Category Archives: Observation

The Trouble with Tomatoes

The Trouble with Tomatoes
The Transmutation of Topography starts with Tomatoes

Chapter 1

Viktor grimaced. He then said, “So, let me clarify your request. You want to hire me to fix your chandelier? Oh, it’s not broken then. Ah, I see. Your chandelier is too slow? And you want me to increase the acceleration of your dawdling chandelier, so that it raises and lowers at a more rapid rate.” He gripped the phone tightly.

“Sir, I am a scientist. I study the majestic mysteries of the Universe. I literally see worlds in a grain of sand, or even a grain of… of….” he paused. Then, suddenly exhausted by the audacity of the request, he slumped into the chair and set down the phone.

Einida picked up the phone and calmly said, “Sir? Yes, I’m afraid we won’t be able to… excuse me? No. We will definitely not be able to…as you say, ‘pimp your shambolic chandelier.’” She hung up.

“What in blazes is going on here?” asked Viktor in dismay. “The phone has been ringing constantly, but the jobs that people want us to do are perplexing pedantic! They want us to make their pool fountains more efficient, or to add programmable LED lighting to their china cabinets, or to create a cryogenic champagne cooler. Someone even wanted me to make a device to warm golf clubs. And now this… THIS – a slow chandelier! That’s not science!” He leaned forward and put his head in his hands.

“…Why are people expecting us to do the work of a repair shop, rather than of a Science Laboratory? And why would there be a golf course in this area? We’re in the desert! ” He leapt from his chair and began to pace.

“Maybe we need to take a trip to the General Store and pick up some supplies. A day away from the Laboratory should be a refreshing diversion. I’m sure there will be interesting projects waiting for us, when we return.” said Einida.

“I cast my pearls before swine… ‘I must bear what is ordained with patience, being aware necessity doth front the universe with an invincible gesture…’”[1] Viktor began quoting as he took off his industrial lab coat and put on his linen lab coat.

And so Viktor and Einida prepared for the long, tedious drive through the remote desert to the General Store and Trading Post.


Chapter 2

After driving through the lonesome landscape for several miles, a sudden anomaly appeared at the end of the road.

“Is that a road sign? These roads don’t have names.” sputtered Viktor.

Einida slowed the van down and peered out the window. She said, “Apparently, this road has been named ‘County Road #1A.’ How quaint.”


Viktor sputtered and said, “What? We don’t need road signs! Everyone who lives out here knows exactly how to get to where they’re going. If you tell someone to turn at ‘Skunk Gas Pass,’ they’ll know exactly where you mean, and they’ll even be sure to roll up the windows.” Viktor tittered at the thought of the all blissfully unaware people who had driven, with their windows open, through ‘Skunk Gas Pass.’

That was a lesson no one ever forgets.

“Or when someone tells you to turn where the rubble from the old Post office used to stand. Everyone knows where that was.” said Einida, as she rolled down the window to take a photo of the street sign.

Viktor threw up his hands in exasperation and said, “Well, there goes our remote neighborhood. First come the roads that have names and then come a flood of suburban, suckling, namby-pamby, milquetoast…”

Einida interrupted what was most likely to be an entertaining rant. “Whoa! Calm down. This might just be a sign that the dastardly Department of Transportation finally got around to installing. You know how they always get lost out here. How many of their engineers have we rescued from their inability to read maps? This sign is probably their version of a #16 Rue Street.”

Viktor sniffed and said, “Nonsense. A sign is always a sign. And in this case, it is an ominous sign of terrible things to come. This sign will ultimately lead to sighs.”

Viktor scowled and shook his fist at the sign and said, “I dare say to you, to you… the tyrannical Transportation Department:
‘Fiend, I defy thee! with a calm, fixed mind,
All that thou canst inflict I bid thee do;
Foul Tyrant both of Gods and Human-kind,
One only being shalt thou not subdue….
Thou art omnipotent.
Over all things but myself I gave thee power.’” [2]

He finished the startling quote with mildly maniacal laughter. And then, he muttered grimly, “How can one possibly live in an undisclosed location, if the dreaded Department of Transportation is going to go around naming roads? Don’t they have better things to do?”


Chapter 3


They had not gotten far on their journey on “County Road #1A,” when they ran into yet another mystery.

At the corner of “County Road #1A” and “No Name Road #207”, there was what appeared to be a farmer’s market. At least, that’s what the placard on the side of the road said.

Einida slammed on the brakes of the van and stared in disbelief. Viktor rubbed his eyes and then stared in disbelief.

“It must be a mirage… people just don’t have farmer’s markets along rustic, ranch roadways…” said Einida, astonished.

The curious hand painted sign read:

“Welcome to the Tomato Rendezvous”
“Welcome to the Happy Tomato Place”
“Welcome to the Tomato Happy Place”
“Welcome to the Thrilling Tomato”
“Welcome to the Tomazing Farmers Market”

“Well, this is an unexpected mystery. We must investigate it fully.” whispered Viktor suspiciously. He was not optimistic about what the results of their investigation might yield.

They got out of the car and walked towards a table that was covered with stacks of various vegetables.

“Excuse me, madam. What is this place.?” asked Einida with a strained smile.

“It’s a Farmer’s Market! I’m building a wondrous place of awesomeness that focuses on nutrition, vitamins, vegetables and well-being.” said a woman, who was sitting on the ground unpacking a crate.

“What on Earth are you doing way out here? There aren’t many people that drive down this road.” said Einida brightly.

The lady stood up, tilted her large sun hat and said, with unparallelled exuberance, “Hello, I’m Frau Pomadora and I’m here to sell tomatoes. My goal in life is to sell people the sunshine collected in the spheres of the world’s finest, freshest, fantastical, organic tomatoes.” She stuck out her hand and began to shake Enida’s hand vigorously.

Einida recovered her hand and took a step back from the palpable enthusiasm and asked, “What kind of tomatoes?”

“Well, I’ve got big Beefsteaks, awesome Oxhearts, pleasing Plum tomatoes, pretty Pear tomatoes, cherubic Cherry tomatoes… I’ve even got great Grape tomatoes, and the incomparable Camparis…” said Frau Pomadora enthusiastically, then she paused for breath.

“Isn’t it strange that some tomato varieties are named after animal parts and fruits? I dare say that an Oxheart tomato sounds rather ghoulish.” mused Viktor. He continued, “While I do admire the botanists who got to name these varieties, I’ll have to challenge myself to see if I could come up with even more interesting names…” He paused for thought.

Frau Pomadora quickly said, “That’s not all they’re named after. Why, I’ve got some exalted Arkansas Travellers, and some super San Marzanos, I’ve even got some smashing Sun Golds, beautiful Better Boys, juicy Jersey Devils…” Frau Pomadora took a breath..

Viktor, realizing that he would have to think about his version of vegetable names later, stopped thinking. He was about to say something, but Frau Pomadora got her breath back and continued speaking, “…Sweet Baby Girl cherry tomatoes, divine Virginia Sweets, top notch Tastefuls, superb Sweet Millions, bewitching Brandywines…”

“You certainly do know your tomatoes.” interrupted Einida admiringly. She always loved a good list. But she knew that this list was sure to be an endless catalog of tomato varieties, and they needed to get back on the road, soon.

“Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!” Frau Pomadora said while hopping up and down with great eagerness. “I also sell pizzas, fresh baked breads, dips, pies and many, many other vegetables. I love food so much that I have to share it with the world, at this very table. Isn’t this going to be the greatest?”

Viktor appreciated her passion and excitement for being a purveyor of produce. But he had doubts about the feasibility of starting a business in such an unpopulated area. So he said, “Madam, you are aware that the population of wildlife in this area far outnumber humans? The only thing around these parts are vast ranches that go on for thousands of miles.”

Frau Pomadora’s smile faltered. “Oh dear. It seems as though you don’t subscribe to ‘The American Journal for Region Reestablishment.” It’s a monthly magazine.” She leaned over and pulled out a tomato stained magazine from under a crate.

“This area has been on the cover for the last three issues. Congratulations! You are living in the most actively sought out real estate in the whole country. And I’m here to feed all the people who are going to be moving in.” She grinned and handed the magazine to Viktor.

journal“Pish Posh! Unconventional scientists can’t have neighbors! That simply isn’t done.” sputtered Viktor, losing all aplomb. He stared hard at the magazine in his hand.  Then, he rolled it up, so he wouldn’t have to see it, anymore He could feel a rant building.

“Tosh!” exclaimed Einida. “How can we have the freedom to experiment, the freedom to push the very boundaries of physics and nature if we’re surrounded by… by…”

“…people?” gasped Viktor, horrified by the thought of living next to actual humans, neighbors and city slickers.

Viktor took a deep breath and began to speak, “They all told me I was mad! Mad! For wanting my lair so far in the uncharted country. But now they’ll show me… the whole world will show me… they want to be here too. MWUAHAHAHAHAHA!” He laughed maniacally as he shook his fists dramatically at the clouds. Then, he took a deep breath.

He glowered and rubbed his forehead. Then he lofted the rolled magazine into the air and declared, “This is a disaster… a total disaster! How will I continue to experiment unhindered if the masses of non-scientific humanity are near? How can I experiment with rockets, automatons, satellites, pumpkin launchers, potato cannons, Ludwig Van Beethoven at 125 decibels, trebuchets…” He trailed off, the magazine fell from his fingers.

Einida continued, “…sonic booms, aerial balloons, mobile rumpus rooms, boulder rolling studies, trebuchets…and various assorted flingers, of course.”

Frau Pomadora smiled and said, “Wow, you must really like trebuchets. But don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be fine. And no one will mind if you continue your little experiments.”

“That’s what the village people told Dr. Frankenstein and look what happened to him! His most brilliant creation and his favorite windmill were destroyed by a mob of unenlightened, angry villagers.” grumbled Viktor [3]

Einida looked around furtively and whispered, “What will the Evil Minions Local 208 say if they learn that we’re going to have neighbors? This is just ghastly! This could ruin our Lab’s reputation as being ‘in a desolate, remote location’” She waved her hands in the air as she made air quotation gestures.

Viktor looked down at the magazine on the ground. It was slowly being buried by the blowing desert dirt. But he could still see most of the cover. The cover was of a satellite image. Viktor studied it intensely.

He came to a conclusion and sighed. “At least, they didn’t take a photo of our land. Maybe we’ll be far enough away from this impending sprawling, suburban madness to not be affected.” he said with gloomy optimism.

Frau Pomadora’s smiled gently and said, “Embrace change. Things always change for the better. Besides, I’m going to need a tomato tossing catapults for my ‘Tomazing Tomato Tossing Festival’. Catapults are good Everybody likes catapults. Right?” She patted him on the shoulder.

Viktor looked down at the magazine that was barely visible. He picked up a handful of sand and said solemnly, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare. The lone and level sands stretch far away.” He tossed the sand into the wind. [4]

Einida picked up a handful of sand and said gloomily, “Like dust in the wind of an hourglass, these are the days of our lives.” And she let the dust blow away.

Frau Pomadora’s smiled slyly and said, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If life gives you tomatoes, make Bloody Marys.”

Viktor then smiled and said earnistly, “In the immortal words of Grumpy Cat, ‘If life gives you lemons, you will have some pretty bad lemonade, unless life also gives you sugar and water.” [5]


[1] Prometheus Unbound by Aeschylus
[2] Prometheus Unbound by Percy Shelley
[3] Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
[4] Ozymandias by Percy Shelley
[5] Grumpy Cat

Helvetica Or Highwater


*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.”


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’?”


“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.”

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 Super Fun Adventure Quest Time Nonsense Gum Experiment

Packages of flavor sensationsIt all started when I offered the Huntsman a piece of gum. When he asked what flavor the gum was, I said, “Blue.”

Puzzled, he retorted, “What flavor is blue?”

“I suppose it’s some sort of minty, fresh, frosty-tasting flavor.”

“But if you bought the gum, shouldn’t you know the flavor? Shouldn’t you be more clear on the matter?”

I responded triumphantly, “Of course not! I merely selected the gum by the color of the packaging!”

Front of Super Fun Gum(It suddenly occurred to me that my penchant for selecting products based solely on label color might not be the most common method of shopping. Still, it leads to delightfully unexpected results. For example, were I shopping for diet soda, I might just as easily end up with coconut juice, since both beverages have white labels. This gastronomic Russian roulette is an exciting way to liven up the taste buds.)

I studied the gum packaging carefully and declared, “This gum is ‘Polar Ice’-flavored. Here, have a piece, and describe to me the taste of the frozen wastes….”

“Why, it tastes minty-fresh! The inside of my mouth does in fact feel colder….Astonishing!”

This simple interaction ignited a flicker of insight in my brain. What if I set up an experiment where the participants would sample gum without knowing the flavors beforehand? Without the visual clues of the packaging, the enticing descriptions, would they be able to determine the taste?

And so, I collected a variety of gum flavors: mint chocolate chip, orange crème pop, apple pie, root beer float, lemon square, sweet watermelon, polar ice, and winter fresh. Sadly, I was unable to locate the rainbow sherbet flavor, as I was particularly interested in finding out what a rainbow tastes like.

The Back of Super Fun GumNext, I designed the packaging in which to present the gum experiment. It was a joy to make with the Lab’s new Klic-N-Kut machine. (I could have used the online packaging personalization tool offered by Extra Gum, but that project ended disappointingly earlier this year. Alas, I would have so loved to share the results of our gum experiments with you, gentle reader.)

And so, I emptied all the flavors of gum into a pile and shuffled them vigorously. I randomly selected pieces and inserted them into the new package. Then I spent a week offering random strangers and Laboratory employees a chance to sample a piece of gum and participate in an experiment.

While the random strangers were generally open to free gum and the cause of science, Lab employees were suspicious of my motives, asking, “What did you put into this?”and “Did you make the gum yourself?” and “Is this onion-flavored?” and “Does this look infected to you?”

The experiment took an unexpected turn when the package of gum was left unattended and was pillaged during the Lab’s annual “Celebration of the Miraculous Egg.” The sticky-fingered party-goers chewed the gum in a non-observant, non-scientific manner, and the data for those stolen pieces of gum were lost.

The results of this experiment were inconclusive. I shall have to try again, when more flavors are introduced into the world by the gum industry.

Observational Exercise: Tracking the Walnut Treasure


To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
–William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence.”


Observational Exercise: Tracking the Walnut Treasure

A scientist is nothing without the power of observation, because the scientific method is built upon the foundation of performing experiments and then observing the results.

At our lab we place a high value on the humble walnut. It is small, inexpensive, easily stored, and is an ideal tool in our observational training program. A walnut can teach the scientific novice how to observe.

During walnut season, our laboratory employees carefully split walnuts into halves, scoop out the contents, refill the shells with small trinkets, then seal the two halves back up again. Then the modified walnuts are carefully and deliberately hidden outdoors, after which the lab trainees go out and search for them.

The trainees are instructed to study the environment for clues that will reveal the locations of the walnuts. If a trainee finds a walnut, he quickly opens it, and claims the small treasure hidden within.

The treasures include coins, statuettes, fortune cookie scrolls, stamps, such electronic components as capacitors and resistors–really anything that can be fitted into such a small space.

Of course, we do pity the unfortunate squirrel who takes a fake walnut back to her nest and is rewarded with a shiny trinket rather than nourishing food. Mother Nature, we have learned, has little use for bling.

At any rate, we recommend this small, exciting project as a method of teaching observation skills as well as a love for the outdoors.

Sometimes, mysterious faces will appear on the unfilled walnuts.

Sometimes, mysterious faces will appear on the unfilled walnuts.