April, 2012


The end of the school year will soon be here. If you are a student, now is the time to start getting rid of your junk. Students often put off getting rid of their junk until they are actually moving out. They always wind up regretting that. Getting rid of old electronics is a good place to start. It is illegal to put electronic products in your garbage can. If a garbage collector finds an electronic product in your garbage can, you can get a $500 fine. This is not one of those crazy Berkeley laws that nobody enforces, although we have lots of those. This is a California state law, and it is enforced. People really do get fines for putting electronic waste in their garbage cans.

Fortunately, you can get rid of your electronic junk for free! At the Green Citizen store at 1971 Shattuck Avenue, near the corner of University, you can drop off most electronic products including TVs, computers, printers, DVD players, microwave ovens, etc. at no charge. They also accept for free disposal many small electrical appliances, like dorm refrigerators. Most of the dumps in the bay area charge $50 or more to drop off a small refrigerator. They have to drain out and recycle the Freon, and that costs money, but Green Citizen takes small refrigerators at no charge. This is a great service! You should use it. You're paying for it. When you buy an electronic product in California, you pay an electronic disposal tax ranging from $6 to $10 for any item with a screen or electronic display, like a DVD player. That money goes to places like Green Citizen, which is how they finance their business.


I never make health claims about chocolate, although many chocolate makers do. One of the health claims that annoys me is 'no cholesterol' chocolate. A growing number of companies are advertising that their chocolate contains no cholesterol, and charging a lot of money for it. I recently saw a display of '0% cholesterol' dark chocolate disks at a natural food store here in Berkeley. Each bag weighed 2 ounces and cost $6.

Paying big bucks for 'no cholesterol' chocolate is just a waste of money. There is no cholesterol in dark chocolate, regardless of the brand. Cocoa beans grow on trees, and trees do not produce cholesterol. Animals produce cholesterol. There is no cholesterol in any food that came off a tree. That includes: fruit, nuts, seeds, bark (cinnamon is a bark), coffee, and cocoa beans. Milk chocolate does contain a small amount of cholesterol, all of which comes from the milk. A Hershey's milk chocolate bar contains 10 milligrams of cholesterol. A large egg contains 190.

It annoys me when I see 'no cholesterol' chocolate for sale in stores. By advertising that a certain brand of chocolate is cholesterol-free, and charging a lot of money for it, it implies that other people's chocolate (like mine) does contain cholesterol, which is not true. It puts a completely unwarranted fear into people's minds.


I am constantly amazed at the price of chocolate at those spiffy stores down on Fourth Street. Last month, I was shopping at Sur la Table on Fourth Street. While I was waiting in line to pay for a baking pan, the woman in front of me picked up 2 packages of Fran's chocolate covered caramels. The caramels were strategically located next to the cash register. She gave each of her kids a package. The 2 kids quickly devoured the candy and then asked for more. Each package weighed 2 ounces and cost $12. I thought: "This woman just spent $24 for 4 ounces of chocolate covered caramels. That's $96 a pound. That seems awfully expensive to me, or am I just being a cheapskate?"

Who has the most expensive chocolate in the bay area? It is hard to know. A lot of high-end chocolatiers price their confections by the piece, not by the weight, so it hard to know how much a pound of their chocolate costs. I am pretty sure that Noka had the most expensive chocolate in the bay area, but Noka went out of business last year. Noka chocolate bars sold for $850 a pound. (Yes, you read that right.) I could never figure out who bought Noka or why. They sold Noka chocolate at the Nieman Marcus store in San Francisco. I once went to Nieman Marcus just to see the Noka display. I wondered: "Does anybody actually buy this stuff?" While I was pondering that question, a young man wearing a pair of blue jeans with holes in the knees picked up a box of Noka chocolate and took it to the sales clerk. I watched him as he paid $129 for a 3 ounce box of Noka chocolate. The clerk asked him if he wanted the box gift wrapped. He said: "No. I'm going to eat them when I get home." He put the box of chocolate in his backpack and left. I just stood there with my mouth open. Take a look at this photo. I am holding a $10 Noka chocolate bar in my hand. No foolin'. This really is a photo of a $10 Noka chocolate bar.


The S.S. Palo Alto was one of the strangest ships ever built. You can see it at Seacliff State Beach, just south of Santa Cruz. During World War I, steel was in short supply, so the government experimented with a number of alternative materials for building large ships. They settled on concrete. The U.S. government built a dozen large cargo ships in 1918 and 1919 out of concrete, including the S.S. Palo Alto, which was designed to transport petroleum. Concrete ships proved to be impractical due to their tremendous weight, and all of them were retired as soon as World War I ended. The Palo Alto was mothballed in Oakland until 1929 when it was purchased by the Seacliff Amusement Company and towed to Seacliff State Beach. The ship was intentionally sunk on the beach, and a pier was built from the road out to the ship. The Palo Alto was refitted as an amusement ship. It had a dance floor, a swimming pool, and a restaurant. The Seacliff Amusement Company went bankrupt during the Great Depression, and the ship fell into neglect. Many years ago, I walked out onto the deck of the Palo Alto. In those days, it was being used as a public fishing pier. I was amazed that it was possible to build such a large ship out of concrete and that it floated. Concrete seems like a completely impractical shipbuilding material. The Palo Alto has now deteriorated to the point that the ship is closed to the public. It remains at Seacliff State Park where it serves as an artificial reef for marine life. To the right is a picture of the Palo Alto taken in 1921.


The House Kicker. I own a 6 bedroom house on Milvia Street that will soon be vacant. Last month, I showed it to a lot of prospective tenants, all U.C. Berkeley students. While I was sitting in the living room, I heard a thud. It sounded like someone had dropped something on the floor in another room. At first I thought nothing of it, but over the next few minutes, I heard several more thuds. I decided to investigate. I walked though the house, but I couldn't find the source of the noise. I went outside and walked around the building. In the side yard I found a young man kicking the house. I said: "Please stop doing that!" He looked at me and then kicked the building again. I said: "Why are you kicking this house?" He said: "I want to see how well it's built." I told him that I was the owner of the house. Again I told him to stop kicking the house, and I asked him to leave the premises. He looked at me like I was crazy, but he did leave. I have never heard of anyone kicking a house before to see how well it was built. What did this guy think was going to happen? Did he expect the house to move or to start vibrating like a bowl of Jello?

A few days later, a friend of mine who is also a landlord called me on the phone. He asked me if I had some spare cedar shingles. I told him to come on over to my house. I always keep cedar shingles on hand to make small repairs. When he arrived, he told me that he needed to replace 3 shingles that had been kicked off his building by a prospective tenant. I asked him to describe this house kicker, and just as I expected, it was the same guy!

I know that some people will not buy a car without kicking the tires first. I wonder why people do that. There is a used car lot across the street from Berkeley Bowl. I sometimes see people there walking around the lot, kicking tires. I know nothing about auto mechanics. Can you actually learn something about a car by kicking its tires?


Do not put aseptic packaging, like juice boxes, in your recycling can. The cities of Oakland and Berkeley do not recycle them. There is no practical way to recycle juice boxes. Aseptic packaging should go in your regular garbage can. Many products come in aseptic boxes besides fruit juice. Most soy milk is packaged in aseptic boxes. Also some brands of soup, broth, and milk.

Mark Tarses

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