Sunday, February 24, 2008

My favorite cake - "Peter Paul Mounds Cake"

Made with a cake mix, coconut filling and chocolate icing.


* Cake:
* 1 box chocolate or chocolate fudge cake mix

* Filling:
* 14 ounces frozen coconut
* 16 regular marshmallows
* 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk
* 1 cup granulated sugar

* Icing:
* 4 squares unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate
* 3/4 cup brown sugar
* 1/3 cup water
* dash Salt
* 1/4 cup butter

- Bake cake as directed and split layers.
- Mix milk, sugar and marshmallows; melt. Stir until sugar is dissolved and marshmallows melted. Remove from heat and stir in coconut.
- Put this mixture between each split layer and on top.

Make Icing.
- Melt chocolate with the brown sugar; add salt, water, and butter.
- Simmer 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Add 1 teaspoon vanilla; mix well.

Put chocolate icing on top and sides of cake.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

US News Article & Rebates

Attention Dallas Friends: If you are available to discuss experiences you have had with rebates being returned, please email daniel ~at~ anyion dot com. You need to live within reasonable proximity of the Dallas metro.

So those of you who read US News & World Report in the print edition have already seen my face this week in the article about "Why Shoppers Love to Hate Rebates". Special thanks to Kimberly Palmer for running across my blog and picking up comments I had made about my experiences with rebates. For those of you online readers, sorry, they didn't include all the photos from the print edition online. Hopefully I can post an electronic reprint sometime.

I've been a rebater for a long time. It probably comes from the fact that by nature I'm a tightwad and by nurture I'm a shopper.

As an update to Kimberly's article, as the article was going to press I received the Toshiba HD DVD player rebate back DENIED again. This time for "failure to correctly complete the form." Now I'm not sure how it could have been incomplete... seeing as how everything was filled in. And especially since I returned it to them with the previous submission, all the UPCs, and their previous denial letter.

In my personal opinion, I think Toshiba's rebate group already knew about Toshiba giving up on the HD DVD market. And they were just denying all the rebates to save having to spend the money on them.

No matter. At least they returned the UPC panel with the denial. So I taped the UPC code back on the box, packed up the Toshiba A20 HD DVD player, took the copy of the receipt and headed back to Wal-Mart with it.

Thankfully, Wal-Mart still has a 90 day return policy on electronics excluding computers. So 2 on a quiet morning at my local Wal-Mart last week, I ditched the Toshiba HD DVD player and its associated rebate hassles and walked out of the store with $100+ back in my pocket.

For those who would like to become rebate nuts like me, here are some other tips that have helped me stay on top of my rebates:
  1. For online purchases, always print the rebate out on the spot while you're shopping. You may never find the form again. Sometimes items can completely disappear from a site before you get yours in the mail. I've had this happen to me with Fry's Outpost and

  2. Keep all your rebate forms posted somewhere you can easily see them. I use a cork board for this. I pin rebate forms that are waiting for something to come in or occur to the board near my desk. That way I see them often and they don't fall into the cracks of my mind.

  3. If you have multiple rebates in play at a time like I do, use a spreadsheet or some other electronic organization method to track how much is owed to you, when it was sent and when it was purchased.

  4. Keep copies of everything! I use my scanner for this purpose. (A Brother MFC actually.) I scan and electronically file copies of every receipt I get - even non-rebate related ones. I'm the physical world, I'm a packrat. But in the digital world I'm able to organize that mess into something easily searchable and instantly retrievable thanks to OCR and PDFs. Before I went digital I used to have boxes and boxes of receipts. Come tax time, my account is grateful too!

  5. Don't buy something on rebate that you can't afford at full price. The nature of rebates is that a certain percentage of them are simply going to fail, be rejected or go belly up. At best you'll be floating that money for a good month or two. At worst you'll never see it again. While most retailers will try to accommodate you if the rebate company goes bankrupt or otherwise fails to honor their obligations, it might take you 6 months to a year to get your money back. And in the case of purchases from small retailers or online shops, you might never get any of the rebate money back at all. And if you didn't have copies of all your paperwork, expect to be turned away at the door regardless.

  6. Don't buy something on rebate that isn't a good value before the rebate. This ties back in to #5. If the only reason the price of something is attractive is due to an attached rebate, move on. The manufacturer or retailer is playing a game with you and you'd be best to stay out of that game. Think of rebates as "found money" and treat them as such. A rebate should be an incentive to buy a particular product over a similar product from some other company. It should not be compensation for an overpriced or underperforming product.
Happy Shopping!!

UPDATE 2/25/2008: For those who missed a copy on the newsstand, here is a scan of the article. Hopefully I'll have a real reprint to post soon.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The fat lady sung... HD DVD dead... Wal-Mart picks Blue-Ray

Well... looks like I called one right. Blue-Ray won.

The New York Times is reporting that Wal-Mart will no longer be carrying any HD DVD equipment or HD DVD titles after June 2008.

"HD DVD, the beloved format of Toshiba and three Hollywood studios, died Friday after a brief illness. The cause of death was determined to be the decision by Wal-Mart to stock only high-definition DVDs and players using the Blu-ray format.

There are no funeral plans, but retailers and industry analysts are already writing the obituary for HD DVD.

The announcement by Wal-Mart Stores, the nation’s largest retailer of DVDs, that it would stop selling the discs and machines in June when supplies are depleted comes after decisions this week by Best Buy, the largest electronics retailer, to promote Blu-ray as its preferred format and Netflix, the DVD-rental service, to stock only Blu-ray movies, phasing out HD DVD by the end of this year."

Now if only the manufacturers will ramp up Blue-Ray production so we can get $100 players on the shelf and decently priced media available to consumers who are willing to pony up for the available recorders.

If they don't hurry up and get players to the market in that magical $100-150 pricepoint, all of the consumer electronics brands stand to lose even the Blue-ray battle to videos delivered via streaming over the internet and to upconversion of standard DVDs.

I know you can't put bits back that aren't there anymore but the upconverting DVD players that hit the market in the past 12 months do a stunning job at putting a pretty image on the screen.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Artificial sweeteners = weight gain

Finally, someone has caught on to what us hypoglycemics have known for years... Artificial sweeteners screw up the body's ability to respond to sweetness.

Several news outlets (including Time linked above) are reporting that artificial sweeteners may actually be one of the culprits in American weight gain. Summarized, the research points to a de-conditioning effect being caused by the artificial sweetness. This means that the body stops revving up the metabolism when sugar is ingested. In turn, weight gain, increased bad cholesterol and abnormal levels in fats and triglycerides seem to be occurring.

I've known this myself for quite a while. There isn't a single artificial sweetener that I can ingest without ending up with a headache. So, early in my teenage years I learned to avoid artificial sweeteners like the plague.

There was no way for me to have known what was causing my headaches when drinking saccharin and nutrasweet sweetened products. No one had ever studied it. But now the research is fairly conclusive... initially people who intake artificial sweeteners experience an insulin spike as if the body was going to be processing sugar. That is what causes my headache - the insulin spike causes my blood sugar drop since no sugar is coming in to offset it.

As people continually ingest artificial sweeteners, their bodies say "fool me once..." Thus begins the process of desensitizing the body to sugar such that problems develop as the metabolism is no longer geared to handle it.

The assumption of the researchers who have analyzed the study results is that consuming sweet with no corresponding incoming calories is what causes what they call "metabolic syndrome". (Metabolic syndrome meaning that the body's metabolism is off-the-tracks and not running at the rate it should.)

Friday, February 08, 2008

Gift cards for groceries... the recession is here

The LA Times is reporting Wal-Mart shoppers are buying more milk and bread with gift cards received at Christmas than they are using them on splurge purchases like iPods.

This is a bellweather for our economy... the canary in the mine if you will. Americans are smart and when grandma and your cousins are using their gift cards to buy groceries the message is clear: The recession is here.

For several years I gave my own grandmas Wal-Mart gift cards and encouraged them to do just that - use them to pay for their medications and groceries. Neither of them would do it and the cards got saved for splurge purchases on clothing and kitchen electrics.

I've seen this change with my own eyes however. Grandmas are using gift cards to buy everyday essentials like milk, bread and eggs. Many of them are the same people who lived through the depression. They're not stupid. It means their personal finances are constrained enough that they have entered a resource saving mode. The same instinct kept their families feed during the depression.

Personally I don't think we'll hit a depression again this time... not unless the drought devastates crops. We are heading into a substantial recession. Younger generations would do well to connect with those in the 80+ club and start learning how to stretch a dollar now. Otherwise those younger folks are going to find themselves going to dinner a lot at grandma's because she's the only one with food left after everyone else blew through their paycheck.