What you pay for

I have posted a few times about cheap Chinese products. One of my recent free-international-shipping purchases was a replacement for a 4-port USB hub that was compact, highly-rated on Amazon, and, for whatever reason, disappeared.

After a week, its status.

discarde cheap Chinese 4-port USB hub, Uruguay

Obviously a quality-control reject, it dropped connections. Fortunately, during its brief tenure, I did not rely on it for external drives, just keyboard and mouse.

So it’s a complete write-off, my investment of USD 0.99, delivered from China for free.


Goodbye slotted screws

Twelve or thirteen years ago, when we lived in Spokane, I reached my breaking point. I don’t recall specifics, but it resulted in me going through all the hardware in my workshop, new and used, and throwing in the trash every slotted screw I could find.

slotted screw

Come to find that in Uruguay slotted screws are ubiquitous. The other day, in order to clean the outsides of our wooden windows with homemade screens, I had to remove a couple of them. The frames and windows have slots in them, and a removable wooden spline is screwed to the top frame. Hmm, let me try that another way:


Squinting up against the outside light, it’s hard enough to find the old and dark screws’ locations, much less the orientation of the slot. For a couple of them I had to use a flashlight.

After everything was cleaned, I put all but one of them back, which I took to the ferretería, to buy the same with a Phillips head. And so, into the trash with the slotted screws!

Perhaps one day I’ll feel the same about Phillips head screws, and insist on Pozidriv or Supadriv or Robertson (square), or double square, or triple square, or hex socket, or double hex, or Torx. But I doubt it. The 81-year old Phillips is just fine for now.




More on the ladders

Just in case you were wondering if the ladders were really that bad, look at what was left on the chopping block after splitting seven steps from one into kindling.

bug-eaten wood from ladder, Urruguay

As you can see, much of the inside of each step has been turned to dust.

It reminds me of buying new rustic furniture in Mexico. Within days, you’d find coin-sized perfectly round mounds of incredibly fine wood dust on the floor beneath it, and have to apply some horridly toxic liquid to every square inch of its surface to kill all the tiny critters.



Free international shipping

I’ve posted several times about buying stuff from China with free international shipping (including a 99¢ money clip I used today). The latest is more of the same, with a couple of international twists: first, it came from India, not China.

Piezo lighter delivered to Uruguay from India for free

Here, exactly:

India map

Secondly, I thought of such a thing because a Romanian friend staying with us for a couple weeks in April, after watching me throw matches into the BBQ grill to get it lit (zzzzzht-toss-dammit! zzzzzht-toss-dammit! zzzzzht-toss-FOOOMP!), wondered if there was somewhere in Uruguay to buy a sparking lighter (piezoelectric; no fuel) to take back to his father in Romania.

Recognizing that such a thing would be, if not as exciting, probably a better approach for me, I thought about trying to find such a thing in Montevideo. Half a day at least. Chance of success? Under 50%, I figured.

Twenty minutes later I had ordered one on eBay for USD 7.

From India. With free international shipping. 27 days to arrive, and it works great!



Refrigerator shelf repair

A few years ago, I looked into buying replacement plastic door shelves for our Bosch (not a good brand when licensed to Brazilians, unfortunately) refrigerator, and they were available from a place in London. I put it off, though, and discovered a year or two ago that they are no longer available for our model. Uh-oh.

But our refrigerator guys were here at some point last year installing a DC split (heating/cooling) unit in our bedroom. DC because a DC motor can be variable speed, unlike AC, so you don’t get crazy noise, and temperature fluctuations. This is helpful if, for example, you’re trying to sleep. We put the previous unit downstairs in the dining room, where it performs admirably despite its diminutive size.

I asked the refrigerator guys about the plastic door shelves. And as an aside pointed out the long dent in the side of the refrigerator that had appeared after they removed it for repairs, a year or three before. The more senior of the two, in his 30s, was horrified at that revelation and offered to fix the shelves for free with epoxy. Can’t complain!

Well, yes, actually can, even for a free job, where a few days turns into a few weeks, and we have to wait a few further weeks for the sticky epoxy to set, since apparently mixing equal amounts of Part A and Part B (thoroughly) presents challenges I am unable to fathom.

Alas, yesterday we realized that the bottom shelf was falling apart, probably because it’s the recipient of the heaviest loads. I consulted with Nico, font of knowledge specializing in the Uruguayan knack of fixing anything with anything, and he suggested I heat plastic with a candle to bend it. (Last time I heated plastic to bend it was around 1974, working in a screen printing shop and making little countertop displays.) I had leftover acrylic from fixing shattered glass in a door window in a casita where a certain muchacho lived for several years, and it worked like a charm. Well, excepting soot.

repairing refrigerator shelf door with acrylic sheet and epoxy

Of course this involved fun with dangerous power tools, in this case my table saw with all safety “features” removed immediately. I marked the depth of each tab cut with a marker. The only problem I had was lifting one tab to put epoxy underneath. It was tight and broke. But there are ten others that “have its back.”

It feels very strong now. We’ll see!




Goldmoney debit card efficency

No, I still don’t have my Goldmoney debit card. From Toronto, it went to London, Then Dubai.Then — drum roll, please — Miami. Now apparently in Buenos Aires.

Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. If it’s ever actually delivered, let’s hope it works. Goldmoney, if you’re listening — this is pathetic.



Curious logistics

I recently ordered a gold debit card from Goldmoney. The idea is that you own gold, but can sell gold grams to fund a fiat currency card (USD, EUR, GBP, etc). I imagined a scenario such as standing in line at Tienda Inglesa when the price of gold is $4,000/ounce and going up $10 every half hour, tapping instructions into my cell phone to fund the card, then spending the fiat moments later.

Alas, it’s not that fast. Currently takes about a day to transfer the funds (why?).

Why? Well, also why should a card from Canada be en route to Uruguay through Dubai?

Canada to Uruguay, via Dubai

Burned out burner

broken BBQ grill burner

We bought an old barbecue grill from some Americans who left a couple years ago. When the stamped-metal burner rusted through and fell apart, I tried finding a replacement. Alas, nothing for that model was any longer available from Sears.

BBQ grill manual

But obviously had been — and needed — before. None of this handwriting is mine.

A friend who is an accomplished metal worker offered to fabricate one, but it turned out the only way to get a suitable piece of tubing was to buy 6 meters of it. Instead, he found a place in Montevideo that made one for $2,500, about USD 89.

That seemed like a lot, and only now did I try again to find a replacement part online. The closest I can find on thebbqdepot.com is something I can’t be sure is the correct part, and I would have to find someone to bring it from the U.S., and — drumroll please — costs almost as much!

BBQ grill replacement part

And would eventually need to be replaced again.

Uruguay - fabricated BBQ grill burner

In contrast, this galvanized burner built in Montevideo will certainly outlast the rest of the grill! Better still, because of the way they made the feeder tubes, it was simple to install. The original part was quite fussy.

Now I am curious what it might cost to fabricate a cooking grid locally, with stainless steel….

BBQ grill cooking grid



How did this happen?

Maybe we bought a blender and it burned out.

Maybe we bought one from Tim and Loren when they returned to the land of the Untied Snakes.

Syd and Gundy gave us one when they were cleaning out storage space. Which I burned up trying to grind up eggshells for the compost pile (thanks for that idea, cuzzie ;-).

How did we end up with three blender tops?

So now I’m sort of doing the same. I’m reading The Joy of Less and loving it. Because of our frequent moves in the past — 10 in a 21-year period from 1986 — including two overseas, we’ve done a lot of paring down.* However, even in a non-consumerist culture like Uruguay, the stuff piles up once you settle.

When we made hummus the other day, I dragged out our two blender bases, both of which are pretty heavy duty. One didn’t work at all (ah, another project!). The other did the job. But then a day later a third blender top surfaced. Do we need three? They seem to be sort-of-but-not-quite interchangeable.

And then, when was the last time we used the blender?

Perhaps in 2016. Perhaps not.

There’s something distinctly non-minimalist going on here!

* three of us moving from Mexico: about ten suitcases, three pet carriers (2 trips), plus a single pallet shipped from Houston with 16 cartons, a floor lamp, and a BMX bike.

Taco wisdom

When we installed an “inverter” split (DC, variable, no motor noise) in our bedroom, we moved the noisy split (AC/heater/dehumidifier) unit to our dining room. Finally, today, I mounted its remote control to the wall, removing two pieces of clutter from the counter top.

Took me ten years to figure this out.

But that’s not the story. In north North America, hanging something on a wall is pretty simple, dealing with drywall and (usually) wood studs. In south North America, and South America, our home for ten years, you deal with a different situation: plaster and brick walls. In Uruguay the requisite plastic expanding anchors are called Tacos Fisher, and I’ve often found myself sticking wood slivers or broken toothpicks alongside them because the hole ends up too big.

Until I figured it out.

To install a wall anchor, do not drill a hole.

This will be obvious to a machinist, or someone who has worked a lot with metal, but I am neither. You don’t drill a hole: you drill a hole twice, the first time with a smaller drill bit. You then use the proper-size drill as a reamer.


I can’t believe it took me over nine years to figure that out :0