Unsolicited comments on Frogbox

Posted in Consumer advice at 2:24 pm by ducky

I recently moved, and (because I injured my shoulder and because we are slowly facing up to the fact that we are not 25 any more) we hired packers and movers.  We had a lot of boxes, but not enough, and the packers expressed a strong desire to use Frogbox boxes.

I had heard of Frogbox before, but hadn’t really found their service compelling.  The boxes looked really big and heavy, in addition to being expensive compared to scrounging boxes from here and there.

What I didn’t understand is that movers and packers absolutely love the boxes.  Because all the boxes are a standard size, loading the truck becomes less like a cross between Tetris and Operation and more stacking Mac&Cheese boxes on grocery store shelves.

Because the boxes are very sturdy, they minimize risk, especially for the movers.  The bottom isn’t going to fall out of one of the boxes; one box in a stack isn’t going to collapse asymmetrically and tip over the whole stack.

They are big and heavy enough that desk jockeys who are ferrying boxes in their car and then carrying them up stairs aren’t going to like them, but for muscular movers with the right trucks, dollies, and lift gates, they aren’t a real problem (especially if there are elevators instead of stairs).

If you filled them up entirely with books, they would be too heavy for the packers to move easily, but a) I don’t think the packers would do that and b) the packers generally didn’t move the boxes.  A packer would set an empty Frogbox in one spot, fill it, close the lids, put an empty Frogbox on top of the first, and proceed to load the second.  We ended up with short towers of Frogboxes scattered around our apartment.

The packers did not need to spend time converting flattened boxes into 3D boxes or to tape the boxes shut.  This, in turn, meant that they spent no time looking for their tape pistols (or, on the other side, box cutters).

It didn’t seem to me like the lids closed really securely, but it turns out that doesn’t matter: the weight of the box above holds it down, and the lids are heavy enough that unless you are moving in hurricane-force winds, they aren’t going to open by themselves.  (And if you are trying to move in a hurricane, you’ve got bigger problems.)  The boxes are also shaped to be wider at the top than bottom, which would rather discourage anyone from trying to load them in any manner besides flap-side-up.

I believe there are cheaper ways to get boxes — scavenge from liquor stores, get the ones from your mother’s basement or your company’s loading dock.  However, the overall cost might end up being lower with Frogbox because the movers and packers will work a little more quickly and you will have slightly less risk of damage to the contents.

I think that Frogbox is going to do very well as a company.  The only thing I can think of that would get in their way is bedbugs.  If it turns out that Frogboxes are a vector for bedbugs, then they would need to hose down the boxes after every use, which would increase costs.  Yes, there might be bugs in the boxes you get from the liquor store or even from your mother’s garage, but cardboard boxes probably have fewer users.

the bottom isn’t going to fall out of one of the boxes.


Upgrading from Firefox 1.5.x to Firefox 2.0.x on Ubuntu

Posted in Consumer advice, University life at 1:10 pm by ducky

I got a warning from the IT group that there was a vulnerability in Firefox 1.5.x, and that I should upgrade to 2.0.x. Fine.

I went to download via Synaptic (apt-get with a GUI). It didn’t have Firefox 2.0.x.

I downloaded the tarball from http://getfirefox.com and unzipped it. No obvious installation script. There was a readme.txt, which said:

For information about installing, running and configuring Firefox including a list of known issues and troubleshooting information, refer to: http://getfirefox.com/releases/

That URL redirected to the same page that http://getfirefox.com redirected me to. There was a link for Releases on that page. Unfortunately, all it said about installation was this:

Please note that installing Firefox 2 will overwrite your existing installation of Firefox. You won’t lose any of your bookmarks or browsing history, but some of your extensions and other add-ons might not work until updates for them are made available.

Swell. So I asked the Web, and found pages like this, which were slightly more helpful, but which seemed geared to installing and not upgrading.

It turns out that Firefox is in a self-contained directory. All I needed to do was to figure out where the old directory was and replace it.

% which firefox
% ls -l /usr/bin/firefox
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root 22 2006-09-25 20:19 /usr/bin/firefox -> ../lib/firefox/firefox

Aha. Sure enough, all I had to do was move /usr/lib/firefox to /usr/lib/firefox1.5, and move my new firefox dir to /usr/lib:

% sudo mv /usr/lib/firefox /usr/lib/firefox1.5
% sudo mv ~/downloads/ff2/firefox /usr/lib/

While I understand that it is a free product, and while I am very pleased with many aspects of Firefox, and while I understand that Linux is a niche market, their end-user documentation leaves a little to be desired.


Buying a New Car

Posted in Consumer advice at 10:49 am by ducky

Right before we left to go to visit our moms for Christmas 2004, I put my beloved husband’s beloved fifteen year old Honda Civic station wagon in the shop. The shop informed me that the car needed US$2500 worth of repair, which is more than we think the car is worth.

And while the car might have been beloved by my beloved husband, it was NOT beloved by me. It had no power steering and took more physical exertion to shift than I thought was necessary. It also didn’t have air conditioning, a fact which bothered some people who are not as enamored of our scents as we are.

Thus on Friday we looked at cars and on Sunday we bought one. Now, lest you think us hasty, we have had a line item in our long-term budget for two years that said we were going to buy a car in December 2004. We had money sitting in our checking account ready to go spend on a car.

What we wanted

We had a hard time getting around to actually making the purchase because we couldn’t find the perfect car. What we really wanted was a 2005 Honda Civic hybrid station wagon that got 60 miles per gallon. Alas, that car doesn’t exist at the moment.

Our most stringent criteria were that it had to be comfortable for me to drive and Jim had to fit in the back seat. We also wanted enough cargo space to carry supplies for parades and rallies, so wanted a small hatchback.

What we bought

The car we eventually bought was a blue Mazda 3 hatchback. This car is a bit taller than our old one, so Jim fit. The seat goes up and down and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, so I was able to get comfortable in it easily. It’s got lots of cargo room.

What I like

I hadn’t bought a car in a long time, and I was impressed by how much better cars are now (aside from the gas mileage, which seems to have gotten worse). I realize partly we got more because we paid a little more, but they weren’t always expensive things. These things were new to us:

  • Storage cubbyholes everywhere. I didn’t count, but there are at least four cupholders, while none of our previous cars had any. There are two storage bins in the floor next to the spare tire. The ashtray converts to a sunglasses holder when you throw out the insert. The center armrest has not one, but two cubbies. There are two cubbies above the wheel wells in the trunk.
  • There is a button on the dash that you can push to brighten up the dash. On our old car, if your headlights were on, it assumed it was night and that everything can be dim. That isn’t always true when it’s raining, so that button is nice.
  • At the top-center of the windshield, there is a patch — perhaps part of the antenna system? — that is mostly opaque. It is right in the spot that is not covered by the sun visors, so I expect that driving in sun will be more comfortable.
  • We got an automatic transmission, but they make it easy to get the benefits of a stick without having to deal with a clutch: you can put the transmission into a mode where you can bump up or down the gear easily.
  • Electric and automatic everything — standard. Power windows. Power door locks. Cruise control. Power window adjusters. Fog lights. Rear window wiper. (These existed before, but were higher-end features.) LED (plasma?) indicators and gages.
  • Safety. With the options we got, we got ABS brakes and six airbags. All five seatbelts are three-point belts.
  • Sound system controls on the steering column.
  • Air conditioner with coolant that won’t destroy the ozone layer

It also feels much more zippy than our old Honda. Not only is it not fifteen years old, its engine is 53% bigger. Yes, I understand that is part of why the mileage isn’t as good as we’d like, but it drinks only 16% more gas, not 53% more gas.)

What I don’t like

It’s gas mileage isn’t as good as we would have liked, but that seems to be in part a function of the times we live in. I would have liked it if it had a aux input jack to the stereo (so that I could plug in an MP3 player), and when I open the door, rain dumps down. Those seem like minor issues in the grand scheme of things.

What else we looked at

We really wanted to like the hybrids. Alas, the Prius just doesn’t fit me right. We rented a Prius last year for a week in an attempt to figure out how to configure it to make it comfortable for me to drive. We failed. The Honda Insight is only a two-seater, and thus inappropriate for our current family of three. We tried the Honda Civic hybrid, but my six-foot-tall beloved husband bumped his head on the ceiling when sitting in the back seat. The only other hybrid is an SUV, and we aren’t emotionally prepared to get an SUV.

We looked at both the Scion xA (which was too small for Jim) and the Scion xB (which had great headroom and cargo room, but which looks like a hearse to me). We looked at the Toyota Matrix, which Jim really liked. Alas, it didn’t fit me in the same way that the Toyota Prius didn’t fit me. (Not surprising.)

Where we bought

We bought at Oak Tree Mazda. John Kapelowitz spent quite a lot of time with us and gave us a very thorough, informed tour of the car. Jim got a few quotes over the Internet, including one from Oak Tree and one from Menlo Mazda that was lower. We went back to Oak Tree because we want bricks-and-mortar dealers to keep existing.

Touching cars is very important in the purchase process, and we wanted to respect the cost they carry for inventory and sales. We also wanted to reward John for the nice service he gave us.

Greg Kimberley dealt with all the paperwork. It took a surprisingly long time to get the car, even paying cash, but it was a painless experience. The Internet quote we got from Oak Tree was very reasonable, and he didn’t try to pull any sort of bait and switch, or any sort of heavy upselling. Because we paid cash, perhaps they figured we were savvy enough that they wouldn’t be able to mess with us… or maybe they were genuinely nice.

Bottom line

I’m pleased. It’s a fun little car and driving it doesn’t make me ache!