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etc. - a little of this, a little of that - by Oliver Del Signore

Archive for the ‘House & Home’ Category


Truth in Toons: City Folk on a Farm Edition, Part 2

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Comments welcome.
Which are your favorites?


For the past few weeks, Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse characters have “vacationed” on a relative’s farm.

I found the sequence amusing and thought you might, too.

Part 1 was posted yesterday. If you missed it, scroll down or Click Here.











Truth in Toons: City Folk on a Farm Edition, Part 1

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Comments welcome.
Which are your favorites?


For the past few weeks, Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse characters have “vacationed” on a relative’s farm.

I found the sequence amusing and thought you might, too.

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.










New study indicates compact flourescent lightbulbs damage healthy skin

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

There is no doubt that filling your home or business with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) will save you some money — if they last as long as they are supposed to. I’ve had CFLs die far sooner than their advertised lifetime. But the truth is, I don’t care about the supposed savings. Neither saving nor spending an extra $10 or $20 or $50 a year on light bulbs and electricity will impact my lifestyle one bit, which is why I make minimal use of CFLs in my home.

I know others feel differently and you may be one of them. If so, if your home is full of the little beasties, here is something important you need to know about them — they apparently can damage your skin.

Energy-efficient CFL bulbs cause skin damage, say researchers

New research funded by the National Science Foundation has scientists warning consumers about the potentially harmful effects energy-saving CFL light bulbs can have on skin.

The warning comes based on a study conducted by Stony Brook University and New York State Stem Cell Science — published in the June issue of Photochemistry and Photobiology — which looked at whether and how the invisible UV rays CFL bulbs emit affect the skin.

Based on the research, scientists concluded that CFL light bulbs can be harmful to healthy skin cells.

“Our study revealed that the response of healthy skin cells to UV emitted from CFL bulbs is consistent with damage from ultraviolet radiation,” said lead researcher Miriam Rafailovich, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Stony Brook University, in New York, in a statement. “Skin cell damage was further enhanced when low dosages of TiO2 nanoparticles were introduced to the skin cells prior to exposure.”

According to Rafailovich, with or without TiO2 (a chemical found in sunblock), incandescent bulbs of the same light intensity had zero effects on healthy skin.

Click Here to read the rest of the story.

If you did not follow the link, the story goes on to suggest there be a layer of glass between the bulbs and you, as would happen in many overhead light fixtures. But glass generally blocks only a percentage of UV radiation. The rest gets through to impact your skin.

How much harm will CFLs actually do to your skin over the long term? I don’t know. But given that incandescent bulbs produced zero harm in the tests, I plan to stick with them rather than serve as a guinea pig for enviro-busybodies and bureaucrats.

What about you?

Do you use a lot of CFLs in your home?

If so, will this report make you rethink their use?


Poor and middle class subsidize electricity costs for the wealthy, businesses, and government

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Congratulations to this week’s Comment Contest winner — K Howe.


For the sake of this discussion, let’s say your local utility charges 12 cents for each kilowatt hour of electricity that they buy on the open market for 8 cents. You get tired of paying so much to power your home so you spend $17,000 to install solar panels. Now, the panels produce power all day long, even when you’re not home, so you get to sell what you’re not using to the local utility. But instead of paying you the going 8-cent wholesale rate, they are required by law to pay you the 12-cent retail rate! And since you’ll save $2000 a year on your electric bill, you’ll pay off the solar investment in 8.5 years and after that, it’s all gravy.

You might wonder how the utility can pay you 12 cents/kWH and turn around and sell it to someone else for the same price. Don’t they have costs for infrastructure and labor and insurance and lots of other things? Of course they do, but you needn’t worry. Those costs related to what you sell to the utility will be paid by folks who can’t afford to install solar panels, primarily the poor and middle class.

Sweet deal for you, eh?

Now, you might think such a scheme would be illegal, but you’d be wrong. Here in The People’s Republic, they want to double the size of the program!

Wind, solar subsidy set for review
Program’s growth spurs fairness issue

Former Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs Ian Bowles, who thinks it just fine if others have to pay more so he can pay less.

The array of solar panels recently installed on Ian Bowles’s slate roof in Jamaica Plain should pay off for him in less than a decade, but the green power the state’s former top environmental official generates may cost other utility customers for many more years.

Bowles and the increasing number of homeowners, businesses, and municipalities connecting solar panels and wind turbines to the region’s power grid receive a little-known subsidy, and the cost is being borne by other utility customers, who may soon pay anywhere from a dime to as much as $100 more on their monthly electricity bills.

The surcharge on customers who do not feed into the grid has become increasingly controversial as state lawmakers this month hash out the language in a bill that would double the amount of power that utility companies could buy from those producing their own energy.

“At a certain point, there’s absolutely a fair argument about the equity of this,” said Bowles, the former secretary of energy and environmental affairs, who argues that the benefits of reducing harmful carbon emissions outweigh the relatively small costs to utility customers.

Click Here to read the rest of the story.

Talk about hubris. If reducing carbon emissions are really beneficial, shouldn’t everyone have to share in the cost since everyone shares in the benefit? Apparently not in the privileged world of politicians and former bureaucrats like Bowles, whose attitude translates as “Let the suckers pay.”

I suppose it should not surprise me to discover this has been going on here in The People’s Republic, where the left is so entrenched a tsunami could not dislodge them.

How is it where you live?

Are you, too, being forced to subsidize solar installations for those who can afford them?


Truth in Toons: Kids Edition

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Comments welcome.
Which are your favorites?






Truth in Toons: Teenage Son Edition

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Comments welcome.
Which are your favorites?







A truth about daddies

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

A couple of decades ago, one of my Christmas presents from my then-very-young children was a framed picture of a man holding the hand of a young child as they walked toward a sunset.  The text said, “Anyone can be a Father but it takes someone special to be a Daddy.”

I’m sure most of you have encountered the quote at one time or another. Certainly, it’s all over the net. But it was the first time I ever saw it and it meant a lot to me. I still have it.

The cartoon, below, got me thinking about that picture and quote and my children.

When they were young, I loved goofing with my kids, making up stories that just happened to feature heroes and heroines with their names, playing GI Joe or He-Man with Michael and Care Bears and Winnie the Pooh with Cathy, and anything else that was fun. And I sometimes managed to sneak a little learning to the fun, just as I snuck a little nutrition and fiber into their green and red and purple pancakes.

Looking back, I can see how, as they grew and matured, daddy time gave way to father time. It had to, of course, as they became teens and approached adulthood, but while the transition from daddy to father was nearly a complete one when it came to my son, it was much less so with my daughter. As I write this, I feel like Michael’s father. I think of him as a man. But, despite her approaching thirty, and intellectually knowing she is a grown woman, in my heart, Cathy is still my little girl.

I expect the same is true about many men with daughters, at least the ones who could have been called daddies when their kids were small, including Garry Trudeau, who penned this:


I had a similar experience a couple of years ago as I stood with my daughter outside the doorway, waiting for the musical cue to begin walking her down the aisle.

As I was recovering from my bypass operation nearly a decade earlier, I realized the two things I wanted most to live long enough for were to walk Cathy down the aisle and to dance with her at her wedding. And there I was. And for a few moments, as she stood there next to me looking so beautiful, and a little nervous, through the magic of memory, she was, once again a tomboy in pigtails and jeans.

My little girl.

I guess she probably always will be.

So, guys, were you more father or daddy?

Ladies, were you, and are you still, daddy’s little girl?


Would YOU Hire This Nanny? Michael says no. I say yes and why.

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

I’ve mentioned before that my favorite talk-show host is a local guy named Michael Graham. He deals in The Natural Truth, as he calls it, and it’s rare occurrence that I disagree with his take on issues. But today is one of those rare days.

I’ve reproduced one of his blog posts below. My comments follow.

From The Maestro’s Mailbag: “Would YOU Hire This Nanny?”

From my email:

Dear Michael, my wife has had four interviews with our prospective nanny named Sheri and we want to hire her even though she is a little young (21). 

She is also very attractive.


But here is the problem.  She is from Florida and so I googled her and found a picture of her looking exactly like THIS.  EXACTLY.  In fact she has a few series of pics like this.

Needless to say, we are very concerned even though I think she is the best interview (out of about 20) and she is extremely qualified CPR, working on early childhood degree etc)

Is there any way I, as a married man, can hire this girl?

Thanks, Eric

My reply,

Dear Eric,

No.  Huh-uh. There is no way you can hire this woman as your kids’ nanny…assuming, that is, you want to stay married.

First, if you tell your wife “let’s hire her!”, you’re screwed. Your wife will, I assume, immediately begin divorce proceedings/hit you with a claw hammer/both.

Option two is for your wife to hire her.  But if you’re married to a woman so clueless that she’d but that [see pic above] in your house with you, five days a week, you’re probably doomed, anyway.  What sane married woman would let that happen?

Then there’s option three: Somehow this woman does end up being your kids’ nanny: hanging around all day, babysitting at night, maybe coming on a family trip…

If you’re going to hire her, Eric, let me save you some time: Just go ahead and hire the divorce lawyer now.

Sorry, but that’s the Natural Truth.


Michael Graham

I think Michael’s analysis is only party correct and pretty sexist. He assumes that if a young, attractive woman is around, the guy will not be able to stop himself from doings something stupid and/or that his wife will inevitably fall prey to uncontrollable jealousy or suspicion.

Now, I will grant you that in many cases, that is exactly what would happen. But is it really inevitable?

Are we really going to tell attractive young women they cannot use their intelligence and hard work to get ahead in life; that jobs in their field will not be open to them because other people can’t behave like adults? Or maybe we’ll tell them, “Sure, you can be a nanny, but only for single moms with no boyfriends.”

Sorry, Michael. I hope you were just trying to be funny with this post, because as a guy, I’m insulted you assume I can’t keep my hands to myself and that my wife can’t control her imagination.

Many people look with disdain on young women who rely on looks and their bodies to make their way through life. Are we now going to condemn them simply for having good looks and bodies?

I said above, I think Michael is partly correct. I would leave the decision up to my wife and hope that she is secure enough in our relationship not to be threatened by an attractive nanny.

Of course, we’d not be hiring a nanny at all, since we both believe one parent or the other should always be caring for children, even if that means working different shifts. But that’s something for another day’s blog post.

So…ladies and gentlemen, what would you do in the writer’s place? Hire the woman or not? Who decides?

Gents, if she’s hired, will she inevitably become a temptation you will not be able to resist?

And ladies, if she’s hired, will you always be comparing yourself to her…wondering if maybe hubby likes her better…etc.?


What tools does a woman need for her first home?

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Busy day today, so I’m shamelessly sharing Peter Hotton’s  Handyman on Call column from Today’s Boston Globe. I’ve learned a lot from Hotton over the past few decades, and his advice here is as good as always.


Q. As a woman who just bought her first home, what would you suggest I buy for tools to do fix-ups and repairs on my own just to have in the house?

LISA, in Hotton’s chat room

A. Anyone’s first house is a monumental undertaking, and the right tools are a girl’s best friend, so I will begin with this: Don’t fall for those pink ladies’ kits they sell. That pink color is a chauvinistic ploy to waste your money on cheap or underweight tools.

Start with the basics:

1. A 16-ounce hammer, wood- or steel-shanked. Anything lighter will never drive a 16 penny nail.

2. A set of various-size slot screwdrivers and another set of Phillips head (shaped like a star) drivers. You want a variety of sizes to make sure the driver fits the screw. A bad fit can strip the slot and star from a screw very quickly.

3. A hacksaw for cutting metal, and nails that never yield to pulling.

4. Regular pliers and needle-nosed pliers.

5. A saw or two; one small handsaw for little jobs, and a Japanese saw, my favorite, with a long handle (not a pistol grip) that might feel uncomfortable but is really not. Such a saw has teeth on both sides of the blade, which is flexible enough to cut something flush from a wood floor or other surface without damaging the surface.

6. Various prying tools: A cat’s paw nail puller. A flat bar, small but versatile. A pinch bar, a 2-foot-long monster that can pry a house off its foundation — almost.

7. Nail set, for countersinking nails.

8. Safety items: Light canvas gloves (for comfort, mostly). And plastic goggles, especially when working with power tools.

9. A square for measuring and marking material for cutting. One, called the Speedy square, is triangular and easily used.

10. Caulking gun, to hold cartridges of caulking, adhesives, and other stuff that comes oozing out of the nozzle.

11. Fasteners, including many kinds of nails, and screws, too. Buy only what you need. Also, buy hot zinc dipped galvanized nails; they hold much better than the bright, ungalvanized nails. When you buy screws, specify solid brass. They won’t rust.

12. Various-width chisels. Be careful with all hand and power tools. A sharp chisel can cut flesh quickly and deeply.

13. Sandpaper. Various grades, ranging from fine to coarse. You will learn by experience what grade to use.

Enjoy your projects. I’ve enjoyed my projects for 54 years, and haven’t stopped yet.

So, ladies and gentlemen, is there anything you would add to Hotton’s list, particularly if it relates to a specific need or situation in your part of the world?

I would add a set of crescent wrenches.


How to straighten out the housing market

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

I’m not one who lives in the past. However, when it comes to the housing market and mortgages, I do long for the old days.

Back in the 70’s and early 80s, I was a real estate broker. In those days, we didn’t need banks to “pre-approve” buyers. We did our own calculations to determine if buyers were likely to be able to qualify for a mortgage and, unless someone lied to us, it was rare that a deal fell apart because the buyers could not get financing.

In those days, most lenders required mortgage payments, which included property tax and insurance escrows, at or below 28% of the combined household income. And they wanted to see all debt, including credit cards, auto loans, and whatever, no higher than 35%. They did this, I believe, because they wanted to make sure they’d get their monthly payments on time, to help insure against buyers’ temporary financial setbacks due to illness or loss of a job, and because foreclosing was an expensive business that created nothing but ill-will.

Of course, in those days, there were a whole lot more local banks instead of national megabanks on every corner. And government mostly kept its nose out of the business. Little did brokers then know what was coming.

Fast forward to today, when government interference has tortured and distorted the mortgage market and banking business, and we have ever more regulations being promulgated by various busybodies in agencies hell-bent on justifying their existence. It’s gotten so bad, even critics of the banking business are starting to complain about all the regulations.

Bank Critic Goodman Sees Lending Chill in Regulations: Mortgages

Laurie Goodman, who says no analysts have been more critical of bank mortgage practices than her team at Amherst Securities Group LP, is siding with lenders when it comes to a flurry of new rules intended to protect homebuyers.

“We’re piling tighter standards on top of already tight credit standards, and because you have so many different entities responsible for making these rules no one is really looking at the interaction,” said Goodman, who’s based in New York and is a member of the Fixed Income Analysts Society’s Hall of Fame. “The combined effects could be devastating.”

The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Housing and Urban Development are among regulators trying to reshape mortgage lending after poor underwriting contributed to a housing crash that triggered the worst financial crisis in seven decades. The proposals include new tests on borrowers’ ability to repay, guidelines for servicers and rules on origination fees.

Lenders already have been tightening credit standards even as borrowing costs fall to record lows. With the housing market showing signs of stabilizing, after home prices plunged more than 35 percent from a 2006 peak, banks are opposing some of the proposals on the grounds that it will make it harder for them to extend loans.

The concerns raised by Goodman should be taken seriously because she’s not overly sympathetic to the banks, said Representative Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat who’s on the Financial Services Committee. Regulators should make sure that requirements intending to protect consumers against abuses don’t make credit unavailable to people who ought to get a mortgage and could afford a home, Miller said.

Click Here to read the rest of the article.

The simple fact is that as long as government, which can’t even run itself with any degree of efficiency, continues to distort the mortgage and banking markets with regulations designed to achieve social goals, we will never recover to the point of the market equilibrium we lived with when I was a broker.

Yes, back then, there were very nice people who could not afford to buy their dream house. There were folks who could not afford to buy any house. But those who did buy a house did so with the knowledge that only extreme adversity was likely to jeopardize their home.

If we really want to straighten out the housing market as quickly as possible, we’ll get government completely out of the business and let lenders return to setting qualifications and terms they know will ensure the greatest return on their investments, which will translate into the greatest number of people qualifying for and obtaining mortgages they can well-afford to live with.

That’s how I see it. What are your thoughts?



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