About Mark

I am a landlord in Berkeley, California. I rent houses to college students. I make chocolate and have a free chocolate store for my tenants.

FREE WI-FI AT AIRPORTS.

Most major airports in the U.S. have free wi-fi. That’s important to remember because cell phone and 4G reception at airports is often very poor. At San Francisco airport, if you connect to #SFO FREE WIFI, you get unlimited free wi-fi with no strings attached. At Oakland airport, you get 45 minutes of free wi-fi, but you have to watch a 30 second commercial first. You can get an additional 45 minutes of free wi-fi if you watch another commercial. I remember the first time I used the free wi-fi at Oakland airport. It was about 4 years ago. I had to watch a commercial for a movie titled ‘Non-Stop’ in order to log onto the airport’s free wi-fi. I remember that commercial because it seemed so inappropriate. ‘Non-Stop’ is a movie about a terrorist and an alcoholic air marshal who shoot it out on an airplane while the plane is in flight. I seem to recall that there was also a suitcase full of cocaine on the airplane and a plot to kill the passengers one at a time. I thought that was a very poor choice for a commercial that people had to watch at an airport while waiting for their flights to take off. I remember thinking: “Didn’t the thought occur to somebody that this is a really bad movie to be advertising at an airport?”

BEDROOM INFLATION.

The single most important factor in determining the market rent of an apartment is the number of bedrooms. People will pay additional rent for additional bedrooms, but little else. An apartment with a separate dining room will rent for the same amount as an apartment without a dining room. Therefore, landlords always try to maximize the number of bedrooms in an apartment that they are getting ready to rent. Sometimes, that isn’t hard to do. With just a little remodeling, like moving a wall or adding a door, a dining room can become a perfectly acceptable bedroom. (I’ve done that myself.) On the other hand, landlords sometimes call rooms ‘bedrooms’ that is just plain fraud.¬† ‘Bedroom inflation’ is a term I created to describe the practice of inflating the number of bedrooms in a Craigslist apartment listing. Some landlords think that if you can put a bed in a room, then you can call it a bedroom, but that isn’t true. There are laws that define the minimum standards for a bedroom. Take a look at this listing photo. The owner of this apartment counted this room as one of the bedrooms in his listing. It is, in fact, just a walk-in closet. Yes, it is a room, and the landlord has put a bed in it, but that doesn’t make it a bedroom. I tell landlords not to engage in this sort of deception. This isn’t going to fool anyone. Nobody is really going to think that this walk-in closet is actually a bedroom just because there’s a bed in it. This is just going to make prospective tenants angry. Everybody hates the feeling that someone is trying to play him for a sucker. The most common form of bedroom inflation is counting a living room as a bedroom. Because of the high rent and housing shortage here in Berkeley, a growing number of college students are sleeping on living room couches. However, just because somebody is sleeping on a futon in a living room doesn’t make that room a bedroom. A living room with somebody sleeping in it is still a living room. I always advise landlords to tell the truth. Its OK for a landlord to brag about the features in his apartment that will make it look more desirable to prospective tenants. I do that. All rational landlords do that. But that’s different than lying or trying to play prospective tenants for suckers. (As you can tell, bedroom inflation is one of my pet peeves.)

CAN YOU CRACK AN EGG?

I received 3 emails this month from a company trying to get me to buy an EZ Cracker. This thing is a handheld device that cracks eggs. That appears to be all that it does. Their price is $40.00. The ad says ‘Are you finding that because of advancing age that cracking eggs is getting hard to do? Do you need help cracking eggs? EZ Cracker makes cracking eggs fun again!’ Now I ask you – are there really people who are too old to crack eggs? I went online and found that a lot of companies sell egg cracking machines, including Amazon, so maybe there are a lot of people who are too old and weak to crack eggs. I am not one of them – yet.

WILL THE U.S. GET BACK THE BUSINESS WE ARE LOSING IN TRUMP’S TRADE WARS?

In reaction to Donald Trump’s tariffs on Chinese-made products, China has stopped buying U.S. soybeans, and China buys a lot of soybeans. China will now be getting their soybeans from Russia. As a result, the price of soybeans in the U.S. has fallen by about 20%. For soybean farmers, that’s the difference between making money and losing money. However – the bigger concern is this – once this trade war is over or when Trump leaves office, will China ever come back and buy U.S. soybeans in the future? Maybe not. Once a country determines that they don’t want to be dependent on a particular foreign source of some commodity, they often find new sources and never go back. That happened in the Civil War.

In 1860, the manufacture of cotton textiles was Europe’s biggest industry, and European textile mills got over 90% of their cotton from the American South. However, as soon as the Civil War began, the Union navy began blockading Southern ports. Within a year, European textile mills began running out of cotton. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans lost their jobs. It was called the ‘Cotton Crisis’ in England, which was especially hard hit. Britain and many other European countries started looking for other sources of cotton. The British began getting their cotton from India. (Cotton is native to India.) Other European countries with overseas colonies also started growing cotton in lands they controlled. By the time the Civil War was over, the big European cotton buyers all had new sources for their cotton. Growing cotton for export to Europe had made Southern cotton plantation owners rich, but they lost the European market as soon as the Civil War began, and they never got it back. Southern cotton plantations were never as profitable after the Civil War was over as they had been before the war. I wonder – will history repeat itself? Will China and other countries that have been buying agricultural and mineral commodities from the U.S. come back and buy these products from the U.S. again after this trade war is over? Or – have we lost these markets forever?

WHERE DID THE WORD ‘JEEP’ COME FROM?

Here’s a fun bit of World War 2 trivia. The Jeep was one of the most important weapons of World War 2. Jeeps gave American soldiers a huge edge over the Germans and the Japanese. That’s because the Jeep was the only mass-produced vehicle in the world that had 4-wheel drive. 4 wheel drive was invented in the late 1930s. Because the Jeep had 4 wheel drive, it could go places that no other wheeled vehicle could go. Jeeps could go across sandy deserts in North Africa and muddy field in France, places where German vehicles got stuck. But – where did the word ‘Jeep’ come from? There are a lot of stories and myths about this; however, we actually do know where the word Jeep came from.

In the 1930s, one of the most popular cartoon characters in America was Popeye the Sailor. The Popeye comic strip appeared every day in newspapers all over the U.S., and Popeye cartoons were seen in thousands of movie theaters all over the world. In 1936, a new character started appearing in Popeye cartoons named Eugene the Jeep. The Jeep was a strange creature with supernatural abilities. Eugene the Jeep could go anywhere and do anything. There was no obstacle that the Jeep could not instantly overcome. In 1941, the Willys Motor Co. began making a new vehicle for the U.S. Army with 4 wheel drive known simply as the Willys MB. Soldiers were astonished at the ability of this vehicle to go over terrain where no wheeled vehicle had ever been able to go before – and at high speed. We don’t know who was the first person to start calling this vehicle a Jeep, but whoever it was, the name caught on quickly and stuck. Below are pictures of Eugene the Jeep and a early model Willys MB.

NEGATIVE ENERGY IN HER APARTMENT.

Because I have been a landlord for a very long time, newby landlords often ask me for advice, especially when dealing with odd situations. About a month ago, a young man who recently bought a 6 unit apartment house here in Berkeley began getting complaints from tenants in his building about loud rhythmic banging noises. His tenants reported hearing these noises every morning and every evening but none of them could tell where the noise was coming from. I told the landlord that the most likely explanation for this noise was air hammer, a common plumbing problem. Unfortunately, air hammer in an apartment house is often hard to trace back to its source, which is usually inside a wall. I advised this landlord to walk through the common areas of his building with one ear against the wall to try to find the source of the banging noise. He did that, and eventually he traced the banging noise to one apartment. (It turned out that my guess was wrong. The problem wasn’t air hammer.) The tenant in the apartment admitted that she was the source of these noises. She explained to the landlord that her apartment had a lot of ‘negative energy’ in it, and that every morning and every evening she walked through her apartment banging the bottoms of pots and pans together to drive away the negative energy in her apartment. The landlord told her that she had to stop doing this because she was violating the rights of the other tenants in the building to the quiet enjoyment of their apartments. ‘Quiet enjoyment’ is an important legal concept in housing law. The woman said she would stop banging her pots and pans together, but only if the landlord found some other way for her to get rid of the ‘negative energy’ in her apartment.


I don’t know what this landlord should do. Banging pots and pans together in your apartment is a violation of the nuisance clause which you can find in nearly every lease, but I’m not sure that a Berkeley judge or jury would allow a landlord to evict a tenant for doing what this woman is doing. She has a letter from her ‘psychic advisor’ that says that: “the negative energy vibrations” in her apartment are “off the charts.” (I wonder how you measure negative energy vibrations.) A lawyer advised this landlord to: “tell the tenants who are annoyed to call the police every time they are disturbed. Police reports would document the problem in such a way that the landlord would be less likely to be characterized as some sort of villain and would make it easier to evict if the problem persisted.” The landlord tried that, but the other tenants in the building don’t want to call the police. They told the landlord: “We want you to take care this.” I think they may be afraid of retaliation by the woman who is banging her pots and pans together.

I went to Google and looked up ‘negative energy’ in apartments. I was surprised to find that there are a lot of web sites that offer advice on how to remove ‘negative energy’ from an apartment. Several web sites specifically advise people to bang pots and pans together with their doors and windows open to drive out the ‘negative energy.’ Other web sites advise people to get rid of the ‘negative energy’ in their apartments by doing things that would create other problems for a landlord. For example, several web sites advise tenants with ‘negative energy’ in their apartments to walk though the building holding smudge pots full of burning sage. I think that might be even worse than banging pots and pans together. Walking though an apartment house holding a pot full of burning sage would be a huge fire hazard, it would likely set off the smoke alarms, and the other tenants in the building would undoubtedly complain about the smoke in the halls and the smell of burning sage. As I said, I don’t know what advice to give this landlord. I’m stumped. Have you got any ideas? I haven’t read all the web sites on Google on this subject. There’s too many of them. (Yeah, I know this sounds like another ‘only in Berkeley’ story.)

THE WORST MAJOR TOURIST ATTRACTION IN THE UNITED STATES – FOUR CORNERS NATIONAL MONUMENT

Four Corners is the place where 4 states meet at 1 point: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. This is the only place in the United States where 4 states touch at 1 point. Four Corners is marked by a plaque on the ground where quite literally¬† ‘X marks the spot.’ Unfortunately, that’s all there is at Four Corners. There is nothing else there. Nothing. Just an ‘X’ on the ground. The surrounding landscape is a featureless desert. Four Corners National Monument should not be confused with Monument Valley, 100 miles away. Monument Valley has spectacular scenery. John Ford filmed many famous Westerns in Monument Valley. Nobody makes movies at Four Corners. Four Corners National Monument is a 5 hour drive from Albuquerque, the nearest big city. I know a number of people who have gone to Four Corners. I know one couple who spent their honeymoon driving from San Francisco to Four Corners and then back home. They drove for 3 days to get there, looked at at the ‘X’ on the ground, and then spent 3 more days driving back to San Francisco. A lot of people drive to Four Corners from faraway places. Four Corners National Monument is visited by over 400,000 people a year, but I can’t figure out why they go there. The U.S. Park Service charges $5 per person to look at the ‘X’ on the ground, which is all there is to do at Four Corners, just look at an ‘X’ on the ground. There’s nothing else there aside from a few picnic tables and a souvenir stand. There is no running water or electricity at Four Corners National Monument, there’s no cell phone or internet service, and there’s nothing for kids to do. There’s no umbrellas or shade over the picnic tables, and the temperature in summer can be over 120 degrees.

To top it all off, the ‘X’ on the ground is in the wrong place. The location of the ‘X’ was based on a survey conducted in 1875; however, in 2009, a new and more accurate survey of the site showed that the place where the 4 states come together is actually about 1,800 feet away from the ‘X’. Rather than incur the cost of moving the entire monument and the road, the 4 states agreed to just leave the marker and surrounding concrete circle where it is – in the wrong place. So – in addition to everything else that makes this my choice for worst major tourist attraction in the U.S. – it is also in the wrong place. A lot of people who go to Four Corners from faraway places already knew before they left home that Four Corners Monument is in the wrong place and that there is nothing to do there, but they went there anyway. Can you explain to me why 400,000 people go to this place every year? I don’t get it. Have you gone there?

THE AWESOME POWER OF THE INTERNET AND MORGELLONS DISEASE.

If you have any doubt about how much influence the internet has over the people who use it – people like you and me – just consider Morgellons Disease. (The ‘g’ in Morgellons is a hard ‘g’, like in ‘getaway.’) Morgellons is a rare, but often debilitating disease. The first known case of Morgellons Disease appeared around the year 2000. It is a skin disease. The symptoms include rashes, sores, intense itching, a stinging sensation under the skin, fatigue, and thin threadlike fibers growing in the sores. It is estimated that about 20,000 Americans have been diagnosed with Morgellons Disease. Many of them report that because of this disease, they have been forced to quit their jobs or have become disabled. Joni Mitchell, the songwriter, has been hospitalized repeatedly due to Morgellons Disease.

Now here’s where this story gets weird. (As anyone who knows me can tell you, I know a lot of weird stories.) It appears that the only way that you can get Morgellons Disease is by reading about it on the internet. (Yes, you read that right!) The only thing that everyone who has this disease seems to have in common is that they, or some member of their immediate family, already knew about this disease and knew its symptoms from things they read online before going to a doctor for diagnosis or treatment. In other words, Morgellons Disease is an internet meme. An internet meme is an idea that spreads from person to person via the internet.

 
It is not unusual for someone to go to a doctor and tell the doctor exactly what is wrong with him if what is wrong is common and common knowledge. For example, consider someone going to a doctor and telling the doctor: “I’m allergic cats. I start sneezing whenever I’m around cats.” That’s normal. A lot of people are allergic to cats, and it is common knowledge that a lot of people are allergic to cats. That happens with common medical problems like a cat allergy; however, that doesn’t happen with rare diseases. When people have rare diseases, like Waldenstroms Macroglobulinemia, (which I cannot pronounce), they don’t go to the doctor and tell the doctor what they’ve got. The doctor tells them. But just the opposite happens with Morgellons Disease. Even though this is a rare disease, nearly everyone who went to a doctor and was diagnosed with Morgellons Disease already knew that he had Morgellons Disease before he went to the doctor and knew more about the disease than the doctor did. That’s not normal.

The U.S. Center For Disease Control (CDC) studied Morgellons Disease for several years and concluded that Morgellons Disease is psychosomatic. The CDC studied 115 people diagnosed with Morgellons Disease selected at random. The CDC analyzed the fibers in the skin sores of these people and found that the fibers were cotton. The CDC concluded that the constant scratching of the skin by people with Morgellons Disease forces fibers of the clothing they are wearing into the wounds they create themselves by their scratching. The CDC no longer tracks reports of Morgellons Disease. The mostly commonly prescribed drugs for the treatment of Morgellons Disease are antidepressants and olanzapine, a drug used for the treatment of schizophrenia and manic episodes of bipolar disorder.

Think about it – Every year, thousands of people around the world are diagnosed by licensed doctors with Morgellons Disease, even though that it appears that the only way you can get this disease is by reading about it on the internet. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? This disease is not alone. It turns out that there are several other diseases that are also spread by the internet. It seems to me that most people still do not realize the awesome power of the internet to shape the way we think and act – and drive us crazy!

THE WAR ON COLLEGE EDUCATION. PART 2

Bankruptcy. In 2005, Congress changed the nation’s bankruptcy law. Before 2005, student loans were discharged in bankruptcy just like other debts. However, since 2005, student loans are no longer discharged in bankruptcy. What does that mean? Consider this situation – there are 2 brothers, Brother A and Brother B. Brother A runs up a debt of $100,000 in student loans to become a doctor. Brother B doesn’t go to college. Instead, he becomes a full time surfer dude. He runs up $100,000 in credit card debt traveling around the world so he can surf all year long. (There are people like that.) In July, he surfs in California; and in January, he surfs in Australia. Both brothers declare bankruptcy because neither can repay his debts. Brother B, the surfer dude, will leave bankruptcy court owing nothing. His credit card debts, including principle, interest, and late fees will all be completely wiped out by bankruptcy because it is credit card debt. On the other hand, Brother A, the doctor, will leave court still owing 100% of his student debt, plus interest, late fees, and penalties.

‘Undue Hardship.’ The bankruptcy law of 2005 does contain a provision that allows people with student loans to have their student debt discharged in bankruptcy court if they can prove that the repayment of their student loans would create an ‘undue hardship’; however, the law does not define the term ‘undue hardship’, and it does not delegate to any government department the right to define the term ‘undue hardship’ or to establish hardship standards. Some bankruptcy courts around the country have established their own standards for defining ‘undue hardship’, but these rules are strict and tough to prove. As a result, it is very hard for a person with student debt to have his debt discharged in bankruptcy court on any grounds.

I ask you – What kind of country will the United States become if a college education becomes just another luxury for the children of rich people?

WHY YOUR HOMEMADE PIZZA DOESN’T TASTES AS GOOD AS RESTAURANT PIZZA.

The problem is probably the cheese you are using. Most people use pre-shredded mozzarella cheese to make pizza at home. Even though mozzarella doesn’t have much flavor, its texture and elasticity make it the ideal pizza cheese. The problem with mozzarella is that it is that it has a lot of water in it compared to cheddar, Swiss, or American. Because mozzarella is soft and has a lot of moisture in it, pre-shredded mozzarella sticks together very easily. Because of that, nearly all the pre-shredded mozzarella cheese sold in the United States is coated with cellulose, or sawdust. (Yes, you read that right. I did say sawdust.) The next time you are planning to buy a bag of ‘pizza cheese’, read the ingredients on the bag. Most brands will list the cellulose. A few brands use potato or corn starch instead of sawdust. All these all powdery coatings keep the cheese from sticking together into one big glob, but they also prevent the cheese from melting the way you want it to. The solution is simple. When making pizza at home, don’t buy pre-shredded mozzarella cheese. Buy a ball of mozzarella and shred it yourself when you are making your pizza. Its a little extra work, but the texture and appearance of your finished pizza will be entirely different from what you get when use supermarket ‘pizza cheese.’ Also, try to get mozzarella that is made from fresh milk. A lot of mozzarella cheese is made from condensed skim milk or nonfat dry milk, both of which are cheaper than fresh milk but they make inferior cheese. A good mozzarella cheese ball costs about the same price per pound as pre-shredded mozzarella cheese covered with sawdust, so why not use the good stuff?