Electric Razors and the Disposable Society

Admittedly I am an odd character.

This society has moved so firmly away from “Mend and Make Do” as the British were told during the Second World War and the Austerity years thereafter, that here it is a rare person who knows how to fix something.

Getting my start as a toddler repairing my father’s 8-track player (remember those?), broken things became my playground.  If it was broken, a repair would be attempted since, after all, it’s already broken isn’t it?

Years of fixing radios, TVs and oddball household appliances earned me the curiosity that eventually worked its way into Computer Programming and Project Management.  If there was a piece of software, it could be fixed as well as enhanced.

Sitting here in the living room on a Poang Chair that had it’s upholstery replaced, listening to SiriusXM radio on an iPhone 3 that had a broken screen and worn out battery that were replaced, next to the dog who was a rescue from a no-kill shelter, there really is no reason to stop fixing things.

It is probably more accurate to say that the dog rescued me.  After all, she was fine, we were the ones who have benefitted from having her.

This morning, going through the ritual of clicking on and rejecting inappropriate job interview requests in strange places far from home, it was found.  A new electric razor.  The market price for this particular model is $35 in the South Florida Area so it was a good price at $25.

The curious thing was that instead of being able to get the blades themselves at a price cheaper than the whole razor, the razor is cheaper.   Coming with a new blade, the economic choice was to pull out the credit card, go deeper in debt by $25 and change, and get a new razor.   Never mind that the NiCd batteries in these razors will last for the life of three blades before getting annoyingly short.  Never mind that you can shock a NiCD battery back to life with “high current at a high voltage”.   The blades cost more than the entire item.

Replacement blades are around the same quality as the razor itself, so why buy those when the whole unit costs as much.

Basically it goes against my “mend and make do” mindset and there was a pang of Green Guilt as the Checkout button was clicked on that razor.  Shouldn’t be that way, but it is.  One more step further into the Disposable Society. 

There’s a nice collection of these razors in the bathroom vanity.  They have become surplus and diseconomic.  At some point, a visit will be paid to the local flea market with the number for the blades in the back of the mind.   Hopefully there will be someone with a cache of those blades at a more reasonable price. 

In the mean time, the radio in the kitchen still works.  That was repaired after someone tossed it out, batteries still in its compartment and the batteries are still good.  It sits next to the Glider Rocker and the matching Ottoman that were recently cleaned to make them acceptable for someone since they were replaced by a perfectly good second Poang chair and matching Ottoman.

Need one?  What do you have to trade?  We’re so very wasteful these days…

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How do you start a Lawn Mower

I’d really like to know.

The problem with this mower is not that it is a dead machine.  The motor is strong, it will start.  The mechanisms are fine, however there is one wrinkle. 

It is old.

Specifically, it is an old Lawn Boy with a Two Motor that requires that you mix oil with the gasoline at a 40 to 1 ratio.  Not necessarily a problem so far because the world has used Two Cycle Motors for decades, if not centuries.

The problem is that with oil in the gas, the motors tend to be harder to start.  To combat the harder to start motor, there is a primer bulb on the motor somewhere that you are expected to squeeze once or more per run.  I have the same problem with the string trimmer that I use.   It has a bulb that you press, and it injects fuel and oil mix into the combustion chamber.

Normally they will start with little effort, however I have found that in order to start that little strimmer, I have to take the spark plug out and scrape the plug clean of deposits and then replace in order to get it to run.  It hasn’t run in a month because after a half hour of trying to get it started, I gave up with a stiff right arm.

The lawn mower eventually started after working its pull rope for about 10 minutes, but it resulted in our getting quite tired.   I’m sitting inside while someone else is mowing the lawn.

I’m thankful that the lawn’s getting mowed by that person.   My allergies won’t allow my doing it.

On the other hand, the problem isn’t the motor specifically.   It is that little bulb.  The thing cracked through years of use and needs replacement.  A small soft vinyl or rubber bulb that most likely snaps in place and costs a dollar or less means that this lawn mower will either have an expensive repair or it will end up being replaced.  Since it is running well at this moment, I don’t want it replaced. 

Hopefully the part will be easy to find.  It does reflect on our disposable society though.  I have a lot of appliances that through the years have been replaced.  Sometimes they have been patched together and gave many years of service like that lawn mower.  On the other hand, I am sure that if the TV or Stereo started acting up, I’d make a token attempt at a repair and out it would go.

The quality of equipment has not gotten appreciably better over the last few years, although over the last couple decades it has.  When all the manufacturing of electronics moved out of the United States, some got better some got worse. It all depended on country of origin.  

Now I look to see where something is made before I buy.  If I have a choice between Made In China and Made Anywhere Else, even if the Chinese made item is cheaper, I leave that on the shelf and look for something made anywhere else.  With people jumping off of roofs at the Foxconn Factory so we can have Apple Products, I think we may have to reconsider our priorities as well.   At this point, in the middle of the Second Great Depression, we have a good reason to step back and leave Chinese Junk on the shelf.

At least I have a good chance of repairing my lawn mower.  My Television Set won’t ever get repaired.

Why I don’t live on a Plantation

Not necessarily A Plantation, but Plantation.  The city in South Florida called Plantation.

Perhaps it would be better to say the Idea of Plantation.

Actually it looks like a nice tidy middle class suburb when I drive through it.  I just don’t really have a reason to be driving through it or going “there”. 

There is a state of mind in any given city.  If you live in Manhattan, you are there because you like the bright lights and big city aspect of things.   Florence, SC was a small little burg with an Old South look to it that I’d drive to and stay because it was half way to South Florida or half way home, so it had the whole small city thing going for it – if that was what you liked.

Plantation is a whole lot of suburbia here in South Florida.  It was built in the 70s as one of the OTP towns that sprung up once the cities East of I95 got full.  OTP is Over The Turnpike.   As in Way Out There.  They built their own malls, their own schools, and have a nice Brady Bunch look and feel to the place.   There are a lot of gated communities out there and I think that might be the problem I have with it.   Being a city of that era, you end up having a lot of homes that are not well designed for the environment of being in South Florida, rather being designed to be Up North.

I grew up in South Jersey, in one of the 1950s suburban tract homes that exploded out of Philadelphia onto 1/2 acre lots that took over the farms that were there before it.  It was a very Brady Bunch way of life.   The Wonder Years were my childhood.  The little pin oaks that grew there when the place was built now are 40 to 50 feet tall.  All the homes look the same-ish, differences in trim or plantings.

That is what Plantation looks like to me, Express your Individuality by living like Everyone Else.  Homes that all look somewhat The Same in Gated Communities.  Perhaps I’m wrong, and I don’t really have a good view of the place.  I Never lived there because I Never wanted to go back to Keeping Up With The Joneses. 

On the other hand, Plantation is starting to experience the same problem that all gated communities are finding.  The Barbarians are at the gate.  Where the Gates on the Community were there to keep the Barbarians (you and I who are here to live together and not apart) out, they now are finding that as people are walking away from properties, the Barbarians are now locked in.  People who are upside down on their mortgages are walking away, renting properties to who ever will pay and they’re taking a small loss in order to hang onto something while living in a smaller place.  Look up Lehigh Acres and you will see an excellent article of what happens to a gated community and the association when half of your city blows away on the trade winds.

The result is that your nice tidy Brady Bunch experience has a biker meth lab next door or worse. 

If you are living in a stereotypical gated community, you also have to deal with the Private Ownership issues such as roads which may or may not be city roads, police presence which may not happen because they’re not allowed in unless called in (See Wellington in Palm Beach County).   All of that tends to lock the problems in and make it that much worse than it would normally be.   Here, our little Police Department and Code Enforcement would find out quickly because crime does not flourish if it is able to be seen.

I live in Wilton Manors, which is a very different place than anywhere else in the world.   The people who live here actively want to be here.   The people who I run into every day actively want this city to be better tomorrow than it was today.  We work hard to make sure that the city is that way, and that shows with a strong spirit of activism and volunteerism.   All this hard work shows in crime stats that are “normal” for the country and 1/3 of that of a neighborhood that is just a short 10 minute walk South.  Neighbors talk, and problems get known quickly.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a gated community, you are not fortunate enough to live in Wilton Manors, except that silly little Jenada Isle, whose gate is all show.  You can drive through there at any time you like.  I think next time, I’ll park my Jeep at a convenient spot and use the little community to skate since it is much easier to get to than driving up to the airpark in Pompano.  That little triangle of land is easy to carve out a mile course and during the day I could go nuts doing 20 laps of it.

I guess this rant is a whole lot of To Each His Own, but I think the whole Gated Community experience is highly overrated, and if you have a lot of them in one area it is easy to generalize.  This housing bubble that has just burst turned a lot of things on their heads, and I think paying for a big fancy fountain and guard house is one of those things that will go away for a while.  

Why pay to a Home Owners Association when you are already paying taxes for the same services provided by the city?  You aren’t going to get a discount on taxes are you?

A Tale of Two CompUSAs

With apologies to Tolstoy, this is something a bit more mundane.

In my job as IT Manager, I have to do a lot of technical purchases. 

I’m that guy that Recommends, Acquires, Specifies, and Deploys computer hardware and software. I spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer monitor looking at web pages looking at detailed descriptions, and telling others that “Hey, we need this”!

Once in a while I even get out of the office and visit the real world and see what the shops have to offer.

For computer hardware in South Florida there seems to be one main place to pick up that sort of item, CompUSA.   I find that unfortunate.  As my Economics teacher said in University, when a market is dominated by one seller and holds a Monopoly that market suffers from inefficiencies and higher prices. 

I find my Economics teacher to have been almost completely correct here in Ft Lauderdale in the case of Computer parts.  After all, if you can read this, you can also get to some of the competition and wait for it to show up at your front door.  Sometimes you can even save some money.

The thing is that in my position, if you need it now, you don’t want to wait for a week for it to get in from California or beyond.  So I would climb into my Jeep and drive to the nearest CompUSA.   If I were closer to it, I’d go to the Hialeah Tiger Direct/CompUSA outlet and despite the fact that the neighborhood is kind of scary, I’d geek out over the variety they have there. 

My choices here in Broward are the stores in Deerfield Beach and on Federal Highway in Ft Lauderdale.  Two stores with identical product lines, identical market (same county), and identical mother company in Tiger Direct.

The differences are pretty frightening.   My boss has flatly forbid me to go to the store in Deerfield Beach.  That particular CompUSA I would not send someone to on a bet.  Clean building that is under lit and dark and has a truly annoying guitar riff tape playing louder that I would prefer on a loop.  

How do I know that that tape is a loop?  Because one day I had to go into that store to price some items and needed help and ended up standing there for more than an hour.   Yes, I made the mistake to see just how long it was before someone would help me.   I had to almost tackle some guy to get him to promise me to bring back Someone Else to talk to me about the particular product in question.   Another half hour later, someone arrived.   That second person was quite helpful, and quite out of character for that store.  

If someone wants to study how to run a large store badly, I suggest you go to CompUSA and look around.  I can say that there was exactly one person there that had a clue about customer service that worked during the work day and the rest were trying to look busy and avoid any contact with people.

On the other hand, I have always been pleasantly surprised with the CompUSA Store on Federal Highway in Ft Lauderdale.  North of Sunrise Blvd, Near the Whole Foods… Yeah, That One.   They reopened that store and I have been in it a number of times since then.   It is very close to my house and when ever I go in there I am greeted, asked if I need help, and actually assisted by people who had some knowledge of their product.  More importantly, if I tell them “thanks, I’m OK” they back off. 

I had gone into the store most recently and had to pick up some converters for the new machines that I have to set up on 9 desks in my office, and was asked if there was anything else.   I had mentioned that I was looking for some memory to upgrade a laptop.   I told him the type and not thinking I forgot what the speed was.  The salesman caught that right off and told me I needed the speed of the memory. 

Basic Mistake, but the point is that after being in the CompUSA on Hillsborough in Deerfield and being ignored and treated like part of the furniture, and the CompUSA on Federal Highway in Ft Lauderdale where I was treated well even when not shopping for work, I have one suggestion…

Avoid the store in Hillsborough in Deerfield Beach, FL – My Boss Was Right.

Roomba Batteries Suck

… and not in a good way!

I know we have gotten used to a throwaway society, but this is a bit much.

In the past there was a break between goods that were meant to be tossed, and those that weren’t.  Those that weren’t were considered “real” goods, and would last more than a year.  I had kept my vacuum cleaner from my childhood, purchased by my parents in 1968, well into the late 1990s.  Something bought these days just aren’t going to last 30 or so years.

When things cost a third of what they used to, it doesn’t cost to replace them.  They’re made cheap, thrown away, and forgotten.  Flip them over and you will see one very telling motto: “Made In China”.   For the most part, this kind of motto means that it is designed with Planned Obsolescence in mind and don’t expect to give it to your children.

If you look around some of the thrift stores and some places that deal in antiques and second hand goods, you will find items from Pre Chinese Invasion that are still reparable and quite useable.  Think Electrolux Vacuums and the like.  Few Plastic Parts, and those parts that are there are designed to be repaired.  Yes, they cost more, and in many case much more than the average of the market, but buying something for the home would be something that would be expected to last much longer than the low end garbage we get these days.

Compare the quality of a Hyundai of the 1980s if you can find one and one of this decade.  They were built better because upper management made a conscious decision to make a better product.  It worked with Ford, they’re making a profit while GM is stumbling along.  Simple and sturdy is always better for longevity than is complex and “fiddly”.

So what about that Roomba?   After using it for about six months, I noticed that the rubber flippy bits that swept the dirt into the chambers were pulling loose and that it wasn’t quite doing the job it should have.  Duct Tape helped a little, but really the parts were not made to be serviced so the machine lost its effectiveness well before that first year was out.  It certainly wasn’t that old Hoover that I got from Mom when I moved out!

The other problem with it is the same problem that everyone has with sealed rechargeable batteries.  You can not service the things easily.  In the case of the battery pack with the Roomba, the thing is sealed with screws whose heads are a triangular indentation.  And just where to these people expect you to get a tool to repair that?

They Don’t.

You can buy a new pack if you like, they are fairly available and you can snap one in to the machine in a heartbeat.  I’d prefer it if I could open the pack up and remove the bad cells and replace them.   After all, they’re just garden variety NiCd cells, but that would be too simple.

At this point, I’m glad I paid next to nothing for the Roomba because I’m disappointed in how long it lasted.  It was nice to not to have to chase that old Hoover around the house, but now I’m back to the vacuum that I keep in the hall closet.

Basically it was nice while it lasted but didn’t last nearly long enough.

Can you spare change for Gas?

Here we are in the midst of the Republican Induced Economic Depression, and I don’t think things are getting any better.  The Democratic controlled House and Senate haven’t really done all that much to move things ahead either.  The President’s hands seem tied up by everyone else’s inaction…

So how can I tell?   Simply put, the last three consecutive times I’ve had to fill my gas tank, I’ve had someone try to beg some money from me for “gas”.  Panhandlers used to be rare to non existant at gas stations, but this is three in a row.   A Trifecta of Poverty.

I will admit that gas is expensive.   I drive as gently as I can get away with in traffic as a result.   I have a Jeep that is rated at 15 MPG city and I get 18 in the city.  I do well.   Every time I pour overpriced petrol into the thing, and look at the gas prices I cringe.  The car is now 7 model years old and doesn’t yet have 40,000 miles on it so I’ll easily get another 3 to 5 years.   I won’t be getting a new car soon.  That means that I’ll be trundling along in the right or middle lane, coasting where possible and driving slowly to try to squeeze that last few feet out of the gas in the tank.

I know times are tough but why do I have to have someone come up to me and ask for money so he can “get home”?  Three times in a row, I’m wondering if the next thing we’re going to have to worry about is being stalked every time we fuel up?  I’m especially surprised since this is the third different person and each time it’s been a White Jeep Cherokee in three different gas stations that this has happened.  I’m not exactly an easy person to approach either being as tall and imposing as I have been told I am with that “Don’t Mess With Me” look people think I’ve got.

There just has to be something else going on that I’m missing!  Somehow, I just don’t believe that it will go for gas…