October, 2011


It is very expensive to build housing in Berkeley, and people are always looking for ways of doing it more cheaply. Gregory Kloehn, a designer of unconventional buildings who lives in the Berkeley flatlands, may have found a solution. He has built a studio apartment inside a dumpster. His 'luxury dumpster', as he calls it, has a kitchen with stainless steel appliances and a granite countertop, water and fuel tanks, a bed, a toilet, a skylight, and hardwood floors. Sounds pretty nice, doesn't it? There are some very expensive apartments in Berkeley that don't have all that stuff. While this 'luxury dumspter' is admittedly very small, tenants in Berkeley are accustomed to living in small spaces. In downtown Berkeley, 450 square foot apartments (the size of a 2 car garage) rent for $1800 to $2000 a month, plus $200 extra for parking. You can see a video of the 'luxury dumpster' at: Luxury Dumpster video. I wonder what a 'luxury dumpster' rents for. Should I be worried about the competition? There are a lot of dumpsters in Berkeley.


It is illegal to put electronic products in your garbage can. Electronic products contain all sorts of hazardous materials, including mercury, cadmium, and lead. However, you can drop off old electronic products for free disposal at Green Citizen, which has stores around the Bay Area. There is a Green Citizen store in downtown Berkeley at 1971 Shattuck Avenue, near the corner of University Avenue. Among the items they will accept for recycling are flat screen and CRT televisions, desktop and laptop computers, monitors, scanners, keyboards, ink jet and laser printers, CD, DVD, and VHS players, cell phones, and most other electronic equipment, including microwave ovens. If city garbage collectors find any of these products in your garbage can, you can receive a substantial fine.


The #1 way to save money on food at the supermarket (at least if you are a carnivore) is to buy meat when it is on sale and freeze it. For saving a lot of money on food, nothing else comes close. Most people try to save money on food the wrong way, like buying discounted overripe vegetables or meat that is old and turning gray. Yuck.

Loss Leaders. For most Americans, meat is the most expensive item in their food budget. Supermarkets are keenly aware of that, so they use popular meat items as loss leaders, products they sell at a loss in order to bring customers into the store. The biggest discounts are usually offered just before holidays, and it isn't just turkey in November. For example, just before Saint Patrick's Day, corned beef brisket is commonly sold for half the regular price, with no coupons required or restrictions on how much you can buy. Look for sausages of all kinds at big discounts just before Memorial Day, July 4, and Oktoberfest.

Freezer Burn. The big problem with freezing meat for any length of time is freezer burn. Freezer burn destroys the appearance, texture, and taste of meat. It is caused by crystallization and oxidation. When meat is frozen, its natural moisture crystallizes and evaporates in contact with air. (I think I'm using words like 'crystallization' and 'oxidation' these days because I just rented the house next door to me to a bunch of chemistry grad students. That's the house that the woman with 100,000 bees tried to rent earlier this summer, but I digress.) There is a simple way to avoid freezer burn. Water evaporates at all temperatures unless there is something to prevent it, like a vapor barrier, which is why vacuum sealed foods do not get freezer burns. Fortunately, many meat products come packaged in vacuum sealed bags, including corned beef brisket, bacon, smoked salmon, and most sausages. Just toss them in the freezer, and they will look and taste fine months later.


A significant portion of the cost of rebuilding Memorial Stadium is supposed to come from the sale of 'Endowment Seating.' Endowment Seats will be the best seats in the new stadium, on or near the 50 yard line on the west side (the shady side) of the stadium. At $225,000 per seat, these will be the most expensive seats at any college stadium in the U.S. The $225,000 price tag will not get you tickets to Cal football games, only the right to buy tickets. The university reports that the $225,000 seats have been selling poorly, so to sweeten the deal, the university is offering buyers of Endowments Seats free hot dogs, one free hot dog per game. So - would you pay $225,000 per seat for the right to buy tickets to future U.C. Berkeley football games? Would a free hot dog seal the deal? If these seats fail to sell, the university will have to make up the shortfall, which could come to tens of millions of dollars, and nobody has any idea where that money might come from. See: $225,00 Football Seats.


One of my favorite corporate headquarters buildings is the home of the Longaberger Basket Company. The building is located in the town of Newark, Ohio. It is 7 storeys tall. The handles on top of the building weigh 150 tons. The business was started in the 1930s by J.W. Longaberger. J.W. worked in a basket factory that went bankrupt during the Great Depression, so he started making baskets at home, which he and wife then sold to stores and neighbors. Eventually, most of their children were making baskets as well. In the 1970s, demand for high quality, handmade, hardwood baskets took off, as the public began viewing them as objects of art rather than just utilitarian objects. Today, rare signed Longaberger baskets are highly collectible and sometimes sell for thousands of dollars on eBay. The company is still family owned and operated.


I love euphemisms! A euphemism is a word or an expression that is designed to make something sound nicer than it actually is, or at least to make it sound less unpleasant. Food processors and restaurants figured out a long time ago that they could get higher prices for foods with unpleasant names simply by giving them new names that sounded better. Here's an example: When I was a kid, supermarkets sold rapeseed oil. In some parts of the country, it was called rape oil. It didn't sell well. People didn't like the sound of the name. Then the industry changed the name of the product to canola oil, and now, everybody buys it! All major brands of rapeseed oil are now labeled 'canola oil.' Haven't you ever wondered: "What is canola oil is made out of?" I mean, peanut oil is made from peanuts, and olive oil is made out of olives, but canola oil isn't made from 'canolas.' There is no such thing as 'a canola.' There are many other foods with unpleasant names that were renamed by food processors to beef up their sales. Maybe I'll cover some of them in future newsletters.


Speaking of euphemisms....Last month, my dentist told me that he wanted to "deep clean" my teeth. He said that he would have to anesthetize me first for the procedure. I asked him: "Why do you have to anesthetize me just to clean my teeth?" He said: "This isn't regular tooth cleaning. This is deep cleaning." I said: "What's the difference?" He said: "Well, we used to call this procedure 'root scraping', but a lot of people wouldn't let us do it. We take this planing tool and get it under your gums, and then scrape the roots of your teeth. Since we changed the name of this procedure from 'root scraping' to 'deep cleaning', everybody lets us do it." Yep! I'm sure that's true! As it turned out, this procedure wasn't painful, but it did take a long time, over 2 hours.


$50 Extreme Pizza Gift Cards. Good at all Extreme Pizza locations in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco. One gift card per apartment. I have given away Extreme Pizza gift cards before, but this will probably be the last time. My source for these cards is no longer trading pizza for chocolate. Too bad.

Betty Crocker Measuring Cups. If you have a glass measuring cup in your kitchen, you should get rid of it. Every year, dozens of people are seriously injured when glass or Pyrex measuring cups suddenly shatter in their hands. This usually happens after hot or cold liquids are poured into them. I like the Betty Crocker 32 ounce plastic measuring cup. This measuring cup has an unusual design. The spouts are on the sides and the handle goes straight back, like a Turkish coffee pot. That means that when you pour hot liquids out of the cup, your hand isn't directly over the steam. If you want one, I have them in the chocolate room.

Mark Tarses

Back to Mark Tarses Home Page