Thursday, August 30, 2007

Store Credit

This CNN article details Toys R Us' recall of crayon and paint sets due to excessive levels of lead.  Again, straight from China.  What caught my eye was this bit from the article:

The CPSC said that no injuries were reported but advised that consumers should stop using the product immediately and take the products away from children and return the item to the nearest Toys "R" Us store for store credit.

Let me try to get something straight here.  I'm a little slow due to the Chinese lead popsicles I've been enjoying recently.  Toys R Us is poisoning the children that people buy things for, and they won't even issue a refund so the consumer can buy products from another outlet?  Shameless.

What I find interesting is that had these products been made in the United States, the factory and the product would likely have been tested for lead regularly.  We don't even trade property with lead in it.  Do we simply not test imported products for contaminants? 

Perhaps I used the wrong approach for manufacturing my Mercury Slushy product.  Next time I'll farm the work out to China; at least that will keep those nosy U.S. government regulators off my tail.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Buzz the Tower

If you happen to be an child trapped in an adult's body, you'll be pleased to know that the toys have gotten cooler, and cheaper, than when your body was a kid.  Recently while grocery shopping, this twenty dollar remote control airplane leapt off the shelf and into our shopping cart.  It was so cute I couldn't just send it packing, so I brought it home with us.

Our first several attempts to fly the little airplane were met with extravagant failure.  Until the little machine gains enough speed, it cannot create lift.  That basically means that launching is a crap shoot.  If it stays aloft long enough to get up to speed, it will stay that way for a while.  The first night we brought it home we crashed several times until it finally started...flying!  Since it was finally in the air, I could hardly imagine letting go of the throttle.  That's what got it stuck on top of the hardware store.  Being the tough guy that I am, I asked my wife to get it for me the next day.  And she did.

After a slight modification to the wing, our flights got much better.  After several successful flights I decided that Aimee would have to try it, after all, the next crash might be its last.  I dragged Aimee out to the park, and despite the slightly brisk wind, launched the plane.  It soared roughly overhead for a while, then promptly drifted across the street and landed.  On top of the high school.  We left a note for the custodial staff, and they saved us with a phone call early the next morning.

That evening we both had several good flights, so the next evening I was excited to try again.  Now...this airplane is made of very thin foam, and it has very tiny propellers.  Each time it crashes, the aerodynamic properties are altered one way or another.  This can lead to unpredictable performance.  Such as happened last evening.

After several crashes I tried to launch again.  The plane climbed to about 15 feet and veered hard to the right and started diving.  I pressed the control stick left, but it ignored me.  Repeatedly.  At garyFlyingany given time in our small town there are probably only a total of 10 people on bicycles.  What are the chances that this plane would behave insubordinately at exactly the same time that an older gentleman was riding by on a bicycle?  If he hadn't ducked at precisely the right time, I'm afraid he would have found a small yellow airplane sticking out of his ear.  He did duck, though, and I managed to escape the situation looking like a punk kid trying to "buzz the tower".

Monday, August 27, 2007

Rewarding Bad Behavior

When our daughter has a tantrum, it is only with great difficulty that we can resist the urge to sweep her up and console her.  We manage to resist this urge because we understand what the long term implications of rewarding bad behavior are.

In the United States, the market economy supposedly balances good and evil, corporate and consumer interests.  The market economy is supposed to prevent companies from behaving badly, because such behavior might well put them out of business.  Unless of course they happen to be Amtrak or an airline.  Or an automotive manufacturer.  You get the picture.  In reality, the government routinely bails out bad actors-especially large ones.

For the past eight years, I have flat out refused to do business with Citi.  A clause in their credit card language indicated that a late payment would earn the borrower the default credit rate of 20 something percent.  That's pretty normal, except in this case that late payment could be to any lender.  Imagine, make a late payment on your Sears card and pay 20% interest to Citi.  No thanks.  That's bad behavior, and a good way to piss off your customers.  Citi should have to pay a penalty for such lousy decisions.

Did anybody ever doubt that the rash of exploding ARMs would end badly?  Really?  I didn't, and I'm not even a banker.  The idea that banks were giving bad loans to people with mediocre credit really irritates me.  What's worse, by bailing these banks out of trouble, the US government encourages more bad behavior.  The market economy might actually work, but at this rate we'll never know.

Don't take my word for it, lots of smarter people agree:

The escape of the enablers

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Tomato Season

I'm not much of a gardener, but my wife enjoys keeping a garden.  This year, she planted a modest number of tomato plants.  Surprisingly they are doing really well.  This morning as I cleaned up the dishes from breakfast my eyes rested upon yet another bag of tomatoes.  These ones, I decided, would become tomato sauce.

Does one skin tomatoes when making sauce?  I'm sure there is a raging debate about this topic, but I decided I would skin mine.  I started in on them like they were potatoes but of course that didn't last long.  Remembering Grandma Holbrook's tomato skinning method, I put a pan of water on to boil and proceeded to scald my tomatoes.  Pulling the loose skins from the fruits, I smiled to myself.  Neither Grandmother nor myself could ever have predicted I would one day make tomato sauce, and can the sauce afterwards.

Tomato season at grandmother's house was my least favorite of all seasons.  She lived in a mobile home, which was stiflingly hot in the summer.  Add to that the heat and steam of several water bath canners, and the smell of unseasoned, boiled tomatoes.  It was like sitting in a tomato juice sauna.

For some reason I really enjoy doing things myself.  Sure, we could just buy tomatoes that are already canned.  We could just buy tomato sauce.  Preserving tomatoes may not be necessary any longer, but it is the closest thing we have to a family tradition.  I'm sure that Grandmother is enjoying a good chuckle even as I write this.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Who was that?

Aimee and I routinely take an evening walk downtown.  Since we live in a small town it isn't unusual for someone to honk as they drive by.  It is a bit unusual for us not to recognize the car.  This exact event occurred the other day.  A woman in a white Mercedes honked as she drove by.  We racked our brains, and could think of nobody that we knew who might drive a Mercedes.  The only new acquaintance we had made recently was the owner of the daycare we just moved our daughter into, but we dismissed the notion almost immediately.

Yesterday Aimee solved the mystery of the white Mercedes...when she was picking our daughter up from daycare.  At the end of the long drive leading to the house, she encountered the same car...with the owner of the daycare behind the wheel.  Taking out the garbage.

When Aimee called and told me of her discovery I started running the numbers in my head.  Our monthly daycare bill is only $40 less than our house payment, including escrow for taxes and insurance.  Granted, we have a small house.  So our provider has 12 children at slightly less than a house payment each.  She pays two assistants, and provides food and supplies for all the kids.  She maintains their playground, lockers, toys, and buys craft supplies.  She deals with the personalities and intricacies of twelve children, and twenty four parents.

After doing the math I came to the startling realization that she isn't charging us enough.  She might drive a Mercedes but she isn't earning nearly enough money to cover the amount of work she does to care for the twelve children in her charge.  When our next bimonthly house daycare payment is due, I will pay it with a bounce in my step,.