29 May 2006

Allergies, products, and 'newness'

This weekend a wonderful little thing that makes computing safer and easier went belly-up. This device was the APC Back-UPS XS 1500 which I bought... hmmm... well, over its warranty period ago, so at least 2 years. And I had purchased a similar from their RS line for another computer used by my Lady, so there was some commonality of parts between them. Needless to say, just outside the warranty period the thing suddenly gets the OVERLOAD light when I turn my computer on.

I did the 'unplug everything' to make sure it wasn't the computer. Turn off and then back on. Nope. Light and alarm still on.

I turned it off and pressed the circuit breaker reset for the machine, then back on again. Nope. Light and alarm still on. Ditto for manually holding it in during a power on/off cycle.

Hit website. Diagnosis: internal fault. Remedy: replace unit.

A deep, deep sigh at that point and thus begins another struggle with the modern world.

I do not mind the concept of 'planned obsolescence', although it does tend towards the concept of just making something 'good enough' to barely survive its active life. A refrigerator/freezer that my father bought from Westinghouse in 1957 is *still* humming along at my sister's place. It has *never* needed its refrigerant replaced and probably couldn't have that done today in any event and would need some sort of capture system to drain it of such before disposal. It has always *just worked* day in, day out for heading on 49 years. I remember when it was the *only* refrigerator in the house. I remember my mom wanting something larger and *newer* once we moved. I remember this huge, just off-avocado green color monster arrived. I remember the old Westinghouse being moved into the basement, soon to gain an upright freezer companion.

And I remember the *smell* of the new machine... and my allergies to it. A couple of weeks of sinus congestion, sneezing, eye irritation... seemingly without end, although in three weeks it had subsided. And I remember the exact same problem when the old Plymouth Valiant was replaces by that POS Volare (uhhh-ohhhhh!). Luckily I only had limited exposure to that *thing*. Then the *new* television. Color! And sneezing and so on... New carpet! And a month later I was more or less back to normal... Luckily, when my mom wanted a *new stove* she wanted a feature that hadn't been made since the 1960's (it was then the mid-1970's): a stove with a pull-out burner unit, so the entire surface would 'hide' inside the stove until needed. I was absolutely fine with that. The *new* dishwasher, on the other hand...

Yes, aromatic hydrocarbons left over from the manufacture of new plastics and electronics are a main source of allergic reaction to me. It does not matter if it is carpet, electronics, chairs, tables, microwaves, computer components, shelves... if it is *new* I am allergic to it. I call the phenomena 'off-gassing' in which volatile hydrocarbons and other long-chain molecules get liberated by the air. And the only sure-fire and absolute remedy is to have something 'air out' for a week or more on its lonesome in an isolated part of the house or, if it can be done, outside where the heat of sunshine will more quickly liberate the molecules.

The APC uninterruptable power supplies are toxic to both of us in this house, although the cats have no reaction to the off-gassing so far as we have seen. The last new unit spent a week in isolation plugged in, but I had, in my state of mind, forgot to turn it *on*. Needless to say a week or so of misery followed when it was actually put to use. And as I fully intend to finish my back-up computer and have it available and the old UPS from an ancient computer will not handle it, I have ordered two of the new units. I have already scoped out where they will go for their quarantine.

When I purchased my brand new Honda Insight I drove for 3 weeks with the windows down and the AC blasting air at all times. Night driving was a frigid affair and it wasn't even winter! I suffered moderately from it on rainy days when the windows must be up... but got used to it.

Of course when things go wrong, they like to come in squadrons, so that you get an absolutely 'full life' of problems to remind you that dullness is a *good thing*. So the Gevalia coffee maker/hot water pot combo lost its critical function of making coffee. I have ordered a low cost Black and Decker unit. New. It will cycle to a protected spot outdoors and then indoors until its smell is gone.

I have had this fanciful notion of having an underground home constructed for me. It would need all sorts of features, but the main one would be to use totally recycled material in its construction. Wood and panels and carpet that had been in the open air for *years*. I am wiling to try paints with low VOCs, then realized that I would need similar for the foundations and walls using something like Steelcrete or insulating concrete foam to gain resistance to humidity, molds and bacteria. Then the windows, triple-pane, high insulation factor and... here, just a little bit of nanotech helps in the way of Titanium Dioxide. Actually, if I could get a good source for that as an active paint in which the molecules would not destroy the paint polymers and yet still activate with VOCs and other long chain molecules, I would be set.

Titanium Dioxide is a simple molecule of one atom Titanium and two atoms of Oxygen. It is a natural catalyst for enhancing oxidation of long chain molecules. When you have it as a coating on glass, the most you will ever need to do is rinse the glass on the outside of a home once in a great while to remove dust. On the inside you will need to use a tiny vacuum or damp cloth to get rid of the dust. What is the dust? Anything that attempts to stay on the glass is oxidized away. Chemical odors are quickly broken down. Bacteria have *lots* of long chain molecules. So do mold and mold spores. Mud leaves only the non-volatile mineral fragments, the rest is broken down. You can get Titanium Dioxide bulbs for lamps and that should help speed the breakdown of allergens even more. My next home will be filled with those. They cost a bit more than standard compact flourescents, but they are well worth the try-out.

If the computer or metal casing industry would put a one-molecule thick layer of Titanium Dioxide on the surfaces of their casings, they would not *have* new plastic smell to them and serve to continually break such down in the interior environment. Surface area is the magic and the more the merrier and better. It is non-toxic and safe to touch, lean against and such... but fingerprints disappear after a few days. Self-cleaning and environmentally friendly and helps allergies. If you can find the products with it.

It is no wonder, then, that I love shopping at thrift stores, United Way, and Salvation Army stores. I am not dirt poor. I am allergic to *new*, for all the fact I enjoy modern technology. For me used and pre-owned and gently refurbished is better than good.

So there it stands, a few weeks of misery coming up as I do *need* coffee in the morning. Part of the basement will be a *sniff test* zone. And I will spend my time thinking of how fast to install Titanium Dioxide coated lightbulbs in the near future home... I plan on buying one that is *used* unless I can find a builder that understands about allergies to the modern world. And even then: Trust, but verify.

If anyone wants an old, steel constructed institutional desk that weighs a few hundred pounds, let me know. I can no longer shift it and that means I need a lighter weight one at my new home. This poor beast needs to go, and it will be scrap metal otherwise. Well worn-in, scratched, a dent here and there... the five drawers work, the top is fake wood and flat, the colors are institutional light brown and some shade of green that you see only on surgical masks. Ugly. I love it. Probably 1960's vintage... ditto a flimsy set of sheetmetal shelving in black. Old friends that will need to part ways with me... a few other household items like these will go to let a simplification process begin. Available sometime probably late this summer or early fall, health permitting a fast move. This paragraph will disappear when they do.

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