March, 2011


The 2 most common complaints that Bay Area landlords get from their tenants in winter are: mildew and ants. For information about mildew control, go to Mildew. Ant control is more complicated. That's because when people see ants in their homes, it is usually in the kitchen. Most ant sprays and ant traps contain toxic chemicals and should not be used around food. For example, the active ingredient in the top-selling brand 'Grant's Kills Ants' is arsenic. Yes, arsenic does kill ants, but do you really want arsenic in your kitchen? So - what do you do when you've got ants in your kitchen? The answer is Orange Guard. I was turned on to this product many years ago by a county health inspector who told me that Orange Guard is the only brand of insect spray that the county allows in restaurant kitchens. The active ingredient in Orange Guard is orange peel oil. The rest of the bottle is just water. Orange peel oil destroys the respiratory system of ants, after which, ants quickly die of suffocation. Orange Guard also kills many other household pests, including silverfish, roaches, spiders, and fleas. The front label says that Orange Guard 'may be used around food, humans and pets.' There is a warning on the back label that says that 'this product may be hazardous to aquatic invertebrates.' That could be a problem if you've got a pet octopus. I don't think that any of my tenants has a pet octopus, but this is Berkeley, so I'm not 100% sure about that. Orange Guard can be hard to find in stores. If you would like a bottle of Orange Guard, just come over to my chocolate room, and I'll give you one. This stuff really works!


A growing number of landlords in Berkeley and around the U.S. are now advertising 'No Security Deposit Required.' That sounds suspiciously too good to be true - and it is! That's because 'No security deposit required' usually means 'No security deposit required if you buy a surety bond instead.' Landlords don't like security deposits. There is no profit in holding security deposits, just liability. Security deposits are heavily regulated by state and local law. Plus, when a tenant moves out of an apartment, if the landlord deducts anything from the tenant's security deposit, it usually results in a quarrel. A landlord has none of these problems if the tenant buys a surety bond instead. But - is a surety bond a good deal for the tenant as well? On the plus side, a surety bond costs much less than a security deposit. On the negative side, with a security deposit, you get your money back when you move out of the apartment, but with a a surety bond, you don't get the money back. Plus, a surety bond does not get a tenant off the hook if he damages the apartment or moves out owing rent. In that case, the bonding company will reimburse the landlord for his loss and then sue the tenant to recover the money. So, if you see an ad for an apartment that says 'No Security Deposit Required,' remember, that is not a freebie like something in my chocolate room.


I am amazed at the number of people who have e-mailed and called me on the phone to tell me what they think a kitchen mace is used for. I covered this strange kitchen tool in last month's newsletter. The 2 prevailing theories are that a kitchen mace is a meat tenderizer or a lemon reamer. I think both theories are wrong. The head of a meat tenderizer is always level, not round. If you hit a piece of meat with this thing, you would just punch a hole through the center. I also doubt it's a lemon reamer. This thing weighs almost 2 pounds. Meat tenderizers are often quite heavy, but there is no reason to make a lemon reamer heavy.


Some of my chocolate bars contain blueberries. When I give my blueberry chocolate bars to people in the food processing business, I am often asked: "What are your blueberries made out of?" That may seem like an odd question, but I understand why they ask it. Most blueberry products are made with fake blueberries. That includes blueberry breakfast cereals, granola bars, pancakes, waffles, muffins, etc. Consider Betty Crocker's Blueberry Muffin Mix. According to the ingredients listed on the back label, this product contains 'blueberry flavor bits' which are made from 'dextrose, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, corn flour, citric acid, artificial flavor, blue lake 2, and red lake 40.' Alas, no blueberries. While this product contains no blueberries at all, most packaged blueberry products contain a few real blueberries along with a lot of fake ones. Blueberries are expensive, so by adding a handful of real blueberries to a vat of fake blueberries, food processors can make phony blueberry products at very low cost. By including just a few real blueberries in the mix, food processors can advertise that their product 'contains real blueberries' and is 'naturally flavored.' You can tell which products do this by checking the label for blue food coloring. Blueberries have a very strong natural blue color. They are called 'blueberries' for a reason! Real blueberries don't need artificial coloring. If a blueberry product contains blue food coloring, then the blueberries are either partially or entirely fake. And don't rely on the picture on the box when buying blueberry products. Look at the box of Kellogg's Blueberry Muffin Pop-Tarts. The picture shows a muffin bursting with blueberries and some fresh blueberries next to the muffin. In fact, there are no real blueberries in this product. The blueberries in my chocolate bars are real whole blueberries, and I never use artificial food coloring or artificial flavoring.


Retailers love gift cards! Over 25% of all Americans have an unused gift card that more than a year old. Most of those cards will never be redeemed. American consumers lose a staggering $8 billion a year on gift cards that are never used. Writing off unredeemed gift cards is now a major source of profit for many large companies. Last year, Best Buy made $50 million by writing off unused gift cards that were over 5 years old.

Why not sell your old gift cards? It's easy, and internet gift card dealers often pay prices that are surprisingly high. For example, Plastic Jungle will pay $88 cash for a $100 Best Buy gift card. They will pay $92 if you will accept an Amazon gift card instead of cash. Here's what they will pay right now for a $100 gift card in cash or Amazon gift card: Home Depot $87 - $91, Cheesecake Factory $82 - $86, Gap $83 - $87, Disney $82 - $86.


On January 30, 2011; Pope Benedict XVI released dozens of doves at the Vatican during a 'Month of Peace' rally. The crowd in the plaza below cheered as the Pontiff released the doves - but they only cheered briefly. Almost as soon as the doves were outside, the whole flock flew back into the building though an open window. Vatican employees, priests, and small children attending the ceremony spent the rest of the day trying to catch the birds.

During the Cold War, the governments of East Germany, the Soviet Union, and a number of other Communist countries used to stage huge, well orchestrated 'peace rallies', during which, they would release flocks of doves. (The proper term for a group of doves is a 'dole of doves' or a 'piteousness of doves', both of which sound ridiculous to me.) When I was a kid, and I saw one of these mass dove releases on TV, I used to wonder: "Where do these birds go?" I knew these doves were raised in captivity. They had no experience in living in the wild, gathering food for themselves, or evading predators. So - what happens to doves after they are released? I suspect that a lot of them wind up as dinner for hawks and stray cats.


Speaking of cats, have you heard about the San Mateo Cat Burglar? Over the past 3 years, over 600 items have been stolen from people's homes and yards in this affluent neighborhood on the San Francisco peninsula. The San Mateo Cat Burglar sometimes steals expensive clothes and jewelry, but at other times, steals worthless toys or a single shoe. The burglar only strikes at night and has never tripped an alarm. Initially, the police were baffled, but a surveillance camera with a night vision lens finally identified the thief. It turned out that the San Mateo Cat Burglar actually is a cat, a Siamese cat named Dusty. You can see a video of Dusty stealing things on one of his nightly heists on You Tube at: Klepto Cat. Now when people in the neighborhood notice that something is missing, they just go over to the home of the cat's owner and pick it up.


Lazy Boy Recliner. I bought this chair last year and used it for less than a month. I had rotator cuff surgery on my left shoulder about 6 months ago. Doctors who perform this operation commonly recommend that patients buy a recliner chair beforehand because it is very hard to sleep in a flat bed immediately after the operation. The chair looks new and is easy to transport. The top half separates from the base. I took this chair home from the Lazy Boy store in Emeryville in my Honda without difficulty. Does anybody want it?

Mark Tarses

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