Pulling the Plug

Thirty years ago, the S. C. Johnson Company introduced a new member of their Glade line of fragrance products called the “PlugIn”. Maybe you have one in your bathroom. The PlugIn uses a small amount of electricity to warm up scented oil, which slowly diffuses into the nearby air. You can even get one that lights up. Ironically, the Glade PlugIn was my first thought when I read about this week’s National Day of Unplugging.

So this is what we’ve come to in the year 2021.  As a counter to our undying affection for our electronic devices, a portion of the next couple of days has been designated “National Day of Unplugging” (NDoU) by a non-profit organization called Unplug Collaborative.  The Collaborative started its membership early last year and is determined to “spread awareness about how to maintain a healthy life/tech balance”.  Theirs is a noble, if not impossible effort.

Should you choose to participate in the NDoU “24-hour respite from technology from sundown to sundown, March 5-6”, I ask, will your life necessarily change for the better?

It’s just an awareness campaign, I get it.  Unplugging phones, tablets, laptops, and whatever else you consider “tech” for one whole day is essentially raising the white flag on what each of us already admit: we spend too much time with our screens.  But let’s be honest – what exactly defines “healthy life/tech balance”?  I think the answer is highly personal, depending on your job, disposable income, place of residence, and the ways you choose to spend your downtime.

My wife is a wonderful example of “wired” (er, “wireless”); someone who twenty years ago tentatively navigated texting, apps, and what little else her basic cell phone had to offer.  Today, she sports the latest model Apple Watch, two iPads, and a MacBook, all of which seamlessly share information with each other and then with her.  She even sports a protective wristband to reduce her exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

I can’t imagine my wife “unplugging” for four hours, let alone twenty-four.  My conversation with her would go something like this:

NDoU wants you to put your cell phone to bed – literally.

“Hey honey, so there’s this thing called ‘National Day of Unplugging’ where we get to shut down all of our electronic devices and work on making our life/tech balance better.  Just give me your watch and your tablets and your laptop and I’ll lock them in the closet until tomorrow night.  Sound good?” 

The response I’d get (if I did get a response from her) would be something like,

“Wait, WHAT???  National Day of WHAT?  Are you freaking kidding me?  Hahahahahahaha, good one, honey.  Yeah, let me think on that for just a second… um, NO WAY.  And keep your hands off my screens!”

I get it.  Not only does my wife fiercely track her 10,000 steps and her circles on her watch, she monitors a dozen or more daily feeds on her tablets, and countless emails and websites on her laptop.  It would be just as soul-sucking as taking my Amazon Kindle e-reader away from me (and let’s not even discuss that possibility).

This NDoU supporter doesn’t need screens… ever.

Unplug our gadgets and then what do we do… watch TV?  Sorry, if I’m really gonna play this game the TV also has to go.  The point of NDoU no doubt, is to reestablish face-to-face communication, prepare meals together, get outdoors, read books (what’s a “book”?), and so on.  Unplug Collaborative’s website lists fully one hundred ways to spend your time devoid of tech.  You can’t unlock the full list without signing up for their membership so I’m just speculating on examples.  [Hey, if you join, let me know if one of the hundred is “fool around in the bedroom”.  That one doesn’t take anything plugged in.  At least, nothing I have any experience with.]

If the NDoU campaign really gets momentum, I could see the unplugging moving beyond tech.  Perhaps next year we’ll give the washer and dryer a day’s rest too, as well as the home exercise equipment, the stereo speakers, and the kitchen appliances.  Now there’s a frightening image.  Imagine twenty-four hours in dirty clothes, with no workout, singing just to make a little music, and sandwiches and pretzels for dinner.  Okay, skipping the workout wouldn’t be so bad.

For the record, I’m a proponent of a healthy life/tech balance.  Taking away my screens for a day isn’t such a bad thing.  After all, we could be talking about my coffeemaker here.  Now don’t be talking about unplugging my coffeemaker.  You’re gonna have a fight on your hands and you don’t want to see me without my morning coffee.  Do that and I might have to think about unplugging you.

O-Love

I like a lot of foods people seem to hate. My favorite Thanksgiving pie is mincemeat, not pumpkin. My favorite licorice color is black (red is just a licorice imposter). You can heap any kind of shellfish you want on my plate except oysters. You’ll find blue cheese in my salad and Brussel sprouts cozying up to my steak. But what about “America’s Most Hated Food”? Was I born in the wrong country? Sorry fellow citizens, I must respectfully disagree with the winner of a recent survey on hated foods.  Black or green, stuffed or plain, sliced or diced, there’s nothing quite like the taste of an olive.

Zippia is a job-search engine I’d never heard of, until I came across their just-released survey called The Food Each State Hates the Most.  Zippia’s road to its results is rather unscientific.  First, come up with a list of forty-odd foods where people tend to say, “gross”.  Then, use Google Search Trends to determine which of these foods people look up the least.  Finally, group the search results by state.  After that meandering highway, here’s what you get:

    (Click image to enlarge)

I think Zippia produces these surveys as a clever way to attract customers.  Didn’t work for me – they just insulted my taste buds!  Thirteen of fifty states claim the olive as their most hated food?  Two of those states are California and Georgia, where the lion’s share of America’s olives is grown.  I’m already suspicious.

Not a pile of tires

I’ll grant Zippia’s survey this.  Most people I know don’t care for olives.  They don’t like the look or the smell, and even though they’ll admit to olive oil in their salads and heart-healthy recipes, they’ll still deny any affection for the fruit.  Yes, I said fruit, not vegetable.  Doesn’t that make those little sodium balls a bit more palatable?

The rest of the survey, I can buy.  Anchovies shouldn’t swim anywhere near a pizza (good call, America’s Heartland).  Washington and Oregon residents probably sat next to me in elementary school, overdosing on bologna sandwiches.  Eggplant, ick.  And beets… beets… I’m almost sixty years into this world and have yet to acquire the taste.  Check back with me in the next life.

If the Zippia survey is to be believed, I live in a state where turkey bacon is our most hated food.  Really?  We just bought several pounds of the stuff last weekend at Costco.  It’s not so bad.  On the other hand, olive oil and vinegar stores are trendy around here.  Most markets have an olive bar adjacent to the cheeses.  Meats and breads have been enhanced with bits of olives for years.  And for the really fancy, serve a tapenade with your crackers; a French spread made of finely chopped olives, capers, and anchovies.  Okay, so tapenade’s probably not for everyone.  But I like it.

I developed a taste for olives as a kid because my mother kept tossing them into her casseroles.  Before I knew it I was eating olives as a snack (and what kid hasn’t done the “wave” with one on each finger?)  One regrettable afternoon I downed a whole can of the large black ones before discovering my mother intended them for one of her recipes.  Believe I went to bed with no dinner that night.  At least my belly was full of olives.

[Side note: The only member of my family who likes olives is my daughter.  Maybe I should’ve named her Olivia? I did have a childhood crush on Olivia Newton-John.]

Not “monster eyeballs”

As if you need more proof of my love of olives, you’ll always find several cans in my pantry.  The sliced ones go into my pizzas, salads, and tacos.  The diced ones go into my omelets.  The whole ones sneak onto vegetable trays next to the carrots and celery (when my wife isn’t looking) or I just down ’em by the can.  And their green siblings with the red pimentos jammed down the middle?  They go perfectly with chips ‘n’ dip in front of the TV.

Step aside, America.  Spain produces more olives than any other country.  Italy and Greece aren’t far behind.  It would be appealing enough to live on the sands of the Mediterranean, growing old on their uber-healthy diet.  But also having trees of “America’s Most Hated Food” everywhere you look?  That clinches the deal.  I just might take my O-Love overseas one of these days.

Some content sourced from the Zippia.com article, “The Food Each State Hates The Most”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Tuesday seems like weeks ago.  Some call it “Fat Tuesday” (esp. those pancake-bingers partying hard at Mardi Gras) but to me, it’s just the last day of my food free-for-all.  My wife and I decided to give up “flour” for Lent (more on that in a minute) so Tuesday night we overate at our favorite Mexican restaurant.  Chips and salsa (the chips a hybrid of corn and flour).  Enchiladas and tacos wrapped in big, fluffy flour tortillas.  Sopapillas fried from puffy flour tortillas, drenched in honey.  Big, frosty margaritas to wash it all down.  It was kind of a fiesta final before Lent.

Now it’s Ash Wednesday as I type and I’m already obsessing about my forbidden flour.  This morning’s breakfast was hardly a fiesta – coffee and a protein shake.  Not a tablespoon of flour to be found anywhere.  My upcoming fever dreams will be liberally dusted with flour.  I’ll have fantasies of consuming an entire bakery case (shelves and all), eating my way out of a gigantic loaf of bread, or parking my mouth below the pasta-maker while endlessly turning the crank.  I’m looking at all the snow outside my office window right now.  It looks exactly like white flour.  It probably IS white flour.  Hang on, I’ll be right back…

As of today, we’ve officially started the season of Lent again. The next forty-odd days and nights are gonna be the usual challenge. Did you know the Old English translation of “Lent” is “spring season”?  How that computes with all the flour I’m seeing outside my windows right now is beyond me.  More to today’s point, Ash Wednesday is the deadline to answer the question, “What am I giving up for the next seven weeks?”

Lent = “no mas”

Lent, as even non-Christians know, is the religious season of preparation leading up to Easter.  It’s the time to reflect inward, with more attention to prayer and the Good Book, less attention to “shortcomings” (sins, people), more charitable service to others, and finally, a cruel little something called “self-denial”.  Self-denial is anything you want it to be, but the idea is to subtract from your daily equation: something you don’t need but you’ll struggle to be without.  Consider seven popular choices for 2021:

  1. Chocolate.  Maybe this one’s popular because it’s the easy way out.  Chocolate’s often in my desserts, occasionally in my protein shakes, and every-now-and-then in my mid-afternoon pick-me-ups.  But I can certainly do without the sweet stuff for forty days.  C’mon, people used to give up food for Lent!  A little chocolate’s not really what the Big Guy had in mind.
  2. Meat.  Christians forego meat on Lenten Fridays anyway but some choose to give it up the whole way.  Not me.  If I’m giving up flour, I’ve got to have meat-and-potatoes to soften the blow of all my bread, pasta, and baked goods currently on hiatus.  For Pete’s sake, I can’t even have chicken noodle soup!  What was I thinking?
  3. Smoking or Drinking.  Maybe these are your vices but they’re not mine, so either would be a Lenten cop-out.  I enjoy the occasional glass of wine or a beer, sure, but putting them on the shelf for the next month or so? Hardly a stretch.
  4. Coffee.  Okay, we just shifted from first to fourth gear.  There is nothing – NOTHING – to fill the vast and infinite void left behind by my morning cup of joe.  I understand self-denial but don’t turn me into a raging lunatic.  Force me to give up coffee for Lent and I’ll have a newfound respect for the next option, which is…
  5. Sleeping In.  Normally this would be another cop-out for me because I’m one of those annoying morning people.  But deny me my coffee and I’ll gladly hibernate until early afternoon – every day until Easter.
  6. Social Media.  I dropped Facebook late last year.  I’m only on Instagram a couple of times a week.  I have no Twitter feed.  I get it – it’s 2021 – but this one’s a no-brainer for me.  I mean seriously, just give me a call.
  7. Speaking Poorly about Others.  I asked my sister-in-law what she was giving up for Lent and she said, “I’m going to be nice to others”.  That gave me a good laugh until I found this item on the list.  My sister-in-law has plenty of company.  So, consider: could YOU give up airing dirty laundry for forty days?

One more thing about Lent. Each of the liturgical seasons has a color, and Lent’s is purple.  You’ll see a lot of it in churches, cathedrals, and flower arrangements this month and next.  I like purple enough, but ask me to name purple items and all I come up with is eggplant (the nightmare vegetable of my youth), figs (the nightmare fruit of my youth), grapes (I prefer the green ones), cauliflower (yep, it comes in colors), and lavender and amethysts, both of which I have little use for.  Purple is about as smart a choice for Lent as giving up flour.

In conclusion, I could use your prayers as I endure my forty-day flour fast.  By late March my car tires will look like doughnuts and my paperback novel a nice, thick Pop-Tart.  Toss me a Frisbee and I’ll slather it in syrup and devour it like a pancake.  Put your pasta under lock and key.  Guard your pizza with your life.  I’m coming for your cupcakes.

Some content sourced from the Delish.com article, “7 Things To Give Up For Lent That Go Beyond Food”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Fine Print

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the movie, Jurassic Park. I’d read the Michael Crichton novel so I already knew the story, but I still couldn’t wrap my mind around that first dino scene, where a brachiosaurus casually munches on the uppermost leaves of a forty-foot tree.  The gigantic creature was so lifelike I thought, “Where’d Steven Spielberg get a dinosaur?” In my defense, computer-generated imagery (CGI) was brand-spankin’ new back then.  A ferocious T-Rex looking and moving like the real thing was still jaw-dropping in the 1990s. And I’m having the same reaction to the stuff rolling off 3D printers right now.

A “printed” toy tugboat

If you’re like me you haven’t paid much attention to 3D printing.  You see some of the items a 3D printer can generate and they seem like child’s play.  In fact, 3D printing reminds me of a 1970s toy called “Creepy Crawlers”.  You had these tubes of colored goop you squeezed into metal molds, and then the molds went into an electric oven.  The goop would grow from flat to 3D with heat, and suddenly the oven was spilling out all kinds of bugs and spiders you could drop on your friends.  (There was also consumable goop called “Incredible Edibles”; products to compete with whatever the girls were making in their Easy-Bake ovens).

But I digress.  Here’s my 3D printing naivete in a nutshell: I still think my 2D printer is the more impressive technology, cranking out high-resolution photos and perfectly addressed envelopes.  I mean, whatever would I need a third dimension for?

Yep, I am seriously naive about 3D printing.  The scope of this topic is mind-boggling if you really take the time to understand its potential. Here’s a good example.  Picture a printer as big as your living room.  Picture a printer cartridge of concrete instead of ink.  Now watch the printer build your living room, one horizontal layer at a time.  The printer can also build the rest of your house.  Just add plumbing and electric when it’s done.

“Printed” storage crates

Without getting too far into the weeds, let’s define 3D printing for what it really is: additive manufacturing (AM).  Here’s an easy way to picture the AM process.  When you build a log cabin you lay out the entire foundation of logs for the house – with breaks for the doors – before you add the next layer of logs.  You work your way up a layer of logs at a time, keeping those breaks for the doors, adding breaks for windows, pipes, and such, completing the structure with a sloping roof on top.  Perhaps you add a fireplace in the process; again, layering bricks on top of bricks until you’ve reached the top of the chimney.

That’s pretty much how a 3D printer works.  It “pictures” an object in horizontal layers and “prints” it from the ground up.  3D printing has been around longer than you think.  3D printers were developed as early as the 1970s (preceding your inkjet 2D printer!).  The early versions just had to be manually programmed.  Once we attached a computer and software, 3D printing really came into its own.

Watch the following video of a 3D printer confidently layering a basket weave – it’s mesmerizing:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/transcoded/5/5d/Hyperboloid_Print.ogv/Hyperboloid_Print.ogv.360p.vp9.webm

The products speak for themselves, of course.  A shortlist of the more cutting-edge printed creations gives you an idea of where our world is heading:

  • Cakes and pastries – The “ink” is baked goods in one nozzle and frosting in another.  Design it on your computer screen and then “print”.  It’s like the Easy-Bake Oven on steroids.  Only you don’t need the oven.
    3D-printed confectionery from Ukrainian chef/architect Dinara Kasko
  • Bones – No, not some plastic or other polymer designed to replicate bones, actual bones.  It’s called bioprinting – the fabrication of natural tissue using cells and other building blocks, and it’s coming soon to a clinic near you.  Don’t worry how long a broken bone will take to heal; just replace it!
  • Buildings – Forget about building that log cabin one layer at a time.  Your 3D printer will do the whole job for you (and it’ll still look like a log cabin).  Your printer can also build sturdier houses out of concrete.  This one’s on the market in Riverhead, New York, for $300K.
  • Vehicles – 3D printers have already created boats, kayaks, and most of the makeup of cars and trucks.  Long ago I was impressed with the robotics of the Ford Motor Company, employed on a long assembly line to build cars one part at a time.  A 3D printer can essentially do the same job standing still, no assembly line required.
  • You – I could speculate on the potential for a full bioprint but let’s avoid that scary future for now and just say, a 3D printer can create a figurine to look exactly like you.  Think of it as printing a 3-D photograph.

If your mind is not blown by what you’ve just read, consider this: 3D is already passe.  That’s right, we’ve already moved on to 4D printing.  4D – at least with printing – refers to materials that can change shape with time, temperature, or some other type of stimulation.  A good example would be a printed window shade, sitting tight and virtually unnoticed at the top of the window in daylight but expanding to full cover as darkness falls.

Don’t know about you but this level of technology makes my head hurt.  When I’m done with this post I’m gonna push “print” and generate a nice 2D copy for my files.  Oh, and maybe watch Jurassic Park again.

Some content sourced from the 7/24/2020 Forbes article, “What Can 3D Printing Be Used For?”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Dots ‘n’ Dashes

Back in my days in the Boy Scouts, they had a merit badge called “Signaling”. To earn the badge you had to build a basic communication device (buzzer, blinker) and demonstrate a knowledge of Semaphore – visual signaling by flags – and Morse – audible signaling by “dots” and “dashes”. Today most people wouldn’t have a clue about Semaphore, and their only familiarity with Morse might be from the frantic telegraph typing in the movie Titanic.  Dots ‘n’ dashes have stepped down, more associated with the mundane pavement markings of the streets we drive.  Well hey, at least they’re still signaling devices.

“Dashing through the… street…”

Let’s talk about street dashes first.  The highway to our rural neighborhood was recently restriped, mostly dashes but occasionally a solid for safety’s sake.  Some lanes were shifted, and they just covered up the old stripes with blackish paint similar to the asphalt below.  But my car was not fooled, no sir.  It still sees the old striping.  Anytime I pass over those areas my car’s “lane-keeping assist” emits an audible warning and tries to bump me back onto the road, when in fact I’m just passing over covered-up stripes.  That’s annoying.  Either car tech needs to improve or road striping needs to come up with a better cover.  Until one or the other happens I’m all over the road.

Here’s an even better story about dashes.  Long ago, my parents were driving my brothers and me back from my grandparents’ house.  We were cruising along a paved winding road late at night when all of a sudden my dad gets to wondering about those highway dashes.  He starts to guess – if you measured one, how long would a dash be?  Talk about useless information, right?  But then, right in the middle of a darkened highway, no cars in the rear-view mirror, my father stops the car, gets out, and starts measuring a dash, foot-in-front-of-foot like he’s taking a sobriety test.  Then he gets back into the car and announces proudly, “six feet”.  Think about that the next time you pass those stripes at forty miles an hour.  (But please, don’t get out and actually measure one).

California highways are usually dotted, not dashed.

Now let’s talk about street dots.  You know, those round, non-reflective raised pavement markers used to designate lanes and borders and such?  They’re actually called Botts’ dots.  It’s a name I’ve known since childhood because I grew up in California where they were invented.  California has over 25 million of the little guys marking its endless streets.  And if you must know, Botts’ dots were named for their inventor, Elbert Dysart Botts (and how’s that for a mouthful?)

Kinda cute, right?

Botts’ dots might’ve never been a thing were it not for their total makeover.  At first they were glass discs attached to the road with nails. (How’d you like to have that job?  Whack, whack, whack!).  But then they started popping loose, and people got flat tires from the nails and the broken glass.  So Botts (or a coworker) devised a hard plastic to replace the glass and an asphalt-friendly epoxy to replace the nails.  Now the dots – and the speeding cars above them – stay where they’re supposed to.

But now Botts’ dots have a whole new challenge.  We face a future with self-driving cars.  Turns out, Botts’ dots mess with that technology.  The car may or may not recognize a dot as the border of a lane.  That’s not good when you put your steering wheel in the hands of a robo-chauffeur.  But can you imagine the task of removing 25 million Botts’ dots?  That’s worse than hammering them in one by one!

Botts’ dots may go the way of the telegraph.

Over here in rural Colorado, I got pretty excited about the prospect of California surrendering all of its Botts’ dots.  We can use ’em.  You see, out here we have mostly two-lane highways divided by dashes, or occasionally solid lines instead of the dashes (don’t pass!), or very occasionally the luxury of a defined left-turn lane.  But “dash-it-all” when it snows.  You not only lose the striping, you lose the road.  At least a Bott’s dot would make noise and give you a jolt to let you know you’re not about to cruise into somebody’s cow pasture.

Alas, my dream of millions of Botts’ dots flying over the Rocky Mountains died before it was born.  Turns out the asphalt epoxy of a Botts’ dot cannot compete with the combined weight and speed of a snowplow.  The dots’d go flying every which way from the snowplow blade, like hundreds of tiny shuffleboard discs.  Ping! Ping! Ping!

Signaling merit badge was retired by the Boy Scouts in 1992 (yet another reminder of my advancing age).  Looks like the Botts’ dot is headed for a similar scrap heap, at least if self-driving cars become more mainstream.  Meanwhile, you’ll find me out in my neighborhood navigating the painted dashes.  Even if I do prefer the dots.

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

Chocolate Cremè de la Cremè

Godiva, the incomparable Belgian chocolate maker, is closing every one of its retail shops in North America.  Maybe you’re blaming the pandemic but Godiva claims foot traffic at shopping malls – where most of its boutiques are located – “plummeted” over the last few years.  I’m sorry to see Godiva go.  Mind you, it’s not that I make a habit of buying $3 truffles.  It’s more the idea that I could if I wanted to.

Godiva is the cremè de la cremè of chocolate.  Their products are born of a family business dating back to 1926.  Their Truffe Originale, “an intense dark chocolate mousse in fine dark chocolate, rolled in pure cocoa powder”, is the standard by which most Belgian truffles are measured.  Godiva’s three chefs are profiled on its website (I discuss one of them in my post Confection Perfection), and endeavor to maintain the very high standards of Godiva while churning out new and different creations.  It’s no wonder Godiva isn’t considered a “candy store” or a “chocolate shop” but rather a chocolatier.  Only the very best get a label like that.

Godiva’s handcrafted “gold box” assortment

To me, Godiva chocolate is a taste of heaven on earth.  But it’s also a taste of a lifestyle – one most of us will never afford.  Godiva has me picturing mansions (not houses), yachts (not boats), private planes (not the middle seat in coach).  Godiva is a brief, delicious dip into the behind-the-gates world of the uber-wealthy.

I’ve stepped into a Godiva chocolatier exactly twice in my life.  The first was in college, after a visit to the Rizzoli bookstore at exclusive Water Tower Place in downtown Chicago.  After spending too much money at Rizzoli I was in the perfect mindset for Godiva (which was right next door).  I still remember selecting a single truffle from the glass display case.  The petit woman behind the counter wrapped up my tiny purchase in box, bow, and bag, as if I’d just purchased a fine piece of jewelry. She bid me a fond farewell.  I walked out of there feeling, well, special.

Would you pay $20 for six truffles?

My only other visit to Godiva was more recently with my wife and daughter, on a Saturday at one of Denver’s nicer shopping malls.  We’d just come out of Starbucks, coffees in hand, and there beckoned Godiva.  After much deliberation, we spent the better part of $10 and walked away with three truffles.  I’m sure they were elegantly wrapped.  I’m also sure they were delicious.  But with Godiva, it’s more about the taste of something beyond your means.  That taste may be more satisfying than Godiva chocolate itself.

Tiffany & Co, NYC

Tiffany is a comparable experience (as I wrote about in my post All That Glitters).  Walk past the front-door security guard into their multi-level department store in downtown Manhattan.  Your first thought will be either, “I don’t belong here”, or, “I’m underdressed”.  Ooh and ahh at their lavish necklaces, bracelets and rings, but don’t expect to see price tags.  Like Godiva, Tiffany’s best is behind glass and you have to ask a staff member about the cost.  My wife and I made it to Tiffany’s fifth floor before we found something we could afford – a pair of ceramic coffee mugs.  At least we also walked away with their signature blue gift boxes.

Think twice before entering!

Then there’s Prada, the Italian fashion house famous for its luxurious leather handbags and shoes.  My twelve-year-old daughter dragged me into their Madison Avenue boutique once (past the requisite security guard) but I realized our mistake as soon as we entered.  Prada displays maybe a dozen items in a single museum-like showroom, each carefully positioned on an individually lit shelf.  You are invited to sit on the central couch and offered a choice of beverage.  Then a person brings you items of your choosing (but don’t touch!).  Once I realized Prada purses start at $1,000, I asked my very disappointed daughter if maybe she’d like to go for ice cream instead.

Godiva’s tiny “biscuits”… $0.75 ea.

Godiva’s North America retail shops will be gone by March, but you’ll still have other options to purchase.  You can find small displays of their products at the cash registers of upscale department stores.  You can order most of their delicacies online (including “Gold Box” assortments, which cost more than you can afford).  You’ll even find Godiva’s “Signature Mini Bars” at lowly retailers like Target and Walgreen’s.  But let’s face it, Godiva is as much about the experience as it is the chocolate, and I’m just not gonna feel uber-rich when I’m at Target.

Some content sourced from the 1/24/2021 CNN.com article, “Godiva is closing or selling all of its stores in the United States”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

It’s Raining DONUTS!

Pikes Peak, the majestic 14,000′ mountain nestled in the Colorado Rockies west of Colorado Springs, is getting a major makeover.  Okay, maybe not the mountain itself.  Her nine-mile Cog Railway reopens in 2021 with new train cars and tracks to carry visitors to the summit.  Her Manitou Incline, the one-mile ladder-like hiking trail up her eastern flank, has been improved for safer climbing.  Finally, her Summit House visitor center is being replaced – sixty years after the original – with a state-of-the-art glass jewel.

“America’s Mountain” in the Colorado Rockies

Local folks like me only have one concern with all this Pikes Peak activity: the donuts.  What’re they gonna do about the donuts?

You can drive, hike, or take the Cog Railway to the top of Pikes Peak, but you’ll always stop in at the visitor center once you get there.  It’s the only thing you’ll find on the tiny summit beside the stunning views of the world below.  Maybe you’ll purchase a supremely tacky, overpriced souvenir while you’re there.  Maybe you’ll need a bathroom break.  Whatever you do, you will buy a donut.  Pikes Peak’s “World Famous” treats are sort of a reward for making it to 14,000 feet.  Okay, so they’re not Krispy Kreme but they’re not terrible either.  Just eat them at altitude.  Once you begin your trek down the mountain they collapse into a mushy mess and they’re awful.

When I first realized the Summit House was getting demolished instead of remodeled my thoughts went straight to the donut machine.  What are they gonna do with the donut machine?  The “Belshaw Mark VI Donut Robot” delivered its final batch last week before someone pulled its plug.  The Mark VI is a mechanical marvel.  It can produce 700 donuts an hour (the summertime demand for Pikes Peak).  The Mark VI endlessly dispenses the raw dough, four rings in a row, and creates donuts through a conveyer system of automated frying, rotating, and dispensing.  Leave it on for twenty-four hours and it’ll pile up 17,000 of the little buggers.

Meanwhile, the new visitor center is getting a new donut machine.  Maybe it’s the latest model of Belshaw’s Donut Robot and makes 1,000 donuts an hour.  Maybe the donuts taste more like Krispy Kreme.  Whatever it can do, this machine is a beast.  It’s so big they had to use a crane to lift it into the building before they even closed up the walls.

If I’m the old Mark VI Donut Robot I’m not happy about being replaced, not at all.  I mean, c’mon! I faithfully produced thousands of donuts day in and day out for decades!  I’m not yesterday’s news just yet!  Why not let me keep my job instead of giving all the love to a newer model? No siree Bob, I’m not gonna take it.  I need to make some sort of statementY’know, demonstrate the extent of my discontent.

OH MAN, can’t you just picture it?  Standing down on the streets of Colorado Springs one morning you suddenly hear this massive BAH-BOOM from the direction of Pikes Peak.  Sidewalks start shaking and people start pointing.  You look up to the mountain and there’s a freaking volcano blowing its top.  A huge column of fire rises to the heavens.  The sky is instantly air-brushed with white smoke.  There’s ash raining down in every direction.  Except, wait, it’s not ash it’s…. it’s…. it’s donuts.

The rain of donuts, of course, is the Mark VI Donut Robot run amok.  In its desperate attempt not to be overlooked it starts making donuts like crazy.  Four at a time, plop-plop-plop-plop, fry, rotate, dispense.  Faster and faster and faster, until its conveyor builds up a big head of steam and starts to break apart.  Then the whole thing just blows up.  Boom

Down and further down come the donuts.  Rolling by the hundreds along the hiking trails.  Bobbing down the rivers and creeks like mini inner tubes.  Ricocheting off the pine trees as they come back to earth until they just go poof! in a cloud of powdered-sugar smithereens.  Decorating the rocks and trees with a cream-filling look of snow.  Piling up in the low spots like generous helpings of oversized Cheerios.  Clogging up the cog railway so the only way the train gets to the summit is for the riders to get off the train and start eating.

The Mark VI may have imploded but man what a way to get noticed, right?

Truth be told, there’s an aftermarket for Belshaw’s Mark VI Donut Robot.  Do the Google search if you don’t believe me.  A used one runs $15,899 plus $600 for shipping, and don’t look now; they take credit cards and toss in a limited warranty!  Just think what you could do with 700 donuts an hour. All you have to do is click the “Buy It Now” button on the website.  But one more thing before you do.  Ask the seller if their Mark VI has given them attitude lately.  Like it used to be on a majestic mountaintop or something wacky like that.

Note: This post would not even be a whisper of a thought were it not for Robert McCloskey and his wonderful children’s book, Homer Price.  In Homer’s short story “The Doughnuts”, a restaurant donut machine goes bonkers and starts dispensing hundreds upon hundreds.  How the town resolves this donut deluge makes for a great story.  Thanks, Robert.

Some content sourced from the KKTV 11 News story, “Final Batch of Pikes Peak Donuts…”, and the Thrillist.com article, “You Can Only Get These Incredible Donuts at the Top of a Mountain in Colorado”.

Soft Spots

ESPN broadcast college football’s national championship Monday night. As the game moved to lopsided late in the second quarter my mind drifted to details besides the football itself. Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL is a striking facility, especially at night from the vantage point of the Goodyear Blimp. 15,000 football fans spaced randomly into 65,000 seats (thanks, COVID) looks awfully sparse. And speaking of awful(ly), the television commercials… well, let’s just agree college football ain’t the same thing as the Super Bowl, folks.

Home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins

Super Bowl commercials are more entertaining than the game itself, unlike the advertisement drivel I saw Monday night.  Super Bowl plugs cost $5 million for thirty seconds while Monday night’s spots were six figures at best.  Finally, Super Bowl ads are desperate to be memorable (even if you can’t remember the product itself), which is why you have office pools for “best commercial”.  You’re not gonna have an office pool for what I watched on Monday night.  This was the reverse of the Super Bowl: great football, lousy commercials.

To say Monday night’s commercials paled in comparison to Super Bowl ads is like saying Sprite’s a little clearer than Coke.  These product pushes were awful.  For starters, you had what seemed like five advertisers over a four-hour broadcast.  Dos Equis showed up every fifteen minutes.  Their beer (excuse me, their lager) ads included a closeup of a glassful, with a commentator calling the movement of the bubbles as if they were players on a football field.  Really?  I hope his was a big paycheck.

Then you had AT&T, who seems to be promoting the lovely Milana Vayntrub (as salesperson “Lily”) as much as their products.  Perhaps they’ve watched too many Progressive Insurance ads with Stephanie Courtney (as salesperson “Flo”)?

Don’t recognize Milana? You will soon…

Finally, ESPN promoted itself.  Normally I’d harp on the host network for advertising some of its own programs even though they paid millions to broadcast the game.  But part of me thinks ESPN really does need the promos.  COVID took a big bite out of sports over the last year, as well as a big bite out of ESPN’s workforce.  When the network brought us Korean baseball and American cornhole competitions I thought, “Okay, the end is near”.

But forget ESPN because I need to be a Davey-downer (i.e., slam) on one more commercial.  I’ve been building to this moment since the first paragraph.  Gatorade just launched it’s first new beverage in twenty years: “Bolt24”.  It’s low-cal and loaded with electrolytes, so naturally the target audience is athletes.  And Gatorade also selected athletes to push its product.  Enter Serena Williams.  She’s one of those athletes I’m on the fence about.  Her athletic skills and accomplishments on the tennis court are unquestionable.  She’s garnered enough championships to earn her place in the tennis player “GOAT” discussion (greatest of all time).

But Serena also has her not-so-role-model moments.  She does not take losing well.  She does not welcome constructive criticism.  Countless broken rackets, lectures (threats?) to chair umpires, and disqualifications would have you wondering if there isn’t a permanent child lurking within the adult.  Wah wah wah.  But the Bolt24 ad was the last straw in my Serena drink.  Why?  Because the tagline goes, “you know you’ve made it when the whole world knows you by one name”.  Oh, so when I say just “Serena advertises Bolt 24”, you knowingly say in response, “oh, her?”

Yeah, I get the pitch.  Bolt24 is a one-word drink.  Serena Williams is almost the only Serena I can think of (besides Serena van der Woodsen, the entitled main character of the TV series Gossip Girl).  But I just can’t buy into the loftiness of the catchphrase.  Get the world to recognize you by first name only and “you’ve made it”?  Sting. Madonna. Cher. Bono. Enya.  See the pattern?  It’s an actor/singer thing.  Also, an athlete thing.  Lebron. Tiger. O.J. (Maybe that last one should just be “Juice”?)

Okay then, shutting down my rant now.  Holier-than-thou personas don’t deserve any more press.  I like to keep “Life in a Word” positive; simple; modest.  Like me.  You know… Dave.

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

Is It Live or Is It Memorex?

It’s the woodchipper for you, buddy.

New Year’s Day has come and gone (and a warm welcome to you, 2021), which means it’s time my wife and I take down the Christmas tree. For some, taking down the tree means disconnecting the branches from the trunk, the trunk from the base, and packing the whole thing into a cardboard box to be used again next year. For us, taking down the tree means lifting it off the stand, hauling it outside to the truck, driving it over to the drop-off lot, and donating $5 to fund the recycling. Yes, this year – as with all of my years – the Christmas tree real, not artificial.

I’m not here today to debate real vs. artificial Christmas trees.  They both have pros and cons and your choice rests on where you live, your budget, and assorted other reasons.  For me, a real tree is simply a tradition I refuse to give up.  Picking out a tree with my family was a big deal when I was young.  There was something magical about living in sunny Los Angeles and watching dozens of pine-scented snow-dusted trees being unloaded from Canadian railcars.  Never mind we paid a little extra to have our tree “flocked” (adding a touch of spray-painted artificial snow).  It was still a real tree.

Memorex: Sound that “blows you away”.

Real vs. artificial goes way beyond Christmas trees.  When I consider one next to the other, I always think of Memorex.  In the 1970s and ’80s the Memorex Corporation produced audio cassettes, the precursor to the compact disc.  In their TV commercials Memorex included singer Ella Fitzgerald belting out a note powerful enough to shatter a wine glass.  Then they’d play a recording of Ella’s performance and the wine glass would still shatter, begging the question, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?”

Real vs. artificial also recalls Milli Vanilli, the R&B duo from the late ’80’s.  Milli Vanilli made it big with the album “Girl You Know It’s True”, then won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.  But years later the world would find out Milli Vanilli never sang anything.  Instead they lip-synced their way to fame; their albums the voices of studio performers.  Milli Vanilli returned the Best New Artist Grammy shortly after that.

Let’s visit real vs. artificial a little closer to home; say, the kitchen.  As much as my wife and I seek whole, organic, locally produced foods, we can’t help including a few outliers.  I just went through our pantry and came up with a few “classics”:

  1. Aunt Jemima syrup.  This pancake topper – destined for rebranding in the name of racial equality – is nothing but high fructose corn syrup, water, and a whole lot of chemicals.  The “Natural Butter Flavor” variety blatantly advertises “contains no butter”.  You’ll find all the pure maple syrup you want in Vermont but you won’t find a drop in a bottle of Aunt Jemima.
  2. Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts.  A long time ago Pop-Tarts contained real ingredients (else my mother wouldn’t have put ’em on the pantry shelf as kid snacks).  Today’s Pop-Tarts are enriched flour and a bunch of scary-sounding ingredients developed in a lab.  It takes half the height of the box to list everything that goes into a Pop-Tart.
  3. Kraft Mac & Cheese.  Make a bowl of pasta, top it with melted cheddar, and Voila! you have macaroni & cheese in two ingredients.  Kraft Mac & Cheese needs twenty-one to accomplish the same dish.  But man, don’t it taste great?
  4. Ritz Crackers.  More enriched flour plus lab ingredients.  (Maybe every food can be made from enriched flour?)  The Ritz Crackers box includes a warning, “Contains wheat, soy”.  Ha, if only that was all it contained.
  5. “Real” Bacon Bits.  My mother-in-law left this bottle of horror behind when she brought a salad for Christmas dinner.  But guess what?  It really is made of bacon (okay, and chemicals).  I must’ve been thinking of other brands, where the bits are actually “flavored textured soy flour”.  Oh ick.

Back to our real Christmas tree.  After all the gifts were passed around and opened, we discovered one more, looking a little embarrassed behind the branches.  It was a brightly colored basket, the kind all dressed up with a cute wooden box and Christmas bow, overflowing with food items and protected in plastic wrap.

But here’s the rub.  We opened the basket and found a whole lot of nothing.  Generic cookies, coffee, candy, and a couple of cheap Christmas mugs, arranged carefully so as to suggest the basket contained much more.  To add insult to injury, none of the food items were name-brand (except for a handful of Lindor truffles).  The cookies and candy were made with a ton of artificial ingredients.  The coffee was so generically packaged it had me wondering if it was even coffee.  The whole basket made me think “Memorex”.

This is where I jump to a discussion about artificial intelligence, but your real brain needs a rest so that’s a topic for another day.  Meanwhile, my wife and I will keep heading out to tree lots (or the woods) every Christmas to find the perfect one.  “Artificial” may sneak into other parts of our lives now and again but at Christmas, we’ll always be keeping it real.

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

Busy Buzzwords

Our local news wraps its nightly broadcast by pushing little surveys you can take online. Earlier this week was, “Should the U.S. Senate vote to increase stimulus checks to $2,000?” (88% said yes). The night before, “What was your favorite holiday food this year?” (pie narrowly edged ham). What I find laughable is the participation rate – maybe 25 responses on average – yet the results are announced the following night like headline news.  25 is a minuscule sampling for a basis, like surveying a few of your neighbors and calling it good.  Yet other companies take the exact same approach.  Example: Merriam-Webster just announced its 2020 “Word of the Year”.

Merriam-Webster’s fitting “Word of the Year”

You’ll find almost 200,000 words in the English language (with more added every year).  Should pandemic take the trophy for 2020?  Well, yes, it’s hard to argue with Merriam on that one.  Not only did the COVID-19 pandemic dominate headlines and conversations, the word created the single largest spike in dictionary traffic.  On March 11th, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the lookup of pandemic increased over 100,000% over 2019.  I can’t convert 100,000% to a quantity but I know it’s a big number.

Merriam isn’t content with just “word of the year”, however.  They also list the top ten words according to increased dictionary traffic over the previous year.  Accordingly, 2020 self-branded with coronavirus, quarantine, and asymptomatic.  I wouldn’t think any of these words – pandemic included – induces peace of mind, but in dire situations our brains have a relentless need to know more.

With the mental fatigue brought on by too much COVID talk, perhaps you’ll find Merriam’s other top-ten words more refreshing.  Antebellum made the list because the long-popular country music trio Lady Antebellum changed its name to “Lady A”; also because the movie “Antebellum” was released in September.  Mamba was a top-ten for the passing of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his nickname in reference to his killer play.  Kraken is the newest franchise in the National Hockey League, the mascot a mythological Scandinavian sea monster.

Seattle-ites will learn to chant, “GO KRAKEN!”

But none of these are my favorite.  How about #7, schadenfreudeSHAH-dun-froy-duh means “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others”.  In March, schadenfreude pointed to the college admissions scandal, particularly the outing of the guilty A-list celebrities.  Schadenfreude also colored the daily coverage of President Trump by the so-called “fake news media”.

For the record, schadenfreude is German (of course it is) so let’s give it bonus points for sneaking onto a top-ten list of English words.

You may not agree with Merriam-Webster but at least its choices are based on real data – lookups that imply support from the masses.  Other organizations are much vaguer with their selection criteria.  Consider Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year”.  Time’s stated criteria is, “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year.”  By that definition it should come as no surprise to see Adolf Hitler selected in 1938, Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1963, and Mark Zuckerberg in 2010.  However, you’ll also find almost every U.S. President on the list, as if simply inhabiting the Oval Office makes you more influential than all other persons.  President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are 2020’s “Person of the Year”.  Uh, shouldn’t we at least get them inaugurated before evaluating influence?

Deserving of more “Timely” recognition…

[Note: Time’s “Person of the Year” recognition owes a debt to aviator Charles Lindbergh, who completed the first solo transatlantic flight in May of 1927.  The magazine overlooked Lindbergh’s accomplishment by never featuring him on its cover.  To make up for it, Lindbergh became Time’s inaugural “Person of the Year”.  Makes you wonder if someone else was more deserving in 1927, doesn’t it?]

One more “of-the-year” example for you.  Pantone, the “color company” best known for its Pantone Matching System (or PMS, a rather unfortunate acronym), chooses a color of the year to put the last twelve months in review.  For 2020?  Like Time Magazine, Pantone broke its own rules and went with two choices: Ultimate Gray, which suggests solid shadows cast on a wall; and Illuminating, a lemony shade hinting at “the light at the end of the tunnel”.  Illuminating might be a little premature for 2020.  Let’s go glass-half-full and call it next year’s color instead.

Is this light “Illuminating” to you?

If Merriam-Webster could choose its busy buzzwords in hindsight, 2020’s winner might not be pandemic but rather, malarkeyMalarkey came in at #11 in the top ten (come again?) because it’s a favorite of President-elect Biden.  Rather than saying, “C’mon man, you’re making that up.” (okay, he says that too) Biden prefers, “Give me a break; that’s a bunch of malarkey”.

“Malarkey” my words; you’re gonna hear the Biden favorite a lot over the next four years.

Some content sourced from The Cut article, “Pantone’s Color of the Year is ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’”, Merriam-Webster.com, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.