Brenden Schaaf / November 17, 2009

Amazon vs. UPS — I end up being the loser…

I ordered this cable:

so my wife can hook up her ipod in her van and play it through the stereo.  I have free shipping through Amazon Prime so for 99 cents it shows up at my door two days later.  Excellent deal in my opinion.

For some reason (probably because they are losing their ass on this deal) Amazon sends it as requiring an IN PERSON SIGNATURE!!  So UPS won’t leave the damn thing at my house and I’ll never be home when they deliver to sign for it.  For a 99 cent item!!  The stupid thing is that I also ordered a GPS and they left that box on my porch on the same day they did their 1st attempt.

I emailed Amazon to bitch and they came back to me with an asinine response about “sorry it was lost in transit” and “it is up to UPS to decide to require a signature or not”  — neither of which is true because I called UPS and they said Amazon is the ones requiring a signature.  Of course that makes sense since the tracking information says that too:

So I called UPS when I got home from tonight and they said they won’t attempt to deliver it any more and I have to drive to Maple Grove to pick up my 99 cent wire.   I called Amazon and the guy I talked to called UPS and he came back on the line and said that “UPS is already sending it back to us so there isn’t anything we can do” which contradicts what UPS just told me 10 minutes before.  They said they would hold it until next Tuesday at the Maple Grove office.

So now the Amazon guy said he would call them again and he is going to call me back in a half hour to let me know what the word is.   They still offered to overnight a new one but of course that will probably require a signature too.  Uggggghhh…

[UPDATE 11/17/2009 9:33PM]

The guy at Amazon phone back and said that UPS will not attempt to redeliver even though Amazon has requested that they do.  He did admit that it was an error in the Amazon system that resulted in this situation and he apologized profusely.  He also is going to refund my 99 cents (whoopee!) and they are sending a replacement via overnight service as soon as they get more in stock.  No promises, though, that the new shipment wouldn’t require a signature…stay tuned.

Brenden Schaaf / May 28, 2009

PowerSquid: use all the outlets on your power strip

psqurge100566Thanks to a camelcamelcamel alert, I was notified that the price had dropped at Amazon on the Philips PowerSquid Surge Protector.  The PowerSquid is one of my favorite items and I was tipped off to its usefulness at a continuing ed conference I attended a couple years ago.  I immediately snapped one up at $24.01 last night only to have the price later fall further to $22.28 this morning (only two left as I write this so it probably won’t be that cheap for long).  Even for a couple bucks more than the lowest price it is still an excellent value, in my opinion.  From looking at the camelcamelcamel graph of long term prices (see below) I could have guessed that the price would drop further, but for a couple dollars it wasn’t worth missing out on this deal because I need one of these right now (“need” being a word that is a tad strong I suppose, but when Amazon calls I answer).

camelcamelcamel long-term price history on the PowerSquid Surge Protector
camelcamelcamel long-term price history on the PowerSquid Surge Protector

The great thing about the PowerSquids (and there are other models to choose from wihout surge protection, for example, or in different colors) is that you can actually use every single outlet.  The unit looks like a squid (hence the name) where each outlet is on a short cord attached at a central location.  Near my computer I was able to go from using four “normal” power strips to using two PowerSquids because I could actually use every outlet on the PowerSquid, whereas before the large “brick” plugs on many items blocked up to three outlets in addition to the one being used.  In addition to being tidier, it seems safer (I have no idea if it actually is) to have a more neatly orgranized bunch of wires using two collection points, plus I still have wall outlets free for other uses.

Brenden Schaaf / May 10, 2009

Firefox Add-on: Greasemonkey

gmThis post piggybacks somewhat on my previous post about Amazon Prime in that the usefulness of Amazon (among other sites) can be extended by another Firefox Add-on called Greasemonkey.  Greasemonkey is easier to understand if you think of it as “an add-on that has plug-ins” because the way one person uses Greasemonkey can be vastly different than the way someone else uses it because the functionality is determined by the Greasemonkey Scripts that you choose to install for it to use and by itself, Greasemonkey does nothing.  It needs scripts installed to be useful.

In brief, Greasemonkey is usually used to change the behavior and/or appearance of a webpage or part of a webpage.  That sounds like a pretty broad concept and I suppose it can be.  This Wikipedia post gives more detail than I will delve into here, because I think looking at a few things that I use Greasemonkey for will better illustrate its functionality.  But since there are no restrictions to who can write a script or what it can do so the list of functionality is constantly changing as new scripts are written/released and users (like you!) could create scripts themselves for a very specific purpose that only they need/desire as well.

First, to install the Greasemonkey add-on for Firefox, visit this link: and follow the instructions similar to other add-ons.  Once that is done, you need to find some scripts to install to make Greasemonkey functional.  There is a site called that is a great place to start.  As mentioned above, though, here are some brief descriptions of the scripts I have found particularly useful:

  1. CamelCamelCamel/Amazon Price History
    • This brings the functionality of camelcamelcamel to Amazon so that you don’t need to visit a separate site to see the price history of an item.  If you don’t know already, camelcamelcamel tracks the prices of nearly everything sold on Amazon.  It also allows you to set price alerts so that you get an email when the price drops below a level you specify.  Installing the Greasemonkey script means that you don’t have to go to camelcamelcamel to see the price history…just click on the widget on the item page at Amazon and it will show you the price history in graphical form.
  2. Amazon/Hennepin County Library Lookup Tool
    • This script will show you right on the Amazon book page whether or not the item is owned by Hennepin County Library (there are similar scripts for other libraries if you live elsewhere).  Simply click on the link to go straight to the HCL catalog page where you can reserve a copy for yourself.  Also, this script (and other HCL scripts listed here) only works for the suburban (i.e. not in Minneapolis) libraries until the catalogs are combined as a result of the library merger completed last year.
  3. BookMania (works on Amazon)
    • What if HCL doesn’t have the book you need but you don’t want to buy it?  This neat script adds links to search for the book from the Amazon page in each of the area library systems’ catalogs.  Also, it provides a link to MnLINK, a computer system that will search across the libraries of Minnesota and from there you can request a book to be delivered via inter-libarary loan (ILL) to your local branch.  I found this very handy for seeing some obscure books (like for geneology, for example) before I decided to spend a lot of money purchasing a copy.
      Amazon alterations from the Greasemonkey scripts mentioned above (click image for larger view)
      Amazon alterations from the Greasemonkey scripts mentioned above (click image for larger view). The Bookmania links show up even for items that aren't books -- sometimes annoying but they don't screw anything up.

      Expanded view of camelcamelcamel widget showing price variation of a hard drive over time
      Expanded view of camelcamelcamel widget showing price variation of a hard drive over time. Scrolling down will show 3rd part New and Used prices in addition to the price charged by Amazon over the past several months.
  4. Barnes & Noble/Hennepin County Library Lookup Tool
  5. Netflix/Hennepin County Library Lookup Tool
    • HCL came up with a script that works on Netflix for movies kind of like the one that works on Amazon/B&N mentioned above.  So you can get the movie at the library for free and save your Netflix rentals for things that aren’t availablel at HCL.

      How titles appear on Netflix after installing HCL script
      How titles appear on Netflix after installing HCL script
  6. OnePage StarTribune
    • One of the most annoying things about viewing articles on the site is that they have gone to this format of showing you a few paragraphs and then requiring that you go to the “next page” to view more.  I believe this is so they can show you another screen full of ads, but it drives me crazy.  This Greasemonkey script makes it so that the entire article displays on one page.  I forget how nice this is until I’m looking at a Strib article in a different browser or on a different computer and I’m quickly reminded how annoying the  multi-page articles are.  Examples below are from an article that appears today at
      Without Greasemonkey running the article is broken onto several pages
      Without Greasemonkey running the article is broken onto several pages

      After Greasemonkey is turned on (and script is installed) the article appears all on one page
      After Greasemonkey is turned on (and script is installed) the article appears all on one page
  7. Disable StarTribune page refresh
    • Another annoying thing that does is to refresh most pages every few minutes.  This can be annoying if you are reading an article when it happens or if you go offline to read your articles and then you get a “page not found” error when it auto refreshes.  This script puts an end to that behavior.

So there, in a nutshell, is some of the functionality that Greasemonkey offers as a Firefox Add-on.  Depending on the sites you use, there may be dozens of scripts that you will be able to use to make your browsing experience that much better.  Because Greasemonkey is so unobtrusive I often forget that it is running until I use a different computer and/or browser and I wonder why pages looks different.

Brenden Schaaf / May 8, 2009

Amazon Prime = easy living for busy times

amazonprimeAmazon Prime is a yearly subscription that Amazon offers at a price of $79 that allows you to receive 2-day shipping for free and overnight shipping for $3.99/item (sometimes I’ve seen $1.99/item on certain things — I’m guessing it is based on weight) during the subscription timeframe.  It has changed my life.  No longer do I need to hold off buying something until I have enough to get to the $25 minimum for “free super saver shipping” (FSSS) that Amazon offers (of course you can just pay shipping on each item if you are below $25 but that is often a deal-breaker for me because the shipping ends up being such a high percentage of the cost).  Or worse is the practice of tacking on something you really don’t need (using a handy service like SlickFillers that exists solely for this reason) just to bump up your $23.99 item to get free shipping because it is cheaper than paying the shipping fee outright.  Not to mention that sometimes the FSSS can take a couple weeks to get to you (sometimes not, but I found it very inconsistent).  With Amazon Prime, you don’t need to worry about any of this. 

I first got hooked on Amazon Prime a couple years ago when they had a 2-week free promotion.  I was planning to order something anyway so I figured I’d give Prime a shot and then I’d cancel after a couple weeks — well I found out I LOVED it so much that I signed up for that year and now I can’t imaging living without it.  Also, you can add other members of your household to your Prime membership so one yearly fee covers them as well (although at my house I serve the role of Procurer of All Things Online).  Have a gift to send someone out of state?  No problem, just order it from Amazon and have it shipped directly to the recipient with free 2-day shipping — your Prime membership allows you to ship to anyone in the country as if you were sending it to yourself. 

An example of where I used Prime this week was when the batteries in a remote control died…I was able to swap ones that worked from another device but I knew I needed to buy AAA batteries.  No sense running to Target just for batteries (and who wants to pay the price of them at a convenience store) so I popped onto Amazon, found some Duracell AAA batteries that would work, and placed my 2-day order.  For this I actually also did “subscribe & save” to save an additional 15% since batteries are something that we need fairly regularly (although you can cancel the subscription whenever you want to) and two days later the batteries were waiting on the porch when I got home from work.  Very painless, easy, and inexpensive. 

Without Amazon Prime I probably would have added on some other garbage that I didn’t necessarily need to get up to the free shipping threshold or I would have stopped at Target and bought a pile of other stuff that caught my eye (like Oreos or the latest issue of People).  So I figure Amazon Prime saves me money…maybe that is just rationalization but at least I save time!

It appears that the free promotion period for Amazon Prime is now a month long — so you have nothing to lose by trying it the next time you are going to order something from Amazon.  Then you’ll see how easy online shopping becomes and how often you use it before you decide if you want to keep the Prime membership long-term.