Everything is a Remix is great

The other day Kirby Ferguson’s Everything is a Remix magnum opus showed up in my recommendations and I imagine the uploaded file has a name like everything-is-a-remix_final_final_v25_no_really_finally.mp4 and even though I’ve watched half a dozen of his short videos and backed his kickstarters over the last 10-12 years, I watched the whole final version in one sitting and I have to say it is incredibly concise, well argued, entertaining, and all around totally fantastic. It’s the kind of quality you only get from someone obsessively going after a story for a decade and refining things all along the way. It’s also updated to include lots of 2023 topics and sources like TikTok and AI generated images and I have to say I’m impressed that Kirby and Nora pushed this over the finish line. It’s a work to be proud of, and a great documentary that I highly recommend everyone watch.

UPDATE: unfortunately it appears the video was taken down (likely due to copyright claims) but the full transcript is available on the Everything is a Remix site.

Lessons from my first 1,300 mile road trip in an EV

I just returned from a 48hr jaunt to the San Francisco Bay Area, starting up near the Portland, Oregon area. I drove down in one day, and back the next day, on a route I’ve taken probably 50+ times over the last 20 years since I moved from there to here.

In a gas car, it’s a pretty reliable trip that takes me anywhere from 10.5hrs to 11.5hrs, depending on how long I stick around. If I’m just refueling in between 3-4hr stretches, it’s closer to 10 hours, if I sit down to have a meal anywhere, it’s closer to 12 total.

I leased a EV in 2016 and taking any trip longer than 100 miles required a ton of research ahead of time. I’d have to plot my trip and search google and PlugShare for EV chargers along the way and download half a dozen apps to pay for them. This time out in 2023, I just put my destination in the nav screen in my driveway and trusted it to tell me how to travel there.

Some quick results upfront

My 650mi trip down to California took 12.5hrs and my return home was 13 hours. I started with the battery at 100% and drove it in its Eco Conserve mode the entire way. With a ~300mi battery, the nav screen usually forced me to stop every 150-200 miles, and it was more conservative around Mt. Shasta, where there’s a lot of elevation gain to get over mountain passes and not a lot of huge cities with great EV charging infrastructure.

I had to recharge every 2 to 2.5hrs of driving around ~75mph, and each stop was usually about 30 minutes. I had no trouble finding fast chargers at almost every stop, and most stops were an Electrify America station outside of a Walmart. I don’t usually shop at Walmarts but each stop I could buy something to eat and get some road trip essentials (like windex to clean the bugs off the windows). I also napped a few times during my charging downtimes.

In the end, I grew to like stopping more often than for gas. I needed the bathroom breaks and it made the whole trip feel relaxed at a more leisurely pace.

Teslas vs everything else

Tesla is miles ahead of every other EV maker because they’ve spent over 10 years building their own charger network. They control and own everything from soup to nuts, so when you plot a major roadtrip in a Tesla, it tells you where you should charge, how busy it will be when you get there, 3 top things to do around the charger, and even a bathroom code to unlock a Tesla-only washroom next to the chargers. That’s pretty great, and Teslas also do a great job estimating your miles left accurately.

With every other EV company, it’s kind of a crapshoot. It’s a cart vs. horse problem where there are tons of EVs hitting the market now, but chargers are hodgepodge and run by a dozen different companies. The Rivian’s nav screen would tell me where to charge, but couldn’t tell me anything about the station beyond where I should stop. I had to look up each station in a charger’s own company app to see how many were available, and which were super high wattage to make my charging time shorter. I used Google Maps to look for places to eat or shop during my downtime. It’s a bummer the Rivian nav screen can’t hit various APIs to tell me how busy a station was ahead of time or which specific charger I should look for.

Another major issue: the charging cables on high speed chargers are extremely short, making parking and charging a problem and in one case, I couldn’t physically get my SUV parked at the right angle to attach to a short ~6ft cable, and I had to go a couple miles down the road to another charger instead. I also experienced the weird problem where a charging station with 4-6 chargers would only have 1-2 available because half of them were out of order.

Most charging stops charged me around 50 cents per kilowatt, so about $30-$40 each stop to top the battery up to 80%. A couple stops had free charging, like the one at the Oregon/California border’s rest area. I was stopping for a quick bathroom break but got 10 extra miles in the few minutes it took for me to use the restrooms. The charging rates are fine, it’s way cheaper than fuel these days plus I’m only rarely using a public charger, doing most of my charging at home, where electricity is only 5 cents a kW.

Google should make a Google Maps app for EVs

The difference between a Tesla nav and the Rivian nav around chargers and things to do near them was vast, and it reminded me that Google already knows everything it can about businesses, and they are good with remote APIs, so I bet a Google Maps app designed specifically for EVs would be a great new product. Tell me where to recharge, let me set my favorite brand of chargers in prefs, tell me how full the chargers currently are and what you predict they’ll be like when I arrive, show me where to eat and give me links to menus on each option, show me which stores are nearby and show their hours since you know that already.

It seems like a no-brainer and a slam dunk for them. Heck, they could just bake these EV features into their existing Waze app they bought over 10 years ago and seemingly abandoned development on.

Range anxiety never goes away, but it’s not that bad on new EVs

My 2016 EV only did about 75mi per full charge so range anxiety was in the front of my mind if I ever left my small town. With a 300 mile EV in 2023, I can run errands anywhere in the northwestern part of my state without any planning, and to date I’ve only charged at home on a 240v L2 home charger.

Road trips aren’t that difficult, as the software is pretty good and as long as I followed its advice, I would never get stranded. The mileage estimates were conservative and it was rare I was below 50 miles left when I hit each suggested charger. Stopping every couple hours felt too soon at first, but I quickly got used to it and looked forward to each stop. I could definitely see why one guy I met at a charger was driving from Atlanta, Georgia to Seattle, WA nonstop. You get into a rhythm and all the driver aids make it a one-finger on the wheel kind of driving while listening to podcasts or audiobooks.

Honestly, driving an EV with auto-cruise control and lane keep assist starts to feel like a private train car whisking you from one city to another. A hundred years ago, getting your own Pullman train car to take you across the country required that you were a robber baron that exploited millions but now anyone with a nice EV can get that same feeling.

Now that I’ve got this long trip under my belt, I feel way better about public charging. I could see criss-crossing the state of Oregon and only being concerned in the most remote areas. As long as there are cities every couple hours, I’d be fine.

America is a very big, mostly empty country with its own specific problems, but I think EV infrastructure is getting to a pretty good place and I suspect in 5-10 years there will be EV chargers literally everywhere you stop, making EV travel easy and possible anywhere.

Apple should sell the iPad mini as a wireless CarPlay monitor

Piggy backing on my last post here, as I was trying to get my weird android tablet with a huge plastic bezel and odd mounts to look better in the Rivian, I thought about how much smoother and better my experience would be if it was a real iPad mini instead of a shady Android box running CarPlay.

The hardware could have a “CarPlay mode” that would sync perfectly to my phone and my car’s bluetooth audio connection. It could be smart enough to take calls and texts from my phone’s number, but on the iPad mini itself. Then there’s the whole established ecosystem where there are tons of mounting options available to seamlessly put an iPad mini on your car’s dashboard.

I’ve always felt like the iPad mini was a weird product in search of a use case. Buying weird $250 android tablets to run CarPlay seems silly when you could buy a fancy new iPad mini that would be way more reliable and easier to incorporate into any car’s interior, plus you’d have a fully charged entertainment device when you got on a plane or into your hotel room.

A new “3rd way” for CarPlay

I am a fan of Apple’s CarPlay. I think it can make driving safer while keeping you informed of new calls and texts, and entertained with podcasts and music, all without having to take your eyes off the road or ever feel the need to pick up your phone while driving. It’s pretty good software, not quite great and I have a lot of problems with it (that will wait for a future blog post).

Since I’m the guy who loves CarPlay and I’ve been a car stereo nerd since the 1980s, all my friends tend to ask me how to get CarPlay into their vehicles, especially after they rent a car somewhere and get to experience it for the first time.

The existing two ways

Usually, I tell people there are two options. The first is buying a new or used car, and making sure to find a model that supports CarPlay natively, which is around the 2018 model year for most cars. CarPlay first hit cars around 2016 but wasn’t supported in many popular models and brands until 2020 so you kind of have to google anything in that range to see what is supported. I understand, it’s kind of a bold option if all you want is a better stereo experience in a car, but it is a solution if your car is currently on its last legs.

The second option is that I tell people to load up Crutchfield’s What Fits In My Car page and put in all the relevant details to see if they even offer you CarPlay head units that can replace your existing car stereo. Usually, cars from 2010 and before can easily handle an aftermarket stereo that will run about $300-500 to get a full CarPlay experience and it will definitely make your old car feel new again. I’ve added CarPlay to four different early 2000s used cars and loved driving them afterwards. They really do feel like new vehicles.

The bummer situation is for anyone that owns a car built from about 2010 to about 2017, which was a weird time for many car companies as they started pushing more features into their stock stereo systems—things like controlling the heat and A/C, adjusting settings on your car’s lights or door locks, and other car-specific preferences. You can’t simply drop out the stock stereo and replace with an aftermarket one, because you’ll lose those controls over your heat and A/C, and other settings.

To date, I’ve told those friends they were kinda screwed. Some small companies have created black box ways to sideload CarPlay into them, but usually they’re hacky and you have to do some secret button/taps to even get them to work each time you start your car. It’s not ideal.

A new third option

I was annoyed when the Rivian I ordered three years ago that recently arrived at my doorstep didn’t include CarPlay from the factory. I know Jeff Bezos was a big investor in Rivian on behalf of Amazon, so the new car only supports Alexa inside, not Siri or Google, which is a shame (it sucks to get caught in the crossfire of a billionaire pissing match).

I went looking absolutely everywhere for options and eventually I found a new product I’d never heard of, and I bought one, and use it, and while it has flaws, for anyone stuck in a system that can’t be changed, it’s actually a good solution.

If you have a car that supports bluetooth audio as an input, but doesn’t have CarPlay and can’t be easily changed out to a new head unit, THIS IS FOR YOU.

The image above is the Aphqua 7″ portable CarPlay device, and it’s about $159 on Amazon right now. The one in the photo at the top of this section is my slightly larger 9″ screen model I bought for about $259.

What is it exactly?

These devices work in any vehicle that supports bluetooth audio from your phone. What happens through your phone is delivered to your car stereo exactly as it has before. What is new and clever is that you have a new screen attached to your dash or windshield that connects to your phone over a local WiFi connection, and basically acts as a controller for CarPlay (and Android Auto) while still maintaining your bluetooth connection to your car for audio streaming.

This means the moment I added the box to my Rivian, my phone connected to it via bluetooth (at first) then WiFi (full-time) and gave me a big new CarPlay screen I can interact with using voice or by tapping the touchscreen, but the Rivian still only talks to my phone over bluetooth, and continues to do that.

Basically, these new boxes are Wireless CarPlay devices that control your phone, while your phone continues to interact with your car over bluetooth.

For anyone with one of those weird 2010-2017ish era of cars, this means you can finally get CarPlay into your car for under $200. They come with suction cups to attach to your windshield or dash, and only require a 12v plug into your dash. Everything else they do is wireless, but if your car pre-dates bluetooth support, they throw an aux-in cable in the box that can deliver audio to your car if you only have an aux-in port.

This also works in fancy new EVs like the Rivians and Teslas out there that refuse to support CarPlay natively. If you’ve always wanted CarPlay in your Tesla, buy one of these and plop it onto your dash and you can start enjoying CarPlay in your electric car.

What don’t these devices do well?

I’ve only tested my wireless CarPlay box on my Rivian, but the first time you start the car, and you select a music track or podcast on the new screen, it usually plays back through the device’s own tiny speaker (that also sounds very tinny). I believe this is a bug either with Rivian or the box’s makers. I need to do more testing on other cars to see how they react to it.

To remedy this, I hit pause on the CarPlay screen, then switch to my car’s native system showing the bluetooth connection to my phone, where I hit the play button, then my music/shows continue playback on the car’s stereo system. Problem fixed.

Siri interactions happen through the box’s tiny speaker and microphone, so you have to keep the volume on the box high (if you mute it, you will never hear Siri), but otherwise everything plays through my car’s stereo after the initial pause/unpause dance when you first start the car. Music usually unpauses after Siri reads a text message, back on my car’s stereo speakers too.

Overall, these devices fill a niche for a very reasonable price, don’t require complex installations, and give you CarPlay that mostly works in cars never designed to support them. I really like them as a new third option and will recommend it to everyone I know with a car too old to come with CarPlay, but not so old you can replace the stereo with an aftermarket unit.

An American healthcare story

Most people in the world know healthcare in the USA is bonkers and often doctors won’t treat you unless you can prove you have the insurance to cover it. But what non-americans might not know is the lengths that medical places go to extract profit from you at every turn.

Here’s a real thing that has happened several times:

You’re in the ER. Someone you love’s health is in the balance. There’s a knock on your ER bay door, and someone in business attire walks in with a clipboard.

“Hi, I’m from the hospital—listen, we estimate today is going to cost you roughly $500 after your insurance covers the rest, but if you pay within 48hrs of service, we can save you 20% more off the total, so if you want to take advantage of this offer, pay us $400 right now, and the $500 bill will disappear”

So in this state, you figure sure, at least one thing should go right today, fine, I’ll pay it now and save a little.

Ok, yeah, it’s really as crass as it sounds. Someone that works for the hospital, trying to maximize revenues, comes in when you’re in the middle of a health crisis and starts playing Monty Hall on Let’s Make a Deal, concocting weird offers and making you do math when you’re worried about someone you love on a slow drip hopefully getting better.

It’s fucking gross, from end to end, but it gets worse…

One time we did this, they thought we owed nearly $400, so they said pay us $300 now, and we did to make them go away.

A few weeks later we find out insurance covered more than we thought, and we overpaid by nearly $150. A couple months later the hospital sent us a check for $50, no other explanation.

So $100 went poof into the ledger somewhere.

Profit-driven healthcare is as dumb an idea as profit-driven private prisons. It’s hellish and dystopian and leads to really ugly incentives.

The entire world except the US figured out the cost of medicine is easy to handle if it is shared by all. I don’t think anything will change in the US in my lifetime, if I really want health security as I get older, I would have to leave the country.

Coincidentally, a friend recently went to an ER in France. They spent all day there getting treated, were handed a month of antibiotics to take after for healing and let go.

The entire bill was around $35.

We recently did an ER visit with four hours of observation, and everything was fine. A couple months later, the bills came up to around $1,200 for one ER visit with full family PPO insurance coverage at an in-network hospital.

Which of these options seems most sane?

I forgot to mention our employer-provided healthcare costs about $15,000 per year, paid monthly. And if you use your healthcare, they only cover about 75% of the high costs.

I’m also reminded that last year when I got an MRI and my insurance called me up several times to pitch a different MRI place than the hospital I’ve gone to for ten years.

Turns out going to “my” hospital for continued care and my ten-year history of MRIs cost me $850 they refused to cover. All the calls were trying to get me to use a cheaper place in my network since something recently changed in my insurance coverage. They never said it though, I had to put it together after the fact.

Too many people work in the giant medical industry in the US to ever make change possible. We’d have to cut millions of middle managers at healthcare companies who are looking in every nook and cranny for profit.

Everyone else in the world has figured it out though, but the US sticks to what doesn’t work and bankrupts thousands daily.

One hell of a gaming table

I follow a lot of woodworkers on YouTube, some of it to learn some tricks of the trade I occasionally adopt in my own projects around the house, but mostly for the relaxing hours of watching people plane boards perfectly flat, or hypnotically using a lathe to make a wooden bowl, or watching people making incredible desks and tables with epoxy.

One channel I occasionally check in on has just finished a project that took over a year, and I’ve seen the project in various stages every few months, but it’s satisfying to see a giant project finally come to an end.

In this case, it’s guy I only know from the Magic Mike movies, Joe Manganiello getting his custom made Dungeons and Dragons table delivered to his new space dedicated to hosting big famous games. It looks like Joe built a pool house just for D&D!

It’s a remarkable giant table, with dozens of hours put into getting the wood, prepping it for epoxy, doing the pours, waiting days between layers, then doing (spoiler: and redoing) the finishing to make it perfect. In the end, the Canadian woodworking team has to get it and themselves to LA, and that also includes hiring cranes and a team of professionally movers since it weighs hundreds of pounds.

I kinda love everything about this: watching Joe Manganiello embrace his nerdy passion of playing D&D into a whole new side career, how so many small shops put their interesting woodworking projects on YouTube, and finally, how these things end up costing $20,000-30,000, which doesn’t seem outlandish once you see all the work from a variety of people that goes into one of these gargantuan projects over many months.

Testing out “Camp Mode” in the Rivian R1S

Three years ago, I decided to take the plunge after I saw some demo of the new Rivian EV trucks and SUVs that would be coming out “soon”. Yesterday, a tow truck hit my driveway and unloaded my R1S and in the first day of ownership, it’s been pretty good.

What I most wanted to test out was how good at car camping it would be. It has a dedicated “Camp Mode” that offers things like leveling out the suspension front and rear and side to side so you are perfectly flat while parked.

The other cool feature is you can disable all the electronics and screens at night, but keep just the climate controls working. That was super compelling to me, but I wanted to first answer the question: if you sleep in near-freezing weather overnight, will you have enough battery to get home?

So my first night of Rivian ownership, I folded down the 2nd and 3rd row seats and put out a queen-sized air mattress and my sleeping bag and pillow, and slept with the heater set to 70ºF/21ºC for close to 8 hours to test the effects of this on the battery level. Above is a quick video recap I put together this morning.


Last night was in the mid-30ºs (1-2ºC) range when I climbed into the back of the Rivian around 11:45PM. I set the heater to 70ºF (21ºC) and disabled the rest of the electronics and woke up around 7:30AM.

Battery levels:
Battery at 11:45pm when I went to sleep: 72%
Battery at 7:30am when I woke up: 53%

It did sound like a hair dryer running on low all night, and my 20ºF bag was too warm even being used just as a blanket, so I probably should have set it to 65ºF for comfort but I wanted to know if the heater running all night at a pretty high level would take too much power away.

Overall, I was impressed. The leveling made the rear of the SUV completely flat and sleeping was comfortable. 8 hours of boosting the cabin temps by 35ºF/20ºC only took up less than 20% of the total battery, which is less than I suspected it might.

Knowing this, I would totally use the camp mode with the climate controls on during road trips, especially along highways with rest areas and easier access to high speed chargers that could replenish that 19% charge after each night. Would I use this at the end of a 50 mile gravel road for more than one night? Probably not, but closer to chargers on major roads, definitely.

Turntablism YouTube

I recently went a 2200 mile road trip to visit friends and family and as per usual, I caught up on a lot of podcasts, but sometimes people talking could make be sleepy so I’d switch to the best music of 2022 playlist, but I’ve been hitting that so hard for the last month that it was getting stale and predictable.

So I asked myself: what should I try next to keep me alert, awake, and entertained on multi-state road trips?

DJ Fonki Cheff

Something popped up in my YouTube recommendations completely out of the blue a few weeks ago: DJ Fonki Cheff.

Now, I’ve never heard of the guy, but when I saw his videos on my YT AppleTV app, I listened for a few minutes then enjoyed it later that night as dinner music. I figured it’d probably work pretty well in a car someday.

Since I didn’t care about seeing any video, I downloaded the YouTube Music app to my phone (I pay for ad-free YouTube, pretty sure the music app is thrown in for free?), and at a rest stop on 5G I downloaded a dozen of his 1hr mix videos.

He’s got classic hiphop sessions, 90s hiphop, reggae/dancehall, neosoul, old 45s, and even Motown mixes. He barely speaks, spends 99% of their time spinning records, does live scratching between them and beat matches songs pretty well so they melt into one another.

There are probably 20 tasks a good DJ has to do, and he seems great at selecting obscure records and songs I’ve never heard of (he’s fluent in Spanish so you hear a bunch of Spanish language hiphop which sounds great). He doesn’t do a ton of scratching, just a bit between tracks, and I have no idea how good he is working a crowd since he doesn’t do any of it on YouTube. He seems like a guy with 100,000 records that likes to smoke pot and play rare songs around a genre, and he does it all pretty well.

DJ mixes while driving are pretty great

The best part is that these mixes are often somewhat familiar music, but played in completely unpredictable ways. You never know when Bell Biv DeVoe are going to appear after a riff from a Wu Tang song. I found this combination of familiarity and unpredictability to be a killer feature for a long road trip.

I could keep my eyes on the road and enjoy the tunes, but not knowing what’s coming next was fun and perked up my brain and kept me from ever getting sleepy as I wanted to know what the next jam in the mix would be.

YouTube Music

I’ve avoided using the YouTube Music app for ages because it felt like a weird side product for their existing video product, especially in a car where I don’t want to watch any video. But it does a pretty good job taking things from your history and your favorites and your watch later list that are music-focused to play over your stereo.

Another fun aspect of YT Music was after a Fonki Cheff mix was done, it would often grab other DJs doing music on YouTube and I was super impressed any time I heard clips from the Technics DJ World Championships, because these were people at the top of the craft making incredibly complex, layered hip hop mixes out of classic albums.

YouTube also knew I loved mashups and would offer up incredible things I’d never heard like this one of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition featuring Cypress Hill samples while Run DMC rap a classic.

And, as always, I enjoy a full concert of Tenacious D from any era of the band, but their concert in Brussels from 2015 has absolutely perfect sound and a crowd that demands so many encores they run out of songs to play by the end and do a REO Speedwagon tune I’ve never heard them cover in 25 years of following them.

How does copyright even work?

A former coworker was once a lawyer at YouTube and I wish he was still there so I could grill him on how any of music on YouTube works, rights-wise. I can’t embed any of these YouTube videos in this blog post because they don’t allow for playback on other sites. Some YouTube DJs have huge followings and lots of views but I doubt they get much ad revenue from it, as the original artists should get something for all the samples (but do they get all? Or does YouTube keep a big cut?).

Do DJs on YouTube use the platform to make money in other ways outside of YouTube? I see Fonki Cheff does online lessons in turntable techniques and I imagine people pay him well to show up to spin at their gatherings, but I do wonder if there’s an original artist/DJ making new songs out of old ones split that keeps everyone happy, or if they cut DJs out of that completely for rights clearance reasons since the subject is so fraught for hiphop records in general.


Skratch Bastid looks like another good music-while-driving DJ with a bit more scratching/mixing and a bit of live audio on the mic thrown in.

Oregon’s bottle law

A few years ago, Oregon upped their redemption price for beverage containers from 5¢ to 10¢, and I remembered doing a double-take because it seemed like a pretty big possible shift.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Oregon was the first place in the USA to institute a redemption program for bottles and cans. Back in the early 1970s when it was launched, litter along highways and beaches and in forests was pretty prevalent. I remember freeways being riddled with garbage as a young kid, and seeing people throw bags of McDonald’s trash out their windows while driving whenever they finished eating (it was a different time I guess). Adding a small return value to every container meant most people brought them back, and it worked. By the end of the 1970s, Oregon reduced litter by over 80%.

Good incentives lead to good outcomes, right?

The rule change happened in 2017, and my first thought was wow, doubling the rate could really change the economics of the whole program, I wonder how redemption rates will change and how much someone could really make off it?

How it works

An unexpected part of the program is that the money behind it comes from every customer. You pay an extra 10¢ at the register any time you buy something in a bottle or can, along with surprise $1.20 charges on every 12-pack. I remember hearing stories of federal regulations brewing in the 1970s to combat litter and how initially they were targeting big brands like Coke and Pepsi and Coors and Budweiser, but those companies got together and made sure the funding didn’t come from them, but instead from their own customers.

When the law changed to a dime per can/bottle here, I checked newspapers at the time to see what kind of limits there were and that’s when I was a bit surprised by it. When the redemption values doubled, they reduced the maximum number of containers you could return in a day by half. Pretty nuts, right? For most folks, the limit per day is around $14 maximum, as it was before. That’s not much to live on, so why decrease the limits when increasing the payout?

Rules. And more rules. And even more rules.

I recently checked the Oregon Bottle Law FAQ on the state’s own site. The FAQ starts simple, but quickly grows complex. In total, it’s 12 pages of rules when I thought they’d fit on 1 or 2.

Most beverages that aren’t hard liquor or wine get a redemption value that customers pay at the register. Every can or bottle MUST have printing on it that says it has Oregon redemption value, except for kombucha, hard seltzer, or energy drinks (why specifically just those for the labeling rule?).

Daily limits on redemption have lots more rules. Is the store you are returning cans at in zone 1 or zone 2? Is the square footage of the store over, or under 5,000 square feet? (sidetone: does anyone know what a 5,000sqft store is supposed to look like? I’m a good estimator and I can’t picture one myself)

Did you use the special green bags? Oh, you didn’t know about the 35¢ special green bags, well those let you return larger amounts all at once, but you have to sign up for an online account where you have a running balance instead of daily cashouts that some grocery stores (depends on more rules) can give you store credit that increases your redemption value by 20%, but you have to pay for those special green bags, against your ongoing account.

Larger stores have to run bottle/can redemption machines during most store hours, but since they’re slow and break down often, you get lines so instead of stores making it easier to use them out front, they tend to put them further back in their store, away from shopper’s eyes, ensuring the task of dragging bags of old cans is a longer walk of shame through the entire store.

Aside from grocery stores, there are dedicated bottle redemption centers, but there are only in major cities, about 30-50 miles apart where neighbors frequently complain about long lines of people “up to no good” in their area.

Means testing sucks

Return your can or bottle and get some cash back seems so simple. I used to do it myself as a kid with glass bottles, at the same store where I would buy an occasional soda. When I was really little, my brother and I would gather up enough glass bottles in our house to pay for a new bottle of coke, keeping the cycle going.

I like simple concepts and simple solutions. And I understand there are hundreds of weird edge cases that might push a regulatory body to add more conditions and caveats and carve-outs, but the whole things feels like when a simple charity program gains a bunch of means testing. You’ll get $300 a week if you’re out of work—but you have to prove you’re looking for work and not enjoying your time off. Or you can only have child support with a maximum number of kids. Or you need to work a minimum number of hours per week to qualify for this scholarship. Or you have to pass a drug test and be clean before we give you any money.

The verdict

Looking at the data, I’m pretty surprised it’s over 85% of all containers getting returned in 2019. Personally, I tend to toss my redemption-ready canisters into my weekly recycling, because the programs are so heavy on rules and my local grocery store has a very slow single machine that always has a line. Almost every home in Oregon is part of a recycling program, so if you don’t want to wait in lines, it is much easier to toss your cans into the biweekly recycling bins.

While researching the current return rates, I learned the value per can only shot up because redemption rates had fallen so much. When the rate dipped below 70% in 2014, it triggered an automatic rate increase to further incentivize people to return them. But then again, with the limits halved at the same time, the daily maximum was unchanged, so it’s more of a perception thing that benefits people casually returning just a few things well below the limits.

A reflection

The program in my state feels like a mirror to similar programs in the the US. You start with a simple concept that can be explained in just a few seconds. Bring cans back, get money back. Need help feeding your family, here’s money for groceries. Out of work, here’s your unemployment to make ends meet.

But then we start layering on conditions and limits and rules on how and when and who can even participate.

Sometimes, I wish simple things could be more simple.