Coffee heat rising

Making less…less

Is there no end to merchandisers’ ingenuity in dreaming up ways to get us to pay more for less?

We all know that many a 32-ounce container no longer contains 32 ounces, even though we still pay for 32 ounces. But here’s an improvement on that angle: make the stuff inside the container weaker, so you have to use more of it to get the same result.

floatingflowersThe chemicals used to test the acid, chlorine, and alkalinity balance in swimming pool water come in small plastic squeeze bottles. You measure out a certain amount of water and then add a few drops of the dye used to test the concentration of the desired chemical. The two that you check most often are the acid and the chlorine levels. To test the acid level, you add four drops of phenol red to a small vial of pool water; hold it up against a white background and you can easily judge the water’s pH, which ideally should be around 7.6. A test kit, which comes with several testing chemicals and vials, gives you a table that shows you how much acid you need to add, depending on the size of the pool.

Well. Home Depot used to sell phenol red in one-ounce jars. Four drops would stain the test water a deep color, easy to assess.

Last time I went to the Depot to replenish the stuff, suddenly phenol red was available only in 1/2-ounce bottles. Ohhh-kayyyy…. So I bought two, by way of cutting the number of trips to Home Depot. Get it home, drip it into the water, and find the result so pale I can’t even begin to figure out what the pH level might be. It’s almost like looking through plain water.

I already know this is true of the phenol red sold at Leslie’s, which is why I refrain from buying the stuff there. But Leslie’s employees at least have some training in pool maintenance and can answer questions, sometimes even correctly. So next time I’m there I ask if they can sell me some phenol red that works.

Noooo, says the technician. But these great pool dip sticks are better.

Don’t think so, I say. I’ve never been able to get an accurate reading from those things.

Oh but these are soooo much better. Here. Try these.

So I buy the paper dip sticks, which do produce a brighter color but which don’t give you any clue—nay, not ONE CLUE—to how much or how little acid you need to add to balance the pH. Whatever result you get comes about by guess and by God.

Next time I’m in Leslie’s precincts, I complain about this.

Well, says the tech, you know…you don’t have to stop at four drops.

Say what?

Sure! Watch this!

He dumps six or seven drops into the vial. It pinks right up to a readable color.

You can add a fair amount more than the instructions say without interfering with the read-out.

Uh huh. Why didn’t your guy tell me that when I came in and asked about it, instead of selling me these useless test strips?

Because you didn’t ask?

Kewl. You have to know the right question to ask before you can ask it, don’t you.

You see what’s happened here: not only is the manufacturer distributing its chemical in smaller bottles, the better to charge consumers more, but the product itself has been diluted so that you have to use almost twice as much to make it work!

Rip-off artists in action.