Consumer Info Archives

March 4, 2008

Saving Some Sun but Wasting Some Electricity?

1216pm_clock.jpg As the anointed resident blogger on daylight saving time, I thought I would bring to your attention a study conducted by researchers at the University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB). The study focused on Indiana, which only two years ago began observing daylight saving time (DST) as a whole. Prior to that, only a few Indiana counties did so.

Analyzing meter readings from southern Indiana households before and after the adoption of the observance of daylight saving time, the researchers made the following conclusions:

... DST results in an overall increase in residential electricity demand. Estimates of the overall increase in consumption range from 1 to 4 percent. We also find that the effect is not constant throughout the DST period, with evidence for electricity savings in the spring and increases that are greatest in the fall. These findings are generally consistent with simulation results that point to a tradeoff between reducing demand for lighting and increasing demand for heating and cooling.

The researchers note that further research would be necessary to determine if their findings could be replicated in other parts of the country. They also don't discount the benefits DST may provide to people's sense of well-being. A preliminary, working paper on the study, titled "Does Daylight Saving Time Save Energy? Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Indiana" can be found here (PDF).

According to the Indiana Business Journal, however, Duke Energy Corp.—the company whose data the UCSB researchers used—doesn't endorse the study's conclusions. Among Duke's objections were the study's exclusion of data on electricity consumption by business and industry and the fact that most of its residential customers in the study area don't rely on electric heat.

For a summary of the study and the debate surrounding DST, the Wall Street Journal article "Daylight Saving Time Wastes Energy, Study Says" provides some good information.

Previously: "Time Changes Risky for Pedestrians"

Photo: "12:16 P.M." of a three-sided clock at the Västerhaninge, Sweden, commuter station, by Steffe.

February 22, 2008

New Postage Rates Pt. 2


I was surprised to hear stamps were going up in price only a year after they were last changed. Apparently, I missed the footnote to last year's price increases, which is that the price of postage will be adjusted each May per the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (or Public Law 109-435 approved Dec. 20, 2006).

Maybe consumers will finally decide to stockpile those Forever stamps, which will remain valid postage no matter what the price of first-class mail is in the future. According to a U.S. Postal Service news release, it has sold five billion Forever stamps since their introduction in April 2007. It plans to have an additional five billion of these stamps available for sale before the May price increases.

New Prices Coming May 12, 2008 (USPS)
Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (P.L. 109-435)
Previously: "New Postage Rates"

January 9, 2008

Recycling Those Old Electronics

Computer_disposal.gifThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday its launch of a campaign urging consumers to recycle their old cell phones. Partners in the campaign include many of the major cell phone service providers and some retail stores.

The EPA estimates about 100 to 130 million cell phones in the U.S. are no longer in use; less than 20% of unwanted cell phones are recycled each year. Consumers are encouraged to drop off in stores or mail in their old cell phones. A list of participating locations can be found here.

The campaign is just one initiative in Plug-In To eCycling, the electronics recycling program created by the EPA in 2003. The graph, based on EPA data, shows how many tons of computer products people got rid of each year between 1999 and 2005. (The numbers include desktop and portable computers; peripherals including printers, scanners, fax machines, mice, and keyboards; and monitors.) The majority of these products are thrown out--only a small portion is recycled, a trend that seems likely to continue unless consumer behavior changes.

For exact figures and related statistics, refer to page 351 of The World Almanac 2008.

Recycle Your Cell Phone. It's An Easy Call. (EPA)
Recycled Cell Phones--A Treasure Trove of Valuable Metals (U.S. Geological Survey fact sheet)

December 19, 2007

You Have Been Warned


Another year, another group of winners in M-LAW's "Wacky Warning Label" Contest, which we featured in the The World Almanac 2008. The contest, which is sponsored by a Michigan anti-lawsuit group, highlights the questionable advice amending the labels or instruction manuals of consumer products. Last year's group of dubious winners, for instance, featured the instruction manual for a personal watercraft, with the following sage advice on its gas tank: "Warning: Never use a lit match or open flame to check fuel level."

This year's winners include:
  • On a small tractor: "DANGER Avoid Death" (Complete with requisite cartoonish illustration.)
  • On a stroller's storage bag: "Do not put child in bag."
  • On a letter opener: "Safety goggles recommended."
  • On a vanishing ink pen: "Should not be used for signing checks or legal documents."

Don't believe it? You can check out photos of the labels at the links below.
Wacky Warning Label Contest Winners
Last Year's Winners

Flickr photo by The Letter E

December 6, 2007

More Dangers Found in Toys

Truman_and_toys.jpg On the heels of recalls of lead paint-tainted toys come concerns about other dangerous chemicals. The nonprofit Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) submitted more than 250 commercially available "suspect" items to government-certified laboratories for testing. The lead lab detected asbestos in several products--including the CSI Fingerprint Examination Kit, one of this season's popular toys--a finding confirmed by two other labs.

A spokesperson for Planet Toys, which manufactures and distributes the kit, is quoted with the following response in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

"The kit has been tested and has met all safety standards requirements as set by toy safety agencies and legislation, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission. ... The agencies don't require asbestos testing and therefore we have never been apprised of any unacceptable levels of asbestos."

About 1,200 children's products were tested in a separate study commissioned by consumer and environmental health groups. More than one-third of those products were found to contain lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, or other dangerous compounds.

The Wall Street Journal notes though that "It isn't clear whether the group's lead-testing methodology is similar to the one used by the Consumer Products [sic] Safety Commission, which hasn't announced recalls for most of the toys on the list." The list can be viewed at

"Asbestos Turns Up in Toys, Children's Clay" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
"Over One-Third of Toys in Test Contain Dangerous Chemicals" (Wall Street Journal)
"ADAO Releases Findings That Reveal Evidence of Asbestos in Everyday Products" (ADAO press release; PDF)
Consumer Product Safety Commission, including list of product recalls and searchable database of product safety standards

Photo: "Truman and Dora Toys (Since Recalled)" by gisarah.

November 2, 2007

Turning Back Time

Time SpiralYes, it's that time again: those glorious Daylight Saving Time days are over, as of 2AM on Sunday, Nov. 4.

Seem later than last year? It is: Daylight Saving Time in 2007 started several weeks earlier, and ended a week or so later, than in recent years. The U.S. Congress claims that the change will save energy across the country—or is it just a sinister conspiracy to sell more Halloween candy?

Either way, don't forget to set your clocks back one hour before bedtime, Saturday night.

Want a little more history about Daylight Saving Time? Hit the links below, or listen to this week's World Almanac Wake Up With Whoopi segment, on that very topic:

It's Time to Fall Back (World Almanac for Kids)
An Extra Hour of Halloween Daylight? Thank Politics

Photo: Time Spiral (by gadl)

August 8, 2007

Drug Naming Conventions


Despite the pervasiveness of drug advertisements, you might still be confused about whether a certain drug treats restless leg syndrome, erectile dysfunction, anxiety, or insomnia (or maybe all four?). Certain names, like Viagra, have gained enough cultural cachet to be widely recognized, but most, though familiar sounding, don't reveal their intended use.

According to The Merck Manuals, "When a drug is approved by the Food and Drug Administration ... it is given a generic (official) name and a trade (proprietary or brand) name. The trade name identifies it as the exclusive property of a particular company."

The United States Adopted Names (USAN) Council is responsible for selecting a drug's generic name and approving the drug's trade name, as proposed by the pharmaceutical company. Click below for insight into drug naming schemes, and a list of names currently under consideration (anyone for a little lebrilizumab?).

United States Adopted Names Council
FDA Approved Drug Products (Drugs@FDA)

Photo: Cheap Pharmaceuticals in Cabo San Lucas by Nelson Minar.

July 24, 2007

Viva Las Vegas Gambling Statistics

0707Gambling.jpgI’m not much of a gambler, but I just had to share this wealth of statistics on gambling assembled by the University of Las Vegas’ Center for Gaming Research. They have annual numbers for Las Vegas back to 1967, and for Atlantic City since gambling started in 1978.

I enjoyed looking at the 2006 Nevada Gaming Win Breakdown (PDF). No surprise that slots are by far the most prevalent and lucrative game (for the casinos) but who would’ve thought that Keno had one of the best win percentages (27.63%)?

UNLV Online Gaming Abstract

Old Ladies Love Their Slots from What Rhymes With Nicole's flickr stream

May 9, 2007

The Five-Second Rule

seconds.jpg With a nod to Vincent's earlier post on bacteria-eating maggots, some more food for (unappetizing) thought: the Five-Second Rule, a hallowed hallmark of elementary-school cafeterias everywhere, has officially been debunked. According to an article published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, we really shouldn't be comforting ourselves with the notion that dropped food, picked up in less than five seconds, is clean enough to eat (unless you'd be willing to eat off the floor itself).

The authors of the article build on the work of Jillian Clarke, who as a high school intern pioneered research on the Five-Second Rule, for which she received the 2004 Ig Nobel Prize in public health. (The Ig Nobel is bestowed on scientists whose research "first makes people LAUGH, then makes them THINK.") Among Clarke's findings? Sweet treats are much more likely to be picked up and eaten than vegetables.

The Five-Second Rule, or How Dirty is That Bologna [NYT]
Clarke's Findings
Journal of Applied Microbiology [article abstract]

Photo from cavitationjunkie's flickr stream

April 25, 2007

New Postage Rates

Forever_stamp.jpgI'd heard rumors of yet another postage rate increase (the last one was on Jan. 8, 2006), but I hadn't realized how close we were to an actual change. The U.S. Postal Service recently announced that price changes would occur May 14. Postage for a piece of domestic first-class mail (not over one ounce in weight) would rise from 39 cents to 41 cents. Postage for international first-class mail to most countries would increase from 84 cents to 90 cents.

Complementing these changes is the release of the Forever stamp, "which will always be valid as first-class postage on standard envelopes weighing one ounce or less, regardless of any subsequent increases in the first-class rate." Furthermore, the stamps will always be available for sale at the price of a first-class stamp at the time of purchase.

The USPS helpfully notes that "there are no limits on customer purchases."

Domestic Rates and Fees (effective May 14, 2007) (USPS)
International Rates, Fees, and Country Listing (effective May 14, 2007) (USPS)

Image: Forever stamp with image of the Liberty Bell.

April 20, 2007

The Science of Pet Food Labels

Friskies_cans.jpgThe pet food recall initiated by Menu Food on Mar. 16 was expanded once again on Thursday. The chemical melamine, previously found to have contaminated wheat gluten used in pet food production, is now believed to have also contaminated rice protein concentrate. Both the wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate were imported from China.

The list of over 100 recalled dog and cat food products runs the gamut from store brands, such as Meijer's Main Choice, to more expensive brands like Nutro and Science Diet. Regardless, the labeling of all pet food products is regulated at the federal level as well as the state level in some states.

Here are a few of the regulations:

  • 95% rule: Applies to pet food products consisting primarily of ingredients of animal origin. At least 95% of a product must be the named ingredient (e.g., "beef dog food," "tuna cat food"), not counting water added for processing. (At least 70% of the product must be the named ingredient if water is counted.) If a product is a combination of two named ingredients (e.g., "chicken and liver cat food"), then they must in combination make up at least 95% of a product. The predominant ingredient is named first. Because this rule only applies to products that are primarily meat, the name "chicken and rice cat food" would only be accurate if the product were at least 95% chicken.
  • 25% or "dinner" rule: If a named ingredient makes up at least 25% but less than 95% of a product, not counting water added for processing, the ingredient must be accompanied by a "qualifying descriptive term" (e.g., "beef dinner for dogs," "tuna platter for cats"). The ingredient label will reveal whether or not the primary ingredient is the same as the named ingredient.
  • 3% or "with" rule: Applies to ingredients that are "highlighted on the principal display panel, but outside the product name" or qualified with the term "with." Both "beef dinner for dogs" that has a "with cheese" side burst and "dog food with cheese" must include at least 3% cheese.
  • Flavor rule: As long as it's detectable (e.g., "beef flavor dog food").
  • Use of terms such as "premium" and "gourmet" is not regulated. That is, pet food products labeled as such are not required to have higher quality ingredients.

Interpreting Pet Food Labels (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
Pet Food Recall, including list of recalled pet food products (FDA)

Photo: Cat food cans by malingering.

April 19, 2007

The World of Wal-Mart

More guerrilla art project than serious statistical study (and somewhat dated at this point), Benjamin Edwards' The World of Wal-Mart is nevertheless an interesting and vivid glimpse at where many familiar consumer items come from. Edwards' mission, on October 15, 2001:

Visit as many Wal-Marts as possible in one day by following the rule: “Go to the nearest Wal-Mart from your present location.”

Inside each store, count as many objects as possible while noting their countries of origin.

The end result is an entertaining travelogue and a big, colorful map, where countries are sized in proportion to the percentage of products they contributed to Edwards' sampling of Wal-Mart locations.

For much more on U.S. trade with and investment in other countries, see pages 74-79 of the 2007 World Almanac and Book of Facts.

April 4, 2007

The Rollercoaster of Home Prices

No, seriously, it's a rollercoaster. A virtual one, but a rollercoaster nonetheless, showing changes in U.S. home prices, adjusted for inflation, from 1890 to 2007. I haven't double-checked the data, but it's such a cool idea, we'll share it anyway.

Someone please turn this into a webapp... I want to chart every piece of data in the World Almanac as a rollercoaster.

From magnetbox via kottke.

March 23, 2007

The Top 1,000 Books

hamlet.jpg The Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) maintains a fascinating list of the top 1,000 works "most widely held by libraries," complete with cover art and links to help readers find each volume in a local library. Here's the top ten:
  1. Bible [Library holdings: 796,882 Bibliographic records: 93,567]
  2. Census (United States) [Library holdings: 460,628 Bibliographic records: 10,617]
  3. Mother Goose [Library holdings: 67,663 Bibliographic records: 2,036]
  4. Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri [Library holdings: 62,414 Bibliographic records: 2,917]
  5. Odyssey, Homer [Library holdings: 45,551 Bibliographic records: 2,087]
  6. Iliad, Homer [Library holdings: 44,093 Bibliographic records: 2,526]
  7. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain [Library holdings: 42,724 Bibliographic records: 1,132]
  8. Lord of the Rings [trilogy], J. R. R. Tolkien [Library holdings: 40,907 Bibliographic records: 685]
  9. Hamlet, William Shakespeare [Library holdings: 39,521 Bibliographic records: 2,008]
  10. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll [Library holdings: 39,277 Bibliographic records: 1,942]
Hit the jump for highlights and oddities from the list, some insight into how the list was compiled, and the answer to the really important question: Where's The World Almanac?

Continue reading "The Top 1,000 Books" »

No Impact Man

beavan.jpg Yesterday, the New York Times published an article that quickly jumped to the top of the 'most-emailed' list. The story profiles Colin Beavan, who, with his wife and daughter, are making scads of sacrifices (think: in-house composting and no toilet paper) to live a "no impact" lifestyle and reduce their ecological footprints. Now, this is something that's been done by others in the past—insert obligatory reference to kooky commune-dwellers here—but not, to my knowledge, on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. This makes the process different when you consider a lot of the changes the family has made—they've walked up many, many flights of stairs, they have no backyard for the compost heap (it's in the kitchen), and they're limited to eating only locally-grown food even though there's only so much that can be produced locally in a New York December.

Check out the article and visit Beavan's blog at the links below. Or measure your own impact on the earth with an ecological footprint quiz. You can also read the first chapter of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ The Consumer’s Guide to Effective Environmental Choices online, which contains a less life-altering approach to reducing our negative impact on the environment.

The Year Without Toilet Paper
No Impact Man blog
My Footprint quiz
The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices

Photo of the Conlin-Beavan family from the No Impact Man blog.

March 21, 2007

Shopping for the Digital Camera of Your Dreams

After years of shunning digital camera technology in favor of film, I recently broke down and bought a new digital SLR camera. As with all of my electronic equipment purchases, I did a lot of super-charged and obsessive research. camerafree.jpgFirst I sat down and figured out how I was going to use the device (people, places, lighting). I spoke with a few professional photographers and regular folk who own digital cameras. I read just about every product review and digital photography site I could find. Then I went into the store and test fired a few. Of course having handled my prospective purchases, I was forced to go back and review all the camera literature I had read to compare my opinions with those of the reviewers. The whole process took several months, and I think I lost weight.

One of the better camera research tools I came across was this handy-dandy questionnaire on In my opinion, it does a particularly good job at helping you to narrow down your choices. It’s a bit on the long side, but it’s thorough. It asks everything from price range, to what you want to shoot, to what brands you generally like. It even gets into a good amount of the technical nitty gritty.

I pretty much knew which camera I was going to buy, but this questionnaire helped to confirm my opinion. So if you’re looking to purchase a digital camera, or you simply want to see if the device you’re shooting with is the digital camera of your dreams, check out the questionnaire at the links below.

Imaging Resource Digital Camera Advisor questionnnaire
Imaging Resource home page

Plan Your Wait

Airport_security.jpg.jpg I recently discovered that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a website of Security Checkpoint Wait Times. Though the information on the site is based on historic data, it might nevertheless provide some solace to frequent fliers.

After entering your departure airport, day of the week, and time of flight, the website will pull up estimates (average and maximum minutes) of the length of time you might spend going through security. Even better, estimates are provided for all the security checkpoints in an airport. So even if you have to be at the airport during peak hours, you might be able to breeze your way through a less popular security checkpoint.

Terminal 3, Checkpoint 7A, here I come!

Link: TSA Security Checkpoint Wait Times

Photo: Security at Dulles Airport from gisarah's Flickr photostream

March 19, 2007

Passport Woes

Epassport_cover.jpg About eight weeks after mailing out my renewal form, I finally received my new passport. I'd been concerned because passport renewal by mail typically takes 6-8 weeks to process. The U.S. Department of State, however, recently amended the information on its website to reflect current processing times. Because of a deluge of applications, the State Department warns it might now take up to 10 weeks to receive a passport.

Not only are January through April the peak months for passport requests, requests have increased because of new regulations that went into effect on Jan. 23 of this year. People must now present a passport when reentering the U.S. by air from any part of the Western Hemisphere, including, for the first time, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean.

An AP article from Friday referred to a notice sent by the State Department to lawmakers saying that "Applications received between October and this March have risen 44 percent over the same period in 2005-2006." The article also mentions that the department expects to process about 17 million passports this year, compared to 12 million in 2006.

I was also surprised to find out my new passport was not an electronic one. The first of the new electronic passports--which have a computer chip embedded in the back cover--were issued to tourists in August 2006. Apparently not all passport agencies around the country are equipped yet to issue e-passports, the technology for which has caused controversy because of privacy concerns.

Links: Passports Home (U.S. Department of State)
"Passport Requests Flood State Department" (Associated Press)

Photo: Cover of new U.S. tourist electronic passport. The logo at the bottom is the international symbol for an electronic passport.

March 9, 2007

Saving Some Sun

Clocks_at_Greenwich.jpg Daylight Saving Time (DST) comes three weeks early this year. It traditionally begins the first Sunday in April. But the Energy Policy Act of 2005 added four weeks to DST, moving the start date up to Sunday, Mar. 11, and extending it by one week in the fall, to Sunday, Nov. 4.

DST was first observed in the U.S. during World War I as a way to save energy. In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which provided that any state or territory observing DST must do so on the same dates. Any state could, by law, exempt itself from DST.

Here are some quick facts about Daylight Saving Time, from the 2007 World Almanac and other sources:

  • Arizona and Hawaii are the only two states that do not observe DST. The Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona, however, does follow DST.
  • Government studies from the 1970s showed that observing daylight saving time led to a 1% reduction in the nation's electricity usage each day.
  • California released a study in 2001, which concluded that there would be a 0.5% daily reduction in electricity use in the winter and a 0.2% daily reduction in electricity use in the summer if daylight saving time were to be applied year-round.
  • European Union member nations observe what's called Summer Time, from the last Sunday in March until the last Sunday in October.
  • Neither Japan nor China observe any form of daylight saving time.
  • Countries in the Southern Hemisphere have DST generally from October through March.
  • Because countries near the equator get roughly equal amounts of sunlight throughout the year, they do not deviate from standard time.
  • Benjamin Franklin first suggested daylight saving time in an essay.
  • Despite what I, and I'm sure many others, would like to say, it's called "Daylight Saving Time," not "Daylight Savings Time."
  • When DST ends at 2 a.m., Amtrak trains account for the time change by stopping for one hour before resuming service.

Worldwide Daylight Saving (
Saving Time, Saving Daylight (California Energy Commission)
Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time, by David Prerau

Photo: "Clocks at Greenwich Market" by Beachy

February 9, 2007

Gourmets of the Sky

airplane-food.jpg I'm one of a few who will admit to liking airplane food. Maybe it's the neatness of the presentation. The food is served perfectly proportioned in these rectangular dishes that fit like puzzle pieces on this tiny tray that's sized to stack just so in the meal cart. (Or maybe getting food is just a good way of breaking the monotony of a long flight.)

Airlines have cut back on meal service in an effort to save costs, but one website has dedicated itself to cataloging the array of food that's still being served. bills itself as "the world's first and leading website about nothing but airline food." One can browse thousands of photos of in-flight meals, including special meals (e.g., vegetarian, children's) and meals for the crew. The site also catalogs photos of airline menu cards. There's even a few entries on airplane food appearing in movies.

Flickr photo by nancycallahan (cc).

February 6, 2007

Cooking Healthy on a Budget

Swedish%20Chef.jpg The USDA’s Food Stamp Nutrition Connection Recipe Finder contains more than 400 recipes concocted by nutrition and health professionals and organizations to provide healthy, low cost food choices.

Aside from being a major step up from government-issued cheese, I thought this page could be useful even if you don’t use food stamps. The recipes are simple and concise, so they’re good for beginner cooks or people with limited cooking supplies (and money) like college students.

Some examples:

The recipes have been categorized by important nutrients, the type of dish, audience, cooking equipment, and cost. There is a rating system but it doesn’t seem to get much use. Sure, this isn’t Bon Appétit (for that there’s Epicurious) but you can’t cook Striped Bass with Saffron Vegetables and Spices Broccoli Rabe with $5 and some beginner’s luck.

Photo of the best chef ever at the Smithsonian from oppositeofsuper's Flickr stream (cc)

January 25, 2007

Coffee... For the Birds?

In recent years, new labels have been cropping up in food packaging. The "Organic" label probably looks familiar to many people. If you drink coffee, you might have also seen labels touting "Fair Trade" and "Shade Grown."

bflogo4.gifI recently found out about another label, this one created by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. It now offers a certification process that leads to coffee labeled "Bird Friendly." The coffee is described as follows:

"Bird Friendly" coffee is coffee that comes from farms in Latin America that provide good, forest-like habitat for birds. Rather than being grown on land that has been cleared of all other vegetation, "Bird Friendly" coffees are planted under a canopy of trees.

So the coffee is shade-grown coffee. In addition, it must be organic. The center provides guidelines for the amount and type of shade provided, so that there is "structural" diversity as well as a diversity of plant species. This method of production is in contrast to the typical method, wherein coffee is planted under full sun and grown with the use of chemicals and fertilizers.

Link: "Bird Friendly" Coffee (Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Migratory Bird Center)

January 23, 2007

Is That a Tenderloin in Your Pocket?

meat2.jpg A few years ago, there was no question about the most shoplifted product in the U.S.— you couldn't open a newspaper without seeing an article about over-the-counter medications stolen, presumably to be made into crystal meth. Since then, many states have taken measures to put pseudoephedrines behind secure counters, making them much harder to acquire via the 'five-finger discount.'

But as Brendan I. Koerner explained in his Slate magazine "Number 1" column, something else had to take its place as the reluctant champ of illegally-attained retail products. According to the Food Marketing Institute, meat now reigns supreme over runners-up analgesics, razor blades, and baby formula.

Koerner reports on "the lady who seemingly defied the laws of physics by stuffing an entire HoneyBaked Ham in her purse, the man discovered with a trove of filet mignons in his Jockey shorts, or the meth addict who explained that his dealer, exhibiting an atypical benevolent streak, had agreed to accept prime rib in lieu of cash," but the intriguing part is not necessarily in picturing the smuggling of a roast on one's person. Rather, it's in who is doing the thieving: employed women between 35-54 years of age are the most likely culprits.

The Purloined Sirloin (Slate)
FMI Supermarket Loss Prevention Report

Photo from SqueakyMarmot on Flickr (cc)

January 19, 2007

Top Dog/Underdog

One of man's best friends is moving up in the world. Earlier this week, the American Kennel Club announced that for the first time in about 70 years, a small breed displaced longtime favorites—German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers—to land at number two on the list of the most popular purebreds in America. The top spot is still held by the Labrador Retriever, the breed that's been leading the pack since 1991, while second place is now held by the tiny Yorkshire Terrier ('Yorkie' to its friends and fans). The rest of the top 10: dogs.bmp

2006 Most Popular Dogs
1. Labrador Retriever
2. Yorkshire Terrier
3. German Shepherd Dog
4. Golden Retriever
5. Beagle
6. Dachshund
7. Boxer
8. Poodle
9. Shih Tzu
10. Miniature Schnauzer

You'll notice that the German Shepherd is always referred to as the 'German Shepherd Dog'—presumably the AKC wants no confusion from people trying to register sheep herders named Klaus.

Check out the full list, as well as individual city rankings, historical trends in breed popularity, and great pictures like the one here, at the links below.

Most Popular American Dogs and Historical Trends
Popular Breeds by City
"Top Dogs" at Top of the Rock (pictures)

January 18, 2007

Genealogy Made Easy

Geni-shot.jpgLike a lot of people, I've made half-hearted stabs at compiling a family tree but never had the time or energy to delve too deeply into the project. But now there's hope for all of us lazy, would-be genealogists, courtesy of Geni, a slick, easy-to-use, online family tree and family history tool.

It couldn't be easier to get started: pick your gender, type in your name and e-mail address, and presto! You've got a one-person family tree. From there, you just click on easy-to-follow icons to add parents, siblings, spouses, and children, with as much detail as you care to provide. The best part? You can unload some of the work on other members of your tree. Provide an e-mail address for any family member, and Geni will allow them to log in and contribute their own knowledge--from adding new family members to filling in minute biographical details.

It's a new service, so performance can be a little slow and some features don't work consistently. There also doesn't seem to be an "export" or "print" feature, which would make it a killer app. And despite Geni's privacy policy, you should still be wary of giving any website a ton of private, personal information.

It's definitely not a tool for "serious" genealogists, but for those of us who just want to tinker with a quick, simple, and fun family free, it makes for at least a few diverting hours.

Link: Geni (via Lifehacker)

Note: If you need some help tracking down distant or deceased relatives, or you have a more serious interest in genealogy, the following resources are a great place to start:
Genealogy at the National Archives

December 26, 2006

It Is Greater to Return Than Receive

wrap-paper.jpgToday is Boxing Day in the UK and Commonwealth countries like Canada and Australia. Accounts of its origin vary, but according to the World Almanac Encyclopedia, "Traditionally, on that day the gentry would give presents, generally of money, to servants, tradespeople, and others of humble life."

Most of us in the U.S. don't celebrate Boxing Day, but December 26 does represent another Christmas tradition: returning unwanted gifts. In 2005, December 26 was the 4th busiest shopping day of the year. According to the National Retail Federation, more than one in three consumers (37.6 percent) will return or exchange at least one gift. And the majority of gift givers (56.9 percent) are including receipts to make returns easier. Click here to get the NRF's advice on making returns easier after everything's been unwrapped. Or hit the jump to see what won't be returned—in the NRF's lists of the most popular toys of 2006.

Continue reading "It Is Greater to Return Than Receive" »

December 19, 2006

Sizing Up Your Online Purchases

Sizeasy.jpg This made the rounds a few months back, but I thought I’d remind people it’s there as a useful tool for those who prefer to do their last minute holiday shopping online but want a more tangible image of the item they’re ordering. Sizeasy lets the user enter the dimensions of an object and then visually compare its size with up to four other objects, including some ready made graphics like a 19” TV, a wine bottle, a deck of playing cards, a door, or a double mattress.
For instance, say you would prefer a hardcover edition of the 2007 World Almanac (10.2 x 7.3 x 2.4 inches) over the paperback (7.9 x 5.5 x 1.5 inches) but aren’t sure if its vastness of facts in larger fonts is just too much for your bookcase. Just enter the dimensions of all three and then compare them from the front, side, top, or at an angle (“3D”):


November 24, 2006

Merry Cash Register

Here it is: Black Friday, otherwise known as the busiest shopping day of the year. reported in 2005 that “although it may be the day the greatest number of holiday shoppers traipse through malls, it isn't the biggest day of the year in terms of dollars spent.” The biggest shopping day in terms of sales varies each year, but the Saturdays and Sundays before Christmas usually make the top 10. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, the biggest shopping day of 2005 was Nov. 25, the Friday after Thanksgiving. In 2004, however, it was Saturday, Dec. 18, with about $8 billion in sales.

–M. L. Liu

November 23, 2006

Holidays Far From Home

This holiday season, many members of the U.S. armed forces serving abroad won’t make it home to their families. But it is easier than ever to send some of the comforts of home to them; connects people who want to send care packages to active duty soldiers, marines, and airmen. Stationed in Iraq in 2003, Army Sgt. Brian Horn began distributing packages addressed to “Any Soldier” to the soldiers in his unit who were not receiving mail, and by January 2004 the effort reached out to “any member, of any of the Armed Forces in harms way.” The site includes recommendations for what to send to the servicemen and women listed, and instructions on how to send it. Another helpful site is TreatAnySoldier, through which Horn’s mother, a retired Army MP herself, provides preassembled care packages loaded with snacks, books, DVDs, hygiene products, and other goodies specially chosen for Iraq-climate use and durability.

–Sarah Janssen

November 18, 2006

...Or, Put on a Sweater

With temperatures dropping and days shortening, it might be time to consider how energy efficient your home is. In October, the government projected that the prices of residential heating fuel would be lower than or close to what they were last winter. Forecasts of a cooler winter, however, might mean that some consumers—specifically those who rely primarily on heating oil or electricity—will end up paying more to heat their homes these next few months. Here are some things you can do to save energy and reduce your home heating costs: 1) Seal or caulk any leaks in your home, such as the area around window frames; 2) Use sunlight to heat your home during the day; and 3) Adjust your thermostat to the lowest comfortable setting. More tips can be found at the Alliance to Save Energy web site.

–M. L. Liu

About Consumer Info

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The World Almanac in the Consumer Info category. They are listed from newest to oldest.

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Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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