My New Old Toaster

Real retro.

As I’ve blogged elsewhere, I was in the New York area late last month. I tried to see my godfather one last time before he passed away and missed him by two days. I went anyway and spent some time with family members. I also helped my mom and cousin sort through my godfather’s belongings in preparation for auctions, estate sales, and the eventual sale of his house. I blogged the details of my trip here.

One thing I learned about my godfather, Jackie, is that although he often received gifts that he didn’t want or need, he never returned them. We found many brand new items still in their original boxes or with tags still on them. He had, for example, at least 5 blenders, three of which were still boxed. (One, which he apparently used, looked like an original Vitamix.)

My New Old Toaster
Who needs a fake retro toaster when you can have a real one?

Among the things we found was a Proctor Silex toaster in a never-opened box. I mean, the box still had those big staples across the top holding it closed. The price $9.99 had been penciled in on one side. I opened the box and pulled out a shiny circa 1966 chrome two-slice toaster. I was in awe. The damn thing was nearly as old as I am and it was in absolute mint condition. (Obviously, I can’t say the same thing about me.)

I didn’t own a toaster. I haven’t ever owned a toaster. I always had toaster ovens. Toaster ovens are nice appliances to have, but they generally do a crappy job making toast.

I think I must have shocked my mother and cousin when I asked if I could have it.

I packed the toaster in its box into my luggage when it it was time to go home. I wondered whether it would raise any red flags with the TSA when it went through their X-ray machines. I hoped that if they opened it, they wouldn’t get fingerprints all over that nice chrome.

At home, I put it on my countertop.

I didn’t use it until today. Two reasons. First, I don’t eat much toast. The reason for that is that I didn’t have a toaster and wasn’t in the habit of eating toast. Also, I try to avoid unnecessary carbs. Second, I was kind of afraid to try it. Afraid that a 47-year-old toaster would spontaneously combust when I pushed the lever down. Or afraid to somehow “ruin” it by using it. After all, it wouldn’t be mint once it had some burned crumbs in the bottom.

My New Toaster in Action
My new old toaster in action.

But today I took the plunge. I pulled a slice of 12-grain bread out of a bag in the freezer and popped it in. I pushed the lever down. I watched the metal filaments glow red. I stood ready to pull the plug and grab the fire extinguisher if need be.

In the end, all I had to do was push the lever back up when I realized that my toast was getting overdone. I guess I need to play with the darkness adjustment next time.

I spread cashew butter on the toast. It was delicious.

My Poor Man’s Hot Tub

A step down from the poor man’s swimming pool.

You know how it is when you get an idea in your head and it nags at you until you do something about it? That was me this past week. But before I tell you about my poor man’s hot tub, let me give you some back story.

The Poor Man’s Swimming Pool

Back in 1997 (I think), not long after moving into my Wickenburg home, I bought a Jacuzzi hot tub on sale at Home Depot. It was about $1600 delivered — I found the receipt in my files just a few months ago! — and had two bench seats to accommodate four people. The idea was not to use it as a hot tub, but instead to use it as a soaking tub for cooling off. I called it my poor man’s swimming pool.

The challenge was keeping the water cool. I rarely ran the heater, left the top off at night, and kept the top on during the day. Still, the temperature hovered in the 90s throughout the summer months — which was actually fine for cooling off. After all, anything lower than body temperature will cool you.

In cooler months, a thermal blanket — think aqua blue bubble wrap — helped warm the water with the top left off during the day. I sometimes used it at night, but not very often. Eventually, I stopped using it entirely.

Hot Tub
When I couldn’t sell the hot tub, I gave it away. I certainly wasn’t going to leave it behind.

I returned home in September 2012 to spend my last few months in my Wickenburg home. The mild nights, dark skies, and bright moon attracted me back to the hot tub I knew I couldn’t take with me. I drained the water, sterilized the surface — after all, god knows what diseased scum was in there while I was gone — and refilled it. When I discovered that the heater had stopped working, I had it replaced, trading the spa repair guy the part plus labor for my old smoker, which I also couldn’t take with me. When I was home and the evening weather was mild, I spent evenings soaking with a candle beside me, sipping wine and gazing at the stars.

My poor man’s swimming pool had become a real hot tub.

I wound up giving it away in exchange for some moving services. After all, I wasn’t about to leave it behind for my wasband and his mommy.

The Poor Man’s Hot Tub

I’d gotten the idea of a poor man’s hot tub late summer 2011. I’ve been spending summers in my RV in Washington state since 2008, when I began doing cherry drying work with my helicopter. About two years ago, I started thinking of using a stock tank as a tub and reticulating the water through black hose in the sun to warm the water. Theoretically, by night time, the water should be warm enough for a good soak under the stars. I even began looking at stock tanks — Rubbermaid had a nice one with just the right shape and depth.

Stock Tank

The 100-gallon stock tank I chose for my poor man’s hot tub.

(If you’re not familiar with the concept of a stock tank, it’s like a giant water dish for horses, cows, and other livestock. They’re available in galvanized metal (which I don’t like), structural foam (which is like plastic), and plastic. If you think the idea of soaking in a stock tank is weird, you probably wouldn’t like the idea of swimming in a huge stock tank, either. Yet that’s what we did out at my friend’s off-the-grid Aguila ranch home a bunch of years back.)

But I never did anything with the idea. Why? Well, the first half of the 2012 season I was parked at an RV park at a golf course. I had no privacy and the folks who ran the place probably wouldn’t like me setting up such a thing anyway. The second half of the season was on a much more private site, but when personal matters back home got ugly, I was too distracted to deal with anything else. So the idea just simmered on a far back burner.

Until this year. When I got up to my semi-private campsite, I started thinking about how nice a soak would be in the evening when the day cooled off. My site has an amazing view of rolling hills, orchards, pine trees, and granite rock formations. It’s dark at night, so there are plenty of stars. And my future home is even more private, more beautiful, and more dark, so I’d get plenty of use out of it there.

I swung past the Ace hardware store in Quincy and saw they had the perfect tank. So I bought it.

I also bought a 25-foot length of black garden hose. Nice heavy-duty hose; I’m sure I’ll get a lot of use out of it. (I do regret, however, not buying the 50-foot length.) And I bought a hose adapter for the drain hole along with a spigot I can use to drain the tub.

I already had a piece of green bubble wrap to use as a thermal blanket. (I knew there was a reason I kept that thing.)

The last piece of the puzzle was a pump that would recirculate the water. I wound up with a 1/4 horsepower submersible pump that’s capable of pumping 30 gallons per hour. It’s not the speed that I need, but there weren’t many options on Amazon.com in the under $50 range. The pump arrived today.

Total cash outlay for this project: $175.

Monday, I filled the tank about 2/3 full — leaving room for my body to displace water — by trickling water from a spigot through my black hose. The water was about 70°F when I shut it off. I put the thermal blanket over the water, laying right on the surface where it floated nicely.

Tuesday morning, the temperature had dropped down into the 60s. Brrrr.

But by Tuesday evening, the water was up to 90°F — without even circulating the water! You see, the tank is charcoal gray and it really absorbs the sun’s rays. While 90°F would be nice for cooling off in the middle of the day, it wouldn’t work for that evening soak. I need it to be at least 98°F. Just over 100°F would be even better.

On Wednesday morning, the water was back down in the 60s. But by the time I hooked up the pump at 3:30 PM, it was close to 90.

Hot Tub Warming
Okay, so I admit it doesn’t look very impressive here. But it does seem to work.

I ran one end of the hose out of the top of the pump and lowered the pump into the water. I then stretched out the rest of the hose in a big loop in the sun and put the other end into the tank. I plugged in the pump and the water immediately began circulating.

Fifteen minutes later, it was 92°F. Fifteen minutes after that, it was 94°F. Thirty minutes later, it was 96°F.

Temperature
The $3.99 pool thermometer I bought registered nearly 100°F when I had to pull the plug for the day.

Keep in mind that the outside air temperature was only 88°F at the time, so I think I was doing pretty well.

By 5:15 PM, when I was getting ready to meet a friend in town, it was nearly 100°F. By that time, the sun’s strength was just starting to wane and the outside air temperature was gradually falling. I couldn’t let the experiment go on; the return end of the hose was not securely fastened and, if it came loose with the pump running, the tank would empty within 3 minutes and the pump would likely burn out. I had to shut it off when I was not around. So I pulled the plug, made sure the thermal blanket completely covered the surface of the water, and went out.

I got back around 9 PM. The air was much cooler — probably in the 70s. The sky was clear, with thin layers of clouds to the northwest catching the ray of the sun beyond the horizon. The water temperature was still very warm, although it was too dark to read the thermometer.

I didn’t waste any time stripping down and climbing into the tub. (Yes, I got naked outdoors in a stock tank. Gonna make something of it?)

My Feet and the Sunset
I rested my feet up on the rim of the tub for this shot of the evening sky.

The water was wonderfully warm, almost like a bathtub. The water level rose, as I expected it would, but I realized that I could easily squeeze another 4 inches of water in there without overflowing it. I’d do that the next day when the sun was high again. Even without that extra water, however, I could submerge all of my body and limbs without becoming a contortionist — which had been necessary in the fancy “garden tub” in my old house. Clearly, this was an improvement — made all the better by being able to enjoy it in complete privacy outdoors.

I soaked for a while, looking out to the west where the last light was fading in a violet sky. It was quiet — so amazingly quiet. Restful, too. I could easily imagine finishing every busy day with a nice soak.

I stepped out just as it was getting really dark. I wrapped a towel around me and replaced the thermal blanket atop the water.

I’m thinking that with a little extra time for heating — perhaps starting the pump around noon — I can get the temperature up around 105°F. We’ll see.

But in the meantime, I’ll consider this experiment a success.

Shoppers, Do Your Homework!

Slick product packaging and marketing ≠ best products

mophie juicepackThis morning, while on Google+, I read an update by one of the people in my circles. He was recommending a product called mophie juice pack powerstation. This is a portable battery device that you can use to charge cell phones and tablet computers when you’re on the go and a regular charging source is not available.

Lenmar PowerPortI’m interested in devices like these. In fact, the other day, I’d added the Lenmar PowerPort Wave 6600 to my Amazon.com Wish list. At first glance, this product seems to do the same thing.

There is, however, a $30 difference in price, with the Lenmar being the cheaper of the two alternatives.

Making an Objective Comparison

I looked briefly at the two devices. The mophie was 4000 mAh; the Lenmar was 6600 mAh. I thought higher was better. So I queried the person who’d recommended the mophie. His response was that if based solely on power, the Lenmar looked better. He then talked about portability and battery quality, suggesting that the cheaper unit might not be as good quality as the other.

Of course, I had to dive in and find out. So I looked up the specs on both of them — the above links will take you there. What I found was that Lenmar’s rather plain vanilla site provided specifications that included battery type, voltage, capacity, unit size, and unit weight:

Lenmar Specs

The specifications info on mophie’s site, which was slick looking and modern with lots of trendy lowercase product names and headings, didn’t provide any details about the battery at all, although it did provide unit dimensions (it was a bit smaller) and shipping weight (which I suppose could be helpful if I wanted to carry it around in its original packaging):

mophie specs

To be fair, mophie’s features page did mention that its battery was 4000 mAh and it could output up to 2 amps.

I downloaded the user guides for both, looking for more information. Lenmar’s was a 3-page black and white guide with two of the pages in languages other than English. It provided lots of details on what the device could do and how to use it. mophie’s was a slick-looking 2-page color flyer with a first page that read like a marketing press release. (How else could you describe a heading that read “Here’s a rundown of why this is the perfect device”?) Nowhere did it say what kind of battery the device had or how much the device weighed.

Then I started looking at actual features. The Lenmar device had two power out ports: one at 1.0A max and the other at 2.1A max. They could be used together for a total of 3.1A max output. That means I could (theoretically) power an iPhone and an iPad at the same time. Or an iPhone and a GoPro. Or two GoPros. The mophie, by comparison, had just one power out port rated at 2.1A max. (This, by the way, contradicts what the website said — 2A — but it’s close enough.) That meant I could only power one device, like a single iPhone, iPad, or GoPro, at a time.

So here’s what I saw:

  • Lenmar had a basic Web site and ugly manual pushing a product that had a 6600 mAh battery and two ports capable of charging two devices at once. Price: $44 on Amazon.com.
  • mophie had a slick looking Web site and manual pushing a product that had a 4000 mAh battery and one port capable of charging one device at a time. Price: $80 on Amazon.com.

Which one do you think I picked?

Questioning Motivations

I started bring up these points on Google+ in comments to the original post about the mophie unit. I was very surprised that the person who posted the recommendation about the mophie didn’t seem the least bit interested in seeing whether the Lenmar unit was a better value for the money. Instead, he claimed he was familiar with mophie and that he knew their products were worth what they charged.

Period.

Then I noticed that the same person had made several other product recommendations recently and I began to wonder whether he had some motivation to push certain products — beyond his own experiences with them. And that’s when I realized that I was wasting my time trying to have an informed discussion about the two alternatives.

The Point

Yes, this blog post does have a point. A few of them, in fact:

  • Don’t take social networking product recommendations at face value. You can never be sure about the motivations of the people who push products.
  • Don’t make a purchase decision without examining alternatives.
  • Don’t let slick or trendy looking product design, websites, or marketing documents blind you to a product’s true feature set.
  • Don’t think that the highest priced product is always the best quality alternative. These days, price is not always an indicator of quality.
  • Do choose products that meet your needs at a price you’re willing to pay.

Is the Lenmar product better? I don’t know. It certainly seems to have a better feature set for nearly half the price. That’s enough to get me to try it.

Is iPhone/iPad Killing Stand-alone GPS?

I think so.

This morning, while going through the tweets in my Twitter stream that had arrived overnight, I stumbled upon a MacObserver article that discussed the iPhone becoming the top “camera” on Flickr. (I have my own opinions on that factoid, which I left as a comment on that post; it’s not a favorable commentary on Flickr users.) That post linked to a far more interesting one by Ted Landau titled “A Dozen Devices the iPhone is Killing.” In it, Ted discusses how features in the iPhone that duplicate those in stand-alone devices are making those devices redundant or simply not necessary.

GPS for Everyday Use

As I commented on that post, Ted is right on target with the GPS analysis. I’ve been using various GPS tracking apps on my iPhone for a while now and am super-impressed with the results. The first one I tried was the $2 GPSTrack app, which I wrote about here. Since then, I’ve also played with GPSLite, a free app that does much the same and more for free (which an interface I find a bit too complex for everyday use). My goals with apps like these is to create track logs and trip computer data for flights and for geotagging photos.

Although I’m not fond of turn-by-turn navigation, I know there are plenty of apps that do this, too. So, as Ted pointed out, in-car GPS navigation systems can also be replaced by an iPhone.

GPS for Flying

ForeFlight on iPhone

ForeFlight runs on my iPhone and includes not only GPS capabilities, but flight planning, weather, airport information, and more.

For pilots, a great app called ForeFlight, which works on both iPhone and iPad, offers better functionality than the $12,000 panel-mount Garmin GPS in my helicopter. Rather than view my location on a primitive screen display, I can see it on an actual aeronautical chart. I can also download charts and other information in advance so there’s no need to rely on 3G connectivity in flight. If I do have 3G connectivity, I can also get up-to-date weather information in flight. And although the iPhone screen is generally too small for my aging eyes to see the details, the same software works on my iPad — that screen size puts my panel mount system to shame. In fact, ForeFlight is the reason I’m updating to a G3 iPad 2 — that model includes a GPS; my original WiFi iPad does not.

Garmin is apparently trying to play catch-up with this functionality but I don’t think they’ll succeed. Why would someone pay thousands of dollars for a one-trick pony like a panel mount GPS when less than $700 will get you an iPad with GPS and Internet capabilities that can be updated on the fly and do so much more — for example, e-mail, Web browsing, ebook reader, and other apps? Best of all, the FAA is starting to accept apps like Foreflight as “electronic flight bags,” thus making traditionally required documents such as printed charts and flight plans unnecessary. (This is something I hope to blog about in more detail soon.)

And Another Thing…

ForeFlight on iPad

Here’s ForeFlight on my iPad. Although this iPad doesn’t have a GPS and can’t do accurate tracking, my iPad 2, which should arrive soon, will.

One thing Ted didn’t mention is the main reason why I don’t like carrying more devices than I have to: batteries and charging. When I go on the road, it seems that my “gadget kit” is filled with cables and charging devices. And spare batteries. What a pain in the butt! Wouldn’t it be nicer to carry just one cable and charger, perhaps with a DC adapter? While it’s true that running a GPS app on an iPhone, especially in tracking mode, sucks battery power more than almost anything else you’re likely to do with the phone, a DC charging device can usually remedy this. Heck, even my helicopter has a DC power port.

At this point, it’s hard to imagine why someone would buy a standalone GPS if they had an iPhone or another smartphone with equally good GPS capabilities. Can you think of a reason?

What’s More Interesting: Your Companion or Your Smartphone?

A New York Times article summarizes my thoughts on smartphone [over]use.

I have a smart phone. I have had one for about five years, starting with a Palm Treo, moving on to a BlackBerry, and now settling in with an iPhone (on Verizon, thank you). The phone has always held useful data, such as my address book and calendar, and starting with the BlackBerry, also gave me access to useful apps such as weather (remember, I’m a pilot, too) and e-mail.

TextingI never really used my smartphone like the true computing device it is — that is, until I got my iPhone. The preponderance of iPhone apps has really helped me take the next step into true mobile handheld computing. I find myself using this phone more than any other I’ve ever owned: consulting the weather, looking up things on Google and the Web, taking photos, tweeting, and yes, even texting.

What I recently discovered, however, is that despite my involvement in the field of computing, I’m rather behind the curve when it comes to smartphone use. I generally use it when I need to and, when I’m not using it, it’s in my pocket on its belt clip. You see, I still think of my phone as a phone. (Imagine that.) Indeed, since we turned off our land lines, it has become my only phone — my only means of verbal communication with people I’m not with. The apps are a sort of bonus — a way to get more information when I need it.

What’s Getting My Attention Lately

But as I travel about, walking around the Phoenix area, going to restaurants, shopping, and doing things outside my home and office, I’m noticing that more and more people have their phones in their hands with their heads bent over them or their thumbs tapping keyboards or screens wildly. Sometimes they’re doing this while alone, waiting on line to check out or sitting at a sidewalk cafe or even while walking through a mall. But more and more often, they’re doing this while in the company of other people. In fact, I’ve often seen groups of people who are physically together but mentally elsewhere: at least half of them are paying more attention to their phone than their companions.

Two recent experiences really brought this home to me.

One was a photo I saw in The Guardian Eyewitness app on my iPad. This app shows off a daily photo from The Guardian, a UK newspaper. The photo has a caption and a “pro tip” to describe what makes the photograph work from a photographer’s point of view. The idea is that you look at good photos to learn about photography. The photo from April 13, 2011 showed 12 young people standing against a building in front of a memorial pile of flowers. Four (or possibly five) of them are either talking on or looking at their phones. The caption is what makes it so ironic: “Friends of Negus McLean gather at the spot in Edmonton, north London, where the 15-year-old was stabbed to death on Sunday while trying to stop a gang from stealing his brother’s BlackBerry.” I don’t think copyright law allows me to reproduce the photo here, so I suggest you follow this link if you want to see it.

The other was a visit by some friends from out of state who stayed with us for a few days. I don’t consider either of them techies — they just know enough technology to do what they have to do in their normal daily lives. I’m definitely more in tune with computers and mobile devices than either one of them. What really shocked me, then, was their smartphone use. Often, even in the middle of a conversation with me or my husband, one of them would be tapping out some kind of message on his or her smartphone. The phone was usually on the table beside them at meals and was often consulted. One of the phones made a noise every time an incoming message was received — which was quite often. At first, I was appalled by this. But as time passed, I got used to it and accepted it.

Should We Accept Rudeness?

Yesterday, while trying to catch up with news via the NYTimes iPad app, I stumbled across an article in the “Most E-Mailed” section that made me question my willingness to accept this kind of behavior. Titled “Keep Your Thumbs Still When I’m Talking to You,” it included this sentence that really sums up the whole situation:

Add one more achievement to the digital revolution: It has made it fashionable to be rude.

How can anyone argue with that?

Because that is what it is: rudeness. If you’re with someone else, in a conversation or at a meal or even waiting in line for a latte at Starbucks, it is rude to shift your attention from that person to your phone for no apparent reason other than to conduct a text conversation with someone else or tweet what you’re doing or even check your e-mail. By ignoring the people you’re with, you’re telling them that your smartphone or whatever is on it is more important than they are.

Is it? If it is, why bother with personal interaction at all?

The article goes on to cite examples of people more interested in their smartphones than what’s going on around them. It also offers this wonderful quote that I’m taking as a word of advice:

…Mr. De Rosa wrote: “I’m fine with people stepping aside to check something, but when I’m standing in front of someone and in the middle of my conversation they whip out their phone, I’ll just stop talking to them and walk away. If they’re going to be rude, I’ll be rude right back.”

Now I know how to handle the folks who find their smartphones more interesting than me.

What do you think?