Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

Love for the Ebike

Monday, October 5th, 2015

A few months ago I had my bike converted to an ebike. After waiting and saving my money for a number of years, I finally made the jump. I wish I had borrowed the money and done it years ago.

This conversion has changed my bicycling world. It turns out I had a lot more anxiety about biking than I knew. This may have been related to a previously undiagnosed genetic heart defect. I had a great bike, could make it up most hills with some effort, and enjoyed using it as much as possible. But the ease and comfort and hill climbing ability of the converted bike is just stunning. And thrilling. And exciting. And fun. And so very easy.

I have a version with a nice small but effective lithium battery. It is 350 watts, and 10 amp hourly load. Am I saying that right? About a 15 mile range when you are not pedaling, and it can power the bike to just over 20 MPH on a flat with no pedaling. My first charge was after about 35 miles, I did pedal nearly the whole time. And was mostly cruising around at about 14 MPH most times I checked.

The version I have has “pedal assist” technology, which is much more effective and wonderful that I ever imagined possible. When you start to pedal, the motor turns on, and then you can choose a 1-5 level of assist – from a little to a lot. Mostly then I leave the gearing set to pretty hard, and so when I do pedal I’m going much faster than I would be without the assist. The whole assist thing can be turned off, but then you also don’t have access to the throttle.

The throttle is also there, so at any time you can rev up the motor and in a burst or slow gain have more power added to your pedaling or stop pedaling altogether. I was surprised to find out that one of the ways I use the throttle the most is to make my starts smoother. If I am at a full stop, and crank the pedals around so I can start with my right foot (I just can’t do it with the left) a little throttle added makes the transition to get the bike going much easier. Especially when at a full stop going up hill. This maneuver has often caused me to nearly fall over or at least look really awkward.

I hadn’t realized how much space in my brain was being taken up with thinking of hills, planning on hills, preparing to charge hills, and worrying about making it up hills. Maybe because I’m older. Maybe because of the heart condition. But now, all of that is over.

I also have found that the ability to pick up speed makes it safer to ride with traffic. I have more options, and also more maneuverability. That keeps me safer.

Nearly all of my in city small errands or travel trips have now been by bike, so my car sits out even more than before. Once I get my trailer working I’ll need the car even less. Because I can go further, carry more weight, and enjoy the convenience of being on bike. I just need the car for bad weather, if I’m taking the dog, and for awkward purchases. Even though it’s close, carrying home a bale of straw by bike wasn’t doable. But I’ll work on that.

jim heh bike

This is Jim, who owns Human Electric Hybrids and he did the conversion. I found his work to be excellent, he made it convenient for me, followed up when I asked questions, and just provided excellent service in every respect. I love his passion for the bikes, and the extras that he did – putting on my old bike rack, adding a kickstand, and his care in all the wiring and whatnot associated with the conversion.

Everyone who has tried out the bike returns with a smile on their face. I’ve been biking enough extra now that it has become clear I need a new seat. That’s great! I don’t know how much of a winter rider I’ll be – but I hope for many days of riding in the next few months.

I do love my ebike, and can imagine it will be welcomed by aging bikers like myself as well as anyone who wants to make biking safer and more enjoyable. Especially as the price comes down – the only real downside to this adventure. But so far worth every penny.

Can You Judge a Restaurant by its Toilet?

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

I think you can, and you should. Attention to detail is a trait you’d like to have clearly in evidence at any eating establishment. Evidence that employees who care have recently used the facilities (including the hand washing) is reassuring and also part of how a restaurant can be judged. If the staff are ignoring trash and dirt and broken down plumbing in the bathroom, then they probably don’t care in other areas as well.

There should be hot water. The toilet has to flush. An overflowing trash can is a turnoff, as well as weird patched together piping and dirty areas.

Part of it is esthetics – the restroom is often the last place a patron will visit, and the state of the bathroom will be that last impression to take with them. A warm, interesting, comfortable, clean and even elegant bathroom means that someone is more likely to walk out the door feeling fully nourished.

The response to my reporting a malfunctioning toilet or other problem is also telling. The hostess or other employee agreeing that there is a problem and has been for a while is not at all reassuring. It is actually pretty distressing. Why hasn’t it been fixed, or labeled out of order? Especially if I just had to struggle with what someone else left, or panicking over a toilet about to overflow, or concern when repeated flushing isn’t working. If you knew that would happen why did you just make me confront it?

I’ve had to deal with clogged toilets, overflowing toilets, poorly flushing toilets, toilets where the chain is disconnected so the handle is floppy, gross toilets, wetness around toilets, and more all in the context of trying to enjoy some good food. I don’t want to go back to those restaurants, and I also tend to let other people know that the sanitary standards at that place are questionable, or assume they have poor plumbing which means my health is at risk.

And thanks to those restaurants who have made their bathrooms lovely. It matters.

Review: An Odd Meal At Lena From Beginning to End

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Lena has been open for a few years now, but I hadn’t had an opportunity to check it out. I liked the previous incarnation on Washington Street, and looked forward to the new experience.

On Labor Day lots of restaurants were closed, and a friend wanted to treat me to dinner. We ended up at Lena.

It was noisy, but that is par for the course. The wait for water was long, they were not at all busy. The waitress stopped by, observed we had water, and the usual “let me know if you have any questions” and then dashed off before we could pose those questions.

She ended up not knowing much about the menu, and had to consult, and one of her earlier answers she corrected. Simple things like an ingredient, if the salmon was farmed or wild, and what was the fish of the day. It wasn’t fish, it was shrimp.

We ended up with three appetizers and one main dish to split. The food was interesting, unusual tastes, and nicely filling. The Cuban bread served with the meal was as bad as Cuban bread is – I first ran into this in Puerto Rico and it is great for feeding fish when you are snorkeling. It just isn’t good bread. The Gnochi was rich, as she predicted, the potato appetizer was spicy and nice – the request to serve the avocado on the side for my sensitive friend didn’t happen.

The plantain is really good, and they served it with a very nice salsa and sauce.

The cauliflower salad (which was served first) was also refreshingly different and had a combination of bitter and sweet and other. The odd part was the waitress dumping it off in a dash as she went by — in the middle of the table. And we waited, and ended up flagging her down minutes later to ask for plates.

I get that we were a poor tale – no drinks, splitting meals, what wait staff don’t like. But we did tip them off that we were first timers, and the restaurant was not at all busy. Should I feel guilty?

The end of the meal was similar, very long waits for a glimpse at the desert menu, opting to not indulge, and an even longer wait for the bill. In the midst of that, I used the restroom, and one stall (the handicapped) was clearly (yuk) out of order, a problem of no water in the tank so it wouldn’t flush.

No sign. Hmm. So I reported it to the hostess, who said she would take care of it, and that they had been having trouble with that toilet – old plumbing in the building. Sorry, I take that as a bad sign that it is an ongoing problem that was not being monitored, and that it just hasn’t been fixed. I had a similar bad feeling at Eastern Accents months before they closed. The toilet overflowed when I used it and the response was yeah, that happens a lot, we have a plumbing problem. If there is bad plumbing then… I’d rather not go there.

I can’t help but imagine the possible kitchen problems, and what else they aren’t paying attention to. And of course the staff training. It leaves a true bad taste to end the meal by confronting their bad plumbing. Which is apparently not unique.

Details. It matters. So truthfully, I didn’t leave thinking “Yes! I can’t wait for another chance to come back!” No, it wasn’t like that at all. It was just odd and too many small moments of discomfort. And so I end my review with “sorry”. Which is not what a restaurant wants to have happen.

Arbor Wiki – an underutilized resource for Ann Arbor

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

Maybe you’ve checked it out for birthday specials. Maybe you’ve enjoyed the page I created on fountains and water features in Ann Arbor. Maybe you can add to it? That’s what a wiki is all about, and this one is special for Ann Arbor. Do you want to add your name and accomplishments? Check out a events? Wonder what restaurants have closed?

Like any wiki there is straight up practical information, as well as obscure and yet helpful stuff.

We can make this more of a treasure the more people participate. I learned about it from Ed Vielmetti who hosts editing parties and encourages contributors.

I’ve just made small contributions, but try and remember to add to it with useful bits of miscellaneous stuff form time to time.

Arborwiki.org

Nostalgia for the Art Fairs

Monday, July 21st, 2014

Last week’s art fairs were unusual for having cool sunny weather. The fairs usually take place in scorching hot almost unbearable heat and humidity, broken only by often violent storms and rain. And more humidity. So I enjoyed walking around and seeing most of the fairs in relative comfort. I was glad this year I wasn’t wandering the streets pouring water over my head trying to keep cool.

This was my 44th time at the art fairs (yes, there are more than one – actually four or five or six depending on how you count). As I wandered, I was very nostalgic for all the other times I’ve been and what has changed.

The fairs had many more commercial booths interspersed with the artists. I found that disconcerting. And of course, those booths has people pushing their product much more crassly “selling” than the artists normally do. Although I was reminded of a time 25 years or so ago when I was swept up in the sales pitch of a guy selling pewter figurines with crystals. He talked me into buying it. Although at a deep discount he was a good salesman who wouldn’t let me go.

I used to buy a wooden box every year, until about 5 years ago I figured I probably had enough wooden boxes by now. About thirty or so. I also started liking the ones over $200 more than any others, and that was not a rational way to use my money. So that collection is “closed” to further purchases.

I do like the wood, and am still more attracted to that art than any other.

Back in the ’70s, when I first started going to the art fairs, there were a lot of “hippy” srtists with fancy wax candles of rainbow colors and I bought a lot of those. Incense, bongs, antler pipes, macrame, a number of remnants from that time that you no longer find.

Perhaps the biggest change is that long ago there were true street musicians and performers – slack rope artists, magicians, others who would travel and earn money being talented on the streets. They are gone. Even the musicians from Central and South America were missing this year with their pan pipes and small amplified guitars and traditional instruments. Where have they gone?

So the fair seems quiet. It used to be that everyone I knew went to the closing night – Friday night – at the “Graceful Art Stage” on E. University for Madcat and Gemini to close out the evening fairs. Dancing, hugging, talking, flirting, it all went on that night with great music and a sense of a wonderful tradition we were part of.

Even the water sellers and other venders were mostly silent. Was there a proclamation made against announcing your wares loudly? Pizza sellers, bottled water pushers, roasted almonds samplers, all seemed very restrained this year. Very quiet.

That was near to the non-profit booths that used to assemble at the Engineering Arch, S. U and E. U. I staffed a lot of booths there, for McGovern in 1972, for Ozone House for many years – we did face painting and were one of the first to offer that. I got into some heated arguments when I staffed a booth for the American Friends Service Committee opposing the death penalty. I even got applauded for one of them when I stayed reasonable while being shouted at.

The non-profit section was very quiet this year, and I walked by a few times without engaging with anyone including the Salvation Army guy who may not even know how that group has spoken out against gay marriage and urged celibacy as the only option for LGBT people.

I don’t think there are as many true bargains as there used to be. I still use the panniers I got from Bivouc almost 30 years ago when Eclipse was going out of business. Two pair of very sturdy paniers for my bike for just $20, the special rack to hold them another $10-15. I still use that as well. I bought lots of sandals and sneakers and other stuff deeply discounted. Orchid Lane would have sales and especially since I lost weight that has been such a great bargain that this year I had to pass by as I really don’t need more clothes. Have I changed or have the sales changed?

Every year I see certain artists, most notably a friend from high school (he was on staff st Community High School) who sells colorized sports prints. He used to sell antler pipes. It’s nice to get a hug and kiss from him every year. Sometimes we have a chance to talk, sometimes he is too busy with sales to say much at all.

I mostly go alone to the fairs, there is enough to see and do and having to keep track of someone else is distracting and sometimes I want to move more quickly than a friend. And part of the fair is stopping to talk to people you meet on the street – old friends, strangers, I make a point of striking up conversations with the artists and sometimes linger for a while. Most are friendly, some are bored, some try to sell something heavy handedly, some are clearly not people friendly.

I love this event. I spend a little money – usually not more than $100, and that hasn’t changed much over the ears. My biggest most expensive purchase ever was a large photo limited edition print by famous National Geographic photographer Steven McCurry, of a sacred gilded rock at sunrise in Burma. It was great to meet and talk with him. That was about 20 years ago. I still love that photo.

The summer has turned, the art fairs are over, now starts the winding up for fall.

The Thrill of a Bidet

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

In-toilet bidets are cheap and very easy to install. They start at about $50 more or less, and if your plumbing is already in good order (shut off valve works, nut to the tank is hand-tightened only) about 10 minutes or less to install. Here is a link to the one I got from Amazon.

That is for a cold water version. If you need heat or other features, expect to pay hundreds for the unit and even more to install.

But the cold isn’t as bad as it sounds. Especially in the summer. All winter I get a few moments of warmth as my cold water line runs near the radiator pipes. I also ignored the instructions to cut the tubing from the bidet control to the toilet short – so that is warmed by contact with the rooms warmth. A friend who installed it in his home with a slab and no heat nearby – yow. That is a shock in the winter.

The advantages? Much of the rest of the world uses water to cleanse after toileting. They consider toilet paper a poor choice. They’re right. It is an odd and far less efficient and effective method. Environmentally, toilet paper use plummets. I’m already using recycled non-chlorine bleached paper, but it still eliminates most of that use.

It is fabulous for anyone sensitive down there – post birth, episodes of hemorrhoids, vulva sensitivity brought on by allergies or menopause, or most any other irritation. Water soothes, toilet paper scrubs and abrades.

On my advice, a person (who will remain anonymous) bought the in toilet bidet and loved it. But he bought one with a lift up sort of switch – not a flat dial one. Guests to his house didn’t know what it was and apparently there was some strange funny and also embarrassing accidents. He had to take it out. So if there are people using your toilet who you can’t pre-brief (pun intended) stick with a dial control rather than the fancier lever option.

I really hope these catch on.

Warning: Problem with Charlie’s Laundry Soap

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Just because it says natural, there is still no real protection. Just because it is “hypoallergenic” doesn’t mean it can’t cause horrible skin reactions. And just because I had a problem, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a safe and great product for other people.

And, because I had a stunningly bad experience with this product I want to put that out onto the net so that if someone else does happen to have a similar problem they can have some validation. I don’t think it has to be removed, reformulated, or discontinued. But for a few of us who are super sensitive – don’t use it.

The symptoms came on slowly, and at a time when there were a lot of changes and stresses. So I suspected a lot of reasons for the blisters, itching, rash, and sores that I developed. But through the process of elimination, the only thing that caused immediate (within a day) improvement was rewashing all my clothes in another detergent. I chose Allen’s, known for being gentle and safe, and a product I had used before.

Night and day difference. In, ahem, the places where it really matters.

On the web, I found a lot of testimonials to how great this cleaner is, and I was actually very happy with what it did to my clothes. But I found a few scattered references to similar problems, and the company suggesting additional washings would solve the problem. The logic was that this cleaner brings out the old detergents in a way that can be irritating, and two more washings would flush that residue away. The garments that caused trouble had been washed multiple times, and I have never used harsh detergents in this washing machine or for the clothes I was washing, or for that matter not in the last 30 some years.

It took about a week for symptoms to nearly fully recede, but wearing something that didn’t get the rewash caused an immediate and painful flare up. So I’m convinced.

I will stick with Allen’s Laundry products now. And for body washing, my home made soaps – yes they are made with lye, and high quality olive oil thanks. Much less skin dryness since using them for the last 20 years. I’m not sure what I’m allergic to/reactive to now but it would be nice to know. I’ve also developed a recent latex allergy, so a change in body chemistry isn’t out of the question.

I hope that this account can help at least one suffering person. It is a complex world of dealing with chemicals and products natural or not. There sure is a lot out there that makes me suffer. Add Charlie’s Laundry Soap to the list.

AnnArbor.com

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

The good news, the content is getting very interesting. The bugs are working out, and it is becoming an interesting and even valuable news and community information source. This may indeed work. I like the people involved, and they have hired some excellent reporters. A few of the blogs are a little stilted and similar, but I can see that is beginning to change. People are finding their voice. There is such passion and creativity that is being focused and channeled. I look forward to expanded topics. I will enjoy getting to know these creative and passionate people.

The news stories are also coming into the format – more immediate, longer, responsive, meaningful. It is an adjustment. Important stories are being played up, and sports are not in your face demanding headline attention which I was afraid of. A nice balance so far, and there are noticeable improvements regularly. Great start.

But —
Customer service? My experience, it doesn’t exist. I can’t get a paper delivered, and I can’t get anyone to respond. And that is just bizarre.

There is no customer service for annarbor.com and no one seems to care. I have been trying to get my subscription honored and have had no luck. I’ve tried.

I’ve called customer service over a dozen times. I e-mailed the publisher, I left messages with the district manager and also the regular manager (4 messages to him). I got the carrier’s name and called him. I wrote three e-mails to the customer service e-mail listed on the site.

And no one will call or e-mail me back.

I didn’t get my last two papers, the other two were late (4 days for one, 5 hours for the other) and delivered by a manager, not the carrier.

I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced such a total customer service fiasco before.

It is just totally bizarre.

Now I’m told (today) it is no longer possible to get last Sunday’s paper.

Why doesn’t AnnArbor.com have any customer relations people? Calls are sent to Jackson, Flint, Kalamazoo, and Grand Rapids. The people who answer don’t work for annarbor.com, don’t have any authority or ability to do anything other than take a complaint, and I get to listen to ads for the FLint Journal while on hold trying to get some answers (and papers). They can’t provide any service.

The people in Jackson seem to be the nicest, Flint coming in 2nd.

Why won’t anyone working for annarbor.com return calls or e-mails? Isn’t that part of a manager’s job – to address and solve complaints?

And mostly the satellite people try to help but don’t have the correct info, don’t have any options other than to send a fax, and can’t get a paper delivered. They can’t provide customer service.

AnnArbor.com needs to hire people to do customer service. And train them to follow up on every complaint. And, I think they might consider firing the company who is doing the delivery. Because they don’t care, and they don’t make themselves visible or responsible, or responsive. And that is the most important part of a company that is providing a service. Being responsive to customer’s requests and complaints.

My complaint has gone beyond the lack of delivery. It now includes that customer service for annarbor.com is abysmal, because it is non-existent. Outsourcing this critical component rarely goes well.

Even though I said nice things about the content, and mean it, it isn’t enough. AnnArbor.com needs good customers to survive. If you treat us this badly, you lose us. Nothing could be more obvious, and yet here we are. It is just bizarre. Why would a company trying to be innovative and successful make such a mistake? I am just baffled.

I’ll update if something positive happens. Two weeks of total failure can’t go on much longer, can it?

Toilet Paper – small changes with big results

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

You know how we’re always told it is those small steps that can make big changes? Toilet paper is one of those small steps. If you stop using virgin paper products, and other people join you, trees are saved, then forests, then global warming is slowed, and you’ve had an impact and the world is a better place.

Toilet paper matters. I buy mine in bulk, so I have some idea of how many rolls I use. And compared to reams of paper, I go through a whole lot more tissue. Only my daily newspaper comes close to being the other significant additional paper consumed around here. And that will be ending next month anyway when the Ann Arbor News stops publishing regularly.

I’ve been using recycled tissue for decades. Mostly Seventh Generation. It is normal looking, bleached with hydrogen peroxide, not terribly soft, but certainly OK. The Seventh Generation package says:

If every household in the U.S. replaced just one 8-pack of 352 sheet virgin fiber bathroom tissue with our 100% recycled product we cold save:
2,535,000 trees
915 million gallons of water, a year’s supply for over 7,100 families of four
6.5 million cubic feet of landfill space equal to over 9,700 full garbage trucks

That’s impressive. And the cost is about the same, especially when you buy it in bulk. Now I found out about another option, Sugarmade tissue.

The Sugar Cane Paper Company uses recycled sugar cane bagasse to produce its paper and tableware products.

Bagasse is the fibrous residue left over after the sugar cane has been crushed and the sugar extracted. The bagasse is pulped and ECF bleached, and then the bagasse fibers are woven to create our paper and tableware products.

About the same price as Seventh Generation, no trees, and using a byproduct that would otherwise go to waste. That’s good. You can buy a case of 96 rolls for under $90 here. Or locally, the Bgreen store from the previous post. They gave me a roll to try. I like it. Maybe even slightly better than the paper product from Seventh Generation.

What I didn’t like was Marcal Sunrise. Their rolls were about 1/2 the price of Seventh Generation and you could tell just from the weight that it was cheaper and less of it. It wasn’t as sturdy, it was a bit irritating, I was sorry I had 48 rolls to get through. I’m finally down to the last roll. It was not good in value or quality.

Two ply, one ply, hang over or under, there are many more controversies associated with toilet tissue. But with two good options to the conventional stuff, there is no reason not to make the change and help save some trees. Check out these two products, Sugar Made and Seventh Generation, and which ever you prefer, please make the switch.

And another reason to do it is to avoid chlorine bleached products. Bad for the environment, and also not at all good for your sensitive areas. For some, a noticeable difference. Can toilet paper cause irritation and inflammation? Yep. This stuff it better for you.

New Environmental Store — Bgreen

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

Last Thursday I spent some time at a new store in town, Bgreen. Daniel and Delphine are passionate, informed, and generous. Their store is a combination of retail and wholesale products covering the range of pretty good environmentally conscious disposable plates, napkins, hot cups, etc. as well as materials for new floors, countertops, tankless hot water heaters, and more. They carry special paints including some that seal in formaldehyde laden building materials, AFM Naturals.

There are also cleaning products, and Delphine can give personal info on each. Handy bags for groceries, bowls and toothbrushes made of recycled plastic, fun items to look and and think about.

The store has a good feel, it’s great to be able to chat about one of my favorite subjects, and chances are you can also learn something. They seem very willing to help, in a generous way rather than heavy selling. The prices seemed competitive as well.

They threw a party for the Waste Knot program partners, which is a great marketing idea. We are their audience! I wish more people had taken advantage of the opportunity, this is the sort of store that deserves our support. They are more than cashing in on a fad – they are helping it to move into the mainstream with great products and ideas. Next time you go to a restaurant still using styrofoam clamshell containers, suggest they visit Bgreen and try some other options.

Although on that front I’ve taken to bringing a Tiffin carrier with me to restaurants. Fun, attractive, and it hold way more than you’d think. So no disposable products at all…. but if you forget to BYO – I like the options Bgreen has for commercial establishments.

They are at 1952 S. Industrial Hwy. They have a storefront in the small shopping center, near the gym. Office 734-761-7227 Showroom 734-214-3000.

I bought some cleaning products from them. I’ll report later on how they do.