Friday, February 26, 2010

Cleaning Up

Yesterday I spent an hour trashing part of the front yard. The plants there weren't doing well--overgrown, not enough sun. So I put them out of their misery. J doesn't know it yet, but he will be moving a bunch of plants around and planting new hires as soon as it stops raining. On the other side of the yard, the lantana overran the Cistus Sunset, so the lantana has been given a severe haircut and the Cistus will be killed and new ones planted. (Cistus doesn't take kindly to severe pruning, and tends to die if cut back more than a couple of inches.) But today it's supposed to rain, so I'll have to clean the bathroom and read, or something.

I'm reading Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower for the book club at the local high school. I get a group of sophomores and we read the book together over the course of five weeks. This time I'm going to try something new. Instead of telling them what the themes are, I'm going have them select the theme(s) for discussion each week. I just want to see what they come up with, and whether having them decide what we talk about improves the discussion or finishes it off after ten minutes. Of course, I will have to prepare a "reserve" discussion in case this bombs. I'm not sure that I'll do the same thing with Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona, as I'll be reading that with the freshmen, and they might need more guidance and direction. (It's amazing how much they mature from freshman to sophomore year.)

Also read Dean Baker's False Profits: Recovering from the Bubble Economy. It's less angry,
more resigned than his Plunder and Blunder (which I seem to have misplaced somewhere on the bookshelf), but explains how the financial elite got us into this mess in words--no funny symbols, no formulas. And this is a good thing. For the past 30 years or so, economists have been trying to convince us, using all sorts of symbolic representations (and no, I don't want to hear that words are symbolic representations too--I'm not going there) that neoliberalism was good for us. It wasn't good for us--it was a bunch of drivel intended to enrich the rich and impoverish the rest of us.

But, anyway, getting back to the book in question, it mostly restates Baker's arguments of the last few years: the basis of the crisis was the bubble economy (and the housing bubble specifically), any reasonably competent economist should have seen it, the bubble should never have been allowed to build and simple actions on the part of the government overseers could have prevented it, and once it all came crashing down, the government, once again, didn't deal with it properly and, in fact, bailed out the people responsible for making the mess in the first place. It's a fast read--I did it in a couple of hours--so those who don't want to wade through a lot of economics can get the argument in a merciful 159 pages. And it's mostly decently written, since much of it is lifted from papers and reports he'd published previously. Which means that every so often you get a transition sentence like, "(t)he country
having to endure long periods of unemployment is wholly unnecessary for the simple reason that we know how to prevent it." Whoa! And when one is writing anything dealing with mortgages, one should always use the "search" feature to hunt down every use of "principle" to make sure that it shouldn't be "principal." Petty copy-editing notes aside, it's worth the two hours.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Another Bad Product Redesign

Since the beginning of time, Rubbermaid has made a soft rubber drainboard (the thing you put under the dish drainer to keep water from puddling on the counter). Mine had developed a crack, so I headed off to the shops to acquire a new one. I also wanted to switch from white to black, as the white one stains easily and I thought that black would be easier to care for. But like my old Cascade dishwashing soap, they've been replaced by a new plastic product that doesn't work nearly so well. I searched three stores looking for the Rubbermaid Classic, but it was nowhere. So I got online to see if I could order it from Rubbermaid directly.

Where I discovered that (a) the old one is no longer available anywhere and (b) everyone else hates the new one as much as I do. It apparently doesn't grip the counter, so we are to be forced to purchase a rubber mat to place under it. The pitch is wrong, so water pools on it and doesn't drain into the sink. And some people who wanted the lip on the short end (my lip is on the long end) were pissed that Rubbermaid now only makes the drainboard with the lip on the long end.

Is this to be the decade of the rise of the crappy product or what?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Product Review

I'm not one for product reviews on the blog--unless it's something I really, really like. But this is a warning. The new Cascade Gel (with Dawn) is an idea whose time should never have come. It's been on the market for some months now and the chorus of complaints grows by the day. See some of them here.

J, who does our grocery shopping, brought a bottle home last week. When I attempted to squeeze it into the soap holder, nothing came out. I squeezed harder. A tiny drop. I called the bigger, stronger J into the kitchen. With much huffing and puffing, he squeezed enough out for me to do the dishes. We assumed that we'd gotten a bottle from a defective batch, and J returned it to our local Nugget for a replacement. The second bottle worked properly one time, but when I attempted a second wash, I had the same problem. And when I shook the bottle, I could hear crystals.

So I picked up a bottle at Target. It worked. Once. I don't know if it will work again, and I don't care. It's going back to Target for a refund. The stuff can leave a white film on your dishes. Of greater concern though is the white film it may leave on the workings of my dishwasher, a white film that might clog up my dishwasher, rendering it useless for its intended purpose. That would mean that I would have to do dishes by hand. No,no,no.

What shouldn't amaze me, but does, is that the makers of this defective product didn't test it before putting it on the market. Or if they did, there was no one brave enough to say "how are people going to get it out of the bottle?" or "it seems to be crystallized and is leaving a film all over the dishes," or "the dishwasher pipes seem to be clogged with little crystals."

Update: J sent an email to P&G, and received a response. It suggested that we give the bottle a warm bath to loosen up the liquid. I do not give my cleaning products warm baths or massages or talk kindly to them. I expect them to work without coddling.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Early Spring

For the last few days we've been having our usual False Spring, the few days when temperatures climb into the mid-60s, the sun shines, and plants begin growing. And it's the time when I head out to the garden to take really bad pictures--bits of growth that require a magnifying glass to see, out-of-focus bits of growth that require a magnifying glass to see, too much light, too little light, and the perfectly focused but badly conceived pictures. Here are the survivors of the delete key:

Cape mallow.

Nuccio's Gem camellia.

Another one.

Ceanothus Valley Violet. And yes, I did pay $12 for a four-inch pot.

Another ceanothus, this one planted next to the oak tree. Neither likes summer water. Now imagine what the deleted were like.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Story of the Missing Garbage Can

Last Tuesday our garbage can disappeared. J informed me as he left for work that our garbage can was missing and that I should canvass the neighborhood to see if it had somehow ended up at a neighbor's house. I did, and it hadn't. Being slightly paranoid, I was sure that our garbage had been appropriated by someone intend on stealing our identity. So I set about figuring out how to put fraud alerts on our credit files, only to discover that it was time-consuming and expensive. Muttering to myself all the while about why I had to pay money and do work when Experian etc. were making money off my personal information, I then called the city waste management people to get a new garbage can.

Now as the three of you who read my blog know, I'm not impressed by Sacramento as a city, world class or otherwise. One reason for this the the appalling conduct of city agencies toward those of us who rent our homes. If you ever believed that tenants aren't second-class citizens, a few contacts with Sacramento City or County agencies will insure that you know your status--less than dirt. Having had a few such experiences, I steeled myself for my conversation with the garbage people.

But, but, they treated me as though I were a normal person, a citizen with a problem. And, as it turns out, a fairly common problem. It's not unusual for the garbage can to end up in the garbage truck, and the driver doesn't find out about it until they empty the truck and find it. The waste management customer service person actually performed as expected, you know, like a person giving a customer service, and put me on the list for a new garbage can. Then when they couldn't make my delivery when promised, they telephoned to apologize and inform me that the can would be delivered today.

It's here! I guess they're just surprised that tenants use the garbage cans provided, rather than dumping our garbage at the corner.