The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

June 28, 2011

The Freedom of Too Much Choice

Filed under: Food — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 2:26 am

For some time now, I’ve been trying to seriously cut back on drinking soda.  That’s not to say that I’m the type of person who is constantly guzzling down the stuff or anything like that, but  even though compared to some people I really don’t drink a whole lot of soda, I still get the sneaking suspicion that I’m probably drinking more of it than I should.  Even the fact that I have become, somewhat by necessity, a bit of a soda snob doesn’t seem to do much about this.  Even the slightest amount of caffeine in soda will keep me up half the night (and most of the time it ends up being the half of the night that my weird sleep schedule doesn’t keep me up) and when you throw sugar into the mix, it means that I’m up half the night AND climbing up the walls at the same time.  That means when I do drink soda, I need to stay away from the caffeinated stuff as much as possible, and should probably try to avoid the sugary stuff too.  This can result in very limited choices sometimes. 

Take the example above, from the Costco food court.  Back when they had Coke products in the soda machines, they actually had a reasonable (not great, but reasonable) selection of choices in the soda machines, so I could usually manage to find something to drink here.  A couple of years ago, following a pricing dispute with Coca-Cola that ultimately resulted in the temporary removal of all Coke products from the warehouses for about a month, Costco ultimately replaced the Coca-Cola products with Pepsi products.  And for some unknown reason, they decided that even though they have sixteen different spigots (or in some larger warehouses, 24) to work with in their soda fountains, they were only going to offer five options, three of which are caffeinated.  I’m sure you don’t have to go back too far to get back to a time when people would have been happy to have five choices to work with (presumably this was back in the days when you had choices of Coke, Sprite and maybe Dr Pepper if you were lucky) but especially given the fact that no fewer than twelve of the dispenser heads are being taken up by only three drinks (none of which I can really drink if I’d like to sleep anytime in the next eighteen hours) it just seems a bit ridiculous, and even at the now-famous $1.50 price for a Costco hot dog, makes the whole deal seem like a bit of a rip off really.  I’m sure someone could cite obscure economic reasons for doing it this way, but based on a bit of Internet research on prices for Pepsi bag-in-box products, they all pretty much cost the same price, which makes the whole thing seem more ridiculous. 

I suppose that to some extent, the annoyance that results from having the option of only five soda flavors  (only two of which I can drink without going completely bonkers) stems from the fact that society as a whole seems to have gotten used to having all sorts of options for pretty much everything these days.  My TV has some 200 channels on it (about four of which I watch on a regular basis,) and just in case I can’t find something to watch on there I’ve got a TiVo that can hold another 142 hours of recorded HDTV programming on it.  And if it weren’t for the fact that I might be the last person on Earth who doesn’t have a Netflix account I could find another half-zillion or so options on there.  If I want to listen to music I can just pull up Zune and listen to pretty much anything I can possibly think of within seconds.  I can go to Amazon and get any of their hundreds of thousands of products delivered to my door within a couple of days.  And yet if I want a cheap hotdog, it means I’m stuck with a choice between root beer or diet lemonade.  I suppose I could just go to Sam’s Club where the cheap hotdogs still come with a decent selection of drink choices, but that’s beside the point.

But thanks to the miracles of modern technology, there’s hope for us soda snobs, and it comes in the form of the Coca Cola Freestyle.  Although these machines are still experimental to at least some extent, they have begun popping up in a number of the local Taco Time restaurants (and it looks like the Blissberri Frozen Yogurt shop that’s going to be opening at Bellevue Square at some point in the near future is going to have one of these too,) replacing the more conventional soda fountains with the latest in beverage-dispensing technology.  Thanks largely to the use of Microdispensing technology that separates flavorings from sweeteners and allows for flavorings to be concentrated into much smaller spaces, the Coca Cola Freestyle machine can handle up to 125 different drink flavors, which are selected through a touchscreen interface.  Oh, and the ice dispenser built into the machine has the good kind of crunchy ice too.

 

Granted, most of the flavors being offered are just variations on the base Coca Cola flavors, but when was the last time you saw Caffeine Free Diet Cherry Coke in your local soda fountain?  Come to think of it, did the stuff even exist before the Coca-Cola Freestyle?

And while having 125 different drink choices available sounds like a soda enthusiast’s dream, it does pose an interesting dilemma:  You find yourself in front of the machine with a soda cup in hand, and start tapping at some of the options on the screen.  Just about everything on the main menu goes to a screen like you see above.  Sure, you might have decided after much deliberation that you’re in the mood for a Sprite, but did you want Sprite, Cherry Sprite, Orange Sprite, Peach Sprite, Strawberry Sprite, Raspberry Sprite, Grape Sprite or Vanilla Sprite?  And are you sure you didn’t really want Sprite Zero?  Or Fanta?  Or Fanta Zero?  Or something completely different in the first place?  Never in the course of human history has something as simple as a soda machine come with such a great risk of Analysis Paralysis.  And if you’ve got someone who already spent ten minutes staring at the menu board trying to figure out what to have for lunch, this seems  like the kind of thing that could put them completely over the edge.

 Granted, this is still new technology, and as cool as the whole thing sounds, we still don’t have any idea if it’s actually going to catch on with a wide audience.  But given the nature of the machine, it seems like steps could be taken to remedy this type of situation.  Perhaps some sort of recommendation UI could be added to the machine where a user could enter in some preferences (for example, they could say they want something that’s diet, non-caffeinated and in one of several flavors the user chooses) and suggestions could be made based on these choices.  Without the ability to store individual user preferences in any meaningful form it might prove an interesting challenge to figure out the best way to go about this, but something like a “most popular” list or a “Recommended” list wouldn’t be too hard to implement.  Regardless of what future direction Coca-Cola may decided to take with these machines, it’s still an interesting concept, and one I’d definitely like to see catch on, even if it does come with some pitfalls for someone as indecisive as I’ve been known to be on occasion.

And it’s certainly a whole heck of a lot better than having sixteen spigots on a soda fountain and only two viable options.  Soda, soda everywhere, and not a drop to drink…

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April 13, 2010

More Random Thoughts: Costco and the Single Guy, Bringing a Sleepy Neighborhood Back to Life

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:10 am

For those of you who might be wondering, I am, in fact, still working on my review of the iPad.  It’s just turning out to be a slightly more epic undertaking than I had originally planned on (and the fact that I blew the better part of last Saturday vegging out on video games probably isn’t doing a whole lot to get it done either.)  For those of you who are wondering, the short version is that it’s a really nice little device, but that’s not going to stop me from nitpicking the living daylights out of the whole thing.  Then again, these days it seems to be my job to nitpick about iPhone and iPad stuff, so it all goes with the territory.  In the meantime, here’s a couple more random thoughts from the last few days.

* * *

It is usually around this time of year that my Costco membership comes up for renewal, and every year around this time I find myself wondering if the whole thing is really worth it.  Sure, I do make it a point to go visit Costco every once in a while if for no other reason to wander around, grab a few samples and maybe pick up an item or two in the process, but as a single guy living alone, there’s an awful lot of items at Costco which just aren’t practical.  Take for example, the muffins being offered in the bakery.  Under different circumstances, there is a good chance I would buy these on a regular basis.  They’re rather tasty, and would make for convenient breakfasts, but in reality, there are a couple of problems with these:  First of all, each of the gargantuan muffins is pushing somewhere in the neighborhood of 600-700 calories apiece (and believe me, you don’t want to know what the rest of the nutrition info looks like on the things.)  While I could live with that (not for long, apparently,) the other big problem with these for me is that you have to buy them 12 at a time.  This being in spite of the fact that they have recently made changes so they’re now packed 6 in a box rather than the previous 12.  It would seem like a no-brainer to allow the individual 6-packs to be sold separately, but apparently you  still have to buy them two at a time.  The requirement to buy 12 at a time, combined with the relatively short expiration period in which I would need to consume all of those, make this one a big no-no.  I suppose I could freeze some of them if not for the fact that my freezer is already approaching the point of needing a crowbar to get stuff in and out, but in general, the whole Costco muffin thing starts to sound like a really, really, really bad idea. 

Along with the bulk sizes of Costco products come the bulk prices as well.  For some reason, I find it hard to get out of the place for much less $50 on a good day.  Every once in a while I’ll walk out of the store with some peanuts, canned tomatoes, breakfast cereal, a bag of tortilla chips, a 5-pound block of  cheese and an industrial-strength bottle of antacid, realize that I’ve spent nearly $50 on all that, but would still be hard-pressed to make an actual meal out of those ingredients.  OK, I suppose I could improvise something out of that if I was stranded by a flood or some other unfortunate circumstance, and I’m sure I’ll use all the stuff eventually over the course of my regular cooking, but it just seems like a whole lot of money being spent on a whole lot of nothing in particular.  My shopping trips at the regular grocery store rarely exceed half that amount, and most of the time the resulting quantity of food is enough to get 5 or 6 meals (plus leftovers) out of.  I’m sure that I’d manage to save money on this in the long run, but it’s just a little bit tough to see it that way in the short term.

But if I stopped renewing my Costco membership, would I really even miss it?  It would save me $100 a year in fees, and I’d still have a card that I could use to sneak into the warehouse (they only ever seem to look at the front, and I think my current card is at least five years old anyway) to wander around and grab samples with, but I wouldn’t be nearly as tempted to buy huge quantities of stuff I probably don’t need anyway, and I could still grab the occasional cheap hot dog on the way out (although they recently managed to ruin those by not only replacing the Coke machines with Pepsi, but somehow managing to offer only five choices of soda and two non-caffeinated ones out of sixteen spigots on the fountains, but that’s another rant entirely.) Nonetheless, I’d probably feel guilty if I actually tried that, so ultimately I end up renewing whether I need it or not.  Even so, it’s not as easy as it looks being a single-serve guy living in a bulk-pack world…

* * *

 The southern part of the Pioneer Square neighborhood in which Seattle’s two sports stadiums are located tends to be a surprisingly sleepy place when there isn’t some sporting event going on.  Since parking at the Qwest Field garage is only $5 on days when nobody is playing, I’ll occasionally find myself making the walk from Royal Brougham down Occidental to the office, and most days when I make this walk (which is, at nearly half a mile, a much longer walk than you might think just by looking at the maps) it is rare that I’ll see more than a handful of people along the way.  There might be a person or two on a ladder in front of the exhibition hall doing some non-specific task and maybe another walker or two along the way, but for the most part it’s pretty quiet.  This all changes when the Mariners get back into town.  The normally sleepy street gets quickly turned into a beehive of activity.

As I’ve noted in previous posts, my job these days has me working within easy walking distance of Safeco Field, and as the crowds made their way to the ballpark for today’s afternoon home opener, I decided to get away from my desk for a bit and take a walk down Occidental to check out the scene.  As is normally the case for Mariners home games, there is a surprisingly wide assortment of various street vendors selling ballpark food for (slightly) less than the prices inside the ballpark, souvenir sellers, random product samples, and the obligatory ticket scaplers.  To be honest, I have a hard time watching a ballgame at the ballpark (my somewhat less-than-terrific eyesight and usual nosebleed perspective  makes it hard to pay much attention to what’s on the field,) but there’s a certain ambiance that surrounds a live ballgame that you just don’t seem to find anywhere else.  To be honest, it can be just a little weird to walk down to the ballpark through the crowds, the noise and the scents of the various hotdogs cooking, then to have to turn around and head back in the other direction to finish the day at work.  I did manage to grab a bag of Kettle Korn on the way back though.  Fortunately, it looks like there’s a good chance I’ll have all summer to take it all in.  Now if we just had a decent baseball team to go along with all this…

January 20, 2009

The Redmond Costco Moves Forward (Updated 9/19/15)

Filed under: Redmond — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 2:01 am

Update 4 (9/19/15):  Almost six years after the last update to this post, there’s a new update to report:  Even though I had assumed that this project was dead in the water many years ago, it seems that it has recently been revived, and actual construction work on the site has finally begun.  Looks like Redmond is getting a Costco after all…

Update 3 (9/9/09):  An article over at the Redmond Reporter about a recent public Q&A session with Redmond mayor John Marchione contains the following information about this project:

One resident asked about the plans of Costco coming to Redmond. Marchione confirmed that Costco planned to open in store on Union Hill, but negotiations between the land owner and Costco have stalled, putting the plans on hold. He declined to comment further about the Costco development, but did say he is optimistic that a deal will get done.

I’ve heard mixed messages about the status of this project, ranging from it being on hold for economic reasons to having been cancelled completely.  Either way, I’m guessing it’ll be quite some time before we see anything happening here, assuming anything happens at all.

Update 2 (1/20) : Another version of this post has now been posted at Kirkland Views, which discusses the potential effect that a Costco in Redmond may have on the Kirkland store, which is a significant source of sales tax revenue for the City of Kirkland.  That article may be found here.

Update (1/20) :  In response to an inquiry, I have received the following information from Asma Jeelani, the City of Redmond project planner working on this application:

  • The application for the Costco store itself has been approved;
  • A public hearing for the gas station has been scheduled for February 9th (as mentioned below);
  • The city is working with the applicant on civil construction plans;
  • Construction of infrastructure and roads for this project is expected to begin by April 1st.

I will also post any further updates that I hear of on this.

I am just now getting around to some of the things that I missed around here last month while I was either trying to hide from the weather, run away from it or celebrate it in some festive manner, all while trying to convince myself somehow to believe in fairy tales.  It turns out that there’s a surprising amount of stuff going on around here, so I am trying to catch up on some of the things that I missed, and try to get a couple of other projects underway.

For some time now, we have known that Costco has been planning to build a new warehouse in Redmond out near Union Hill Road, although for one reason or another, the process has been delayed for some time.  Initially, the proposal made in 1997 when the portions of the current Cadman site it will be built on was purchased was for it to be open by Fall of 2008, but since we now are into 2009 and nothing appears to have happened yet, we can assume that this schedule has been pushed back.  There was some concern when a proposed Costco store in Bellevue was cancelled that it might affect the proposed Redmond location as well, but since it turns out that the cancellation in Bellevue was more the result of zoning issues and red tape than economic issues, the Redmond location would not be affected.

In mid-November,  three land use applications were filed with the City of Redmond pertaining to the Costco store and its site which shed some light on the proposed Costco store’s location, and what else might be done with the area.  Two of the three applications pertain to the Costco store itself and the Costco gas station which will be located on the premises.  Included in the application for the store is the tree preservation plan shown above, which not only shows how the site will be landscaped, but also how the site will be laid out.  The store itself looks like it should have virtually the same layout as the Woodinville store that opened a couple of years ago.  The third application deals with plats  for the Costco site and seven other sites in the area totaling 60 acres,  as part of what will eventually be known as the Union Hill Corporate Center.  This application also deals with construction of the necessary roads, as outlined below.

Click image for an interactive map

Click image for an interactive map

Based on the information in the land use application, we can also get a better idea of the location as well.  The new Costco store will be located at the corner of NE 76th Street and 188th Ave. NE, which turns out to be an intersection which does not even exist currently.  There are two different segments of 188th, one short segment north of Union Hill Road next to the Millennium campus, and one that goes from 202 up to NE 68th, passing through a residential neighborhood and next to the Genie Industries plant.  Under the proposal, 188th Ave. NE would be extended from NE 68thto Union Hill Road, creating another link between the two major roads.  NE 76th  (which passes between the Target and Fred Meyer stores about a half mile west of here) would also be slightly extended to intersect with the newly extended 188th.  The map above shows the site of the Costco store in blue, the other proposed sites in gray below, and the proposed road additions in red.

November 4, 2008

Anybody Want to Buy a Slightly Used Kmart? (Updated)

Filed under: Bellevue, shopping — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:19 am

(Image via Live Search Maps. click for an interactive map)

Update 3/4/2011: A Bellevue Reporter article was published yesterday with new information on redevelopment plans for Kelsey Creek Center and the former KMart store.  According to the article, the former KMart building will be renovated into a health club and an unspecified grocery store.  The renovations are expected to begin soon, with completion planned in time for the 2011 Holiday season  You can find the article on the redevelopment of Kelsey Creek Center  here.

Update 6/9/2010:  The city of Bellevue has agreed to change the zoning regulation that would require daylighting of Kelsey Creek in exchange for mtiigation activities elsewhere on the creek, which may make a redevelopment of this center actually feasible, although it is unclear if there is any specific interest in doing so at this time.  See this post for more details.

Update 11/12/2008:  Based on a different version of the article on the Costco cancellation posted by the Kirkland Reporter (as opposed to the Bellevue Reporter which posted the original article,) it turns out that plans are in fact still in the works for a Redmond Costco on Union Hill Road.  Unfortunately, there are no details to indicate whem we might actually see that happen.  The Kirkland Reporter version of the article with this info can be found here.  Also of note with regards to Costco is the fact that the Kirkland location is trying to get approval to add a gas station (more info on that can be found here.)

If you’ve driven through Bellevue on 148th Avenue Northeast anytime within the last few years, chances are that you’ve probably noticed the former Kmart store at the corner of 148th and Main which at this point has now sat empty for six years.  Although the Kelsey Creek Center which it once anchored seems to be getting along just fine without the store that used to anchor it, it’s hard not to notice the big empty building that takes up a sizable chunk of the property and the large parking lot which sees little use except when the Funtastic Carnival rolls into town for a week or so each year. 

This particular store closed back in 2002 during Kmart’s chapter 11 bankruptcy, but on the rare occasions that I shopped at the store when it was still open I was less than impressed by the place, and everywhere you looked you could find excessive wear and tear that indicated that they were skimping on even the basic maintenance.  At the time, the Overlake Fred Meyer store didn’t look all that great, but it was still in far better shape overall (and a couple of years ago that store got a major interior remodel that made it look a whole lot nicer than it used to.)  Given the choice between this store and one of the nice clean Target stores found scattered throughout the area, it was no surprise that people weren’t shopping here.  A Kmart store up in Everett on Highway 99 which is still operating now doesn’t look a whole lot better.

In the six years since this store closed, there have been a couple of different attempts to utilize the property again, both by Costco.  The frist time around (back in 2003 or so,) Costco had made plans to build a new concept grocery store here, although ultimately those plans never materialized.  In the last year or so, Costco has once again had their eye on this property, proposing to demolish the existing building and replace it with a more standard Costco warehouse, complete with gas station.  Unfortunately, it looks like this plan won’t be happening either, as an article in the Bellevue Reporter today reported that Costco has once again cancelled their plans for this site, apparently citing problems with zoning regulations as the reason.

The main obstacle that is getting in the way of redevelopment of this particular site seems to be Kelsey Creek, from which this site derives its name.  As you can (sort of) see from the photo above, there is a culvert that the stream runs through, which goes under the parking lot.  In the article, it is reported that zoning regulations would have required uncovering the stream in order to redevelop the property, a process which apparently would have proven to be prohibitively expensive.  Although discussions on changing the zoning requirements have apparently been ongoing in the Bellevue City Council, I suspect that current economic conditions may have also contributed to the cancellation of this project.  Costco has also made plans to build a new store in Redmond on Union Hill Road using a portion of the Cadman site, but although the store was originally planned for a Fall 2008 opening, they haven’t lifted a shovel on building that one either.

With Costco apparently out of the picture for this particular site, it appears that once again for the foreseeable future this old Kmart store will remain vacant, at least until a solution to the Kelsey Creek problem (and someone willing to actually deal with it in whatever manner the Bellevue City Council and Kelsey Creek Neighborhood council decide) can be found.  Having a big empty former box store sitting in the middle of what is otherwise a vibrant neighborhood doesn’t really do anybody any good, but with the amount of red tape hanging over the place, I’m not sure what could be done with it.  Anyone got any ideas?

September 27, 2008

Are You Looking For Some Hot Stuff?

Filed under: Random Stuff, shopping — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:56 am

These days, it’s not particulary unusual to see Halloween stuff on the shelves at most stores by now, and  it’s not particularly unusual anymore to see it show up before August comes to a close (that’s another post though, which will come eventually.)  At the same time, Christmas merchandise is starting to sneak onto whatever unguarded bit of seasonal aisle shelf space it can manage to sneak into.  Eventually, the stuff is going to practically take over the whole store, but for the time being, it seems content to lay low and wait for Halloween to pass, after which it’ll march in unopposed and stake its claim for the next couple of months, ruling over the toy aisles with an iron fist of holiday glee.  There was a time when the Christmas stuff didn’t show up in the stores until after Thanksgiving, but these days we’re used to spending four whole months out of the year navigating through a maze of brightly lit trees and giant inflatable animatronic reindeer (of Doom) when we head out for our weekly shopping run.  Needless to say, the holidays don’t exactly sneak up on us.

The seasons, on the other hand, generally don’t come and go with a whole lot of fanfare.  Sure, each of the individual seasons comes with its own set of trappings and accessories, but for the most part, these come and go without making too much noise.  That is why it can be just a bit jarring to take a trip to Costco to grab a couple of things to restock the pantry and wandering into a whole aisle full of this stuff:

Sure, we can see the signs of Fall advancing upon the landscape.  The yellowing leaves on the trees and the ground are a bit hard to miss, and the strange equilibrium point in between seasons where you end up using the heater and the air conditioning in your car on the same day has now passed, with the heater more often than not winning out over the AC.  Even so, it can still be just a bit jarring to wander into a random aisle of the store and encounter pallet loads of big fluffy blankets, space heaters and not-so-convincing fake fireplaces.  Yeah, I get the point.  It’s going to get freakin’ cold around here in a couple of months, just like it has for, oh, the last few thousand millenia or so.  It was just a couple of weeks ago that we were still getting highs in the eighties, and even today the weather managed to make a reasonable attempt at reaching the mid seventies in the afternoon.   Right now, it’s still occasionally warm enough to get away with wearing shorts outside, and if you don’t mind, I’ll cling on to the last few crumbling fragments of summer for just a bit longer, OK? 

Actually, I don’t really mind this time of year much.  Sure, the temperatures are going down, the darkness comes sooner, and the typical weather patterns around here have reverted to the usual default of rainy and overcast, but these three things I can deal with.  In general, I find that there are a lot more options available to deal with being too cold than there are for being too hot.  I think my internal temperature might run just a bit on the warm anyway, which makes me a bit more tolerant of colder weather than some people (and on the flip side, a bit more uncomfortable in hot weather.)  Even the earlier darkness doesn’t bug me all that much, since I’ve always been something of a night owl anyway (as the usual timestamps on my Blog posts demonstrate.)  Just don’t ask me what I think of the whole thing when the middle of January rolls around, the temperatures are hovering just north of freezing and Spring is still two months away.  I’ll deal with that part later, although I think it might not be a bad idea to start stockpiling my monthly weather complaint post allowance, just in case.

June 26, 2008

The Night the Lights Went Out at Costco

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:45 am

 Here’s something you don’t see very often: a huge shelf loaded with HDTVs at the Issaquah Costco, all of them completely dark.  I was over there yesterday evening to go try to figure out what shiny new stuff they have currently that I can’t live without (not a lot it would seem,) when suddenly the power to the store went out, plunging the whole store into darkness…  Well OK, maybe not darkness, but definitely a state of moderate dimness.  The store has plenty of skylights to let natural light in, so the risk of doing yourself in by blundering into a pallet of kitchen knives remained fairly minimal.

Fortunately for the shoppers, it turns out that the registers at this store are on backup power in case of an outage, so as far as I could tell, for the most part things just ran as usual, at least in the front end.  I’m sure the whole thing probably caused a few headaches over there though, particularly in the frozen foods department. 

 

January 28, 2008

The Perpetual March of Technology and Buyer’s Remorse

Filed under: Entertainment, Technology — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 1:52 am

About two years ago,  I purchased the HDTV which I currently have in my living room.  It is a Viewsonic N3250w 32″ LCD with 720p resolution, and aside from the fact that doesn’t have a digital tuner and that it doesn’t seem to be compatible with any remote I have but its own, it has worked reasonably well for me.  At the time I purchased it, there was a coupon book deal at Costco Home* for $200 off the standard $1,000 price (which, if I recall correctly, was itself about $200 less than most places in town were selling a similar model for,) and the final price ended up being $800 plus tax.  This was a significant bargain for a TV of this size, and when I went to pick it up, it turned out that a few other people had the same idea, to the point that the initial shipment of 90 units was gone in less than an hour, and by the time I got there I ended up at position #250 on the waiting list they had created for future shipments of this model. 

At this point I assumed that I had roughly zero chance of ever getting one of these things, so I started looking for a Plan B.  I figured that I had managed to live for six months without having a TV in my apartment, so I could probably last a little while longer.  It was somewhat of a surprise when I got a call several weeks later that my turn had come up on the waiting list, and a TV was waiting for me at the store.  Not wanting to have them sell off my TV to the next guy to show up, I dropped everything and rushed over to the store, and  must admit that I may have exceeded the posted speed limit along the way a time or two.  After all,  a deal like that didn’t come up just every day.  Thanks to a somewhat inaccurate estimate of the size of the TV in relation to the size of the backseat of my car (if you recall, this was back when I was still driving my beater Camry with a non-openable trunk) they were somehow able to cram the TV into the backseat of the car, but there was no way the box was ever going to come back out in one piece.  Ultimately it was necessary to rip the box to shreds and extract the contents that way, but not before adding a number of additional rips to the upholstery in my car’s backseat, and breaking off one of the grab handles.  I can’t recall the last time anyone rode in the backseat of that car anyway, so this was no big deal.  After all, the TV was worth more than the car it was being transported in at the time.

Fast forward a couple of years, and suddenly that screaming deal doesn’t look quite so hot anymore. The 32″ LCD TVs that cost roughly $1,200 two years ago have come down in price by at least a third, and there are even 32″ models that can be found for $500 or less if you know where to look.  The $800 I paid for my TV will easily buy a 37″ model, and 42″ and 47″ 1080P models don’t cost a whole lot more than that.  Even Sony TVs are starting to get to the point of being almost affordable, although they continue to command a price premium of several hundred dollars over the competition.  Far be it from me to sound ungrateful, but at times it can be just a little hard to walk into a store and look at the ever shrinking pricetags on ever growing expanses of glowing pixels and wonder how I could have paid a whole eight freakni’ hundred bucks two years ago for what I could have gotten for $600 or less now, or noting that for not too much more than that $800 I could be the proud owner of a shiny new 47″ 1080P LCD. 

(more…)

December 29, 2007

Tiny Bubbles in Huge Quantities

Filed under: shopping — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:50 pm

(Note:  This article is crossposted from buzz.mn.)

While some stores are busy with their huge after-Christmas blowout sales, other stores have swiftly removed all traces of the now lapsed holiday from the store. At the local Costco, the shelves full of holiday decorations (mostly the stuff you’d probably need a bigger yard to accomodate) had disappeared without a trace from the warehouse. Aside from some leftover toys piled up on shelves in the back, there wasn’t any sign that a major holiday which results in massive consumer spending just happened. This is somewhat understandable, given the fact that the stuff has been hanging around since September and they were probably getting sick of it.  In the place of the Christmas stuff, preparations have been made to catch the next opportunity to sell big ticket items to the well-intentioned:

Just in time for New Years Resolutions, a variety of exercise machines are on offer.  Throughout my childhood, a fair number of these devices took up relatively brief residence in the household. I can recall several stationary bikes, a couple of treadmills, and even a full-sized home gym (which forced the relocation of our well-stocked den/computer room to the dining room of all places) showing up at various times. At first, they would see at least somewhat regular use, but over time, they would eventually end up buried up under piles of unfolded clean laundry or other detritus, amd would eventually find their way out to the garage until they could be foisted off on an unwitting relative. No matter how many times it happens, the cycle seems ro repeat itself eventually. (Incidentally, if anyone happens to need a home gym, I could probably find you one really cheap, as long as you’re willing to haul it off…)

Elsewhere in the warehouse, other preparations for the New Year were being made, including a sizeable display of various champagnes and other sparkling wines (you can’t call it “Champagne” unless it comes from that particular region of France, according to EU regulations.) For years, these wineries have taken great pains to build up a reputation of prestige and exclusivity for their products. Then something like this comes along and wrecks the whole thing:

I’m sure that you wouldn’t have to go back too many years to find a time when practically EVERYONE would have been appalled by that particular scene for one reason or another. You can put away the guillotine though, because the Dom Pérignon brand of Champagne was not introduced until 1936, more than 200 years after the actual Dom Pérignon’s death in 1715. Nonetheless, one might be tempted to say that the Dom himself would be rolling in his grave, but his Wikipedia entry seems to suggest that his role in the development of sparkling wines is often exaggarated. In fact, back in those days the refermentation of wine that resulted in carbonation was considered to be a defect to be avoided, mostly due to its tendency to cause the bottles to explode, sometimes setting off chain reactions and presenting considerable risk to those who worked in the wine cellars.

Of course, even at wholesale prices, Dom Pérignon is still horrendously expensive for most of us at nearly $120 a bottle. Perhaps if you’re looking for something a bit more Bourgeoisie friendly, how about Kirkland Signature champagne? As strange as that may sound, According to their website the stuff is real Methode Champenoise produced champagne from France, compliant with all the EU Protected Designation of Origin regulations. In other words, the stuff ain’t Two-buck Chuck (or Three-Buck Chuck, depending on the taxation wherever you happen to live.) On the other hand, it’s still $20 a bottle, so I don’t think we’re going to be seeing the stuff in the local 7-Eleven anytime soon either.

October 25, 2007

The latest bargains from Costco

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:18 am

One of the ways that warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club manage to keep their prices down is to buy their products from different vendors at different times, and bring in a lot of “treasure hunt” items that may or may not be around the next time you stop in.   The sheer variety of different products that go through a Costco warehouse means that every once in a while, something just a little odd is going to show up. 

 First of all, we have a rather odd bit of licensing:

 

 I could understand putting Sesame Street branding on things like diapers, childrens’ vitamins or peanut butter, but strawberries?  I suspect that 9 out of 10 preschoolers, when given a plain strawberry to eat would pronounce it “yucky” whether the container had a picture of Elmo on it or not.  In fact, about the only way you’d get any of them to eat strawberries is to drown them in sugar, which would kind of defeat the whole purpose anyway.  Also note that the sample being held by Big Bird would seem to indicate that the size of the product contained therein should be placed in the “freakishly huge” category, which makes the actual contents of the package seem rather mundane.

Next up, we have this bit of advertising for Kirkland Signature brand fish oil pills, that might provide just a little more info than you wanted to know (accurate or otherwise) about the product:

This display, cute as it might be, seems to imply that they’re grinding up cute little orange fish by the boatload to make the stuff.  You might not want to let the kids see this one, particularly if they’ve seen Finding Nemo anytime recently. 

 Finally on a less kid-friendly note (I actually don’t drink myself, but for some reason I seem to find a lot of examples of this type of stuff,) did your last drunken bender seem like it was… missing something?  Did you wake up the next morning without a raging hangover and with a full recollection of the previous evening’s events?    Problem solved:

Daily's Cosmopolitans - Alcohol is in it!

That’s right, with Daily’s Cosmopolitans, you know you’re getting genuine honest-to-goodness ethanol in every sip, because it says so right on the label!  All you need to do is pour  yourself a stiff drink straight out of the box, and you’ll be ready to try out your most regrettable pick-up lines in no time at all, with none of that pesky inadvertent soberness of the leading brand! 

October 1, 2007

An Ounce of prevention, a Pound of Terror

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 7:00 pm

I have to admit that I’ve always had a fear of needles, which has kept me from getting flu shots over the years.  I have to say that this poster doesn’t do much for me to inspire confidence:

A friendly reminder for next time around:  the “crazy guy with ridiculously huge needle” clip art might have its place, but it really isn’t the best idea for this particular situation.

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