Rigid Vacuum Cleaner Repair

I bought a RIDGID Vacuum Cleaner this past year as an investment. It’s a wet-dry shop-capable type that is quite large (too large, actually), but is up to the task of vacuuming a plastic bag stuck high up in a neighboring tree as well as emptying the contents of a beehive… both things the vacuum has done admirably.

This past spring, I was vacuuming my car, and pulled the vacuum across my driveway toward me and the wheel/leg snapped right off.

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For a $200+ vacuum, I was pretty angry about that.

So, I wrote to the RIDGID folks, and without any question, they sent out a replacement set of wheels, next day air.

Great service, and now, a great vacuum in perfect working order.

Nicely done, RIDGID. Based on this experience, and the durability of the vacuum, I would strongly recommend RIDGID.

The Unfulfilled Promise of ‘Smart’ Credit Cards

A well written article about what I think is scam of colossal proportions.

All-in-one cards like Plastc, Coin, and Swyp promised the end of bulging wallets forever. But the companies have been plagued by production delays.

Source: The Unfulfilled Promise of ‘Smart’ Credit Cards

Tile Review

It’s funny, when you read press materials carefully, they can really reveal a lot. For a long while, I was interested in Tile, a little plastic device that you can attach to anything—purse, luggage, bike, cat, keys—and that will track and allow you to find them when you can’t seem to remember where you last left them.

According to the Tile press kit, the idea for Tile was simple: a small, affordable device people could attach to the things they didn’t want to lose. It would send frequent, private signals to the owner’s smartphone and the Tile network so it could always be located.

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The original Tile shipped in June 2014. A little over two years later, we have sold 6 million Tiles and we help people and half a million items each day—a testament to the value of helping people keep track of the things that matter to them most. We’ve heard it all: A little girl found a lost stuffed penguin in Times Square. A guy was able to recover a stolen car in California. One lady found her cat hiding under the porch.

Sounds great.

From my perspective, I thought Tile was a bit pricey, but after losing my car keys (which I had never lost before), I decided to take the leap. I bought a box of four Tiles that retails for about $79. I had some sort of discount from American Express that brought the price down to about $40, or about $10 for each tile.

I put one tile on my cat and one on my keys. The other two are still sitting in the box.

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So far, I’m not so impressed. Each individual tile links to a device, an iPad, an iPhone, etc. That’s great, but the Tile only communicates to that device when it’s nearby. So, if for example, you want to find the location of your lost luggage, you’d have to be within 150 feet and have the device to which the Tile is registered in order to “ping” the Tile. Otherwise, the tile shows up in the “last remembered place.” Which is not only often wrong, but covers a huge and grossly imprecise area. It’s sort of like… yeah, your keys, they’re somewhere in a 5 block radius of your house. To add insult to injury, Tile uses some kind of old school Bluetooth communication that EATS your iPhone battery. Weirdly, though the Tile is always attached to your device via Bluetooth, it doesn’t seem to update in real time. So, if for example, you, the Tile, and your device all move from one place to another, the Tile app will not reflect that until you “search” for an item, your device pings the Tile, and the location is updated. Worse, in some strange instances, even after pinging the Tile, the location remains at the last pinged location and not at the current location (even if you know it may be sitting right next to you.) So, neither the reliability nor the precision of the Tile device doesn’t seem all that great to me.

If you are looking for something and mark it “lost” this magically triggers a secret search among all Tile users and will relay the location of your missing item when it pings the device of someone else. In theory, this is great, but in practice, we had some real difficulty in making it work. Again, when we could get it to work (about 30% of the time), the “location” covered a HUGE area. Congratulations, we found your lost luggage! It’s somewhere at LAX! Again, insult to injury, it’s like knowing there’s  a needle in the haystack, but you still have to sort through the hay to find it.

I think that the Tile website is to blame for my general disappointment. The site doesn’t really (or very clearly) explain how the Tile system works. Somehow, I was left with the impression that it was some magic GPS device that could be tracked from anywhere. I’m not sure exactly what gave me that impression, but it sure was wrong. The Tile promotional literature is quite straightforward. For example, it notes, when marking an item as lost “It would send frequent, private signals to the owner’s smartphone and the Tile network so it could always be located.” It could be. Doesn’t say it will locate the Tile. So, my fault, for not catching that.

Tile claims that by pressing the “e” on the actual Tile that your phone will ring. We tried this with both active Tiles and couldn’t get it to work. Not once. Then oddly, I was driving in the car and for no particular reason (my keys and phone were sitting in the cup holder next to me), the “ring feature” triggered. Odd.

Overall, Tile seems to be a great idea. The problem is, the actual usability of it needs some refinement. At this point, I would recommend holding off on Tile. Like a lot of tech products from newish tech start ups, it’s marketed well, but doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

One Pie Can

I am a sucker for supermarket history and I love to stumble across old-school labels and products. There’s something amazing when a product is so reliable that the label doesn’t change for decades.

I was stumbling around my favorite local store tonight picking up a few items that aren’t available at Aldi (wax paper, washing soda) and I stumbled across this gem. I couldn’t resist snagging a can just because of the great label.

The 10 Year Search for the Perfect Water Bottle

Throughout my day, I drink about a gallon (or two) of water. I’ve had a miserable time finding a water bottle that I like. I started with a SIGG which was a disaster. The bottle started smelling musty after about a week, and started tasting musty about a week after that. No matter what I tried, the bottle was disgusting, and it leaked. Plus the little loop at the top seemed handy, but was actually not all that convenient to grab and go.

Sign bottle that I used about 10 years ago.
Sign bottle that I used about 10 years ago.

After the OXO bottle, I tried the outrageously expensive S’well Matte Army Green bottle. I loved the look of the bottle, but it was remarkably difficult to deal with. The Swell bottle did keep beverages cold (or warm) for hours, but that was its only benefit. The bottom of the bottle had this funny dimpled effect it (similar to a Coke bottle). that, in conjunction with the unbelievably top-heavy lid, made the bottle incredibly unstable. I felt like I was constantly picking the bottle up from the floor, because it constantly was falling over. Plus, there was no way to grab this bottle quickly. You need to dedicate a whole hand to carrying it around, and that—for me—was a no go. After about a semester, the bottle started to smell, which wasn’t so swell, and because there was no easy way to clean it, I moved on.

S'well bottle. Not so swell. Looks great, but not functional.
S’well bottle. Not so swell. Looks great, but not functional.

Then, I found this great, clear OXO bottle that screwed apart in the middle for easy cleaning. I LOVED this bottle and loved the handy wire cap connector, which made for easy, one-finger, grab and go. I also loved that it was clear, so I could see how much I had left in the bottle.

The OXO unscrews in the middle for easy cleaning.The OXO Strive Advance unscrews in the middle for easy cleaning.

I loved this bottle so much that I bought two. They mistakenly got put in the dishwasher once, and that was the end. Somehow, the dishwasher made the latex seal in the bottle fail, and they leaked horribly after that. Despite the leakiness, I still used the bottles for a while, but then the wire cap holder started to rust.

OXO Bottle that I loved until it leaked.
OXO Bottle that I loved until it leaked.

Then, after the OXO bottle, I went total hipster and just used a Mason jar for a year. It was great because it had a generous capacity, wasn’t precious (so it was easily replaceable if I left it behind somewhere), and was easy to clean. It just wasn’t very portable.

Hipster standby.
Hipster standby.

So, completely on a whim, I bought an ecoVessel Bold.

ecoVessel Bold, is taller than it looks.
ecoVessel Bold, is taller than it looks.

Instantly, I really liked this bottle. The loop makes it easy to grab and carry. The lid screws apart in two places, one big mouth, one little mouth, so that’s good and makes it easy to fill and clean. It’s durable, but somehow after using mine for a few months, I cracked the metal on the big lid. Not a problem, I contacted ecoVessel, and they were able to send me a replacement (three, in fact) to ensure that I’ll be able to use this bottle for a very, very long time.

Unfortunately, the ecoVessel Bold model has since been discontinued (of course), but the ecoVessel Boulder line looks just as sleek (if not exactly the same), comes in a variety of colors, and is triple insulated.  I like the fact that they sell replacement parts and that  their customer service was attentive and polite. I would recommend ecoVessel highly.

Finally! My search for a decent water bottle is over… I think!

 

Homemade Headboard

Molly and I made a headboard last week. We also made some pillows to go with it. I have been searching for a headboard for our guest room, and actually found on at Marshall’s, but wasn’t thrilled with the $300 price tag on it. I thought: I can do this cheaper, better, and on my own. So I did.

The finished headboard and pillows.
I bought 3 2×3’s at the hardware store for $6. My parent’s neighbor, Mike, cut a scrap board to perfect size. I used some old decking screws to assemble it.
Meanwhile, Molly helped out by inspecting the polyester batting.
I used 3M Spray 77 adhesive (one of my go-to products) to affix a piece of foam to the headboard. It was slightly smaller, but that’s OK.
Then I swaddled the whole thing in polyester batting, and stapled it using my wonderful new staple gun from Aldi.
I had a great piece of Irish linen left over from my curtain project, so I stretched that over the headboard, tacking it N, S, E, and W.
Then, working my way around, using my staple gun, I tacked around the backside of the board.
This is how it looked from the back.
Molly and I added some cheap interfacing to the back (to cover up all the rough edges and staples.
And some little felt things to make sure the board didn’t scratch the floor.
I finished off with four hand-made wooden buttons that I bought in Estonia, that I tied through and affixed with wire.

Total cost was about $40.

DIY Solar Heating with the Heat Grabber 

Build this DIY solar heating collector, the Heat Grabber is a “window box” solar collector you can fabricate in under an hour.

This is an interesting project, and one that I wonder about. Perhaps it could be used to heat the area under Florence?

(The image is really grainy, because it’s a really old image from a really old article, but apparently, this works!)

Read the entire article and see plans at: DIY Solar Heating with the Heat Grabber – DIY – MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Curtains!

My Airstream Bambi came with some stock white curtains that are sufficient but a little institutional. Shortly after buying and cleaning out Florence, I resolved to make new curtains. 

That was two years ago!

About a year ago, I purchased some great white fabric and all the hardware to make new curtains. I made one panel and just didn’t love it. The fabric was too stiff and didn’t hang right. 

Then, while I was traveling in Europe this summer, I found a source for this beautiful grey Irish linen fabric. It has a fabulous “hand” and seems durable. Best of all the color is neutral but not boring. Sort of a warm grey. Best of all, it’s the same fabric that my new duvet is made from!

So last week, I got to work cutting panels and outfitting hardware. Last week, I did a test fitting, this week I made one more panel and put on the final touches and… voila! New drapes. I made some Velcro tie-backs for the curtains during the day which is an upgrade from the original set. They look really great and much less harsh than the white curtains. 

Definitely worth the wait. 

Aldi

When I was in graduate school (almost 20 years ago), Aldi opened in my neighborhood, and I was hooked. The food then was inexpensive, high quality, and it was right down the street. I bought my first wheely suitcase at Aldi for $20 (because my German friend had one just like it), and believe it or not, the suitcase has been through the war, and I still use it today.

Well, about a year ago, I made a resolution to stop spending hundreds of dollars a week on groceries, and I paid a visit to Aldi. I was STUNNED to find that Aldi not only stocked a ton of organic staples, but also organic produce and lots of things—as a gluten free vegetarian—that I could eat.

So for the last year, I have cut down convenience shopping at my local co-op (great food, but crazy expensive) and my local Wegmans (good food, but crazy expensive, and ridiculously busy all the time.)

The result is that our grocery bill has gone from about $200 a week to about $60 a week. We eat better, make more healthy choices, and waste less.

Everyone knows that I love grocery shopping—and supermarkets. I’ve often said that if I could be a grocery store historian, I would gladly be one. I have fond memories of shopping at A&P, Loblaws and scores of other stores when I was a kid. To this day, grocery stores are one of my very first stops in any city I visit. They are a unique capsule of standardization and local flavor.

Aldi Logo

Aldi reminds me a bit of grocery shopping in Europe, which (perhaps not surprisingly) is very different from shopping in the US. European stores are smaller, refrigerate less, are more no-nonsense, and are often curiously organized. They are a bit of a novelty in that they are not standard in their typology. They fit in whatever spaces are available and make use of every centimeter.

American supermarkets are all about theatrics, packaging, and lighting to entice impulse buying. They all conform to a similar typology (a long rectangle) and rely on the customer following a zig-zag type pattern up and down each aisle.

Aldi tracks the Euro model more than the American model. Stores are smaller, less theatrical, more practical. Items are clearly marked with signage above, and refrigeration is reserved for things that need it.

Typical Aldi store interior.
Typical Aldi store interior.

One of the biggest differences at Aldi is the produce department. It’s very European. Food comes in crates from the farm (or sometimes pre-packaged) but it’s not dramatically lighted. It’s not sprayed with water. It’s not refrigerated. It’s just there. Oddly, I have noticed over the past year that it also lasts a lot longer. Probably because it’s not soaking wet for days before I buy it.

Aldi Produce Department
Fresh produce selection at Aldi.

Another big difference is the Aldi Finds section. Each week, Aldi features general (non-grocery) merchandise organized around some seasonal theme. The products are incredibly smart, well designed, high quality, and inexpensive. I mentioned above that I have purchased luggage, but I’ve also purchased a power washer, a food dehydrator, some great portable salad bowls, a picnic blanket, and some really great blankets for a fraction of what I would have paid elsewhere.

My parents were a bit leary of Aldi, and I led a field trip to show them how it works. Next week, my two good friends and I are going on a similar field trip. I’ll report back soon on our experience… and maybe, if I’m brave enough, might even include some pictures.