Beware Amazon Price Watch

I love Amazon.com. I do a LOT of my shopping there. Anything from my TV to my rowing machine to filters for my furnace I purchase through Amazon.

Anybody who has dealt with Amazon knows that prices tend to fluctuate rather a lot.

Recently I was opining that Amazon’s kindle book prices should not be greater than those for new hardcopy books. So I set about looking for some kind of price watch tool that could alert me when ANY Amazon price changes, I was specifically interested in finding a tool that could track Kindle book prices as well.

This turns out to be pretty hard to find.

In my travels I elected to install a piece of [expletive deleted] software from nukeprice.com called “Amazon Price Watcher”. I found the software on CNet which is usually a pretty reliable source of safe software.

Right away, after installing it, I wasn’t impressed with the interface. It really wasn’t clear how it did what it was supposed to do and there was no useful help at all.

The clincher is that the uninstall – when you find it in the program files folder – doesn’t really uninstall everything. I ended up manually going through the registry to get this hunk of junk off my system.

I had already pointed it to my wish list (public wishlist) so it had already absorbed some of my current items of interest.  So for the past week I’ve been receiving daily emails from nukeprice.com telling me about one item that seems to drop by about 2 cents a day.

The *only* way, according to the email, to stop the emails is to reinstall the software and then change my watches. There is an intimation that the watch my expire on July 21 so that may ultimately stop the messages.

Of course I don’t feel comfortable with that software so it’s not going back on my machine so I’ll be spamming the incoming emails in the interim.

I just wanted to post this in case anybody is smarter than I am and searches teh intertubes for some opinions on Amazon Price Watch before installing.

I’ll say it again to be clear. I do not like “Amazon Price Watch” by nukeprice.com, the interface is confusing, the help is terrible and it doesn’t uninstall right.

Yech.

Battle of the Chocolate Milks – Nesquik Reduced Fat Chocolate Milk

I have already expressed my disapproval of Nestle’s “Quik” chocolate powder. It is just sloppy with big sugar granules and relatively little chocolate. I suppose cocoa is the more expensive ingredient and so they use sugar to fill up as much space as possible.

Their “Nesquik Reduced Fat Chocolate Milk” offering is of a similar bent.

The one positive thing I can say for it is that it was not at all watery which seems to be an issue with low fat anything. So it does have that going for it.

But the color is an unappealing grey/beige and the taste is remarkably devoid of any flavor at all. If you favor subtle then this may be your chocolate milk drink.

Verdict: unappealing

Mayfield is still the drink of choice.

Battle of the Chocolate Milks – Kroger Chocolate Lowfat Milk

Originally I had intended to only use whole milk offerings of the chocolate kind. But Michelle very kindly decided to pick up some samples for me recently while she was in Kroger and they simply didn’t have any. So I’ve expanded my evaluation to include low fat offerings as well.

The first one I tried was “Kroger Chocolate Lowfat Milk”.

The color was OK, but rather predictably it was somewhat watery. The taste also tended toward the bittersweet end of the spectrum.

Do you remember those wonderful, creamy fudgesicles you used to get when you were younger? Well this is instead more like those crappy, watery knock-offs that your parents used to be able to buy by the dozen at the supermarket.

Verdict: Unsatisfying.

Mayfield is still the drink of choice.

Alienware and good customer service experience.

Several years ago I had a terrible experience with Dell’s customer service and a video card on my still-under-warranty system. The experience involved me being hung up on and eventually sourcing my own parts from my local Microcenter.

After ignoring them for my subsequent computer purchase I’ve since ordered other Dell products, mostly because they offer IMHO the best combination of customizability and pricing that I’ve been able to find. My Inspiron 530 worked pretty well except for the “missing RAM” problem that a lot of people both with and without Dell products got stung by. It was that missing RAM experience combined with my earlier customer service issue that had driven me to try a boutique online computer shop instead of Dell originally.

Once that was all sorted out I decided to go with an Alienware machine in spite of my concerns. The costs and ability to get pretty much exactly what I wanted won out in the end.

About 3 weeks after I received the new system, the fan on the Video card (ATI Radeon HD 5870) started making noises that told me that it was giving up the ghost. It was especially disappointing given that all the other fans on that computer stay very quiet depending on the load. This one fan was louder than my nearby fridge when it’s in full swing.

So I called Alienware support (still separate from Dell’s support ultimately even though the front end is the same) and all the horror stories I had heard about Dell ruining the Alienware branding proved… unfounded.

The tech was knowledgeable, we quickly came to an agreement as to the issue. They shipped out a new card which arrived a few days later and whose box I used to return the failing card with no hassle or cost.

The new card is working great and I’ve had no other issues. The Alienware machine is pricier than piecing together a machine for yourself, but that also depends on how much you value your time. I much prefer *using* my computer to tweaking it, generally speaking.

I wanted to put this kudo out there for Alienware’s support and say that my experience, at least, was just fine.

Kudos to Flushmate

About 3 years ago I had all 3 toilets in my house replaced by with new ones powered by Flushmate’s pressure assist systems (the actual toilets are made by Gerber).

A few days ago one of them stopped working so I started pulling it apart to figure out what the problem was. I ended up on Flushmate’s website and found a wealth of information, most useful were a series of videos showing how to test and replace various components of their system. I was originally a little hesitant to go for the new technology since I *knew* that I could always get parts for conventional toilets at my local hardware store but was not sure what would happen should I have issues with these new units.

After watching the videos I could tell right away what was not obvious from reading the install manual, the actuator shaft of the flush cartridge was sheared through, but the break was smooth enough I did not initially recognize that it was not *supposed* to be in two pieces. I called their 1-800 number and, as it was a Saturday, I ended up leaving them a voicemail with the particulars of my situation.

Come Monday morning, Dawn from flushmate called me back and we determined that the flush cartridge was indeed broken and covered under their 10 year warranty. Even though the toilet had not originally be registered with them they honored the warranty and immediately shipped out a replacement cartridge.

Thursday the part arrived by regular mail and half an hour later the toilet was right as rain.

So I wanted to toss up my story of an easy to work with company that honors its stated commitment to its product without a lot of fuss and bother.

And these are still the best toilets we have ever owned. Three years and I’m sure they can flush anything Consumer Reports can throw at them. Exactly what our sewage system needs!

Battle of the Chocolate Milks – The Fresh Market

This battle pits The Fresh Market’s “Grade A Chocolate Milk from Jersey Cows” against my last post’s winner, “Mayfield Whole Chocolate Milk”.

The Fresh Market’s foods are very often my favorites. They make some great cakes and brownies  and I expected their chocolate milk to be a strong contender.

They did not disappoint, their chocolate milk offering has a great color and is smooth and flavorful but… misses for me on one crucial element. The taste tends more toward the bittersweet end of the spectrum than does the Mayfield offering.

If you know me, you know I’m not a fan of bittersweet chocolate. I’d say that, if you prefer your chocolate a little less sweet than I do, then I think I’d give The Fresh Market’s chocolate milk the edge. But, for me, I have to say that Mayfield Chocolate milk is still the one to beat.

Battle of the Chocolate Milks

As you know, I like my chocolate milk. And with the end of my supply of Hershey’s Chocolate Milk Powder I’ve begun searching for the pre-made chocolate milk brand that is best of breed and is easily available to me.

My other criteria are that it should have a smooth texture (not granular or “sugary”) and it should be something that I would look forward to drinking rather than merely be a utilitarian aspect of my meal.

I was in a Publix store yesterday and all that they had available were “Publix Chocolate Grade A Milk”  and “Mayfield Whole Chocolate Milk“. I’ve elected to skip the skim or fat-reduced versions of these because, really, what would be the point? If I were concerned about calories I really shouldn’t be drinking chocolate milk at all.

The Publix offering was, to put it kindly, subtle. Even looking at the drink you could tell it was not going the be the richest chocolate milk out there. It was certainly not objectionable, it was simply not outstanding.

The Mayfield offering, on the other hand, was a dark brown in color and was much richer and flavorful. Until I have the chance to try some others, this one will be my “favorite”.

Replacing Task Manager with Process Explorer in Windows 7 (64-Bit)

*** Updated June 14, 2010 ***

It turns out that the Procexp64.exe exists ONLY while Process explorer is running. Don’t ask me why. So my registry entry instead now shows:

C:\Bin\Procexp.exe.

Otherwise you still get the “cannot find” message.

*** End June 14, 2010 Update ***

I recently was introduced to Windows’ Process Explorer and liked it enough to want to replace Window’s native task manager with it.

It *should* be as simple as clicking “Options > Replace Task Manager” in the Process Explorer window but then, when you try to invoke the Task Manager (now supposedly Process Explorer) you get a message indicating that

“Windows cannot find ‘C:\Window\System32\taskmgr.exe’. Make sure you typed the name correctly, and then try again.”

For me, going back in Process Explorer to uncheck the above option shows that it’s not checked, and clicking it again doesn’t do anything at all.

Not sure exactly why but what’s happened is that a registry key for task manager has now been created with a debugger key that has a garbage value. Mine showed something like ” ^ $ ^”.

Check it out under HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options\taskmgr.exe

To go back the way things were you just need to remove the “Debugger” key. Or, if you want to go forward and actually replace the task manager, then set the value of the debug key with the location of your process explorer executable. In my case it looks like “C:\bin\Procexp64.exe” “C:\bin\Procexp.exe”.

Funny, I deleted the debug key and then went back to process explorer and try “Options > Replace Task Manager” again and it works just fine now. Must be an initialization issue.

Can’t Fathom why Kindle versions would cost more than Physical

** Update June 27, 2010 **

Amusingly, the day after I posted this, the Amazon price for the physical book jumped up to $10.19 and has remained there ever since.

Not saying it’s related to *my* post, but amusing nonetheless. Just saying to anybody at Amazon who happens across this, the thrust of my post was that the Kindle price should come *down*, not the other way around…

** End Update June 27, 2010 **
I was hankering for a new book to read yesterday so I went to pick up Peter F. Hamilton’s “Fallen Dragon” from Amazon.com.  I see that the current price for the Kindle download is $9.99. But I can purchase a brand new physical copy of the book from Amazon for only $8.24. In fact fully 7 of the 22 retailers offering the book are doing so for less than the $9.99 kindle price.

Most of those are also charging shipping fees which will put them over the Kindle price. I use Amazon so much that I’m experimenting with their “Prime” service which means that I’ve already paid a flat fee for my shipping for the year so there is no additional cost to me when I purchase anything that is sold BY Amazon. It will arrive two days later for exactly the purchase price that I see listed.

With the iPad coming on the scene I’m a little surprised to see that Amazon has chosen to go this path. The price difference is trivial, only $1.75, but it certainly rankles to pay *more* for something that requires far less overhead to print, store, handle and ship than its physical counterpart. I’m sure that the price is being driven by some odd publisher-determined model.

Companies have always been in business to make money. But am I mistaken in that, in this era, they are so much more brazenly about squeezing every last penny out of you and being completely blatant about it?

Heck, I understand that both AT&T and Verizon Wireless, instead of continuing to offer a somewhat reasonable value with their unlimited plans, are looking to move BACK to forcing you to purchase buckets of minutes / data and then gleefully charging you overage fees again.

I’m personally looking for companies that I can partner with – someone that I can pay a fair price to and expect fair service from them. They make a reasonable profit and I get value for my investment. It seems many businesses today are intent only on adversarial relationships with their customers and spend a tremendous effort on extracting every last cent from you for their services. It’s no wonder that brand loyalty and customer satisfaction are so low these days. If you are squeezing your customers so hard, it does not take much to push them over the edge to find another provider or to become upset with your services. People are a lot more tolerant of companies that work with them rather than against them.

Children of Dune

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert. Yeah, yeah I know I’m *decades* behind the curve in only reading this now. I watched the Sci-Fi (now syfy – *groan*) Network’s version of this book (and “Dune Messiah”) while I was still reading the book. I recall really enjoying the movie years ago when it first aired. This time I saw the incredible gaps in the movie for those who hadn’t read the books. This seems to be the fate of Dune. Far too much detail and too many plots to translate to the screen in any but the most scant of ways.

Of course I enjoyed the book more than the movie but not as much as the original “Dune”. I see that there are plenty more books out there now in this universe (Paul of Dune, Sandworms of Dune, etc.) that I’m going to have to consider. What a great universe to take advantage of and to continue to honor long after its original creator can no longer do so!