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Permalink 12:14:16 pm, by Paul ROBINSON, 1077 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A], News

The Stockholm Syndrome of shopping

Gail Wallens: Author of "Hostage Terrorist, Terrorist Hostage: A Study in Duality." Dr. Hasseldorf, what can we expect in the next few hours?
Dr. Hasseldorf: Well, Gail, by this time the hostages should be going through the early stages of the Helsinki Syndrome.
Harvey Johnson: As in Helsinki, Sweden.
Dr. Hasseldorf: Finland.
- Die Hard

To quote John McLane, "It's the Stockholm Syndrome, asshole!" in which kidnap victims sympathize with their captors.

Which brings me to the latest form of torture imported from Sweden, the IKEA chain of department stores. (Well. maybe not latest, IKEA has been in business since 1943 and has had stores in the U.S. since 1985.) The huge layout and the way they are arranged with a serpentine single path to go through both floors, bring new meaning to "combat fatigue" as the average customer dragging themselves through the store hasn't been on a shopping trip. Traveling through an IKEA is more reminiscent of the Bataan Death March.

IKEA has learned one of the most important rules in merchandising: the longer you can keep the customer in the store, the more things you can sell them and the more money you can extract from them.

There is a scene from one of the Popeye's cartoons that you could practically place in an IKEA store given its "big box" format and non-grid layout (there are almost no cross aisles, it's essentially a single meandering path on each of its floors), where this old man is trying to get out of a large store. He finds Popeye, and asks him, "Young man, can you direct me to the nearest exit? I've been trying to find it for 17 years."

Taking a page out of the military, the first thing you encounter at IKEA is the mess hall cafeteria, with quite reasonable prices on a good selection of MREs tasty items, allowing you to load up on provisions food before traversing the jungles overgrown shop floor overflowing with merchandise, as you slog through the badlands, machete yellow IKEA store bag in hand, so that you can forage for supplies. (They also have regular shopping wagons, and for people picking up assemble-it-yourself furniture, flatbed carts.)

Many of IKEAs products are excellent value. I bought a standard 8" circular white color wall clock at Family Dollar, which I thought was a pretty good deal when I bought it for $6 or $7 a couple of years ago. Almost identical (outer frame is translucent instead of opaque) wall clock I bought last week, same size with sweep second hand at IKEA: $1.99. I have two of them in my room plus my original clock, so that no matter where I'm facing there's a clock in front of me. Set of 10 IKEA yellow AA alkaline batteries were an additional $1.99, comparable to about $6 for Energizer or Duracell at Target or just about any store.

They also have fairly tasty chocolate bars for 99c, comparable in quality and flavor to the ones that are about $1.99 at Trader Joes. I've also found other things of excellent value I've bought there: wooden picture frames in different colors, multi-outlet power cords, 6-way power adapters (turns a standard 2-socket grounded wall outlet into a 6 outlet one.) And while I haven't needed to but one lately, they have lots of lamps, I've even seen full size floor lamps at IKEA for under $20.

There is one thing I wish I could pick up at IKEA. They had a computer desk for the unbelievable price of $17. It was so unbelievable that I gather that they could not keep it in stock, it was always sold out when I went over there, and now I guess IKEA either can't get it any more or they're not making any money on it, because it's no longer available from their website either. The next best price one is a glass top computer table for about $40. (At the low price I'd have bought one even though I already have a table; I could use it either on the other side of the room or I'd buy two to replace a larger table with a couple of smaller ones.)

Not everything at IKEA is inexpensive, they also carry other furniture like couches and other items where they have more features and are commensurately more expensive. But they do seem to provide reasonably good things at very competitive to better prices than many of their competitors.

When you get to the register, you have to turn in the yellow plastic bag, and (I presume) you can get regular bags or (what I do) you can buy a reusable bag. Now these are not like those $1 "reusable" cloth bags most retailers (Dollar General, Home Depot, Target, and grocery stores) push on you, or a nice plastic one you can get at Trader Joes. First, IKEA's reusable bag is 59c, second, calling it a shopping bag the same way you'd refer to other place's "reusable" bags or even ordinary thin plastic "shopping bags" is an understatement. It's like when Mick "Crocodile" Dundee (in the movie of the same name) is accosted by a punk with a switch blade who says if he doesn't give him his money he'll stab him with his knife. Mick looks at him thoughtfully, then says, "That's not a knife," then whips out a giant Bowie knife about as large as a scimitar, and says, "now that's a knife."

An IKEA reusable shopping bag, first is made of strong plastic reminiscent of a tarpaulin (similar to Trader Joe's reusable bags), and second, it's large enough to carry home a microwave oven. I am not kidding.

Going through an IKEA from Second Floor Cafeteria all the way to the elevator or escallator, then down and through the first floor to the miles of shelves of assemble-it-yourself furniture, to the cash registers and finally to your car (or the bus if you didn't drive), can be an overwhelming experience. But, like dying, it's probably one of those things everyone should try at least once.

Yeah, IKEA gives you a really painful and long dragged out experience, then causes you to like them for it. Just like the Stockholm Syndrome does to captives, IKEA does the same thing to shoppers. Maybe it's because IKEA is also a Swedish import.

Oh, which reminds me, I think I'll try visiting an IKEA again soon. I still haven't had the opportunity to try the Swedish meatballs at the cafeteria yet. But the baby back ribs are outstanding.


Permalink 06:31:47 am, by Paul ROBINSON, 515 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A]

Wells Fargo doesn't issue Master Card ATM cards

I have a corporate ATM card for my corporate checking and savings accounts at Wells Fargo. It's a VISA branded debit card, which is rather interesting because of some history.

Back in 1969, seeing how successful the roughly ten-year old Diners' Club card had been for professionals, someone at Bank of America got the idea of creating a credit card. Diners Club was - and still is - a charge card, like American Express Gold, you get the bill at the end of the month and you are required to pay it off in full. With a credit card, you can carry the balance over from month to month, and of course, pay interest at rates that would make a loan shark blush for being too greedy.

So Bank of America creates the Bank Americard, and does so by sending out thousands of unsolicited cards out to prospective customers, a large number of whom use the card, run up large bills and never pay. But enough did that the experiment was successful, and eventually Bank of America would spin off its credit card to a new organization called Visa International, and the card would be renamed Visa. (Bank of America still brands their Visa cards as Bank Americard.)

Well, after seeing how successful Bank of America was with their credit card, United California Bank (which was not chartered in California, my understanding is that it was chartered in Panama) decided to create their own competing card, which they could also make money by licensing to other banks, which Bank of America would later do, which is why London's Barclays bank issued a Bank Americard in the blue, white and gold color scheme, under the name Barclay Card. The card that United California Bank created was called Master Charge (with the nickname "The Interbank Card").

United California Bank (UCB as they were called on their buildings) also spun off Master Charge into a separate organization, which like Visa International is owned by the banks (and other organizations) that are licensed to issue its cards. The organization is MasterCard International, and - like Bank Americard - the card's brand was changed to Master Card.

UCB would later rebrand itself as First Interstate Bank. Later, First Interstate - except for a small part which is still operating in the Pacific Northwest and some western states - would be sold to Wells Fargo, which renamed it, (as it did when it ate Wachovia Bank), to Wells Fargo.

So Wells Fargo, while it is the successor to the company that invented what became Master Card, does not issue ATM cards with the Master Card logo, it issues the usual VISA branded ATM cards. Citibank, on the other hand, which is now the owner of the Diners Club charge card, does issue its ATM cards under the Master Card logo. I believe you can ask for a VISA branded one; I didn't, because I wanted to differentiate between my cards, and besides that, it gives me a card with the Master Card logo on it, which (in the form of a credit card) I do not currently have.

Permalink 05:49:30 am, by Paul ROBINSON, 754 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A]

Visa Black. Pay too much, and set off metal detectors, too!

Barclay's Bank Delaware has started running web ads for their Visa Black card. ("Visa Black" is a product offered by Visa International, it's not exclusive to Barclay's the way Bank Americard is exclusive to the bank that started what became Visa back in 1969, Bank of America.) It's supposed to be equivalent to American Express' Platinum, in that the annual fee is a whopping $495 a year. I mean, I have an American Express Gold Card which, the first year is free and after that it's $125, and at that I think it's a bit overpriced. (What's interesting is American Express remembered when I had one for six months back in 1994 and on my card it says "Member since 1994.") Now, I suspect that Visa Black is a credit card rather than a charge card, meaning you can pay over time. (With AMEX's Gold Card you have to pay the bill in full at the end of the billing month.)

This credit card offer still seems ridiculous to have a card that the annual fee is more than some people have in credit, but in some cases it can be useful. For example, if I do keep this card after the first year, for the $125 fee, if I needed the feature, it allows up to 50 additional cards to be issued at no additional charge, so for a company that has people who are authorized to be issued a company charge card it is a good financial tool, since each user is issued a different card number and on the monthly report it itemizes each user's purchases by card number. (And different cards tied to the master account can have different spending limits).

When I was staying over at my sister's place and managing her affairs back in 2006, she had a Chase Ink Visa credit card with a 5-figure limit, which I had them issue myself and my brother Bill specific cards (with lower limits), so that when she wanted something at the store, instead of him using his own card and I have to pay him in cash, he would simply pay for it with his card issued through her account. Same thing when I ordered stuff on line for her, I'd use the card in my name that was charged to her account, then at the end of the billing month all three cards were shown on the bill as to specific purchases made for each card. Now, I'm not stupid; I got the Chase Ink card for my sister because it has no annual fee.

Obviously this sort of card like Barclay's Visa Black and American Express Platinum are for the very high spending customer, probably people running 6 figure bills a year or high 5 figures every month. Now, part of the $495 fee includes "handholding" in which you get concierge service and -possibly special access to certain features, for example, there are a number of events around the country (like concerts) where only American Express cardholders can buy advance tickets. But this isn't just for AMEX Platinum Members, even if you have one of American Express' prepaid cards you can buy tickets at these events.

This is, of course, no where near as ridiculous as American Express' Centurion card, for which the application fee is $2,500 and the annual fee is an additional 5 grand. (Also, you can't "apply" for a Centurian card, AMEX has to invite you to do so.) This is the sort of card a multimillionaire carries, because I'm sure if you're paying that kind of green just for a credit/charge card, you're a spoiled brat who expects lots of handholding and asskissing (Consider Richard Gere's character in Pretty Woman, or some real-life publicly known spoiled brats like Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber.) And, for that kind of money, I'm sure, American Express is very willing to pucker up when requested.

But going back to Visa Black, Barclays' is adding a new twist. The card isn't made out of plastic with a mag stripe. It's made of stainless steel with a carbon insert on the back so the mag stripe stays in place. So, I guess since most people have to dump their wallet into the x-ray machine, it won't really set off the metal detectors because you won't be carrying it when walking through, but I still think the idea of a card that is made of steel seems kind of silly. Of course, I think a credit card with a $495 annual fee is even sillier, but that's my opinion.

And I'm sticking to it.


Permalink 05:31:54 pm, by Paul ROBINSON, 437 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A]

Register 3 doesn't like nickels

Last night, I rolled my wheelchair on the computer table and I think I broke it because it is damaged and won't hold up much, so I need to replace the table. So, Earlier today I went to the Family Dollar store on Rhode Island Avenue in Washington, D.C. because I had bought a computer table from them. But they don't sell them any more, so I went down to the Home Depot at the shopping center adjacent to the Rhode Island Metrorail station.

They don't have them either, so I'll have to go on-line and buy a replacement desk.

Well, anyway, I decided that for some reason I wanted a pastrami on rye. So I'd go over to the Giant Food on the other side of the shopping center across from Home Depot. So I go over to the deli section and discover they have pastrami, but it's $13.00 a pound. That's a little too expensive, so I ask where they have package meats, and they have 7 ounce packages for about $3.25 or so, which is about $7.50 a pound. Which is a bit more reasonable.

So anyway I went to the register with two of these packages of pastrami and a loaf of rye bread, about $8.50, so I decide to use one of the self-service registers. The first four registers are self-service. I'm at register 3, and I ring up the items, but, in Washington, DC, the store is required to charge for bags, so I need to find the selection for the 5c for the plastic bag. (I wasn't planning to pick up anything at the grocery when I left or I'd have brought a bag with me.)

So with help from a clerk I find it, then I ring up everything, and I decide to use my food stamp card since I haven't used it in a while; as a disabled man I get a whopping $15 a month (it used to be $16 but the extra federal contribution was cut). Since I haven't used it in a while I have about $45 in my account. So the whole thing gets covered, except for the 5c bag fee.

So I check my pouch and I have a lot of change, I find a nickel and insert it in the coin slot, but it rolls back out. I try again, and it fails again. The clerk informs me that register 3 doesn't accept nickels. Dimes and quarters are okay, but not nickels. So I put a quarter in, that finishes it and the register returns 20c in change.

I guess register 3 doesn't like the taste of nickels, so it won't eat them.


Permalink 04:01:47 am, by Paul ROBINSON, 256 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A]

A pet pig with a birth defect, two three-legged dogs, and two of their names

A TV show had a segment about a veterinarian who has a pet pig, who has a birth defect. Its rear legs are fused so it can't stand up, it more-or-less waddles where it goes. Its original owner wanted to have it euthanized, but the vet, touched by the pig, said if the customer would surrender the pig to him, he'd see to it the pig had a good home. So he did, and the veterinarian took the pig home with him.

This segment followed one about a dog that had been fitted for an artificial leg. Now, some people might say that it's kind of ridiculous to spend the money on a prosthetic for a dog, but it's interesting to note that work on prosthetics for animals has often transferred into developments in human prosthetics. But, some people say that it's silly because a dog can get by on three legs. Which is true, I used to know a guy named Gary whose family owned a dog with three legs. The dog's name was "Tripod." I kid you not.

But when a dog has all 4 legs, it can do so much more with kids and the family, including actually run instead of hobbling that some people will have it done.

But what touched me the most - and why I decided to write about it - was the name of the pig I mentioned earlier in this note, which I thought was really cute.

The pig's name was "Chris P. Bacon."

Say that out loud some time.

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Welcome to My blog! This is where I store my thoughts so that I can come back to them at some point in the future. This allows me a place like a journal to keep what I'm thinking about. But anyone else is welcome to visit; I make this place public so that other people can hear what I'm thinking.

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