Charge! Address the Mess!

My world runs on rechargeable batteries.

Three laptops, two Kindles, two cellphones, six cameras, four mouses (mice have fur and make squeaky noises, mouses attach to your computer), wireless keyboards, GPS, various clocks, flashlights, who-knows-how-many remote controls, electric razors, tooth cleaning machines, and a mind-numbing array of miscellaneous devices I can’t remember off-hand. To keep the world running, Other than those things that run on AAA and AA rechargeable batteries, everything else uses some kind of proprietary battery. I do not understand why camera makers feel obliged to use a different battery for each camera model. Surely they could design at least all cameras of one type to use the same battery.

75-PowerNIK-CR-70

I don’t always realize how dependent we are on batteries and chargers until I’m packing for vacation. Half a carry-on bag is entirely allocated to chargers and wires. And that’s just for items we use while traveling: laptop accessories,  Kindles, cell phones, mouses, portable speakers, cameras and accessories. Laptops and cameras have their own cases … but there’s never enough room for the chargers.

75-GearNIK-CR-72

I used to pack all the chargers and wires carefully, all coiled and tied to avoid tangling. One day, I gave up. Now I shove the chargers and wires in a bag and untangle as needed.

At home, I have to keep track of what needs charging and which chargers they use. There are so many I finally was unable to remember which batteries went with which gadget. I really had to address the mess.

The floor of my office is covered with wires and power strips. I’m afraid to walk anywhere because I might step on something fragile.

I did what I do best: research. There are solutions. Not all power strips are the same, and there’s a whole new generation designed to address exactly the problems we all have with too many chargers and power supplies. Some of them are quite pricey, some more affordable. It’s still cheaper to buy a generic strip at Walmart or Target. But you may actually wind up with more usable space if you pay a bit more and get a strip designed to accommodate various sizes and shapes.

These deal with the problem of oddly shaped and variously sized chargers and power supplies, both strips and as wall sockets.

Let’s start with the Belkin Pivot Surge Protectors. These are available in a 3 versions: a 6-outlet wall mounted version, plus 2 corded versions (6 and 8 foot).

There is extra space between sockets and most also pivot and rotate to let you use all the outlets without waste. Belkin products are usually high quality and they are well-known for their surge protectors. Of course, you may or may not actually need surge protection, but most of these units include it.

I put surge protectors on computers and printers. Battery chargers are cheap and easy to replace and anyway, surges aren’t my problem. Power outages are more likely to be the problem, but a surge protector is no help with that.

Lightning is a problem. Surge protectors are useless against lightning.

We’ve been hit by lightning on three occasions. The first strike was on a utility pole in front of the house. It took out two computers and a printer. The second took down a tree, but no equipment. The third strike killed the well pump which is more than 450 feet underground. That’s how I learned that lightning can strike underground. Apparently the combination of electricity, metal, and water is very attractive to lightning. Well pumps are expensive and not necessarily covered by home insurance.

Lightening is incredibly powerful. Anything plugged in when lightning strikes will get fried. The only thing that will protect against lightning is having your equipment physically unplugged when it strikes. Just a bit of advice from someone who has learned her lesson the hard way.

Insurance will replace equipment, but no one will replace lost data. For that you need a backup on a separate drive.

Prices for the Belkin surge protectors (on Amazon) range from about $18 for the wall-mounted unit, to $25 for the 12-outlet unit with an 8-foot cord, to $27 for the 8-outlet surge protector with a 6-foot cord. The 8-outlet is a very different design and lets you rotate the outlets so that you can use all of the outlets regardless of the size or shape of the chargers or power supplies you want to plug in.

The design of the 8-outlet unit spreads the outlets along a round, wand-like strip that lets you configure the sockets to fit a wide variety of variously sized and shaped chargers and power supplies.

Quite a bit of creativity has gone into some of the designs. By the way, all of these are available on Amazon.

The creative solutions don’t end here. The Kensington 62634 SmartSockets 6-Outlet 16 Foot Cord Table Top Circular Color Coded Power Strip and Surge Protector looks like an electrified lazy Susan. Designed to put in the middle of a conference table so participants can all plug their laptops in at the same time, you could as easily use it on the floor.

It’s rather pricey at more than $40, but it is very cool and if you need a table top strip, this is probably a good choice.

For 25% less, Quirky makes something similar. The white Quirky Pivot Power 6 Outlet Flexible Surge Protector Power Strip costs a couple of dollars less than the identical unit in black. I have no idea why.

Though not cheap, it is not as expensive as the Kensington or Belkin units, nor as fancy. The sockets rotate, but don’t swivel. If you can live without swiveling and color coding, you can get one of these for just under $30. Exactly what will work for you, whether or not any of these will be right for you, depends on the shape of the space you have and how many devices and chargers you have.

If, like me, your charger problem extends into your kitchen and bathroom, there are wall-mounted units for that let you rotate outlets.

360 Electrical 36035-W 4-Outlet Rotating Surge Protector

You can keep your electric razor and water pic plugged in and still have somewhere to attach the hair dryer or curling iron. And if, like my husband, you want to play the radio while you do your daily ablutions, you have a plug for that too. At about $15, it’s a real problem-solver. There are other versions made for kitchen appliances that come with more outlets in some fascinating shapes.

My personal favorite and what consider the most power strip for the least money is Ideative’s Socket Sense 6-Outlet Expandable Surge Protector, 3-Foot Cord. It’s simple and costs just $15. You can set the spacing as needed. Since the equipment in our life keeps changing, I’m attracted by a strip that I can adapt to changing requirements. I have two of them and need one more.

Ideative Socket Sense 6-Outlet Expandable Surge Protector, 3-foot Cord

Ideative’s strips are comparatively simple. No rotating or color coding outlets, but you can make the space between outlets larger or smaller, so most things should fit easily. The sockets are angled to make it easier to plug stuff in.

There are more. Tripp Lite makes a series of high voltage surge protecting traditional strips that have as many as 24 outlets.

They are expensive and much higher tech than I need, but it depends on what you need … and the size of your budget, because those babies cost upwards of $50 apiece.

Below is a cord splitter, one alternative to a strip. I have one in my office and it has the advantage that any size device will fit into any plug. These are also sometimes called hubs and may include special sockets for charging USB devices, or hooking up phone lines. I also have a hub like this on my desk that gives me an extra five USB outlets. Just be aware that not every device operates properly through a hub; some devices need to be plugged directly into the computer.

Civilization probably wouldn’t survive the loss of electricity, but until the world as we know it comes to an end, at the very least we can make life a little easier. All you need is willingness to do the research … and a credit card. With some credit on it.

Like so many problems in life, if you throw money at it, you can make it to go away. More or less.

 

Solomon’s Seal

solomon's seal 1

One of the very few wildflowers that is truly a native to these shores, Solomon’s Seal is on the endangered list of wildflowers.

They thrive in our woodland garden. There are many more in the woods. We planted just a couple of them along the edge of the woods by our driveway a dozen years ago and they have increased to quite a large patch.

These have not opened yet. I think that will be a couple of days from now, but even when they do, the flowers are as green as the stems on which they grow. I will take more pictures as they bloom. I do dearly love them.

Solomon's Seal 2

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Above – Springtime Awaits You

SpringAfternoon Waiting

Looking down on the dandelions and the shadows across the sunlit lawn. The season and the sunshine await you, await me. Come out and play!

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Daily Prompt: The Little Things – Music to My Ears

The issues of the world … the problems between our government and the governed, hostility between nations. Terrifying and potentially calamitous environmental and economic crises everywhere you look. Bombarded by the woes of humankind and a myriad of looming catastrophes. Besieged by forces over which we have no control.

Indeed we have little control over many things. Our destinies lie in the hands of other people, Fate and God. Tossed hither and yon by the winds of chance, buffeted by challenges that seem unconquerable, we can take comfort in small joys, little things, simple gifts.

I didn’t expect acquiring an uncomplicated, modestly priced, nice-sounding CD player would present a major challenge. How hard could it be to buy something on which to play music as I fall asleep at night? It has been a while since we had the wherewithal to play music without complicated reconfiguration of speakers and various connected computerized equipment. I know MP3 players are all the rage, but I don’t want to use a teeny tiny device I can barely see and which requires either auxiliary speakers or earphones. I want music to fill the room. And I want it to be a simple thing. Put the CD in, press play. Music!

It turned out to be a lot more difficult to satisfy my criteria than I imagined possible. If I was willing to spend a lot of money — much more than I have — I could get something amazing. But I’m not looking for a stereo system. I’m sure Bose equipment is terrific, but it’s way beyond our budget. All I wanted was something simple. With a nice sound. At a reasonable price.

I actually found it. Sometimes, you get lucky.

Meet the PHILCO AM and FM Clock Radio with CD Player

Searching for my simple solution to playing CDs in the bedroom without buying a full stereo setup I finally saw this odd old-fashioned clock radio with a CD player built into it. I was about to give up, and there it was: this amazing retro style radio and CD player designed to look like an old Philco television set.

Philco CD player

The Amazon reviews were all five stars. You don’t see that very often. Like never. Usually someone has a complaint. Not for this, though. With a price just under $50 and a size that would fit on the shelf behind my bed, it looked to be exactly what I wanted. I could drift into slumber to my favorite Beethoven string quartets.

I remained skeptical. Too often I’ve been seduced by great reviews only to be disappointed.

In a strange happy moment, I got exactly what I sought. The reviews were dead on. It’s an amazing little unit. Wonderful rich, big sound. It fits on top of the headboard bookcase. It’s got a vintage look I like. It’s heavy for its size, has a solid feel, not flimsy or plasticky. I like it so much I got a second one for the living room. In theory our DVD player plays CDs, but it’s not a simple “pop the CD in and voilà music” sort of DVD player. It’s a very fine DVD player, but it’s got dozens of functions I have yet to figure out and in which I have no interest at all.

Philco Clock Radio CD

I am strongly in favor of simplicity. Easy to use stuff get used. The more complicated the equipment, the more likely it is to become a dust catcher, another great idea that didn’t work out.

And so we welcomed music back into our lives after a long absence. Surprisingly, radio reception is good too, remarkable for this area renowned for poor reception.

It is a small thing, but I smile every time I look at it. I sigh with contentment every night when I wrap myself in music. Sweet dreams guaranteed. For just under $50. Life is good.

– – –

Mending Wall, Robert Frost

MENDING WALL

Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Apple Blossoms

Purple Sweaters, Orange Dresses

I have acquired a goodly number of sweaters over the years. This is New England. Winters are long. Heating oil is expensive. Sweaters fill the gap.

This morning I noticed most of my sweaters are purple. I’ve got a few in black, a couple in red. But over all, purple dominates. The sweater collection used to be mostly black. I’m from New York where women wear black. It’s a thing. A co-worker in Israel once told me I dressed like a nun. I could never wear the bright colors she wore. I’d feel like I was dressed in a neon sign and I’d have to wear sunglasses all the time.

The purpling of my wardrobe occurred gradually while I wasn’t paying attention, one sweater at a time … a lavender cashmere here, a dark purple merino there.  The seasons passed until my wardrobe was awash in purple.

If you surmise from this that I love purple, you’d be wrong. While I have nothing against the color, the plethora of clothing in purple signifies only that purple is a color frequently remaindered at clearance time … and it is the most acceptable (to me) of the frequently left over hues.

Purple sweaters scream “final mark-down.” One of the perils of waiting until the end of the season is the selection of colors and sizes is limited. As a habitue of end-of-the-season sales, I know what to expect. Lots of purple, white, orange and some nasty shades of green in which no one looks healthy.

Leftovers also will include whatever “specialty colors” designers were sure would be the next big things. These colors are inevitably named after fruits or veggies. They never sell well, so there are plenty of whatever it was in the clearance aisle. All the normal, neutral colors are gone, but you’ll find fruit salad: cantaloupe , mango, kiwi, aubergine, honeydew, sugarplum, pumpkin, mocha and vanilla bean are among many recent attempts to boost the popularity of familiar colors by giving them fruity new names. The problem is, we all knew they were tan, and orange and coral and lavender, so people who like those colors bought them. New names did not make any old color the next big anything.

I’m a big fan of neutral colors. In addition to being essentially conservative where color is concerned, I spent many decades working and commuting. If I wanted to have a life outside of work, dressing had to be fast, mindless.

Neutral colors are the backbone of a working woman’s wardrobe. If almost all of your clothing is black, grey, off-white, taupe, brown, or khaki, putting together an outfit is a piece of cake. Grab a top, grab a bottom, attach earrings to lobes and voilà. It’s a go-anywhere wardrobe for the fashion-challenged. In other words, me.

The years rolled on. I stopped working and I didn’t have much money to spend on clothing. The percentage of purple and orange in my wardrobe rose accordingly. All of this goes to explain the orange dress in my closet. I’ve had it for almost a year but the tags are still attached. It was a 2011 leftover bought the spring of 2012. It’s still waiting to be worn as the spring of 2013 approaches. My problem? It’s not black. I’m not sure I’ve ever worn a winter dress that wasn’t black.

So this lovely garment — a nice soft color, not one of the putrid glowing ones — is still in the closet waiting for its first public appearance. I suppose I could have worn it to one of the parties I went to in December, but I wound up, as usual, wearing black. I fit right in. Boston women wear almost as much black as New York women. It must be a Right Coast thing.

Although a shortage of money has elevated and honed my bargain hunting skills, I have always been a bargain shopper. As far back as I can remember, I’ve looked for final sales and closeouts, even when I wasn’t strapped for funds.

It’s a family tradition. My mother raised me to hold fast to one unyielding principle: Never pay full price. 

I have always taken pride in scoring a really great buy. You aren’t supposed to brag about how much you pay. You’re supposed to brag about how much you didn’t pay. The less you pay, the greater your bragging rights.

I was astonished to discover that some people are proud of paying a lot for something they could have gotten for half off if they’d waited a couple of days. That’s weird, don’t you think? Okay, they might have had to get it in purple or orange, but think of all the money they’d save!

Would I have different attitude towards shopping if I were rich? Maybe, but mostly, I don’t think I’d change much.

To put it in perspective, back in the early 1990s, I got into a tug of war with Carly Simon for possession of a 70% off clearance sale silk blouse in a very chi-chi shop in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. The blouse was orange.

I won. It was a fantastic blouse.

Bargain hunting is not just for people on a tight budget. For some of us, it’s a contact sport.

Somewhere, in Heaven, Mom is smiling proudly.