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When worlds collide, it could be an epic disaster or the best of both worlds. In this case, a brand of ice cream that I occasionally buy shows up at Costco. Three 32-oz containers of Three Twins Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream for $10.99. That’s $3.66 for each delicious container of sweet ice cream.

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Unfortunately, when I went back the following week, it was out of stock. I hope this will be a permanent item.

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I rarely set foot inside Safeway. However, I had to replenish the supplies of King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls before breakfast one morning. And, Costco does not open until 10:00 A.M. So, Safeway it was.

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For the most part, Costco’s game is to sell in bulk. Now, if Safeway and Costco were selling the same quantity of the same item, would there be a significant price difference? 24 Hawaiian sweet rolls for $5.99 at Safeway, but only $4.49 at Costco. 25% cheaper, which probably explains why I go months between Safeway visits.

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Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream

As great as Costco’s prices can be, a manufacturer’s instant rebate, when available, makes the deal even sweeter.

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Amazon currently sells Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream for Dry, Sensitive Skin, Fragrance Free, Non-comedogenic (20 Oz) for $14.39, which is higher than Costco’s regular price. Toss in the instant $4.25 rebate, and it’s a steal.

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Zojirushi NL-AAC18 Micom Rice Cooker

The Amazon Mobile iPhone App is a great way to “trust, but verify.” I spotted the Zojirushi NL-AAC18 for “sale” at 99 Ranch Market, with an enticing $30.00 off label. However, just because a product is selling for less than the MSRP, it doesn’t mean that it’s a bargain if everyone else is selling for less.

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So, I opened the Amazon Mobile app and scanned the bar code, which revealed a $217.49 price with a $50.51 savings. Not sure how these have different list prices. So much for how bricks and mortar cannot compete with Amazon.

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Lifeway Kefir

We love Lifeway Kefir. Costco sells a 12-8 fl. oz. package for $9.99 or $0.104 per ounce.

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The question is whether a 12-8 fluid ounce package of kefir would cost less per ounce than a single 32 fluid ounce bottle of kefir.

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If a retailer was selling a single 8 fl. oz. bottle of kefir, I’m pretty sure that the 32 fl. oz. bottle of kefir would be cheaper per ounce. Likewise, a single 96 fl. oz. bottle of kefir would probably be cheaper than a single 32 fl. oz. bottle of kefir. However, would 12 8 fl. oz bottles of kefir be cheaper per ounce than a single 32 fl. oz bottle?

I picked up a 32 fl. oz. bottle of Lifeway kefir from Milk Pail in Mountain View, CA for $3.99. The per ounce cost is $0.125.

So, a lot of small bottles purchased together costs less than one larger bottle, despite all the extra packaging.

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Verizon Jetpack MHS291VW

After using the Karma WiFi device for one afternoon, I purchased the Verizon Jetpack MHS291LVW instead. The big advantage of the Karma is the low initial cost. For those needing access to Wi-Fi once a month or even once a week for a few hours, the no commitment $14 per 1 GB Karma would probably suffice.

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However, once your usage level increases, you’re looking at $56 per 4 GB versus $50 per 4 GB on Verizon, provided your usage level remains steady month-to-month.

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The big difference though is the speed. On the Karma, I was seeing 1.34 Mbps download and 0.11 Mbps upload. The Verizon unit was a lot faster at 4.94 Mbps download and 0.93 Mbps upload, which was pretty close to my 6 Mbps AT&T DSL connection. Ookla Speedtest clocked my AT&T service at 5.07 Mbps download and 0.64 Mbps upload.

Update – August 29, 2013

I wonder if the speedtest.net numbers are valid. At one location in Palo Alto, the Verizon MiFi clocked in at 10.92 Mbps download.

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In Mountain View, speedtest.net reported the same unit achieving 27.15 Mbps download.

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Karma WiFi Review

Recently, I needed an occasional WiFi connection while away from home and work, so I started studying my options. I looked at the usual suspects; i.e., AT&T and Verizon mobile hotspots, but the monthly pricing on their websites is a bit opaque. Tethering might have been an option, if I didn’t have to surrender an unlimited data plan.

So, I borrowed a Karma social hotspot from Nicholas Moline for a trial.

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The big difference between Karma and the big boys is its no commitment pay-as-you-go model. If I don’t like the experience, I won’t be saddled with a 2-year contract. Considering that the quality of the mobile WiFi service is completely location dependent, being able to move to another provider if service is not up to par is quite important. Also, for a low-power user, $14 per 1 GB (which may last days, weeks or months) offers a lower entry level than the $50/month that the major services charge.

On to the review. The device is quite compact and light. I placed a quarter on the device for reference.

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Just press the power button and away it goes. To access the network, I selected it from the available WiFi networks. It did require a Facebook account or e-mail address to register. I’m not sure if this is the smartest design because Facebook freaked out and requested account verification details . Probably accessing the internet via an out-of-state IP address that geolocated to Duluth, MN tripped up some security settings.

I ran a broadband speed test, which took some time to spit out these numbers:

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On a browser, text renders pretty quickly, while photos noticeably lag while loading. So, it isn’t awesome, but depending on your individual usage, it may be decent or event acceptable. For browsing the news or chatting with friends, I had no issue. But. if your usage is any heavier, I can see how the WiMAX connection may not be enough. MailPlane (an email application for accessing Gmail accounts) struggled as well.

Karma credited me with an initial 100MB allocation for free. During about 45 minutes of work, I burned through 30MB of data, and I was really trying to conserve bandwidth. At this rate, I might get 25 hours of usage from a 1GB allocation, which may last 1-2 months for me. For not much more, Verizon offers a existing customers a $20 plan, instead of the $50 plan, which also features a faster internet connection. I have no idea how much AT&T charges additional customers on a Family Plan. I couldn’t find the information after looking on its website.

For the occasional, budget user, the Karma probably fills the niche quite well.

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Michielan Gelato

Our local Costco has started stocking pistachio gelato. I’m pretty sure that it is a permanent item because I’ve seen it in the warehouse for a few weeks now. The first time I saw it, I bought two containers because I wasn’t sure if it would be there the following week. Some items, like the much beloved pog, I’ve only seen once in the warehouse.

Anyways, the gelato comes from Italy, and sells for $9.99 per 2.2 lbs container.

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The pistachio gelato is absolutely delicious, if you like pistachios. Costco also carries a lemon sorbet and mango sorbet by Michielan as well. However, without the cream (and accompanying calories), the sorbet just lacks the indulgence that gelato offers.

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AquaClear Foam, BioMax and Zeo-Carb

It all began in 2012 during the Obon Festival at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple. One thing led to another, and before long, we ended up walking out with a goldfish in hand. So cheap to win, so expensive to maintain.

Next up was finding a place to live for our new-found friend. Being non-committal, I started small with a Tetra 3-Gallon Cube Aquarium Kit. Almost a year later, I’m switching out the internal filter with a Hang on Back (HOB) filter. A reviewer on Amazon recommended the AZOO Mignon Filter 60, so I’m giving it a try.

While the AZOO Mignon comes with some basic filters, this YouTube video offers modifications to enhance the performance of the filter. Hence, my adventure to track down AquaClear Form, BioMax and Zeo-Carb filters.

PetSmart, the closest big box pet store, did not carry AquaClear 20 accessories. However, Pet Club did. AquaClear 20 Foam was $1.19, AquaClear 20 BioMax was $3.29, and AquaClear 20 Zeo-Carb was $2.19.

Now, Amazon has a 3-pack of Aquaclear 20-Gallon Foam Inserts, 3-Pack for $4.85 or $1.62 each. So much for buying in bulk. Aquaclear 20-Gallon Biomax goes for $4.82. AquaClear 20 Zeo-Carb goes for $3.86.

Update: The AZOO Mignon Filter 60 works really well, and fits right in the space vacated by the old filter. It cleared up the water in the aquarium right away, and I could see particles in the water head straight for the filter. Additionally, as an HOB filter, it opens up some space in the small tank. However, the AZOO did create a small current, even at the lowest setting, which really excited the White Cloud Mountain Minnows. Suddenly, these docile fish turned really active and even headed to the water surface to grab the flakes. Unfortunately, one of the minnows proceeded to jump out of the tank over night out of the gap created when the filter was replaced. If you do switch to the AZOO, keep that in mind. I closed the gap with a sheet of plastic wrap.

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Novaform Memory Foam Comfort Curve Pillow

Just because journalists keep repeating the lie that bricks-and-mortar establishments cannot compete against Amazon, it doesn’t mean that it’s true.

Costco sells this memory foam pillow for $24.79.

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Scanning the bar code with the Amazon iOS app brings up the same item selling for $39.99 + $3.99 shipping. Not even close.

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Needless to say, I did not buy the pillow through Amazon.

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