What is a hotel room “at cost?”

Today I read an article in The Scotsman with the headline, “Donald Trump’s Turnberry firm paid £50,000 by US Government for weekend visit.” It quoted a certain George Sorial, executive vice president and chief compliance counsel for the Trump Organization, as saying, “For United States government patronage, our hotels charge room rates only at cost and we do not profit from these stays.”

That perplexed me.  How do you calculate the “cost” of a hotel room? I understand that a retailer who decides to sell you a watch for the price that retailer paid a wholesaler is selling you a watch “at cost.” As for a hotel room, I don’t get it.

I’m sure one could devise a formula that would take in all sorts of things: the cost of building the hotel, the cost of running the hotel (although you’d have to determine a definition of just what that means), and then somehow distribute that cost over all hotel rooms over, what? The supposed life of the hotel?

I was sharing my thoughts with my wife and she said, “It’s the rack rate that you see on the back of the door, which is always more than anyone ever seems to pay.”  As always, she’s got a point.

I also thought of the concept of “sunk costs.” You’ve got that hotel room and if you can get any amount of money for it, that’s better than having it sit empty, which is what, I believe, often happens to the most expensive rooms and suites in a hotel (I know on occasion I’ve been upgraded to an “executive suite” for the cost of my “superior” room). From what I understand from the article, this particular golf resort has been operating in the red, so I would assume it has not been full all the time—at least not with people paying rates that support the operation.

So just what does it mean when someone says, “We only charge those rooms ‘at cost’?”

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Why “Shooter?”

I was just listening to the news and heard a report of yet another “shooter” gunning down people at an event. Why do we call such people shooters?

Basketball players shoot hoops. You can shoot in pool, golf, craps, and rapids. If you are a model or photographer, you can go to a shoot and make money there. Some people, like me, shoot their mouths off.

The answer? I assume it’s a gender thing. We used to use the term gunman. That limits the “shooter” to males—or, today, perhaps cis-males. Calling someone a “gunwoman” seems awkward—plus, only 2 or 3 out of 100 mass shootings have been committed by women.   “Gunner” might seem an option, but that connotes military and hunters, so we can’t go there. So I guess shooter it is. Sad that I even have to think about it.

It’s still 14¢ per mile

I was updating some of my files to show the 2018 IRS standard mileage deduction rates for business, medical, and charity driving and I noticed that while the business and medical rates have changed almost every year—sometimes up, sometimes down— the charity rate has not changed in at least 17 years; it remains 14 cents per mile. I wondered why.

A bit of googling yielded this article, which confirmed what I suspected. The charity rate is fixed in legislation; the other rates are not.

via Forty Cent Difference Between 2016 Business and Charity Mileage Deductions – NoloNolo

It might be time for Congress to do something about that. And who would complain? Who could be against it?

Consider:

  • In 2000, the average cost of a gallon of gasoline was $1.51.  In December 2017, it was $2.37.
  • According to the Consumer Price Index, in November of 2017 it would take 20 cents to have the same buying power as 14 cents in 2000.

Of course, this may all be moot if, with our new tax laws, no one is itemizing deductions anyway.

OERs and accessibility: uh–oh

I teach online courses for Foothill College. I have not required students to purchase a textbook.  Instead, I have curated a set of open educational resources, all available online, that includes websites, videos, and PDF documents. My challenge now is that beginning with this quarter, I must meet a new standard: “Online education courses, resources and materials must be designed and delivered in such a way that the level of communication and course-taking experience is the same for students with or without disabilities.”

Knowing that I needed to meet that standard, I joined a voluntary webinar that the college offered to help us instructors know how to make our courses accessible.  I listened and learned. Toward the end, I asked this question: “So from what you are saying, the easiest way for an instructor to make a course accessible is to make it all text-based.  No video.  No audio.  No infographics.”  The instructor replied, “Well, I hate to say this, but yes.”

My first reaction was, “Good grief!  We have all these new multimedia tools and resources for learning, but I can’t use them in an online course!”

Once I vented a bit and calmed down, I set myself a challenge, “I’ll try!  Let’s see if I can create an online course that uses open educational resources and will still pass a review by the college’s accessibility staff.

I scoured the Internet and found a great collection of resources to comprise my ‘OER textbook” for the course.  I made sure any video I chose had closed captions.  However, I did not do an accessibility check on every website and PDF I wanted to include. My next step was to submit my course for a review by the college’s accessibility people.

My course failed.  Every one of my modules had problems.  While only one of my videos had inaccurate captions, many of the websites I wanted to use had improperly nested headings, missing Alt-text, and tables without headers.  Almost all my PDF files had issues such as “no tag information” or “tables do not have headers.”  Fixing any of those issues is completely beyond my current level of skill and nothing that a college instructor has been expected to know how to do.  For example, when I emailed the reviewer with a question about how to make the PDFs accessible, the reviewer replied, “Fixing pdfs is no easy feat if you don’t have the source documents.” Of course I don’t have the source documents! I just have the PDF I found online.

Just for kicks, I decided to do an accessibility check of my own.  Using the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool, I evaluated the “Accessibility and Universal Design” page on the college’s website. Oops!  It has some issues.  Clearly, we all have work to do to reach this goal.

Screen shot of WAVE summary of Foothill College Accessibility and Univeral Design page

 

 

 

 

 

Road Work

We’ve got a lot of road work going on in my neighborhood. When I leave home, I am greeted by an electronic sign warning me that this state of affairs will go on for another month and I should expect “up to 20 minute delays.” I can live with that because I am very happy the rutted, pot-holed streets are being repaired.

Nonetheless, I could not help but be amused when, having to stop for a red light, thus having time to look around, I saw this:

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Zoom in on that and you’ll see that there is an “End Road Work” sign about ten feet ahead of a “Road Work Ahead” sign. I thought that was supid but, having worked in public education all my life, thought to myself, “No doubt there is some regulation that requires each notification.”

The light turned green. I drove on and what did I find at a subsequent intersection?

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My goodness! These two notices are so close they could spawn. Not only that, but if you view the signs as you drive toward them directly—rather than standing across the road as I did to take the previous picture—the “Ended” sign is completely obscured by a bush which, I must assume, did not grow out to cover the sign after the road work began.

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OK, I understand. We are at the borderline where one road work project meets another. The crews are following the rules, I’m sure, to alert us to the end of one and the beginning of another. All that said, it’s still stupid. It’s an example of a case in which it might be very good to allow the people on the ground, at the site, to make a decision for themselves. We adopt policies and pass legislation all the time for very good reasons. What we lose, too often, is the ability to let a person on the ground, at the time, make an exception when to enact the rule is just plain stupid.

A little disappointed

I watched President Obama speak tonight and I was a little disappointed. I support him. I have voted for him twice, but tonight I wish he’d spoken differently. My wife said she thinks he looked tired; no doubt he was. Maybe my issue is with whoever wrote his comments. Maybe he didn’t have time to read and think about them before facing the cameras. Maybe I’m just off base and need to reconsider, but here are thoughts that went through my head as I listened:

  • His tone was so matter-of-fact.  I know this was a press conference, not a political rally, but I’ve heard him deliver such impassioned speeches.  I’d have liked a bit more emotion in his voice.
  • His remarks implied the suspect is guilty, period; not even guilty until proven innocent, let alone innocent until proven guilty.  That jarred me.

…why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?  How did they plan and carry out these attacks, and did they receive any help?

  • I certainly hope we don’t find out later that these two brothers were not, in fact, to blame.  I hope that is unlikely, but it will be embarrassing should it happen.
  • The President said we’ve closed a “chapter.”  Have we?   I guess it depends on how you think of chapters.  It’s a metaphor that didn’t work for me.  Many of the books I read today have quite a high chapters-to-total pages ratio.  Perhaps that’s a reflection of our ever shortening attention span.  My reaction was that we’ve barely started a chapter.  Those survivors in the hospital, many having lost one or more limbs, are but a few pages into their current chapter.   If the chapter title is simply, “Arrest,” then I guess we have a chapter; if so, I suspect we have at least a trilogy, not simply a single book, ahead of us.

I’m often too critical, and this may be one of those times.  If you did not see the press conference, take a look.  Am I way off base?

Who are they kidding?

I’m taking a tangent from my usual pronouncements about things educational.  This post is about hospitals and cemeteries.  Yikes.

So the Super Bowl has just ended, and we had a moment of local commercials.  From one, I learned that Catholic Healthcare West (CHW), the owner of a hospital near my home,  has changed its name.  CHW changed its name to Dignity Health.  My immediate reaction was, “Gimme a break.” (Really, it was stick finger down throat.)   The new name does nothing for me.  I’m sure the corporation did not change its name without paying a consulting agency many, many dollars and gathering opinions from numerous focus groups, but I think they goofed.  I don’t like it.  Sounds like end-of-life care.  I can understand they needed to drop the “Catholic” in order not to put off anyone (we can still spell “politically correct,” right?).  Clearly, the corporate goal is to have more and more hospitals everywhere, and ideally have everyone who needs a hospital come to a Dignity hospital, but that goal does not make me happy.

As I reacted to the “We’re now Dignity Health” message, I thought of the equally annoying, to me, revised appellation of what was once Los Osos Valley Cemetery.  Now, it’s “Simple Tribute” Los Osos.  As I said earlier, “Gimme a break.”