PAYING YOUR RENT WITHOUT WRITING CHECKS.

If you do not want to write out a rent check to me every month, you don’t have to. Almost every bank has a Bill Pay program, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Chase. Go to your bank’s website, find their Bill Pay program. Instruct your bank to mail me a check on a certain day every month on a recurring basis. The money will be deducted from your account when I deposit the check. It’s really that simple. Most banks charge nothing for this service. You can change the amount of your payment or cancel Bill Pay at any time. I have been using my bank’s Bill Pay program for many years to pay recurring fixed expenses, and I have never had a problem with it or been charged a penny for the service.

NOT ALL PLASTIC IS RECYCLABLE.

A lot of people think that the recycling can marked ‘Cans and Bottles’ is the place to put unwanted plastic, but not all plastics are recyclable. The following plastic items are not recyclable. Styrofoam: ​including pellets, molded blocks, dinner plates, bowls, cups, and food packaging. All plastic cutlery: knives, forks, spoons, etc. Clamshell food containers​, no matter what kind of plastic they are made out of. Non-rigid plastic food packaging, ​like​ potato chip bags and​ any kind of​ pliable plastic packaging. Plastic 6 pack rings. Juice boxes. ​Many of these products say they are recyclable and have recycling symbols on them; however, these products are not recycled because its just not practical. For example, juice boxes are made out of layers of paper, metal foil, and plastic, all glued together. It costs too much to separate these materials, and nobody does.These products will not get recycled if you put them in your recycling can. All these products should go in your regular garbage can​ instead​.

SIMPLE WAYS TO GET FASTER WI-FI.

Tenants often complain to me that their wifi is too slow or that some parts of their homes are dead zones where they can’t get a wifi signal at all. If you are frustrated by slow progress bars on your computer, before trying a solution that costs money, like buying a signal booster, try these simple solutions first.

1. Make sure your router stays cool. Heat can significantly slow down a router and shorten its life, and all routers produce heat. Don’t place a router near a heater or in a place where direct sunlight falls on it or where it is boxed in, preventing the heat produced by the router from dissipating.

2. Place your router in a central location in your home and high up in the room, above obstructions. Height is an advantage.

3. Don’t place your router next to appliances that emits electrical waves or signals, like microwave ovens or remote controlled TVs. Any electrical device that has a remote controller emits radio signals that can screw up your router’s signal to your computer.

4. Think about the physical barriers in your home that might block a signal. For example, don’t place your router on one side of a fireplace chimney or metal door when  your computer is on the opposite side. Router signals can’t go through brick walls or metal doors.

5. Turn your router off regularly and then restart it. Some router software gets slow over time, and a restart can get the bugs out. Just unplug your router, wait 30 seconds, and plug it back in.

6. Update your router’s firmware. All router manufacturers update their software periodically.

7. If none of the things above solve your problem, consider a new router, especially if your router is more than 3 years old or your router’s WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) standard is 802.11b or 802.11g. They are the oldest and slowest versions and have a maximum speed of 54 Mbps (megabits per second.) Consider replacing your router with a new one with a minimum speed of 1 Gbps (gigabits per second). They sell them at Amazon and Best Buy in Emeryville.

WHEN DID RELIGIOUS MINORITIES GET THE RIGHT TO VOTE?

It is a widely-held myth that America was founded on the principle of religious freedom for all. That isn’t true. 8 of the 13 British colonies in America had an official state church. Everyone who lived in those colonies had to pay taxes to support it, but people who did not belong to the official church could not hold public office or vote. Another myth is that the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to vote to everyone, regardless of his religion, but that isn’t true either. Neither the Constitution nor the First Amendment say anything about the right to vote. The Constitution allowed every state to decide for itself who was eligible to vote. Some states had laws prohibiting Roman Catholics from voting unless they renounced their religion or signed a statement rejecting papal authority. Some states required voters to promise that they would fight in future wars to prevent Quakers from voting. Some states banned Mennonites, Baptists, Jews, and others from voting. Between 1800 and 1828, all state laws restricting the right to vote based on religion were repealed.

MARYLAND. Maryland was the last state to stop discriminating against unpopular religious minorities. (Yes, once again I am trashing my home state.) In 1828, Maryland became the last state to get rid of religious restrictions on voting when the state legislature passed a law allowing Jews to vote. The Maryland state constitution still contains a provision that says that only Christians can hold public office or practice law in the state, but the U.S. Supreme Court no longer allows Maryland to enforce this provision. However, it is still in the Maryland state constitution. The Maryland state constitution also prohibits atheists from holding public office, serving as jurors, or testifying in court as witnesses, even in their own defense. Maryland enforced this provision until 1961. In 1960, Governor Tawes appointed Roy Torcaso a Notary Public. When Mr. Torcsao refused to sign a declaration saying that he believed in God, his appointment was immediately revoked. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Maryland law was unconstitutional. The court’s ruling applied to a number of other states that had similar laws. As a result, an atheist can now become a Notary Public, a bail bondsman, a coroner, a sheriff, or a juror in Maryland.

WORD OF THE DAY: FUDGEL

Fudgel is a word that is no longer used, but it should be. The word fudgel was widely used in England and America in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Fudgel means to pretend to be working while actually doing nothing. The word fudgel reminds me of a joke that Nikita Khrushchev used to tell. Although Khrushchev was a harsh ruler of the Soviet Union, he liked to tell jokes, and he was good at it. Khrushchev frequently told reporters a story about an inspection tour of Russian factories that he took in the 1950s. After touring a large factory, Khrushchev asked the general manager: “How many people work here?” The manager looked at the employees, thought about the question, and said: “About half of them.”

FREE VENETIAN BLIND REPLACEMENT.

If you have Venetian blinds that are broken or that don’t open or close properly and would like them replaced, just let me know, and I will replace them at no cost to you. All the Venetian blinds in my rentals have aluminum slats. I used to buy Venetian blinds with vinyl slats, which are cheaper and last longer than aluminum slats, but many vinyl blinds have lead in the vinyl, especially vinyl blinds from East Asia, which is where most of them are made. As vinyl slats get old, sunlight and heat break down the vinyl and the lead leaches out and forms a white powdery coating on the slats. Then every time you touch the slats, you get lead on your fingers. When I found out about that, I replaced all the vinyl Venetian blinds in my rental units with aluminum ones. That was many years ago. A lot of people assume that the federal government tests building materials to make sure they don’t contain toxic chemicals or heavy metals, but unfortunately, that isn’t true. 2 years ago, I replaced all the CFL light bulbs in my rentals with LEDs. CFLs contain mercury, LEDs do not. I also replaced all the mercury-bulb wall thermostats with electronic thermostats, which are mercury-free. I tell other landlords that they should think carefully about environmental issues when buying building materials because tenants, especially in this area, care about this more than they may realize.

WHY IS RENT SO HIGH IN CALIFORNIA?

The chart below explains it all. It tells the whole sad story. We need to build 180,000 new housing units in California every year to keep up with population growth, but we are only building 80,000, and this has been going on for 20 years. All of the housing problems we have in California, all of them, can be traced back to this one simple fact. Every year, our housing shortage gets worse, and this ever-worsening housing shortage explains why rents keep rising faster than inflation, why the vacancy rate is so low, why people are doubling up in apartments and houses, why people are paying a higher and higher percentage of their income on housing, why college graduates in California move back home with their parents after they graduate, and why thousands of people in the Bay Area are living in RVs, tents, cars, and trucks. Unless we build enough housing to keep up with population, all of these problems will just get worse.

California’s Population Explosion. In 1945, the population of California was 8 million. Today it is 40 million. That means that for every 1 person who was living in California at the end of World War 2, there are now 5 people living here. I live in a house that was built in 1902. In 1902, the population of California was 1.5 million. That means that for every 1 person who lived in California when my house was built, there are now 26 people living in this state. Like most people in the Bay Area, I am not happy about this tremendous population growth. I too wish that fewer people were moving to California, but they are coming here whether we like it or not. And its easy to see why they are coming. This truly is the Golden State! Suppose you were living in a city in a Rust Belt state full of closed factories, where the unemployment rate was 20% and the minimum wage was still $7.25 an hour. Wouldn’t you want to pack your bags and move to California? The unemployment rate in California is 4%, and the minimum wage in California will soon be $15.00 an hour.

America’s Black Hole. My sister Judy once called California ‘America’s Black Hole.’ I never forgot that because it’s true. What she meant was that moving to California is like entering a Black Hole. Nothing that enters a Black Hole comes back out. Once people move to California, they never go back to where they came from.

Adios Baltimore! I grew up in Baltimore, a Rust Belt city. The population of Baltimore peaked in 1950 and has been declining ever since. The heavy industries that once supported Baltimore’s prosperous working class are gone. Baltimore’s shipyards that once employed 50,000 people are gone. The Glen L. Martin aircraft factory that once employed another 50,000 people is also long-gone. The Bethlehem steel mill that once produced 10,000 tons of steel a day is gone. As the jobs dried up, so did Baltimore’s population. Thousands of row houses in Baltimore with their famous white marble stoops are just rotting away. All of Baltimore’s once-fashionable downtown department stores are now abandoned. There are dozens of cities just like Baltimore all over this country, once bustling industrial centers that have been in decline for generations. Without the jobs, what is to keep people in Baltimore? Baltimore is hot and muggy in summer and can be bitterly cold in winter. There are no interesting geographical features in Baltimore like mountains or waterfalls or palm tree lined beaches. We can’t stop people from leaving places like Baltimore and moving to California, and it is a fantasy to imagine that people won’t come here from places like Baltimore if we just don’t build housing for them.

Not In My Back Yard. We need more housing, a lot more housing in California, housing that ordinary working people can afford, but we’re not building it. Most of the city councils around the Bay Area are dominated by NIMBYs. (Not In My Back Yard). These politicians and the voters who elected them support laws that discourage new housing from being built, like downzoning, height limits, and and inclusionary housing laws. They also support laws that encourage landlords to remove existing rental units from the market, like rent and eviction control laws. Rent control gives owners of rental properties, particularly small rental properties, a financial incentive to get rid of their tenants and sell their properties to owner-occupants or to use their rentals for other purposes, like turning apartments into AirBNB rentals or offices. We need to accept this one fact – a lot of people are coming to California whether we like it or not. We are only hurting ourselves by discouraging developers from building new housing and by encouraging landlords to go out of business.

SHOULD YOU GET A HOME SECURITY SYSTEM?

Tenants often ask me this question; however, it’s not a question that I can answer. One thing I can and do tell all my tenants – a home security system is not a substitute for common sense. That means:

1. Lock your doors and windows when you are not home. About 1/3 of burglars enter their victims’ homes through unlocked doors and windows.
2. Don’t discuss your travel plans on social media web sites until you return. 4 out of 5 professional home burglars check Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter regularly to find out who is on vacation.
3. Put a lamp on a timer while you’re away. Even a dim-witted burglar can figure out that nobody is home if there are no lights on in the early evening night after night. I will give you a lamp timer if you don’t have one.
4. Don’t let mail and parcels pile up on your porch while you are on vacation. Have the post office hold your mail and have a friend check your porch daily.

Occam’s Razor. I am a big believer in Occam’s Razor which states that the most obvious solution to any problem is usually the correct one. Burglars use this principle to their advantage. Example – Why would a burglar try to get into somebody’s house by picking the front door lock if he can see that a ground floor window in the house next door is wide open? A burglar wants to rob a house, but he doesn’t want to get caught. What is the most obvious solution to the burglar’s problem?

I once had a tenant in Oakland who left her front door wide open while she went to the laundromat a few blocks away. This was back in the days before I put washers and dryers in all my units. She was robbed more than once by people who simply walked into her living room and took stuff. She thought that her problem was that Rockridge was a dangerous neighborhood. I tried to get her to see the connection between leaving her front door wide open and these robberies, but I was never able to do that.

SHOULD SCHOOLTEACHERS CARRY GUNS?

On March 13, 2018; Dennis Alexander, a math teacher at Seaside High School (Monterey County, California) brought his gun to class to give his students a lecture on gun safety. During his lecture, Mr. Alexander’s gun accidentally discharged, firing a bullet into the ceiling. A piece of the ceiling flew off, hitting a 17 year old male student and lodging in his neck. The student was taken to the hospital and is expected to recover. Mr. Alexander is very experienced in gun use. He is a reserve police officer and a member of the Seaside city council. He supports President Trump’s call to arm schoolteachers who, like himself, have gun training. I teach American history at Orinda Intermediate School, and my students are unanimously opposed to arming teachers (including me!)