Category Archives: Helpful Tip

Helvetica Or Highwater

notes:

*font: is what you use. comes in many flavors for a typeface. bold, italic, narrow.
*typeface: is how it looks.

“Egads – man! How dare you suggest a restaurant that has a menu printed in the Papyrus font? Viktor was reacting strongly to Harvey’s restaurant selection.

Harvey, our Homme-à-tout-faire, had casually said, “We could go to the Dim Sum restaurant. I haven’t been in awhile as my daughter refuses to step foot in there because their menu is printed in the Papyrus font.”

dim_sum_restaurant.jpg

Viktor was horrified, “I, too, would never willingly visit an establishment with such poor taste in typography. Your daughter clearly has the makings of a world-class aesthete.”

Viktor continued in disdain, “Papyrus is… Papyrus should be the world’s most hated typeface. It is an abomination… it is a hideous stain in a world of lettering elegance. The early 80s gave us many great things; the moody future-noir of the movie Blade Runner, the ground breaking Commodore 64 home computer, and the birth of Prince William heir to the British throne… But it also gave us: an unprecedented military buildup by the Royal Navy for the rights to call an island the Falklands instead of the Malvinas, the poor having to wipe their brow after dealing with trickle down effects of Reaganomics, and the typeface Papyrus.”

“The only thing I could imagine as a legitimated use would be as the title font to a remake of “Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy.” Beyond that I can see no benefit.”, Viktor said.

“Well, the Papyrus font does have one other benefit.” said Einida, “It is a conspicuous clue that speaks of of a designer’s… ehem, naievete. No real artiste would be ever be caught using Papyrus. And no one should willingly use Papyrus… it simply isn’t done.”

Einida waved her hands and said, “It’s as scandalous as wearing white after Labor day and as awkward as trying to explain to a Highway Patrolman, who pulled you over for speeding, that the substance covering your face and blouse was from the powdered donut you just ate. And if only he would just take a quick taste this whole matter would be behind us…”  She trailed off for a moment.

Einida turned to Viktor and said, “Do you remember that Space Opera of a movie that had it’s subtitles rendered in Papyrus? It was just so ghastly!”

“And in 3D no less. The letters jumped off the screen, as if to assault me, daring me to brush them aside with my clenched fists. Just the sheer thought of that makes me shudder.” said Viktor with annoyance.

He turned to Harvey and said, “So, if your daughter has such a refined palate for good typeface design, I’m sure she’s seen the documentary titled, ‘Helvetica’?”

Editorial_Small_Helvetica-film

“Why no, I’ve never even heard of that documentary.” said Harvey.

“What… what? But you usually know everything!  What do you mean you haven’t seen the Helvetica documentary? It’s simply the greatest documentary about Helvetica ever made?” sputtered Viktor.

Einida helpfully added, “It may have also been the only documentary on Helvetica ever made.. at the time. Although, I think documentaries about typefaces and fonts have become increasingly popular.”

Viktor lifted his hand and pointed his finger to the sky and began to pontificate.

“It is a documentary that tells the astonishingly amazing story of how Helvetica was born. And about how significantly typefaces influence our lives. It delves into the psychology of marketing and how good design can change everything. It was created in the 1950s during the post-war reconstruction era, when people were looking for all things new and modern. It was born at a time when the people wanted to distance itself themselves from the hand rendered, messy, cursive past. “

“It was born at a time when the people wanted to distance itself themselves from a past that was hand rendered in messy cursive. “

Einida grinned and said, “Helvetica was the Swiss made-modern-typeface that could be used for anything from signage to corporate logos. Like many things Swiss; it is loaded with utility.”

“How long is the documentary?” asked Harvey.

Viktor gritted his teeth and said, “It is as long as it needs to be… to tell the tale of the great Helvetica. Why, Helvetica even changed my life.”

Einida interrupted and said, “The right typeface at the right time has changed many people’s lives. Typography is more than just the printed word; it is an art form, it is beauty incarnate. If angels used printers, they would print in Helvetica…”

Viktor broke off Einidas enthusiastic praises and launched into his own well rehearsed accolades, “Helvetica is a typeface finished as no typeface is ever finished. Add one serif and there would be diminishment. Displace one ascender and the structure would fall. I oft’ find myself staring deeply through the cage of those meticulous ink strokes at Absolute Beauty.” He paused and sighed with happiness.

“Ahem, indeed.” said Harvey awkwardly in an attempt to interrupt Viktor’s and Einida’s rapturous commentary, “Is the documentary age appropriate for my daughter?”

Viktor frowned and stroked his goatee. “I’m afraid that there may be strong language.”

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0847817/parentalguide

Harvey looked surprised and said, “Why would there be cuss words in a documentary about a font.”

“Because people, designers especially, are deeply passionate about typefaces. There’s been a barbarous culture war raging for years because of the abhorrent Arial font.” Einda said with a grim look. She then spit on the ground for good measure, to make sure that Harvey got the point that Arial is evil, the kind of twisted reality evil of a mirror-mirror universe .

“That’s why the documentary is so superb. It scrutinizes the ‘Great Font Wars’ of the past and present.” said Viktor. “And about how Helvetica saved mankind from typographic ruin.”

“And the documentary influenced an entire line of mini documentaries based on other fonts like the dreaded Comic Sans, Trajan, Garamond…” Einida began listing terrible fonts.

Viktor interrupted and said, “Tosh! Papyrus is much worse than Comic Sans and Comic Sans is as hideous as seeing a Gorgon at 2 am. Besides, I always turn to the “Blambot” website for all my comic typeface needs…”

Harvey interrupted what was sure to be yet another long winded discussion about font merits and demerits and said, “So, how do you choose which font to use for a project?”

Viktor rubbed his hands together with glee and said, “I have a secret connection.” His eyes gleamed.

“What? How strange. I, too, have a secret font connection. I know of a gentleman who is an absolute genius when it comes to designing fonts. He is one of the world’s greatest Fontographers. He has served all of my typographic needs since 1996.” said Harvey with astonishment. He had always thought he was the only one with a secret font connection.

Viktor raised an eyebrow and said, “Are you speaking of the unparalleled type designer Ray Larabie?”

“Absolutely! The one and the same. The one and only Ray Larabie from the type foundry Larabie fonts. The man famous for ‘making computer novelty fonts.’ You know, he designed the font for the video game Grand Theft Auto?” replied Harvey with great enthusiasm.

“Of course I know that. I have the entire ‘Larabie Collection,’ as I have donated to him on a regular basis. The hundreds of free fonts he’s given out over the years have made the Internet and, indeed, the entire world a better place.” Said Viktor without a trace of hyperbole.

Then, Viktor smiled slyly and said, “So you have a secret font connection, but do you have a secret font collection?”

“Well… not really.” admitted Harvey.

Viktor threw his hands up and said, “I used to buy every font collection cd that I could get my hands on. Then, I sorted the fonts into appropriate typeface folders. I now have hundreds and hundreds of folders of completely organized typefaces. I’ve sorted over 3000 fonts!” Viktor cackled with triumph.

“Astonishing! What a robust resource.” said Harvey. “Do you also have a font editor?”

“Excuse me, but don’t we need to go to lunch? Does anyone know of any restaurants that have pleasingly designed menus?” asked Einida. She wanted to eat before having to listen to a conversation about font editors.

“Oooh! How would you like to eat at a place that uses a typeface that was custom designed for the Guggenheim Museum? A restaurant with menu items printed in Verlag?” asked Viktor. He smiled widely.

Einda and Harvey looked at each other and in perfect unison said, “Verlag? Heck, yeah!”.

Viktor drove them to the mysterious restaurant. Once there, he stopped and said with great relish, “Ta-da!.”

“Welcome to Wendy’s. How may I help you?” asked the cashier.

The Voice of the “Internet of Things” Says Hello

Say Hello“Hello,” said the “Say Hello” unit.

Viktor cackled with glee and said, “Dr. Phil, do you hear it? Do you know what you’re listening to?”

Dr. Phil set down the bone he was caressing and thought carefully and replied sourly,”I hear that the unit is finally saying something other than ‘That’s what she said.'”

Viktor flashed a pained smile, and patted the unit affectionately. “This is far more important than you could possibly imagine. It’s not merely the first step in solving ‘The Great Missing Dog Treat Mystery.’ Its significance is mind-blowing.”

He paused for dramatic effect. “What you’re hearing is the very voice of the ‘Internet of Things.'”

He paused again to let that sentence sink in.

“I have given voice to those objects that were previously voiceless. Because of this unit, objects can now talk. Technology finally has a voice. This is a leap into the evolution of… things. They now can talk!” He thrust his fists into the air enthusiastically.

Dr. Phil blinked and replied flatly, “I know that ‘Say Hello’ can be configured to do lots of things, like reading data streams aloud, like e-mail, stock reports, weather temperatures.Those are all data streams that get sent to the unit and then spoken aloud. So, how is it you’re giving voices to objects?”

Viktor grinned. “Because it’s a speech server. It can be used with any object that has data to report.”

Dr. Phil shook his head. “But couldn’t you have just made a speech server in software? You love writing software.”

“Yes, but I would have to write a thousand lines of code.” Viktor waved his hand dismissively. “And if I wrote software for phones I would have to use the AT&T voice technologies which are too…human. Technology shouldn’t sound like a person–it should sound like an object. The voice of this unit is like the whisper of an angel using a computerized voice
modulator.”

Viktor smiled as he imagined that scenario and continued, “The most important thing about the ‘Say Hello’ is it’s a modular solution to the challenge of adding a voice to a project. You don’t need a computer, you don’t need software. You just build this unit and you’re ready to make things talk. It’s a stand-alone module. If IKEA were part of the mad science world, this would be their solution.”

Viktor stopped talking and typed into his computer furiously.

“I am M-O-D-U-L-A-R,” said “Say Hello.”

Viktor tittered.

“Well, isn’t it difficult to build a speech server out of hardware? That sounds pretty hard. I would rather do open-heart surgery on an angry bee than solder hundreds of tiny electronics parts.” Dr. Phil stuck his finger in his mouth to see if his latest bee-related injury had healed.

“There are magical products that only engineers and mad scientists know about. And I, like Prometheus, shall bring fire and light to humanity, in the form of useful hardware that no one else seems to know about. Like the Parallax Emic 2 Text-to-speech Module. Why write software, when this module already has speech software? All I had to do was to connect it to a Wifi module and voilà!–a networked speech server,” said Viktor, who was now typing again.

“Vwah-la,” said “Say Hello.”

“So, you didn’t have to write any software?”

“No, all I did was connect a few pieces of hardware together with wire. That’s it. It was so easy, even a medical doctor could do it.” Viktor smirked, then realized the danger of taunting one’s doctor.

“But couldn’t you have designed a board that puts all the hardware parts together?,” asked Dr. Phil, ignoring Viktor’s quip.

“Nonsense. I want to inspire people to become mad scientists, eccentric engineers, and artistic aesthetes who revel in the joy of inventing. One day… one day I will rule the world with my army of mad scientists and…” He paused again.

“Oh, anyway, one can only be creative if the parts one needs are readily-available and reasonably-priced. And so, I designed this project with parts that can be acquired at a local Radio Shack or Fry’s. A few parts have to be mail-ordered, but most don’t.”

“So, even I, who have no programming experience, can make something talk?” Dr. Phil was beginning to look excited. “What couldn’t I do with a speech server?”

Viktor shouted, “Exactly! And you can make anything talk, whether it’s a Raspberry Pi computer, an Arduino Uno board, a Propeller board, any kind of phone, any kind of computer. It’s like the Swiss Army knife of speech for technology. Its uses are limitless. And anyone can easily build it and use it for any conceivable project.”

Dr. Phil smiled and asked, “Why did you call it the ‘Say Hello?'”

“Well, when I write software, I, of course, do the ‘Hello World’ thing, as that is just the proper etiquette in the world of programming. But I would never merely say, ‘Hello World.’ That’s just gauche. Instead, I write the far more elegant, ‘Hello C compiler,’ ‘Hello Python,’ et cetera. Oh, and I happened to think up the name while watching this music video on the big-screen projector TV. So in essence, the TV told me what to name it.” Viktor emitted a happy sigh.

“So, do TVs often tell you what to do?,” asked Dr. Phil, with a look of concern.

“Of course!” exclaimed Viktor, “And now I can actually have the TV talk to other people.”

“I need a…” Viktor said to Einida, as she walked in room “…another wifi module. I have an Idea!”

For the technical details on how to build your own “Say Hello,” complete with schematics, video, project notes and source code, please go here.

 

A New Acquisition: The Ultimate Compendium of the World’s Most Wondrous Words

Viktor got that faraway look in his eye that always serves to warn me that one of his pronouncements is on the way, and I was not mistaken. He put his finger into the air and said, “The time has come to consult the greatest and most extravagant book ever written!”

We opened the safe and and gazed with rapture and awe upon our latest acquisition.
OED
“Do you see it, Einida? Do you see its magnificence? Its stupendousness? Look at the lavish box that holds those two mighty volumes together like hands humbly enfolded in prayer,” he said in a whisper.

With trembling hands, Viktor carefully lifted one of the large tomes up to his nose and inhaled deeply. Then, as if bearing aloft a tiny infant to a baptismal font, he passed the book over to me and said, “Take a deep breath, pause, and inhale the delicate perfume of seven hundred thousand beautiful words. This is a matter not to be taken lightly. You shall be sniffing the greatest book in the history of mankind– ‘The Oxford English Dictionary.” He sighed, overcome with emotion.

I took the book and tentatively inhaled. Then, after I coughed, said, “Oh my, the smell of seven hundred thousand words is, erm, quite pungent. Quite a crowd there, that seven hundred thousand. That is quite a distinctive smell. It smells like human, erm, knowledge.”

“Can you believe that you have the English language in its magisterial entirety here, in your very hands? How is this possible, you may ask? And to you I would reply….”

He paused dramatically and slid open a tiny drawer that was built into the top of the dictionary’s cardboard case.

“A magnifying glass!,” he cackled as he triumphantly brandished a rather battered hand lens over his head.

Mysterious Magnifying Glass“And I know what you must be thinking–that’s not the original glass. Bah! This magnificent magnifying glass is even better than the original! Remember when our dear comrade, Professor Bellanger K. Shahhat was sent to Russia on a quest to find us a magnifying glass? This fantastic, archaic lens was purchased by him from an amber dealerin Mandrogy!”

“Why does the ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ come with a magnifying glass?,”asked Dr. Phil, who had stopped his experiment and ambled over when he saw the group of people that had gathered around us, drawn by the mesmerizing power of the book.

“Well, actually the book is referred to as ‘The OED’ by those of us in the know. And it came from the publisher with a magnifying glass because the only way to fit seven hundred thousand glorious words into a book of two volumes is to make the type smaller than most human eyes can discern,” explained Viktor.”Our set was purchased at a substantial discount, and somewhere along the line, the original magnifying glass vanished into the ether.”

The fifteen-pound book weighed heavy in my hands. Clearly, it meant to be studied by someone sitting at a desk, not lollygagging in front of a safe.

The day we acquired the OED was one of great celebration. Viktor handed out test tubes filled with an intoxicant of indeterminate provenance and insisted that we decorate the laboratory with banners and balloons that said, “Welcome home, ‘Oxford English Dictionary’!”

My gentle reminiscences were interrupted when Viktor asked impatiently, “Well? Is the word ‘nincompoop’ in the OED or not? I simply can not wait another moment for the answer.”

And there the word was displayed, right in the middle of page 1928.
Nincompoop
“Hmmm, I wonder if I can come up with a word that’s NOT in the OED,” pondered Viktor.

And, gentle reader, if we do indeed ever manage to stump the OED, you will be among the first to know.

How many mechanics does it take to change a light bulb?

Artist's interpretation of what a headlight might look like

A kind local flagged us down. He said, “Yer headlight’s out. ‘Round here, that’ll git ye ‘rested. You’d best git it repaired.”

He spoke with a gravitas that one would not expect to find in a grizzled rustic, and that is how Viktor and I ended up in the “Eternal Waiting Room.” You know the place. You’ve been there before. The location changes, but the details do not: a drab, bare space with blinding fluorescent lights, a scattering of magazines dated two Presidential administrations back, stale, bitter coffee, asinine blabbering and monkeyshines blasting from the television, the restrooms a vision of Hell not even the pen of Dante could accurately capture, and chrome and vinyl chairs so fiendishly uncomfortable that they would no doubt elicit a thin smile from the grim lips of Torquemada.

The car was in the repair bay, and I had such high hopes. It shouldn’t take long at all for a professional mechanic to do something as simple as replacing a headlight. Such a procedure is no doubt as easy as typing a shoelace to his trained hands. I wasn’t going to do it myself, since the last time I tried I smashed my hand within the bulb’s damnably cramped housing. There is a time and a place for DIY, and that time was not now. Sometimes, things are best left to specialists.

Time passed. The procedure had started with one mechanic, but presently he sought the aid of others of his kind. With every oily brow that creased, with every pair of dirty hands thrown up into the air in despair, with every newer and larger regrouping of mechanics, I imagined I heard the chiming of an old-fashioned cash register, as my time was being wasted and the bill was growing ever larger.

More time passed. Viktor and I were in the middle of an expedition when this automotive interruption took place, and this setback was costing us valuable research time.

I think it was when the football-player-turned-chat-show-host had finished demonstrating his “can’t miss” recipe for jerk chicken on the dusty TV perched on a narrow corner shelf that my patience reached its natural end, and I approached the garage manager: “Sir, if you can’t change the headlight, please return my keys, so I can take my car to the dealership, where they have experts knowledgeable about this process.”

The manager responded, “Well, we did replace/one/ of the headlights, only it was the wrong one. And we’ve had to take out a bunch of parts from the engine, to try to access the space where the headlight is, but it don’t seem to matter. It may take some time to put your car back together.”

I gritted my teeth, pursed my lips, and shot Viktor a sour look that told him we must expect an even longer wait.

And so, since we are scientists, inventors, and explorers, when life gives us lemons, we dive in, and engage in an exhaustive study of the properties of lemons, their nutritional aspects, and how to improve the current methods of their cultivation and usage.A Liemon?

The collection of data is for us second-nature.

Data collected from this experience:

Q) Number of mechanics needed to change a headlight?

A) Zero! Even though five different mechanics attempted this procedure, they all failed.

Q) Number of hours spent watching trained mechanics failing in their attempts to change a light bulb?

A) Two.

Such unpleasantries are often unavoidable on our adventures, but when I was able to distance myself from this fiasco, to observe it all in a
disinterested, scientific manner, it was truly amazing to watch so many professionals befuddled by something so seemingly simple.

A few days after this, I took the car to the dealership. Here, the repair procedure took all of seven minutes, five of which were devoted to the mechanic walking to the workshop to fetch a certain tool.

And those were a precious few minutes, though sadly they did not afford me adequate time to enjoy a cup of exquisitely-brewed coffee, made available by the specially-trained baristas that occupied a corner of the mechanic shop’s waiting room.

Delicious bank money, made from tearsAs a coffee aficionado, I know where to get get all manner of java. Coffee is everywhere now–restaurants, local and chain coffeehouses, convenience stores and gas stations, bookstores, and even hotel lobbies.

But did you know where to find the world’s most expensive coffee? It’s at your local bank. Most banks offer “free” coffee along with a small tray of cookies or mints. But it’s not exactly free, at least not the way I see it. I cannot enjoy bank coffee without thinking that I paid for it somewhere along the line with all those pointless and exorbitant fees the bank sees fit to charge me.

And the drinking of bank coffee is not without its hazards. The bank never provides a lid for the coffee and so, quite often I’ve found myself driving with one hand, while clumsily bringing the open cup to my lips, trying to gulp the beverage down before it sloshes over and scalds my hand or spills over my clothing.

While I was sipping my coffee at the car dealership, getting my headlight replaced, I noticed a pickup truck in an adjoining bay with a bumper-sticker that exhorted, “Freedom Ain’t Free.” And while I realize that the bumper-sticker was a commentary on the matter of national defense, I reflected instead that sometimes “free” services can be used as a dodge, a financial shell game, a diversion of the buyer’s attention from shoddy service.

Caveat emptor.

*Yes, I know that is a picture of a lime, but when life gives you limes instead of lemons… you take photos of limes.

The Tale of the Beekeeper and the Huntsman

Suns shield towel
A towel was taped to the windshield to cut the blinding glare of the unseasonably hot January sun. Viktor sat in the shade of the towel and ran data sets on his computer. The experiment was at a critical phase. I chewed my lip nervously as I pondered my dilemma–what to do about the many bees that were trapped in the car trunk.

Earlier in the day, I had noticed one curious bee exploring the open trunk. I was unconcerned, as the trunk offered nothing to interest a bee. It was full of the tools of industry–rubber gloves, wrenches, bolt cutters, an absurdly large pipe wrench four feet in length….

 

In due course, I noticed that my little buzzing friend was no longer alone. Four bees turned into eight bees, and when that number increased yet again, I closed the trunk feeling a mixture of mild panic and triumphant cleverness.

As I retired to the car’s cold, dark interior, I suddenly remembered why the trunk would be such a lure, namely, “The Great Margarita Trunk Disaster of 2012.” That was an incident which ended with bees and about which my barrister advised me not to speak publicly.

For a time I nursed a quiet sense of unease. This eventually gave way to a vague feeling of horror. I realized that the bees would be annoyed by their confinement. Annoyance would turn to anger. But if I freed them, how would they react? Would they attack, swarm, ruin our experiment, or simply fly away? Why, oh, why in college had I been so foolish as to sleep through apiculture class?

Bee_Trapper

There was a time when Viktor and I tried to capture a bee in a soda can. This was to prove a theory that a bee could create auditory hallucinations within a metal can. It was an unsuccessful experiment. The bee was too wily to be thus lured.  Of course, we didn’t have this propitious device that, though it claims to keep insects out of cans, it could also be used to keep bees inside cans.

Close_up

Suddenly, I remembered the wisdom of the Countess de Vita, a former beekeeper, who once told me, “Always think in circles, shapes with soft curves, whenever you find yourself near a bee.”

The Countess de Vita explained to me that bees are very attuned to human thoughts. Circles are calming for bees, apparently.

Bees_and_Circles

“Can the power of thoughts have an effect on bees? What thoughts might upset to them? Straight lines? Jagged circles? Could I make a bee sleepy by thinking in waves?” So many ideas for experiments raced through my head.

But another thought interrupted.”What if the Countess told me a tall tale?” Sadly, I am afflicted by a startling inability to recognize sarcasm, and have fallen victim to tall tales before.

Indeed, just the night before, we had dined with The Huntsman. He had taught us about how to capture a falcon, should the need ever arise.

How to Capture a Falcon:

1. –Place a mouse into a trap made of string. The falcon will swoop down and his claws will become entangled in the trap.

2.–Calmly walk over and pick the falcon up and place a small hood over his head.)

The Huntsman went on to say that falcons never developed any evolutionary strategies to defend themselves against capture, and as such, can easily be overwhelmed and rendered completely docile.

I was amazed by this story until Viktor mentioned that it might be a set-up for a prank. He suggested that The Huntsman might have wanted to see if we were gullible enough to attempt to trap a bird of prey, only to be reduced shortly thereafter to a shredded pile of pain.

The Huntsman does have an odd sense of humor.

“Einida, the pipe wrench in the trunk–I must have it!,” Viktor declared.

The time had come to face my yellow-and-black demons. I was about to discover whether or not the Countess had spoken the truth.

As I yanked upon the lever that opens the trunk, I concentrated on images of circles. I got out of the car, and, taking a wide path and a slow stride, made my very indirect way to the trunk, giving the bees ample time to fly far, far away. I cautiously opened the trunk still further as I muttered, “Soft shapes…circles…curves…,” and my muscles tensed up, readying me to flee the scene….

The bees were gone.
I hastily grabbed at the pipe wrench and dashed back to the safety of the car.

A_Very_Large_Pipewrench

Had the bees returned to the hive for reinforcements? I decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and that I would be no good to science with bee stingers embedded in my flesh. I resolved to stay in the car for the remainder of the experiment. While my scientific curiosity is broad and wide, and could one day include research into whether or not human thought patterns affect bees, it ends well north of testing the capacity of bees for violent retribution.

Caught in a Supermarket Avalanche

It started slowly, as the most horrific incidents in life so often do.

My mind would not accept what my eyes were seeing, but before this cognitive dilemma could be resolved, events snowballed into chaos.

Einida threw her body against the glass freezer door in an heroic attempt to check the violent collapse.

Frozen pizzas were shooting out rapid-fire like so many playing cards from the hand of a veteran croupier.

The four-cheese pizzas tipped forward and knocked the thin crust pepperoni pizzas against the vegetarian pizzas. One column collapsed against the next, and all were momentarily held in check by Einida, the human wedge.

With stealthy step, she slowly backed away from the door to see if the avalanche had stopped. The pizzas were perfectly balanced in a jagged heap. The DiGiornos™ supported the Totinos™ and vice versa…but only barely.

The pizza trap waiting to be sprung.

It occurred to me that we were in over our heads, that we might best leave the matter to store employees who were more experienced in the handling the vicissitudes of food storage and display.

I recalled the occasion when Einida and I openly stared and giggled at a lady in the produce department of that very store who had not completely detached her vegetable bag from its fellows on the metal spindle, with the result that as she wandered about the store, she dragged behind her a line of still-attached vegetable bags, stretched taut, to the amusement and amazement of the other shoppers. She continued for a not-inconsiderable distance before someone pointed out her dilemma.

This amusing scene was playing across the screen of my memory when I was suddenly jolted–by what force I have no idea–back into the present. I called, “Einida, we must disable this trap before some unsuspecting shopper comes along, opens the door, and is buried under an undignified mountain of frozen dough and tomato sauce.”

And so, as she leaned back against the door, I reached in from an adjoining freezer bay. I gingerly moved some of the topmost pizzas from the heap, in an attempt to lessen the pressure of the stacks of pizzas pushing against the door. It was rather like playing a game of Pick-Up Sticks, but with pizzas.

(Again, my mind digressed, as I contemplated the development of a new version of that beloved childhood game….)

The pizzas began to shift.

Einida urged, “Viktor, hurry! I can’t hold the pizzas back much longer!”

Blame for this disaster rests solely upon the shoulders of the grocers who insist on stacking plastic-wrapped pizzas, on their tiny edge. Such a configuration in inherently unstable.

I had apparently triggered the trap while searching for the freshest DiGiorno™ four-cheese pizza.

At any rate, I finally removed the last pizza from this Mountain of Woe, and stacked it with its brothers horizontally, in a thumbing of the nose to the careless grocer, in hopes that he might at least dimly perceive the danger to which he had exposed his customers through his arrogant attempts to defy the basic laws of engineering.

How to locate the freshest frozen pizza:

1. Examine the plastic seal. If the plastic is tight and conforms to the ridges of the face of the pizza, and looks vacuum-packed, it is fresh.

2. Avoid pizzas that have a loose plastic seal.

This seal is loose.  Avoid selecting this sub par pie.
This seal is loose. Avoid selecting this sub par pie.

The Holy Grail of PVC pipe fittings!

PVC03

*While rummaging through the dank bowels of the plumbing section of a major big-box hardware store the other day, my eyes widened as my hand fell upon something amazing. I raised my hand in victory, holding the object up toward the ceiling. I gaped, I gasped, “This is indeed the Holy Grail! This is what we’ve spent all those years waiting for! We’ve finally found it.” A ray of light shone down onto the small, plastic object–a one-half inch three-way Elbow PVC Fitting Connector.

I handed the white plastic item to Einida for inspection.”Oh my,” she exclaimed. “It is as you say. It really is the Holy Grail of PVC pipe fittings.”

So many questions flitted through my mind: “When did they start making these fantastic joints? How could I not have known about this astonishing product earlier?  What finally convinced the pipe fitting manufacturers to give the world the one shape that it’s been so desperately missing?”

Manically, I wheeled around and machine-gunned a nervous and pimply stock boy with more questions: “How many of these do you have in stock? When did you start carrying this product? Where did it come from? Where can we get more?”

The frightened lad was overwhelmed as he became aware of the full extent of his ignorance. His brain shut down and he was rendered mute.

Ah, but never mind him, I thought. He is but collateral damage in this long war which I have been waging.

Holy PVC!

The long wait for this particular plumbing joint is finally over. This discovery will radically change the construction methods of the Laboratory’s PVC-related projects. My hands fidgeted in excitement as I fantasized about all the PVC cubes I could now build.

 

In times past PVC cubes were built with sixteen PVC joints. In order to make a single corner, you had to undergo the laborious and maddening process of cutting up tiny pieces of PVC pipe just to join two joints together.

Now, with my discovery of this new pipe fitting, it will take a mere eight corner joints to do the job. No more fussing with little pieces, no more running out of parts in the middle of a project, and no more complicated, unstable, multi-piece frames.

PVC02

Inventors have long used PVC piping. The variety of joints and pipes in all sorts of shapes and sizes make plumbing PVC similar to such old-time connector toys as “Tinkertoys.” They’re used to build lightweight structures, furniture, stands, and cubes, and there are few limitations as to what you can do with these materials. My discovery of this particular joint greatly expands the possibilities of what can be done in this field.

Sadly, this store had only four joints in stock, so I wasn’t able to buy enough of them to actually build the simple cube of which I had dreamed.  But I am already planning my next PVC hunting expeditions to other hardware stores.