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Life in the microwave lane

The dog is just because.


After a scattered and exhausting weekend, I woke up today to a long email from a friend that reminded me of the connections between freedom, creativity, and spiritual strength. I breathed deeply, grateful for the message. I resolved to refocus.

My resolve lasted until I went to give the critters their breakfast and discovered the microwave was dead. I ended up focusing on DIY repair sites for a while.

Along the way, I ran into this snarky article, “How to Turn Your Microwave Into a Camera.” The title of the just-posted Advertising Age piece is a joke, as well as another snotty media slap at a member of the Trump administration (because you know the Trumpists are ignorant, evil Billy-Bobs and Bobbettes who deserve to be called on every misstatement, while the Clintons and Obamas and their minions were brilliant, refined, educated leaders whoe never made a single error, had a scandal, or put a single foot wrong in their combined 16 year reigns).

Anyhow. You can’t turn your microwave oven into a camera. You’ll just have to wait for next year’s model of “smart” microwave, I suppose.

But I was struck by the writer’s all-too-familiar attitude:

First and foremost, if you are a normal person who does not have a professional security team ensuring your privacy, and you are targeted, you cannot hide. There are countless legal and illegal ways to watch you (assuming you’re interesting enough to be watched), and you will not know you are being watched until someone makes use of the surveilled material. Get over it. As Ms. Conway suggests, “that is just a fact of modern life.” If you’re wondering what these mysterious “countless ways” might be, type “surveillance” into Google and read through some of the 186 million results. This may have been her point. If it was, she was just fear-mongering. Very few people are interesting enough to be watched.

“Get over it.” Sigh.

I tell myself this is Advertising Age, the voice of all the well-paid voices of consumerism. Consider the source. These are the people who’ll write the TV spot to sell you next year’s camera-bearing microwave after telling you this year that you’re ridiculous for even considering such a notion. Still “get over it” seems pretty much the common attitude these days. Or rather, “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it, anyhow.”

But anyone making the claim that “very few people are interesting enough to be watched” so seriously underestimates what’s being done to us — and what’s being done to the last tiny shreds of privacy and the alleged republic — that I wonder how, with their tiny brains, they can manage to string sentences together well enough to get paid. Yet the author of the piece haughtily castigates Kellyanne Conway for her ignorance. Pot, meet kettle.


I am not going to DIY my microwave. So if you want to try experimenting with turning it into a camera, it’ll be sitting on my front lawn with a “free” sign on it. Grab it before meth heads haul it away for its scrap value. March being my designated Month of Frugality (which has otherwise been doing quite well, thank you), I’m not rushing off after a new or new-used one, either.

Somehow — somehow — I expect I’ll survive without one until the month is over.


  1. Desertrat
    Desertrat March 20, 2017 12:24 pm

    Some preppers claim that a microwave works as a Faraday cage.

    Wally sells them for around $50 and up. I bought an El Cheapo there, on sale, and it worked okay for the couple of years I had it. I was given a “good used” unit that was still going strong after 20 years.

  2. Claire
    Claire March 20, 2017 1:03 pm

    Desertrat — Oh yeah, the Faraday cage discussion. I remember that. Heck, maybe the meth heads won’t get my old Panasonic, after all.

    As to Walmart microwaves, thanks for the tip. I checked and everything in the $50 range is small and low wattage, of course. But to my surprise, they do have quite a few 1000-watt. 1.1-cu. ft.or larger models in the $65-$80 range. Not bad. I suspect (and the user reviews confirm) that these are fairly low quality and won’t last. But then, the Panasonic that died a premature death was supposed to be high quality. And was. For a while.

  3. deLaune
    deLaune March 20, 2017 1:38 pm

    I’ve been without a microwave for 18 years. I’ve forgotten why I ever had one.

  4. He Who Fakes It Well
    He Who Fakes It Well March 20, 2017 2:02 pm

    “Anyhow. You can’t turn your microwave oven into a camera.”

    Actually… Use the perforated radiation screen for a pinhole camera.

    What model is it, and what exactly were the symptoms?

  5. Claire
    Claire March 20, 2017 2:11 pm

    HWFIW — I just KNEW somebody around here would figure out how to turn a microwave oven into a camera. Knew it.

    Mine is this one:

    And its problem is exactly that described by the single one-star reviewer. It stops after about two seconds. The turntable then hesitates and kind of groans. Then it stops running. When this first started a month or so ago, it would run again if I opened the door, re-closed it, and reset the time. But now … nope. Any ideas?

    But even though I thought Panasonic was a good brand, I got an eye-opener as I looked around at after Desertrat mentioned they had good prices. I could not believe the number of customer-reviewers who were very specifically saying, “I got this one after my Panasonic died after only ___ months.”

  6. Claire
    Claire March 20, 2017 2:13 pm

    “I’ve been without a microwave for 18 years. I’ve forgotten why I ever had one.”

    I could do without a regular oven — and did so for the first 2+ years I lived here. But microwave? Sure, I could go back to rubbing two sticks together to make fire, but that wouldn’t do much good for frozen entrees or cat food. 😉

  7. Comrade x
    Comrade x March 20, 2017 2:34 pm

    My favorite stove was like this one;

    Wish I still had it (I know my mate agrees and she was the one that used it) but I was reading this article a while back about how in the old days a lot of women was killed while cooking most likely open fires and not a wood store but then again there are many good reasons to appreciate technology methinks.

  8. Claire
    Claire March 20, 2017 3:12 pm

    Yep, I have to laugh at the idea of “voluntary simplicity” and the great complications and dangers of wood-burning cookstoves going together.

    Still, there’s definitely a coolness factor. And I’ve heard many people say those things bake bread better than anything else they’ve ever tried.

  9. Joel
    Joel March 20, 2017 3:39 pm

    Yep, I have to laugh at the idea of “voluntary simplicity” and the great complications and dangers of wood-burning cookstoves going together.

    🙂 Someday I’m going to take the time to write a piece arguing for the abolition of “simplicity” in all descriptions of rural life.

  10. Shel
    Shel March 20, 2017 4:20 pm

    Whenever I move, the only thing I never need to clean is the oven.

  11. Brad R
    Brad R March 20, 2017 4:45 pm

    Say, that reminds me. Earth Hour is this Saturday — I need to run a self-cleaning cycle on the electric oven. 🙂

  12. Karen
    Karen March 20, 2017 4:45 pm

    I wish I lived closer because I have 2 in the storage unit. When we lived 40 miles from town, I couldn’t pass up a $19 microwave at Goodwill to have a backup if ours went out. We left one at the house we sold and found one here at the house we bought, so the two in storage just sit there. Two is one etc….

  13. deLaune
    deLaune March 21, 2017 2:40 am

    Who said anything about wood stoves? I have an electric stove, convection oven, toaster oven, coffee maker, espresso machine, blender, KitchenAid mixer, electric spice grinder…and use them all, frequently.

  14. Claire
    Claire March 21, 2017 6:51 am

    del.aune — Comrade x said something about woodstoves and meant it. When I mentioned lighting fires to cook, I was just joking. I think it’s cool that you have all those things and no microwave. I don’t have most of those, but I do live by that microwave.

    Karen — Thanks for the thought. 🙂 Definitely two is one. So hang on to those spares — especially given that they don’t seem to last as long these days as the old microwave ovens did.

  15. Claire
    Claire March 21, 2017 6:52 am

    Brad — It’s Earth Hour already??? I always miss it. But come to think of it, my oven needs a good cleaning, too … 😉

  16. larryarnold
    larryarnold March 21, 2017 8:45 am

    Very few people are interesting enough to be watched.
    This, from Advertising Age? Really? Read by the folks who individually target me with advertising tied directly to whatever I run a search for or which website I visit?

    Part of the woodstove fire danger back in the day had to do with long cotton or wool skirts. Using an ax or power machinery to prepare wood is also risky. OTOH, from an article about a volunteer fire department I recently wrote:

    “Back in the 1950s, if your house caught on fire you had 20 or 30 minutes to evacuate. Today, with newer construction and contents, you have two to eight minutes to get everyone out.”

  17. Comrade x
    Comrade x March 21, 2017 10:58 am

    I use to live in a stone house built in the 1700’s with walls a foot thick heck methinks I’s might of been able to spend an afternoon in there while it was on fire until the 2nd floor caved in at least, could have been related to survival during an injun attack maybe.

    As to the negatives versus the benefits of technology I also have a hard time comprehending it due to my cell phone induced brain damage.

  18. Laird
    Laird March 21, 2017 11:05 am

    Microwave ovens have gotten so cheap that it makes no sense to try to repair them, or to pay more than about $100 new. But I would go down to Goodwill (or your local equivalent). You can probably get a decent, functional one for $10-$20. (I have.)

    When did Earth Day become Earth Hour? I missed that memo. But I’m glad to see that idiocy fading away. May it die an unremarked and unlamented death.

  19. Claire
    Claire March 21, 2017 11:24 am

    Laird — You’re right about microwave ovens not being worthwhile to repair (unless it can be a simple DIY job). Normally I’d head straight for the local thrift stores for one of those $10 models. It might take a while to find one, but they do turn up a couple of times a year. With Old Blue’s transmission problems, though, it’s not doable to bring a microwave home without imposing on a neighbor — something I do only if I absolutely must.

    That said, after Desertrat mentioned it, I checked out’s plentiful offerings. While I can’t replace my 1200-watt oven under $100, there were lots of slightly smaller, less powerful choices in the $60-$80 range.

  20. s
    s March 21, 2017 2:08 pm

    Is it the turntable that has stopped running?

    If so, it is quite possible that the microwave part still works. Take out the turntable, put in a glass of water for 2 minutes and see what happens.

    The turntable is a nice-to-have. It evens the heating. But you can still use the microwave without it.

    The most common problem with turntables is a skinny rubber belt that wears. If the oven senses that it is jammed, it shuts off. Take out the turntable and there is very little left to turn, you might fool the oven into running.

    It’s easy to replace the belt once you get to it. Unlike changing the magnetron or the power supply, the turntable belt really is DIY.

  21. Brad R
    Brad R March 21, 2017 2:14 pm

    Laird, alas, Earth Day did not become Earth Hour. They are two separate observances. In 2017 Earth Day is April 22, and Earth Hour is 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm local time on March 25.

    Earth Hour was started by the ridiculous WWF, who apparently needed yet another publicity stunt. The objective is to not use electricity for that hour, a futile gesture. Some of us react by ramping up our electricity use that hour. By rescheduling tasks I would be doing anyway — laundry, oven-cleaning, vacuuming — I can usually manage to increase our electricity consumption from 2 kW to 12 kW for that one hour.

  22. Claire
    Claire March 21, 2017 3:02 pm

    “Is it the turntable that has stopped running?”

    I wish. But no. The turntable seems to hesitate, then the whole machine shuts down. The time settings disappear, nothing functions. I’ve tried removing the turntable and putting a cup of water in, but it still … just dies. Sometimes, if I’m very patient I can get it to run maybe every tenth try. If it makes it past the first few seconds, it has a chance of making it through the entire time I’ve set. But mostly … two seconds and it’s dead.

  23. R. L. Wurdack
    R. L. Wurdack March 21, 2017 7:06 pm

    Panasonic uses a fuse to interlock the door closed and latched interlock. Check the door gasket is clean and not holding the door a tiny bit ajar.

  24. Claire
    Claire March 21, 2017 7:53 pm

    Thanks, R.L. DIY sites also mentioned doors as a possible cause. Checked that. While it may be a door problem, it’s not one I can see. The fact that the oven starts up okay, then hesitates right before it dies hints that the problem is elsewhere.

    I’m not going to mess with it too much. A new one awaits at

  25. Deb in SD
    Deb in SD March 21, 2017 10:00 pm

    Don’t get a microwave with less than 1000 watts if you can avoid it. They take Forever to heat things and just leave you frustrated. I was given a 700 watt mw a few years ago and it was so slow the kids started referring to it as the Easybake microwave and suggesting I get a bigger lightbulb!

  26. ellendra
    ellendra March 22, 2017 6:20 am

    Does it work if you push against the door while it’s running?

  27. Claire
    Claire March 22, 2017 7:52 am

    “Does it work if you push against the door while it’s running?” 🙁 Nope, sorry.

    “Don’t get a microwave with less than 1000 watts if you can avoid it.” — I hear ya. I’ve liked having a 1200-watt model. But I think I’ll end up with something about 900 watts. That seems to be where the best bargains are. Hopefully it won’t be an Easybake!

  28. Brad R
    Brad R March 22, 2017 8:39 am

    If I recall correctly, you need 900 watts in order to pop popcorn in your microwave. For everything else, it’s just a matter of how long you want to wait.

    Our 1000 watt unit died a few years ago, and we replaced it with another 1000 watt unit (different brand). Every now and then, the new unit trips the circuit breaker. (Odd, because it’s alone on a 20-amp circuit.) I don’t think I’d want to upgrade to 1200 watts without carefully checking the specs.

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