20 March, 2014

It's Not Planned Obsolescence...

Whatever the heck it is, it's damned infuriating all the same. What got me going on this thread was this. We were sitting on our front porch yesterday evening, early, just after supper, talking and enjoying our short twilight. All of a sudden something swooped down out of the ceiling or somewhere, and damned near hit Dianna. instead, it crashed onto the floor and broke into a bunch of small pieces.

It goes without saying that it couldn't have been the almost two months the Isuzu has been in the shop waiting for a part (a used part at that) to come down from the States.

Anyway, we jumped up and turned on the porch light. it took a few seconds to see what had happened. We have this perforated metal sheet material, that I had cut and placed in between the porch ceiling rafters to act as screens to keep bugs and other nasties out of our porch.
Decaying Screen on Porch
It had done the job very well for several years, but decided last night to give up the ghost, disintegrate, and proceed to fall all over the place on the porch. Since this initial piece was only a three-inch or so triangle, in and of itself, it really wasn't that big of a deal. But it got me to thinking.

If you've been following this blog for a while, you know that lately, I've been spending what seems to be an inordinate amount of time repairing, replacing, fixing, and/or substituting this and that thing, piece of equipment, appliance, electrical device, hardware, or whatever.

I mean in short, anything and everything from a rubber door-stop to a fairly high-tech laptop, or dare I say, a vehicle, has decided that now is the time to take a dive off the deep end. Stuff has snapped off where it shouldn't, melted, rusted, corroded, grown mold, disintegrated, cracked, split, plain busted, or quit working for no apparent or discernible reason.

Here's the thing. stuff up in the States and in Canada seems to last more or less for a reasonable length of time. In some cases, even longer. I remember wishing at times that some widget that we had been using for years would break so I would have an excuse to go to the handy neighborhood store to pick up the latest and greatest whatever it was that had caught my fancy.

On the other hand, everything down here is subject to great big gobs of humidity, intense sunlight, and I assume UV radiation. Not to mention, assaults by geckos, spiders, cucaraches, wood lice, molds, mildew and a myriad of other fungi, bugs and wiggly things that you have no idea what the hell they are.

All of this conspires to cause severe shortening of useful life of anything that you want to use. Stuff that you’ve never used that’s occupying space in a drawer or a closet, seems to be immune to these newly discovered laws of nature. That crap will last forever. It’s just anything good, that you can and want to use, well, you can be sure that, sooner or later, it’s gonna break on you, and certainly by that ‘lucky seven’ year. If it doesn't break, trust me, the handle will become sticky and extremely unsanitary looking.

If there’s two (or more) parts to something, say like a hand mixer that has two mixing thingies, well, you can be sure that one of them will rust out or otherwise fall apart.

Now, I’m just guessing here, but since we’ve lived here for about seven years and this seems to be the year that I’m trying to repair, replace, fix, or repair just about everything we own, I’m going to state it as a scientific fact that the working lifespan of all your stuff is right around the seven year mark.

This means, that if you’ve scrimped and saved to be able to acquire stuff here (it’s a given, that the stuff you brought down, if it was used already, by the time seven years rolls around, it’s already been relegated to the junk heap of life) has just reached it’s ‘use by’ date and if it hasn’t yet, soon will crap out on you.

So, the rule of thumb should be, that once you get all your stuff and start living down here, thinking you’re set for the long haul… guess again.

As soon as you acquire all that stuff, you have to begin scrimping and saving to be able to replace it all during the seventh year, and by extrapolation, every seven years thereafter. Fun, huh?

At least then, that’s when you get to get that new, latest and greatest gadget. Of course, you have no way of knowing just how long it sat on the shelf before you came into possession of it, so your chances of getting a full seven years useful life out of it, are ‘iffy’ at best.
Of course, if it hasn’t been around for the full seven years, then your cat (you do have at least one of those, don’t you?) will take matters into his own hands, and help move it toward the end of it’s workable life.

Take for example, the nice little keyboard I recently purchased. Yesterday morning, Dianna and I were sitting in the living room enjoying a nice breakfast from the taco stand at Gomez Cemento Maya, when all of a sudden - ‘CRASH!’ came from our office. What the hell was that?

I jumped up from the couch and hot-footed it into the office. What I saw at that time was that my souvenir police helmet from the North Wales Constabulary, had somehow come crashing down to the floor from the shelf high over my desk. How did that happen? Hmmm, I wonder.

It wasn’t till a couple hours later, when I sat down at my desk to check email, that I noticed a whole bunch of little shards of black plastic on the floor. What’s that, I wondered? It took me a couple of seconds to realize just what I was looking at. My keyboard had suffered a grievous, though not fatal injury.
Damaged Keyboard
It seems that when the helmet was launched by Mr. Nelson (one of our two cats), on it’s way to the floor the helmet decided to whack the corner of the keyboard and splinter the corner of that to pieces.

As you can tell from this posting, the keyboard still works. But now, its innards are exposed to the humidity even more than before. Any guesses as to how long it’s going to last?

You know the saying, ‘This is why we can’t have anything nice?’ Well, now you know. No, you can’t have anything nice. If it survives to year seven, it will have faded, shrunk, wrinkled, rusted, corroded, molded, or rotted, so that by the time that magic seventh year rolls around, it will be barely recognizable as the cute, colorful, and useful widget it once was.

Since men usually don’t care a whole lot about ‘nice’ things. Here’s the kicker. Your tools fall under the same spell as everything else, with this addendum.

None of your tools were built to survive down here. You might have a really nice worm-drive circular saw that was your pride and joy up north. Hah! The wood down here just laughs at your saw. The stuff that’s called ‘wood’ here is so hard, dense, and heavy, that if your tools were actually built to be used with this wood, you’d be able to pass any power tool down for generations to come, instead of replacing it every couple years or so.

I mean, when was the last time you tried to drive a concrete nail into a piece of wood and actually bent the nail? And that’s with a clean strike of the hammer! However, with the wood as hard as it is down here, it too decays, as in suffers dry rot, termites, wood lice, big-ass long-tentacled bugs that chew their way out of wood, and on and on it goes. it occurs in all but the hardest of the hard woods (such as bullet tree wood).

Case in point, I recently had to repair some floorboards on our front porch. Here's a shot of that in repair job in progress, of course with proper supervision and inspection.
Nelson and April Inspecting
This was one of those little projects that in your mind's eye, should only take an hour or so. Three days later, my part was done, thanks in no small part to David W. loaning me his oscillating tool with saw blade. We weren't sure if it would work (again, the hard woods) but it came through admirably.
Repaired and Varnished Floorboards
This shot was taken after the repairs were completed (I redid four boards) and after Cody sanded and varnished the porch floor. Doesn't look too bad, all things considered. I guess that I did digress just a bit here.

Suffice to say, this tropical environment is rich and it encourages a spirit of renewal…

No, it isn’t. It’s terrible. It causes everything to fall apart. It’s all in a constant state of decay and disrepair. Nothing works right, at least for very long.

Is it Hell or is it paradise? Sometimes, and in regard to stuff, I don’t think there’s a difference. But, at least it’s warm, and there’s no snow, and the Belikin is cold. Maybe there is a blessing here to be had. I might have one right now… Where’s that bottle opener?


JRinSC said...

Wow, good thing you retired "young", a relative term indeed! My biggest worry would the care and feeding of your fridge! You gotta keep the beer cold, period!

I wondered if you were off on an extended vacation but I see you weren't. I feel for you, Dave. That is a very tough environment in which to live. But think of all the experience and skills you've attained over the last seven years! Man, I couldn't afford to hire you!

Seriously, you must had most of the toughest, messiest jobs done by now. Fate would not come up and hit from behind, I just know it.

Good luck,


Dave Rider said...

Hi Julian,

Well, as a matter of fact, we've had the beer fridge repaired twice - so far. So, we're trying to keep it cold.

Thanks for the good wishes on the post. Glad you enjoyed it.


Anonymous said...


For your keyboard: Marine Tex Rapid Set epoxy (black so it won't be too noticeable) or JB Weld Marine. Let me know if you cannot obtain this locally, and i will send some to you.

We were told something very valuable by Karen Traverse of the Maine Stay in Seine Bight: you need your in use item, your back-up and your back-up for your back-up.

This philosophy has helped us maintain marginal sanity here in Monkey River where electronics corrode faster than any place on earth.

As an example, we collect rainwater for use, no city water here. When the water pump went belly up, it took about 10 minutes to drop in the exact model replacement, and we were back in business. That used up our in use and back-up pumps. So I had to have another one shipped from the US as the next back-up.

We have also planned this for larger items. We have severe flooding from the river, and so going to ton can be a major ordeal, We can depart Monkey River by road, by boat or by a second used boat we obtained.

This may not be practical in your case, but it has helped reduce anxiety for us.

It does add an extra layer of expense, but it has helped us out when in difficult situations.

We also store most items in plastic ziplock bags when not in use. It helps to keep the salt spray off them. We also use activated silica for some items to keep the corrosion down.

I do agree with you that the tropics including Belize is a hostile environment, and care needs to be taken with electronics , otherwise, you are transported back to the 18th century very quickly.

I hope that you will have some respite from all the repairs and can enjoy your lives and living up in Corazol. Try thinking along the lines of in use, back-up and back-up for the backup. It might help you out of some annoying situations which have significant down time.

Dennis, on the Coast North of Monkey River.

Dave Rider said...

Hi Dennis,

Thanks for your comment. I can get JB Weld here in Corozal. i'll give it a try.

Backups and backups to the backups... Well, I guess in a way we do that. We have our Mennonite house and we duplicate a lot of stuff down in the pool house.

I'm thinking we'll need a warehouse to store our backup-backups. How to keep the B-Bs from decaying at the same rate as the primary stuff? Cover it in grease, use a giant Seal-A-Meal? I already have a collection of those little desiccant packs from vitamin and other pill bottles... maybe use those?

Speaking of pills, do you open and close your pill bottles as quickly as possible to keep the contents from absorbing more humidity than absolutely necessary? I'm beginning to find the dexterity required for that will be harder and harder as time marches on and my fingers get stiffer and stiffer.

Now, if only everything came in a blister-pack... Now we're talking preservative measures!


Anonymous said...

Yes the back-ups and BU's for the BU's take up space, which is why our tiny cabana looks like the inside of the local hardware store. We keep as much in ziplocks as possible, and then inside another container (sometimes emptied Kitty Litter buckets, some times more upscale plastic storage boxes from Amazon, sometimes ice chests that are not otherwise in use).

Another local resident advocates spraying tools, locks, anything metallic, with WD40 before putting it in the bags. Not too certain this works though.

I have also used gun oil wipes to wipe down my tools before they are put back.

As far as the pills go, I can obtain a 100 day supply from my plan in the US. I count out the number of pills for a month and these go into a smaller pill bottle at ambient temperature which has a small silica gel packet inside it to minimize moisture. One of my medications comes with these little packets so it works pretty easily for me. The remaining pills are put back in the bottle, bagged and kept in the fridge until needed for the next month. They are allowed to warm up overnight when they are taken out of the fridge to minimize condensation.

I am also trying CAIG Deoxit on electronic connectors to reduce corrosion, but too soon to know if it is working. Also using marine grade electrical connectors/wire/heat shrink for everything.

All of this is in response to the shock I had after bringing down working items and then finding them dead after a year or so in storage (expensive new Fluke multimeter as an example), much like you describe in your blog installment.

I wonder if the corrosion is as bad in Phuket, Thailand?

Dennis, on the coast North of Monkey River

Dave Rider said...

Hi Dennis,

I've got three spray cans of WD-40 on my workbench, a can of rust penetrant (forgot the name) and little squirt bottles of oil and grease. Stuff I never worried about up North.

The other thing I finagle around with is batteries. Between avoiding counterfeits as much as I can, trying to keep a workable? supply on hand is a struggle. I can't leave batteries in anything. Nothing like coming back to the item after a month or two, finding it doesn't work, and opening it up only to find an exploded mass of corrosion oozing all over the board or whatever.

I'll have to see about ordering a can of the CAIG stuff. Add it to my collection.

It's almost a full-time job staying on top of all this sort of stuff that I used to think was a minor worry.

What else would I be doing anyway? Thanks for the tips.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

Dennis again. I was looking at the metal screen image. You might want to consider replacing it with Superscreen. This is a product we ordered to screen the veranda. We ordered the 20x17 mesh and it is good at keeping out insects down past the mosquito siz, sandflies will still get through if there is a decent breeze. The material is strong and does not decay very quickly. We put it up 3 years ago, and it has no signs of aging. The previous no-see-em netting degraded in 18 months.

I have no financial interest in the product or company. I am providing the link we used when we ordered, so you can take a look and see if it might mean less repair activities.

They also have a product for pets, but we have not tried it.

We are pretty much on the same path of experience in Belize. Lots of maintenance. I tell people back in the States that I am not retired. I have numerous jobs for which I receive no salary. So I'm not retired, just tired.

Dave Rider said...

Hi Dennis,

Thanks for the link. I might just get a roll of that material. Your comment sparked my thinking on how to solve that particular screening issue by making small screen frames that I can screw in place all around the porches. I'm going to check with Corozal Glass Co., and see about getting the frames made. If it's too much (hard to imagine) I can always do it myself.

What I really, really need is a way to cat-proof my window screens. Nelson, in his never-ending quest to nail geckos, frequently uses the screens to go after the little critters. He pulls the screen out of the spline track, leaving at least a portion of the screen just hanging. I need an inspiring thought on how to keep that from happening - more JB Weld, perhaps?