Cardinal Roll

A paper towel, a napkin, and a facial tissue were chatting at a paper goods party one day. The towel spread himself flat and declared, “I’m the biggest one here, not counting the tablecloth under the dessert buffet.” The napkin glared at the towel and said, “Think you’re so important? All you do is clean up messes. I’m part of every place setting at every dinner table in the land!” To which the tissue sniffled, “Sorry boys, but I’m more important than either of you. No bathroom or lady’s purse would be complete without me”. Just then a roll of toilet paper wheeled by. Glancing at his paper pals, he grinned confidently as if to say, “No contest”.

It’s true, isn’t it?  If I dragged you to the same paper goods party and said, “Choose one, but it’s the only one you’re allowed for the next twenty-four hours”, toilet paper wins every time.  Paper towels, napkins, and facial tissue come in plenty of sizes, quantities, and pretty designs, encouraging us to put them on display in our houses.  TP gets no such fanfare and frankly, we’re embarrassed to be seen anywhere with those virgin-white rolls.  When was the last time you proudly displayed your 24-pack of Quilted Northern or Angel Soft as you waited in the grocery store checkout line?  If you’re like me, you jam those rolls into the lower part of the cart.  You want them invisible.

Cute, huh? It’s called “Cloudy Day”

Here’s where you’re probably thinking, “Toilet paper?  He’s writing a blog about toilet paper?”  Damn right I am.  When Procter & Gamble (P&G) comes out with a “bathroom tissue” product called “Charmin Forever Roll”, I’m all over it.  Imagine if you will, a roll of toilet paper one foot in diameter (actually, don’t imagine; just look at the photo below).  This bad boy’s three times bigger than your standard roll.  He’s the equivalent of the 24-pack you were trying to hide in your shopping cart.  It’s like putting a tractor tire next to your toilet.  The “Forever” comes with its own sturdy stand, and the idea is, it never runs out.  Well, almost never.  The Forever lasts twenty-one days on average.  If you told me my job was to change the toilet paper roll only once every three weeks?  I might actually do it!

The “Charmin Forever Roll”

What, you ask, inspired P&G to create a quarter mile of rolled toilet paper the size of an LP vinyl record?  Human nature, that’s what.  No matter how easy the task, people refuse to change the roll (on top of whatever else they’re doing in the bathroom).  In fact, a survey of 2,000 bathroom users – as if the survey-takers had to screen out “non-bathroom users” – found 85% agreed to the phrase, “An empty toilet paper roll is one of the most frustrating bathroom scenarios”.

Don’t you just hate this?

You should’ve seen this coming and beaten P&G to the punch.  Toilet paper has been rolling out in ever-bigger sizes since those 4″ originals hit the shelves.  We’ve graduated to “double”, “triple”, “jumbo”, “mega”, “mega plus”, and “super mega”.  It’s getting grandiose.  Even the Forever isn’t the biggest anymore.  Last month Charmin debuted the “Forever Roll XL”, which gets you 50% more than the Forever.  You can go a whole month without changing the roll.  Not only that, P&G lets you subscribe, so your XL tractor tires show up at the front door all by themselves.  Order a dozen and you’re good for a year!

There’s no end to the madness, if shopping habits tell the truth.  When P&G first offered the Forever, they gave us a choice of an 8.7″ or a 12″ round.  They figured we’d want to ease into the idea of super-sized toilet paper.  Wrong.  Consumers went straight for the 12″, which is why P&G fast-tracked the 13.2″ XL (and promptly dropped the 8.7″).  Just how “XL” is a 13.2″ roll?  3.2 pounds – or 2,550 squares.

Clearly, the sky’s the limit when it comes to a roll of toilet paper.  I can picture it now: a roll the size of a Ferris Wheel.  Laugh all you want – homebuilders are probably already redesigning bathrooms to accommodate one.  And then – maybe then – toilet paper will get more attention than just who was supposed to change the empty roll.

Some content sourced from the 10/16/19 Wall Street Journal article, “The Empty Toilet Paper Roll Torments Families.  Procter & Gamble Has an Answer”.

Girl Crush

The Goddess

Last Sunday, our corner of the night sky was graced with a full moon called a “Tiny Hunter”. Tiny, because the moon was at the furthest point in its elliptical orbit. Hunter, because this time of year harvested fields leave few places for animals to hide. (Add a full moon and the hunting’s even easier). When our Tiny Hunter rose in the east that night, it was as if a giant flashlight switched on in the heavens, blotting out a typically starry night. But I know it didn’t blot out everything. Venus, beckoning brightly to the west, was saying hey, this is my party too.

Next to the moon, Venus is the brightest bulb in the night sky. Even if you don’t know where she sits, you can find her by simply scanning the western horizon at dusk or eastern at dawn for the most brilliant pinpoint of light. As if outshining all of the stars isn’t enough, Venus is also the most vivid planet. Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter occasionally make an appearance, but Venus always seems to be there. Even in broad daylight.

“Morning Star” or “Evening Star” – take your pick

I’m not gonna lie; Venus gives me a bit of a girl crush. After all, she’s the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Now consider her other “outstanding” attributes:

  • She’s the only planet in our solar system to identify as female.
  • She’s referred to as our “sister planet”, not only because she’s our closest neighbor, but because she’s virtually the same size.
  • She rotates in the opposite direction of seven of the eight planets (including Earth).
  • She hosts two continents: Ishtar Terra (named after the Babylonian goddess of love), and Aphrodite Terra (named after the Greek goddess of love).
  • Her rotation is so slow, a day in her world is longer than a year in ours. But, a year in her world is shorter than that same day. Say what? You read that right: Venus completes a trip around the sun faster than she completes a rotation on her own axis.
  • Her orbit is closer to the shape of a circle (vs. an ellipse) than all other planets.
  • She has no moons or rings. Naturally, why would the goddess of love and beauty need adornments?

No wonder the Babylonians referred to Venus as “bright queen of the sky”, eh?

Given her allure, it’s a wonder our earthly culture hasn’t done more to embrace her. I went in search of homage to Venus and here’s all I could come up with:

  • Sandro Botticelli’s iconic “The Birth of Venus” (top left), with our girl posed unashamedly naked on a seashell.
  • Vincent van Gogh’s post-impressionist “The Starry Night” (top center), with Venus as the bright “star” just to the right of the cypress tree.
  • The Bible’s Song of Songs (fitting, if you know the book’s subject matter), Chapter 6, Verse 10.
  • John Gray’s bestselling relationship guide, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.
  • Gillette’s “Venus” line of women’s shaving products.
  • The “Venus” women’s clothing line (catalog arrived for my wife just last week).
  • A nasty-looking fly-trapping plant.
  • Frankie Avalon’s adoring anthem “Venus” (Hey, Venus… oh, VENUS…).
  • Shocking Blue’s psychedelic rock hit “Venus” (I’m your Venus… I’m your fire, at your desire…).

If that’s the extent of our tribute to Venus, no wonder we have the phrase “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. Venus shows her not-so-lovely side if she wants to. She’s the hottest planet in the solar system (including Mercury), with an average surface temperature of 863 degrees F (462 C). Her atmospheric pressure is 92 times stronger than Earth’s (which is why her surface is beautifully crater-free). She’s covered in a thick layer of sulfuric acid clouds. Her wind speeds are extraordinarily high. And she’s explosive, with a long history of volcanic activity.

The second rock from the Sun… and the brightest of all eight.

Scientists believe – 700 million years ago under drastically different conditions – Venus was temperate enough to host oceans of water and life itself. So…, what in God’s name happened to make her so nasty now? Whatever it was, even our most advanced spacecraft can’t land on her surface today (though we’re working on it).

Considering this brief education on Venus, I suggest you ignore her siren song and simply admire her from afar. Even if you could speed your car along an interstellar highway, you’d need over forty years to get to Earth’s twisted sister. No; stay on her good side lest she show her surface temperatures and atmospheric pressures. That wouldn’t go well for you. I’d rather look Medusa in the eye and be turned to stone.

Some content sourced from the 9/22/19 Phys Org article, “Could Venus have been Habitable?”, “Venus Facts:…” from The Planets website, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Supply Chain Reaction

My neighbor to the north – the one with a mansion lording over the rest of the hood from the highest point around – hosts equestrian events on weekends. Whether reining or cutting competitions, or “quaint” social gatherings, his barn and surrounds burst with dozens of horses and riders just about every Saturday. His property is large enough we’re pretty far removed from the hubbub, except the convoy of horse trailers and trucks barreling down the street beforehand. The wheels rumbling over the washboardy dirt road and balloons of dust floating high overhead are hard to ignore.

Maybe you don’t have a parade of horse trailers in your neighborhood (or a washboardy road), but guess what?  You do have a procession of vehicles making their way to your driveway, and the list of participants is growing.  Home delivery is the latest block party where everybody seems to have an invite.

In the 1970’s the only vehicles coming up our driveway were the red, white, and blue jeeps of the United States Post Office (USPS) or the brown, boxy trucks of the United Parcel Service (UPS).  Then Federal Express vans (FedEx) joined in with a little purple and green, while DHL (the initials of the three founders’ last names) added a healthy dollop of yellow.  Taste the rainbow!

 That’s a pretty good line-up right there, but in the last decade or so home delivery (or “last mile delivery”, to use the trendier term) picked up several more players.  Amazon (black vans with a blue “swoosh” on the side) and WalMart (several colors) extended their supply chain by adding home delivery trucks.  Your pizza guy has been joined by restaurant delivery of all kinds, like DoorDash, Grubhub, and UberEats.  AmazonFresh is competing with your local grocery store to make sure you consider home delivery of products from Whole Foods.

Here are a few of the more “colorful” entries coming soon to a driveway near you:

  • Postmates – Pizza, prescriptions, shoes, and tech products, just to name a few Postmates delivery favorites.  What makes Postmates unique?  They’re not affiliated with any business or product line.  If you need it, they’ll find it.
  • LuggageForward – Boasts “doorstep pickup”, so all you worry about is transporting you from your home to your travel destination.  LuggageForward guarantees your bags arrive before you do, and their “shipping experts” track your items every step of the way.
  • Piggybee – Just like LuggageForward, except you’re entrusting your luggage or other item to a random person who happens to be traveling to your destination anyway.  Sounds a little dicey, but isn’t the name great?
  • Entrusters – The opposite of Piggybee, but the same concept.  You find something you want to buy in a distant locale, and the random person who happens to be traveling to your city brings it to you.
  • goPuff – A “convenience store caterer”, tempting you with products like that pint of Ben & Jerry’s you don’t really need.  Perfect for college students?  Yes, and the company was started by college students.  “goPuff”?  No clue.
  • Drizly – Not only wine, beer, and liquor to your door inside of an hour, but also all the mixers, garnishes, and supplies you need to make your party tipsy.  Hopefully you’re not the only one at the party.  Hopefully your Drizly driver doesn’t partake in whatever he or she delivers.
  • Stitch Fix – A competitor to Nordstrom’s Trunk Club, Stitch Fix offers a stylist and all the designer clothes you could ever want.  Try them on and keep ’em or return ’em within three days.  Might as well close the doors on your local shopping mall.
  • Washio – Just what you would guess: home-delivery wash, dry, and dry-cleaning of your wardrobe.  Your hamper just moved to the front door!  Washio’s “ninjas” pick up and drop off inside of 24 hours, and even leave a cookie on top of the clean-clothes bag.  Sadly, Washio lasted less than three years; it’s founders claiming, “sometimes you make it, sometimes you don’t”.

As we speak, many of these deliverers are hopping the fence into each other’s domains.  Postmates is test-marketing convenience store items in New York City, sourcing from 150+ Walgreens and Duane Reades.  Doordash is trying out same-day grocery delivery in 22 states.  AmazonFresh distinguishes itself as food delivery with its lime-green (not black) vans.

With so many entrants in the home delivery circus, it’s fair to say the concept is still in its infancy.  We’ll need several years to see who and what will ultimately come out in the wash (clearly, not Washio).  But mark my words, you can always count on someone to rain on the parade.  Amazon is already experimenting with “Prime Air”, a drone-service.  In other words, home delivery may be a little less grounded in the future.

Some content sourced from the 10/2/19 Wall Street Journal article, “Postmates, DoorDash Want to Deliver Your Groceries, Too”.

Window Addressing

My wife and I just returned from a trip to Boston. On the flight home, we took our seats as usual: she at the window and me in the middle. It was a peaceful journey, save for the rather chatty woman across the aisle. But then, as we began our descent into Denver, behold an uncomfortable moment. A glare of sunlight through my wife’s window struck Chatty Woman in the eyes, who immediately turned and snapped, “CLOSE THAT WINDOW!” I just smiled from the middle seat and assured her the glare would move on momentarily (which it did). Chatty Woman gave me a stare and a huff, and turned away. Gee, nice to meet you too.

I’ve touched on the dynamics – er, politics – of airplane passenger seats before, in Flight of the Humble Bee (a taste of first-class), and Center Peace (life in the middle seat), but I always thought window-seat dwellers were far enough to the left or right to escape judgment. No longer. In fact, more than ever the spotlight shifts to them.

Let’s review the powers held by the different seats on the plane. The aisle seat, some would argue, commands the most power because a) the occupant controls the freedom of all others on his/her side of the row, b) the occupant has the easiest access to everyone else and everything else on the plane, and c) the occupant can lean or leg into the aisle as he/she pleases (a power move in itself, albeit a weak one).

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The middle seat [or in larger planes, middle seats. To you, the occupant of the middle seat in a row of 5+, you have my utmost sympathy] has powers inversely proportional to the aisle and window seat occupants. That is, the more empathetic your seatmates with your middle-seatedness, the more likely you’ll get perks (i.e. the use of both armrests, requests to the flight attendants, the window shade setting to your preference).

Speaking of the shade, that my friends, is the power-play of the window seat. Whether the shade is up, down, or somewhere in the middle is entirely up to the occupant (or occasionally directed by the flight attendants). Once upon a time the window shade was a minor prop; only down when the shared overhead movie screens (or sleeping passengers) demanded dark. Today? Every mobile phone, tablet, reading device, laptop, and in-seat movie screen is photophobic. Light sensitivity abounds.

Here’s the change in dynamic you’re not aware of. The passenger in the window seat is not the person he/she once was. Before, people chose the window seat to enjoy the high-skies views, or more importantly, to keep their geographic bearings or avoid the claustrophobia of a closed-up cabin. Today, people choose the window seat to control the shade, for optimal lighting of all those handheld devices.

To further complicate the matter we have the Boeing 787 airplane, which replaced the window shade with electrified gel sandwiched between panes of glass. The gel darkens or lightens depending on the amount of applied current. Cool tech, but also a compromise of power for the window seat occupant. The flight attendants (as they deem necessary), can darken all of the windows during sleeping hours or movie time or even hot days. Might want to check the type of aircraft before you board your next flight.

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I suspect if “CLOSE THAT WINDOW!” persists, the airlines might jump at another opportunity for profit. Someday you’ll find yourself choosing a seat in the “light” or “dark” section of the plane, with a fee placed on one or both types of seats. Not a fan. Then again, if the airlines would sequester crying babies, cell-phone talkers and other audibles into a soundproofed section, I’ll be the first one on-board.

Some content sourced from the 9/18/19 Wall Street Journal article, “The Showdown at the Window Seat”.

Past Cards

Restaurants tend to leave advertising freebies at the host stand or on your table to remember them by. After paying the bill, you might grab a logo’d toothpick or a couple of plastic-wrapped mints on the way out the door. The fancier establishments offer books of matches (as if smoking remains the chic habit it once was). But every now and then I come across my favorite restaurant takeaway: the plain and simple postcard.

I’m almost afraid to ask a young person what he/she thinks of a postcard.  They’d turn it over and over in their hands and wonder what purpose is served by a laminated photo on card-stock paper (“Just show me the photo on your phone!“)  Then they’d flip the card to the back and realize it has something to do with snail mail (“Just send me a text!“)  Finally, they’d wonder why anyone would go to the trouble of pen/paper just to let another someone know where they were having dinner (“Just add your location on Facebook!“)

Remove smartphone technology and postcards suddenly seem relevant again.  Take a break from the dinner conversation, scribble a few sentences, add a mailing address, affix a stamp, and voila!  A thoughtful bit of correspondence in mere minutes – the precursor to the Post-It Note.  If you’re lucky, the restaurant pays the postage and mails the card.  If you’re even luckier, your recipient still checks their physical mailbox.

A 1908 postcard… of a Chicago postcard factory!

Postcards have more history than a modest rectangle of heavy paper would suggest.  The very first postcard was sent in 1840, in London. (Someone who believed “very first” paid $40,000 for it in 2002.)  In the later 1840’s, postcards began circulating in the United States, as printed advertising.  Soon after, postcards became the Mini Cooper of personal correspondence; a quick letter sans envelope, but without images (because your personal note went on the front of the card back then).  By the 1870’s, manufacturers were producing “picture postcards”, with the divided back you see today.

Risqué front image (at least for 1890) from the popular “seaside postcards” of the United Kingdom

The advent of the picture postcard led to a little controversy in certain parts of the globe.  Images sent from one country were not always deemed “proper” in another (i.e. sexual references in popular UK “seaside postcards”, or images of full or partial nudity from classical statuary or paintings).  Accordingly, some countries refused to handle picture postcards.  Those same images are clearly conservative by today’s standards.

Like baseball cards, postcards have become a collector’s item.  The value of a given card is associated with the image on the front.  Online resources include collector websites and clubs, catalogs, and trading platforms.  When I was a kid in the 1970’s, I collected postcards – one summer – to document the stopping points on a month-long trip my family took to the American states in the northeast.  Pretty sure none of my cards held value, but I still wish I kept them.

My “Northeast States” collection c. 1975

[Trivia pause: collecting postcards makes me a deltiologist.  Aren’t you impressed?]

Postcards have their own terminology, as if to elevate their status among mailed items.  A large letter postcard shows the name of a place in big letters (instead of a picture).  An early postcard is any card issued before the era of divided backs.  An installment card is one of a set, forming a single picture when placed in a grid.  Postcardese is the short-sentence, abbreviated writing style of postcards.  Finally, midget postcards – noticeably smaller than the standard 6″ x 4.5″ version – were issued as souvenirs and bound in sets.  (If you look at my collection photo you’ll see several midgets).

“Large Letter” postcard c. 1940s

The next time you come across a postcard, give the little guy a (first-class) ounce of respect.  He’s been around a long time, and the post office – depending on country – may still send him for less than the cost of an enveloped letter.  Remember, the postcard was the original format of brief long-distance correspondence.  Think about that the next time you text.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Coffee Breakers

Every now and then I take this blogging habit out onto the road, so to speak.  Instead of typing paragraphs from the home office, I’ll liberate my laptop from its cables, hop in the car, and head over to the local coffee house.  Working in a caffeinated environment – especially one buzzing with grouplets of chatty patrons – brings out the creative juices in me (if not the ability to concentrate).  Lately however, I’ve decided my little laptop show pales in comparison to some of the real road warriors out there.  Apparently, I need to show up with more toys in hand.  It’s time to go “Venti” instead of “Tall” and become one of the true coffee-breakers.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the patron I’m talking about here.  Coffee-breakers recreate their home office (or “office office”) on a table in the middle of Starbucks.  They consume more than their fair share of coffee house real estate (but not their fair share of coffee relative to their extended stay).  They arrange face-to-face meetings with colleagues, and interviews with prospective employees.  They hold Bluetooth conversations as they stare at nothing in particular.  Or FaceTime conversations as they have one-on-one’s with their phones.

I’ve come across several breakers in my coffee house stays.  They demonstrate distinct behaviors to separate themselves from those of us who simply want laptop time with our lattes.  First, breakers set up their workspaces, with enough time and attention to detail to announce, “Notice me!”  Then they go to the counter to place their coffee orders, deliberately leaving their setups unattended (as if to say, “This space is reserved!”).  Finally, they begin their “work”, which doesn’t really seem like work.  I can’t help thinking coffee-breakers are more often show than substance.

A few weeks ago at the local Starbucks, I left my laptop and Flat White to take a quick phone call outside the store doors (the polite thing to do).  When I returned, I found I’d been joined by a coffee-breaker.  She was carefully positioning two Bluetooth speakers on the table in front of her; then fiddling with her phone and a few other components from her oversized backpack.  As soon as her speakers gushed music (clashing with the Starbucks music playing overhead), she put in her AirPods and simultaneously took a phone call.  She operated as if she was in her own little world (i.e. I didn’t exist).  Therein lies another distinct coffee-breaker behavior: virtual walls.

On another visit, I was party to a conversation between a commercial real estate broker and a prospective tenant.  He sat his client (deliberately) adjacent to the counter queue, which (conveniently) put him in the center of the store.  The broker was hawking lease space in the adjacent soon-to-be-opened retail center.  No wonder he raised his voice as he spoke.  This coffee-breaker’s sales pitch was as much for me and my fellow patrons as for the captive soul sitting right in front of him.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently published a dozen rules for coffee-breakers; rules that should be laminated to every Starbucks building in the land.  Examples: Work only where and when you’re wanted (i.e. ask first).  Buy first, sit second.  Buy more than one small black coffee during the day.  Don’t take work calls – ever.  And so on.  Perhaps more enlightening was the reader comments in response to the rules.  I perused four pages’ worth (30+ comments) and not one came to the defense of coffee-breakers.  In fact, several comments added more rules to the list.

To my earlier comment about going “Venti”, I talk – of course – tongue-in-cheek.  A little attention is a good thing, but my hope is most of us would not deliberately choose to be a coffee-breaker (else this is the end of Western civilization as we know it).  Nope, I think I’ll take my road show to the library instead.

Some content sourced from the 8/27/19 Wall Street Journal article, “How to Act Like a Human When Working From a Coffee Shop”.

Of Rings and Romans

Eggs are a favorite food of mine.  A breakfast plate is hardly complete without a couple of the fried, scrambled, or omelette-d variety. They’re delicious for lunch in an egg salad sandwich, or for dinner in a chef’s salad or a quiche. Don’t forget deviled eggs for a tempting appetizer. Nothing’s unusual about these egg-zamples, but here’s where it gets borderline obsessive. Earlier this week I imagined two sunny-side-up eggs placed flat-side to flat-side (don’t ask me why; I just did). What do you get when you do that? SATURN!

  

Perhaps you missed it on Tuesday, but the planet Saturn made a pageant-worthy appearance in our night sky.  Saturn “came to opposition” (sounds political), meaning Earth made its annual passage directly between the ringed world and the sun; at precisely 11am Colorado Time.  Saturn was closest to Earth at that very moment.  Ten hours hence, when Colorado’s sky was dark enough for stars and such, Saturn was already well above the horizon to the southeast.  At least I think it was Saturn.  Without a telescope, I channeled my most amateur inner-astronomer using handheld binoculars.  All I got was a shaky image of a bright, white pinprick in an otherwise fabric of black.  But I must say, it was a pretty big pinprick.

Saturn is certainly the most distinctive of the eight planets in our solar system (take that Pluto, you dwarf-pretender you).  Stage a planet beauty pageant and Saturn would simply flaunt her colorful rings to win ten out of ten times.  The distant runner-up, Mercury, would get a few sympathy votes for her steadfast “cool under fire”.  Mars would get no votes for her perpetual look of embarrassment.  Earth would be disqualified for serving as pageant host.  It’s Saturn with the sash every time.

There’s more to this heavenly body than meets the naked eye (WHOA; that may be the most risqué sentence I’ve ever written).  Saturn is a big ball of gas – hydrogen, helium – and less dense than water, which means if you threw her in the pool, she’d bob around like a big ol’ beach ball.  She completes a full rotation in ten hours; so fast in fact, her equator bulges enough to make her look like a flattened ball (not very becoming of you, Saturn).  Her glorious rings are circular masses of ice crystals, over sixty feet thick.  Her surface temperature is -300 degrees Fahrenheit, a reward for sitting sixth place from the sun.

All of which paints a not-so-rosy picture (but at least there are rings around the not-so-rosy – ha!).  If you could travel to Saturn (no spacecraft headed that way anytime soon), could stand on her surface (you can’t), and could withstand her “balmy” temps (one helluva spacesuit there), you’d still fly off into space on account of that zippy rotational speed and global shortage of gravity.  You’d probably splat into her pristine rings like a useless little bug. Ick.

Saturn

Saturn gets her name from the Roman god – not goddess – of agriculture and time.  Which begs the question, why am I calling him a her?  (Crud, I have to start this blog all over again.)  Even better, Saturn was also the god of wealth (now we’re talking).  In ancient Rome, the Temple of Saturn housed the town treasury.  And this same Roman god is why we call the first day of the weekend Satur(n)day (you’re welcome for that).  So, let’s review.  One of eight planets is named after you.  One of seven days is also named after you.  You must be one important dude.

And yet, Saturn (the planet or the god – you pick) doesn’t get much love in Earthly culture.  I scoured the web for references (okay; no I didn’t – I just looked up “Saturn” on Wikipedia), and all I came up with was a) a Sega video-game console, b) a discontinued brand of automobiles, c) a rocket booster (just the booster, not the rocket itself), and the annual trophies presented by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films.  Oh yeah, and a small, unincorporated community in Whitley County, Indiana.  Oh yeah again, and one of the primary characters in the “The Three Investigators” children’s books.  Er, wait, that was Jupiter Jones. Dang it!

Even if Earthly culture dresses down her sexy rings (again with the risqué), I still say Saturn wins the pageant (only now it’s a male pageant and that doesn’t work for me).  If you’re not convinced “he’d” win, consider this last fact.  Saturn has sixty-two moons.  Sixty-two!  Maybe Earth’s moon should head on out and join the party.  Can you imagine the night sky if you lived on Saturn?  The fabric would be loaded with pinpricks (including Titan, the second-largest moon in the entire solar system).  Moons, rings, Roman Gods, weekend days; what’s not to like?  As I said, it’s Saturn with the sash every time.  Now stop playing with your breakfast and get back to work.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and the Universe Today article, “Ten Interesting Facts about Saturn”.

Cooler Water Cooler

In tiny Beaver, Utah – aside the I-15 and just south of the I-70 juncture, you’ll find a Chevron gas station (still) offering full-service at the pumps. Well, sort of full-service. You fill your own tank, and as soon as you do, the attendant comes over and cleans your windshield. He also checks under the hood. When all’s said and done, he doesn’t charge you extra nor will he accept a tip. It’s a nice throwback to a time when self-service was the exception. But these days we do just about everything for ourselves, don’t we? Including bottling our own water.

I have to admit; this is a new one on me: filling my own water bottle from a public dispenser. Sure, I already know the drill at the gym (just before I navigate the zoo of torturous cardio equipment). My gym’s water machine beckons me to place my bottle under the spout, auto-fills to within an inch of the top, then magically shuts off before overflowing. There’s even a digital counter tracking how many plastic water bottles we avoid in the process. Last I checked, my gym’s counter was into the several hundred-thousands.

Just this week – the “new one on me” – I noticed the same setup in the airport boarding lounge in Los Angeles.  Two self-service machines are built into the wall adjacent to the restrooms.  In the short time before my flight, at least three dozen people lined up and filled up, as if they’d been doing this for years.  I earn the old-timer label for thinking there should’ve been a drinking fountain on the wall instead.  Or a pay phone.

Like the full-service treatment in Beaver, Utah, self-service water dispensers are free of charge.  But that’s about to change, if you believe a recent Wall Street Journal article.  The water products of Coca-Cola (Dasani, Smartwater, Vitaminwater) or Pepsi (Aquafina, Life Water, Evian) may be your thing, and you’re about to get them – for a price – through self-service water dispensers.  For a little more cost, you can even carbonate your water or add fruit flavoring.  Safe to say, “plain water” (i.e. the brand-less, cost-less, out-of-the-tap option) may soon be hard to find in public places.

Now then, the facts.  Water is consumed by the (plastic) bottle more than any other beverage except soda.  America alone accounts for 42.6 billion bottles a year (the world: 200 billion bottles).  That spills to thirty-two gallons/person/year.  The cost?  $100/person/year.  You forgot that line item in your personal budget.  Put it just below the cost of your Starbucks habit.

Here’s another breakdown of the beverage.  Americans consume 2.2 million bottles of water every day, or 90,000 every hour, or 1,500 every minute.  No wonder proprietary self-service machines are the latest trend in airports (and just about every other place where people gather).  There’s a serious market for brand-name H20, and the manufacturers know today’s eco-friendly consumers prefer to drink from their own bottles.

[Nagging Thought for the Day:  There are more than 125 brands of bottled water across the globe; 125 unique recipes for a drink with essentially two ingredients.  What makes one different or better than the next?  For that matter, with reasonable filtering, what makes one different from the fill you can get from your taps at home?]

I wish I’d thought of self-service water dispensers myself (I also wish I’d “invented” bottled water).  I’d be drinking in the riches. These days, “dispensed” water is psychologically preferable to “tap” water, even though some calculations put it 2,000 times more expensive.  Are we just suckers for brand names?  Hey, maybe I’ll invent brand-name oxygen.  Oh wait – that ship already sailed…

Acqua di Cristallo

Here’s one more stat to quench your data thirst.  The most expensive of those brand-name waters – Acqua di Cristallo – costs $60,000 a bottle. The elixir (“water” doesn’t sound rich enough), is sourced from France and Fiji, comes in a 24-karat solid gold bottle, and contains a small sprinkling of gold dust.  Acqua di Cristallo might as well be advertised as a panacea.

Lucky for you, maybe one day Acqua di Cristallo will be offered through public self-service dispensers.  Might want to call your credit card company and increase your limit.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “Coke and Pepsi Want to Sell You Bottled Water Without The Bottle”, and the CreditDonkey article, “Bottled Water Statistics: 23 Outrageous Facts”.

Snacks, Snooze, Repeat

My wife and I are adjusting our sleep schedules several days ahead of an upcoming trip to Europe. The first night we went to bed an hour earlier than usual, the next night two hours earlier, and so on. Our destination is eight hours ahead of Colorado, so who knows if this fool-the-body ploy pays off when we get there. It’s all about fending off Mr. Jet Lag.

Courtesy of lifehacker.com

Sleep – quality sleep, that is – depends on almost too many factors to count. You’ve heard the guidelines before.  Do you go to bed at the same time every night? Do you get a minimum of seven hours?  Do you have a comfortable mattress? Is the room temperature cool-but-not-too-cool?  Can you “black out” your bedroom, including every light except the little green one on the smoke alarm? And speaking of light, do you wind yourself down well before bedtime, without screens or headphones or anything else to keep the brain humming?

The list goes on, of course. What did you have for dinner; when did you have dinner; did you have alcohol or dessert too close to bedtime; did you take any meds; how and when did you exercise – they all mess with sleep. And if your sleep really is a mess, you have a convenient excuse in any one or more of these factors.  But hang on.  Someone (or some-ones) claims to have a better approach now.  What if your quest for quality sleep hinged on only one factor?

Meet the latest trend in sleep aids: “pre-bedtime” snacks!  Choose from a pint of ice cream, a handful of chocolates, a creamy drink, and others.  They’re all concocted to show you the way to better sleep.  Nightfood’s ice-cream pints are carefully advertised as “sleep-friendly”.  Nestle’s “Goodnight” candies subtly recommend you “enjoy… 30-45 minutes before you’d like to drift off to dreamland”.  Som Sleep’s products innocently ask you to “drink 30 minutes before you are ready to sleep”.

Am I the only one in the room with a terrified look on his face?  I can hear myself already.  “Time to go to bed, honey…. oh wait!  You forgot your delicious pre-bedtime snack.  Don’t you want a good night’s sleep?”  After reading a little about these “foods”, my first thought was not, “how do they taste?”  My first thought was not even, “I wonder if they work?”  NO; my first thought was, “won’t they become psychologically addicting?”  Think about it.  Doesn’t really matter what’s included in the ingredients (i.e. melatonin, magnesium, glycine).  Doesn’t even matter how much you consume.  Rather, if you decide you’re suddenly getting a better night’s sleep, won’t your pre-sleep snacks turn into pre-sleep dependence?  Snacks.  Every night.  For the rest of your life.

For sheer entertainment value, visit the websites and peruse the product claims.  Nightfood says they’ve “removed/minimized stuff that in most other ice creams can be sleep-disruptive” (namely sugar and fat).  Nightfood also says their product “… does not contain sleep-aid substances or drugs.”  Finally, Nightfood does not suggest people eat ice cream as a sleep-aid.  O-kay, anyone else utterly confused?  I can get past an ice cream with no sugar or fat (not that I’d ever eat one), but if Nightfood doesn’t contain sleep-aids and I’m not even supposed to eat Nightfood as a sleep-aid, doesn’t it kinda-sorta lose its purpose in life?

The sad reality is that one-third of us get less than the recommended daily minimum of sleep.  Probably another third is too attached to their handheld devices; brains revving day and night.  The rest of us – save those few quality-sleepers – are getting something else wrong.  But if that’s the truth, instead of snacking on chemicals (er, “food”), why not just adjust a sleep factor or two and see if you can do better?

Despite my soapbox, maybe you’re still looking for the quick fix (to take up pantry space beside your 5-Hour Energy Shots).  Guilty as charged?  Go ahead then; buy into the hype.  As Nightfood jingles, “…turn on TV, grab spoon, do your thing, sweet dreams!”  You can almost see the company’s founders sleeping – er, laughing, all the way to the bank.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “A Late-Night Snack to Help You Snooze?”