Remember the Ant and the Grasshopper

A few years ago, I saw “The Grasshopper and the Ants” (Disney’s short film of 1934, also available in various book, audio, and video formats, based on Aesop’s fable, “The Ant and the Grasshopper”) and I was reminded how well Aesop’s fable, even in Disney’s presentation, teaches a valuable lesson.

grasshopper_and_ants

Aesop observed nature, which to him seemed to show that ants are industrious insects who work all summer and thus have plenty of food set aside for winter.  Grasshoppers, on the other hand, spend their summers frolicking and making music, and come winter are seen withered and dead.

When I first heard this fable as a child, I am sure I grasped the idea that we need to work during the summer so we have food in the winter.  My mother grew up on a farm and I visited her parents’ farm enough to get some idea of the cyclical seasons of farm life.

But when I saw Disney’s  “The Grasshopper and the Ants” recently, from a vantage point well past life’s mid-point, it suddenly seemed clear that the message, the real moral of the story, doesn’t pertain only to the seasons of a single year, but rather to the seasons of an entire life.  During the spring, summer, and fall of life, you work, gather, harvest, and save (you know, pay yourself first) … and during the winter of your life, what you have set aside provides security and enjoyment.  Or, be like the grasshopper: play, spend and set nothing aside when you should and suffer the consequences later.

One more thought: Some commentators say that the Disney version changes the meaning of Aesop’s original fable because instead of leaving the grasshopper to starve, the ants invite him in to share their food and hospitality.  I think this is partially moderated by two things.  One, sharing is part of the enjoyment that can be derived from having.  Two,  in return for his supper and a place by the fire, the grasshopper is obliged to make music for the ants, literally to sing for his supper; this shows he might have finally learned the fable’s moral.

Here’s an English translation of Aesop’s original:

aesop_ant_grasshopperaesop_ant_grasshopper_2

Advertisements

Replacing Saddle Valve With Compression Tee

saddle_valveIf you’ve connected your refrigerator’s ice maker to one of your house’s water pipes, you probably know what a saddle valve is.  A valve that pierces a pipe with a needle held in place with a clamp bolted onto the pipe.  Saddle valves are cheap and easy, but they are not reliable.  They are prone to fail, either due to leaking or getting clogged with sediment.

I had one in my house, which I installed years ago when I was young and foolish.  It worked for several years, but eventually the refrigerator stopped making ice and dispensing water.  Evidently, the saddle valve was partially blocked and the refrigerator’s valves, which open electrically to fill the ice maker and dispense cold water, couldn’t function with the lower pressure.

It was tempting to just replace the old saddle valve with a new one, but I wanted something better.  A copper tee soldered in place is the best way to hook up an ice maker to a water line.  But … I’ve never soldered anything and I felt that the needed equipment would be too expensive for one job.

sioux_chief_add_a_line

Researching the problem led me to learn about compression connections.  Compression connections have a threaded ends with nuts that compress ferrules (wide copper rings) as the nuts are screwed tight.  They may not be as good as soldered connections, but they are far better than saddle valves.

Compression fittings aren’t easy to find.  The big box home improvement stores stock a lot of push-to-connect fittings (e.g., Sharkbite), which I was about to use, until I read the fine print on the label: “WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.”  Given that this line is for water that’s going to my ice maker, and then into me, I figured that I didn’t want to take any risk.  As the big box stores didn’t have what I needed, a compression tee made by Sioux Chief, I ordered one from a big website retailer.

Installing the tee was fairly easy, just a bit awkward due to the location up in the basement’s ceiling joists.  (Which is another reason I didn’t want to solder; the pipe is just inches away from wood beams and electrical wiring.)  After turning off the water, opening the faucet in the basement sink to drain the pipes, removing the old saddle valve, and cleaning the pipe with some steel wool, … I cut out a properly-sized section of pipe right where the saddle value used to be.  Because the saddle valve left a hole in the pipe, there wasn’t much of a choice as to the location of the new tee: either put the tee where the saddle valve had been or if I wanted to put the tee somewhere else, I would have to repair the hole.  Using a plumber’s tube cutter would have made the job easier and would have yielded a straighter cut, but I couldn’t find the tube cutter that I think I have.  I’ve never used it before.  (I got it along with a lot of tools I bought at the Goodwill.)  So I used a hacksaw, being especially careful to make a nice straight cut, i.e., a straight cup perpendicular to the pipe.  The first cut was easiest.  The second cut was a bit more difficult because the remaining pipe was apt to wiggle once was cut free from part of its support.  I wanted to have both my hands on the hacksaw, so I used the old saddle valve clamp (after removing the valve and needle parts) to help hold the pipe steady and guide the saw.  I added the clamp, bolts, and nuts to my ever-growing store of parts.

Once the cut was made, I sanded the pipe ends with some extra-fine sandpaper to get everything clean and smooth, then I cleaned everything with a paper towel.  I slid the nuts and ferrules over the pipe ends and then slipped the tee in place.  Many sources warn against over-tightening compression fittings.  But none of them say exactly what that means.  I got the nuts on the compression tee good and tight and attached the line to the ice maker.  Then I turned on the water.  Everything worked fine, but over the course of an hour a small droplet of water appeared on the bottom of the pipe.  I don’t think it was ever enough to actually drop to the floor.  I tightened the nuts a bit more and after that the pipes stayed completely dry.

The best thing is that the refrigerator’s ice maker and water dispenser started working again.  In fact, they work better than before.  There’s more water pressure, so the dispenser fills a glass more quickly than it ever did before.

I’m quite glad to have a better connection for the refrigerator line, with a real valve that will actually turn the water off if need be.  (Like, for example, hooking up a new refrigerator.)

Naturally, the money spent for the compression tee was a fraction of what a plumber would have charged.  It’s true that a compression tee isn’t as good as a soldered tee, but time will tell if it’s a good value.  [Update: 20 days later, still working fine, no sign of any leak.]

Fixing Flapper Valve in Toilet

If you notice the water coming on by itself to fill the tank of your toilet, the problem could be your toilet’s flapper valve.  You can easily renew it or replace it yourself and save plenty of money.

flapper

Flapper valve?  Most toilets have a flapper valve.  The flapper valve holds the water in the tank until you press the handle to flush the toilet; doing so raises the valve and allows the water to flow from the tank into the bowl.  (There are some other methods of getting the water from the tank to the bowl.)

Over time, the flapper valve and the seat on which it sits can be fouled with hard water sediment, rust, lime, or other dirt and grime. (Amazing how much dirt and grime is in “clean” water.)  The valves can also lose their flexibility, which keeps them from sealing properly.  Thus, water slowly and continuously seeps from the tank into the bowl.  If you watch closely, you might see it form little ripples in the bowl.  When the water level gets low enough, the toilet mechanism turns the water on to re-fill the tank, and you hear it, which lets you know it’s time to work on the flapper valve.  You can verify that the flapper valve is leaking by putting a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank and looking to see if any of it ends up in the bowl after an hour or two.

You might try cleaning the valve and valve seat.  Remove the valve and clean it with a scrub brush, scouring pad, or steel wool.  A bit of dishwashing detergent might help. Do the same with the valve seat.  Once it’s all clean, re-assemble it and check to make sure it no longer leaks.

In my experience, once a flapper valve is leaking, it needs to be replaced.  Obtain a new one from your local hardware store.  Remove the old one and install the new.  There are plenty of youtube videos that will show you how.  You might want to save the chain and the metal clip in your hardware jar; they might come in handy for some other job.  I used such a clip once to replace a lost cotter pin.

One final note:  the various toilet cleaners that “clean the bowl every time you flush” are bad for the toilet mechanism in the tank.  Avoid cleaning products that come in contact with the water that is stored in the tank.

As usual: Do it yourself and save $$$.

Which reminds me of a story:  I had a friend, a little old lady, who called a plumber when the water in her toilet kept coming on.  The visit from the plumber cost her something around $100.  That seems like a lot to charge for the few minutes of labor needed to replace a part that costs about $6 (retail)  — but I can understand that the plumber had to take the time to go to her home and he could have been working on another job (maybe something that would better justify a plumber’s time) instead of replacing a flapper valve.  Still, I wish she had told me about the problem before she called the plumber.  I would have been happy to do it for free.

Telephone Handsets from Goodwill

telephone_handset

I visited the local Goodwill to buy a short-sleeved shirt, something summery and tropical looking.  I found the perfect shirt, and it cost just $5.  Easy.  So with some time to kill I decided to look around the store.

Among the various computers and televisions, I saw two cordless telephone handsets with their plug-in chargers that were exactly the same as the kind we use at home.  Yes, we still have a landline.  I plugged them in, turned them on, and they seemed to work fine.  Of course, I couldn’t make a call because they were still “paired” to a base unit that was nowhere to be found.  I didn’t need a new base unit anyway.  But a couple new handsets would be useful.  For one thing, we’ve never had a phone in the basement; more than once I’ve been doing laundry or working on my computer in the basement (the only one for which the kids don’t know the logon password) and heard the phone ring upstairs but not been able or willing to go upstairs to answer it.  Well, that’s why we have an answering machine.

In deciding to buy the two handsets, I was making the bet that I’d be able to “register” them to the base unit in my house.  That’s the problem: cordless phones need to be registered to the proper base unit, meaning that they communicate with that base unit and forsake all others.  (If we didn’t use this system of cordless phones being registered to their base, then they would simply connect to whatever base is nearest or has the strongest signal, which might mean your neighbors’ phones connecting to your base or vice-versa.)  In order to use a cordless phone that has been registered to another base, the existing registration has to be erased and the phone needs to be put into “ready to register” mode.  That doesn’t happen automatically.  It requires some button pushing!  Would I be able to accomplish this phone-tech feat?

O Wonderful Internet!  In about 5 minutes online I found instructions on how to “deregister” the handsets from their original base unit and register them to mine.  They both work perfectly and will probably provide many years of service.  Pretty good deal, for about $9 for both.

The Solar Eclipse and “Lost Productivity”

eclipse_pngJust as predictable as the solar eclipse is the news release about “lost productivity” resulting from said eclipse (or the Olympics or the Word Cup, or whatever big event get lots of attention).  Imagine: the total cost to employers of all the time employees spend paying attention to the big event instead of working.  Here’s how it’s done: Estimate the number of employees paying attention to the big event, multiply that by your guess how many hours they each spend on said event, on average, and then multiply that by the average cost of an hour of employee’s time (wages, benefits, etc. paid by the employer) … and voila! … you’ve got some huge number of dollars.

But, it seems to me it’s basically bullshit. and here’s why:  Even though a large number of employees might spend some time at work paying attention to the big event, in most workplaces all of the work still gets done.  What really happens is that employees shift their work activities to other times.  They allocate their lunch hour and break time to the big event.  Maybe they come in earlier or stay later.  Maybe they work faster than normal when they’re not paying attention to the big event.  Whatever they do, all the work gets done and it doesn’t cost employers anything more than usual.  Nothing, or at least very little, is “lost” and “productivity” is just fine.

The office where I work is a perfect example.  My office produces certain statistical reports and such on a certain schedule.  We haven’t missed a deadline in years.  (The last time we did miss a deadline, it was a result of a huge snowstorm that prevented people from coming to work — before telework was as common as it is now.)  During today’s eclipse, I’m sure many of my co-workers will take some time to see for themselves what an eclipse is like.  Oh my gosh!  That’s “costing” our employer thousands of dollars in “lost productivity”!  Then, when they’ve seen enough, we will all go back to work and we will meet the next deadline as we do 99.9% of the time, just as we do in any month without an eclipse.

So, you might ask:

Q: Why the news release about all the millions of dollars of “lost productivity”?

A: Free publicity.

Look Carefully at Every Bill

recieptOver the weekend my wife and I rented a wheelchair-accessible van so we could take her mother on a day trip to the big city.  My wife did a lot of shopping around (online) and found a place that had a weekend special.  Basically, the total rental cost for Friday afternoon to Monday morning was about $130 less than the normal rate for the same length of time.  When we returned the van on Monday morning, my wife paid the bill with her credit card and we were ready to go … until I looked at the bill.  The rental charge (before tax and mileage charges) should have been $250, but I saw $380.  I said, “whoa” and pointed it out to my wife.  She went right back to the company agent and asked what happened to the special weekend rate.  Oh, it was a mistake.  They had run the charge through at the normal rate.  Whooops!  They apologized and fixed it immediately.

There are two lessons here:

  1. Always look at the bill.  If you see something that doesn’t look right or that you don’t understand, then …
  2. Ask why the bill is higher than you expected and get an explanation.

In many discussions over the years, people have told me that they’ve lost money by not doing these two simple things.  It’s happened to me too.  Sometimes we’re too busy.  Sometimes we’re inattentive.  (Sometimes the sales clerk is a pretty young thing that distracts us.)  Sometimes we don’t want to cause a scene.  Sometimes we’re shy.  — Enough excuses!  We need to pay more attention to our money!

Accounting For Different Kinds of Accounts

savings_bank

Different kinds of accounts where you can keep your money … and how to use them.  This is the way I do it.

Checking account (for day-to-day expenses).  Even if it’s only used to fund ATM withdraws, de

bit-card purchases, and online bill paying, everyone should have a “checking account” — despite the fact that many people don’t even have blank checks these days, and the last time I purchased blank checks I probably got enough to last the rest of my life.  A checking account is for your usual day-to-day bills.  It should have enough money to cover transfers to your savings account (pay yourself first) as well as your regular monthly expenses, such as the rent or mortgage payment, and bills for utilities, groceries, transportation, and other things that you pay for every month.  Whatever spending comes out of your checking account should be replenished by income coming in.  (Did you see the post about how money is like a tank of water?)

In addition to your checking account for expenses that come due every month or more frequently, you should also have separate accounts for expenses that come less often.  The first three, like the checking account, should be at a bank or credit union.  The last one should be with a mutual fund company so the money can be invested in stocks.

Short-term savings (once-per-year expenses).  Money set aside for foreseeable and predictable expenses that come once per year, such as birthdays, holidays, and vacations.   

Medium-term savings (once every-several-years or just a few times per lifetime).  Money for foreseeable, but perhaps not predictable, expenses that come less often than yearly, such as an automobile, refrigerator, heating and air conditioning systems, washer and dryer, or a new roof.  Other medium-term goals might include buying a house, college education for your children, or starting a business.   

Emergency savings (unexpected expenses).  For unforeseeable expenses: accidents, medical problems, periods of unemployment, and special opportunities.

Long-term savings (once in a life).  For foreseeable expenses that come just once in your life, such as buying your dream house and retirement.