Category Archives: Personal

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

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The Dirty Little Secret That Warehouse Clubs Would Rather You Not Know

We’ve had memberships to several membership-based warehouse clubs over the years. You can save money on many items, but there are often better deals on many items at your local supermarket, Walmart or Target. When you factor in the annual membership fees, which generally range from $50.00 to $100.00 or more, we’re not so sure that you actually save enough to make it worthwhile. That is, unless you own a restaurant, feed a small city, or really need to buy 50 pounds of rice, sugar or detergent at a time. They don’t bag your groceries for you. In fact, they don’t even have any bags (unless you want to buy 500 bags from them at a time).

Interestingly, at a time when other retailers are hurting because of an economy that is in deep recession, the warehouse clubs are enjoying healthy increases in membership and sales volume. Consumers desperate to stretch their dollars are flocking to these retailers in an effort to save some money. Check out this piece from CNBC that says Costco recently reported a 32% increase in quarterly profits, or this Forbes.com article that says BJ’s Wholesale Club saw a larger than 25% increase in profits in the first quarter of this year.

Many warehouse clubs open later and close earlier than supermarkets or other discount chains. In an effort to sell you their more expensive memberships, most of them offer expanded hours to only their premium membership holders, sort of like a caste system. By the time the doors swing open for the hordes of regular members, you just know that all the good stuff will have been snapped up by the privileged few who can afford the $100.00 premium memberships. All that will be left for everyone else will be the dregs. You might as well just drive ’round back and do some dumpster diving.

We’re also surprised they don’t have a little window by the entrance where you have to whisper the secret password before they’ll let you in. And some warehouse clubs limit your payment options. For instance, Costco won’t accept any credit cards except American Express. That’s unfortunate, since we’ve always felt that American Express offers the least consumer-friendly credit cards out there. And AmEx has probably deforested more of the planet than any other credit card provider, so that they can produce all the paper they stuff your mailbox with, trying to convince you to become a cardholder. We can’t believe the volume of crap we get from them. Maybe we should get a wood-burning stove. We could probably heat our home using nothing more than the American Express offers that our poor mail carrier has to keep delivering almost daily.

Then there’s the silly and demeaning entry and exit procedures at many warehouse clubs. You have to show your membership card (at least at Costco) to gain entry. After all, they can never be too careful about who they let in. I mean, God forbid a non-member might sneak in and try to buy something there. Then these places practically strip search you before you can leave with the shopping cart full of stuff you just paid for. If you think we’re overreacting to these policies, which seem to assume that everyone is a criminal, then you probably haven’t read this fellow’s rant on the subject. His discussion is much more eloquent than what the monkeys here at RoutingByRumor produce when they jump up and down on the keyboard to create each of these articles.

Here’s an account from a blogger who got the treatment at a North Carolina Walmart store, where he says he was briefly detained, then threatened by overly aggressive employees for declining to show his receipt.

Maybe we should put the warehouse clubs in charge of the U.S. borders and security at our airports. As an added bonus, they could sell club memberships to all the Mexicans that want to enter the United States, and the proceeds could go to the U.S. Treasury. Before they return to Mexico, they can stock up at Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s, thereby decreasing the U.S. trade deficit. Everyone benefits, and the illegal immigrants won’t have to risk their lives crossing deserts or rivers to get into the United States.

So what’s their dirty little little secret? In many states, certain departments in members-only warehouse clubs are required to sell to the general public without requiring membership. It seems to vary by state, but in general, product categories regulated by the state, such as pharmacy, alcohol and gasoline sales, are usually open to the public. Here’s an article at answers.com that lists which states require warehouse clubs to sell alcholic beverages to the public. This article from prnewswire mentions the fact that Sam’s Club pharmacies are open to the public. But don’t expect the warehouse clubs to advertise this fact. They would probably rather sell you a membership. Don’t even expect a straight answer if you walk thru the front door and ask the gatekeeper at a place like Costco. We did, and our opinion is that they like to play dumb. If you press them, they will acknowledge the fact that certain items must be sold to the public. This posting confirms our experience, and even mentions something called a “temporary alcohol shopping pass” available at Costco. Is this country great, or what ?

With all the big chains offering cheap generic prescriptions these days on a wide variety of medications, is it worth trying to get past the pit bull chained to the entrance at your local Costco, just so you can get some cheap medicine at their pharmacy? This New York Times article certainly seems to think so.

Another option is to ask for a “one-day pass”, which most warehouse clubs will provide. You may have to pay a 10% or so surcharge on any purchases you make, but if you don’t plan on being a regular shopper there, it’s probably a lot cheaper than buying a membership. Some clubs will even refund the surcharge or apply it towards their membership fee if you join within a few days. What wonderful people.

Even in places where the law does not require sales to the general public, there are loopholes that people use to save some money. Some people share their membership cards with friends and neighbors. This article explains how non-members can buy gasoline at Costco gas stations that are supposedly members-only.

As much as we hate Walmart, we think you can do better on most items at Walmart than at the warehouse clubs. We’ve never checked out prices at Walmart’s Sam’s Club stores, but somehow, we doubt that there will be much of a differential in prices between the two.

When you figure in the cost of membership, the extra gasoline you’ll probably burn to get there, the generally limited product selection, the inconvenience, the lack of shopping bags, limited payment options, the crowds, the long checkout lines, the often shorter hours and the obligatory strip searches at the exit, are the warehouse clubs really worth it?

– Routing By Rumor

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We’ve Been Stumbled Upon By Stumbleupon.com

Like many bloggers, we like to look at the visitor statistics for our blog. In our case, that’s a combination of the stats which WordPress.com provides, and the wonderful free statistics we get from Statcounter.com.

Since we started RoutingByRumor late last year, we’ve become accustomed to the ebb and flow of traffic to our blog. Weekly traffic patterns are very predictable. Generally speaking, Saturday is the slowest day of the week, followed by Sunday, which is generally only marginally busier. Midweek tends to see the most traffic, and we’ve seen a pronounced drop in traffic during the summer months, particularly in August. It’s so predictable, that we can usually forecast to within a percent or two, what the traffic on any particular day will be. It sort of reminds us of how precisely electric utilities can predict electricity demand, based on day of the week, time of year, outside temperature, wind speed, cloud cover, etc.

We’ve read much into these patterns. We believe that most web surfing, or at least most blog reading, is probably done while at work. Sometimes you can prove this based on the DNS information associated with visitors IP addresses, such as RealBigCorporation.com (a hypothetical example). We see very predictable traffic patterns to each posting on our blog. Certain articles are perennial favorites, while other posts hardly ever muster any readers (a terrible shame, since we can attest to the fact that every single one of our posts are of excellent quality and worthy of your consideration). We never know ahead of time which of our articles will attract lots of traffic, and which ones will live their life in solitary confinement. Perhaps THIS article about Stumbleupon will be a big hit. Then again, maybe not. It’s difficult to predict. Sometimes, events in the news cause a particular article on our blog to explode in popularity for a few days.

If we’ve learned one thing, it’s that the popularity can be very fleeting. Another is that anything you post related to a scandal, public figures in the news, or some dirt being dished about someone, seems to attract many more visitors than any article you can post with any redeeming value. Sadly, the latest piece of trash about Brittany Spears will attract much more traffic than an announcement that you’ve found a cure for cancer, a solution to global warming and the key to world peace. It doesn’t say much about how discerning the average web surfer is, and it’s also probably why supermarket tabloids sell so well. Up until this past weekend, when Stumbleupon opened the floodgates of hell, the most traffic we ever saw at RoutingByRumor was in the days following our posting of this article. What a sad commentary on the human race.

While visitor statistics usually don’t tell us which search engine a visitor used to find us, it’s probably a good bet that it’s usually Google, the 10,000 pound gorilla of search engines. Thanks, Sergey! WordPress alerts Google and other search engines when new content os posted to a blog. It’s kind of scary how fast Google usually indexes our latest posting. Things usually appear to a limited extent in Google results immediately, with a fuller indexing within 24 to 48 hours.

Unless something pops up in the news that is in some way related to one of our articles, there aren’t many surprises. We see some unexplained transient spikes in traffic to certain articles, but that’s generally all. So, we had to do a double take this past weekend, when traffic to a single article on our blog shot up around 10,000 % or about 100 times more than what we normally see. Our first impression was that it was some sort of problem with the stats. It wasn’t. Good thing that WordPress doesn’t charge us for bandwidth usage !!!

What happened ? We had been “stumbled upon” by stumbleupon.com, which we had never heard of. More specifically, a stumbleupon.com member named Bizspotter stumbled this post of ours.

Apparently, Stumbleupon is part search engine, part social networking site, and part viral marketing tool. Wikipedia describes Stumbleupon this way… “StumbleUpon chooses which Web page to display based on the user’s ratings of previous pages, ratings by his/her friends, and by the ratings of users with similar interests“. Sounds like an interesting concept. Similar to how a site like Amazon suggests to you that people who bought this item also bought these other items, or iTunes telling you that people who bought this album also liked these other albums.

The fact of the matter is that it looks to us like Stumbleupon is the crack cocaine of traffic generators. Why do we say this ? Because despite the incredible amount of traffic it sent to our blog in a matter of hours (it was pretty much all over by the next day), it appears that none of those visitors were the least bit interested in reading the article they landed on, or anything else we’ve blogged about. We saw absolutely no increase in click-thrus. That is, once they landed at our site, unlike many visitors who find us via a search engine, these Stumbleupon visitors didn’t stick around, and they didn’t click on any links in the article. Unlike many of the “normal” visitors to RoutingByRumor, they also didn’t read any of our other articles.

So, it appears to us that Stumbleupon serves up relevant traffic much the way that McDonald’s or Burger King serve up health food. A search engine like Google is very good at finding content on the Web that is of interest to someone doing a search. It appears that Stumbleupon does a very poor job of finding content that will interest a particular web surfer. Of course, the Stumbleupon paradigm is new to us. Perhaps there are others with more experience with products like Stumbleupon, who have a different opinion as to it’s value. Based on what we’ve seen, if we were paying for traffic to be referred to our blog, we wouldn’t pay a cent for the “junk” traffic Stumbleupon is sending our way. The sheer number of hits that stumbling a URL can generate are very impressive, but a closer look at the quality of that traffic is utterly disappointing indeed.

It makes you wonder why eBay thought that Stumbleupon was worth the $75 million they paid for it. Probably because anything on the Web these days with a social networking slant (facebook, myspace, youtube, linkedin, etc., etc., ad nauseum) is hot.  But then, eBay thought Skype was worth shelling out at least $2.6 billion for (mere pocket change). Hey, people once ridiculed William Henry Seward for spending two cents per acre for a piece of land called Alaska ! We guess that when you have as much money as eBay, dropping a billion here and a billion there isn’t a big deal.  Besides, have you noticed that most big business deals aren’t measured in terms of millions of dollars anymore, but rather in the billions of dollars.  I don’t think it’s inflation so much as it is proof that wealth is being concentrated more and more in a smaller and smaller percentage of society, certainly in the United States, and no doubt elsewhere.  It’s also a result of the shift in our economy, away from dominance by companies like IBM, AT&T and General Motors, to the new billionaires… The Microsofts, Googles, eBays and WordPresses of the world.  (Oops… how did WordPress slip in there ?)  If it doesn’t end in “.com”, it doesn’t really matter anymore.  But I digress.

Of course, we’re probably just a wee bit out of touch with the masses when it comes to appreciating some of the finer websites the Web has to offer. For instance, we can’t quite understand why anyone with even the slightest semblance of a life would find myspace.com the least bit interesting, but at least a few myspace users would probably disagree with us. Myspace claims to have blown by the 100 million user mark more than two years ago, and we’ve seen reports that more than 250,000 new myspace accounts are created daily. Gee whiz… it’s almost as popular as RoutingByRumor !

On the one hand, we were underwhelmed by Stumbleupon. On the other hand, we know when we’re outnumbered (IYCBEJE**). So, if you liked this article, Stumble It!

– Routing By Rumor

(** IYCBEJE – If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em)

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What’s Unilever’s Secret Ingredient in Breyers Ice Cream ?

Mmmm, Mmmm, Mmmm. Natural Tara Gum.

We don’t know about you, but we salivate at the mere mention of the stuff.

Maybe it’s the “natural” qualifier that does it for us. I mean, if Unilever used artificial Tara Gum in their Breyers Ice Cream, we wouldn’t have nearly the same hankering for the stuff. It’s sort of like the ingredient list on some foods that have water as their main ingredient. Don’t just call it water. Call it “Natural spring water”, “Triple filtered, sparkling well water” or something similar.

After posting our recent article about Unilever again shrinking the container size of Breyers Ice Cream, we found other postings on the Web which pointed out that Unilever had also recently changed their Breyers recipe to include the ingredient “tara gum”, which is used as a food thickener, similar to guar gum and locust bean gum.

Of course, you do have to wonder why Breyers, a brand of ice cream that was always so proud of its ingredients, would suddenly find it necessary to add this delectable vegetable gum to their product. We suspect that they have cheapened the recipe, probably cutting down on the dairy cream content.

We also have to wonder about Unilever. Isn’t anything sacred to this food industry behemoth? They’re messing with a brand that has always been held up as being pure and simple. They obviously have little respect for the intelligence of their customers. Do they honestly believe that prefixing “tara gum” with the adjective “natural” is going to convince consumers that this is a desirable ingredient? Why not add “natural crude oil” or “natural snake venom” to the ingredient list while you’re at it? In fact, Breyers’ very own advertisements used to poke fun at competitors who used ingredients like “guar gum” or “vegetable mono- and diglycerides” in their ice cream. Sounds like the pot is calling the kettle black, if you know what we mean. Hypocrites !

If you can stop salivating long enough to finish reading this article, we’ll fill you in on Tara gum. Until we saw the other postings about Unilever using it in Breyers Ice Cream, and then reading it on the ingredient list on a Breyers 1.5 quart carton on our most recent excursion to the supermarket, we had never heard of tara gum.

Does tara gum have anything to do with the 1939 movie “Gone With The Wind” …or is it a reference to a Hindu goddess or a character from the soap opera “All My Children?

No, No and No.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (fao.org) defines tara gum as follows…

Obtained by grinding the endosperm of the seeds of Caesalpinia spinosa (Fam. Leguminosae); consists chiefly of polysaccharides of high molecular weight composed mainly of galactomannans. The principal component consists of a linear chain of (1,4)-beta-D-mannopyranose units with alpha-D-galacto-pyranose units attached by (1 6) linkages; the ratio of mannose to galactose in tara gum is 3:1.

Caesalpinia Spinosa? Endosperm? Polysaccharides? Glactomannans? Mannopyranose?

Sounds yummy, doesn’t it? No wonder Breyers Ice Cream tastes so good. It must be the endosperm.

Oh… and what else are the seeds of this native Peruvian plant useful for? According to this article on wikipedia, “Water from boiled dried pods is also used to kill fleas and other insects“. Maybe feeding Breyers Ice Cream to your dog will take care of that flea problem.

– Routing By Rumor

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Unilever Shrinks Its Products Again: Breyers Ice Cream Now 25% Smaller !

Good news for all you dieters!

Containers of Breyers Ice Cream now contain 25% fewer calories, 25% less fat, and 25% less sugar.

How was Breyers / Unilever able to come up with a product that tastes just as good, but which contains fewer calories? They simply made the package smaller. Again. (They also added this secret ingredient).

For the second time recently, Breyers Ice Cream has been downsized by Unilever. Reduced. Shrunk.

For as long as this ice cream lover can remember, Breyers Ice Cream was sold in half-gallon (64 ounce) cartons. First, Unilever downsized the half-gallon carton to 1.75 quarts (56 ounces), which was a 12.5% reduction. Now, they have downsized the 1.75 quart carton to 1.5 quarts (48 ounces). This means the original half-gallon carton of Breyers is now 25% smaller at 1.5 quarts. The 1.25 quart carton of Breyers Ice Cream can’t be too far away.

To make things worse, unless we’re mistaken, the price of a carton of Breyers Ice Cream has gone up while the size has shrunk. But even at the same price per carton, a 25% decrease in product equals a 33% increase in price-per-ounce. For instance, even if the cost of a carton of Breyers held steady at a hypothetical price of $4.00, you used to get 64 ounces for that $4.00. But now, you will pay $5.33 for 64 ounces (one-and-a-third cartons), a 33% price increase. Factor in the increase in the price of a carton, and you’re probably paying 40% or 50% more than you did, say, a year ago.

We knew something was up when we opened the door to the freezer case on a recent shopping trip. The Breyers Ice Cream cartons looked smaller. The cartons look more like funnels than ice cream cartons. But it wasn’t until we looked closer that we realized that Unilever was up to their usual tricks. Breyers cartons proclaim things like “with fresh milk & cream”, “All Natural”, etc, usually as far away from where the carton weight is printed as possible. Wasn’t Breyers always made with fresh milk and cream? Why the attention-getting claims? Because Unilever’s usual way of drawing your attention away from the part of the package that states the shrinking weight of any of their products is to print some attention-getting claim somewhere else on the label. In our opinion, a pretty lame example of Deception Engineering on Unilever’s part.

We’ve written previously about shrinking products. Here’s a post from another blogger who wasn’t too thrilled to learn that Breyers cartons have shrunk again.

Sure enough, their 1.75 quart containers of Breyers are now 1.5 quarts. Sneaky. Very sneaky. But we still noticed, so not sneaky enough. We think everyone else will notice too. If not, that’s why we’re here.

Here’s a photo of the downsized Breyers cartons posted at consumerist.com

We put the Breyers back and bought another brand that offered better value.  If you’re wondering whether you can still find a half-gallon of ice cream that is a full half-gallon, the answer is YES ! You can find it here, and it is still less expensive than the downsized brands.

If Unilever does two more downsizings of one-quarter of a quart each, as they have done recently, you will then be getting one quart instead of a half gallon of ice cream. Even at the same price-per-carton, that will be a cost increase of 100%. That’s double.

…but imagine how much easier it will be to carry those grocery bags home.

Thanks, Unilever.

(Psst… Hey Unilever… You should know that each time you downsize one of your products, there will be more and more of your customers who will simply conclude that it’s no longer worth buying. There’s a tipping point, at which the decline in market share begins to accelerate, and the product never recovers. An example of this is the newspaper publishing business. Ad revenues decline, so publishers cut back on content, number of pages, the size and quality of the paper they use to print the publication, etc, while at the same time raising the cover price. Readership declines, which further erodes advertising revenue. Soon, the publisher realizes it’s a loosing battle. It’s reached the vanishing point. Similar dynamics apply to consumer products.)

– Routing By Rumor

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What’s In That Little Blue Packet? Sweet Deception !

We’ve written at length about how companies are employing Deception Engineering to try to fool consumers. It’s usually related to a manufacturer’s attempt to camouflage the fact that you are paying more and getting less.

But the newest deception that the bloodhounds at RoutingByRumor have just picked up the scent of takes the art to a whole new level. Now, it seems to us that manufacturers such as Domino Foods, Inc. are playing games that might affect your health, if not your peace-of-mind. This is where we draw a line in the sand, and say enough is enough.

We used to be one of 7-Eleven‘s best customers. We spent a lot of money on 7-Eleven coffee. Then we discovered Quick Chek. They operate more than 100 convenience stores in New York and New Jersey. We believe Quick Chek offers much better value than 7-Eleven or just about any other convenience store. They also have many more coffee flavors than 7-Eleven offers, and a slew of goodies to let you fix your cup of coffee just the way you like it. There’s also other goodies at Quick Chek stores, like totally fee-free ATMs, where you can get cash without worrying about paying exhorbitant fees to the bank that operates their ATMs. (Of course, if your own bank really sucks, they might still hit you up with a fee for having the audacity to use another bank’s ATM. In that case, it may be time to switch banks.)

Now, if you will, let’s talk about color.

Perhaps the best way to instantly communicate is with color.

Yellow means CAUTION. Green means GO. Red means STOP.

You know that a baby dressed in blue is a BOY, and one dressed in pink is a GIRL.

In most big cities, you know to look for a yellow car when you need a TAXI CAB.

Most POLICE OFFICERS wear blue uniforms.

FIRE ALARMS are always painted red.

MONEY is green (well at least it used to be… U.S. currency has started to look tooty-fruity lately.)

MOURNERS wear black.

BRIDES wear white.

SUGAR (remember that? It’s the natural stuff) comes in white packets.

…some people will only use sugar, choosing to avoid all artificial sweeteners. But if you’re trying to limit your intake of calories, trying to avoid a sugar “rush”, or you are diabetic, there are several artificial sweeteners to choose from…

SPLENDA (or generic sucralose) comes in yellow packets.

and as the back of the packet indicates…

Splenda is made with the artificial sweetener sucralose, and distributed by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, a division of Johnson & Johnson, in Fort Washington, PA. Splenda is suitable for people with diabetes.

SWEET N LOW (or generic saccharin) comes in pink packets…

and as the back of the Sweet N Low packet indicates…

Sweet N Low contains saccharin, and comes to you from Cumberland Packing Corp, Brooklyn, NY. Since it doesn’t say that it’s suitable for diabetics, we’ll assume that it’s not.

EQUAL (or generic aspartame) comes in blue packets…

and as the back of the Equal packet indicates…

Equal is “distributed” by Merisant US, Inc, Chicago. IL (does that mean they manufacture it also?). Equal brand sweetener (and similar products) contains the artificial sweetener aspartame. Aspartame, which is a bazillion times sweeter than sugar, gets metabolized by the body into several compounds, including phenylalanine. People who have the genetic disorder phenylketonuria or “PKU” (they are called “phenylketonurics”) must not consume Equal (or any other sweeteners made with aspartame). That is why, in the United States, at least, products containing phenylalanine must carry the warning “PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE“.

The above packet colors are recognized by just about every coffee and tea drinker in the world that have eyes in their head. Those packet colors are as God intended them to be. Anything else would be blasphemy. If you have PKU, using the wrong colored packet could be deadly. If you are allergic to cancer, you might likewise wish to avoid certain colored packets. Of course, there is a school of thought that says everything that is man-made causes cancer. Perhaps, but life is a mine field, full of choices, and you have to make the best choices you can, based on the available information. A little dose of common sense goes a long way, too. Here’s an excellent article about artificial sweeteners and cancer risk from the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov) of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

With the aforementioned knowledge firmly in your grasp, you know immediately, for instance, that this packet…

…contains saccharin, since it is pink. If you want to check, flip the packet over…

…and sure enough, it contains saccharin, just like Sweet N Low. That’s why the packet is pink.

Now if you pick up this packet…

…you’d be lead to believe it contains aspartame. Flip it over to check…

…yup, it’s aspartame, the same stuff that’s in Equal brand sweetener. That’s why this packet is blue.

But Quick Chek’s little blue packets have looked a little different lately, for instance…

…but hey, it’s still blue, so it must be aspartame. Let’s flip it over just to be safe…

Thought we wouldn’t notice, did ya? There’s no aspartame in THIS little blue packet. It contains saccharin. That’s pretty sneaky, don’t you think? And it raises the following question: Why is this packet blue?

So Quick Chek’s little pink packets, as well as their little blue packets, both now contain saccharin. That sucks, pure and simple. We don’t know if the decision to put saccharin into blue packets was Quick Chek’s idea, Domino Sugar’s (Domino Foods) idea, or a joint decision. At this writing, we also do not know if this practice is more widespread than just Domino or Quick Chek.

Why on Earth would they do something like that? Could it be an honest mistake? Giving them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they used the wrong color paper to make the packets. You don’t think this may be a case of Deception Engineering, do you? I mean, why in the world would the nice people at Quick Chek (or at Domino Foods) try to fool you about what’s in those little blue packets?  Aren’t these businesses concerned that they are destroying consumer’s trust in their brands… or does the profit motive blind them to any ethical considerations?

Just thinking out loud for a second, could it be because saccharin is a fraction of the cost of aspartame? For instance, Sweet N Low brand sweetener has always been much less expensive than Equal brand or Splenda brand sweeteners, and the same holds true for the generic versions of saccharin versus aspartame. (We don’t believe there’s a generic version of Splenda on the market, since we’ve never seen generic yellow packets of Splenda-like sweetener.)

This is about much more than which sweetener tastes better. There are many consumers who avoid using saccharin because of concerns that it may be a carcinogen. The fact is that from 1981 thru 2000, saccharin was listed by the U.S. government as a possible carcinogen. Products containing saccharin were required to carry the following warning: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.” Saccharin was removed from the carcinogen list after further research failed to confirm any link to cancer, but many people, including this author, avoid all foods containing saccharin. We are not amused with the fact that Domino Foods, Quick Check, and probably other manufacturers and retailers, are apparently trying to slip saccharin past us, no doubt in an effort to save money. If you wish to avoid products containing saccharin, read our related article, “What’s In That Cup Of Diet Soda?“.

We suspect that this article will elicit a lot of comments from readers who are as outraged as we were to discover this deception.

– Routing By Rumor

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The Coming Gasoline Crisis… Get Ready For Gas Lines And Rationing !

credit: Florida Sun-Sentinel / americanphotojournalist.com

photographer: Melissa Lyttle

The first gas crisis in the United States in recent (post WW II) times was during the winter of 1972-73. The second gas shortage was during the summer of 1979. It was during that crisis that gas prices broke (at least in the Northeast U.S.) $1.00 a gallon for the first time. Those were the good old days. Fast forward to 2008, when, for many parts of the United States, gasoline is now topping $4.00 a gallon, and rising daily.

Despite the fact that we are almost 30 years down the road since the last energy crisis, we are still almost totally dependent on petroleum-based fuel. Electric, natural gas, solar, hydrogen and to a lesser extent ethanol, have failed to make a significant dent in our demand for petroleum-derived gasoline and diesel fuel.

There are still virtually no all-electric, natural gas or hydrogen vehicles on the road, with a fairly insignificant number of these alternative-fuel vehicles in some fleets, such as utility company, transit authority and delivery company vehicles. Have you ever seen an electric, hydrogen or natural gas refueling station ? Even today, for all practical purposes, gasoline and diesel are the only fuel options available. What percentage of the privately owned passenger vehicles in the U.S. are all-electric or gas-electric hybrids ?

Despite more energy-efficient homes and appliances, we continue to set energy consumption records. Electric utilities generally set new winter and summer peak output records each year. It seems that no matter how efficient our homes or cars become, no matter how hard we try to conserve energy, we will never see lower demand for energy. All we can hope to achieve is to slow the increase in energy consumption.

While the increase in total energy consumption varies by geographic region and market sector, consumption generally increases between 1 and 3% annually (see US Department of Energy report).

Now couple our ever-increasing appetite for energy with the fact that developing nations, most notably China, are significantly increasing their energy use. It portends continuing increases in the price of energy from all sources, not just oil. It also means tighter supplies and future energy shortages (see this April, 2008 AP article in the NY Times about tight oil inventories). With the summer approaching, shrinking gasoline supplies (despite higher prices), and increasing seasonal demand, it’s a recipe for trouble. They are even attributing a decrease in U.S. oil supplies to fog in the port of Huston. What’s next… blaming it on which way the wind is blowing ?

Recent world events related to shortages of food staples such as rice, wheat and corn are already being felt in the United States. While there does not appear to be a true shortage yet, the prices of all these commodity items has risen sharply in recent months. And yes, much of this increase can be tied to the price of oil.

We are seeing more and more instability, in terms of price and availability of food items. In just the past few weeks, rationing (or more accurately, purchase limits) have begun to pop up at retailers around the United States, on rice and flour. While panic buying is likely to blame to a great extent, a tight supply is no doubt at the root of these actions, as well as the sharply higher prices.

credit: freeenterpriser.com

Gasoline is subject to exactly the same market behaviors as food. To some extent, it is even more vulnerable. You can’t plant more oil seeds next Spring in anticipation of higher demand. The crude oil supply is more or less constant, at least for now. It’s a non-renewable resource, so once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

It would not take much to touch off panic buying of gasoline. A steep short-term increase in the price of crude, a new political crisis in the Middle-East, a weather-related emergency, or some unforeseen event that influences energy markets, are all capable of creating a crisis overnight.

We think that the recent run-up in gasoline prices has significantly increased the likelihood that we will see another gas crisis in the near future. This is regardless of whether there is a true shortage, or if it’s just panic buying that takes hold. Don’t be surprised to see gasoline rationing being put in place as soon as this occurs, whether it is imposed by the retailers, or by the government. Don’t be surprised to see long lines at the pumps, a la 1972.

– Routing By Rumor

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