Cleaning out the Links

It’s Friday at lunch, and you know what that means–it is time to clear out the accumulated news chum links from the week that haven’t fit into any theme. There’s a bunch of interesting stuff in here, so read on, McDuff:

Music: Cheapo-Cheapo Productions Present John Sebastian Live (John Sebastian): Waiting for a Train


Lick It and Stick It

According to an Associated Press article I read over lunch, the USPS is changing their rules, and will permit living people to be portrayed on postage stamps. Since Jan. 1, 2007, the requirement has been that a person must have been deceased five years before appearing on a stamp. Before that, the rule was 10 years. (By tradition, though, former presidents are remembered on a stamp in the year following their deaths.).

Presumably, the intent behind the new rule is to get popular people on stamps so that people collect stamps and (ideally) never use them (which makes the post office money), or decide to use them (which increases use of the service). The post office has discovered in the past that putting popular people and subjects on stamps does get the stamps purchased: witness the success of the Disney stamps and the Simpson stamps (cartoon characters, despite what children believe, are not alive, but simply timeless).

(As an aside: I’ll note that you have always been able to put living people on stamps, just not stamps published by the USPS. I seem to recall that had a service where you could put any non-obscene photo on a stamp).

So, my first question to you is: What living characters should go on US postage stamps? Honoring living politicians is certainly not the way to go, although popular media personalities might work. After all, just imagine (insert name of popular sexy superstar) on a stamp. Given the post office’s current budget problems, what we’ll most likely see is sponsored stamps, where the post office auctions off the right to get a living person on a stamp. Surely Berkshire Hathaway would pay to put Warren Buffet’s face on a stamp? [Note that if you have suggestions, the USPS wants them. Send them via Facebook, Twitter, the postal service website and, of course, by mail to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, c/o Stamp Development, Room 3300, 475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington DC 20260-3501.]

Of course, this leads to the second question: Does anyone looks at postage stamps anymore? I was thinking about that this weekend, as my current sheet of stamps is the “Go Green” commemorative pictured on the right (click for a larger image). These stamps (which look to me like Easter Seals) contain various messages that exhort the public to “Go Green”, including fixing leaks, sharing rides, composting, insulating the home, planting trees, etc. Of course, there’s one big green thing missing on the list: use your computer to receive and pay bills. That’s not there because (of course) that reduces the use of the mail. I think about that everytime I use a stamp from this sheet.

One last thought related to stamps. One of the hobbies of my youth that has gone to the wayside is stamp collecting. This hobby, popularized by presidents such as FDR, used to be really big. Nowadays? Stamp collections are mostly worthless, except for really old stamps. First day covers have even less value. I stopped keeping my collection up to date in the late 1990s. The move to adhesive stamp sheets with 20 different images meant that you had to buy an entire sheet. Even when all the images on the sheet were the same, you still needed to buy an entire sheet to get the plate numbers (no more blocks of four). The adhesive is such that you can no longer soak off stamps, and you get fewer and fewer real stamps on envelopes you receive at home. I’m not sure when I’ll reach the point where I’ll declare my collection valueless, although I’m pretty sure the foreign portion of my colletion is so spotty there’s no value there. This leads to my last question: Were you/Are you a stamp collector, and what are you doing with your collection these days?


Friday News Chum: Digital Music, Crafting, Cookies, and Atlantis, Oh My!

Friday lunch time. You know what that means. Time to clean out the news chum links:

  • Technology End of Life. An article on the death of the DVD, combined with another article I read somewhere but can’t find today on the death of the CD, prompted some musing on disappearing technology—and the longevity of technology. Look at vinyl records. I’m still able to listen successfully to records manufactured in the 1930s and 1940s. Cassettes are known to be poor, although I’ve had some hold up for over 25 years. CDs? For all their superior technology, the only ones that might last are the manufactured ones. The CD-Rs supposedly have a very short shelf life (although I haven’t had any die on me yet). Same is true for DVD-Rs. The upshot of all of this is that those Super-8 movies and VHS tapes of your wedding will last longer than that CD or DVD. Further, our music collections are increasingly all digital—meaning you better have backups and backups of backups, as well storing them in non-proprietary convertable formats… as well as praying that the next revolution doesn’t mean that your converted MP3 sounds like crap. Oh, and as for your music device, I fear the day the iPod Classic goes away, but we all know that day is coming. Ten years is a lifetime for any modern technology.
  • Knitting Your Brow. The LA Times has a nice piece on how yarn shops are trying to make a comback after the knitting craze crashed. Crafting comes in crazes. Back in my college years, I remember when needlepoint shops were everywhere (this was good, as I was into needlepoint at the time). They then got pushed out by the knitting shops. You could find skeins and skeins of knitting yarn, but canvases and DMC were harder to find. My sister-in-law, Sheri, is one of those folks that love knitting. The next craze to come in was quilting—in fact, my wife is at the Glendale Quilt Show today with a friend. We’ve run all around Southern California for the Quilters Run. What’s the next craze that will kill the Quilt shops? Who knows.
  • Losing Your Cookies. As noted above, fancies come in waves. The NY Post is reporting on the next food fancy: macaroons. Evidently, cupcakes are so yesterday, and the almond paste cookie is now in. This makes me happy, as macaroons are gluten-free. Just as long as they are better than the yucky Manaschevitz Pesach macaroons.
  • What’s Lost is Found. They may have found the lost city of Atlantis, in a marsh in Spain. Funny thing is, it is just where Plato thought he parked it. He had just misplaced the stub where he wrote the information.

Make Yourself Happy. Experience Something with Someone. Perhaps the Theatre?

CNN had a very interesting piece come up today: A recent study has shown that possessions don’t make us happy — experiences do. Specifically, psychological research presented this week at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual meeting suggests that, in the long run, experiences make people happier than possessions. That’s in part because the initial joy of acquiring a new object, such as a new car, fades over time as people become accustomed to seeing it every day, experts said. Experiences, on the other hand, continue to provide happiness through memories long after the event occurred. According to Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, “When people spend money on life experiences, whether they also take someone with them or buy an extra ticket or whatever, most of our life experiences involve other individuals”.

So, as I said, go to the theatre. Your only take-away possession is a program, which you can recycle if you want!

By the way, related to going to theatre or other events is some good news, courtesy of lat_cultrmnstr (the LA Times Culture Monster Blog, syndicated to LJ). There’s now yet another source for half-price tickets in Los Angeles, as StubDog is joining the frey. I haven’t used them yet, but I have used at least two of the other three half-price ticket services mentioned in the blog: Goldstar Events (my referral link, which will earn me a $1 service credit if you join) and LA Stage Tix. I’m also a member of the third service he mentions, Theatremania, but I haven’t bought tickets with them. I’ll also note that TheatreMania, Goldstar, and StubDog also cover other cities (so those of you reading this who live elsewhere might be able to benefit). In particular, both TheatreMania and Goldstar cover the SF Bay Area, DC, Boston, New York, and TheatreMania covers Seattle.

P.S.: One other thing to save money: USA Today is reporting that stamp prices are going up on May 11th: 44¢ (from 42¢) for the 1st oz 1st class (no change for 2nd oz); postcards up 1¢ to 27¢; 1st oz of large envelopes up 5¢ to 88¢; 1st oz of a parcel up 5¢ to $1.22, and new international postcard and letter rates. Specifics are here. So buy those forever stamps while they are still 42¢. Of course, if the 2¢ increase doesn’t bother you, you can be like me and buy commemoratives.


Random Observations

A few morning observations:

It appears that Blue Cross is now asking doctors about a patient’s medical history… in order to confirm that they listed all pre-existing conditions on the application. Specifically, according to the LA Times, Blue Cross of California is sending physicians copies of health insurance applications filled out by new patients, along with a letter advising them that the company has a right to drop members who fail to disclose “material medical history,” including “pre-existing pregnancies.” The letters state “Any condition not listed on the application that is discovered to be pre-existing should be reported to Blue Cross immediately”. If there is anything that indicates why we need to reexamine how we do health care it is behaviors like this.


The price of a stamp is going up again, 1c to 42c in May. You remember stamps? Those things you stick on envelopes when you write letters? Sigh. Kids these days.

This makes me think about my stamp collection, which I stopped updating a few years ago when it got prohibitively expensive. I’m trying to figure out what to do with it, as well as the collection of a few foreign stamps I collected as a kid. Do kids these days still collect stamps? We print so many that modern issues aren’t worth much.


Ron Leavitt, the creator of “Married with Children”, has died at age 60. This was a real groundbreaking sitcom, turning the functional families of past sitcoms on its head, and creating the Fox network.


Lick It and Stick It

I used to be a stamp collector.

When I was young, I dutifully collected all US stamps (yes, I had one small album of foreign stamps, but didn’t keep it up). It was easy then, as stamps were cheap: 5c, 7c, 8c, 13c, 15c. Postage meters weren’t as common, and it was easy to get cancelled stamps. I would even update my own albums, and would even get the Scotts Catalog to number everything.

As I got older, collecting got more expensive, but I kept it up. Stamps weren’t self-adhesive back then (the first self-adhesive US stamp came out in 1974, but weren’t issued regularly until 1989), and the most “designs” in an attached group were 4. This means you could easily build your collection by buying blocks-of-4, which at 22c×4 wasn’t that bad. Yes, there were the occasions $5 to $10 stamps (duck stamps were the most expensive), but it was easy to keep up.

In the mid-1990s, stamp collecting got even more expensive. Special issues and self-adhesives means that you typically now needed to buy sheets of 20 or 40, and at prices on the order of 23c to 29c, it started to add up. So, I stopped adding to my collection. But I still do find stamps fascinating, and most people don’t see some of the neat commemoratives that are out there. I’m not even sure kids are brought up with stamp collecting these days: can you even soak a self-adhesive stamp off an envelope? How much stamped mail do people get? Kids today are used to email, and there’s nothing to collect there.

I mention this because of an article in today’s USA Today. The article refers to a debate in the philately community about whether the Forever Stamp will hurt or help the hobby. The stamp, which can be used indefinitely to mail a first-class letter, regardless of rate changes, goes on sale April 12 for 41 cents. The price of a first-class stamp rises from 39 cents to 41 cents May 14.

The USPS has indicated commemoratives aren’t going anywhere (in fact, they are even coming out with Star Wars Stamps (USPS teaser)). Still, some collectors say they fear the forever stamp may become so popular that consumers will buy fewer commemoratives, and that with softer demand, a smaller number may be designed and printed. An editor of a stamp publication is quoted as saying “Collectors want to see commemoratives in the mail and used and popular. If they become an unpopular option, there will be fewer commemorative stamps.”

To my eyes, that’s a misunderstanding. True collectors buy the stamps when they come out. They actually want fewer stamps out there, because that makes them rarer. That’s why current stamps are typically, at best, worth face value. There are just too many of them printed.

So… to ellicit some discussion on this… what do (or did) you collect, do you still collect it, and why?