USPS 1st class rates up again

postal rate step chartMy blog entry on postal rate increases two years ago has been picking up a lot of hits, so I guess I should set the record straight. As of today, first class stamps are 44¢ and post cards are 28¢. This continues the recent pattern.

37¢ from June 30, 2002

39¢ from January 8, 2006

41¢ from May 14, 2007

42¢ from May 12, 2008

44¢ from May 11, 2009

(Additional ounces remain 17¢ each, up to the 3.5 oz. first-class letter limit.)

two more freeze-dried apple reviews

This my third post on the topic of freeze-dried apple snacks. I found two more brands to try (actually, one of them found me). Here’s what I thought of them.

– oOo –

Brothers-All-Natural Fuji Apple Crisps
Brothers-All-Natural Fuji Apple Crisps

As I mentioned at the end of the last review, I was looking forward to trying these. I have seen a couple of web sites that have described them quite favorably.

I found them at my local Costco store, in a box of 20 pouches (14 Fuji Apple, 6 Asian Pear) that sells for about $18. I didn’t really want to spend that much just to try them, but I did want to try them, so in the cart they went.

The individual pieces of apple are attractive. Each is about 3 mm thick, but the other two dimensions vary from medium-small to surprisingly large. They are very lightweight with a soft stiffness, sort of like styrofoam but a touch grainier.

Unfortunately they taste kind of like styrofoam, too. (Actually, I’m not sure I have ever tasted styrofoam, but I can imagine.) These Fuji Apple Crisps do have a faint apple-like flavor but it is subtle, and there is essentially no tartness.

They aren’t unpleasant, but I just don’t enjoy them much. It has been a few weeks and I have only consumed five of the twenty pouches. If these were anything like Weight Watchers Apple Snacks then they’d be long gone by now. They are a disappointment.

INGREDIENTS: 100% Freeze Dried Fuji Apples.

The Asian Pear variety is a bit crispier and slightly more tart. I believe I prefer it to the Fuji Apple, but not by much.

– oOo –

Apple Cinnamon

Today’s Farm Premium Freeze-Dried Snack: Apple Cinnamon

Someone from Justus Foods stumbeld upon my previous review and offered to send me some samples to try. This is a first for me, but I like the trend. I’ll let you know if it happens again after I review some flat-panel plasma televisions.

Anyway, the Today’s Farm pouch is about the same size as the Brothers-All-Natural pouch, but it holds about twice as much by weight. The apple pieces are thicker and are substantially denser.

The texture is . . . outstanding. I’m not sure how to describe it. It has a serious crunch that gives way a little. It’s almost like a crouton (but in a good way). The texture is different from those Weight Watchers Apple Snacks I keep mentioning, but I think I like it just as well.

The flavor isn’t bad. I prefer my apple products to be cinnamon-free, but the flavor is nice even though I can definitely taste the cinnamon. I can also taste some tartness, which is welcome, and some sweetness. Unlike the Brothers-All-Natural product, these have some added sugar which I presume accounts for much of sweetness.

If they didn’t add the sugar would it taste better? I don’t know, perhaps not. I’m sure it would taste better without the added cinnamon, but much of the world would seem to disagree with me on this, so I won’t belabor it.

These things are tasty enough that I would seek them out occasionally if a local store carried them. If no local stores carry them, I may eventually choose to place an online order. We’ll see.

INGREDIENTS: Freeze-dried apples, sugar, cinnamon

Today’s Farm also sent other freeze-dried fruit samples. Strawberry is on the market now, while peach and pineapple are coming in the new year. I haven’t had a chance to try them yet.

– oOo –

Free Stuff

On Tuesday, 28 October 2008, get a free taco at your local participating Taco Bell between 2:00pm and 6:00pm local time. This is due to the stolen base in game 2 of the World Series of north-North-American baseball. (There were five stolen bases in game 3, but presumably we won’t get any extra tacos.)

On Sunday, 23 November 2008, register for a coupon for a free 20 oz. bottle of Dr. Pepper.1 This one is thanks to the impending studio album by Axl Rose. Dr. Pepper is tasty, but whether it’s worth giving up personal information for is your call.

1I realize that the Dr. Pepper Company may have preferred that I omit the period between “Dr” and “Pepper” but I don’t always follow its whims. Call me a rebel.

Dollar coins now easier to obtain

Months ago I wrote that U.S. dollar coins can be hard to obtain. Well now it’s easier thanks to the U.S. Mint’s circulating $1 coin direct ship program, introduced to “encourage robust national circulation of $1 coins.” I’m not sure it will do much for national circulation, but I’m glad that the coins are now easier to get.

Shipping takes 1-2 weeks, but is absolutely free, and payment can even be made by credit card.

The minimum order is one box of 250 coins (which costs $250, of course). There is a maximum of two boxes per presidential design per order, but if you want more than two boxes you can order multiple presidential designs or simply place multiple orders.

Btw, did you know the penny is getting four new tails designs next year?

computer trouble, part 1

I’ve been using my Powerbook G4 for three years now. Its power supply is on its last legs. I figured it was time to replace it with one of the MacBooks Apple released earlier this month.

At first I bought one at my local Apple store on black friday. It was on sale for about $100 off, but I had second thoughts and returned it unopened later that day. At MacMall the price (after rebate) was slightly cheaper, there were more free-after-rebate goodies, and I wouldn’t have to pay sales tax. MacMall’s web site was on the fritz black friday, so after trying for a couple of hours I eventually placed my order with a guy named Nathan via telephone.

My credit card company’s fraud detectors weren’t happy about this, and left a message to that effect on my answering machine. Ah, that must be why I hadn’t yet received the email invoice. I called the credit card company and cleared that up, but I was advised to call MacMall to rerun the charge. I called MacMall many times between 9:00pm and 3:00am that evening, listening to the hold music while doing other things in the house, but never got through to an actual person.

Saturday morning I called MacMall, got through, and was transferred to someone who reran the credit card charge. I even got the email invoice. One problem: the price of the MacBook was supposed to be $1237 (not including the $75 rebate) but was listed at $1294 on the email invoice, $57 too high. I sent Nathan an email about this, but then took a harder look at the email invoice:

$1294.00 MacBook (was supposed to be $1237, not including $75 rebate)
$0039.99 Shoulder case (free after rebate)
$0069.99 Printer (free after 2 rebates)
$0079.99 Parallels software (free after 2 rebates)
$0024.99 USB keyboard (not including $15 rebate)
– – – – – – – –
$1451.96 Subtotal (MacMall can’t add. This is $57 off.)
$0037.51 Shipping (free after rebate)
– – – – – – – –
$1489.47 Grand Total

Ok, I suppose they can add. They just added the $1237 the MacBook was supposed to be instead of the $1294 the invoice lists. For sure this is a crazy way to make an invoice, but I can live with it so long as the grand total is correct. Since $1489.47 is the amount I authorized Nathan to charge, I sent him a followup email saying he should ignore the first one.

UPS delivered the packages on wednesday. I pulled out the invoice and it looked just like the email invoice except this time they added correctly:

$1508.96 Subtotal (sum is correct, but reflects a $57 overcharge on the MacBook)
$0037.51 Shipping
– – – – – – – –
$1546.47 Grand Total  ($57 more than I agreed to pay)

I checked with the credit card company this is indeed the amount they actually charged. Argh. Continue reading

Supermarket pricing errors

I bought some garbage bags at the supermarket today. They were supposed to be on sale for $4.19 but they rang up for the regular price of $4.69. I’m the type that watches the prices as they ring up, so I usually catch this kind of mistake. I’d say I encounter approximately 25 of them a year.

Often what happens is the sale has ended but they forgot to remove the sale tag from the shelf. I feel I’m still entitled to the sale price in these cases–I shouldn’t be expected to examine the dates on all the sale tags. That’s not what happened today, though. The $4.19 price is valid through October 14.

Way back when supermarket barcode scanners were new (yes kids, before then there were price tags on each and every item) the typical store policy was that a pricing mistake entitled you to one of that item for free. I don’t know if that’s still the official policy, but it hasn’t worked that way for years. Now you just get the price difference, and only if you’re willing to wait for it.

I knew that to get the correct price for my trash bags it was going to take way more than 50¢ of my time. I had to wait for my turn to talk to someone, wait for someone to walk to the isle and verify the price, demonstrate the incorrect price on my receipt (often they are slow to believe, which can be vexing), and then wait for the coins. I’m too stubborn for my own good, though, so I always stick it out for the refund. Not only are they overcharging me but everyone else who buys that item, and I don’t like it

Today they opened a cash drawer and pulled out two quarters without typing any numbers on the keypad or logging anything. This is how they do it more often then not, but it’s not the correct way because it doesn’t refund the excess sales tax I paid. It’s really not worth my time to argue for a few extra cents, so I let that go. I’m stubborn but not that stubborn.

Long odds

Subway restaurants have a Scrabble promotion going on. It is similar to McDonald’s Monopoly promotion in that some game pieces are instant winners (usually for food items) and some must be collected into sets to be redeemed for more substantial prizes. To win a grand prize in the Scrabble promotion, one must form the word subway by collecting six individual letters: S, U, B, W, A, and Y.

What caught my eye is the odds. According to the official rules the odds of claiming a grand prize are about 2.2 billion to one. Up to 10 grand prizes will be awarded, they say, but at those odds I don’t see how. The contest is limited to legal U.S. residents, of which there are only about 300 million. So if each legal resident plays the game 7 times we would expect only one winner, right?

Also, the grand prize is only $100,000. The odds of winning MegaMillions or Powerball lottery jackpot are a dozen times better (at 176 or 146 million to one) yet the prize values greatly exceed $100,000. (A lottery ticket is cheaper than a large Subway beverage, too, though it admittedly lacks quenching value.)

The odds of winning the Monopoly grand prize are 20 times longer at 41 billion to one, but at least the prize is $5 million (paid over 19 years, so closer to $3 million cash value). $100,000 is Monopoly’s fourth-largest prize, at 700 million to one odds. On the other hand, the odds of winning food prizes are 1 in 7 for Monopoly, versus 1 in 2 for Scrabble.

Perhaps McDonald’s and Subway calculate their odds differently. McDonald’s official rules say, “the odds of winning Collect & Win prizes are based upon obtaining the complete Winning Combination,” which is vague. Subway doesn’t say anything at all, which is even more vague.

If I recall correctly—and possibly I don’t—in previous years the Monopoly official rules listed the odds of obtaining the single rare piece in each set. I find that more informative, though I suppose it could be assailed as underestimating the true odds. In the Scrabble promotion, it’s unclear if there is a single rare piece in each set.

Impressive iPhone Ads

I know some people who have been almost drooling over the impending iPhone device, but it hasn’t interested me much. Maybe if I could write my own apps for it, or if it didn’t cost so much….

I must say, though, that the television advertisements Apple has posted for the thing are fairly impressive. I won’t be switching carriers to AT&T/Cingular, but perhaps I’ll be paying more attention to the iPhone.

If you take a look at the calimari ad, near the end they do this thing with Google Maps that I often do myself with my web browser. Until lately I’ve used Yahoo Maps for this because of its integration with Yahoo Yellow Pages (which I guess is now called Yahoo Local). If you follow that last link to it will give you a list of seafood restaurants ordered by distance from a location.

I don’t use Yahoo Maps anymore because they’ve changed it. Continue reading

USPS 1st class rates going up

I remember hearing on the radio about a year ago that the U.S. Post Office had made an accounting mistake, that they had way more money then they thought they had, and therefore postal rates weren’t going to go up for a while. That must have been a hallucination because (1) I’m unable to find any corroboration on the net, and (2) rates are going up in two weeks.

The way they are increasing their rates is unusual this time around. They are actually lowering the “each additional ounce” rate from 24¢ to 17¢, but they are steeply raising the first-ounce rate for non-letter first class mail. Letter rates are increasing only 2¢, to 41¢ from 39¢, but they are restricting what counts as a letter. If it exceeds 6⅛ inches in both dimensions, exceeds a quarter inch in thickness, or weights more than 3.5 ounces it is considered a “flat.” The first ounce for flats will be 80¢. Flats that are more than 1¼ inches thick are considered “parcels,” which are increasing to $1.13 for the first ounce.

Evidently, the steeper increase for flats and parcels vs. letters is more in line with USPS’s actual costs for handling them. If so, I guess I have no objections. It makes for some interesting situations, though. Continue reading