Mr. Fix It

What’s the best thing about the internet? The bottomless pit of news? The endless shopping? Porno for every taste, no matter how obscure and perverse? Yes, those are all wonderful, but for my money, the best thing about the internet might be how-to videos.

It used to be that if you wanted to fix something you needed some special knowledge or training, but today you just need YouTube.

An example: Over the weekend our clothes dryer crapped out. The drum was spinning just fine and it was getting warm, but there was no air blowing out the vent and the clothes wouldn’t dry. What to do? Consult the internet.

My search results brought a flood of answers that pointed to a single problem: an issue with the blower belt. After watching several videos, I learned how to take the front panel off the machine and what to look for. As promised in one of the videos, the belt was laying loose and next to it was a pulley which had come free. Replace and tighten the pulley, re-attach the belt, put it all back together and we were in business.

What would it have cost to pay someone to do this job? Even for a minor repair, you’re looking at a minimum fee just to have the guy show up, so I’m guessing $150 or more for the whole thing.

I spent more time watching videos than actually doing the work. Some of these are slick productions — sometimes posted by companies who sell parts — but more often it’s just Joe Handyman. There might be some money in these videos considering how popular they are. Here’s a low-end example; it’s rough, but helpful:

The bottom line? Instead of picking up the phone to call someone, pick up the phone and watch a few videos. You might be surprised at how simple and easy it is to fix a problem yourself. It feels good to repair something and will impress your loved ones. If the Maytag repairman was bored thirty years ago, today he’d absolutely lose his mind.

The Inspector Calls

In Ballston Spa, a seven-year-old ran afoul of state regulators by operating a lemonade stand without a permit. An overzealous state health inspector made him close up shop after alleged complaints by fair vendors — and America erupted in outrage.

Years ago, I myself had a brush with the the food police.

I was in charge of the hot dog stand at our Cub Scout pack’s annual pinewood derby race. It was nothing fancy: dirty water dogs, potato chips, slices of pizza — you’ve seen these ad hoc food concessions at youth sports and school events. You’ve probably eaten a lot of that food, too.

A woman approached. “Do you have a permit?”

Excuse me, for what?

“I do food inspections at the health department. Most people don’t know this, but you need a permit to serve food —  and if you don’t have a permit, I could shut you down.”

I laughed. Her son was one of the scouts and I figured she was just pulling my leg.

“I suppose we should be wearing gloves, too, right?”

She looked around. “Yes, actually, you should.”

OK, this woman’s not kidding. For a moment I considered trying to bribe her with a free hot dog, but thought better.

I thanked her and said we’d look into getting a permit next year. We never did.

Even though we were not sanctioned by the county or state to serve food, we managed not to kill anyone with our cheap hot dogs. And thank god for that. Poisoning an entire Cub Scout pack is not something you’d get over easily.

Rules are rules, and stupid rules are still rules. But it seems like the one rule we really need is the one about common sense. There’s no regulating that.

It’s Raining Yogurt

Who doesn’t enjoy a little Greek yogurt in the morning? Great stuff — unless it’s plunging out of the sky.

I was walking from my car recently and I heard something land behind me with a loud splat. I turned to see a container of Greek yogurt had burst open on the sidewalk, close enough to spray my pants leg with flecks of delicious yogurty goodness.

There wasn’t a car or person in sight, and only one place it could have come from: the overpass above.

It’s astounding that someone would recklessly hurl this yogurt bomb from their car. Any object thrown from that height could hurt someone, even something so soft and creamy. I suppose it also could have been an accident, maybe a container of yogurt absentmindedly left on the roof the car. In case you lost your yogurt Monday morning, mystery solved.

I was in Price Chopper last month and a man began ranting out loud in the yogurt section to nobody in particular. “Greek yogurt! Greek yogurt! What happened to regular yogurt? All I need is some regular plain yogurt for a recipe.”

I pointed him to the case with Stonyfield Farms products. He would not have been surprised to learn that Greek yogurt was literally falling from the sky, that something that’s supposed to be healthy could come sailing out of the blue and crack you in the noggin.

The Capitol Steps

On these beautiful summer days, spending lunch in East Capitol Park is a pleasure. This is the side with the Philip Sheridan statue, not the food truck side, so it’s relatively peaceful, and there are always tourists stopping for pictures in front of the Capitol.

It’s nice to see visitors so interested in the Capitol — but not so nice to see the barriers that keep people off the staircase.

Known as the “Eastern Approach,” the 77 steps are among of the most inmpressive things about the Capitol’s grand exterior. It’s said that Teddy Roosevelt would race up them in the morning, offering interviews to any reporters who could beat him to the top. Today, they’d also have to vault the steel fences that blockade the stairs and ruin the view.

I’d like to know what this is all about. Are the steps unsafe — or is this some sort of security precaution? Either way, it’s a shame. The steps should be open so we can all make that climb and take in the view. I’ve been up there, and it’s an impressive sight.

The barricades send a message, too. Look don’t touch — you’re not worthy to come up here with us. And even if we let you climb the stairs, the doors at the top will be locked, anyway.

House Bird

Someone’s going to die.

That was my first thought when a bird fluttered past my head and into the house at 4:30 a few morings ago. It had spent the night nestled in a wreath on our front door, and woke with a start when I stepped out for my run.

I thought other things of course, namely, “Holy crap, there’s a bird in my house” — but the sense of dread fell over me like a shroud.

There are many superstitions involving birds. Good luck, bad luck, strokes of fortune in every direction. Most involve the type of bird and their behavior, and sometimes, a certain number of birds is significant. A bird in the house can have many different meanings, but the one we hear most is about death.

My ancestors believed in fairies and the evil eye, but we are more modern people who are not troubled by such nonsese.

Aren’t we?

Oh, and the bird. It flew back and forth across the house a few times and was almost nabbed by the cat when it landed on the floor. After a few minutes, I managed to steer it out the side door. Luck was with the bird.

Agitators

I wrote once that it’s pointless to get mad at Talk 1300 numbnut Paul Vandenburgh.

“Doing that would be like going to the circus and criticizing the clowns for — well, acting like clowns. That’s their job.”

I’m not here to lecture you on media literacy, but we all need to remember that some people are paid to be provacative. Columnists, commentators, opinion peddlers, pundits — and sometimes bloggers.

That’s what they do.

Let’s take as an example this headline seen recently in the Times Union blog section:

Good riddance to Grandma’s Pies

That’s how Times Union staff blogger Kristi Gustafson-Barlette titled a post about the closing of Grandma’s, a local restaurant and pie
shop.

She made it clear in the post that she was never a fan of the place, but I think the title was calculated to make people angry.

Not everyone bought it, like this person in the comment area:

Content-wise, your article captures the truth: Grandma’s had lost all  of what made the pies local favorites and it was time for a change. However, your headline implies your revelry in the closing of a local business. The disparity in tone between headline is clearly evidence of a lame attempt at clickbait – an insult to your readers.

But it worked. Her post rocketed to the top of the most-read list.

Whatever. Why are we so bothered about what’s in some blog or on a stupid talk radio show — especially when it can be argued that what you’re reading or hearing isn’t real, but cooked up to grow audience?

Probably for the same reason many of us can’t stop reading about Trump. It feels so good to be outraged.

Tickaphobe

There are a special pair of pants I pull on when working around the yard. They’re made of a quick-drying fabric and have lots of pockets for all my crap, but that’s not what makes them special. The great attribute these pants have is something I added: a heavy coating of permethrin spray that literally stops ticks in their tracks.

Yes, ticks freak me out.

This time of year, I try to avoid areas likely to be infested and obsessively check myself after working outdoors. Even after all that, it may not matter: I’m convinced that the tick who gets me will leap off one of the dogs and onto me as I sleep.

Now there’s another risk, one that in some ways is worse than Lyme disease: a tick-born sugar molecule called alpha-gal that may cause you to become allergic to red meat.

Right. Not a virus, not a bacteria, but a sugar molecule. And it makes your body revolt against itself.

The carrier is the lone star tick, a variety that’s been working its way north and in recent years started showing up in New York. I’d heard of the tick and this alarming condition before, but it was  this episode of Radiolab on public radio really got me worried.

Someday they’ll figure out a way to get this tick thing under control.

Won’t they?

Until then just spray and pray and hope the tick don’t get you. How ironic that in a world of big risks, something so tiny may be our undoing.

Stop, Drop, and Poop

If you type the word “poop” into the search box on the right, you’ll come up with page after page of results. Dog poop, cat poop, picking up poop, stepping in poop, throwing poop, even eating poop. For the record, The eating poop post was about dogs eating cat poop.

But friends, this isn’t a story about dogs and cats, the poopers in this tale stand on two legs — and wear running shoes.

Stories about runners stopping along the way to lower their shorts and drop a load have been trending lately. mainly because they haven’t been smart about it.

Colorado Springs police seek runner who won’t stop pooping in front of a family’s house

School Superintendent Arrested for Repeatedly Pooping on High School Track

Maryland Man Facing Illegal Dumping Charge

I know a bit about pooping while running.

In my younger days, my body was geared in such a way that I’d regularly (no pun intended) get the intense urge to take a crap during my run. It was such an issue, that I’d always tuck a folded paper towel into my waistband for clean-up. Pro tip: Normal bathroom tissue doesn’t hold up well if it gets sweaty.

Unlike the people in these stories, I was always very discreet, and during most of the year it was dark out.

For some reason, the urge never overwhelms me anymore, but nonetheless, I’m always scouting private spots that would do in an emergency. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an endorsement of random al fresco pooping. The fact is, as much as you’d like to control your body, sometimes it will control you.

Oh, another tip: If you’ve gotta go, be stealthy. Cameras are everywhere these days, and this is not the sort of YouTube star you want to be.

Nielsen Family

A letter showed up from Nielsen lately asking for an 18 – 34 year-old-male who’d be willing to take a survey.

We’ve gotten mail from Nielsen before, and it’s always handled carefully; ANYTHING to do with measuring TV ratings is thrown away immediately. We’ve always had at least one person in the house working at a TV station, so participating in ratings research would be a big no-no.

Not everybody takes it so seriously.

Twenty years ago there was a sticky problem here in Albany when the family of a local TV salesperson was selected to receive a Nielsen ratings diary. Thinking they could sway the survey results, her family dutifully reported that they watched WXXA 24-hours-a day. No, nothing suspicious about that.

Nielsen didn’t catch the problem, but there were rumors in town that something was screwy when the November 1997 ratings book came out. WRGB cried foul and an audit turned up the corrupted diary.

The whole thing was tossed out and recalculated. Oops.

According to Variety, a spokesman for Nielsen said it was, “The first time he can remember a local diary being contaminated to such an extent that it impacted the ratings and demographic results.” You’d think they might have caught such an egregious fraud.

In Albany, diaries are a thing of the past. This market is now measured by something called a “code-reader.” A device listens to the TV audio and records which station is being watched. Then, demographics are calculated based on viewer behavior collected in metered markets.

That may sound shaky, but it’s no worse than diaries. Think of the amount of influence those little books had. Untold millions were spent, businesses rose and fell, careers were made — or ruined.

Much of it was accurate, but the rest? It was what people claimed to watch, or thought they watched, or would want people to think they watched.