Archive for the ‘packaging’ Category

“Well this,” she said, “just chaps my hide.”

January 2, 2008

Full disclosure: There may be a rant coming here. In fact there may be several. At the very least, what’s going on in my head is what might be called “stream of consciousness.”

That’s a rather innocuous phrase, until we examine the components. I’ll ignore the “of,” a preposition that’s hardly worth its own dissertation. You can’t really appreciate prepositions unless you are old enough to have diagrammed sentences in English class or have read the delightful little book Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog, a history and examination of the diagramming of sentences.

But “stream”: Now there’s a word worth reckoning with, particularly if you live, as I do, with a “stream.” The Big Elk is, at some times of the year, a gentle little trickle that murmurs over mossy rocks and smooth round stones. It gives a home to crawdads (crayfish to you purists out there) and children of all ages interested in the art of skipping stones and wading. At other times of the year, however, it roars along with loud crashing, carrying 2-ton logs, lawn chairs, plastic buckets, and any other detritus that some human was careless enough to leave within its reach. A powerful word, “stream.”

And “consciousness”: A concept that’s getting a lot of play right now, mostly because for all of our scientific advancement, no one really knows what it is. For a long, long time, science argued that only humans are conscious. Now, setting egos aside, it would appear that consciousness exists across the animal world and possibly across the plant world as well. There are days that I would argue that even the stones here are conscious.

But all of this has little to do with my subject line, which is a direct quote from my daughter. She was confronting her freshman-English teacher about the amount of homework assigned in her Catholic high school.

When I heard the story, I was stunned, not because she talked back to a teacher (I would expect no less of any child that grew up in our house) but because of what she said. I’d never heard the phrase before, but it seemed so summarily appropriate to the situation that I was breathless in admiration.

“Chaps my hide”: This is the poetry of the American west, of cowboys and wranglers. It speaks of things so grating that we can only compare them to skin rubbed raw. But where in the world did my 14-year-old city slicker hear this expression? I still don’t know.

But I’ve never forgotten it, even though nearly two decades have passed. And there are, frankly, a lot of things that chap my hide.

First and foremost on my mind this evening is packaging. If is seems like I spend a lot of time worrying about packaging, it’s because I do. Reduce, reuse, recycle. I can reuse. I can recycle. But it feels as if I have very little control over the “reduction” of trash.

I could, of course, refuse to buy anything that’s packaged inappropriately. I’d be a lot richer financially if I did, because it seems as if these days almost everything is packaged inappropriately.

This rant was set off in part by trying to open various packages of things today.

I am a strong person, particularly for someone of the “female persuasion.” I have a lot of upper body strength especially. Some years back, when Ben had a broken foot, I decided to mow the lawns because they were getting rather shaggy. At the time we lived in a house that had only a wealth of parking strips (corner lot) and a postage-stamp back yard. So we had only a couple of the old rotary push mowers. They did a wonderful job, used no fuel except burned calories, and emitted no excess carbon.

But the grass was rather long, because it took me awhile to recognize that Ben probably wasn’t going to mow the lawn right away. So I went out to do it. That afternoon, I stripped the gears on not one but two old rotary mowers by trying to power my way through the long grass.

The lawn-mower repairman said he’d never seen anything like it in 60 years in the business. But it did have one felicitous result: I was forbidden to ever mow the lawn again.

What does this have to do with packaging? Just this: I am sick and tired of “easy open” packages that I cannot open without the assistance of heavy kitchen shears. Either they refuse to tear at all or they suddenly tear and explode ingredients all over my kitchen. Enough.

Especially since then I have to dispose of all that packaging. It made me mad opening it. It’s making me madder throwing it away. It frankly chaps my hide. . .

Listen up, magazine publishers

December 22, 2007

OK, this is a rant. I admit it. I’m getting older, crankier, and less tolerant of 1) stupidity, 2) consumerism, and 3) other things that annoy me greatly.

But I have no intention of going gently into the night, so I will rage as it pleases me, and it does occasionally please me very much.

The topic on my mind today is publishing and reading. I’m disturbed by the continuing news that fewer and fewer people actually sit down and read things like books. This has nothing to do with the fact that I write and everything to do with the fact that I think. I want other people to think, too, not just swallow whatever sound bite is being handed out at the moment. And I believe I owe a great deal of my ability to think to the fact that I have been a voracious reader all of my life.

But what’s really bringing on this rant is what I see as a disturbing trend in periodical (magazine AND newspaper) publishing. It seems to me that this trend actually discourages readers at a time when most publications are wracking their brains to figure out how to keep/increase subscribers.

I first noted it with Vanity Fair.  When my subscription was running out, I almost didn’t renew it. The reason was their continuing burying of the table of contents in a rash of photo ads. In one notable issue, the first page of the TOC was on something like page 46!

The really stupid thing about this is that VF’s photo ads are so beautiful that I would probably look at them anyway if they were scattered appropriately throughout the magazine. But having to search for the TOC is so annoying that I almost gave the magazine up.

Then I realized that every issue had at least one article that I was really glad I read, an article that in all likelihood I wouldn’t have seen published elsewhere. So I renewed. But interestingly enough, now I skip those beautiful photo ads and flip through until I find the various TOC pages (they are never adjacent). I dog-ear them, and that’s the end of my attention to the ads.

But now the practice is spreading. Even my beloved New Yorker recently has run several pages of ads before the TOC. At least they keep the multi-page TOC all together. The corker for me was this week’s Sunday NY Times.  In section A (the news section, remember), more than half the pages were devoted to full page advertising. That’s not while I buy the NY Times.

I understand that advertising keeps my prices lower (although $5.00 for a Sunday paper hardly qualifies in my mind as a “bargain”). But I’m also one of those “real readers,” people who actually pay extra money to subscribe to publications that don’t wallow in advertising, publications like The American Scholar, The Hedgehog Review, and Poetry Magazine.

I’m also one of those people who is likely to continue reading and subscribing, at least to publications that don’t annoy me beyond my tolerance level. And it seems to me that publishers are running a real risk of alienating readers who are really the bread-and-butter of their subscription revenues.

Of course this is all driven by the god of Consumerism, the great American religion. But that topic annoys me so much I couldn’t possibly do justice to it here. If you’re still with me this far, I applaud you. I’ll rant separately about consumerism. . .

End of rant. I do feel better now.

I feel a small rant coming on, and a household tip for you

November 7, 2007

I absolutely loathe, detest, and despise modern packaging.

I’m old enough to remember when there were real hardware stores with big bins of nuts and bolts. You went in to the store, selected what you needed, and paid for it. Now you have a choice of packages of pre-counted amounts of things, all carefully sealed in unbreakable plastic wrap with a handsome cardboard outer with description, price, and so on.

These packages are the reason I find it necessary to have heavy duty kitchen shears in at least three rooms of my house.

But I also resent having to buy five screws when I need three. What do I do with the other two? They go in my tool box in the mixed screw section. But I’ll never remember they are there.

I’m a great believer in “reduce, reuse, recycle.” I can’t often do much about the “reduce” part. You buy the things you need, and you’re more or less at the mercy of the manufacturer. Although I will say this: For many years we ate only Jif peanut butter. We all liked it. Then Jif switched from glass jars, which I reused like crazy, to plastic. I refused to buy it. I wrote them a letter explaining why. I got no answer.

But the good news is that I then discovered Adams peanut butter, which is a far superior product that’s actually virtually all peanuts and always comes in glass jars. Ben rebelled at having to stir his peanut butter, but I kept buying it. Then Adams came out with a “no-stir” variety that had only minor amounts of adulteration. We’ve all been happy since. I buy no other brand, even though the crunchy style that we prefer is sometimes hard to find.

The “recycle” part is easy. We do huge amounts of that.

But then we get to “reuse.” This is the other part of modern packaging that makes me nuts.

This time of year, lots of things–nuts, chocolates–come in rather large plastic containers. I’m pretty much opposed to plastic on principle, but if I can reuse the container for an extended period of time, my anxiety level goes down. I much prefer glass, but the larger plastic containers can be used to keep tea bags fresh, store bread crumbs, and otherwise make a repository for things that do better if they’re in an air-tight environment. But–

The people who market these things seem to feel obliged to put on their labels with an adhesive with some of the qualities of that ghastly black mastic adhesive that was used for so many years to secure phony paneling or tile to plaster board. It’s almost impossible to remove, rendering the container somewhat less than useful. At least it was. Tonight I made a great discovery.

I had one of these containers that I was trying to remove the glue from. I first of all tried some hand lotion that I won’t use because it’s too greasy. Hopeless. After that, I added some detergent to a scrubber sponge and tried that. No dice.

Then I remembered a tip that I read somewhere about how to get pitch or bubblegum out of your hair. My hair is about 30 inches long, so it’s important to know these things. But the tip was this: Rub peanut butter on it, and it will dissolve.

So I rubbed a little (and it really was only a VERY little) Adams on my recalcitrant jar and–voila! The glue washed right off.

But what a waste of good peanut butter.

Our legislators are a bunch of cowards

October 30, 2007

OK, so I don’t usually write about politics. Mostly that’s because I find the whole topic disgusting. There’s something in me that wants my elected officials to live up to the vision of the Constitutional Convention, a vision that had regular folks (OK, white males that owned property) going off to do the nation’s (or state’s) business as a form of public service, then returning home to live out the rest of their regular lives.

I admit it. I’m on a tear tonight.

This comes from reading my Oregon voters’ pamphlet over and over and wanting to go out and shake my fist at the sky and shout curses. What is wrong with these people?

I want my elected representatives to figure out what’s required to do the business of the government and then to get on with making it happen. I don’t want a bunch of numb-nuts (an old car-racing expression) calculating what will make them more popular in the next election cycle. I think decisions should be made based on what is right, fair, and practical, not on what will make the official more popular with the voting public and able to come back and suck from the public trough for another two, four, or six years.

I want people of character and courage. There don’t seem to be too may of them around any more, at least among our elected officials.

As an electorate, we probably have only ourselves to blame. When someone running for office had the audacity to tell the truth, we pilloried them. I’m thinking here of national figures like Edmund Muskie and Thomas Eagleton, but I suspect local examples abound as well.

What I don’t want are the sort of people we have in office now, people who are afraid to make the hard decisions. Instead, the elect to send the to “the voters,” a singularly ignorant bunch of consumers who, it appears, can be easily swayed by political rhetoric and a NIMBY attitude–“If it doesn’t have a negatice impact on me, I’m all for it whether it makes any sense or not.”

My ballot has two measures on it (actually three, but one is local and so non-controversial as to be ignored). These two measures have in common that they can be presented in language so distorted as to be downright deceptive. One is an attempt to circumvent the clearly expressed will of the people of the state of Oregon, clearly expressed in not one but two elections. It truly is, as opponents have advertised, a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Measure 49 will probably pass because the majority of the people who will be voting on it are too lazy to read the entire measure and too ignorant to understand what it really says if they did.

Measure 50 is another animal altogether. It’s a blatant attempt to raise taxes by assessing a minority too small to obstruct it: smokers. But it is an absolutely immoral and irrational approach to goverment and to government financing.

The Oregonian supports both measures. I don’t know if the editorial staff is that dumb or if they have been co-opted somehow. But I’m disgusted, thoroughly.

This, of course, is only part of the problem. I’ve wondered for years how people elected to do the most important business of the republic could be so caught up in sexual peccadilloes and fantasies that they could ignore the business of the government to address moral issues. If Larry Craig is not fit to represent Idaho, it seems to me that this is a decision for the people of Idaho, not the U. S. Senate. Focusing on scandal is a way of ignoring the important things that need to be done.

This is the end of this rant. I can’t fix these things, any more than Tiresias could protect Oedipus from his fatal flaws. But I think I feel better for having vented.

Today’s tally

July 6, 2007

Today I did not make sauerkraut as planned. Ralph showed up at the door early this morning witha humongous quantity of pie cherries that he had just picked. I think he liked the pie. I certainly did.

So tonight I have 5 pints of blueberries, three quart of Royal Annes, and three quarts of pie cherries freshly packed and sealed in glass jars.

Sauerkraut tomorrow. Tonight I’m wiped out.

But today was very special. While Ralph was down picking pie cherries, a happening I knew nothing about and would have put an instant stop to, I was watering and working in the garden. Two great blue herons flew right over head, higher than I’ve ever seen them, and the first time I’ve seen two together. I think it must have been a mating flight. They were headed for the top of Big Creek, and it was truly amazing. Then I started noticing that all of the birds I saw were in pairs.

It must be summer.

A few more words about Beer Chips. . .

June 22, 2007

Updated with access to the Beer Chips Web site

I don’t buy things because of their packaging, but I have to admit that when I see what I consider elegant and well thought out packaging, it catches my attention and admiration.

One of the reasons I bought the first bag of Beer Chips was the packaging. It caught my eye. It has the visual quality of a mylar balloon, suggesting lightness AND festivity, celebration. It’s bright gold, suggesting richness and elegance. The lettering is black, nice for contrast, but also pretty assertive. Altogether, it was enough to make me pick up the package and look at it, even thought I had already gone through checkout.

On the back was some information about the product, which was nice, and the suggestion that although Beer Chips wouldn’t make me drunk, they might make me more interesting. Nice point. There was also an e-mail address in case I had “something important to tell them.” Very nice!

Then there was the upside down entry that I mentioned to Lisa in my earlier post: “If you can read this, you’re spilling your Beer Chips.”

They had me then, and I had to try them. I have a huge aversion to the warning labels that seem to be mandated on everything from toilet paper to tractors. When I read most of them, my immediate reaction is, “Duh! People who need this warning should be subject to Darwin’s hypothesis about the survival of the fittest.”

But I admit that I found it rather charming that the Beer Chips folks would consider warning people who might be using their product in conjunction with somewhat less than responsible activity not to waste the product. Then I discovered they were manufactured and sold from Portland.

I picked up a bag and got back in the checkout line.

My overall reaction as a consumer: They’re very tasty. They are a tiny bit sweet, somewhat like the sweet potato chips that are appearing now, but they are also very, very crisp, like another Portland product, Kettle Chips, that I also find a favorite.

The bag is nearly empty, and truth be told, I’ll probably buy more, even though I don’t eat potato chips all that often. But these were yummy and a good value for the money. Besides, these seem to be quirky people that I would be happy to support.

If you’d like more information about Beer Chips, including the ability to order them even if you don’t live in Oregon, go to the Beer Chips Web site.

PS: It appears that this post is going to come from Moonjelly. I’m still learning some of the ins and outs of WordPress, but I’m participating in another blog where I’d rather be a little more anonymous, so I’ve changed my public name and picture. If it bothers you, let me know.

A customer manifesto: Pen or sword

May 11, 2007

Who knows?

But my desktop computer seems to be more or less up and running, and I have even reinstalled IE7, and so far none of the evilness I’ve been experiencing is happening again. So far.

I am declaring war on Microsoft. As with so many wars, it has to be adjudicated and waged in an environment in which I need the company. You can’t blow someone sitting on one quarter of the earth’s oil supply off the face of the map. At my age, I’m not sure I’m up to learning all of the stuff I would have to learn to divorce them entirely. I actually like MS-Office and know how to use most of the applications. XP works great for me, too, most of the time. And even IE7. . .most of the time.

But upon reflection, I think my problems started when I got tired of looking at the little yellow shield on my applications bar that said an update was pending. The update was Microsoft’s “Genuine Software Advantage,” a Newspeak name if there ever was one.

So I opened up the little shield and got to the place where I had to accept or decline the license agreement.

At this point I should tell you this about me: I actually buy software. I have no aversion to paying reasonable user license fees for the product of someone else’s brain. So it wasn’t the idea that Microsoft might find out I had pirated stuff on my computer that got me worked up. It was the thought of MS trying to be the morality police, I think, and I went a bit over the edge.

So I declined the license agreement. That’s when my troubles started.

Several days and I no longer know how many hours later, my desktop computer seems almost normal again. We’ll see what happens when I boot it tomorrow.

But I am still really angry. A couple of days of gardening and fixing some really good meals (I’ll write about wienerschnitzel later) can’t mitigate it, and these are my common refuges in an increasingly uncertain and annoying world.

My anger at the moment is focused on Microsoft, and I have to decide what to do about it. Some of you have suggested abandoning MS applications–loading Ubuntu as my OS, using Firefox instead of IE, and the like. But I actually like the applications. What I resent is the anti-customer attitude that MS seems to be adopting increasingly frequently.

I don’t need a policeman, for Pete’s sake, I need a software vendor. When something gives me value, I buy it. When it doesn’t, I don’t. And I sure as heck don’t need a vendor looking over my shoulder to check for the dotted i’s and crossed t’s. I have a moral code that Microsoft could only hope would be emulated throughout the land.

And I’m not willing to be subjected to the kind of nonsense I’ve dealt with for the last several days because others might not have the same moral code.

 Josh Bancroft turned me on to the marketer’s manifesto in “Cluetrain.” It begins with 95 theses, in emulation, I’m sure, of Martin Luther. Having once sat through Lutheran catechism classes (another story for another day), I always thought Luther was a bit long-winded. Here is my customer manifesto, which is a great deal shorter (Microsoft, I hope you’re listening):

  • Offer me something that makes my life a little bit easier and I will buy it.
  • I want things to work the way that you present them, with no ifs, ands, or buts, no fine print, no “beta” qualifications.
  • If something breaks, I want to be able to fix it quickly and at a reasonable price. Ask me sometime about boomboxes.
  • I trust you to deliver the product as advertised. I want you to trust me also. If you don’t, then we probably don’t have a good vendor/customer relationship.

But I’m not going to go blow up MS’s headquarters. I think instead I will write about this experience and see if someone like “Wired” won’t publish it. Maybe I can shame MS into treating customers as they should be treated.

Unboxing, global warming, and environmental damage

April 27, 2007

This may seem like a weird collection, but it’s what’s on my mind at the moment.

Several posts ago, I wrote about my new toy, a Toshiba SD-1900 DVD player (it plays a bunch of other things, too, but who cares). Here’s what came out of the box when I opened it:


In addition to the player itself, I found a lithium battery pack (top right), an assortment of manuals in English and French (including the necessary legal statements for both the U.S. and Canada),  a sexy little remote control (pale gray) with its battery packed separately (just below it), A/V cables, and both AC and DC power adapters. The one disappointment so far: a note in the the documentation saying that I shouldn’t recharge the battery pack using the DC adapater (I had planned to recharge it when I drove to town, etc., etc.).

Here’s what the packaging looked like:


Everything on the right side of the picture was packed around the battery pack–a static shield, a box, and a spacer box to make the pack fit tightly in the big box. The little brown box just below the outside container had a bunch of stuff–the adapters and A/C cables, the remote. Each had its own little plastic envelope.

The big puffy piece (more about that in a minute) held the DVD player itself. The envelopes below it had the manuals and, in its separate little piece of plastic, the battery for the remote.

This is obscene.

The most interesting piece of packaging I hadn’t seen before. I’m sure I just don’t buy enough stuff. But here’s a closeup of the puffy piece:


I see I forgot to mention the special little styrofoamish sort of wrapper that was around the DVD player before it was inserted into the puffy thing. When you have to protect what you’re shipping from what you’re shipping it in, red flags should be going up somewhere.

This piece of bubble packing was so stiff it was hard to get the player out of it. I’m sure it was effective, and I have to admit that my player was intact with all parts working. But what is the cost?

For the moment, I’ve saved all of the packaging in the original box. The four pages of warnings scared me, and if it sets fire to my house (or my lap), I want to ship it back to Toshiba with everything intact. But some day I will send them all to recycling (the cardboard) or to a landfill somewhere. (Aside: The most interesting warning was one that appeared at least twice, and if I’m not mistaken, three times–don’t set a container with liquid “such as a vase” on the player/battery pack. Clearly this product has been purchased by some real ditzes who don’t want vase marks on their furniture.)

But this is where our landfill problem originates. For the most part (although there are, thank God, some exceptions if I’m willing to drive three hours), you can’t go into a hardware store and buy three bolts and the nuts that go with them. You have to go to a Freddie’s or a WalMart (not this gal) and buy four or five that are nicely packed in indestructible plastic and held by an unopenable cardboard label. This phenomenon is why there are pairs of industrial strength shears in darned near every room of my house.

Then you use the three you need, put the remainder in one of those “everything spare” drawers or a nut and bolt storage unit. The next time you need three, you have only one or two left, so you go buy another package and the requisite wrappings. Craziness. And garbage galore.

I may have written elsewhere about being concerned that I had permanently offended someone whom I really care about. My former brother-in-law is one of the smartest guys I know, and he is currently on an education campaign about global warming. But it seems to me that the problem is this: Most of our discussion around global warming focuses on how to do things the way we have become used to doing them but with less environmental cost to the generation of power.

To me this is like the garbage problem. The solution lies, at least in part, by not creating it in the first place.

Look around your house. Do you really need an electric can opener? An electric knife sharpener? An instant-on TV that consumes power 24 hours a day whether you’re watching it or not? I don’t.

We live most of the day here without power, and I get along just fine. The only thing I miss (and I really do miss it) is my cordless phone, the really good one with the headset jack (I’ve got a conference call scheduled in a couple of weeks and I’m going to have to sit and hold the phone to my shoulder–bummer).

But all power has an environmental cost. Just as the trick to reducing landfill requirements is not generating materials for a landfill in the first place, part of the trick to solving the global warming dilemma is looking at how we use power. I love Josh B. dearly, but the photo he posted on his blog of his office at night with the dozens of little lights charging his gadgets gave me nightmares for a week. ;^}