Monday, March 27, 2017


Not too long ago, my friend Keith dropped over to my desk at work and asked me, "Have you tried to buy light bulbs lately?" I responded that I had, and that the array of available options was dizzying. Keith was trying to replace a five-plus year old bulb in his house with the equivalent, but nothing seemed to be a truly good match. Really, you say? Oh, yes. Light bulb buying is a rather complicated endeavor these days.

As you've probably noticed if you've tried to buy replacement bulbs lately (and who hasn't?), the plain old incandescent bulb is essentially a thing of the past. Government regulations throughout the world have prohibited the manufacture or sale of them unless they are sufficiently energy efficient, and this is probably a good thing. For years, people have used halogen or xenon alternatives for task lighting in areas such as kitchens and workshops, but in the last few years, LED (light-emitting diode) lighting has become the preferred technology. The light is pure, clean and extremely energy efficient. There's only one problem with LED lighting, and that's the Kelvin scale for color temperature. Many people who are otherwise brilliant, conscientious and informed do not seem to understand the Kelvin scale and its relation to everyday lighting options.

The Kelvin scale is a absolute numeric index of temperature, and as it pertains to lighting, it serves as a color index as well. (I've included a helpful diagram with this post.) Lower Kelvin values tend to be warmer, while higher values more closely simulate daylight. As the Kelvin value increases, the light becomes more bluish. For example, soft white 100 watt home lighting is generally around 2700K, while surgery suites often utilize lighting in the 5000K or "daylight" range. The kind of lighting selected is typically based on the need: if you are looking to generate a warm, inviting feeling for your living room, select the lower temperatures; if, on the other hand, you need to simulate daylight and reflect most of the light impinging on an object back to your eyes for detailed desk or table work, select higher temperatures.

Selecting the "wrong" color temperature can have unpleasant consequences, particularly in outdoor lighting applications, where the human eye expects more gentle light. A quote from the Lightology website sums this up well:
Stay away from cooler color temperatures when lighting outdoor landscapes. The bluish tones from cooler temperatures can make environments appear sickly or unnatural, imparting a sense of uneasiness, and being on edge. Instead, opt for lighting with a very warm color temperature: 2700K LED is ideal, and 3000K is okay, too. The 2700K temperature offers a very soothing and natural tone that mimics the warm, comforting glow of a campfire. As such, it is ideal for creating relaxing, comfortable outdoor environments.
I always feel sorry for people who have selected higher Kelvin lighting, because I'm guessing that they are probably trying to do the right thing by being energy efficient, but that they haven't paid much attention to the details. Most of us consider "daylight" to be a good thing, but when it comes to outdoor environments, installation of high Kelvin options imparts a rather post-apocalyptic feeling to one's surroundings. I know that in my case, at least, I would like for my front yard to appear inviting, so that when you come to visit, you feel like you're going to be served a chilled martini instead of having your appendix removed.

That being said, there are definite benefits to LED lighting in some situations. Recently, all our incandescent choir loft lights, which sputtered and failed in a most inappropriately sacrilegious way, were replaced by LED's. The result was that we could now see our music evenly lighted without the fear that the lights would fail or that we would be spontaneously incinerated by the heat from the old incandescent bulbs. Two years ago, I saw a soprano's music almost catch fire. OK, I made that last part up, but you know what I mean.

The whole thing is fascinating in a way, and the technology available these days is seemingly limitless. So go out there when you have a chance and spend some time in the lighting aisle of your local Home Depot or Lowe's. You'll be amazed at the options available, but keep this Kelvin thing in mind, or you just may end up reawakening the spirit of George Orwell.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Like most people, I have owned countless pairs of jeans. I've lived in them for the larger part of my life since around 1971. For the most part, I've been satisfied with my purchases, but occasionally, a recalcitrant pair will surface, challenging all that I know and believe. Witness one such story.

Shortly before Christmas, I visited my local Macy's to buy several pairs of pants. I didn't go there with the intention of buying blue jeans, but after selecting a pair of camel colored duck Levi's and a slate gray pair of Calvins, I thought it might be a good idea to pick up a pair of dark washed Levi's 514's (number three from the top on the picture from my closet at right). I'd bought this style before, and people always said they looked good and fit well, so I banked on that. After all, I was working for Macy's at the time, and people loved to comment on each other's clothes. My female friends would not shy away from giving you an honest and truthful opinion, one way or the other, and I appreciated that. It saved me from a few potential fashion disasters such as the one that occurred around 2004, when my friend Jenny told me that she'd better never catch me wearing another pair of pants with a visible elastic waistband.

But back to the Macy's jeans. Before my purchase, I tried them on in the fitting room, checking them out from every angle, since you cannot be too careful there. The first day I wore the jeans to work (we had a casual dress policy), I noticed that as the day wore on, the jeans loosened considerably. By the end of the day, it became a struggle to keep them pulled up at the waist. They pooled over the tops of my shoes like rococo drapes in the parlor of a Louisiana plantation house. I brought them home and washed them, and the next time I wore them, they lasted a bit longer, maybe until early afternoon. This pattern continued throughout January, when I left Macy's to take semi-retirement.

Once I was not working, I had the opportunity to exercise more often, and I lost a few pounds. I saw this as a very positive thing until the next time I tried to wear the jeans. I put them on before I left the house one morning, and by lunchtime, they were sagging mercilessly. Now, I'm not a total fashion slave (okay, maybe sometimes), but this was unacceptable. It was time for action.

I bundled up the jeans in a Macy's plastic bag and headed to North Point Mall, where I had purchased them. I did this thinking that maybe the store would replace them. I wasn't looking for a refund, because I had owned them (and worn them) a few times, but I just wanted another pair like these. When I walked into the men's department that weekday morning, it was almost deserted, and within a minute or so, a male sales associate walked up to me and asked if he could help.

I was very honest with the sales person. I told him that I had purchased the jeans, had worn them on a few occasions, but that they just weren't working for me, and that I would like to exchange them. Mind you, there was basically no wear on these pants, but they seemed awfully big for the size on the label. The man looked concerned and downtrodden, and he began to ask questions. Eventually, I just said, "Hey, I used to work for the company. Tell me, is this something you cannot do?" At which point, he replied that no, since the jeans had been washed, they could not be returned. Now, I know that people do this all the time, but I didn't push the point. I put the jeans back in the bag and politely headed home.

That evening, I did a geeky thing: I looked up how to shrink jeans on the Internet. There's even a WikiHow page on how to do it. The next day, I followed the online instructions and voila, I had an almost perfectly fitting pair of jeans, except that they were still too long. After a trip to our favorite tailor shop and $16 for alterations, they were perfect. But seriously, I told myself, all this for one pair of pants. I wasn't even wearing them to a prom or anything. I had purchased them on sale, but after the alternations, any financial benefit from that had been negated.

I can only hope that all this effort is worth it, and that this pair of high maintenance jeans, like others in the past, will have a story to tell when they are retired to Goodwill or some other needy charity. But somehow, I think they'll always be treated just a bit differently from the other pairs in my closet.

I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes, you just have to work at something to get it right, or alternatively, anything worth having is worth fighting for. Seriously, there is nothing more awful than an ill-fitting pair of pants.

Monday, March 20, 2017


Just the other day, I was playing the game Hanging with Friends on my phone, and as it happened, my best word to offer up to my challenger at the time was "gratis." That's a word you don't hear every day. Growing up, my dad used it all the time, and I wasn't sure what it meant, so one day, I asked him. His definition was simple: "free."

We didn't pay for lots of stuff in those days. As you may have read elsewhere on this blog, my dad managed a grocery store, and in that position, one benefited from many gratis deals. Food brokers gave away free promotional materials to merchants if they sold a certain level of goods or maintained a particular level of stock for an item, and my father was rather gifted in the art of grocery marketing. He would mark cans of peas that had been selling for 29 cents at three for a dollar, and they would fly off the shelves. Things like that always amazed me.

One way Dad increased sales was with his outstanding hand-lettered promotional signage. Many Sunday evenings, he would make signs at the dining room table. I admired the sleek way he drew 9's, like an elongated oval that fell back on itself. Sometimes I helped make them, and even though mine didn't look nearly as symmetrical or colorful as his, he displayed them nevertheless. Sign making was an art of sorts, and his were very eye catching. So sales were good, and we got free stuff.

Thinking back on the dizzying array of gratis items we received, I realize that we had all bases covered. Here are a few samples of gifts that were bestowed upon our family during the 1960's:
  • Cutlery - This seemed to be a very popular item. We had knife sets "of the highest quality" from faraway places like Japan. (Come to think of it, we had lots of things from Japan.)
  • Flatware sets - We received a few of these, the most notable being a 24K gold electroplated set that was stored in a rolled-up moss green plastic sleeve. This set was reserved for fancy dinners like Easter or the times when someone would bring a new boyfriend or husband over for dinner.
  • The Teem Rabbit - This was an incredible chartreuse and yellow stuffed beast, standing over five feet tall, which my Dad brought home to me one Easter. (Teem was a 1960 Pepsi product, the equivalent of the recently-introduced Sprite from Coca-Cola.) Years later, the rabbit deteriorated somewhat after we had stored it in the attic and birds had nested in its stomach. But that wasn't enough to keep our inventive, packrat neighbor Kyle Davis from asking for it, to which we generously obliged. What he did with it, I have no idea.
  • Dented cans - We received many dented cans of food, many of which were unlabeled. My dad would write the contents in grease pencil on the sides of the cans. My mom could not stand this, because a) she felt that she had no clear idea of what was really in the cans, and b) she did not want us to get botulism from breached can contamination. I shared her concerns.
  • LP's - Occasionally, we would receive gratis records. The one that stands out in my mind is a two-album set of the Chase and Sanborn 102nd Anniversary Edition radio program featuring Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, which I later found online as an MP3 (you can find anything out there). I still have those LP's.
  • Gum machine toys - It is inevitable in the operation of an urban grocery store that candy machines will be violated and will break, spilling their contents on the floor. The vendors would come and replace all the gum and toys, and in those rare cases, my dad generally scooped up some of the escaped toys and brought them home. I had several boxes of these and played with them ad infinitum.
None of this was very expensive, but oddly enough, I have kept many of the items. My mom had stored the cutlery and flatware at her house, and when she passed away several years ago, we packed them up and brought them home. Our girls are now acquiring the cutlery piece by piece as they set up their respective households.

I know I'll be fine with eventually disposing of all the gratis items except for one, and that's the moss green sleeved 24K gold flatware set. When I see that, I remember how we used it when Aunt Ida brought her boyfriend Mack and later, her new husband Herbert over for dinner. Come to think of it, just like that flatware, Herbert was a keeper.