Archive for February, 2018

The Next Big Thing

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

If you are like me, you’ve noticed your attention towards Amazon.com ™ increasing as the years go by. What started with a couple of orders per year has morphed into over a hundred for us in 2017. Amazon Prime ™ is so darned convenient, prices are good, and the selection is astronomical.

If you share my concern for the environment, and if you see the increasing trend of online ordering as I do, one major flaw in that system becomes glaringly obvious; the waste. Retail packaging is designed to intrigue a customer with some room on the credit card that is strolling down the retail isles. Catchy packaging can make the difference between small and large sales. But if the customer is strolling down e-isles instead, I would argue the flashy packaging is mostly irrelevant.

Once the e-order is placed, your item, securely bundled in it’s irrelevant plastic, will be put inside another box along with some packing material to keep it from wobbling enroute. The ratio of disposable packaging to useful product is surprisingly high.

So here is the next big thing — reusable packaging. Industry will standardize on certain sizes for product containers. These containers will be able to have a label slapped on them, and will ship safely as they are. When the customer receives their item, the empty package will be broken down and placed on the porch. The next time the UPS truck stops by, there will be an off-load and an on-load. The packaging will be returned to the manufacturer for cleaning and reuse.

Then we can go to work cleaning the plastic gunk out of the oceans without us throwing our hands in the air. The rate we are creating and disposing of this useless one-use packaging will go down to zero. And some cleaver entrepreneur will be fortunate enough to design and sell this packaging system to the world, and get very rich in the process.

Wouldn’t have believed it

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

Our little 2007 Pontiac Vibe is a good car for us. Besides being just the right size for 2 people, the hatchback allows for a versatile array of gear hauling, including the crate for our 90# German Shepherd. We have also modified the Vibe with a front attachment that allows us to tow it behind the RV. This car works out so well for us that I started looking around for a replacement in case the miles pile up to the point we have to retire it.

It turns out that Pontiac no longer exists, but the car this is based on, the Toyota Matrix, is still made. It is getting harder to find manual transmissions however. So I broadened my search to see if we might be able to buy a winter car, and store the Vibe away with the RV each winter. This should cut the miles the Vibe drives each year thereby extending its life.

While I was doing all this research, my elderly parents were reaching the point that they could no longer drive. They happened to have a car they no longer needed. My brother took the car (a 2010 Cadillac CTS) to the local Cadillac dealer, and they determined that since it had 80,000 miles on it, and needed some work, that it wasn’t worth very much money. None of us siblings were interested in the car, and we were a whiskers breath away from accepting their offer. Then my brother mentioned in passing, “…it is all wheel drive.”

“Hmm,” I thought to myself.

As I was growing up, Cadillac made cars that I felt could have doubled as aircraft carriers. They kind of lumbered down the road. They had a lot of room inside, and a huge trunk, but I wouldn’t have characterized them as nimble, or good in the snow. Also, Cadillac’s cost a LOT of money… more than my budget. Perhaps it is snooty of me, but I also felt that people that drove them were trying to make it clear that they were pretty special folks… not the sort of message I try to convey in my life.

All wheel drive though. Hmm. To make a long story short, Alice and I decided to buy this car from our parents and drive it in the winter. And for the umpteenth time in my life, I learned I was wrong. This car is great in the snow. It is low to the ground, so you wouldn’t want to plow through snow drifts with it. But if the snow is not too deep, this car performs nearly as well as any 4-wheel drive I’ve owned.

One plus we discovered on a trip a few weeks ago that was unanticipated, was the excellent brakes. We live in white tail deer country, and on a recent trip to Escanaba, we were driving along after dark when 2 deer sauntered across the road in front of us. I had to stab the brakes. That car stopped right now. We were seriously lucky we had our seat belts on or the G forces would have tossed us forward. We missed the deer by a wide margin, and I accelerated away from the incident with a new respect. This is a well engineered car that is good in the snow, accelerates well, gets surprisingly good gas mileage, and oh yes, it has heated seats.

Stuff

Sunday, February 4th, 2018

I watched George Carlin’s routine on “Stuff” the other day. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend doing a youtube search for it. Much of his work makes you laugh, but it also makes you think, and my thought was, “this winter…” during which there is bound to be some down time, “I will go through all my stuff!” If I see stuff I no longer need, I’ll make other arrangements with it. If it is junk, I’ll throw it out. If it is still useful, I’ll take it to St. Vincent’s ™ or the ReStore ™.

“How’s he doing?” You are thinking to yourself.

“Poorly,” is my answer.

I had decided to start with the file cabinet in the basement. For most of our married life, I’ve kept all the bank statements, credit card statements, receipts from purchases, bills, etc. Each category had it’s hanging folder bursting with stuff. My criteria was going to be, if it is older than 7 years, out it goes. Still, I made myself look at it before I tossed it.

It took me an afternoon to get through the top drawer in the file cabinet. I generated a good sized box of paper that no longer fit my 7 year criterium. Why 7 years? I think it has to do with the biblical story of the 7th son of the 7th son, indicating a rare individual. Can you imagine what the mother and grandmother of this rare individual must have looked like? Seven sons in the household, with some assorted daughters sprinkled in for good measure? Those poor women must have been wrecks!

This big box sat in the entry way on the table for some time. These documents had sensitive information in them, like the account numbers from banks that have changed names several times since I closed the accounts out. Still, they couldn’t just go into the recycling, so I determined that I’d burn them in the outside burner barrel. I put this off for a while, for a pretty good reason. The old burner barrel is something I walk past all summer, but in the winter, slogging out there is not something to be taken lightly. Besides getting my body out there, I also had to get the box of papers, something to light them with, and a dry place to put the box. Once I figured all that out, I had to sweep out all the snow from the barrel, drop some paper in the bottom, and then get a fire going.

Once it started to burn (“Are you sure about this,” Jiminy Cricket whispered in my ear) I dropped a few papers at a time into the fire so things would burn completely. It took some number of hours to get the job done. I now have one drawer of my 4-drawer file cabinet mostly empty. And that, my friends, is about the extent of my project to go through my stuff. Except one further project.

The other day I used the last of the bar of soap on the bathroom sink. I started to unwrap a fresh bar, and stopped mid-wrap. You see, for years now, when we finish a bar of soap, we put the left over soap chips in a coffee can under the bathroom sink. There were a lot of soap chips in there. When I queried my brain about a plan for the chips, very little came back to me. So I embarked on a plan to make new bars of soap out of these soap chips, thereby converting some more of my stuff into something useful.

I emptied the contents of the coffee can into the top of a double boiler, put it in it’s water filled mate on the back of the stove, and then did something else for a while. When a project like this is on the back burner (ha!) it is useful to leave the room for a while. Otherwise, your sense of smell might just adapt. As the structure of hundreds of old soap chips were changing due to the heat under them, the house did not smell great. Alice, bless her long suffering heart, wrinkled her nose, but said nothing as the hours slipped by. I added some water and stirred the mess until it started getting kind of sticky, and then spooned the slop into some old soap dishes we’ve accumulated over the years (more stuff!)

The results are interesting. As you can see from the picture, bar one of three is not beautiful. If your nose were nearby, you’d also think the bar smells interesting. The mixture of decades of soap made a bar that looks a lot like congealed puke, and smells like a freshly opened can of locker room disinfectant. The bar is a little too big in my hands, and it surely does not lather like a freshly opened bar of Ivory ™. But it does work, and I feel a little sense of pride every time I use it.

I now understand a little better why we have so much stuff. The pleasure I took from converting some useless stuff into a marginally useful thing was small compared to the pleasure you get when you decide you need something, choose what you want, bring it home, and put it someplace where you’ll find it when you need it. All the trouble of actually putting something to use that has been sitting around for decades provides a smaller amount of pleasure, at least to me. So the stuff piles up. Winter is more than half over, and I haven’t put a dent in my stuff yet. Maybe if I watch George Carlin one more time, I’ll feel better about it.