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Handyman Letter - November 1, 2000


1) The one-armed bandit is watching you... a message from the Natural Handyman.

2) Hello and thank you to Websites and publications that have recently linked with or featured The Natural Handyman

3) What's new at

4) Q&A with our readers


6) "Pass the hammer, would ya?"... NH's readers speak out!



As my oldest daughter approached her 21st birthday, I was surprised to find that she had no desire for a big party or any particular fanfare. Instead, she wanted me to take her to, of all places, the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, CT. Foxwoods, owned by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, was started as a high-stakes bingo hall in 1987. The federal government allowed it to become a full-fledged casino in 1988. Today it is a 1500 room resort with over 5800 slot machines, 350 gaming tables and a Vegas-like entertainment venue.

I had never been there myself so my curiosity was aroused as I was somewhat eager to see what all the hub-bub was about! We went to the casino on her birthday... a Tuesday night... and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to find traffic to the casino very light. Upon arriving, we parked in a well-lit outside lot and walked past scores of interesting restaurants to a large gaming room. The opulence of velvet was nearly suffocating. I suppose if you had to lose all your money, why not do it on a soft fabric! But there was more here than met the eye.

As I looked around the room, a quick head count gave me an interesting insight. The games of skill... poker, blackjack and craps... had few players compared with people-packed row-upon-row of one-armed bandits... the slot machines. Watching the hundreds of people pumping coin after coin into these cash vacuum cleaners made me wonder what was the attraction of these machines.

We each spent the generous forty dollars we had each allotted to our gambling excursion, briefly stood in awe of a few "high rollers" at the craps table and left the casino. When we arrived home, I hopped right onto the web to do a little research. Here's what I found...

Psychologists have long known that giving an animal a reward... also known as a "reinforcement"... encourages behavior and that a lack of reward causes the behavior to stop, or "extinguish". Via the slot machines, the gambling industry has used this understanding of human behavior to make a fortune. Foxwoods makes up to 60% of its total income from the slots... including all other gambling, food and entertainment! Most businesses use behavior control on a subtle level to affect our likes, dislikes and preferences through advertising, display racks, etc. Casinos, however, take a more direct route... right out of the psychology textbooks.

Slot machines are an attractive way to gamble for many people. Unlike most of the other casino games, they requires no skill and there is no learning curve. If you can drop a coin in a slot and pull a lever you can play. Even the lever pull is optional... you can push a button, instead! Decision making is minimal (except in choosing how much money to spend) and there is little real strategy unless one "plays the odds" by varying the amount of the bet for each game. You don't even have to know whether you've won or not... the machine will just spit coins at you! So what is this power that keeps people sitting (and spending) hour after hour in front of these "one-armed bandits"?

A slot machine is a fascinating study in behavioral control. After years of studying the playing behavior of slot machine gamblers, the casinos have developed a system of reinforcement... reward... that keeps the players hooked and keeps the money pouring in. Based in principle on the well-studied behavior of rats, casinos has found that the schedule of reward... the amount of time between wins... is as important as the total amount won. Obviously, the machines can't pay out every time or the casinos would lose... a no-no! If they don't pay out enough, the players will stop playing... another no-no! So they have developed a schedule of pay outs that give JUST enough money back at JUST the right time to keep players playing.

State gaming commissions allow the casino owners the ability to program the slots (all of today's slot machines are totally electronic) to pay out a predetermined "minimum" percentage of income. The fact is that most casinos pay way above the minimum for the reasons discussed above.

Yes, what works on rats in the laboratory seems to work on people, too. In some cases, maybe too well. Gambling is fun for some people but a hopeless compulsion for others. No one fully understands why some folks can walk away from the slots or tables while others destroy their lives gambling. Gambling-as-disease existed long before high-tech slot machines and will surely survive the next generation of automated gambling, the Internet casino and mobile casinos like the ones in

We left the casino around midnight. The place was just starting to fill up. We looked at each other and wondered who these people were? Did the late shift at some nearby factory just let out? The support staff at a 24-7 trying to unwind a little? Or did we just get a glimpse of another whole way of life...with a clock that is tuned to a different rhythm?


(Note: Gambler's Anonymous, at, offers information and hope for the out-of-control gambler. Using a similar 12-step principle as Alcoholics Anonymous, GA helps people accept and come to grips with their uncontrollable gambling habit.)



Dear NH,

The surface of my plastic kitchen counter top is getting dull. The only thing that I can think of to brighten it is car polish. Any suggestions?



You might want to try a sturdy, wax-based polish called Gel Gloss. It is intended for sinks, countertops and shower enclosures. Car wax might not be a good choice. It also contains chemicals that make it a more durable outside finish but are approved for use on food preparation surfaces.


Dear NH,

In my kitchen when faucets are turned 'ON', the water comes out very slowly with little force. How can I get the pressure back so the water comes out at normal force? There are no leaks anywhere.

JD from Warren, MI


The first thing to check are all your water shutoffs.. especially if you have had any plumbing work done recently.

The next thing to check for is a clogged aerator. The aerator is the small screwed-on device at the end of the faucet spout that breaks the solid stream of water into hundreds of smaller streams, helping to prevent splashing. The invention of the aerator made small, shallow sinks compatible with high water pressure!

An aerator can become clogged if debris comes through the water lines and sticks inside the aerator. Ever wonder why the water company (if you have a public water system) sends out notices to homeowners prior to line flushing? The purpose of the flushing is to clear accumulations of scale and debris from the large underground pipes. If you were to turn on a faucet, washing machine or flush a toilet while this process was occurring, you could suck some of this debris into your home system and possibly damage these appliances. Of course, grit from an unfiltered well system can also build up inside an aerator.

Fortunately, a blocked aerator is usually an easy problem to repair... just unscrew the aerator and either clean or replace it. Due to the small aerator hole-size in some aerators, the best efforts at cleaning may be futile. Aerators tend to get stuck on the spout due to mineral deposits, making removal by hand a "mission impossible". You might have to use a pair of pliers to get a better grip, but this can severely scratch the finish on the aerator or even crush it! I have tried using various grippers to protect the aerator surface... masking tape or flexible rubber jar lid openers are two favorites... but even so the aerator may still become damaged. If replacement is necessary, take the old aerator to the hardware store and get a replacement. Be sure the thread size on the new aerator matches the old.

Be warned... removal of a severely stuck aerator using pliers can actually damage some types of faucets... especially some poorly designed bathroom faucets with weak internal piping... and force you to replace the entire faucet! There is one last-ditch method to try... use a propane torch to heat the aerator. The heat will cause the aerator to expand and may loosen it. HOWEVER... overheating can cause the chrome of the faucet to permanently discolor. If you decide to use a torch... be careful!

When installing or reinstalling an aerator, always put a generous coat of plumber's grease on the threads. This will make the inevitable re-removal for cleaning much easier!

If the aerator is clear, the only mechanical assembly remaining within your faucet is the "diverter valve". This is a small spring valve located inside the base of the spout. Grit, mineral deposits, chlorine or just old age can cause a diverter valve to stick in the "closed" position, keeping the water diverted to the sprayer all the time!

A two-handled faucet typically has a cover over the top of the spout pivot to gain access to the diverter. You don't have to turn off the water supply to do this repair... just don't turn on the knobs! Some water will drain back from the base of the spout so have a sponge or towel handy.

You can't clean or repair a diverter valve... replace it with a new one.

Depending on your brand of faucet, there may be a schematic of your faucet online at the manufacturer's website. We have links to the larger manufacturers in our Links Library at .


Dear NH,

We built a brand-new home, and within six months I am facing severe mildew on my shower caulk. I try to keep place dry but we have 3 young kids so the bathroom is usually damp. I keep the exhaust fan on for long time every day. Nothing seems to help, I have cleaned mildew with several products but it comes back really quick.

Is there a product in the market which will free me of my mildew problems for good?



Having installed (and removed) miles of caulk, I have developed a strong preference for Polyseamseal Tub and Tile Adhesive Caulk. It is touted as being mildew "proof. It is not quite that, but it is by far the most mildew resistant caulk I have ever used. Very few products are as good as they say they are, but this is one of the few that makes the grade.

I have three daughters who shared the same tub/shower enclosure for over ten years. Needless to say, it wasn't cleaned as often as their usage would seem to demand! Silicone and other latex caulks lasted for a year at best before discoloration would begin. Polyseamseal lasted for nearly five years without a hint of mildew. Even at six years, I could probably have done touchups and gotten away with a few more years.

Make sure that you prepare the walls properly. I have all the dirty details online at  .

You may or may not have problems finding this brand of caulk. None of the home stores in my area carry it, nor do any of the hardware stores! I was fortunate enough to find it at a local plumbing supply house, so keep looking! Remember to get the right one... Polyseamseal has a full line of caulks but not all are as mildew resistant as their Tub and Tile Adhesive Caulk.


Dear NH,

I have hear that there are products on the market that you can attach to your shower head to produce instant hot water. Can you tell me some manufacturers that make such a product and where they are located?



Instant hot water showers are available in many parts of the world. Actually, the concept is ingenious. Instead of the intricate plumbing and wasted water normally associated with showers, only one pipe... cold water... leads to the heating unit which is conveniently located right inside the shower enclosure. All adjustments for temperature are made at the heater which means instant and fairly consistent water temperature with no wasted water or electrical power!

They are not available worldwide, though, in part due to a low product demand in water-and-electrically-rich countries. For example, Alpha Electric, one of the links below, currently exports to Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Fiji and United Arab Emirates. I could not find a company that exported to the Americas.

These units currently aren't engineered to meet the strict electrical codes in some countries. In the US, for example, electrical codes current don't allow for any household-current electrical devices within shower enclosures. To get these "instant showers" approved and the applicable electrical codes changed would undoubtedly be a costly political battle. Also, the voltage requirements may not be compatible with your own local power grid.

This sort of sensible alternative to central water heating will only occur when governments... spurred on by public opinion... start encouraging reasonable conservation through the use of these and other energy-saving devices.



6) "PASS THE HAMMER, WOULD YA?"... NH's readers speak out!

Dear NH,

I just wanted you to know that I love your newsletter. I wanted to share with you that in this busy world, I sometimes don't have time to read your articles, But I don't want to miss what you write, so..... I created a folder just for your newsletter. When I receive your newsletter, I 'move' it to this special folder. Then when I am not hurried, and I have the time to check everything out, I visit all your articles.

I was online for several hours into the night/morning yesterday checking things out. My husband got up for work, and I was still at the computer. I got carried away with all the information and web site links. My husband, knowing me, just shook his head and smiled.

So I wanted to say thanks for your informative articles.



Thanks for your wonderfully uplifting letter. Anyone who can get carried away on our site is a friend of mine! But please... get some sleep! A hammer in the hand of a sleepy person can be real trouble, especially for the fingers on the other hand!

Seriously, though, I share your enthusiasm... hopefully that comes through in our newsletter. I have always enjoyed learning and, in home repair, the learning adventure never stops. In a sense our newsletter is like those display cases in the halls of elementary schools... showing off our projects and our progress. It's always reassuring to get a passing grade.


Dear NH,

It was with great interest I read your column about the history of energy problems and predictions of what lies ahead. Like most Americans, I have fallen into the trap of accepting relatively "low cost" energy as almost a birthright - like liberty, freedom, and justice. But, at age 45 I have CLEAR memories of gas lines, alternate day gas purchases, etc.

Back in the early 70's I started subscribing to "The Mother Earth News". No doubt you're aware of this publication. At the time I had the ability to try some of their passive energy ideas and many of the other things they included in each issue. Well, after it changed hands to a big corporation, I quit subscribing, but I saved every one of those issues, and in addition, had bought full sets of issues from years past. I kept thinking they were gonna come in handy one day!

It looks as though that day may arrive after all! There may be a lot of people with old Mother Earth issues in their attics. If anyone writes to ask for resources, ask them if they've looked in the attic lately?



Thanks for your letter. I was also a big fan of the Mother Earth News. Unfortunately I didn't have the foresight, as you did, to save the old issues. You just never know what may come in handy someday!



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