Monday, November 30, 2009

The 99¢ Effect and Other Saver Thoughts

My article started out about pricing with regard to saving, particularly how 99¢ is such a popular price, a price ending, anyway. As I "scribbled" my streams of consciousness—besides 99¢—thoughts also included tenths of cents still anachronistically attached to gasoline per-gallon prices, coupons, before/after price changes indicated in print ads, sales taxes that no advertiser includes, and baked goods pricing.

As the seasonal buying rush is spiking around this time, this might be an appropriate time to discuss the psychology of pricing at 99¢. Dr. Robert Schindler, Professor of Marketing at Rutgers has been cited as an expert about the pricing psychology. A couple of papers specifically address 99 as price endings, which you can find links to at his faculty website. An educational resource that splits the pricing psychology is at Ohio State University Extension "Fact Sheet". The paper discusses use of 99¢ rather than $1, and 49¢ rather than 50¢. As for news, blog articles, and forums regarding 99¢, googling for 99 cents effect will yield lots of results for those mildly curious to those who want to turn in a research paper for a grade. (No, I'm not listing all my sources I ran across. Students need to do their own finding and sifting.)

One topic related to 99¢ that has intrigued me over the years has been the price of gasoline. I'm not attuned to non-US prices, so I'm just talking about stateside per-gallon listings. It's had that pesky decimal point to indicate tenths of a cent per gallon for as long as I can remember—let's say when gas was under 49.9¢ a gallon. Even when it's risen to over $4.00 a gallon, and has receded to currently over two and under three dollars (I know, mushy spread—so my article doesn't risk becoming obsolete overnight), the stations insist on keeping that nine-tenths of a cent price appendage. I say, kill the fraction of a cent pricing and be done with it! Don Boudreaux's blog article from 2006 discusses gasoline pricing in even closer detail than just the nine-tenths cent.

Coupons! With this economy, I sense a lot more people are using them. It can get exhausting sifting through piles, deciding which ones to save, which to use for which trip, how to sort them so they don't expire before getting a chance to use them. Sunny side up—good value coupons for items you use AND go on sale at the same time! Not so sunny—coupons for items you can't find, are the wrong packaging, expire about a week before you remember you had them, and have expiration dates a day before you regularly shop. (And you momentarily didn't extend your mental calendar out far enough.)

One thing that I've always viewed wryly is the newspaper or store trumpeting the aggregate value of coupons in the packet I just received. "Save $90!" "$199.40 coupon savings!" These statements never come with estimated purchase totals if you truly bought all the items required to save as much as they claim. Hmmm, who would buy EVERYTHING in the advertising packet anyway?

Markdowns and markups get such different treatments in print ads. If an item's price goes up, and it's a fresh ad, you never get to view the "before" price. If a hardcopy print ad (or menu) price goes up, there's usually a huuuuuge splotch that obliterates what the former price was. But you know it went up! In contrast, if a print ad shows a price decrease, the older price is visible, with a wimpy, usually horizontal or diagonal strikethrough, then the new price listed nearby. Mustn't miss the potential savings!

What about a menu price decrease? I'm guessing it happens infrequently. If price decreases occur, I think eateries print up new submenus. Maybe they create new dishes with more customer-friendlier prices. Lots of discount coupons have been appearing in the newspaper and mail as well. And more and longer happy hours.

Advertisers seem to almost always ignore state sales taxes as they entice us to spend. The oddest and imho, most dishonest ads I find are the ones that practically declare you can buy an item for the exact price they advertise. The ones that most come to mind are fast food, cars, and services (utilities). Only $49.99 a month! Only $9.99! Only 99¢! Okay, maybe "Only $1!" Right.

Another advertising strategy I find entertaining is the breaking down of price per unit. Something that's only so much per month can get quite expensive when extended out to a year. Say you get cable for $29.99 a month (special deal?). (There's that pesky 99¢-effect pricing again!) Well, in a year, that comes to $359.88 a year. If they advertise it as a per-day cost, it sounds a lot less costly—98.6¢ a day, less than a dollar a day! It's a bit interesting to me that not more companies are pushing daily-cost unit-pricing instead of monthly-cost. Maybe that's coming. Oh, let's also remember about taxes that go on top of the advertised prices.

Speaking of per-unit pricing transitions, remember when cakes and pies sold by the whole units? They still sell them that way, but it seems they've gotten so expensive that the new units are by the slice. In the case of cakes, cupcakes have also become unit pricings. Ahhh, cupcake prices have now approached the price of what whole cakes used to cost. (A way to return to less expensive cakes is to bake and frost your own.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thanksgiving Day Menu, From a Language Perspective

Being someone who thinks about the English language a lot, I often think of associative terminology. In my topic about Thanksgiving Day food, I'm putting a twist on it and injecting some flavor into the discussion, language-wise. Turkey is at the top of the food list. For vegetarians and vegans, skip reading "turkey", or discontinue reading this article. Other items are (from the top of my head) potatoes, sweet potatoes (sometimes interchangeably called yams), cranberry sauce, dressing (aka stuffing), gravy, and pumpkin pie. What about veggies? They'll roll onto the scene. I'll bypass food discussion pertaining to all-day football, as that could be an entire subject by itself.

Turkey: Legend has it that Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be the national symbol rather than the eagle. Google results indicate Franklin was displeased with the choice of the eagle, but not entirely clear that he lobbied for the turkey. More recently, in the previous century anyway, turkey has become an unflattering term. "Jive turkey!" was a derisive insult often uttered by George Jefferson of The Jeffersons TV show. Turkey has been a term used to label a bad movie; even better, Golden Turkey Awards go to both movies and directors. Cold turkey as a term does not refer to the temperature of the bird. One other Turkey is the country, which always makes me go "hmmm" when I think of it in conjunction with another country that makes me think of food—Greece.

Potatoes: We have Mr. Potato Head, couch potato, hot potato, .... Regarding edible potatoes, there seem to be lots of ways to prepare them, serve them, and buy them already prepared—baked, mashed, twice-cooked, scalloped, fried, liquified or nearly liquified into soups, chunked into salads, etc.

Sweet Potatoes and Yams: This subtopic required googling for "sweet potatoes vs yams". And wow, what a load of results! Here's one link that has descriptions for each— Sounds like yams are not as common as sweet potatoes in my neck of the woods. Oh, well, as Popeye might say, "I yam what I yam and I yam what I yam that I yam!" Maybe Popeye doesn't handle hot potatoes, sweet or not. Anyway, let's move to a sweeter topic—Swee'Pea, his adopted baby. That brings us to ...

Sweet Pea(s): Peas—those Crayola-green spheroids. Oh, if they're canned peas, they have that odd olive-green color about them. Sweet Pea does seem an odd name for a baby. Nevertheless, Tommy Roe made a hit song in the mid-60s named "Sweet Pea" about a girl. (Well, this looked like a good area as any to shoehorn "sweet peas" as a candidate vegetable for the Thanksgiving Day meal.)

Cranberry Sauce: The first time I saw cranberry sauce, it came out of can. It resembled jelly that you dish out with a knife or spoon. It retained the shape of the can and the utensil characteristic used to serve it up. It didn't pour like a sauce. Even odder, I didn't consider it tasty for such a pretty color. Still don't. Even its liquid relative—cranberry cocktail—isn't that appealing to me.

Dressing and Stuffing: I think these terms are strange names for the same food—flavored and moistened diced bread that contains other items—celery, onions, sage (predominant flavor!), .... Stuffing, as a term, makes sense, particularly when it's actually placed inside the turkey. Dressing, as a term, makes no sense to me. Related, the term "salad dressing" makes sense, as you're dressing a salad. Turkey dressing? I don't see turkey dressing dressing a turkey like I see salad dressing dressing a salad.

Gravy: Good gravy, gravy train, Gravy Train. Good gravy—this expression has nothing to do with good or gravy. It's a polite and not-that-common expression of surprise. The two kinds of gravy trains pertain to implicitness of advantage, the proper-noun expression (dog food) having been named from the lower-case gravy train. Eh, let's leave the Gravy Train at the station and move on to pumpkin pie. (I rethought my initial intent to hyperlink to Gravy Train. Readers are on their own for this googling.)

Pumpkin Pie: These two words can evoke lots of language imagery separately. Pumps have kin? What kin they look like? Lotion pumps? Miniature oil-drilling pumps? OK. There are some etymological roots for pumpkin, but they all sound like slacked pronunciation devolution to me, since the word pump has no kinship with the word pumpkin. As for pie, besides the edible ones, I also think of pi and pie charts.

What's after dessert? How about antacids? Anyway, I hope this article has provided some food for thought. May your Thanksgiving Day be a good one, with plenty to be thankful for.

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Trip Over an Apostrophe

I created and continue to maintain the Austin Heart of Texas (AHOT) Designers Council website. (AHOT is a professional organization for printed circuit board designers.) The other day, I uncloaked a navigation link, then uploaded the javascript file, not expecting hiccups. Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! My heart sank when I refreshed the page and saw the content section suddenly hug the left margin, the navigation menu having disappeared! I immediately thought, "¡Ay, Caramba!"

Doh! I had overlooked saving an archive file of what had previously worked. Memories bubbled to the surface of javascript files being extremely unforgiving for such infractions as extra hard returns and omitted back slashes at the ends of lines. I started to formulate a plan to fix my problem but also—for the benefit of possible site visitors—put forth an indicator that I was fixing the site.

I saved the navigation file to an experimental file, stripping everything except the critical start and end of file lines and one destination link. After saving that minimalist file, I uploaded it to the server, then refreshed the site. I was relieved navigation was again viewable. I decided to keep that file as an initial backup file and experiment with a newer working file. With the newer file, I added a notification line—"troubleshooting in progress"—which would stay viewable until I resolved everything.

My methodology shifted to replicating the information as applicable, referring to an older writing sample of the AHOT site. Processing a few lines each time, I would add the html line item codes and back slashes, upload the file, then refresh the page. I finally encountered the offending line that caused the navigation menu to disappear—"AHOT Members' Resumes". It occurred to me that maybe the apostrophe might be "abnormal" (my word). After googling for html code for an apostrophe and finding "’" (& # 8 2 1 7 ; without spaces), I proceeded to replace the symbol in both places. Another save, upload, and refresh. Woohoo! I sure was happy to see the navigation again!

My final acts on the file included rechecking my information and also commenting out my troubleshooting-in-progress text. My lesson learned (relearned) is to back up stuff—especially a javascript file—before changing it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Convenient Quiche

(Quiche pixstrip retrofitted into article May 18, 2010)

Yesterday, I baked a quiche that requires only 5 ingredients:
  • 1 ready-to-bake pie shell with pan
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 1 packet of dry vegetable soup mix (0.9 oz)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup of shredded cheese (jack, cheddar, swiss, or combination)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Stir the dry soup mix and milk in a 4-cup bowl and let the mixture soak for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Use a fork to mix the eggs in a separate bowl.
  4. Stir the eggs into the soup/milk mixture.
  5. Layer 3/4 of the cheese into the pie shell, followed by the eggs/soup/milk, then the rest of the cheese on top. (Note: For my next effort, I'm thinking of doubling the cheese.)
  6. Bake for at least an hour; about half-way time, place foil or aluminum pie shield at pie edge to prevent edge overbrowning. (The original recipe states 45 minutes, which I found to be too short.)
  7. Test for doneness using a toothpick. If pulled toothpick shows mixture wetness, bake longer.
  8. Let the quiche stand at least 10 minutes before cutting it.
This recipe is from "Spring Vegetable Quiche" in The New Woman's Day Cookbook: Simple and Healthy Recipes for Every Occasion, copyright 2006, ISBN 1-933231-01-7 (online version of recipe at
Similar dish, which uses Knorr soup mix and adds spinach—
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