Steal This Paper

I write a post about toilet paper and people reply; I post about religious pseudoscience and get nothing. It’s obvious what the reader wants. So here’s another one about toilet paper shrinkage. With pictures!

It was the roll getting narrower that finally made me notice things were awry, and I think this is because I’m sensitive to standards being violated. 4.5″ rolls were the standard, and suddenly they weren’t anymore.

Violating an established standard bothers me. In a two-handled faucet, hot is always on the left, not because you couldn’t figure it out otherwise, but because the standard relieves you of needing to every time. In your car, the accelerator pedal is in the same place as every other car. Mattresses are standard sizes and fit on standard frames. Cell phone chargers all interchange now. (Except Apple, but that’s a rant for another day.) These standards exist for a good reason. Things fit together and work together more easily if standardized.

To see the effect of the toilet paper manufacturers violating their standard, have a look at this picture.

Toilet paper holder

This is a theft-resistant toilet paper holder in a public restroom. You can see how it works. There’s a spring-loaded catch on the spindle. You put the roll on and snap it closed, and the roll itself then blocks thieves from pressing the catch to release it. When the roll is gone, you crush or tear off the cardboard tube to access the catch and open it.

At least, that’s how it worked when the rolls were standard 4.5″ size. But now look:

Toilet paper holder with paper.

The old rolls would have filled the holder. But the new rolls are only 3.8″ wide; they leave gaps. Sure, it looks bad; but more than that, it defeats the theft-resistance:

Theft resistance defeated

The catch is now easily accessible. See it? You don’t even need a tool; you can open it with your fingers. Which I did, to get the paper off to take the first picture.

Anyplace that uses this kind of holder is going to have to choose between replacing all the holders (pricey if you have a lot of restrooms in your building) or putting up with theft (also expensive if it happens regularly). But why should the toilet paper manufacturers care about money out of your pocket, if they can put money in theirs? They probably hope most of these don’t get replaced; theft increases sales.

There’s no answer from the manufacturers on this. They had to know they were causing problems for some customers when they did this, but they went ahead and did it anyway, and unlike the bullshit excuses about how the product is supposedly improved so you don’t need as much, there’s no way they can spin this problem into a benefit. So they don’t try; they just don’t answer. Which is pretty much the same thing as an answer that everyone recognizes as bullshit, except that it’s a little bit ruder.

But hey, why worry about things like fairness, standards, or courtesy when there’s an opportunity to cheat someone for money?

Creation and the Cosmos

So they rebooted Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” with Neil “An Alien” deGrasse Tyson in the host role. Great. Tyson’s engaging, personable, smart, and full of the same enthusiasm for science Sagan had. And of course the first show talked about the origins of things, and of course this pissed off the creationists and fundamentalists, who still can’t get used to the idea of having to put up with being contradicted. In public.

But Sagan never had to put up with what came next – creationist demands for “equal time” on the show. Specifically, Answers In Genesis is agitating for it. Yes, those people. Ken Ham’s group, who are so far out there that other christians sometimes mistake their website for a parody of christianity like Landover Baptist. They want their claims to be presented. On a science show.

We all laugh or facepalm at this, of course, but really I don’t see why it surprises anyone. Of course that’s what they’re going to ask for. It’s part of the game plan. They’re committed to pretending creationism is science, and of course this includes staged outrage at not being invited to play in the big-boy sandbox with real scientists. It’s all for show, trying to sway public opinion. So naturally they are drawn to a high-profile science program like bugs to a light. How could they not be? And of course they know they won’t get invited on the program, and of course that’s what they want. They don’t want to actually be on Cosmos; they know they won’t impress anyone who would watch it, and they can’t stand up against Tyson. What they want is to be dismissed out of hand, so they can go back to their base and say, “See? See? These so-called scientists are actually closed-minded ideologues who won’t even look at any data they don’t agree with!” And that impresses the rubes and the dittoheads and the Sarah Palin crowd, who wouldn’t know science if it came up and bit them on their bibles, and they go around repeating it to each other in that weird fundie echo chamber where they live, where christianity is science and science is dogma and climate change is a global conspiracy to make a few climatologists rich.

But I digress. The point is not to convince anyone who understands what science is, and why creationism isn’t it. The point is to strengthen their dishonest narrative with the faithful flock who already believe it, and motivate them to be hostile to education in general, and science in particular, whenever it seems to contradict their holy books (or their weird-ass interpretations of them, anyway), which in the case of science means pretty much all the time.

The best summing up of why creationism isn’t science I’ve seen went something like this. Science thinks its job is to look for truth. Religion thinks it already knows the truth, and science’s job is just to explain it. These are fundamentally contradictory ideas. Religion knows it will never convince science. But it also knows it can convince the credulous that science isn’t science and religion is. That’s what it’s trying to do, and it will continue to do that whether Cosmos acknowledges creationism’s dishonest bullshit pseudoscience or not.

Cheating on your paper.

About two or three years ago I noticed toilet paper had shrunk.

The website The Consumerist has been tracking shrinking consumer products, mostly grocery items and consumables, for some years. They call it the Shrink Ray, and it refers to the devious practice of reducing the amount of product but keeping the price the same, in packaging designed to conceal the reduction. Some products lend themselves easily to this treatment. Potato chips and cereal, for example, can be packaged in the same size bag or box and simply left half-empty. You don’t buy a bag of chips any more, for example; you buy a crispy pillow of air which happens to also contain about 1/3 of its volume in chips. When they can’t do that, they manipulate the package size so that it looks the same on the shelf. A half gallon of ice cream is now only three pints, but the container looks the same on the shelf; they just made the packages shallower instead of narrower or shorter, so the consumer doesn’t immediately see the difference. And of course the changes come gradually, an ounce or two at a time, so that like the frog in the pot, you don’t notice the gradual change.

Back to the toilet paper. I had already kind of half-knew that rolls didn’t seem to last as long, but it hadn’t really become a conscious realization yet. Who tracks how long their toilet paper lasts? I suppose I thought I was using more. But then one day I put a new roll on the holder and there was an awful lot of space left from side to side. It looked undersized and pathetic hanging there, and that made me wonder, so I went to another bathroom, got an older roll, and put them next to each other, and sure enough, the new rolls were narrower by about a third of an inch. I was irritated, so next time I went to the store I checked the width of the rolls being sold, and they were all different. All the manufacturers were reducing the rolls by various amounts. The Shrink Ray strikes again. So I thought I’d just have to put up with it, and I started buying toilet paper based on the square footage in the fine print on the package instead of going by the number of rolls or vague, meaningless terms like “double roll” or “big roll.”

This made me a little more conscious of what was going on, and soon I noticed another thing: the center core was getting larger. So not only were the rolls shaving off width, but they were selling us more empty space in the center too. And I also noticed that everything was a “big roll” or a “double roll” now. Occasionally “single roll” packages would show up, as loss-leader advertisement flyer items, but the rolls in those would be dollhouse sized. It was getting harder and harder not to notice you were being systematically cheated.

But what was the old normal before they started messing with it? I didn’t know, until this Consumerist article came out, with helpful links to the complaints of many other shoppers who had noticed the same thing and come to the same conclusion. It turns out the standard width was 4.5″ for over 70 years until the manufacturers decided to start pulling this trick. It also turns out that there are still a lot of holders that will only work with that width, which reveals the reason we have standards in the first place. They’d also been messing with the length of the sheets. I hadn’t noticed that, because I don’t count sheets, but apparently if they put the perforations closer together, they can say there are the same number of sheets while actually reducing the length of the roll. Sneaky? You bet. And a lot less noticeable than reducing the width. I’m guessing they took that trick as far as they could go before they had the idea to make it narrower too. And by now some of them have been through multiple reductions, down to under 4″ wide. Charmin’s apparently down to 3.8″.

I’d had enough. By this point I was feeling cheated every time I even looked at toilet paper. So instead of buying any more at retail, I ordered a case of commercial grade paper, meant for hotel and restaurant use, from Amazon. I had to buy a lot of it – 96 rolls. But it was – guess what – 4.5″ wide. And the moment I unwrapped a roll I remembered what toilet paper used to be like. This roll was solid and had weight; the retail rolls were featherweight and puffy by comparison, and I realized at that moment how much loosely rolled airspace I’d been buying for years. You could compress the retail roll by 2/3 just by squeezing it between finger and thumb. Not so the commercial paper. And in spite of the loose, cushy feeling of the retail paper, its actual quality in use was no better or worse than the commercial stuff.

Of course I did the math. Did I have to pay more? Well, no. The last bale of retail toilet paper had worked out to about 50 cents a roll; the commercial stuff, 72 cents a roll. So yes, a roll cost more – but the retail rolls had 21 square feet per roll, whereas the commercial rolls have 68 square feet. So I’m saving a bunch of money in the long run. I figure I won’t have to buy paper again for two years.

If you think about this, it’s easy to see why the commercial product is different. Unlike consumers, businesses watch costs methodically, and they don’t want to pay labor costs for someone to walk around changing loose, short rolls of paper all day. So it’s wound tightly to last longer. People browsing in retail stores don’t notice that and will buy whatever looks biggest for the price. Put succinctly, retail shoppers are easier to con, and conning shoppers is what’s going on.

Every time shoppers notice the Shrink Ray and complain, the manufacturers try to spin it as if they’re doing you some sort of colossal favor by selling you a smaller product for the same price. Usually they pretend there was a great public demand for it in some way. The toilet paper companies are claiming the product has been improved and so now you need less. This is all bullshit, and everyone knows it. Charmin was so inundated with complaints about reducing their size and quality that they simply gave up responding.

Why do I think shrinking toilet paper is worth fourteen hundred words of blog space? Because it’s not just toilet paper. It’s ice cream, and chips, and laundry detergent, and bacon, and orange juice, and all kinds of other things. It took me years to notice I was getting cheated; the water had to get pretty hot before this frog noticed, and a lot of frogs haven’t noticed and apparently aren’t going to notice. And even people who do notice are still being deceived. Here’s a case in point. In the comments section of this article, you’ll find this quote from “D’Ann”: “Pasta is now another example. One pound (16 oz.) is now 12 oz. A 25% PRICE INCREASE.” Now, this is from a woman who took the time to document a whole list of sneaky price increases, and yet her math is wrong here. Charging the same price for 12 ounces that you used to charge for 16 ounces is a 33% increase, not 25%. So here’s someone who’s certainly sensitive to what’s going on, yet she’s still being successfully deceived about how much she’s been cheated.

It’s worth writing about because it’s dishonest, sneaky, and devious. As a society, why aren’t we past the point where we have to worry about being systematically cheated when we buy food or soap? Or toilet paper? Why is this permissible? Who sits in an office and decides it’s just dandy to try to cheat customers just a little more today than yesterday? When did this behavior ooze out of the used car lots of America and into the boardrooms? I’m wondering how far it can go. Ten years from now, will people be buying chip bags the size of car seats that contain six chips, eating Hershey bars the thickness of credit cards, and using 2″ wide toilet paper? How much longer until there’s nothing left to chisel?

Where’s the bottom?

Go Bullies!

Okay, listen up. This is probably the only time you’ll ever see me write about anything even remotely related to sports, so enjoy it while it lasts.

I see in the news that a football player was driven from his team and into psychological counseling. The reason? He was bullied by some of the other players. The independent report also found that the bullies victimized another player and an assistant trainer.

To this I say, how can this possibly be? Football players being bullies? Why, that’s so outlandish an idea, it stretches the imagination just to consider it. I think back on my school days, and remember the football players fondly. They would never ever have bullied anyone. At my high school the football players were just the kindest, sweetest bunch of guys you could imagine, always polite and sensitive to the feelings of others, especially the less popular kids. Why, they’d go out of their way to give those kids special attention and encouragement. So I can only guess that this must be some weird aberrant behavior those players picked up after they left school.

Oh, sorry; on rereading that, I see I made a little typo. Instead of “kindest sweetest bunch of guys” and “always polite and sensitive,” I meant to say “vicious gang of brutal thugs” and “should die in a fire.” Oops. My mistake.

Sarcasm aside, what in the world do they expect from football players? What do you expect from an activity that routinely expresses game conduct in the language of war, violence, and brutality? “Gimme a K, gimme an I, gimme an L and an L!” The lead thug player in the group, one Richie Incognito (his real name, apparently, believe it or not), was voted NFL’s Dirtiest Player five years ago according to Wikipedia, and yet he still has a place in the team and a big bucks contract. That really tells you all you need to know. The sports culture, football especially, incubates and encourages that aggressive behavior from junior high school on. By the time these kids get to varsity, they are obnoxious, arrogant, socially overprivileged bullies of the highest order. Not all of them, of course; but a good proportion of them. They can get away with anything, because of course the most important thing for an educational institution is to develop a group of hooligans who can beat the neighboring school’s hooligans. So they get a lot of leeway.

The only unusual thing here is that the target was another player instead of some random beta male. My wife works in orthodontics, and she’s done more than one orthodontic emergency where some little nerdy kid comes in with his teeth dangling from the braces because someone testosterone jock used him as a punching bag. They really don’t think there’s anything wrong with it when they do it, either. And you can’t tell me that the nerdy kids provoked the jocks, either, unless the nerdy kid has some sort of particularly masochistic death wish. They learn to avoid these guys, because they know there’s no consequence for the bully.

But, Dwasifar, surely it can’t just be the guys, I hear you say. Don’t girls bully each other too? Well, in school, they sure do. And they’re much more creative about it than the guys. But girls keep their teeth. And I don’t think the girls’ sports teams create the same kind of macho brutishness that the guys’ teams seem to think is so necessary for victory. Although I do know one mother whose daughter suffered brain trauma due to a gratuitous kick in the head from a soccer opponent, so maybe that’s heading toward a dubious sort of equality. But I digress.

In the end, as long as the sports culture is what it is, and as long as there are literal billions of dollars changing hands in the promotion and sale of professional sports, none of this is really going to change. Incognito is going to get a slap on the wrist for his thuggish cruelty, and he’ll have a bad year or two until the audience forgets; then all will be forgiven and he’ll get to come back and start making vast tubs of money for the owners again. Just as with Michael Vick. Probably a lot faster than that, actually, because I’ll bet there are a lot of people who are willing to call Incognito’s human victim a pussy but won’t go that route for Vick’s innocent dogs. And so in the end we learn nothing, and we keep making celebrities out of assholes.

Yay team.

Wherein we mislead someone and are unsettled.

Here’s a story.

My wife and I often banter back and forth in a play-sarcastic way. This takes the form of mock-argument or mock-incivility; we do it all the time because for us it’s a way of expressing fondness. Perhaps this makes us unusual, but I never really thought about it until today, when our banter was misunderstood as serious in an unexpected way.

We were at a counter ordering lunch, and she (as she often does) could not decide what she wanted. So I ordered, and then I turned to her and said, “Time’s up! What do you want?” She ordered happily, and the man at the register gave us our drink cups. She said, “Shall I go get some drink?” I said, “Yes, you should get drinks. Why aren’t you already doing it? Go!” Now bear in mind this was all done with sly grins and such, and I thought there was no reason not to understand that we were playing. But as soon as she was out of earshot, the man at the register turned to me and said earnestly, “You’ve gotta teach me how you do that.” I was a little confused, so I asked, “Do what?” ”Give orders like that.”

I laughed it off and so did my wife when she heard about it. I told him, “Oh, I’m not giving orders. Quite the opposite.” But now we’re both wondering: How many strangers have we left with the impression that I’m a big bully and she’s a submissive mouse; or, that she’s a henpecking shrew and I’m a suffering milquetoast? (Because the play goes both ways, of course.) And now I’m not too fond of the guy at the counter, either, because unless he was joking too – which I doubt – then he wants in reality what we make fun of with our sarcastic play.

Now I’m going to be paranoid about our regular kidding around for a while. Isn’t that great.

Why Android wins

This past weekend I upgraded my phone and my wife’s to a newer version of Android.

These phones are HTC Rezounds, which were HTC’s flagship phone about two years ago when they first hit the market. At the time they came with Android 2.3, code named “Gingerbread” by the dessert-loving bunch at Google. They also came with HTC’s custom “Sense” interface, which is not universally loved. But that’s okay; on Android, if you don’t like the interface, or “launcher,” that comes with your phone, you can download and install a different one, which we did shortly after buying the phones. At the time, Verizon was promising the Rezound would get the next version of Android, 4.0.x “Ice Cream Sandwich,” practically any day.

Well, Verizon dragged their feet on that, and eventually I got tired of waiting, rooted the phones, and installed a community-brewed rom of Ice Cream Sandwich on them. My wife’s been using that version since then; I changed over to a different ICS rom a few months later, which I was using until last weekend. There are plenty to choose from. But finally I got the urge to upgrade again, to Android 4.3.1 “Jelly Bean.” (For those who are wondering, the next version just came out, and it’s 4.4.x “Kit Kat.” See the pattern? But I digress.)

I will admit there’s a fair amount of geekery involved in doing this. You have to unlock the phone’s bootloader, and then install a custom “recovery” utility, which in turn allows you to load the new rom. It helps to have the phone in “S-off” or security-off state, so that the recovery has access to the boot areas of the phone, and this is achieved by an odd process involving shorting out two contacts inside the phone’s back with a wire, twice, precisely 1.5 seconds apart. But once it’s done, you have free rein; you can do anything you want to the phone.

The great part of this is that two years after this phone hit the market, there’s still a large and active group of people developing for it. Verizon will never release Jelly Bean for the Rezound. They don’t want the old phones to stay current; they want you to buy a new one. But someone wanted it enough to port it over to the Rezound, and so I can have it, and without the Sense interface pieces, which is a bonus. (Sense is sort of a mass-market thing; some people like it, but I don’t care for it, and it slows the phone down.) The same community has already ported Kit Kat for the Rezound too, and while it’s still rough around the edges and has some bugs to work out, I’ll probably be able to have that soon, if I want it. Right now I’m happy to have the performance improvements and additional functionality of Jelly Bean making my two-year-old smartphone behave like new.

This is Android’s advantage. It’s a tinkerer’s playground. People can do this all the time and nobody stops them. In fact, HTC will actually help you unlock your phone’s bootloader just by signing up on their developer website. Developers can take Android apart and put it together in new ways, modify, repackage, port it to new platforms, and that’s encouraged; nobody’s license is being violated, nobody’s being sued for piracy. And I can use my rooted, updated, unlocked device on any network and nobody will try to prevent it.

Compare this to Apple. There are ways to “jailbreak” an iPhone, but if you do, you run the risk that Apple will one day push out an update that breaks your hack and bricks your phone. Apple doesn’t want a robust hacker ecosystem; they want control of the hardware, control of the software, and by extension control of the user. They will do everything they can to prevent people from breaking out of that cage and defining their own user experience, and they are willing to maliciously brick users’ phones on purpose to stop it. This is essentially customer-hostile behavior.

The last time Apple released an update to their phone operating system, it was mostly catch-up-to-Android features and a slightly different-looking user interface. Apple has been very canny about whipping up excitement for such changes, but not so much this time, as the Android community reacted with sort of a shrug; we’ve had those features for a while, sometimes for years, and we don’t see the big deal about one sorta-new-looking interface when Android users can choose from dozens of different launchers and icon sets.

Here’s another difference: although all iPhones have the hardware capability to connect to any kind of network, be it Verizon and Sprint’s CDMA or the rest of the world’s GSM, Apple and the carriers sell the phones locked in software to the carrier’s particular network. If you want to switch from Verizon to T-Mobile, you can’t take your Verizon iPhone with you; you have to buy another expensive iPhone, even though the one you have would be perfectly capable of connecting if the operating system would let it. Android phones are sold locked down by carriers that way too, but unlike an iPhone, you can unlock them and enable all the hardware-supported networks. I can switch my phone from Verizon to T-Mobile in about five seconds. Verizon’s probably not happy about it, but it’s my phone, not theirs.

Android caters to geekery and open innovation. Others discourage it, by which I mean not only Apple, but also Microsoft with Windows Phone, and also-ran Blackberry, who are still dazedly asking “wha’ppened?”. This is how Android screamed by Apple in the passing lane and now commands roughly 80% of the global smartphone market. It’s not that Apple’s product is bad; it’s not. Windows Phone is very nice too, actually. But Android’s openness and freedom to innovate gets the geeks excited to come play in their sandbox, and helped it reach critical mass where it counted.

Get it right, damn it.

Miscellaneous ignorant language abuses that bug the hell out of me, in no particular order.

Lead/Led. If you want the present tense verb, the word is lead, pronounced to rhyme with deed: “Lead me not into Penn Station.” If you want the heavy gray metal, the word is also spelled lead, but pronounced to rhyme with head: “I’m going to hit you on the head with a lead weight.” So far, so good; most people get those right. But if you want the past tense verb, it is led, not lead. ”English spelling has led you to drink.”

Eck Cetera. Where do you morons see a K in “et cetera”? That first syllable is pronounced exactly as it’s spelled. Et. Rhymes with bet, as in “I bet you don’t even hear yourself, do you?”

Ass trick. If there’s an “ass trick” at the end of your sentence, I don’t want to see it. Well, okay, maybe I do. But the star-shaped thing is an asterisk, and again it’s pronounced exactly as it’s spelled: as-ter-isk. Not ass trick.

Everyday/Every Day. Everyday is an adjective meaning ordinary, mundane, run-of-the-mill. If you mean “daily,” the term is “every day.” You can have everyday shoes, but that doesn’t mean you wear them every day.

Refute. In the Facebook world, people think their right to an opinion means no one has a right to question it, which may be the reason I’m seeing “refute” as a synonym for “dispute.” Refuted means proven wrong. If you express disagreement with someone’s position, you are disputing it, and that’s fine; but you haven’t refuted it until you’ve convincingly proved your case.

Rein/Reign. Reign is what royalty does. Rein is what you do to horses. The terms at issue here are “free rein” and “rein in,” not “free reign” and certainly not “reign in.” I know nobody understands equestrian metaphors in the 21st century, but that’s no excuse for getting it wrong, especially when it changes the meaning. If you have “free rein,” you can do what you want. ”Free reign” would mean you are at liberty to make other people do what you want. In the former, you’re the horse; in the latter, you’re the rider. It makes a difference, especially when you’re the horse.

Loose/Lose. What the hell is wrong with you people? What other -oose word is pronounced to rhyme with ooze? Did you grow up reading a noosepaper? Do you go to the liquor store to buy boose? Do you call the big annoying bird shitting on your lawn a gooze? Did you lose your spelling book when you were in fourth grade? Sheesh. Some of the other ones are at least understandable confusion, but this one? I don’t even see how you got there.

Electrocute. No, you were not electrocuted. No. No, you weren’t. Yes, I understand you got an electric shock, but you were not electrocuted. How do I know this? Because you’re still here to tell me about it. Electrocute means to kill by electricity, a portmanteau of “electric” and “execute.” Electrocuted people are dead, no exceptions. It does not mean you got a little tingle from touching your tongue to a 9V battery, any more than you drowned when you inhaled your chocolate milk in the 7th grade lunchroom.

Waiting on. If you carry drinks and receive tips, you wait on people. If you’re just hanging around wondering how much longer it will take your date to get ready, you’re waiting for her.

Real-a-tor and Triath-a-lon. Where are you getting the extra syllable? Was there a sale at the syllable store? Real-tor has two syllables. Tri-ath-lon has three. I hear jewel-a-ry and burg-a-lar too. Why don’t you just go ahead and add that extra “a” between all your syllables? It’ll be fun. You’ll sound like Father Guido Sarducci.

Shoot. I’m suddenly starting to see this one in publications that should know better. If it’s something you’re doing with a camera or a gun, then yes, you shoot. But if you mean something to guide the path of objects, it is a chute, and why don’t you know this? What were you doing in third grade? Never mind, I don’t want to know. Probably shooting your education all to hell and flushing it down the chute.

Get this stuff right. It’s not that hard.

Time to split

Here’s another firewood post. No reason really, just telling the story.

In August I got the bug to store up some firewood. We have a firepit (well, fire pan, actually) in the back yard, and we’ve gotten into the habit this year of spending time out there with a fire going in the evenings when it gets cool. I used to buy firewood, and it was getting pretty low. My wife bought me a chainsaw for my birthday (yeah, I know, it’s a strange gift, but I like it). So in August we went out and collected firewood from Craigslist ads. I wrote about that already. By the end of the month we had about a cord of wood laid in. If you don’t know what a cord is, it’s a stack of wood four feet by four feet by eight feet. That’s a lot of wood.

So you’d think I’d be set, except that most of what we collected was from freshly cut trees and needs to season a while. By next spring most of it will be ready, but right now it’s almost all too green to burn. There were a few branches we’d picked up off a curb that were old and dry, but that was only about 1/6 of the total, and by the end of September that was getting low too. I found myself in the frustrating position of having two tons of firewood I could use next year, but very little I could use NOW. At the rate we were going, I’d be out of usable wood by the end of fall, and nothing for the fireplace in the winter.

So it was off to Craigslist again, where we found an ad from someone who had a bunch of old junk wood in a random pile behind his ramshackle house. In the picture the wood was all gray. Great, it’s old, it should be dry. We took my wife’s little SUV on Sunday to grab some.

We got there and found a big field of mud (it had rained torrents the previous day) with a lot of wood that was too far rotted to bother with. But right at the edge of the pile there were a few big logs. They looked awful – wet and muddy from the rain, bark long gone, blackened and sort of slimy. But I thought maybe that might just be on the surface. We took a single huge log, four feet long by about 16 inches in diameter. I had to cut it into two pieces before we could lift it into the car.

Well, when we got it home and split it up. we wound up with about 35 pieces of beautiful dry red oak. That gross ugly log yielded some of the best wood we have. I’ve burned a little of it, and it give nice steady fires that last a long time. That should get us through fireplace season, and by spring some of the other stuff should be ready. But just to be prepared, I’m going back next weekend and seeing if we can grab one or two more of these.

There’s something oddly rewarding about sitting by a fire of wood you cut, split, and stacked yourself. It’s different from making a phone call and having some guy dump a truckload of wood in your driveway. I don’t know why that is, but it’s sure making those firepit evenings a lot more fun.

Love it or leave it

“America: Love It Or Leave It.”

So goes the bumper sticker sentiment that’s been in circulation as long as I’ve been alive to see it. And when you see it, you can count on it being displayed by what we now call a “red state” person. (Ironic, that, seeing as when they first started with it, “red” meant the commies who should leave. But I digress.) ”Love it or leave it.” This means don’t try to change anything, don’t rebel, just accept the government and the nation as they are, the best of all possible worlds. If you don’t like the way America is, then get the fuck out.

This is not exactly the most inclusive idea, violating as it does some basic concepts of liberty and representative government. But let’s assume for the moment that we should take the red-staters at their word.

What then should we make of their current temper-tantrum rebellion against the law of the land? Here we have exhibit A: the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Leave aside for the moment the question of whether it’s a good law or even a good idea. Maybe it’s a good law, maybe it isn’t; but it is the law, and it’s been through the whole process: passed by Congress, signed by the president, certified constitutional by the Supreme Court. It is now part of How America Is.

House Republicans, obviously, don’t love America this way. So why don’t they leave it? This has been one of their slogans for over fifty years, which is longer than a lot of those guys have even been alive. There are legal avenues to change laws you don’t like, of course, and they’ve tried over and over – what is it, 41 times at this point? – to use those avenues. But they haven’t gotten their way. And really, if they’re going to live by “love it or leave it,” they shouldn’t try. The people have spoken, the law is the law, this is America, love it the way it is or go somewhere else. Right? Isn’t that what you guys have been telling us since McCarthy?

Love it or leave it, fellows. There’s the door. How does it feel?

Craigslist gave me wood

Firewood, that is. A lot of it. Been really busy these last few weeks collecting firewood from around the area, bringing it home in the wife’s little SUV, cutting it, splitting it, stacking it. I have about a cord of wood laid in now. A full cord, that is. Three face cords. If you’re counting, that’s about two tons of wood. Not all of it is prime hardwood; about a third of it is cottonwood and there’s about half a face cord of elm. Wood snobs will sneer, and you wouldn’t want to try to heat your home with those, but for firepit and fireplace it’ll be fine.

Craigslist is great for this; people cut down a tree and post the firewood in the free section. But Craigslist is a mixed bag, especially the free stuff. People have weird ideas about what’s acceptable. For example, the first ad we answered was placed by the guy cutting down the tree, not the homeowner, and apparently after we took what we wanted he just bailed and left the homeowner stuck with the big pieces. Now I feel like an accomplice. There was one ad for “free wood” that turned out to be someone trying to con people into tearing down a giant deck. Demolition services cost money, and this guy was apparently hoping to get someone to do the work in exchange for this cracked worn-out decking, suggesting they use it for paneling. (A bad idea; pressure treated lumber contains arsenic.) I’m sure the woman I got all this cottonwood from thinks she pulled the wool over my eyes. “It’s great firewood!” Nah; it’s acceptable firewood, but it happens to suit what I’m using it for.

This leads me into complaining about Craigslist free ads in general. I don’t know if this is a complaint about Craigslist or about the people who use it, really, but here is a public service announcement to people considering posting: nobody wants your old tube TV. Nobody. Wants. It. It’s useless, and everybody knows the only reason you’re trying to give it away is that it costs money to throw it away. Man up and pay the electronics disposal fee at the recycling yard. Nobody wants your 10-year-old computer, either. Or your ramshackle old piano that needs thousands of dollars in repair. When you post these things, you’re trying to fob your problems off on other people.

Here’s another thing. If you post an ad, people are going to want to respond to it. That’s part of the deal, so be contactable, or at least maintain your ad. I found one ad showing an inviting pile of wood at the end of a driveway, saying “come take it.” No address, no phone number, no email link. I clicked the craigslist link to notify the owner that he had no contact information; nothing ever happened. It’s probably still there and the guy’s wondering why no one answered the ad. Similarly, if you’re going to put something out on the curb, that’s fine, but take the ad down or mark it GONE or something when it’s been taken. And people get bent out of shape if you text them when they’re sleeping. How the hell am I supposed to know when you don’t want to be texted, if you didn’t put it in the ad? Why didn’t you turn off your alert?

I seem to have strayed from the point. In fact, I’m not sure I had one. I guess I shouldn’t complain, because free is free, but people using the service this way are eventually going to ruin it for all of us.