Tag Archives: Your Money

What’s Next, Mr. Bernanke… Free Money?

The Federal Reserve surprised a lot of people today, including us, here at RoutingByRumor.

They announced another cut to the target federal funds rate, this time it was 50 basis points, or 1/2% (read the Fed’s announcement, here). That is on top of the 75 basis point or 3/4% emergency cut announced eight days ago. This brings the overnight bank rate down 125 basis points in the past week, to 3.00%. The only member of the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee to vote against the latest rate cut was Richard W. Fisher. There’s a black sheep in every herd.

The Fed must be very, very concerned about the economy. But they can’t repeat these tricks forever. Eventually, they will run out of string, and “eventually” is sooner than you may think. Just think about it… Another two cuts like those in the past week, and money will almost be free.

Have you ever come across a vending machine that was set up to dispense product without having to insert any money? You can find these machines in some company cafeterias. I can still remember the time that I accompanied my father on a trip to a company he did business with. I must have been seven or eight years old at the time. That company had such a soda machine. Like any young child, I would push the buttons on every machine I’d come across, trying to get free gumballs, candy, soda or whatever. And don’t forget to check the coin return for some free money. Of course, I had to press every button on this soda machine, too. Every time I’d hit a button, another can of soda would be dispensed. I thought I hit the jackpot. The man who had to put all those soda cans back into the machine was not as amused as I was.

Now, if the Fed keeps lowering the funds rate, we figure that pretty soon, the banks might set up their ATMs to dispense free cash. It would make the kid in me very happy. I could just stand there all day, pressing buttons.

What’s next, banks giving away free toasters, blenders and TV sets? I remember those days too. Actually, I could use a new television, since in February 2009, when broadcasters stop transmitting analog signals, my current televisions will no longer work (at least not without a digital-to-analog converter box). Gee, Mr. Bernanke, maybe this was a great idea after all.

Then again, maybe not.

In fact, maybe black isn’t such a bad color after all. I like black better than red. Black goes with everything.

Maybe following the herd just leads you to the butcher sometimes.

So, they’re making money cheap, which should encourage people to start buying homes again… and cars, and televisions, and computers, and everything else we don’t make here any more.

Who will be hurt the most by these aggressive rate cuts by the Fed?  People on fixed incomes and retirees.  You can’t depend on the stock market these days.  Putting your nestegg into stocks, even if diversified,  is just slightly less dangerous than playing Russian roulette.  Inflation was already outstripping anything you might hope to earn from a bank CD or insured money market account.

With the rate cuts in the past week, bank rates have fallen through the floorboards.  I just checked Bank of America’s website… Putting $10,000.00  into a 1-year CD or a money market account will currently get you an APR of slightly more than 2%.  To add insult to injury, if by some miracle you manage to earn a few dollars in interest, it’s taxable income.  That dismal rate of return is sure to go even lower over the next few weeks and months, especially if there’s another Fed rate cut.  Just a few months ago, 1-year CD rates of 5% were commonplace.

Make no mistake about it.  The faltering stock market and  plummeting interest rates on instruments such as certificates of deposit,  are very bad news indeed.  You will see increasing numbers of elderly Americans, who thought their golden years would be reasonably secure, now faced with loss of their homes, or worse.

Time to start stuffing the mattresses.

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President Bush delivering his final State of the Union Address on 1/28/2008

In his State of the Union Address two nights ago (read the full text here), President Bush touched on the need to increase exports. Funny, but I didn’t catch him mentioning the need to limit imports. In fact, President Bush never mentioned the phrases “trade deficit” or “imports” even once during his State of the Union Address. Rather, he said “we are pursuing opportunities to open up new markets by passing free trade agreements“. That’s wonderful. Just what America needs. More jobs going overseas. More cheap imports flooding the U.S. More unemployed American workers. The imbalance between U.S. salaries and those in most foreign countries is so great that we will never be on the winning side of any free trade agreements. Have any free trade agreements we’ve signed in the past resulted in a trade surplus (I think that’s what you’d call the opposite of a trade deficit, but since we never hear the term, I’m not sure that’s correct). Have they ever even resulted in balanced trade?

Thank God for term limits. Could you imagine four more years of this? Our trade deficit is already so lopsided, that unless we put limits on imports, we can never hope to make a dent in the trade deficit.

Cheap money will allow very few people who are at risk to avoid foreclosure on their homes.  For the few it might benefit, our advice is to postpone the celebration, because  cheap money won’t last forever. Maybe until the next election. Then what? Americans who can’t find decent paying jobs will use cheap credit to increase their spending and their debt. Then, when interest rates inevitably rise again, look out. If you think things are bad now, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Pity all those families who are convinced that lower interest rates mean that this is now the perfect time to buy a home. If you think there have been a lot of foreclosures recently, just wait a while and see what happens.

We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again… If America continues to be flooded with cheap imports that are sucking good paying jobs out of this country, our economy will continue to get worse, no matter how many interest rate cuts the Fed delivers. Can you say “quick fix”?

Wal-Mart might be the biggest employer in America, but they can’t employ all of us. And even if they did, we couldn’t afford to shop there. Minimum wage doesn’t go very far. Especially when you need medical care, and your employer doesn’t provide health coverage.

So thank you, Mr. Bernanke. It was very gracious of you and the Federal Open Market Committee to give America this latest gift. We don’t want to seem ungrateful, but could we exchange the gift for something we really need? Perhaps the creation of good jobs that pay decent wages. Imagine being able to go shopping and actually finding products that say “Made In USA” once again, not to mention having the money to buy those products without going into debt. How quaint.

Thank You.

– Sincerely,

RoutingByRumor

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Bloomingdale’s Warehouse Fur Sale – Proof That Even Luxury Goods Retailers Are Hurting ?

You are more likely to find us at a PETA meeting than in the fur salon at Bloomingdale’s, and we usually don’t pay much attention to advertising for fur coats. Besides, who needs fur, when you already have, well… fur! (see our picktur). But with everyone’s preoccupation these days with the economy, and the fears of a prolonged economic recession, I guess we have fine tuned our radar to keep an eye on advertising and retail trends.

We just heard a radio commercial advertising Bloomingdale’s warehouse fur sale. Now perhaps they have this sale every year, but I can’t recall hearing or seeing this in the past. If this is a new marketing gimmick by retailers of high-end products, we think it is confirmation that the economic slump has finally reached the luxury goods market.

RoutingByRumor’s economic rule of thumb # 1: You know it’s really a recession when the luxury goods market is hurting, or when you can’t unload your mansion at any price. What’s next? Buy-one-get-one-free deals from Rolls Royce? A De Beers warehouse sale? Buy one Learjet, get the second one for half-price?

Now don’t go running out to your nearest Bloomingdale’s store. The advertisement indicated that the sale is taking place at their fur warehouse, which is actually the Danish furrier Birger Christensen’s warehouse. Birger Christensen / BC International Group (BCIG) appears to be the largest fur retailer in the United States. (As an aside, I stumbled across some interesting info about an action that BCIG brought against another retailer to gain control of the Internet domain “maximilian.com”.)

We’ve read that Bloomingdales is not Birger’s customer, but rather it’s landlord. Birger Christensen leases space in Bloomingdale’s stores and operates the fur departments with their own employees. This, coupled with the fact that the “warehouse sale” is taking place at BC’s warehouse, tells us that it is not Bloomingdale’s holding the warehouse sale, but Birger. It would be our guess that the inventory is owned by Birger, and not by Bloomingdales (or by any of the other retailers where they operate their fur salons).

With BC’s purchase of Evan’s, Inc. almost ten years ago (see this article about Evans’ history), they operate the fur salons in Bloomingdale’s, Carson Pirie Scott, Dayton’s, Filene’s Basement, Goldsmith’s, Hudson’s, Lazarus, Macy’s, Marshall Field’s, Rich’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue stores (see related article, circa 1999, so this list may have changed somewhat). We don’t know if any other retailers use warehouse sales to move luxury product inventory. Our guess is that even if they haven’t in the past, you might start seeing them doing so now, as the economy continues it’s downward spiral. See this New York Times article about a disappointing holiday season for the nation’s retailers.

As the downturn of the U.S. economy continues, we think you’ll see indications that more and more retailers are in trouble, across the board. As we wrote yesterday, we doubt the U.S. economic stimulus plan that was announced yesterday will do much to stem the tide.

If the IRS hurries up with those tax rebate checks, perhaps you’ll get yours in time to run down to the “Bloomingdale’s” warehouse fur sale and do your part to stimulate the U.S. economy. You’ll look stunning in that new chinchilla.

– RoutingByRumor

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Chinchilla

Aw, he’s sooooooooooo cute. Maybe we’ll get a faux fur coat instead.

 

2/26/2008 Update – Here’s more proof that high-end retailers are feeling the squeeze… This article from CNN indicates that Nordstrom’s sales were down almost 9% in the last quarter.

 

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

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New Balance CM473KO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“MADE IN USA OF IMPORTED MATERIALS

FABRIQUE AUX E.-U.

A PARTIR DE MATIERES IMPORTEES”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shrinking Products – Pay More, Get Less !

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

Shrinking Product # 1 – Scott Toilet Tissue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LATE BREAKING NEWS…

Dateline: June 8, 2008

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

– Routing By Rumor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sandisk Sansa vs Apple iPod – And The Winner Is…

We purchased an identical set of Sandisk Sansa m240 (1GB) MP3 players in November, 2005. These alternatives to the iPods that most of the world has fallen in love with were less expensive than an iPod of the same capacity, and had some nice features such as an FM radio and voice recorder.

I had problems with the m240s as soon as I started loading music onto them. There were two issues in particular that were particularly problematic. Some album tracks would play in the wrong order (with shuffle turned off), and when I loaded a large number of albums or audiobooks, many files would disappear. They were there when you viewed the contents of the players via a PC, but once you disconnected the sansa from the computer, it could not find the tracks. The shuffled track issue might not be the end of the world when you’re listening to your favorite album, but it is unacceptable when you are listening to audiobooks. Some audiobooks have more than 1,000 tracks, each of which are a few minutes long.

I communicated the problems I was having to Sandisk’s tech support people, who assured me that firmware updates would solve my problems. They did not. I went back and forth with Sandisk via their website, via e-mails and by phone over a period of about six months. I spent hours upon hours editing the ID3 tags in the albums, podcasts and audiobooks I was loading onto the Sansa, to no avail. It did not matter whether files were .mp3 or other formats. The Sansa would still shuffle some tracks. I tried applying several firmware updates. I tried resetting the Sansa. I tried loading different files. I tried using a different USB cable. Nothing helped.

Dealing with their support people was frustrating and infuriating at times. They seemed to be in denial when it came to the issues I was reporting, despite the fact that I found other Sansa owners on the Web who posted identical issues with their Sansas. I would provide Sandisk with details on how to reproduce the problems I was experiencing, but couldn’t get them to acknowledge the problems. They had me doing things that they should have been doing themselves, like preparing sets of test files and sending them to their tech support people. I also came away from the experience questioning whether Sandisk designed and produced the Sansa product line in-house, or whether they are branding someone else’s players with the Sandisk name. I say this because Sandisk seemed to be unable to address problems with the Sansa. It seemed to me like they may be dependent on a third party for resolving those issues. Overall, I would rate Sandisk’s support as poor.

I guess they finally had enough of my calls and support requests, because a senior technician that I was dealing with finally acknowledged they did not have a fix for the problems. They offered to replace my players with another Sansa model, the e250 (2GB), which they assured me would solve the problem. I took them up on their offer, but while I was waiting for them to send me the replacement Sansas, I found reports that owners of those Sansas had posted to various websites, indicating that there were problems with the
Sansa e200 series also. (Actually, Sandisk doesn’t even handle product returns. They have you send the defective products to a third party.)

When I received the replacement players, I decided to sell both of them rather then open the packages and see for myself whether I’d have the same problems with the e250’s as I did with the m240’s. I had little faith in their tech support, and just wanted to find another brand of MP3 player that worked correctly. I was not impressed with the quality of Sandisk’s support, and upset about the amount of time wasted trying unsuccessfully to resolve the problems with their product.

I’ve always been an IBM-compatible PC and Microsoft DOS/Windows computer user. I’ve never owned or used an Apple Macintosh, but I was aware that Mac devotees consider Windows-based PCs to be inferior to the Mac. Status symbols have never been real important to me. I also tend to root for the underdog, whether it’s in politics or MP3 players. I don’t like to pay a premium just so I can have the most popular brand of anything. On the other hand, I knew there were reasons why people love their iPods, and I knew that the iPod’s popularity wasn’t just because of the Apple mystique, but because of the design superiority of Apple products.

I considered buying one of the Microsoft Zune MP3 players which had just been released, but was unimpressed with them. I thought the (first generation) Zune was expensive, large, ugly, received lukewarm reviews, and it was (at the time) version 1.0 of a Microsoft product, which I’ve previously mentioned should always be avoided.

 

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I ended up buying a second generation Apple iPod nano (2GB) in November, 2006. I feel like kicking myself for not buying an iPod in the first place. I’ve had no significant problems with the nano in the year since I bought it. Sure, there are some minor problems I’ve come across, mostly involving Apple’s iTune’s software, rather than with the software inside the nano (the firmware). To be fair, there are iPod owners that have posted some serious problems on various websites, so the iPod is not completely problem-free. However, everything you read about the iPods are true. They have better user interfaces than the competition, whether it’s a scroll wheel model like the nano, or one of their newer touch screen devices such as the iPod touch. Apple is known for their superior design features and the materials they use in their devices, such as aluminum cases. I did give up the FM radio and voice recorder features of the Sansa, which the nano does not have, but I gained an audio player that works correctly. I would have preferred the nano to have an easily replaceable battery, but none of the iPods have easily user-replaceable batteries. Apple wants you to return the iPods to them for battery replacement, if it becomes necessary. Fortunately, there are alternatives… do-it-yourself replacement battery kits, and third party service companies that do iPod repairs and battery replacements.

Now, I want one of the new third generation iPod nanos that play video, and come in memory capacities up to 8GB. Then again, the iPod touch would be even nicer. Maybe Santa will bring me one for Christmas. I guess Apple has spoiled me for anything else, because I would probably never consider purchasing another brand of audio or video player.

So, as you’ve figured out by now, in the Sansa vs iPod contest, as far as I’m concerned, the clear winner is: The Apple iPod.

Who knows… Maybe my next computer will be a Mac.

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Filed under Apple, Consumerism, iPod, iPod nano, iPod touch, Life, Microsoft, Money, mp3 players, Personal, Personal Tidbits, Portable music players, Routing by Rumor, Sandisk, Sandisk Sansa, Shopping, Technology, Your Money, Zune

General Motors, R.I.P.

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Except for my first hand-me-down car when I got my driver’s license 30+ years ago, I’ve bought only new cars, and only General Motors vehicles. They were all Pontiacs, and were all assembled in the United States.

GM is dying, and that’s just fine by me. I don’t want any heroic measures taken to save them. So please, Doctor, sign the DNR order.

General Motors has been in declining health and suicidal for years. It has been predeceased by several of it’s children, and their surviving siblings are in frail health.

I have had my share of problems with GM vehicles, but I believe they are generally very reliable. I think that GM has made some poor design choices that affect reliability and which lead to unnecessary recalls. These design problems are probably driven by attempts at cost-cutting. I have always insisted on buying a vehicle that was, at the very least, assembled by Americans, in a USA assembly plant. (The UAW can contact me to find out where to send my check.)

So why have I written off General Motors? I feel that GM and it’s dealerships have no respect for their customers. They’ve been driving along, all fat and happy for years, and never noticed that the highway ends up ahead. I have never had a good sales experience with any GM dealership, and their warranty service has always been a nightmare. Dealer’s service departments don’t like to do warranty repairs because they are paid less than they earn from non-warranty work. My experience has always been that GM dealer’s service departments perform slip-shod work. Many times, either before you leave your car for a repair(s), or after you pick up your car, it is an exercise in futility to try and convince them that an obvious problem exists/still exists. In my opinion, Pontiac’s customer care toll-free number was always a sad joke. Worthless. They take your complaint, refer it back to the dealership, but can’t get a problem resolved for you. It’s a game, and you’re the looser. I honestly believe GM operates in the hope that they will simply wear you down, and you’ll give up. Bring back your vehicle as many times as you like, call GM as many times as you like, write all the letters you want to write. Get nowhere. It’s almost like they want to make you regret buying a GM product.

Case in point: My current GM vehicle has had problems with it’s automatic transmission since around 25,000 miles. GM dealerships removed and rebuilt the transmission twice, and serviced the transmission on the car a third time, while it was under warranty. It has never operated correctly since the first time they attempted repairs, and has been out-of-warranty for a few years now. I drive it the way it is, because I refuse to give GM another cent of my money, and because I have zero confidence in the quality of their service departments. When the vehicle is no longer drivable, I’ll make the decision to either junk it or have a non-GM shop work on it.

Now, General Motors is hurting.

Good.

I doubt I will ever purchase another GM vehicle. My next car will probably have a Japanese nameplate. It’s not so much that I love Japanese cars as it is that I refuse to buy another American nameplate. I think this is is a decision most Americans have already made. Screw me once, shame on you. Screw me again and again, and you’ve lost me as a customer forever.

There are plenty of disgusted GM customers out there. Here’s one example.

Here’s another. And another. And another. And another.

It seems a lot of people are fed up with General Motors.

I’ll drive my Japanese car to GM’s funeral. I doubt many tears will be shed by the mourners.

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Filed under Automobile Manufacturers, Cars, Consumerism, Money, News, Retail, Retailers, Shopping, Technology, Your Money