I’m A Little Bit Less Of A Fan Of Amazon

I have always been a big fan of Amazon since the advent of online shopping. I’ve always thought that they had many great features that appealed to me. Some of the best features in my mind included:

  • Excellent pricing – I’ve always felt that they are very fair in price and have good deals
  • Order history – They keep ordering history of every purchase I’ve made. Many sites keep your history for only 12 months, if even that long. I’ve always been able to look back at previous purchases for reference.
  • Recommendations – Many sites have now built in features where you are recommended products based on your ordering history. Amazon was one of the first and I think still one of the best at it.

A few months ago, my list would have included one more thing that was key: 30-day price protection. Amazon guaranteed that if their price went down anytime within 30 days of your purchase, that you were eligible for a refund. You had to e-mail them the price you paid as well as the new price, and after checking it out, they would refund your credit card. I used this several times.
That was an excellent feature, but unfortunately they discontinued that as of September 1, 2008. I just found out about it today as I was going through and checking my prices, and discovered that the new policy had been instituted.
This is a huge letdown to me.
I can understand the business reason behind it. They were probably losing money by having to return part of the sales back to people. But, I still think that’s a big short sighted. Why?
Well, not everybody checks the prices to see if the price has dropped. There are sites such as PriceProtectr.com which automates this process for you (plug: it works with over 150 online retailers and is one of my favorite sites), but even so, my guess is that a very small percentage of people actually remember or take the time to check.
The people that do take the time are probably among the people that spend the most at Amazon. I feel that this decision might have turned away many loyal customers. Yes, Amazon might save money in avoiding refunds, but what if they lose all that plus more in sales because people gravitate to other e-commerce sites?
In other words, why take the risk of alienating your best customers?
Now, I won’t boycott Amazon and they’ll probably still get a majority of my online business. But, it’s just a bit of a letdown and a bit puzzling that one of my favorite shopping sites got rid of a great feature, and one that gave them a pretty big competitive advantage.

It’s Official: The Internet Is Killing The Print Newspaper

The Detroit area will soon be the first major city in the United States without a major newspaper that does home delivery seven days a week. The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News announced that home delivery will be cut to three days per week beginning in spring of 2009. The reason: Rapidly and continual subscriber cancellations because more and more people read the paper online.
So, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, you will have two options. You will either need to purchase one at full price at retail outlets that sell the paper, or you will have to subscribe to the ‘full’ online edition. Both papers have web sites that are free, but they are heavy on advertising and don’t contain the full amount of articles.
This announcement hit our city hard, and was another blow that didn’t help spirits with everything going in in the automotive market.
The logic used by upper management was that this was happening one way or another, and they predict that it will follow in other major markets. Rather than continue to lay writers and staff off, they felt that this would let a majority of workers at the paper keep their jobs.
What they neglected to mention was all the people who work at the presses who will lose their jobs eventually, as well as the people who make a living delivering home newspapers. When I was a kid, it was junior high and high school kids that had the job of delivering papers (my best friend had a route that I helped with), but now it’s pretty much adults that have the responsibility. These people will obviously be hit hard, and a good portion of them will be left scrambling.
I do agree that it seems to be a sign of the times that print media is dying. I also think, though, that the quality of media is somewhat on the decline, and that has something to do with it as well. I don’t see the investigative articles that I once did. The sports writers are very ‘vanilla’. I subscribe to the Sunday paper, and I used to be able to spend an entire morning with a cup of coffee and the paper. Now, I’m done in an hour or so.
I think that newspapers need to go back to their roots in terms of content, but need to adopt to the new times. It’ll be interesting to see how this works and if any other papers in the country follow suit.

Our Energy And Water Saving Washing Machine

When we moved into our house last summer, we had to purchase a new washer and dryer. I owned a condo before we bought our house, and had a traditional (top loading) washing machine and a matching dryer. But, I had to leave them behind as the offer for the condo stipulated that I had to leave the washer and dryer. Given that the real estate market was already soft, I was more than willing to include this.
Once we started looking, it was apparent that the biggest decision would be whether to go with a top loader or one of the ‘newer’ front loading washing machines. The up front cost of the front loader is much higher, often $400 or more difference.
The main benefit, however, is that they are much more energy efficient and use a lot less water and a lot less energy than a top loader. Up to 65% less in both cases. That’s many less gallons of water wasted per year, as well as a lot less energy usage.
In the end, we decided to go with the front loading machines. I’m happy to say that we are pleased with the purchase. The part that makes me happiest is that the water usage difference is significant and is more of an impact because of the water rates in our city.
For some reason, the cost of water in our city is one of the highest in the area. Since we moved in, we’ve been hit with increases of 15% and 12%. Therefore, it became apparent that any way we could save water is welcome. I would have very much regretted it if we would have chosen the top loading machine.
When we purchased the machines, one of the salesman told us that the top loaders will most likely be phased out over the next few years. I don’t know if that was just ’salesman’ talk, but in these days of trying to save energy, this would make sense. After all, I have also heard from numerous sources that the incandescent bulb is expected to be phased out within the next 5-10 years in the interest of energy conservation.
As water and energy become more expensive and more valuable, it would only stand to reason that a gradual switch to front loading, energy efficient washing machines would also make sense. In our case, the difference is huge, and as we expect to use the washer even more once Baby Beagle comes, the savings will continue to add up.

I’m A (Somewhat) Reformed Techie

I’ve always been in the computer industry and therefore, naturally, have always been somewhat of a ‘techie’. I always knew what gadgets were out, what was coming next, and was always about getting the latest and greatest ‘toys’.
But, I realized that I’m not that much of a techie anymore.
The First Signs of Techie Withdrawal
When I was in college, I always dreamed of building the perfect computer. I subscribed to PC Magazine, which for those not familiar, was a monthly or bi-monthly magazine that in it’s hayday was huge. It was probably 400-500 pages, mostly advertising, and the pages were huge. I would flip through that regularly and ‘put together’ the perfect model. The motherboard, the memory, the hard drive, the monitor. I knew exactly what I wanted.
I never got that perfect computer, but even at that time I started (in the back of my mind) to realize that what I wanted the month before was now a little bit cheaper and now not as ‘cool’.
I started to get it. You could wait and get something cheaper and/or better. What a novel idea!
After College
Once I graduated, I wasn’t as willing to hold back. Probably the fact that I actually had the money to buy stuff had something to do with it, but I was pretty into a lot of the gadgets after school. I was the first one of my friends to buy a TV over 30 inches. I bought a DVD player when Best Buy had one aisle of DVDs, and paid over $300 for the pleasure of doing so. I bought one of the original XBox machines for full retail price, which I’m pretty sure was $350.
But it was all cool.
Learning Lessons
It was all cool until I realized that just a few short months after those purchases, the DVD player that I bought was half the price, and the XBox was $100 less money. Yikes!
I think around this point I started to remember that if you wait, you get it better and cheaper.

The Computer Lesson
Where I really learned my lesson was with computers. Since I have always worked with computers and have made my career from doing so, this is the one area that I always loved to be on the cutting edge for.
I bought a couple of computers within graduating college. I always loved how cool they looked, how fast they were and what the capabilities were. I never got the biggest or the best, but it was always good enough and was right up there with the current standards.
Then, the inevitable happened as it always does with computers.
The newer ones kept getting faster. And mine kept getting slower.
It seems all computers are designed to slow down over time. They run fast for about a week, then slowly they churn a little slower and a little slower. Every piece of software you install makes it creep along just a bit slower. Every update or security patch makes it apparent that computers can never come with enough memory, even though you seem to recall thinking it was more than you could ever need when you bought it.
Eventually, the computer gets so slow that you start to wonder if it has a crank you can turn to speed it along.
Once all this started hitting me, I realized that buying computers and other gadgets aren’t as important, because the ’shine’ of having the latest gizmo only lasts for as long as it takes for the manufacturer to come out with the newer model. I still buy electronics, but more from function. I still plan on buying a flat screen TV at some point, but more when the current TV (still the one from right after college, by the way) finally gives out.
But, holding back lets me save money and lets me think about the purchases, versus buying on impulse which can so often guide purchases of ‘toys’.
I’m glad I have slowed it down because otherwise I’d probably have a pile that looks something like this:

Catching Up After A Long Weekend

Back in the swing of things after a nice relaxing holiday weekend. My wife and I spent most of the time decorating and relaxing. I will get back to my posting schedule starting….now! Thanks for being patient.
Odds and ends from the holiday weekend:

  • Giving Thanks – We had a lot to be thankful for this year and it was wonderful to get to spend time with our families. Even though we have a troubling financial year, it’s nice to remember the things we have to be thankful for. In our case, we have wonderful families, my wife and I both have jobs, we have Baby Beagle on the way, great friends, and so many other things. It’s nice to reflect on that and hopefully we all take the time to do it more often.
  • Black Friday – We didn’t do too much shopping. We weren’t planning on going out at all, but we both woke up around 6am, which is our normal time for getting up for work, and decided to go look around. I got some LED Christmas lights at 50% off for one of our indoor trees, and my wife got some odds and ends at Michael’s at door buster prices. So, we didn’t actually buy any gifts but we did get some good deals and do our part to add to the mad rush. Surprisingly, none of the stores were that busy, but I guess it seems that most of the attention is reserved for electronics for the early rush.
  • Health Insurance – I am not happy with our insurance provider, Empire Blue. They sent an explanation of benefits that about sent me through the roof, for my wife’s first doctor’s visit. Apparently they are claiming that some of the services fall under a ‘routine checkup’ which are limited to one per calendar year. I have to call them this week to verify that is the case, and see what needs to be done to re-classify the visit.
  • Fantasy Football – It was a depressing week for me in my fantasy football league. I’ve been atop the standings for most of the season, and the regular season winner gets $40. I lost my last two games to knock me down into third place, which means I got nothing. The playoffs start next week so I’ll have a chance for some additional money, but even the small money would have been nice. I know, such a small thing to be concerned about, but it’s fun to share!
  • Recession – So the markets tumbled 8 or 9 percent today on news that we really are in a recession. Wow, that’s news? I had thought the markets were supposed to factor in future events. And the fact that we’re in a recession is the oldest news out there, so I’m surprised that the market dropped in such dramatic fashion on that news.
  • Snowfall – We had our first snowfall which required shoveling. It was actually very beautiful and looked a lot like this picture (which is just a random picture). I was very pleased with the new shovel that I bought, much more so than the plastic coated one that I used last year and was good for only one season.
  • Disappointed in JoAnn Fabrics – We bought a new Christmas tree on November 13th, as it was on sale and we wanted to make sure we got it before they ran out. It listed for $180, and we got it for $100. They had a sale following Thanksgiving where it was $90, plus they had a ‘door buster’ coupon for an additional 20% any sale priced item. They didn’t have any more in stock, and they refused to do a price adjustment, as they said that they normally only do those for 7 days after the purchase. I am used to retailers price matching for 30 days or so. This will probably prevent me from considering JoAnn for any future purchases of higher priced items.
  • Baby Update – Mrs. Beagle reported that she felt the baby move for the first time this past week. She described it as feeling like a muscle spasm, which matches what others say the first noticeable movements feel like. Exciting times!

I hope that everybody had a great weekend!

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