USPS Rate V4 This mail service requires Ground Transportation Only.

In March 2014 USPS required a set of new tags if wanting a quote for Parcel Post (now being called Standard Post).

To get rate quotes for Parcel Post, and Standard Post you need to make 3 changes.

  1. You need a tag of <Container> Within <Container> you also need a new tag of <ContentType>
  2. You need a new tag of <GroundOnly> immediately after <Container>
  3. You need a new tag of <Revision> right after the <RateV4Request> header.

A properly formatted RateV4Request for Parcel / Standard Post is below. Bold Entries are what are required as of 7 March 2014 to quote USPS Parcel Post. Note Parcel is acceptable (in place of Standard Post) until July 2014. You may also omit the Content tags if shipping LARGE packages (ones too large for Priority Mail). See the USPS Webtool API docs for the required values. I’m writing this up because I added the Content and GroundOnly tags and fought for hours until I realized the Revision tags was also required as the Error Message of:

This mail service requires Ground Transportation Only. HelpContext 1000440

was not very informative.

USPS RateV4Request for Standard Post and Parcel Post

<RateV4Request USERID="xxxxxx" PASSWORD="xxxx">
<Revision>2</Revision>
<Package ID="0">
<Service>STANDARD POST</Service>
<ZipOrigination>10001</ZipOrigination>
<ZipDestination>21201</ZipDestination>
<Pounds>6</Pounds>
<Ounces>2</Ounces>
<Container>RECTANGULAR</Container>
<Size>REGULAR</Size>
<Content><ContentType>HAZMAT</ContentType></Content>
<GroundOnly>TRUE</GroundOnly>

<Machinable>TRUE</Machinable>
….

Raspberry Pi – Building mysql server on FreeBSD 10 Stable

When building mysql server for FreeBSD 10 from the ports collection on the Raspberry Pi the compile fails with:
mysqld.cc error: use of undeclared identifier ‘fpsetmask’; did you mean ‘sigsetmask’?

This happens for all three versions, mysql51-server, mysql55-server and mysql56-server.

Researching this I found that <ieeefp.h> for the Raspberry Pi is missing some code notably the function prototype declarations of the builtin fp functions:
#if !defined(_IEEEFP_INLINED_)
__BEGIN_DECLS
extern fp_rnd_t fpgetround(void);
extern fp_rnd_t fpsetround(fp_rnd_t);
extern fp_except_t fpgetmask(void);
extern fp_except_t fpsetmask(fp_except_t);
extern fp_except_t fpgetsticky(void);
extern fp_except_t fpsetsticky(fp_except_t);
__END_DECLS
#endif /* !_IEEEFP_INLINED_ */

If you have encountered this problem already there are two steps to fix:

  • First, Rename your /usr/includes/ieeefp.h to ieeefp.h.orig and create a new ieeefp.h with this code (might be wise to make a copy of the new ieeefp.h file too naming it as ieeefp.h.works in case you run an freebsd-update which might clobber the ieeefp.h file):

    /* $NetBSD: ieeefp.h,v 1.4 1998/01/09 08:03:43 perry Exp $ */
    /* $FreeBSD: stable/10/include/ieeefp.h 226607 2011-10-21 06:41:46Z das $ */
    /*
    * Written by J.T. Conklin, Apr 6, 1995
    * Public domain.
    */
    #ifndef _IEEEFP_H_
    #define _IEEEFP_H_
    #include <sys/cdefs.h>
    #include <machine/ieeefp.h>
    #if !defined(_IEEEFP_INLINED_)
    __BEGIN_DECLS
    extern fp_rnd_t fpgetround(void);
    extern fp_rnd_t fpsetround(fp_rnd_t);
    extern fp_except_t fpgetmask(void);
    extern fp_except_t fpsetmask(fp_except_t);
    extern fp_except_t fpgetsticky(void);
    extern fp_except_t fpsetsticky(fp_except_t);
    __END_DECLS
    #endif /* !_IEEEFP_INLINED_ */
    #endif /* _IEEEFP_H_ */

  • Then find this code in the ports tree under work/mysql5x-server/sql/mysqld.cc (x is 1,5, or 6 depending on your version) near line 176 on mysql51-server (since I’m using 5.1, my absolute path is /usr/ports/databases/mysql51-server/work/mysql-5.1.73/sql/mysqld.cc) — always good to make a copy before editing!:
    #ifdef HAVE_FP_EXCEPT // Fix type conflict
    typedef fp_except fp_except_t;
    #endif

    And comment out the typedef (as it’s also in the include file /usr/includes/machine/ieeefp.h). Code should look like whats below.
    #ifdef HAVE_FP_EXCEPT // Fix type conflict
    /* typedef fp_except fp_except_t; */
    #endif

Here is a tarball with the 3 ieeefp.* header files for your pleasure

Here is a tarball with the three header files ieeefp.h, ieeefp.h.orig and ieeefp.h.works (in case your browser is having trouble rendering the code above in the HTML and hiding code): Replacement ieeefp.h files for FreeBSD Stable Raspberry Pi. Download it and extract to usr/includes as root, edit the duplicate definition of fp_except out of mysqld.cc as described above, and restart the make of mysql server make sure to return to /usr/ports/databases/mysql5x-server before restarting make! That way you build the port with the FreeBSD modifications such as adding user mysql and setting the startup file in /usr/local/etc/rc.d so you can add mysql_enable and mysql_flags to /etc/rc.conf).

To beat the Floating Point fpsetmask() problem before it happens during the build of mysql server on FreeBSD on the Pi

  1. Install the attached ieeefp.h files from the tarball in /usr/include (or edit and paste in the code from above).
  2. Start make of mysql5x-server and once you get the message:
    ===> mysql5x-server depends on mysql5x-client
    edit the file mysqld.cc under the ports (i.e. /usr/ports/databases/mysql51-server/work/mysql-5.1.73/sql/mysqld.cc note the version number is in two places in the path and it must match the version you choose) using another ssh session. You have plenty of time to do this as the Raspberry Pi will make the mysql-client first.
Raspberry Pi under FreeBSD running mysqld Server
Success! Raspberry Pi running mysqld server on FreeBSD 10

PHP Script for Calculating UPC Code Check Digit

Here’s a php function (function calculate_upc_check_digit($upc_code)) I wrote today for calculating the check digit of a UPC-A (12 digit) UPC Code. You can use it to validate a UPC Code or to calculate the check digit when the manufacturer only supplies 11 digits of the UPC code.

The script will accept a UPC Code of length 11 or 12, and return the calulated check digit. If the length of the UPC Code is other then 11 or 12 it returns -1.


// ----------------------------------------------------
// calculate check digit for upc
// parameter UPC can be either 11 digits (to calculate)
// or full 12 digits to use to validate
// returns -1 on failure
// or check digit 0 - 9 on success
// to validate upc send 12 digit upc code in
// and compare returned value with the 12th
// digit of UPC code you are validating
// --------------------------------------------------
function calculate_upc_check_digit($upc_code) {
$checkDigit = -1; // -1 == failure
$upc = substr($upc_code,0,11);
// send in a 11 or 12 digit upc code only
if (strlen($upc) == 11 && strlen($upc_code) <= 12) { $oddPositions = $upc[0] + $upc[2] + $upc[4] + $upc[6] + $upc[8] + $upc[10]; $oddPositions *= 3; $evenPositions= $upc[1] + $upc[3] + $upc[5] + $upc[7] + $upc[9]; $sumEvenOdd = $oddPositions + $evenPositions; $checkDigit = (10 - ($sumEvenOdd % 10)) % 10; } return $checkDigit; }

Here's a sample of a script (omitting the mysql connection code) that uses this function to validate UPC codes from a mysql database containing products_id (int), products_name (varchar[40]) and products_upc (varchar[12]).


<?php
$sql = "select products_id, products_name, products_upc from products\n";
$sql .= "where products_status = '1' and products_upc <> ''\n";
$sql .= "order by products_id";
$result = mysql_db_query($sql);
$count = 0;
echo "<html>\n";
echo "<head><title>Validate UPC Codes</title></head>\n";
echo "<body>\n<table border='0' cellpadding='2' cellspacing='0'>\n";
echo "<tr>\n";
echo '<td>Reference</td>';
echo '<td>Product Id</td>';
echo '<td>Product Name</td>';
echo '<td>UPC Code<br />w/o Check Digit</td>';
echo '<td>UPC Check Digit</td>';
echo '<td>Calculated<br />Check Digit</td>';
echo '<td>Result</td>';
echo "</tr>\n";
while ($row = mysql_db_fetch_assoc($result)) {
$count++; $check_digit = calculate_upc_check_digit($row['products_upc']);
$match = 'Ok';
if ($check_digit == -1) {
$match = '<strong>Failure</strong>';
} elseif ($check_digit != substr($row['products_upc'],11,1)) {
$match = '<strong>Error</strong>';
}
echo "<tr>\n";
echo '<td>' . $count . '</td>';
echo '<td>' . $row['products_id'] . '</td>';
echo '<td>' . tep_get_products_name($row['products_id']) . '</td>';
echo '<td>' . substr($row['products_upc'],0,11) . '</td>';
echo '<td>' . substr($row['products_upc'],11,1) . '</td>';
echo '<td>' . $check_digit . '</td>';
echo '<td>' . $match . '</td>';
echo "</tr>\n";
}
echo "</table>\n";
echo "</body>\n";
echo "</html>\n"
?>

USPS Web Tools API Issue with Regional Rate Boxes

If you’re programming for the USPS Web Tools for the Regional Rate A, B and C boxes and get the error:
REGIONALRATEBOXA is an invalid container type for a REGULAR package and PRIORITY service.

You need to change the Service to PRIORITY COMMERCIAL. This isn’t in the documentation and no-one at the technical support center will know the answer. It took three weeks of fighting this error to figure it out.

Sample with error:
<RateV4Request USERID="SECRET" PASSWORD="xxxxxxxxx">
<Package ID="0">
<Service>PRIORITY</Service>
<ZipOrigination>20852</ZipOrigination>
<ZipDestination>53110</ZipDestination>
<Pounds>15</Pounds><Ounces>11</Ounces>
<Container>REGIONALRATEBOXA</Container>
<Size>REGULAR</Size>
<Machinable>True</Machinable>
</Package>
</RateV4Request>

<RateV4Response>
<Package ID="0">
<Error>
<Number>-2147219407</Number>
<Source>DomesticRatesV4;clsRateV4.ValidateContainer;RateEngineV4.ProcessRequest</Source>
<Description>REGIONALRATEBOXA is an invalid container type for a REGULAR package and PRIORITY service.</Description>
<HelpFile></HelpFile>
<HelpContext>1000440</HelpContext>
</Error>
</Package>
</RateV4Response>


If done with priority commercial will get a price:
<RateV4Request USERID="SECRET" PASSWORD="xxxxxxxxx">
<Package ID="0">
<Service>PRIORITY COMMERCIAL</Service>
<ZipOrigination>20852</ZipOrigination>
<ZipDestination>53110</ZipDestination>
<Pounds>15</Pounds><Ounces>11</Ounces>
<Container>REGIONALRATEBOXA</Container>
<Size>REGULAR</Size>
<Machinable>True</Machinable>
</Package>
</RateV4Request>


Solves the problem with these two related errors as well:
REGIONALRATEBOXB is an invalid container type for a REGULAR package and PRIORITY service.
REGIONALRATEBOXC is an invalid container type for a REGULAR package and PRIORITY service.

Setting Up an E-Store

These days it seems everyone wants to set up an e-store. My preference is for total control and I use OsCommerce. It’s widely supported and feature packed. Here’s a brief guide to help you get started thinking. It’s not an easy task, will require lots of work, and planning to get started. First, you need something to sell. Make sure whatever you sell will have enough profit to make the setup work worth your while.

Shopping Cart:
OsCommerce

Find a hosting provider by Googling ‘OsCommerce Hosting

You might need to charge sales tax. Try to find a host that supports SEO friendly URLS (i.e. www.site.com/tee-shirts.php and not www.site.com?id=1 — it’s high value to have keywords in URL). To do this find an oscommerce host that uses something called mod-rewrite to do it.

Be A Business
You should run the store as a business. So Set up an LLC and get a bank account for the LLC. This will seperate the stores money and liabilities from your personal liabilities and assets.

Credit Cards
If you want credit cards, you’ll need a merchant account. You should then also consider a dedicated host so that you are not storing credit cards on a shared host. This adds considerably to the cost of web hosting. Shared web hosting can range from $5.00 a month to $40.00 a month. Dedicated hosting is bare bones at $150.00 a month and more likely to be 350.00+ a month. As for the merchant account itself, you can get a merchant account from anywhere — that is it doesn’t have to be with your bank or with the credit card gateway you choose. In the US, Costco and Sams offer discount merchant account fees. This will tie to your bank account and money will be deposited daily (hopefully you’re selling stuff). A good OS/Commerce Host can help you with all of this.

But why do the merchant account yourself? Use Google Checkout or Paypal
If you don’t want to get your own credit cards (and this is useful to avoid risk), get a setup of oscommerce that supports BOTH paypal and google checkout. Then those folks will handle the transactions. Google works like a merchant account and deposits money in your account automatically. The only downside to this method is possible loss of sales because people don’t want to use those services. Personally, I love Google Checkout. All of my online purchases are visible to me in one place, and the merchants don’t see my credit card number. Sweet. The differences between Google Checkout and PayPal are major. With PayPal you see a transaction for a dollar amount. With Google, you see an order, including the items, along with the transaction. Checkout Google Checkout and PayPal for details.

Site Content -The Most Important Factor in Being Found
Rule 1: Do keyword research about your niche. Find out what people are looking for. Then create webpages.

Here is where to find what people are looking for:
Digitalpoint Keyword Suggestion Tool

The Overture data is Yahoo! traffic and it is generally assumed to show 1/4 of the searches done on Google so if something shows there you multiply by 4. Word tracker is a snapshot of Google.

Next, search Google with the keywords and see what ranks high, and look at those pages that Google values. Look at the keywords they target (by viewing page source and looking at the tag. For your site, these shouldn’t be stuffed, and should be unique on each page of the site. You should also do a Google search for back links for each of the top 10 sites and see who’s linking there. Google won’t show them all, Yahoo will show a lot more. The command to do this is to search for link://www.your-site-name-here/ in both Google and Yahoo. You can automate this all with a product called IBP & Arelis.

Google Pagerank
I digress just for a second here to mention Google Page Rank. This is the formula that originally propelled Google to the forefront of the Search Engines by using links from one site to another to count as votes about the quality of the site. PR ranges from 0 to 10. 0 is the lowest. Only a few sites are 10, Google being one of them. Now things have come a long way since the early days of Google, and Page Rank is no longer this one link = one vote formula and nowadays they consider quality of the links as well as many other factors. While it doesn’t necessarily matter if you are a PR3 or PR4 site, you will need to get other sites to link to you and for many of those webmasters will look at your PR. How do you get PR when you don’t have any yet? Read on, it’s described farther down.

What’s a Good Domain Name?
Now that you know what people are looking for in your niche, it’s time to choose a domain name. A good a domain name will have good keywords in it about whatever you’re selling. Using your research above, search GoDaddy for available names. It is worth considering buying a parked domain if that domain has good keywords and a Google Page Rank of 3 or more as this will help you get your site indexed faster. If you’re really planning on being in business a while, register the domain for at least 5 years, 10 would be better. This is because the evil spammers of Google and Yahoo use throwaway domains that are useful for only a brief period so they tend to register them for only a year.

Time to Start Building Content with Rich Keywords
You have your domain, osCommerce store, so it’s time to start building content with those keywords. The page title is huge in SEO (Search Engine Optimization). So are H1 tags (page headings). Make sure keywords are in title, h1, and dribbled around in the content. Make the content human readable, and just bear in mind that you need the keywords in there a lot. Final result should be nice reading and lots of keywords.

Keep in mind that the site will be new and it will take time to get ranked. If you bought a domain name that has been around for a while and has Google Pank Rank, you’ll be a little bit father ahead then if it’s a completely new domain. To get PR up, you need to get quality back links from other web sites which lends credibility to your site. Visit the sites you just researched above for keywords, some might be willing to link to you if you email them an honestly written email with something in the email that notes that you actually looked at their site and ask for an exchange of links.

Use Web Directories to Get Initial Back Links
The easiest way to get some links is to use web directories to get started. You can find about 300 directory listings here:
http://www.sighbercafe.com/internet/web_directories/

What I would recommend, is you post to say 10 of these that are free so you understand what they are about. Wait for the reviews and see if any accept you. USE A SPECIAL EMAIL ADDRESS BECAUSE YOU WILL BE SPAMMED — GUARANTEED. The only reason I could see for directories not accepting a new site with good content [which incidentally means you have written unique content already] is that it doesn’t have a page rank yet (and sometimes that’s a sign of evilness and being kicked out of Google for being bad and no one wants to link to bad partners.) You need to be accepted by a few of these directories to at least get a page rank of 1.

But what’s my Page Rank?
To see Page Rank, get the Google Toolbar, install it, and activate the Page Rank Display in the Options section of the Settings menu. Once active, you’ll see a bar indicating Page Rank in the toolbar. Every page you visit from then on will be sent to Google and the Page Rank shown, so it does have privacy implications. But you should have it installed, and visit your pages often so Google sees the visitor — better if he has several friends do this and if you can do this from other places like work and on many computers and connected via different IPs such as via cable and dialup so it looks like different people. Don’t go overboard, but you want Google to see traffic on your site, and they will send spiders to see the pages you visit — this is one of the reasons that you can’t hide anything on the web (i.e. there is no secret URL, they’ll be found via the toolbar or because ISPs, doubleclick, paypal, etc sell traffic data (anyone that you link an image from will see your traffic and be able to sell it).

Toolbar Page Rank isn’t Real Time
Oh, I should note that Google has an internal always up to date PR that they use, and only push toolbar PR out as snapshots about once a quarter. And the Page Rank at the snapshot update is usually a month old already. So the PR shown in the toolbar takes time to show up and won’t necessarily show the value Google currently is using.

While waiting for PR1, visit Digitalpoint SEO Forums and read and read. Also they have great set of free tools at:
Digitalpoint SEO Tools, one of which you’ve already used, the Keyword Suggestion Tool.

Besides that one, you should try to get the Digitalpoint Keyword Ranking Monitor working and check it daily:

(the only caveat is that it needs to use the Google API and so needs a Google API key. I heard somewhere that Google stopped issueing API keys but don’t know that for certain). There are setup instructions on the ranking monitor page, so follow them. If you get the key, you’ll need to check the tool daily to cause the tool to get your rank(or if you can afford it, donate $500 to the company. Then you can set it up to run automatically at 4:30am PT and you’ll still need to check it once a week or the folks at DP will automatically disable the automatic checking. A plus too, if you’re considering donating and can afford it, is you’ll be able to get a PR6 link from the donors page and make sure to choose a good keyword set.

Besides the Digital Point keyword ranking tool, there are other tools available for doing the same thing that run on your computer. Google ‘SEO Tools‘ for find some.

Be A Webmaster
Get a Google Webmaster account and verify the site. Check the Webmaster tools often, Google will give feedback to you.

Going Forward
Don’t do anything evil. The goal is to get backlinks and traffic. Rank will come naturally thereafter. Quality content will drive traffic.

Consider a forum or blog to discuss topics. These bring repeat traffic, traffic the visits many pages, and free content. There are some free forum software, and there is paid from Vbulletin. VB is the best and has lots of features. But any forum is a task to set up and keep out the bad viagra and porn spammers. Plus you need to market the site to get visitors or else it’s empty. Some tips for operating and marketing forums can be found at The Admin Zone

WordPress is a simple easy to install blog (you want this on your site not hosted elsewhere because it needs to be part of your domain). If you are familiar with pkzip, you can do it yourself for free. Make sure to use SEO friendly URLS. These are set under Permalinks in the Options area.

Once you get Page Rank 1 for your homepage.
Ok, once you get to Page Rank 1, it’s time to start adding more directory submissions. You don’t want to start earlier because of the PR0 and the bad guys will result in a lot of rejections.

When it’s time for this, you should have 3 – 5 sets of keyword variations, 3 – 5 site title variations with keywords in them and 3 – 5 different descriptions. These should be from the top keywords shown above in the keyword suggestion tool. The content on the pages should be written with those searches in mind too — it’s looks like it is a natural fit now.

There are basically 3 types of web directories: 1) Free, 2)Reciprocal, 3) Paid.

I pay someone to do the free directory submissions because it gets old fast and it’s cheap, about $20/hundred listings. So you can get about 900 listings for $180.00. If you are considering this, don’t submit to more than 10 directories yourself. Because the submitter needs to know where you’ve submitted to. Keep track of the directories you submit to.

I don’t bother with the reciprocal, and do a few paid. Alivedirectory.com is one of those. Consider Yahoo Directory if you can afford the $300/yr they want — it has credibility (make sure your site is filled out — you want to be accepted — the $300 is for review and if you are rejected too bad). Also submit to the open directory project at www.dmoz.org (this one takes a while to get into and is what Google uses for their directory).

That will get you started.

Fitzgerald Auto Mall – Frederick, MD

There was a time about 15 years ago when I had trouble with a new car, and had it in for service. When I went to pick it up later that day, it seemed to me that all of the customers picking up cars were arguing with a service writer. It hadn’t been very long since I went through the ordeal of shopping for a car and dealing with two car dealerships. I came to the conclusion at that time that the car industry needed a shakeup, that they didn’t care about customers expectations, and I dreaded the day when I’d have to buy another car.

Fitzgerald Automall Sign
However, not all car dealerships are the same. When the time came to purchase a new car, we went to the local Chevrolet dealership in Frederick, MD. It’s one of those mega dealerships where they sell many brands of cars at one location. This store is called the Fitzgerald Automall. Since that time, we have purchased 4 vehicles there, 3 from the same sales consultant, Craig Johnson.

What sets this dealership apart from any of the 10 or so I’ve had encounters with over the years is their focus on Customer Satisfaction. Everything from pre-sales to post sales to service is on the straight and up. There are no hidden fees, no haggling over the price, they’re patient, informed, and simply want to make a good deal.

Craig Johnson
One of the most unpleasant experiences for most people is the trip to the car dealer to buy a car. I can state with certainty that is not the case at Fitz-Mall. Pictured here is Craig Johnson, the Sales Consultant at Fitz-Mall that we have purchased 3 cars from, 2 Chevrolet’s, and 1 Toyota (incidentally, the Frederick Fitzgerald Automall doesn’t sell Toyota’s. Craig had it brought in from another dealership of Fitzgerald’s located 20 miles away).

We met Craig right after our car was totaled in an accident. We were looking for a vehicle that could tow our RV trailer better than our prior vehicle. For about 10 days we talked with Craig, looked at the options he researched for us, and finally choose the Chevy Avalanche. We still have this vehicle today, and it was the correct vehicle for us to buy to replace our Chevy Blazer which didn’t really have the proper suspension for towing a large RV trailer.

A few years later our Pontiac Bonneville was aging. Even though it ran reliably, with no major problems ever, the 360,000 miles on it were finally taking their toll on the car and it was time for a new car. We again visited Fitz-Mall, Craig showed us some small 2 door, and small king cab pickup trucks that we thought would fit our needs. In the end, though, we purchased a standard Chevrolet Blazer (not the Trailblazer) because there was more utility in having more enclosed area for carrying products for our business. It was a very smooth transaction, pleasantly and professionally handled by both Craig Johnson and the business office.

With fuel prices rising, we decided to get a Toyota Prius. We contacted Craig, and asked if he could sell us one, even though the Fitz-Mall he worked at didn’t offer Toyota’s. Craig was able to arrange for a Prius to be shipped to his location in Frederick, and have all of the paperwork prepared and signed at Frederick. He even came in on his day off to do this. We bought our Prius this way because we are comfortable with Craig, and have become somewhat casual friends along the way. Occasionally, I’ll stop by the store and visit Craig, sometimes I bring him some honey from our bee hives. There aren’t too many car sales consultants I’ve had such pleasant dealings with that I’d ever consider doing something similar with. Oh, that’s the back of our new Prius Craig is standing next to. A magic car and Craig’s first Toyota sale.

Some other reasons to buy from Fitzgerald Auto Mall
Besides being treated comfortably, here’s a short list of reasons to buy a car at the Frederick Fitzgerald Auto-Mall:

  • No-Haggle Pricing – The prices are on the car and are at dealer invoice. Sure, you could probably haggle with another dealership for 10 hours and save a few hundred but there is something to be said about honest, comfortable, and pleasant handling of a sale.
  • The Sales Consultants are knowledgeable and are not pushy.
  • You get a free loaner car from them when you take your car in for service.
  • Every other oil change is free.
  • The service department is operated professionally too.
  • Parts Department is well stocked and pleasant to purchase from.
  • You get a coupon for $50.00 off your next car purchase — and they honor it without question.
  • You can shop for cars online at www.fitzmall.com, see the vehicles they have in stock, what’s on order, and see their prices [and yes, they are the real prices]

How about this — They’re Honest
When we bought our third vehicle from Fitz Mall (our second from Craig Johnson) they accidently mis-calculated the vehicle registration fees. We were pleasantly surprised to find a refund check for the overpayment in our mailbox one day. I think most car dealerships would have pocketed that money.

Frederick MD Fitzgerald Auto Mall

This is a very large car dealership, which is part of a larger organization, so it’s a significant player in the Washington DC – Baltimore local car market. The owner was interviewed this year on NPR about the troubles in Detroit and to paraphrase Jack Fitzgerald’s response “they’re too far separated from the customer.” Here is a direct quote from that interview:

“(If) we don’t take care of our customers, we don’t stay in business, and the problem with Detroit is they are insulated from that,” he said. “The union leaders don’t have to take care of a customer with a complaint, and management doesn’t have to take care of a customer with a complaint, they leave that to people like me and the people that work in my dealerships.”
Jack Fitzgerald

See or listen to the complete story: ‘Project X’ Marks Chrysler Restructuring Bid on National Public Radio.

So you can see that from the top down in this organization, their focus is on the customer.

Having purchased 4 cars from Fitzgerald’s Auto Mall we have had positive experiences and with almost all parts of the company. From Sales to Finance to Parts to Service to Body to the free rental cars, the Fitzgerald Company employs pleasant, happy people whose job it is to just make things work. These folks, while out to make money, aren’t out to get you. They say what they’ll do and they do it — without exception.

Maryland Coast Dispatch

Maryland Coast Dispatch
Maryland Coast Dispatch

The world of newspaper publishing and news generally is in a state of fluctuation these days primarily because of the internet and it’s focus on instant, breaking news. While you may consider the next statement old fashioned, I don’t think there is really all that much news and information that has to be reported instantly. The more important news is that that must be absorbed and thought about carefully. Sure, if there was a house nearby that exploded, it would be nice to know about it sooner rather than later. Yet, we wouldn’t be getting that type of information as breaking news from CNN. We’d get it from the authorities or by simply hearing the sirens from the emergency equipment. I think that the endless repeating of 10 second video clips on CNN is doing a dis-justice to the journalism industry.

This same style of little news with lots of advertising are also attacking the print newspaper industry. At one time, there were about a dozen locally published newspapers in the greater Ocean City, MD area. Now, all of those except for a few are owned and published by one large media company. That unnamed company has degraded most of those papers and fills space with content from syndicated sources instead of with local news that these papers were known for.

Thankfully there are still a couple of independent publishers of local news for the Ocean City / Ocean Pines resort areas and when I visit on my many trips to the area each year I seek out these two jewels that remain and produce unique local news.

The Maryland Coast Dispatch is a local treasure that is packed full of local news written by local journalists. It covers lots of information of interest to both the visiting tourist, the local resident and the second home owner that lives elsewhere most of the time. This includes politics, the local environment, local development, Ocean Pines community information, Ocean City tax and municipal ordinance changes, town council meetings, as well as news from Berlin, MD. All of this comes for free too. The Maryland Coast Dispatch is not a home delivered newspaper. Instead, it’s distributed like most of the other news at the resort, and is found in free newspaper stands located at stores, shops, and cafes in the Worcester County area.

But the Maryland Coast Dispatch shouldn’t be confused with many of the other papers that are simply stuffed with advertising and repetitive lists of local restaurants. Each week The Dispatch is packed full of unique, locally researched and written stories about living at the beach resort and surrounding areas. The writers are local folks that know the area and they create interesting articles. It takes a lot of time and effort to find, research, and write news for a newspaper each week. I think that should be rewarded, so if you visit the beach at Ocean City, MD this year, pickup a copy of The Dispatch, and read about the news and happenings in the area. And if you visit a restaurant or business that you found by reading an advertisement in The Dispatch, be sure to mention this to the business so the advertisers know that you read and enjoy the paper and that their support for this quality newspaper is worthwhile.

Ocean City Today NewspaperThere is another locally published paper, Ocean City Today, that also is top quality and is also packed full of local news and interests. It’s published at the beach by beach folks, and has a nice wide range of news features.

So when I stop at a store, the two local papers I pickup are The Maryland Coast Dispatch and Ocean City Today. These are two locally published papers that are worth reading for quality local news from Worcester County, MD. Most of the other papers are simply repeated syndicated news from other newspapers. And in my opinion, and since this is what this blog is about, we ought to be rewarding those establishments that produce good products and services.

Best of all, both of these weekly newspapers can now be read on the web:
Maryland Coast Dispatch
Ocean City Today

Sunset Magazine

Sunset Magazine
Sunset – Living in the Western US

I’ve been a subscriber to Sunset Magazine since 1988. It’s truly one of the best magazines for creative and interesting meal ideas. The last 1/4 of Sunset is focused on cooking and each month they feature great new recipe ideas, tips on cooking with new foods, and lots of recipes that are ‘keepers’. We have about 30 recipes we use all of the time that came from Sunset magazine.

My father, who grew up in Stockton, California has been a subscriber to Sunset since the 1950’s. Back then he mailed in a recipe to the Chefs of the West feature, and while his recipe wasn’t published, they sent him a copy of the book and included his name as a contributor to the cookbook. While the Chefs of the West cookbook is a little worn now, I still use it as a source for inspiration.

My subscription and addiction to Sunset started when my father sent me a gift subscription to Sunset almost 20 years ago now, and I think I have almost every issue of the magazine that’s been published since then. I’ve been a subscriber to Sunset for the last 10 years, and send several gift subscriptions to friends that live in Tucson, Arizona and San Marco, California.

Sunset isn’t just about food though. It also features articles about remodeling small homes, building modern energy efficient homes, and homes that blend into the environment.

And for those that like to travel in the West, Sunset features travel ideas and road trips.

So Sunset is this wonderful magazine about cooking, travel, decorating, home building, and last but not least, outdoor living and gardening. Sunset is truly a gem in the magazine world and is my favorite magazine.

Sunset regularly publishes collections of their best recipes in themed cookbooks that can be found in most book stores.

Stubb’s Bar-B-Q Sauce

Stubb's Bar-B-Q SauceOne of my favorite Barbecue Sauces is Stubb’s Original Bar-B-Q Sauce. Even though it’s made in Texas, the flavor is that of a Carolina Vinegar based barbecue sauce. It’s great with Carolina Pulled Pork, and excellent with grilled chicken. And fabulous with grill beef roasts like bottom round and chuck roasts.

Unlike many sugar based Bar-B-Q Sauces, you can use Stubb’s Bar-B-Q Sauce as a mop sauce, and simply slop it on the meat while cooks, and serve more with the finished food. Most other sauces will burn and crust on the food, while Stubb’s will soak in and add delicious smoked barbecue taste.

Stubb’s Barbecue sauce gets it’s name for the creator, C.B. Stubblefield. The main ingredients are Tomato Sauce, Vinegar, Molasses, Salt, Worcestershire Sauce, Natural Smoke Flavor, Garlic, Onion, Mustard Flour and ‘Spices’. It does contain MSG – Monosodium Glutamate. Sodium content per 2 tbsp serving is 210mg or 9% of the USDA daily value.

Check out the official Stubb’s web site for recipes, coupons lore, and more. Stubb’s Bar-B-Q is made by a small Austin, TX company:
Stubb’s Legendary Kitchen Inc
PO Box 40220
Austin, TX 40220
512-480-7804
http://www.ilovestubbs.com

Stubb’s quote on the bottle is:

FIRST OF ALL, you have to have the taste and the time. Barbecue is something you can’t rush. That’s the reason most people don’t get it right. To be, barbecuing has also brought folks a little closer together, so enjoy it with your friends and family MY RECIPES are known throughout Texas and the world as the best in barbecue, and I’ve put my heart and soul into each one. With my picture on the label, and my recipes inside, you can be sure you’re getting the finest quality available. Simply put My Life Is In These Bottles.”

Carolina Pork Sandwich with Stubb’s Bar-B-Q Sauce

Assateague Island National Seashore

Assateague Island
One of my favorite places to visit is Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland. Since I go there a lot, I plan on writing a bunch of articles about Assateague here in the blog, so today’s post is more or less a primer on Assateague Island.

Assateague Island is a narrow strip of sand that runs about 37 miles from the Ocean City, MD inlet to Chincoteague Island in Virginia. Assateague Island is a barrier island. That is, it’s a thin sandy island that protects the mainland from the forces of the Atlantic Ocean. There are many other barrier islands on the east coast, including the barrier islands (or Outer Banks) of North Carolina of which Cape Hatteras is a part of. Barrier islands are prone to breaks in them from strong storms which wash over the low islands. Most of these channels self heal over time by refilling with sand washed back into the gaps.

Map of Northern Assateague IslandAssateague Island was once part of a large island and was connected to Fenwick Island at the north end. A strong Nor’Easter storm in the 1930’s cut open and channel from Sinepuxent Bay to the Atlantic Ocean at what is now the southern tip of Fenwick Island in Ocean City, MD. This channel gave access to the Atlantic Ocean to the small sleepy fishing town of Ocean City. Because of the economic value this cut offered to Ocean City fisherman, the channel has been maintained and dredged continually since it formed and has major long term environmental impacts on the natural flow of sand onto Assateague. The northern end of the island now has very little vegetation, and is at risk of washing away. While the southern tip of Ocean City is one of the widest parts of the town. Much of the sand that should be passing southward to Assateague Island washes into the channel, and deposits in shoals in Sinepuxent Bay. As you can see from the picture in the map above, the northern end of the island has shifted west as the natural currents have moved the sand on the ocean side southward, and the sand from the channel has deposited in the bay behind the island. Take a look at this satellite imagery of northern end of Assateague Island to see this shift and the sandy shoals in Sinepuxent Bay behind Assateague.

Once planned for development, the original access to Assateague Island was by ferry from South Point. Because of the access issue the development was slow, and by early 1960’s there were only a few homes on the island. The developer knew that a bridge was needed, so donated 600 acres of land to the State of Maryland for use as a park. The plan worked, and the state built a bridge to the island to build the park. Development of the island picked up pace after the bridge was opened but things went afoul in 1965 when a 3 day Nor’Easter washed back and forth across the island destroying all but a handful of homes.

Map of part of Assateague Island

While talk of protecting Assateague Island as a park had gone on for 3 decades, the Nor’ Easter of 1965 was pivotal in bringing the topic of preservation of the island real consideration, and in 1967 the island became Assateague Island National Seashore. But that wasn’t the end of plans for development. The legislation enacted to create the park allow for some development on the island. It wasn’t until 1976 that through the work of Judith C Johnson and hundreds of others, that the federal authorization legislation was changed to remove the allowance for development.

Assateague Island is now protected as a park or wildlife refuge and is managed by three different agencies. The National Park Service operates Assateague Island National Seashore in the Maryland portion of the island. The US Fish and Wildlife Service manages Chinoteague National Wildlife Refuge in the Virginia portion of Assateague. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources operates Assateague Island State Park on about 600 acres in the Maryland section of the island.

Assateague Island is famous for the herd of wild horses made famous through the book ‘Misty of Chincoteague’. Visitors to Assateague Island are fascinated by these free roaming horses and it’s one of the major reasons the people go to Assateague. The horses have a hard life on the island. Vegetation is poor quality, in the winter there are harsh chilling winds, and in the summer there are biting flies and mosquitoes to contend with. The Maryland herd is managed by the National Park Service and the Virginia herd is managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. The Chincoteague herd population is maintained by auctioning off some of the ponies at the end of each July. The horses are rounded up and swim to the Chincoteague Island to be sold. To help pay for the costs associated with managing these wild ponies in the Maryland Section, you can donate to provide foster care for them at Assateague Coastal Trust Foster Program. The foster program lets you choose a horse, and they’ll mail you a picture of the horse, along with a certificate in a nice booklet. They make great gifts for children’s or family member’s birthdays and you’ll be helping out a good cause.