Archives for November 2011

Measuring the health of the economy with the Men’s Underwear Index

The Men’s Underwear Index (MUI)

Did you know that some economists look to the underwear drawers of American men to determine the health of the current economy? The Men’s Underwear Index (MUI) is an unconventional economic indicator that measures how the economy is performing based on the sales of men’s underwear. We’re not making this up, we swear!

The logic behind the MUI is that because men’s underwear is a necessity, not a luxury, sales are steady, but when the health of the economy is poor, sales dip as the necessity becomes a luxury. When sales improve, the health of the economy is said to improve along with it, according to subscribers of the MUI theory.

It isn’t just crackpot economists smoking a pipe full of pretentiousness, no, even former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was a believer in the MUI. He said that because so few people ever see men’s underpants, this is the first thing men stop buying in a down economy.

So how is the MUI right now? As of August, men’s underwear sales rose 7.9 percent from August 2011, according the retail research firm NPD Group, indicating that while we are down substantially from past years, the improvement is in line with other economic indicators that claim the economy has not recovered but is showing signs of doing so, thus at least for now, the MUI is on course.

Critics argue that it is typically women that buy underwear for men, thus the MUI is bunk, and other critics say the theory is flawed because men wear underwear until the holes are too big to stand, thus it does not correlate to the economy.


How to Clear Any Clogged Drain

repairing a clogged drain

Photo:  Merle Henkenius

Roto-Rooter reports that that day after Thanksgiving is the single busiest day of the year for their service technicians. Armed with the right tools and techniques, you can easily unplug stopped-up drains without having to call in a pro. All plumbing systems develop clogs—there’s no way to avoid it. We’ll show you how to clear stubborn clogs in a kitchen sink, bathtub, toilet and floor drain. These proven techniques will dislodge virtually any clog. If you can’t clear a clog after a few attempts, make sure you admit defeat and turn the job over to a drain-cleaning service or licensed plumber. Exerting too much force can permanently damage a pipe or fixture.

That said, specialized plumbing tools used to combat clogs are affordable, and they’re available at any hardware store or home center; you can even rent some.

  • The first tool to reach for when trouble arises is a plunger. This plumber’s friend clears clogs from most fixtures, including sinks, tubs and toilets. Every homeowner should keep one handy.

  • To dislodge clogs located farther down the drainpipe, use a cable auger, or plumber’s snake, a long, flexible steel cable wound around a spool that’s fitted with a hand crank. Cable augers are available in lengths up to 100 feet, though a 25-foot model will suffice for most any household clog.

  • A closet auger is specifically made for snaking out toilets. It, too, is equipped with a hand crank, but instead of a spool, the cable is encased in a rigid shaft. The auger end is bent at a precise angle to fit through the tight curves of a toilet trap.

  • For a very large clog or one that’s far from the fixture, rent an electric power auger. This machine—basically a large cable auger powered by an electric motor—is very effective at cutting through virtually any clog, even tangled tree roots. Before bringing home a power auger, be sure the rental agent shows you how to safely dispense and retrieve the cable.

Drawbridge-Style Stairs Treehouse Retreat

Like something out of a classic storybook – or modern zombie movie, perhaps – the stairs leading up too this treehouse can be pulled up mechanically to isolate the home and upper deck (both a full floor above the ground), in turn letting residents sleep tight inside and worry less when away.

Located along the Hood Canal in western Washington state, this towering vacation cabin by Castanes Architects is only eight hundred square feet, but feels massive thanks to its tall multi-story interior and huge waterfront-facing windows.

The exterior is comprised clear-sealed cedar and fiber cement panels while the interior features light birch plywood, raw spiral concrete-and-metal stairs and stainless steel details.

From within, the sharp-angled front seems to carve a clearing through the trees to create space for forward views, drawing inside eyes ever outward, while two-story architectural elements tie the first and second stories together, visually connecting the entire space.

75 Easy Spruce-Ups Under $75

Living area with a wallpapered alcove

1. Wallpaper an Alcove

Highlight an alcove by wallpapering the back wall.
Similar to shown: Fern Damask prepasted wallpaper, $44 for a 60-square-foot roll;

Window herb garden

2. Create an In-Window Kitchen Herb Garden

Screw 1×4 wood cleats to the side jambs and insert tempered glass shelves. Two 3-inch-deep shelves for a standard 30-inch double-hung, $64;

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Facebook makes everyone 4.74 degrees apart

connectionsFacebook has given us reason to celebrate: we’re all a little bit closer to Kevin Bacon. While playing a round of “4.74 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, a new study claims everyone on Earth is separated by just 4.74 degrees.

Facebook conducted the study in partnership with the University of Milan, tracking the connections of its 721 million members. The researchers found that a person could be connected to a randomly selected individual through an average of 4.74 links. That number drops to 4.37 in the United States.

“When considering even the most distant Facebook user in the Siberian tundra or the Peruvian rain forest,” Facebook shared on its blog, “a friend of your friend probably knows a friend of their friend.”

Read the complete report on facebook here.

American Migration [Interactive Map]

Close to 40 million Americans move from one home to another every year. Click anywhere on the map below: blue counties send more migrants to the selected county than they take; red counties take more than they send. Published on November 16, 2011 | By Jon Bruner | More about the map >



How to Upgrade Front Door Hardware

How to Enhance an Entry with Hardware

Photo:  Ryan Benyi

Making a memorable first impression is tough if your front door has ho-hum hardware. Even worse is a tarnished, pitted entry set with a peeling lacquer finish, like the one below.

To give the door more polish, we shopped around for a shiny brass replacement. But rather than get a set from a specialty hardware shop, where they can easily top $1,000, we chose a Baldwin one-piece handle and tubular lock set with a handsome escutcheon for $179 from the home center (The Home Depot). Hardware manufacturers’ home-center lines, which range from $100 to $350, are also easier to retrofit because they’re designed for DIYers.

Completing the door’s makeover is a shapely new knocker for $41 and a gleaming kick plate for $66 (Cape Cod Brass), for a total project cost of $286.

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What day of the week should you list your home?

With home sales in the gutter, anyone thinking of selling a home today can use all the help they can get, starting with what day of the week to debut.

Serious sellers know that it is important to make repairs, stage well, and showcase their home online with professional photos, but there hasn’t been a consensus about which day of the week you should list your home for the best results. This is evidenced by the fact that new listings on the market are spread pretty evenly between Monday and Friday, with each day getting between seventeen and nineteen percent of the total share of listings (Saturday and Sunday are much lower at five to seven percent).

Since you only get one chance to make a first impression with your listing, let’s dig into  data to find out whether putting your home on the market on a certain day of the week is correlated with sales success. We pulled the data on over a million listings spread throughout the nation over the last twenty-one months, and here’s what we found:

listing day Fonte

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