Monthly Archives: December 2007

My Adobe Acrobat PDF Files Are Printing Garbage Text (Sometimes)

This issue when printing some PDF documents from within Adobe Reader has been one of the most vexing computer problems I’ve experienced in a while.  I think I might have just figured out how to solve it, so I’m posting a description of the problem, as well as what I believe is a solution (or at least a work-around).

Some PDF documents I try to print from within Adobe Reader will have all of their text print as garbage (“greeked” text). From the Google searches I’ve done, it seems that others have reported that this problem is not always reproducible, and that no single type of printer seems to be involved. In my experience, it is reproducible. The common thread seems to be (from what I’ve read) that all users having this problem are running Windows XP with Service Pack 2 installed.

The problematic PDFs will look just fine when you view them on your computer, but when they print, only the graphics will print correctly. All of the printed text looks like it’s just random characters of “gobbledygook”. Upon closer inspection, you can see that the characters are all off by one position in the alphabet (actually, off by one ASCII character, since symbols and numbers are also off by one). ie: “A” prints as “B”, “”e” prints as “f”, and a zero prints as “1”. Even when I select “print preview” in the print options for my Hewlett-Packard printer, the documents show garbage text in the on-screen print preview window!.

I am running Windows XP SP2, and have updated Adobe Reader to version 8.1.1, which is the current version. I use Windows Update to keep XP up to date with patches. I’ll say that I first noticed this problem with some PDFs about a year ago, but I can’t tell you what version of Adobe Reader I first noticed it with. I’m not even sure this is an Adobe Reader issue. It might be a Windows or a printer driver issue also. The latest problems occured when printing a PDF that was being viewed with Adobe Reader within my Firefox v 2.0.0.11 browser, but it has occured in earlier versions of Firefox, and I believe in Internet Explorer as well.

I’ve experienced this problem when printing to an HP PSC1210 all-in-one inkjet printer, and an HP Photosmart 7260 inkjet printer.

Today, after reprinting the same PDF several times, and getting garbage out each time, I clicked “print”, and started looking around in the print window that opens for my HP 7260 printer. When I print PDFs, I get an “Advanced” button in the bottom left corner of the print window that I can click on. There are a bunch of “greyed-out” postscript options in this window, but there is also a check box that says “Print as image”. I decided to check this box and click “OK”, which closes the advanced printing options window, then I clicked “OK” to send the PDF to the printer. I think doing this causes the entire document to be sent to the printer as “raster graphics”, rather than as PCL containing a mix of graphics and ASCII text.

Voila! The PDF printed correctly. I’m not certain that checking the “Print as image” option was the reason, but it’s worth trying if you are having this problem, and you have this option in your print setup.

If this solution works for you, please post the details as a comment to this article.

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Filed under Acrobat Reader, Adobe, Adobe Acrobat, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, PDF files, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Routing by Rumor, Technology, Windows XP

New Balance Athletic Shoes – Made In USA? Yeah, Right!

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New Balance CM473KO

OK, I’ll admit it again… I’m a skeptic.

This is a continuation of my discussion about the disappearance of American manufacturing jobs, and the lengths that companies will go to in an effort to sugar-coat the fact that they have shipped their manufacturing overseas. See my previous post, Made In USA? Yeah, Right! Today, I’ll look at The New Balance Athletic Shoe Company, of Boston, Massachusetts. According to their Internet domain name registration, they are located at 61 North Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02134. Could someone explain where they came up with a name like “New Balance”? Is that a place (like “New Mexico”)?, a state of mind?, an allusion to better posture?, a reference to a new corporate reincarnation (as opposed to the (old) Balance Shoe Company? All of the above? None of the above?

Where does the name Nike come from? In Greek mythology, Nike was the goddess of victory. Where does the name Adidas come from? That one is a bit more obscure. Adidas is a contraction of “ADI (Adolph) DASsler“, that company’s founder’s name. Bet ya didn’t know that one! But remember, long before people were wearing Nike and Adidas, there were Keds! And although a bit off-topic, what do Adidas, Pepsi and the defunct chain of department stores called E.J. Korvette’s have in common? Find the answer here.

I’ve been wearing New Balance shoes since back when they really were making them in the USA. But today, it seems, most of their shoes say “Made In China”. The New Balance shoes that do say “Made In USA” say so on stickers affixed to the tags inside the shoes, but not on the shoes per se, and not on the box the shoes come in. I’m highly suspicious that their shoes labeled “Made In USA” are being made “lock, stock and barrel” in China, and that little manufacturing, other than perhaps inspecting them and placing a “Made in USA” sticker on them is actually being done in an American factory, by American workers.  According to this article in Fortune Magazine, 75% of New Balance shoes are made in China and Vietnam.  Perhaps an even more interesting aspect of the Fortune article are the shoes that many of those Asian factories produce on their “Third Shift” or “Ghost Shift”.   These shoes, produced in New Balance’s  foreign factories, aren’t exactly counterfeits, but they aren’t exactly genuine New Balance shoes either.  It’s an intriguing problem that companies such as New Balance face when moving their production offshore.  It also makes you wonder whether moving their production offshore might not be costing New Balance more than they are saving in labor costs.  Then there’s New Balance’s other problem, the  “Henkee”.

nb-1.jpgLet’s start with the box the shoes come in. It appears to be made in China. On the bottom of the box there is a logo and a few characters next to it, printed in (Mandarin?) Chinese. Well, let’s give New Balance the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps only the box is made in China.

Upon opening the box, I find a hang tag attached to one of the shoes that proclaims that New Balance is “Committed to American Workers”. Really? Almost hilariously, it also says “Solidaire des Travailleurs Americains”. I thought we speak English in America. Mon Dieu! (Je parle tres, tres peu Francais, mon ami.)

The back of the tag enigmatically states “New Balance has proven that high quality, width-sized athletic footwear can be made by Americans for discriminating consumers. We are proud of this fact“. Now, I know this is probably just paranoia on my part, but it only says that they’ve proven it. It doesn’t actually say that THIS pair of shoes was made by Americans. Perhaps I’m taking their wording too literally. I’m sure that a closer inspection will prove that I’m all wrong about this.

The inside of the hang tag has the following message in both English and French. I guess that’s because, as we all know, the official language of the United States is French…

These shoes have been produced by the New Balance team in one of our five U.S. factories. Unfortunately, we are not able to obtain all materials and components for these shoes in the U.S. either because they are not available, or because economic or quality considerations dictate foreign sourcing. The Federal Trade Commission has attempted to determine what it means to say a product is “made in” the U.S. We believe most consumers think “Made in U.S.A.” means that real manufacturing jobs were provided to U.S. workers in order to make the product. These shoes were made by U.S. workers using U.S. and imported materials. Where the domestic value is at least 70%, we have labeled the shoes “Made in U.S.A.”. Where it falls below 70%, we have qualified the label referencing domestic and imported materials. This determination is based in part on the FTC’s survey of consumers. The FTC’s analysis of the “Made in U.S.A.” issue can be found at FTC.gov or for a copy, write to New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc., 20 Guest Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02135. Attn.: Communications”

Since this pair of shoes does say “MADE IN USA OF IMPORTED MATERIALS”, I think we can safely say (based on New Balance’s own statements) that the domestic value is below 70%. How far below 70%? Could the “domestic value”, meaning the percentage of it’s value produced in the United States be .00001% ??? Could it mean that little was done in the United States other than attaching the tag I quoted from, above? Call me skeptical. Call me a disbeliever. Accuse me of being too logical. The fact is that New Balance doesn’t actually tell you how much of their product is made in America. Their explanation of the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines are very educational, but I think that New Balance is trying to mince words. It’s probably just skeptical me. I’m sure once I take a look at the shoes themselves, I’ll be convinced they were “made by Americans”.

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The label affixed to the inside of the shoes has a lot of information printed on it. There’s the shoe’s size, width, model number, a barcode and some other numeric data, which probably indicates to New Balance where and when the shoes were manufactured. Interestingly, the label does not say where the shoes were made. That information is contained on a sticker, which is affixed to the label, which is affixed to the shoes. That sticker says…

“MADE IN USA OF IMPORTED MATERIALS

FABRIQUE AUX E.-U.

A PARTIR DE MATIERES IMPORTEES”

I wish I was more fluent in French. It would come in handy when reading the labels inside shoes that are “Made in USA”.

Now, what kind of an idiot do I look like? I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but there are at least a few neurons firing. Why would New Balance print a label that does not state the country of origin, only to add a sticker that says “Made in USA”? My guess (and probably yours) is that they can’t legally import a product into the United States that says “Made in USA”, even if they add the qualifier about imported materials. In my opinion, New Balance is taking advantage of the FTC’s ambiguous guidelines regarding what can be identified as being made in the United States. Call it fine print, mouse print, weasel words, or whatever you wish. This loophole is used by many companies, although some will actually break down which components of their product are foreign made, and which are produced in the USA. I wish New Balance went at least that far, stating, for example, “Uppers and insoles made in USA, all other components made in China”, but they do not break down which components are imported, leading me to believe that the shoes are pretty much manufactured entirely in China. Actually, they don’t even say where the components were imported from.

Are you wearing a pair of New Balance shoes that say “Made in USA” on the tags inside? Go ahead… Take off your shoes and closely inspect the tag. Go ahead. No, really… I’ll wait. Go ahead. (RoutingByRumor taps their feet and whistles a few notes while waiting for you.)

Nice socks. You must be a very religious person, considering those holey socks. ROFL. Now look closely at those tags in your shoes. Does the tag actually say “Made in USA”, or is there a sticker that says “Made in USA” that is stuck to the tag? See! Exactly as I suspected. Whew. Eeeeeeeeewwwwww. Better put those shoes back on now. Thanks.

Perhaps I have this all wrong. Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions about where New Balance shoes are actually made. If New Balance wishes to provide specific details about exactly how much of their product is made in the United States, I’d love to add that information to this article. Are all the components sewed and glued into a finished product in the USA? I’d hope so, but I sincerely doubt it.

If my suspicions about New Balance’s labeling practices regarding their “Made in USA” products are correct, they would certainly qualify for induction into RoutingByRumor’s Hall of Shame.

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Filed under Adidas, China, Consumerism, E.J. Korvette, Employment, Greek Mythology, Keds, Labor, Life, Money, New Balance, News, Nike, Pepsi, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Retail, Routing by Rumor, Scams, Shopping, Your Money

Shrinking Products – Pay More, Get Less !

This is the first installment of what will be a continuing category of articles from RoutingByRumor. We will be documenting the most egregious examples of popular consumer products that are shrinking, being downsized or otherwise reduced in quantity or quality by manufacturers often employing “deception engineering” in an attempt to hide the changes from consumers.

Shrinking Product # 1 – Scott Toilet Tissue

Perhaps the most visible and distressing shrinking product category is paper products. Paper manufacturing requires large amounts of energy and water, and transportation costs represent a larger portion of the finished product’s price than most products. Because of their weight and bulk, paper products are particularly vulnerable to increased energy, transportation and raw materials costs.

The result has been ever decreasing quality and quantity of tissues, toilet paper and paper towels, to name just a few paper products. One of the largest manufacturers, Scott / Kimberly-Clark of Neenah, Wisconsin, has responded by a series of price increases and successive product downsizing.

Focusing on one Scott product, toilet tissue, we will examine some of the tactics Scott has employed in am attempt to camouflage the fact that you are paying much more for much less. One of Scott’s flagship products is the 1000-sheet roll of tiolet tissue. In the last few years, the retail price of a 1000 sheet roll of Scott toilet paper has roughly doubled, from about 45 cents (US) to about 90 cents. But the price increase only tells part of the story.

While Scott still advertises (in my opinion, deceptively) that it still contains 1000 sheets per roll, a roll of Scott tissue is substantially narrower and shorter than it was a few years ago. Since I started keeping track, the size of each individual sheet has gone from 4.5 x 4.4 inches (19.8 square inches), to 4.5 x 3.7 inches (16.65 square inches). Each time Kimberly-Clark has downsized the roll of ScottTissue, it has shrunk by almost ten percent. While I am not absolutely certain about this, I believe that if you go even further back in time, the standard toilet paper roll was 5 inches wide. I believe the tissue is substantially thinner, and in my opinion, much lower quality than it was previously. Another attempt to hide the reduction in quantity is to wind the roll on a much larger diameter paper tube, and to emboss the tissue, adding bulk without adding paper, so the outside circumference of the roll appears larger. Another indication of the decreasing amount of tissue on each roll is weight. Pick up a 6-pack or 12-pack of toilet paper these days, and it feels like it weighs perhaps half as much as it did a few years ago (some other brands are even worse).

In my opinion, the most insidious part of this is not that you are paying more per roll. It’s that because you are getting less in each roll, they are forcing you to buy more and more rolls (assuming that your consumption remains constant). It’s like the oil companies figuring out how to produce gasoline that provides lower and lower miles-per-gallon, forcing you to fill up more often, on top of the fact that the price-per-gallon keeps going up! Reducing a product’s size or yield masks the true extent of a price increase.

You are paying about double, but qetting 15-20% less than you did a few years ago, of a product I believe is substantially lower in quality. While Scott does not disclose the percentage of recycled fibers in their toilet tissue (or in any of their other products, to my knowledge), I have to believe their toilet paper is either made from 100% recycled paper, or it is made from predominately recycled fibers. I base this conclusion partly on the fact that when it comes in contact with water, it disintegrates instantly. I believe that is an indication that the length of the cellulose fibers is extremely short, and indicative of recycled fibers.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes. Without getting too graphic, I believe the efficacy of Scott toilet tissue has decreased substantially as a result of Scott’s tinkering with the recipe, if you will. Certainly, there is a lower limit, at which a product’s size, quality and value will drive consumers to choose a competing product. My guess is that for some consumers, that limit has already been reached by Scott / Kimberly-Clark. I guess manufacturers try to find out what that limit is, without exceeding it.

Here’s some photos of the “Incredible Shrinking Roll” of ScottTissue.

(Note that the most recent wrapper below no longer unequivocally says “Made In USA”, but rather states “Made in USA of domestic and imported materials”, and fails to provide further details as to what percentage of the product is domestically sourced.)

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1000 sheets @ 4.5″ x 4.4″ = 137.5 square feet scott-45x40.jpg
1000 sheets @ 4.5″ x 4.0″ = 125 square feet

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1000 sheets @ 4.5″ x 3.7″ = 115.2 square feet

LATE BREAKING NEWS…

Dateline: June 8, 2008

CVS Stores has just beaten Scott Paper in the race to create the world’s smallest roll of toilet paper.  Read all about it here.

– Routing By Rumor

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Filed under Consumerism, Energy, Energy costs, Environment, Home, Kimberly-Clark, Life, Money, News, Personal, Retail, Routing by Rumor, Scams, Scott Tissue, Shopping, Shrinking Products, The Planet, Uncategorized, Your Money

CompUSA Goes Belly Up

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As Queen elequently put it, Another One Bites The Dust (watch the youtube video)

… and now, we can report that CompUSA bytes the dust.

Gee Whiz, I must be psychic or something. Just a few days ago, I posted a comment on this blog that CompUSA, a chain of computer stores in the United States, would soon bite the dust.I just stumbled across this article on Reuters and this article on cbsnews that confirms that CompUSA is on it’s way out. According to Reuters, the chain has been sold to the liquidation outfit Gordon Brothers. They will be closing the remaining 103 CompUSA stores in early 2008. No surprise, actually, since CompUSA closed most of it’s stores earlier this year. In recent years, CompUSA was controlled by Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helu, reportedly the richest person on the planet, even wealthier than Bill Gates or Warren Buffet (see this Fortune article on Carlos Slim).

Have you ever seen a tree that was pruned to death? After a certain amount of pruning, the death of the tree is inevitable, because it can’t absorb enough sunlight to survive. So too with computer retailers (or any business, I suspect). I was quite certain that it was simply a matter of time before CompUSA was history. That time appears to be at hand.

I don’t have an MBA. I’m not an accountant or a retail executive. I’m a computer geek. But I know mismanagement when I see it, and CompUSA was a poster child for piss-poor management. I can’t tell you how many times I went into one of several local CompUSA stores to purchase sale items and came up empty-handed. So, I would walk over to one of the computer terminals that the sales staff used, and I would enter the SKU of the item I was looking for. Nine times out of ten, the computer showed that the store had stock on hand, sometimes a large quantity, but it was nowhere to be found. A few times, when I would pester one of the salespeople to go check the stockroom, they would usually find the item in the back, and bring one out for me. Sometimes, they wouldn’t want to bother because they did not have any confidence in the inventory quantities shown in the computer. Maybe that was just an excuse because they were lazy, or maybe their inventory tracking really was inaccurate. Sometimes they would say it was in the store somewhere, but they didn’t know where.

What a joke. I mean, if you go through the trouble of ordering inventory, printing up a sale circular, and shipping the item to your stores, but you don’t follow through and put the stuff out on your sales floor so it will sell, you don’t belong in business. This wasn’t a rare occurance. It was the status quo at CompUSA. I am confident that if you put me in charge of CompUSA, I could have done a better job. Who knows, maybe I could have saved them. I think part of the problem was that the chain had changed ownership years ago. When any business gets sold, especially if the new owners are investors and/or absentee owners who don’t know the business, look out. With some very rare exceptions, nobody will do as good a job running the business as the person or people that founded it. They don’t have the same passion. If the business fails, they’ll just move on to something else. There’s little devotion or emotional attachment, because it’s not their baby.

The sales people at CompUSA were rarely motivated. I suppose they didn’t earn enough to get real excited about their jobs. The store management was pitiful. There were a couple of employees at the CompUSA I frequented the most who did work hard, and I felt very badly for them losing their jobs when that store closed.

I recently posted this article about rebate scams. I had more than my share of problems with rebates on items I purchased at CompUSA. I complained a number of times, both to the CompUSA store where I purchased the items, and to their customer service phone number. There were many rebates on items I purchased at CompUSA that I got cheated out of, and never received.

You know, to be honest, CompUSA was never my favorite computer store anyway. I preferred the Computer City chain, which closed circa 1998 or 1999, if memory serves me correctly. Computer City was purchased by CompUSA. They closed some Computer City stores and turned the rest into CompUSA stores. Egghead Software was also pretty good, although they operated much smaller stores and did not carry a lot of hardware. Today, Egghead is strictly an online retailer. The newest chain to open in my neck of the woods is Micro Center, which started out in Ohio, and has expanded to almost two dozen stores. Micro Center is a pretty cool store. It looks like there are a lot more good deals to be had there, and they claim that they have prices as good as you’ll find on the web. They sell brand name (Dell, IBM, Compaq, etc.) brown-box “refurbished” computer systems alongside their big selection of new systems. They cater to system builders and gamers and have a pretty large Apple department. They also have a nice computer book and magazine section, nearly as large as you’ll find at Barnes & Noble or Borders Books. On several occasions I’ve picked up some bargain-priced (not-current edition) but otherwise new books for under five bucks each. They even have free Internet access kiosks, so you can comparison shop without leaving the store! There’s little in the way of computer hardware that they don’t carry. If there’s a Micro Center near you, you have little reason left to buy stuff online.

Life goes on. Other computer retailers will come and go, to be sure. Perhaps my opinion of CompUSA will mellow as the memories fade to black.

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eBay – A Buyer’s Market or a Seller’s Market?

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I love eBay. I hate eBay. I’ve used eBay since 1999.

If you are looking for a hard to find, vintage, used, discontinued or rare item, eBay is the first place to look. If you want to find the latest tech gadget at less than retail, check eBay first. A lot of people won’t even consider buying something online or at a “brick-and-mortar” local retailer without checking the price on eBay first.

With all those “Get Rich Selling On eBay” books and seminars out there, you would think everybody could quit their day job and watch the money pour in when they become an eBay seller. Don’t bet on it. Most eBay sellers hardly make enough to make it worthwhile. When you factor in the amount of time you have to invest to set up an auction, respond to buyer’s questions, deal with deadbeat bidders, and pack & ship the item, and the cost of eBay’s and PayPal’s fees, it’s hard to make a profit. Meg Whitman, eBay’s CEO, and eBay’s stockholders have made fortunes on eBay. If you want to make money on eBay, buy some eBay stock rather than trying to sell on eBay.

eBay has incrementally introduced new features over time that makes it a more secure and useful platform, but eBay has also devolved into an uneven playing field that benefits few but eBay itself. In category after category, you have sellers selling items for pennies, but charging outrageous amounts for “shipping”. Even the majority of sellers who aren’t selling through “Buy-It-Now” auctions for $0.01 are still inflating their shipping charges to try and make some money. This is especially true with sellers from countries like Chins, which have become a larger and larger presence on eBay.

I’ve seen it over and over again… For example, very small items selling for a few pennies, but with a $29.00 shipping fee. Shipping that will cost the seller anywhere from a first-class postage stamp to perhaps a dollar or two. Few buyers or sellers seem to care much about the practice, and eBay is certainly not complaining. There is so much competition between sellers that they all have to resort to this tactic. eBay actually helps sellers inflate their shipping fees by allowing them to build their margin into eBay’s auction shipping charge calculator.

Why is this happening? eBay does not charge a commission (final-value fee) for shipping charges assessed by a seller, so sellers shift all or most of an item’s cost to the shipping fee. eBay appears to have made no serious attempt to curb this practice. Why? I think it’s because eBay also owns PayPal, the bank thru which the vast majority of eBay transactions are paid for. If eBay doesn’t get their cut thru auction fees, it will still earn it’s money through PayPal fees.

If you’re looking for a bargain on the latest high-tech gadget, I doubt you’ll find a bargain on eBay. Items that are in demand usually sell for prices close to retail, especially when you add in the “shipping” charge. Most eBay sellers will not accept returns or issue refunds. Many manufacturers will not honor rebates or warranties on items purchased thru online auctions. While most sellers do a good job of describing an item and it’s condition, some do not. Some are deceptive.

For items like used or out-of-print books or DVDs, eBay is great, and there are many bargains available. I think eBay has done more for the environment by keeping stuff out of landfills than any recycling program has ever done. If you want to get rid of it, don’t throw it out. Put it on eBay.

One of eBay’s strengths is it’s feedback system. I like the very democratic rating system, where buyers get to rate and comment on sellers and vice versa. It encourages people to treat other eBayers they deal with fairly. It also holds you hostage to some extent. You have to avoid giving negative feedback to someone you’ve dealt with, even if it is justified, for fear of receiving retaliatory negative feedback. The feedback system is a double-edged sword.

…When I continue, I’ll discuss some of the issues I’ve touched on in greater detail.

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