Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Random Thoughts

Less for More: The Commerce Department reported this morning retail sales rose 0.4% in August, a better than expected showing, indicating consumer spending and the economy might be firmer than originally thought. Among the sectors of the retail industry said to be doing well are dollar stores, department stores and warehouse clubs.

I can vouch for the warehouse clubs. I’m a big Costco shopper, but I did notice one troubling change in the retailer’s merchandise offering. In case you’re not aware of it, bathroom tissue—toilet paper, in the more common vernacular—is among the best sellers at Costco. A bundle of Charmin Ultra Soft contains 30 rolls. But the Charmin rolls now being sold are just 173.2 sq. ft. long, down 7.6% from the 187.5 sq. ft. of two months ago. The price, however, has not gone down. It’s gone up, by 50 cents (2.6%) to $19.99.

Costco is not alone in practicing a strategy of reduced content. Indeed, it’s most often the supplier that makes the decision to package less product (e.g., that 13 oz. can of Maxwell House coffee is history; it now holds just 11.5 oz.). Some companies are honest enough to reduce the container, thus alerting the buyer to the switch. Most, however, just give you less for your money. They usually couch their actions by claiming less product is preferable to higher shelf prices.

Of course it’s a bogus claim, since the actual price per unit goes up. They just assume most consumers will be too dumb or indifferent to notice their wallets are being wiped clean.

Sports Break: There’s no better way to watch a football game than to pre-record it. You can zip through commercials and, more importantly, minimize the air time of the inane announcers (this also works for baseball games. Just remember to record the show following any game as extra innings, overtime, or just slow execution usually means the game runs longer than the allotted broadcast time. You don’t want to miss out on that, hopefully, exciting finish).

When I began following football in the early 1960s, I used to watch the NY Giants on TV with the sound off (sorry Chris Schenkel) while listening to the radio broadcast of the game. Marty Glickman did the WNEW Radio play by play, Al DeRogatis the color commentary. DeRo analyzed the action and often predicted what the next play would be. One of the worst losses in Giants football history was the day in 1968 NBC tapped DeRogatis as the color analyst for its national broadcasts.

It’s generally agreed football is more action-packed than baseball. Each game takes roughly three hours to complete. Yet, if you do a time and motion study of the average nine inning baseball game and four quarter football game, they contain about the same amount of real playing time, about 15 minutes. That’s leaves about two hours and forty-five minutes spent thinking about what pitch to throw, meeting in the huddle, television timeouts for commercials, and changes of sides each half inning and football quarter.

In other words, you can save about two hours of your life by recording a baseball or football game and watching it later. As long as you keep yourself in a media blackout, your pleasure will be sustained. During last year’s World Series, I set the DVR to record Game 3 and told my dinner companions I was on a media blackout. One of them didn’t hear, as she cheerfully informed me on the drive home she just checked her Blackberry and the Yankees were winning 6-2 (on the way to an 8-5 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies). Needless to say, I was more than a little upset. But at least the Yanks were winning.

I’m not too sure about this year. After the Yanks’ fourth straight loss (and third walk-off loss during this road trip) and their displacement from first place by the Tampa Bay Rays, I’m not too confident about their chances in the post-season. They just don’t seem to be a team of destiny this year. Suspect starting pitching and nagging injuries might do them in. Plus, their batters seem to go through sustained cold spells. After being super in August, Mark Teixeira is back to his early season funk. Derek Jeter is decidedly not Derek Jeter these last two months. And Robinson Cano has lost his batting eye discipline.

Getting back to football, I thought the Giants-Carolina Panthers game was as professional as watching two junior varsity teams play. It’s a long season. Hopefully Giants receivers will hold onto more balls and the offensive line and running backs will show more life. The defense, however, looked decent. But they were going up against a less than great quarterback. This Sunday against Peyton Manning will be more instructive.

Evidence suggests that hummingbirds have returned to White Plains. But I’ve yet to have a sighting.

White Plains is a stopover on their migration south for the winter, so I put out the red liquid food in late August. The nectar keeps dropping in the bottle, but so far not one hummingbird has chosen to hover when I’m around.

I’m getting lots of other birds dropping by the birdseed feeders even though I stopped the handouts about two months ago when coyotes started prowling the neighborhood. About 5 am I heard one or more coyotes howling (don’t ask why I was up at such an ungodly hour).