Product Review: Litter Robot

Posted by Steve on Tue, 04/06/2010 - 8:18pm


I never thought I'd be doing a product review for an electronic cat litter pan.   A table saw or compressor, yes.  Well, until I get back into construction mode at BRH, I've got to fill the blog with something.

Seriously though, regulars to this blog know that I don't accept direct advertising and that I generally steer clear of product reviews.  I usually spotlight a product only when it really pleases me (like the Magic Trowel and Glasseye 2000) or it pissed me off (the ISY99-i Insteon controller, cheap CFL bulbs and stay tuned for an upcoming mega-smackdown on Mannington engineered flooring!)

You've probably seen late night TV ads for self-cleaning cat litter pans and assumed that there had to be major issues with them.  I did.  After all, how many people do you know who actually own one?   I never took them seriously until the Great Owls Head Cat TNR Roundup last summer.  Afterward, the feline population at Brooklyn Row House suddenly increased to four healthy, adult cats and the occasional drudgery of litter pan cleaning became a hateful morning ritual.   Anything that could reduce that aggravation has my permission to call itself a "tool".


"This time for sure!"

Posted by Steve on Sat, 03/06/2010 - 2:48pm


The old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show had a series of interstitials with Bullwinkle attempting, and failing, to pull a rabbit out of a hat and Rocky increasingly skeptical that he would ever succeed.

FlyerAs tortured an analogy as that may be, it's how the Bay Ridge community has regarded announcements of the opening of the prodigal Key Food supermarket on Bay Ridge Ave (69th St).    It was almost two years ago that the neighborhood was buzzing with rumors that Key Food was negotiating to take over the two large buildings formerly owned by Harry's furniture store.  Yet, only a couple of months before that, Key Food announced that it was closing its well-patronized 95th St supermarket.  So this latest scuttlebutt left much to be skeptical about, especially when the new location wasn't exactly ideal for a large supermarket.

For one thing, there was no parking lot.  There was a single-story building across the street that was the old Harry's annex which at one point in its history might have served as a garage of some sort.  But with the pillar obstructions I remembered seeing in the old Harry's annex and the nonexistent driving skills of Bay Ridge SUV pilots, they couldn't honestly be thinking about letting soccer moms and cell phone jockeys park their own land barges in there.  It would be a day-long fender bender.  You could construct bleachers and sell tickets!

Then there was the issue of 69th Street itself: a narrow two-lane road that already has serious congestion issues from being forced to service avenue-level traffic.  Both local and express buses use 69th Street as do trucks and emergency vehicles.   Worse, there's a kitchen wholesale business on the block and their semis often stop traffic for several minutes while the driver threads the needle with his 18 wheeler and the narrow loading dock.



Some DIYer I turned out to be

Posted by Steve on Sat, 01/16/2010 - 10:26pm


During the heating season -- from late October until April -- I run a large humidifier 24/7. It's something I've done since music school. I had a 115 year-old Czech flat-back double bass that didn't like steam heat. By the time spring arrived I would have spent anywhere from $300 to $1000 at the luthier getting glue joints fixed, new cracks repaired, the sound post reset and so forth. Running a big honkin' humidifier was a lot cheaper and the bonus was learning that it was healthier for people too.

The humidifier, a six gallon Bemis, is located in the kitchen extension where it's close to water and where the noise is less annoying. When I walked into the kitchen to feed the dogs yesterday morning, something was missing. It was quiet. Normally that means the humidifier tanks need refilling, but I'd just done that the night before.

I checked the unit and there was no sign of power. I pulled out the heavy breakfront to get to the wall outlet, forgetting about large bottle of VSOP on top. It shattered on the floor, showering my pants in brandy. After a quick clean-up and clothing change, I checked the plug with the first thing I found: my cordless phone charger. There was no juice at the outlet. Or at the next one either. Hmmm, a blown breaker?

The basement breaker panel looked fine. Nothing tripped. Aha! That circuit is downstream of a GFI exterior outlet on the back porch. Sure enough, it had tripped. I reset the GFI and the circuit, and humidifier, popped back to life. I climbed the stairs to my office/mushroom cave, self-satisfied that I'd fixed a problem that would have driven a lesser man to call an electrician.

An hour later, I went back to the kitchen for a coffee refill and saw that the humidifier was dead again. Drat, that probably means a bad GFI. Oh well, I can handle that too. But when I reset the GFI this time, the circuit was still down. Huh?


The High Price for Cheap Rent

Posted by Steve on Sun, 11/15/2009 - 11:57pm


On a nearby street, a line of ugly, cheaply built, 1980s-vintage row houses stand on a plot of land where there was once a neglected old Victorian. The six houses share a communal front "yard" -- a quarter-acre concrete pad that gives the place all the charm of a New Jersey strip mall. To complete that grim visual, cars are illegally parked on it, usually double wide, often obstructing the sidewalk.

In fact, there are more cars than one would expect from six single-family homes. A couple of months ago, I deduced why that was when I saw a small "For Rent" sign hanging from the railing in front of one of those row houses. The answer: because they've also got illegal apartments. A visit to the Department of Buildings' information system confirmed that all of those houses lack a Certificate of Occupancy to permit rental apartments.

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