by Mark Tarses

February, 2009


Why does it cost less to heat your home with gas than electricity? It seems like electricity should be cheaper. Over half the electricity produced in the U.S. comes from burning coal, and coal is the cheapest of all fossil fuels. The United States has the largest coal reserves of any country on Earth, enough for centuries. Also, all of the heat produced by electric space heaters is used to heat the rooms they are in, but some of the heat produced by gas furnaces goes up the flue and is lost outside.

Nevertheless, heating your home with natural gas is cheaper, and much cheaper than heating with electricity. But why? The reason is "conversion loss." Whenever one form of energy is converted into another, some of the energy is lost in the process. When coal or natural gas is burned at a power plant to produce electricity, about 2/3 of the energy in the fuel is lost in the conversion. That's a lot!

Clothes Dryers. According to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), drying a load of clothes in a gas clothes dryer costs 10 to 16 cents, but drying that same load of clothes in an electric clothes dryer costs 30 to 60 cents. Although electric clothes dryers are cheaper to purchase than gas clothes dryers, they cost 3 times more to operate! Ouch! All my units have gas clothes dryers.


You have probably seen full-page ads in newspapers for 'Amish Fireplace' electric space heaters. The headlines claim: "Amish man's new miracle idea helps home heating bills hit rock bottom." The ads show Amish craftsmen with white beards, wearing straw hats and suspenders, building electric fireplace space heaters one-at-a-time with hand tools in wood barns. The ads also show Amish men and women taking completed electric fireplaces off to market in horse-drawn wagons. Hmmm. I'm suspicious.

1. First of all, the Amish don't have electric fireplaces, electric space heaters, or any other electric appliances in their homes.
2. The ads claim that you can save money using an 'Amish Fireplace,' but they cost $298 to $598 each and produce the same amount of heat as a 1,500 watt electric space heater that sells for $30 at Ace Hardware.
3. The ads for 'Amish Fireplaces' tap into public goodwill and trust in the Amish people. It is common knowledge that the Amish are honest and ethical and make high quality products. However, these so-called 'Amish Fireplaces' are all clearly labeled "Made in China." Only the wood mantles are Amish-made.
4. The Better Business Bureau has given the company that makes 'Amish Fireplaces', a rating of "F" after receiving hundreds of complaints from dissatisfied customers.


While I'm on the subject the Amish, I'd like to dispel this popular myth. The Pennsylvania Dutch myth is actually 2 myths, not 1. The first myth is that the Amish are Dutch. Most people know that isn't true. The Amish are of German ancestry. The second myth is that they are called Pennsylvania Dutch because English-speaking Americans confused the German word "Deutsch" with the English word "Dutch," but that is also untrue. A number of German religious minorities, including the Amish, began to arrive in Pennsylvania in the early 18th Century, but by that time, America already had a large Dutch population. In the 17th Century, New York City was called New Amsterdam. Most Americans knew that Dutch and German were different, but related languages. In the 18th Century, Germany was not yet a unified country, and English-speaking Americans referred to immigrants who spoke any Germanic language as "Dutchmen." Amish German has evolved into a distinct language. The Amish speak Amish German at home and with other, but their Bibles and prayer books are written in Modern High German. Below is the first line of the Lord's Prayer in English, Amish German, and Modern German. Most Amish are fluent in all 3 languages.

English: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Amish German: Unsah Faddah im Himmel, dei nohma loss heilich sei; dei Reich loss kumma; dei villa loss gedu sei, uf di eaht vi im Himmel.
Modern German: Vater unser im Himmel, geheiligt werde dein Name; dein Reich komme; dein Wille geschehe, wie im Himmel so auf Erden.


Obama's Favorite Chocolate. Ever since Barack Obama started telling people that his favorite candy is Fran's salted chocolate covered caramels, sales of this previously obscure confection have skyrocketed. Most Americans are unfamiliar with salted caramels, but this is a traditional and popular candy in France. As you may recall, Ronald Reagan's favorite candy was Jelly Belly jelly beans, which are made right here in the Bay Area. They have a great factory tour. For tour info, go to: Jelly Belly. Jelly Belly sales skyrocketed during Reagan's presidency, but I don't think Obama's salted caramels are going to sell as well as Reagan's jelly beans. First of all, Jelly Bellies are sold all over the country. Fran's chocolate covered caramels are only sold at Fran's 3 stores in the Seattle area and on their web site. Second, Jelly Bellies sell for $6 a pound. Fran's salted caramels sell for $80 a pound.

Are Fran's caramels worth $80 a pound? That's for you to decide. My grandmother Pauline Tarses used to say: "It is better to have a little bit of the very best rather than a mountain of garbage." I was at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco 2 weeks ago. Fran's had a booth there, and they were giving away free samples. I ate a couple of their salted chocolate covered caramels, and I thought they were very good. Fran's uses very high quality ingredients. On the other hand, cheap chocolates often contain very unpleasant ingredients, like civet, tallow, and petrochemicals.

Petrochemicals. I think most people would be surprised if they knew how much of the processed food they eat every day is made from petroleum. Did you know that most of the Italian salad dressing sold in the U.S. is made with vinegar distilled from petroleum? It's true. Heinz is the last remaining national brand of white (clear) vinegar that isn't made from petroleum. Heinz makes their vinegar from corn. The U.S. government does not require that the manufacturers of food and beverage products containing petrochemicals state on their labels that they are made from petroleum, so none of them do. After all, who would buy salad dressing that said on the label: "Made from Petroleum!"? The amount of petroleum that is used to make food and beverages, including alcoholic beverages like cordials and liqueurs, just keeps growing every year. Although I can't prove it, I don't believe that it's healthy to eat food that is made out of petroleum.


Spring will soon be here, the time of year when every college student's fancy turn to......writing resumes. Remember, the single biggest mistake that you can make when writing a resume is focusing on your own career aspirations instead of telling employers what you can do for them. Focusing on your objectives makes you look like an egotist, something that turns off everybody. Prospective employers are not interested in finding out how they can help you to achieve happiness or become rich and famous. Employers want to know: "What can you do for me?," not "What can I do for you?"

Worthless Majors. Over the years, I have known a lot of college students who only took "fun" courses while they were in school and never learned anything that might be of the slightest interest to any employer or that could have any practical use for themselves. The consequences of this are both sad and predictable. Go to any coffee shop in Berkeley, and you can find people there busing tables at near minimum wage who have degrees in subjects like Art History, Medieval Music, Mythology, Philosophy, and Poetry. Those are majors best left to students with large trust funds.

I once had a tenant named Max who spent several years working on his doctoral thesis. His thesis was essentially a catalog of 17th Century French court gossip. Apparently there was a lot of gossip at the court of Louis XIV, and no one had ever collected and organized it all in one place. During the years that Max worked on his project, I kept thinking to myself: "What sort of job is this guy going to get after he's got his degree?" I never found out. Max moved back east after he got his PhD. My sister visited me while Max was still living in Berkeley. She told me that if either of her sons had said that he wanted to go to college to study 17th Century French court gossip, she would have refused to pay for it. I thought that was a very sensible position.


Do You Rent To Cats? In 1985, I rented an apartment in Oakland. In my listing, I checked off: "Cat O.K." The next day, I got a phone call from a woman who said: "I saw your ad at Homefinders. Do you rent to cats?" I thought about the way this woman worded her question and answered: "No, I don't rent to cats, but I do rent apartments to people with cats." I emphasized the words "to people." The woman said: "Oh, that's too bad" in a dejected tone of voice and hung up the phone. I never heard from her again. Although this happened over 20 years ago, I still think about that woman every now and then and wonder what was on her mind.


Free Refrigerators! This is a biggie. If you have a refrigerator that is more than 10 years old, I will replace it at no cost to you with a new stainless steel, frost-free, Energy Star refrigerator of comparable size. Refrigerator technology has improved tremendously over the past decade. A 16 to 18 cubit foot Energy Star refrigerator made today uses 40% to 50% less electricity than a refrigerator of same size made just 10 years ago. If you don't know how old your refrigerator is, send me an e-mail, and I will look up the date of purchase. This offer only applies to refrigerators that belong to me. There is one downside to this offer: your refrigerator magnets will all become useless. Magnets won't stick to stainless steel.

Mark Tarses

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