Category Archives: Cars

Introducing The Sichuan Tengzhong Hummer H1

This week’s bankruptcy filing by General Motors, and indeed the current critical condition of the entire U.S. economy can be traced directly to the wholesale loss of decent paying American manufacturing jobs, primarily to China.  Retailers like Walmart, whose stores are stocked predominantly with cheap Chinese-made goods are thriving, because financially desperate American families can’t afford to shop anywhere else (Walmart employs almost 1.5 million workers in the United States, and will be adding 22,000 more U.S. workers to its payroll in 2009; while this may sound like good news, it is anything but.)  It is a vicious cycle of cheap imports, resulting in job losses and low wages for those still lucky enough to find work, that creates an even greater demand for cheap imports that are destroying the American economy even more.  Probably the only thing that is limiting imports from China right now is the lack of available space on cargo ships.  The U.S. government does not seem to be the least bit inclined to limit imports, despite the damage they are doing to our country.

Now, it appears that General Motor’s Hummer division is being sold to China’s Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company.  We feel that dismantling what was one of the largest and oldest American corporations, and selling a portion of it to China is nothing short of treason.  It’s also ludicrous.  Friends, what you are witnessing is an acceleration of the destruction of the U.S. economy.

On a purely practical level, it won’t work.  The type of American buyers who are attracted to a vehicle like a Hummer won’t want a Chinese vehicle.  And as the U.S. economy continues to disintegrate because of exactly this sort of exportation of American brands and jobs, few if any Americans will be able to afford to buy a Hummer, or any vehicle, for that matter.

From a national security standpoint, selling yet another major American manufacturing company to China places America in grave danger. And remember… Hummer is basically a military vehicle, even if it has morphed into a family vehicle for soccer moms on American highways. We’ve said it before on this blog, and we’ll say it again…  Anytime it desires, China will be able to bring America to its knees without firing a single shot.  If China cuts off the supply lines that America has become dependent on, the United States will starve to death.   And we won’t be able to defend ourselves either, because unlike during World War II, America’s manufacturing capacity has all but disappeared.  If you think that melamine-laced pet food, lead-tainted toys, or toxic sheetrock from China are a problem, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

How bad are things getting for U.S. manufacturers?  We went to the Home Depot recently to buy a few sheets of sandpaper, and everything they had was made in China.  It appears that America can’t even manufacture sandpaper any more.

So stop worrying about North Korea or Iran or al-Qaeda or the Taliban.  What you should really be worrying about are those shiny new Sichuan Tengzhong Hummers that will soon be rolling down America’s highways.

We wonder if they sell portraits of Chairman Mao at Walmart.  There’s a bare wall in our living room where we could hang it.

– Routing By Rumor

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under 9/11, Automobile Manufacturers, Business, Cars, China, Consumerism, Employment, Iraq, Jobs, Military, Money, News, Politics, Routing by Rumor, Shopping, Terrorism, The Economy, War, World War II

Not All Half-Gallons of Ice Cream Are Shrinking !

A Costco Wholesale location (image from schaperco.com)

A Costco Wholesale location (image from schaperco.com)

Amid the pandemic of shrinking products that is sweeping the nation, its nearly impossible to find a half-gallon container of ice cream that is still a full half-gallon, or 64 ounces.

First, manufacturers, including one of the downsizing leaders, Breyers (Unilever), shrunk their half-gallon ice cream containers to 56 ounces. More recently, almost all brands have downsized yet again, to 48 ounces (1.5 quarts). See our previous article about Breyer’s shrinking their ice cream containers. These days, the freezer at Routing By Rumor headquarters usually does without ice cream. Funny, but when we walk down the frozen food aisle in the supermarket and see the miniaturized containers of ice cream, we loose our taste for the product.

By the way, we realize that we may be jumping to conclusions by blaming the ice cream manufacturers for cheating us out of our hard-earned ice cream. It is entirely possible that this is what is actually going on.

But ice cream lovers (and lovers of value) rejoice ! If you shop at Costco Wholesale, you will still find full half-gallons of “Kirkland” ice cream. Sixty-four creamy, delicious, luxurious, decadent, fat-laden ounces. At about $4.50 per half-gallon, it’s less expensive than the anorexic-looking downsized containers of name-brand ice cream at the supermarket, which contain 25% less product. And Costco’s house brand of ice cream is available in any flavor you like, as long as it’s vanilla. That reminds us of what Henry Ford said about his Model T back in 1909. Poor Henry. He never knew the joy of shopping at Costco.

Henry Ford with his Model T Ford

Henry Ford with his Model T Ford

One of the tenents of shopping at Costco is that you sacrifice variety for value. You also have to buy a carton of two half-gallons at a time, but how many people are going to complain that they are forced to fill up their freezer with ice cream ?

One thing you won’t have to sacrifice is quality. Costco branded products have never disappointed us. We have found them to always be superior to the national brands in quality and/or value. Here’s a particularly stark example. Gallon containers of milk are $2.25 at Costco. Many local stores charge more for a half-gallon of milk than Costco charges for a gallon ! There are many items at Costco that are priced at less than half of what you’d pay at your local supermarket.

Lest you think that we are little more than shills for Costco, you’ll want to know that we aren’t crazy about everything at Costco. While many items at Costco might be slightly less expensive than your supermarket’s everyday prices, you’ll pay less, sometimes a lot less, at your local supermarket when it’s on sale. Meat and poultry are perfect examples of this. And when you consider that many items at Costco are sold in huge packages, it won’t be a bargain if you have to throw away half of it because you couldn’t finish it before it went bad. For instance, a 25 pound sack of flour, a gallon of mayonnaise, or a five gallon jug of vegetable oil are just a bit more than we need. An interesting thing about these institutional-sized packages is that in many cases, the price per pound/quart or whatever unit of measure is used, is not significantly different from your normal supermarket-sized packages. With some items, such as Del Monte or Libby ‘s canned vegetables, you sometimes end up paying more per can at Costco, despite having to buy a case of a dozen or so cans of peas or string beans, than you would if buying a single can at the supermarket. Same thing goes for cans of soda (“pop”, for our Southern readers). We think that in some cases (pun intended), Costco hopes you think you’re getting a bargain simply because you’re forced to buy such large quantities at a single time. Call it “warehouse club buying momentum”, if you will. When you get home and start calculating whether that two-gallon jug of mustard that will last you for the next twelve years was really a good buy, you start to have some regrets, even though it was only nine cents an ounce. The bottom line is that you have to keep your guard up at all times when shopping at a warehouse club. For us, we’re better off purchasing many items at a local supermarket.

When you factor in the obligatory ID check at the entrance to Costco, which is guarded by Cerberus himself (good doggie !), and the veritable strip search before they’ll let you leave, a trip to Costco isn’t a bowl of cherries (but it is arguably a bowl of vanilla ice cream). At least Costco doesn’t conduct a cavity search. We get enough of those when we visit our dentist.

Even if you don’t have a Costco membership, you can still do better when you shop at your local supermarket. While most supermarket half-gallon house brands of ice cream have shrunk to 56 ounces, they are still a better value than the 48 ounce containers that have become the new standard among the name brands, and the house brands are usually very good quality.

Now, if Costco can manage to keep their half-gallon containers of Kirkland ice cream a full half-gallon, why can’t all the the other brands manage to do the same ? That has to qualify as one of the great mysteries of the Universe.

1 Comment

Filed under Automobile Manufacturers, Business, Cars, Consumerism, Deception Engineering, Food, Home, Money, Retail, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Scams, Shopping, Shrinking Products, Your Money

Companies In Mirror Are Closer To Bankruptcy Than They Appear !

Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

This article will be of interest to anyone replacing the rear view mirror in their General Motors (GM) or other vehicle, whether you are purchasing a replacement mirror from GM SPO, Gentex, Donnelly, or another manufacturer.

Installation information is included for Do-It-Yourselfers (DIY), including wiring harness connector pinout data.

Perhaps the most valuable tip we can give to a vehicle owner planning to purchase a replacement mirror is COMPARE PRICES !

The U.S. government can throw as many billions of dollars at General Motors as they wish, but they’re unlikely to change the fundamental problems at the automaker. Problems that have brought what was once a cornerstone of the American economy to the brink of extinction, dependent on a government bailout for it’s survival.

GM is not competitive for many reasons. They are hobbled by high labor costs. They lag in innovation, particularly in the area of electric and hybrid vehicles. In our opinion, they can’t compete with Japanese auto manufacturers on quality (or perceived quality) or customer loyalty. They’re certainly not competitive on pricing when compared to aftermarket parts suppliers. For most vehicle repairs, we think you’ll spend a lot less, and get a better job done at a private garage, then you would at a GM dealership. This might come as a shock, but in our opinion, Mr. Goodwrench isn’t.

As we’ve stated previously, we believe that their new vehicle warranty isn’t worth the paper its printed on. And GM seems to follow pricing policies usually associated with companies that sell hammers and toilet seats to the Pentagon.

Case in point…

Our GM vehicle was built with an auto-dimming electrochromic rear view mirror. Some rear view mirrors in late-model vehicles are marvels of modern technology, containing On-Star controls, handsfree cellphones, compasses, thermometers, back-up camera displays, garage door openers and other gadgets. But our mirror is just an auto-dimming mirror, with none of these other bells and whistles (see this NY Times article on these “bells & whistles”). On most of the auto dimming mirrors that we’ve seen in GM vehicles, after a few years of service, the magic liquid inside tends to leak out of the mirror. This either renders the dimming feature inoperative, fogs the mirror, or leaves it with an uneven or blotchy reflective surface.

For the past few years, the liquid crystal stuff (or whatever the chemical is) in our mirror has been leaking out, increasingly producing areas on the mirror’s surface that are either always clear or always dark. We finally decided to replace the mirror.

We checked with our friendly GM dealership’s parts department. They quoted us a price of $284.00 for a replacement rear view mirror, excluding the cost of installation.

Almost $300.00 for a rear view mirror ? Sounded awfully expensive to us, so we started to look at aftermarket mirrors. Virtually all American cars use a standard “wedge” type glass mount. The mirror attaches to a glass-mounted “button”, which hopefully stays attached to the windshield when you remove your old mirror from the vehicle.

Our search for a replacement mirror lead us to products manufactured by two predominant manufacturers of automotive mirrors, Donnelly (now called Magna Donnelly?) and Gentex (see company info). It seems that Donnelly sells exclusively to automotive manufacturers (OEMs), and not to the automotive aftermarket. Gentex sells to OEMs (probably the vast majority of their business), but they also sell their products to aftermarket suppliers (in our case, through a distributor named Mito Corporation).

We ended up purchasing a brand new, in the box, Gentex electrochromic rear view mirror that is virtually identical to our vehicle’s original mirror, for under $70.00, including shipping ! That’s less than a quarter of what General Motors wanted for a replacement mirror.

When you consider the fact that GM certainly pays much less for mirrors than the RoutingByRumor Corporation does, that probably equates to a markup of 400%, 500% or more.   What word best describes that sort of profit margin ?  “Criminal”  might be a bit too strong.  How about egregious.  How about unconscionable.  How about stupid ?  How many businesses that try to fleece their customers are able to stay in business ?  It certainly seems to indicate that GM doesn’t make their money selling cars.  They make their money (or at least they did) by selling parts and service;  Service that we’ve never been very impressed with in the first place.

The only caveat is that we had to replace the wiring harness connector that powers the mirror, because the Gentex mirror uses a 7-pin connector, while our original equipment Donnelly mirror used a 3-pin connector (our vehicle does not have auto-dimming external mirrors, and the Gentex mirror we installed does not have a temperature or compass display). But replacing the connector was a quick and easy procedure. The hardest part was getting the old mirror off of the windshield. Maybe it helped that we popped our Stevie Nicks album “The Other Side Of The Mirror” into the CD player while we installed our new mirror. To quote Stevie, “This is me talking to you. This is me talking to ya”.

The Gentex mirror we purchased came with very limited hookup information. We found the following pinout data on the Web, and we’re guessing that this information will apply to all Gentex mirrors that use a 7-pin connector.

JST "VH" Series Housing (8-pin version shown)

JST "VH" Series Connector Housing (8-pin version shown)

If you’re trying to figure out what type of connector Gentex (and Donnelly) use on their mirrors, our research indicates that the 7-pin Gentex harness connector (as well as the 3-pin harness connector on our original Donnelly mirror) are “VH” series connectors, from JST Manufacturing. Their U.S. website is at www.jst.com. View JST’s data sheet for the VH series connectors here. These connectors (and the necessary crimp terminals) are available from Digi-Key.

We’re not sure if the wiring color coding is standard on all vehicles, so we would be more concerned with the function associated with each pin on the connector (pin numbers are molded into the connector housing on the wire-side of the connector, but you might need a magnifying glass to read them).

WARNING: Before you begin working on your mirror’s wiring harness, we strongly suggest that you either pull the fuse(s) that protect your accessories (ACC, RAP, ACC1, ACC2, etc., depending on your vehicle), as well as the fuse that protects your backup lamps. In lieu of pulling the accessory fuse(s), remove your key from the ignition and open a door to deactivate the Retained Accessory Power (RAP) circuit, if present and utilized by the mirror. If you really want to play it safe, disconnect your vehicle’s battery, following your vehicle manufacturer’s recommended procedure (for your safety). This will prevent you from blowing a fuse, should you inadvertently short or ground a lead while working on your mirror’s wiring harness.


PIN # …. HARNESS WIRE COLOR …………. FUNCTION

. 1 …………….. WHITE …………………………. +12v (SWITCHED B+)

. 2 ……………. BLACK …………………………. CHASSIS GROUND

. 3 ……………. LIGHT GREEN ………………… FROM BACKUP LIGHT CIRCUIT

. 4 …………….. GRAY …………………………… TO AUTO DIM OUTSIDE MIRROR

. 5 …………….. PINK …………………………….. TO AUTO DIM OUTSIDE MIRROR

. 6 …………….. DARK GREEN/WHITE ……… TEMPERATURE PROBE

. 7 …………….. BLACK/WHITE ……………….. TEMPERATURE PROBE

Notes:

At a minimum, you must connect pins 1 & 2 (+12V & ground) for your auto dimming Gentex mirror to operate.

Not all Gentex mirrors or all vehicles will utilize all pins, but we believe pins 1 – 5 should be functional on all Gentex mirrors. If your experience differs, please let us know by posting a comment to this article.

Pin 3 is used to clear the mirror when the vehicle is placed in reverse. (DO NOT connect pin 3 to ground, since this will blow a fuse (or possibly damage your mirror) when you put the vehicle into reverse gear.)

Pins 4 & 5 are used to control outside mirrors on vehicles equipped with auto-dimming outside mirrors.

Pins 6 & 7 are used on mirrors that incorporate a temperature display. If a temperature probe is connected, either lead from the temperature probe can be connected to either pin.

Of course, your best source of information is your vehicle manufacturer, or the manufacturer of your new mirror. The above information is believed to be correct, but we take no responsibility for its accuracy.

A Volt-Ohm meter is an indispensable tool for any installer, and we recommend that you use one whenever working on your vehicle’s electrical system.


In our opinion, the auto-dimming feature of the Gentex mirror performs as well as, or better than, our original equipment Donnelly rear view mirror, even taking into account how it operated when our vehicle was brand new. We saved more than $200.00 by not buying the mirror from GM, and probably much more than that, if the dealership would have installed the new mirror for us. The Gentex mirror we purchased appears to be manufactured in the U.S.A. (see this article about their Zeeland, Michigan plant & headquarters buildings), and came with a three-year warranty. We said the Gentex mirror “appears” to be made in the USA, because the only indication we were able to find was the letters “U.S.A.” on the carton label in 2-point type. Not “Made In U.S.A.” or “Assembled In U.S.A.”. Just “U.S.A.”. We’re left to guess that Gentex may be embarrased to admit where the mirror is manufactured. If their products are indeed made in the USA, why don’t they state that fact prominently on the carton, with “MADE IN U.S.A.” clearly visible, like they are proud of it !

We always welcome the opportunity to buy products made in America. We think that buying American made goods, and supporting American workers, is the best way to repair the failing U.S. economy. The U.S. Government’s economic stimulus plans certainly won’t do that.

Let’s hope that if we should ever have to file a warranty claim with Gentex or Mito (their aftermarket distributor), that they honor their warranty better than General Motors has, on the numerous occasions that we’ve had problems with GM products.

As an aside, here’s an article we stumbled upon about another Gentex product, designed to solve one of nighttime driving’s most annoying and dangerous problems.

So the question we are left to ponder is this… Why does General Motors think it can gouge consumers for replacement parts ? If you said “because they’re General Motors”, think again. In our case, they couldn’t. And when you consider the fact that they are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, begging for federal bailout money, it’s clear to us that their policies, including their pricing policies, are a failure. All of the GM dealerships that have gone belly-up, and those who continue to struggle to survive, in an American new car market that has all but evaporated, are testament to their failed business model. And of course, the decrepit U.S. economy doesn’t help either.

Ya know, our mention of Stevie Nicks’ album “The Other Side Of The Mirror” is quite appropos, because when our GM dealer gave us their price for a new mirror, we suddenly recalled the advice that Alice received from the Mad Hatter… “Better run for your life”.

– Routing By Rumor Continue reading

1 Comment

Filed under Automobile Manufacturers, Business, Cars, Cellphones, Consumerism, Energy Conservation, Environment, Jobs, Labor, Money, Personal, Retail, Shopping, Technology, Telephony, The Economy, Your Money

Have You Driven A Ford… Lately ?

Well, if you have, better check your tires.

Or your tires’ valve stems, to be more specific. Those are the rubber and brass stalks that you connect an air hose to, when inflating your tires. See this article about the problem (Detroit News, 10/22/08). Here’s an investigation by WCVB-TV in Boston, which claims there may be up to 30 million potentially defective valve stems in use. Who is responsible for all this ? Blame August Schrader, at least indirectly.

WCVB-TV)

A valve stem exhibiting cracking (photo: WCVB-TV)

FoMoCo, or The Ford Motor Company, the automobile manufacturer that gave America what this Wikipedia article calls “the barbecue that seats four”, the exploding Ford Pinto of the 1970’s, is back in the news because of another possible safety problem.

It seems that at least 1.05 million 2007 model year Ford vehicles, including a dozen different Ford models, may have been assembled with Chinese-made rubber valve stems that are falling apart after about a year of use. Apparently, Shanghai Baolong Automotive Corp. (a subsidiary of Topseal Auto Parts), the Chinese company that made them for Ford, might have had a quality problem which allows the rubber to dry out and crack after being exposed to the atmosphere for a few months. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been investigating the problem since at least early September, meeting with Ford officials on Sept. 10. The NHTSA has asked Ford for information about the valve stems, but is not requiring a response from Ford until early next year.

Ford has acknowledged complaints from vehicle owners, but would not say how many reports they have received involving possibly defective valve stems. They have also said that they don’t think it is a safety issue. Well, if you’re not a driver of, or a passenger in a Ford vehicle, we would probably agree with them.

Here’s a report sent to the NHTSA by a Massachusetts company that looked into the valve stem problem. From reading their report, which contains comments from affected vehicle owners, it would appear that the company, Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, was retained by the NHTSA to look into the problem, but we are not certain that this is the case.

It’s never a good thing when your valve stems decide to let loose while you’re traveling down the highway at 65 MPH. Come to think of it, there’s probably never a good time for your tires to suddenly go flat. For the sake of anyone traveling in a Ford vehicle, hopefully any leaks will be minor, and will be noticed before causing a catastrophe.

The bean counters at Ford that decided they could save 2 cents (or whatever) on each valve stem if they bought them from China, must be mighty proud of themselves. Now, at a time when the American automobile industry is already hurting big time, Ford may end up having to spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to recall more than a million vehicles, to replace parts that cost a few pennies each. Then there’s the public’s loss of trust, which will probably cost them much more than that. Smart. Real Smart.

We don’t mean to single out Ford for what may be foolish cost cutting. We’re sure the entire American auto industry is guilty of similar bad decisions.

Despite the fact that you can see and touch the valve stems to inspect them, if large numbers of vehicles require valve stem replacement, it will be a logistical and financial nightmare for the companies involved. It will require removing all of the tires from the vehicle, including the spare, dismounting the tires from the wheels, removing and replacing the valve stems, remounting the tires on the wheels, balancing all of the wheels, and then reinstalling them on the vehicle. There’s no shortcuts to the process. And where do you get five million high quality valve stems in a hurry ? Tire shortages are another possibility, if valve failures or recall campaigns result in large numbers of tires being replaced as a result of the problem.

In addition, if defective, damaged or worn tires are present, we would think that remounting them on a vehicle could pose a liability issue for Ford or any other company doing the recall(s). Telling an owner that brings in their vehicle for a set of no-charge replacement valve stems that they will have to spend six, seven or eight hundred dollars for new tires is sure to create big problems, even if it’s absolutely true and necessary. And with the economy the way it is, you can bet there are plenty of Americans riding around on tires that have seen better days.

If Ford ends up recalling more than a million vehicles to replace the valve stems, it will be interesting to see where the replacement parts come from. Will Ford have learned a lesson, and use American made valve stems, or will they just buy a couple of million more Chinese valve stems? Nothing would surprise us.

It also wouldn’t surprise us if this potential problem is not limited to 2007 model year vehicles, or to vehicles manufactured only by Ford. It might even involve any vehicles that have had new tires installed in the last few years, since tire dealers will normally replace the valve stems when installing new tires.

That hissing sound you hear coming from your garage just might not be a snake, after all.

– Routing By Rumor

Leave a comment

Filed under Automobile Manufacturers, Business, Cars, China, Money, News, Routing by Rumor, The Economy, Your Health

Hanesbrands Ships Even More American Jobs To China !

..And some people wonder why the American economy is on life support.

Hanesbrands, Inc., the North Carolina based clothing manufacturer best known for their Hanes, Champion and Playtex brands, has given up on more American workers. Two weeks ago, they announced the elimination of more than 8,000 jobs, or 12% of their payroll, and the closing of nine plants in five countries. The job cuts will include 1,300 workers in North Carolina alone. If you’re looking for work in China, you’re in luck. But if you’re looking for work in North Carolina, tough luck. Hanesbrands expects to hire 2,000 employees in China by the end of the year. They’re also building a new textile fabric plant in Nanjing, China.

What wonderful news for the American economy !

Hanesbrands is giving up on workers in Central America as well, including Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras. Apparently, not even low paid workers in these countries can compete against China. While it looks like most of these jobs are going to China, the company also said they will be moving production to plants in Vietnam and Thailand. It’s probably just a coincidence that these may be some of the worst countries on earth, in terms of worker exploitation (see “Secrets, Lies and Sweatshops“, Businessweek, 11/27/2006).

Al Norman over at The Huffington Post has written an excellent piece about Hanesbrands’ abandonment of American workers. He puts the blame squarely on retailers like Walmart, and the consumers that flock there looking for cheap goods. In fact, he calls Walmart “the travel agent for Hanesbrands”.  Also check out our article from last December, “The Walmartization Of America“.

Take a look at Hanesbrands’ CEO Richard A. Noll’s total annual compensation at Forbes.com. We would have less of a problem with the top management at a company receiving obscene levels of compensation if they were able to provide employees with secure jobs, and pay them decent wages. We’ve read opinions that most all CEOs at U.S. corporations are good, decent, intelligent people, and we trust that Mr. Noll fits that profile. But when large numbers of your employees are getting pink slips, and you are closing many of your factories, it seems to us that the pain should be shared by the most highly compensated employees at the company. If top management doesn’t see fit to spread around the pain, then the company’s directors should address the issue. Come to think of it, if Hanesbrands’ manufacturing is moving to low-cost places like China and Vietnam, perhaps their CEO position should move there also, to be closer to their workers. You could probably find a very capable CEO in Ho Chi Minh City, who would take the job for about 50 cents a day.

Do you think it’s possible for someone like Mr. Noll to comprehend the impact of the plant closings on an employee who has spent their entire career in a North Carolina textile factory, and is now told that their job is being sent to China? If you do the math, it would seem that if Mr. Noll and other executives at Hanesbrands took a modest cut in their annual compensation, Hanesbrands could afford to keep at least one of their North Carolina plants open, and many of their loyal employees on the payroll. It would sure be interesting to hear some of their soon-to-be-jobless employees’ opinions on the subject. Obviously, making tons of money is nice, but at some point, doesn’t the voice of reason (or perhaps conscience) tell you what the morally right thing to do might be ? Dining on Prime Rib is nice, but we would have trouble swallowing if we were surrounded by people who were starving to death. It’s also all about loyalty, which seems to be in terribly short supply in the American workplace, in the executive suite, as well as on the factory floor.

We believe, and we’ve written previously, that the loss of jobs and manufacturing capacity in the United States is at the root of our current economic woes. The withering stock market, the banking and real estate crisis, the credit crunch, the decrepit state of the U.S. auto industry and the weak U.S. dollar are all symptoms of an economy decimated by companies who have abandoned the American worker, in search of profits in places like China.

You know, those cheap Hanes socks, underwear or other garments at your local department store may not be the bargains they appear to be. Actually, you might not be able to afford the type of bargain that Hanes is offering !

Let’s say that you’ve had it with companies that have moved their manufacturing to China. This mom did, and she decided to boycott all Chinese-made goods for one year. She is a reporter, and wrote about her quest, in “A Year Without China: One Mom’s Fruitless Quest To Boycott China”. Her experience is quite interesting, and includes a futile attempt to avoid Hanes products made in China.

Last week, we were reading the New York Times, when an ad practically jumped off the page at us. With the title “Even The Rope We’re Hanging Ourselves With Is Made In China”, it echoes our feelings about what is wrong with the U.S. economy. A play on Lenin’s quote “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them”, to be sure, but also very true with regard to the state of the U.S. economy.

The “rope” ad is from an organization we had never heard of, called The Institute For America’s Future. We urge you to visit their website at www.ourfuture.org. They are warning America about exactly the same things we’ve been writing about; the trade deficit, the exporting of American jobs, the loss of manufacturing capacity, and the dependence on foreign oil.

Doctor Bush and his band of merry economists can throw 700 billion band-aids at the problem, but that will have little effect. The patient is hemmorhaging, and unless the source of the bleeding is addressed, all the band-aids in China (or all the tea in China) won’t save the patient. President Bush has recently resorted to his emergency “fireside chats” with the American public, making his morning televised appearances to try and reassure the nation in the face of the economic meltdown. We think we can safely say these little pep talks have done nothing to calm Wall Street, or reassure the man on the street. They are too little, too late, from an American President who really doesn’t seem to get it.

And look at the $85 billion bailout of AIG, a company in such bad financial shape that they could afford to squander close to a half-million bucks on an “executive retreat” at a California resort, just days after lawmakers signed off on their bailout. But then, when your rich uncle is writing you a check for $85 billion, that hotel tab probably looks like pocket change. Talk about laughing all the way to the bank. It’s like giving a few bucks to a homeless person begging on the street, who then uses your money to hire a limo to take them to the welfare office. If AIG’s behavior isn’t criminal, it certainly should be.

And of course, when Robert Willumstad, the Chief Executive at AIG (he lost his job a day after the federal bailout was announced) is hauled before lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and asked to justify the squandering of money on a “retreat” at a California resort, which included $23,000 spent on spa treatments for AIG employees, he understandably pleads ignorance, telling the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he was “not familiar with the conference”.

In the last week or so, we’ve witnessed what historians will refer to as “The Stock Market Crash Of 2008”. The crash, proceeded by the economic epidemics of layoffs, home foreclosures and bank failures would seem to indicate to reasonable people that the U.S. economy, at the very least, is in a recession. In response to the crumbling economy, the U.S. government has taken unprecedented action to shore up banks, insurance companies and investments such as money market mutual funds. Yet, the Bush administration cannot bring themselves to using the “R” word. The Bush administration is in denial.

Good luck to the presidential candidate who will inherit this mess 100 days from now. Whichever candidate that happens to be, we think their first order of business, their top priority, must be to bring American jobs back to America, and to address the trade deficit and our dependence on foreign energy.

– Routing By Rumor

2 Comments

Filed under Automobile Manufacturers, Business, Cars, China, Consumerism, Employment, Energy, Jobs, Labor, Life, Money, News, Politics, Routing by Rumor, Stock Markets, The Economy, Your Money

Hey Buddy, Can You Spare $85 Billion ?

1975 NY Daily News Headline

1975 NY Daily News Headline

Headlines, then and now…

1975: Gerald Ford To New York City: Drop Dead.

2008: George Bush To AIG: Are You Sure $85 Billion Is Enough?

Of course, headlines rarely tell the whole story. But my, my, how times have changed. As the above Daily News front page shows, a drop of 12 points in the Dow was big news in 1975. This past Monday, it took a one-day drop in the Dow of 500 points to make Wall Street nervous (which was followed by another drop today, only two days later, of another 450 points). Another day or two of this, and we should be South of 10,000 on the Dow. Throw in a couple more banks or financial giants going belly-up, and you’ll see them skydiving without parachutes on Wall Street.

Oh, and Washington didn’t let New York City drop dead back in 1975, after all. The Federal government agreed to a bailout in the form of $2.3 billion in short-term loans, thereby allowing the City to avoid bankruptcy (read about it at americanheritage.com). These days, $2.3 billion is chump change.

Just how much is $85 billion ? Well, if you were given that much money, in say, ten dollar bills, and were told to count it, how long might that take ? Let’s assume you spent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, with no breaks. Even if you could count 200 ten-dollar bills ($2,000) every minute, and started counting as soon as you were born, you’d probably never finish before you died. It would take more than 80 years. If it was in one-dollar bills, then it would take you more than 10 lifetimes, and your pile of cash would probably weigh in the neighborhood of 200 million pounds or 91 million kilograms (a rough estimate, since we’ve never actually weighed a stack of money).

$10 x 200 per minute x 60 minutes x 24 hours x 365 days x 80 years = $84 billion ! (You’d still have a billion dollars left to count, and since you’re now 80 years old, there’s a good chance you’d forget how much money you counted, and you’d have to start all over again.) Sort of reminds us of Sisyphus.

We know what you’re probably thinking. You’re probably thinking that we have way too much time on our hands, if we’re calculating how much $85 billion would weigh. Well, it’s a good bet that you haven’t met this fellow yet. Not only did he do the math, he manufactured the bills, took pictures of everything, and created a website about it. Is there anything you CAN’T find on the Internet ? Probably not.

Put another way, $85 billion would easily pay for another fun-filled year of war in Iraq, with billions and billions of dollars left over to spend in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and anywhere else we wish to venture.

The $85 billion federal bailout announced yesterday of American International Group (AIG), the 18th largest company in the world, gives a whole new meaning to the term “economic stimulus“. Propping up AIG seems like a good idea. But then, so would distributing buckets to the passengers on the Titanic, and telling them to start bailing. Unfortunately, neither plan addresses the root of the problem.

Who insures the insurers? You do. The recent bail-outs of Fannie and Freddie, and now AIG, indicates that many people are getting very nervous about the economy. How nervous? Economic collapse nervous. Black Monday, 1929 nervous. Losing your home nervous. Civil unrest nervous.

Better start polishing those apples.

We love some of the nautical references you often see in annual reports and prospectuses, used as euphemisms for real bad financial news . Phrases like “staying the course”, “rough sailing”, “turbulent waters”, “sailing into a headwind”, etc. In our mind, the U.S. economy resembles a ship that is being tossed about by increasingly turbulent seas. As the waves get higher and higher, our ship runs the risk of encountering one that will push it past the tipping point. We think an $85 billion Federal bailout of AIG says that we’re not the only ones worried about the ship going down.

Hey, General Motors… Are you paying attention?

GM has gotten a lot more press than AIG, regarding their hemorrhaging of red ink. In our opinion, all they need to do is a bit more hand wringing, and then show up on Uncle Sam’s doorstep, hat in hand, and ask for a few bucks (see “Detroit wants its bailout too” on cnn.com). How much do you need, Rick ? $100 billion ? $200 billion ? more ? As we’ve written, the death of GM might not be a bad thing, but GM’s demise might scare too many people, so OK, Mr. Wagoner, here’s your money. Next in line ?

And it appears that in the past few days, that line has gotten a lot longer. Another down-on-their-luck financial giant, Lehman Brothers, apparently didn’t get that whole hat-in-hand routine right. Merrill Lynch has sold it’s soul to Bank of America. Do you see a trend developing here ?

It’s a good thing Uncle Sam owns those Intaglio presses, over at The Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Who says the Treasury Department doesn’t have a sense of humor ? The BEP website is at “moneyfactory.gov”. But the people at AIG probably think they should call it rescueme.gov. To paraphrase Popeye’s J. Wellington Wimpy, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday, for a bailout Today”.

With Walmart’s interest in expanding into banking and financial services, and given Walmart’s runaway profits, we’re kind of surprised there wasn’t a Walmart-AIG merger. It makes a lot of sense to us. They could sell AIG insurance policies at an AIG kiosk in every Walmart store, right next to the toilet paper and Pampers.

The AIG bailout sort of makes the economic stimulus checks the rest of us got from our rich Uncle seem stingy by comparison. It also begs the question… Who’s next ?

All this economic turmoil does have one benefit. Nobody even mentions Iraq anymore !

– Routing By Rumor

P.S. – We found this blogger, who is just as scared about all this as we are. She even chose almost the same title for her post.

Leave a comment

Filed under Automobile Manufacturers, Business, Cars, Iraq, Jobs, Military, Money, News, Politics, Retailers, Stock Markets, The Economy, Walmart, War, Your Money

Our Adventures In DTV Land (or, how to join the digital TV revolution without spending a small fortune)

But that’s a pretty long title,

So also file this article under…

  • “How To Choose The Best Set-Top Converter Box”
  • “Digital To Analog DTV Converter Box Comparisons”
  • “Comparing DTV Converter Box Features”
  • “Which Is The Best Digital TV Tuner ?”
  • “HDTV Set-Top Converter Box Buyer’s Guide”
  • “Using Your $40 NTIA Set-Top Converter Box Coupons”

To borrow (and mangle) a catchy slogan from one of the cable TV networks…

I WANT MY DTV !

(as does the FCC, and this person, and this person, among others)

Routing By Rumor has recruited some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry to help us launch our “I Want My DTV” campaign…

Promo # 1

Promo # 2

Promo # 3

Promo # 4

But unfortunately, none of them followed the script, so we’re going to have to do the promos all over again. It’s impossible to get good help these days.

As we reported recently in There Is Nothing Wrong With Your Television Set, the cut-over to all-digital television broadcasting in the United States is quickly approaching. On February 17th, 2009, exactly six months from tomorrow, broadcasters will be turning off their analog television transmitters forever. If you wish to continue receiving over-the-air television programs, you will have to either add a digital tuner to your older television sets (in the form of a digital-to-analog set-top converter box), or replace your current sets with digital receivers.

Armed with the two $40.00 NTIA converter box coupons which the U.S. government graciously provided (using our tax money), we set out on a mission to find the best converter box available. By the way, we checked out some of the statistics published at www.ntiadtv.gov (the NTIA website for retailers participating in the coupon program), and we were surprised to learn that less than half of the converter box coupons they have issued under the program have actually been redeemed prior to their expiration date.

Based on extensive research we’ve done on the Web, it seems that all of the early versions of the available converter boxes suffer from problems of one kind or another. Some are hard of hearing, so to speak, and not able to receive signals on some of the more distant or weaker stations. Some models have problems with the audio they pass to your television, such as insufficient volume, even at maximum output. Since they are all basically just computers with an RF interface, the embedded software seems to be a big issue also. Some models reportedly crash, reboot spontaneously, or suffer from a variety of bugs. Apparently, none of the available models of converter boxes have any provision for firmware upgrades. If it’s broke, it’s broke forever. Can’t they at least provide a USB port, so people can download firmware updates from the Web onto their computers, and flash the converter box with updated software ? They say you should never buy Version 1.0 of anything. Apparently, this applies to DTV converter boxes also. Some sneaky software companies actually skip the v1.0 label when releasing new software packages, calling it v1.5, v2.0, etc., instead. Sort of like buildings that don’t have 13th floors… but then isn’t the 14th floor really the 13th floor? As a child, we thought that if an elevator in a high rise building or a skyscraper didn’t have a button for the 13th floor, the elevator just couldn’t stop on that floor, even though the 13th floor was actually there, just boarded up or otherwise inaccessible (maybe inhabited by monsters or something). There’s actually a very interesting Wikipedia article about this. Reading it left us, as they say, ROTFLMAO.

Where was I ? ….Oh yes, DTV converter boxes.

And then there is the issue of ease-of-use, the quality of the UI (that’s User Interface, for all you non-geeks), and the features that the converter boxes provide. The features vary considerably from brand to brand.

Our first stop was at Best Buy, a nationwide chain of consumer electronics and entertainment stores. Like many retailers, they advertise heavily and have large stores, but they seem to fall flat on their face when it comes to execution on the sales floor. Chalk this up to poor management, low paid employees, and probably just not having enough staff. While other people have said that they purchased either the Zenith DTT900 or DTT901 at Best Buy, they do not seem to sell it anymore. They do sell the same product under their “Insignia” label, but there were none on the sales floor. We spotted a stack of them way up, about 10 feet above our head, but had no way to reach them, and we couldn’t find anyone to help us. Here’s a guy on youtube doing an unboxing of the Insignia converter box. He’s behaving like such a jerk that we wanted to take away his new toy and send him to bed without supper.

Best Buy was also selling a converter box from Apex Digital, and had them where we could reach them, but we hadn’t heard of Apex or read any reviews, so we left Best Buy empty handed. Best Buy was selling both their Insignia/LG and the Apex converters for $60. Later research on the Web indicates that Apex and “Tivax” branded converter boxes might be the same unit or at least very similar. Some people are calling the Apex a Tivax clone. To us, Apex Digital sounds like a company with a troubled past, and at least one infamous product. We don’t know how their DTV converter box stacks up against the competition, but it seems to us like they might not be around too much longer.

Next, we stopped at a Radio Shack store, our electronics supplier of last resort. They didn’t have a single converter box on display. Rumors have circulated that Radio Shack is selling a converter box by “Digital Stream” (???), but we haven’t read any reviews on it. Then again, we’ve read reports that RS was selling Zenith/LG boxes also, but that was not the case in the store we visited. We didn’t waste any more time with Radio Shack.

There is a Circuit City store in our area, but as we’ve written previously, we feel that the best thing that Circuit City can do is bite the dust. We wouldn’t buy a converter box (or anything else) there, if they were giving them away for free. Well, maybe if they were free, but not otherwise. Reports from other consumers posted on the Web say that Circuit City is selling the Zenith DTT901 (to the less discriminating consumers who still shop there) for $60, or about 20% more than some retailers (see below). And what if you want to return or exchange it, and Circuit City goes belly up tomorrow ? (a definite possibility, considering their financial position) Didn’t think of that, did you ? (Benigan’s today, Circuit City tomorrow.)

Walmart’s website lists them as selling the Magnavox TB100MW9 and the RCA DTA800 converter boxes in-store only, each selling for around $50. The last time we visited a Wal-Mart store, they only had the Magnavox in stock.

We tried a few other local electronics stores, but they either did not sell converter boxes, had none on display, or their prices were not competitive. It’s amazing how many places don’t have stuff on the selling floor, but they’ll tell you that they might have one “in the back”. What is that, some new merchandising technique ? Morons. How hard would it be to have some underpaid employee move some stock to the empty shelf space on the selling floor, where it might have half a chance of being seen and purchased. We’ve never run a retail store, but we’re pretty sure we could do a better job than the management at most of these retail chains.

Quickly running out of local retailers where we thought we might find the Zenith DTT901, we decided to try the local retail disaster scene, K-Mart. How they have managed to (barely) stay in business is a complete mystery to us. Now, this is just our opinion, but we think they sell a lot of low quality stuff, and their prices are usually not competitive. We can’t think of a single compelling reason to shop at K-Mart (well, perhaps if you are desperately searching for a Zenith DTT901). On the other hand, if you enjoy long checkout lines, clueless (and very, very scarce) totally disinterested employees, drab, unappealing stores and lots of lower end products, you’re gonna love K-Mart. Do they even do their “blue light specials” anymore? We’ve never seen a K-Mart store that didn’t have long lines at the checkouts, where you’d find, at most, two or three cashiers, amid a sea of unmanned/closed registers. Fortunately, the laws of natural selection usually see to it that these types of animals become extinct. What’s taking K-Mart so long to achieve their rightful place in the graveyard of American retailers ? Even Wal-Mart and Target have more appealing stores, and know how to attract customers. This is getting way off-topic for this article, but just look at the television and print ads from Target. They’re so creative and interesting, compared to the boring circulars you might occasionally see from K-Mart. Maybe that’s why you will always find twenty times as many cars parked outside a Target store, as you would outside a K-Mart.

To our astonishment, this retailing giant from hell actually had three, count ’em three, brands of DTV converter boxes for sale. They had a Magnavox unit for $50, they had the Zenith DTT901 we were looking for, priced at $50 (Circuit City reportedly prices it 20% higher), and they had Dish Network’s DTVpal for $60, but we had never heard of the DTVpal. This blogger says that the DTVpal is really a renamed Echostar TR-40 (read more about Echostar / Dish Network. For youtube addicts, here’s uber geek MegaZone’s blog, where he has posted a great series of detailed videos showing a Dish Network DTVpal being hooked up, and in operation (or click here to go directly to them). Here’s another contributor’s DTVpal video review on youtube. In any case, with three brands in stock and on display at K-Mart, we figured that we had hit the DTV converter box jackpot. And who would have thought… in K-Mart no less. It’s almost enough to make us change our opinion of K-Mart. On second thought, naah, they still suck (see below about K-Mart’s usual long lines at the checkout).

While standing there in the aisle at K-Mart, we opened one of the DTVpal boxes and took a closer look. As we perused the owner’s manual, we were surprised to find some features that we hadn’t seen in other converter boxes. Chief among it’s impressive features is a much better Electronic Program Guide (EPG) than other converter boxes offer. Other DTV converter boxes we’ve looked at only show programming info for the current and the next programs on each channel, or in some cases, the current program on each channel only. By contrast, the DTVpal lets you scroll through program listings for the next week or more, depending on how much PSIP data each station broadcasts. We’ve learned that when you turn the DTVpal off, it only LOOKS like it’s off. The sneaky DTVpal is actually as busy as a bee, scanning all available channels for the PSIP programming data they transmit at regular intervals. Therefore, it’s a good idea to turn it off (it’s inactivity timer will eventually do this automatically) when you’re not watching TV, so it can update it’s EPG. It’s sort of like REM sleep for your DTVpal. We even liked the “TiVoish” DTVpal mascot/logo on the carton… sort of a cross between a TV and a doggie (we’re partial to doggies). Maybe the implication is that the DTVpal can fetch your favorite program listings for you.

The DTVpal is a very small, kind of ugly and cheap looking all plastic unit with a “wall wart” type power supply connected to a very cheesy looking power cord which could probably double as dental floss in an emergency (please remember to unplug the unit before flossing). The connector at the end of the power cord isn’t military grade stuff, either. It’s a fragile looking, uniquely shaped molded plug that doesn’t resemble any power connector we’ve ever seen before. The power supply’s rated output is 5 Volts DC @ 2 Amps.

We didn’t initially realize that the DTVpal was from Dish Network. That’s because, quite curiously, their name is nowhere to be found on the outside of the box. It’s only after opening the box and looking at the instruction manual inside, that you see the name “Dish Network”. Another curious thing we noticed is that while the phrase “by Dish Network” is printed onto the plastic case of the DTVpal, the “by Dish Network” wording is missing in the photo of the unit on the carton, as if they doctored the photo of the DTVpal. This tells us one of two things… Either they were unsure of who was going to market it when they printed the boxes, or the generic box is being used for more than one branded version of the DTVpal. Who knows… maybe you’ll also see “DigiTek” or “Acme” brand DTVpals being sold at some point. If we decide to perform exploratory surgery on the DTVpal, we’ll try to determine who is actually building them for Dish.

Unfortunately, Dish Network has also cut corners on the accessories they provide. The DTVpal DOES NOT include the necessary RCA cable for audio and video hookup to your TV set (they do include a short coaxial cable with “F” connectors, but they provide no way of connecting the audio and composite video outputs of the DTVpal to your TV set). Why go through the trouble and expense of buying a DTV converter box if you are going to loose picture quality by viewing it via your TV’s analog tuner on RF channel 3 or 4 ? Dish Network should spend the few extra cents per unit it would cost them to include the necessary RCA cable. Of course, having a converter box with S-video or component video output would deliver even better video quality, but at least take advantage of the product’s composite video capability. Would you buy a Mercedes that came from the factory without tires, or a pair of shoes that was missing the laces ?

On the other hand, after reading the instruction manual, it became clear that Dish Network has put a lot more thought into the DTVpal’s features and user interface than other converter box manufacturers. Perhaps it’s their experience with set-top boxes for their paid satellite service that gives them the edge. In any case, what the DTVpal lacks in it’s cheaper construction and lack of cables is mitigated to a degree by the features provided in it’s software.

We decided to buy both a Zenith DTT901( build date of June, 2008 ) and a Dish Network DTVpal (firmware version 102) at K-Mart, using our $40 NTIA coupons (as we suspected, you swipe them like credit cards, and they show up on the receipt as $40 gift cards). K-Mart, like other retailers who accept the NTIA “coupons”, states on their receipts that they will only allow you to exchange converter boxes purchased with the government coupon for another converter box. No cash refunds of Uncle Sam’s $40 subsidies. That is as it should be. BTW, we’ve seen recent comments from other DTVpal owners that Dish ( as of August, 2008 ) is already up to firmware version 105 on the “TR-40 CRA” DTVpal clones that it has just started to ship. It sounds like people that have DTVpals with firmware version 100 or 101 have had some serious problems with them. It seems likely to us that Dish Network will have to do some sort of recall or replacement of these early-production units, both to satisfy their customers, and to avoid problems with the NTIA, which, after all, paid most of the cost of many of these units, via their converter box coupon program. It’s too bad that Dish does not identify the production date or firmware version of these units on the outside of the carton (unless it’s coded into the box’s serial number label). It would allow buyers to know if they’re buying a problem or not. We think that at least knowing what serial numbers have problematic software installed would be valuable information for prospective customers. Otherwise, it’s a crapshoot.

Surprisingly, the lines at the checkout were much shorter than we expected… we only had to wait in line for about a half hour. And K-Mart management probably wonders why everyone goes to Target or WalMart instead. It’s not rocket science.

The DTT901’s LG/Zenith warranty is much longer (sort of) than the DTVpal warranty. LG warrants the Zenith DTT901’s parts against defect for one year, but Dish Network only warrants the DTVpal’s parts for 90 days. Thats a four times longer parts warranty from Zenith ! (both units only offer a 90 day labor warranty). On the other hand, if the Zenith converter box blows up after six months, will they tell you that parts replacement is free, but the out-of-warranty labor charge comes to $50.00 ? (which is the price of a new unit) …We are very suspicious of any manufacturer that will only warranty labor for the first three months of a one year parts warranty, on a device in the price range of these devices. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that it will not make sense to pay for shipping and labor to have one of these converter boxes repaired by the manufacturer. It’s even doubtful that any manufacturer would waste their time trying to repair one of these units.

Our detailed comparison of the LG / Zenith DTT901 versus the Dish Network / Echostar DTVpal follows. We have marked our preferences with an asterisk.


CONSTRUCTION
The Zenith wins hands down. Superior quality construction in every
respect.  We were going to take some "autopsy" photos of the DTT901,
but Steve Vigneau has done a teardown of a Zenith DTT900 and posted
some incredible high-res photos of the unit, assembled and disassembled,
on his blog at nuxx.net.  They're better than anything we could have
shot with our decrepit HP digital camera.  After viewing them, you'll
understand why we're so crazy about the Zenith's great build quality.
Steve's level of detail is unbelievable.  He goes as far as taking
apart the metal cage that shields the RF section, and cataloging the
screws that hold the unit together.  He has surely voided the warranty,
something we like to do immediately upon purchasing any new electronic
devices, here at Routing By Rumor. 

 * Zenith DTT901:  All metal chassis, except for the plastic front panel
                  The Zenith also has power and channel up/down controls
                  on it's front panel, whereas the DTVpal has no controls
                  on the case and must be controlled exclusively from
                  the remote control.
  Dish   DTVpal:  Plastic Case, and a very distracting bright green LED,
                  which you can't turn off.  Try covering the LED with a
                  piece of electrical tape to solve the problem, but take
                  care to avoid covering the IR receiver, or your remote
                  control won't work.

HEAT GENERATION
The Zenith runs for hours with only the slightest temperature rise.
They have successfully addressed the heating issues in earlier
production units of the DTT901.  The unventilated, plastic cased
DTVpal runs too warm.

* Zenith DTT901:  The Zenith runs cool, even after hours of use.
  Dish   DTVpal:  Runs very warm, particularly the bottom side of
                  the case.  We are concerned that this might
                  shorten the life of the unit.

POWER SUPPLY
The Zenith has a high quality internal power supply (yes, we
opened it up for a look-see), and a permanently attached AC cord,
which we thought should be a bit longer.

* Zenith DTT901:  A well designed internal power supply, with a
                  high quality, albeit somewhat short AC cord.
  Dish   DTVpal:  "Wall wart" style power supply, with a cheesy
                  looking, flimsy power cord and power connector.

RECEIVER SENSITIVITY
Both units performed very well.  We like the numeric (0 - 100) signal
strength reading on the DTVpal more than the "weak/strong" bargraph
on the Zenith, and we thought the DTVpal might have had the slightest
edge when it came to sensitivity.  On the other hand, in cases where
the signal was marginal, the Zenith made a valiant attempt to paint
images on the screen.  The DTVpal wouldn't even try, instead just
saying "No Service".  There were widely reported problems with audio
quality on early-production Zenith DTT901's, and the recommendations
we've seen say to avoid units that have a manufacture date earlier
than APRIL 2008 on the carton's UPC label.  Our DTT901 says JUNE 2008,
and we've found absolutely no issues with audio quality.

* Zenith DTT901: Very Good
* Dish   DTVpal: Very Good


REMOTE CONTROL
We greatly prefer the remote on the Dish Network DTVpal.  Neither remote
has backlit buttons.  There is an issue with the DTVpal's remote
interfering with the operation of other Dish Network equipment residing
in the same room, but they are apparently addressing this by supplying
a different remote control in later production units.

  Zenith DTT901:  Well laid out, but it's not contoured to your hand. Uses
                  one AAA cell.  The Zenith remote lets you turn your TV
                  on and off without having to pick up a second remote.
* Dish   DTVpal:  We really liked the contoured shape of the DTVpal's remote,
                  and while it is larger than the Zenith remote, it just
                  felt more comfortable in our hand.  While it's button
                  layout takes some getting used to, it becomes very
                  intuitive with a little use. We think it's dual infrared
                  LEDs and two AAA cells might perform better than Zenith's
                  remote.

ELECTRONIC PROGRAM GUIDE (EPG)
The DTVpal blows away the competition in this department.  It offers an
excellent guide that shows all programming for the next week or so for
all channels, limited only by how much data the broadcasters provide.

  Zenith DTT901:  Limited to current & next program on each channel.
* Dish   DTVpal:  Provides a program grid extending out a week or
                  more for all channels.

FIRMWARE ISSUES

Neither unit is field-upgradeable.  The DTVpal has had several well-
publicized software bugs that have prompted two or three new firmware
releases in it's short lifetime.  We have identified what is likely
an issue with firmware version 102, which affects the adding or
P-I-P viewing of some channels on the unit's "Add a channel" screen.
The only solution we've found is to reset the DTVpal, and let it
do it's channel search all over again. Despite these issues, we
still recommend the DTVpal over the competition, because of it's
superior on-screen information and it's fantastic EPG.  Let's hope
that Dish does right by their customers, and provides them with
hassle-free, postage-free advance replacements for their buggy
DTVpals upon request.  They also need to replace buggy firmware
regardless of whether the units are still within their 90-day
warranty period.  We hope they will decide to match Zenith's
one-year parts warranty, at least when it comes to upgrading
defective firmware.  Customers can always try to exchange their
defective units where they bought them, but the lack of any clear
external indication of the firmware version contained in the unit
makes it impossible to know what you have until you hook it up.
We would like to see all of these units have flashable firmware
that can be updated by the consumer when a new software version
is released. In the long run, this will be less costly for the
manufacturer than replacing the units, and it will increase
customer satisfaction.

  Zenith DTT901:  No apparent firmware issues, but it's features
                  just don't compare to the very slick DTVpal.
* Dish   DTVpal:  Superior features and a great program guide
                  give the DTVpal the edge, despite our concerns
                  about still somewhat buggy firmware.  For this
                  reason, we conditionally recommend the DTVpal.

WARRANTY
To be blunt, Dish Network needs to offer their customers a
better warranty.  Ideally, we would like to see all electronics
manufacturers offer a one year warranty on parts AND labor.

* Zenith DTT901: 1 year parts, 90 days labor.
  Dish   DTVpal: 90 days parts, 90 days labor.

OUR OVERALL RECOMMENDATION

We think that LG Electronics has built a superior product in
every respect from a physical standpoint (with the possible
exception of their remote control). However, they need to play
catch-up with Dish Network's DTVpal when it comes to the
features provided by their software.  Either unit will deliver
excellent picture and audio quality.  We paid slightly less
for the Zenith DTT901 than we did for the DTVpal, but your
mileage may vary regarding pricing.

We are somewhat concerned about the fact that the DTVpal does
not run as cool as the Zenith DTT901.  Heat is the enemy of
any electronic device, shortening it's lifespan and decreasing
it's reliability.  It would be nice to see Dish address the
heat issue, and move the power supply into the unit itself,
instead of using a "wall wart" power supply. And as we've
mentioned, Dish needs to cough up a few extra cents, and include
the necessary RCA cables with the DTVpal. 

All things considered, we think that the Dish Network DTVpal's
superior features make it our pick.  It's unfortunate that
its body isn't a match for it's mind.

Check out these cnet reviews of the DTVpal, and the Zenith DTT901, which also provide side-by-side comparisons to other popular DTV converter boxes.

A note to members of avsforum.com visiting this blog…

We joined avsforum (avsforum.com) recently to share our experience with the DTV converters mentioned in this article. Unfortunately the avsforum seems to suffer from at least two problems. There are a few disgruntled members over there that seem to have nothing better to do than post negative comments to just about every thread that other members start (and nobody seems to say anything to them about their inappropriate comments). Then there is the person (or persons) responsible for running that forum, who repeatedly delete postings for no apparent reason. Perhaps they’re on a power trip, perhaps they practice censorship of viewpoints that are not the same as theirs, or maybe they’re just in love with their delete key. God only knows.

We are a regular contributor to over a dozen technology forums on the Web, and we’ve never experienced these issues elsewhere. Fortunately, numerous venues exist on the Internet, from websites, to forums, to mailing lists and usenet newsgroups, so that persons seeking knowledge, or those wishing to share information, have many options available to them. Life is way too short to waste it dealing with nonsense of the sort that we’ve experienced over there.

Others have apparently drawn the same conclusion and have written about problems with avsforum (we did a search, and it didn’t take long to find other people who have had problems with avsforum). Here’s an article that complains of censorship by the people running avsforum, here’s one that details other problems over there that have prompted it to shut down some forum areas. There’s this fellow, who warns that some of what you read there is posted by individuals with hidden agendas, and then there’s this person, who does not mince words when he describes what he believes takes place over there.

As we said, life is too short to waste it at avsforum.com !

– Routing By Rumor

2 Comments

Filed under Automobile Manufacturers, Business, Cars, China, Consumerism, Free Stuff, Home, Labor, Money, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Shopping, Technology, TV Shows, Walmart, Your Money