovo Mini

HTPC Keyboard - Logitech DiNovo Mini

I received this as a Christmas gift and it is *awesome*! The DiNovo Mini is a very small form-factor wireless keyboard with a touchpad that can be toggled to either act as a trackpad for moving the mouse, or as a D-pad. The keys on the keyboard are about twice as big as on most cell phone keypads, which makes it easy to type with. The keys are also backlit, which is great when watching something in the dark. It uses a rechargeable battery, so no stocking AAs or AAAs. It has a hinged cover so that when it is not in use you can cover the keys to keep dust and other couch detritus out. The form factor is great. Traditional wireless keyboards are pretty big, and it is awkward to keep them on the couch or endtable. This little guy fits right along side my other remotes. I only have one minor quibble with it. The record button doesn't work. There is a driver hack to get it working in WMC, but by default the record button is mapped to Windows Media Player, and will launch it rather than setting the currently selected show to record. You can either use the driver hack or manually select record to work around this, but it was a point of confusion when we tried using the remote to schedule recordings. Aside from this minor issue, I can't recommend this device highly enough. The $150 MSRP is a little salty for a keyboard (you can find it for closer to $110 from Amazon) but in my opinion it is totally worth it for making the HTPC more useful.

Jade Mason