Moisturizer

My squeeze-tube of Neutrogena moisturizer appears to have become dry and brittle with age, and today developed a crack. I can think of a couple of ways that they could avoid this problem in future products, but I worry that consumers may be reticent to purchase moisturizer for their moisturizer.

Vino

We spent the afternoon at Vintages, a custom winery near by brother’s place in Colorado. Their business model is simple and beautiful: bring your own grapes or buy from them, and they will ferment them for you, then provide equipment for you to label and cork the product. The result looks more or less like commercial wine.

We volunteered to bottle cherry wine for an hour on behalf of the farmshare that my brother just joined. We filled, labeled, sealed, and packed about 150 bottles, operating as an impromptu assembly line, using the provided clear glass bottles, sticky labels, automatic filler, and pneumatic cork pusher.

It could have been less fun.

CO

We spent the morning at the Mall of America, on the way to the airport for our flight from MN to CO. I can confirm the the mall does indeed enclose an indoor amusement park, complete with a number of different roller coasters, some of which even have inverting loops. I can also confirm that it is very large, with a wide variety of food in the food courts, etc. Other than size, though, it was almost surprisingly undistinguished. For the most part, I could have been in any other mall in the country. If anything I was surprised by the absence of gaudy fountains and chandeliers that I had thought were de rigeur.

Some of the long wide hallways have couches and chairs arranged periodically as rest stops in the middle. Sitting on one such couch, I was astonished to realize that the whole floor vibrated every time a party walked past. My father was distinctly less surprised than I to observe that the building was constructed without a great excess of rigidity.

Family

We spent the past two days on a hyper-accelerated tour of Minneapolis orchestrated by one of my mother’s sisters. I’m sure we haven’t seen all the sights, but we’ve sure seen more than a few.

My main motivation to make this trip was to meet (as far as I know) the only cousins that I had never met. It was definitely a good decision, and despite a near-total lack of communication over the past 25 years, I truly felt like I was among family.

I never expected that a first meeting would feel so comfortable, so … familiar.

NH

I spent Saturday with my grandparents in New Hampshire. On Saturday I enjoyed the traditional awful New England snow and gale force gusts on Mt. Cranmore. The uneven ice-crusted surface brought back many fond childhood memories.

In the evening we headed over to the questionably named Stone Mountain Arts Center, a homey dinner theater in a barn deep in the Maine woods, for a very nice performance by Catie Curtis. None of us had heard of Ms. Curtis, but the rest of the distinctly female-heavy audience evidently had. (One of the few men in the audience turned out to be the singer’s father, as her parents live nearby.)

Sunday I got in one last experiment before another family adventure; in 24 hours I will be in the cold, cold state of Minnesota for the very first time.

Box

Dear Amazon,

You sent me a single bicycle tire in a box the size of my entire kitchen. I ordered a whole bunch of other stuff from you at the same time, but you shipped each item separately.

Waste not, want not.

–Ben

Tahrir

I bumped into a friend on the sidewalk on Friday, an American who had just gotten back from several months in Cairo. She was full of amazing stories, like running away from a police column while two men performed streetside surgery on a comrade, trying to remove a bullet from his chest with a pair of pliers. She also said, from fresh experience,

I think a lot of people don’t understand how bad tear gas is. They think “tear gas”, it just makes you cry. Doesn’t sound too bad. No. If you get a faceful of the stuff it doesn’t make you cry; it makes you want to die.

I love the idea of witnessing a historic saga firsthand, but I’m not sure I’d be willing to brave tear gas to see it.

Coca-Cola and the art of the perishable

At the start of the twentieth century, the forward march of civilization was embodied by the industry of food science. Perhaps no one encapsulates the era better than John Thompson Dorrance, graduate of MIT and inventor of Campbell’s tomato soup. Dorrance and others created a great shift, as fresh ingredients of varying availability and unpredictable quality were supplanted by dead reliable distillates, extracts, and compounds, guaranteed identical across months and years. Suddenly, you could do real chemistry with food.

Whole new categories of foods sprung up, making use of the newly available purified food reagents, and chief among them were the soft drinks. For millenia, anything you drank was either

  • prepared fresh, like tea or coffee,
  • fermented over months or years, like wine or kombucha, or
  • perishable, like milk or juice.

The soft drinks added a new category, with a virtually unlimited shelf life despite no fermentation in their production.

There were, I’m sure, a profusion of early artificial beverages, and in addition to soft drinks, many others, such as “juice cocktails”, remain with us today. Still, none have approached the profitability of the carbonated soft drinks like Coke. I think there is a reason for this: artificial perishability.

Coca-Cola was only possible because its ingredients, like sugar, purified caffeine, food-grade phosphoric acid, and “caramel color” were widely available non-perishable commodities. Shelf stable ingredients allowed the manufacturer to plan production without perfect suppliers, and a shelf-stable product enabled efficient mass production despite imperfect customers. Shelf stability, however, is a double edged sword. If their customers decided to drink Coke in sips over the course of weeks, they would certainly not be very profitable, and might well not exist today.

Of course, no one sips Coke over weeks, and anyone who’s ever owned a bottle of Coke can tell you why: it goes flat. This is the accidental genius of carbonated soft drinks. A flat bottle of Coke, refrigerated, will still be safe to drink, flavor unchanged, for many months, but the absence of carbonation renders it “perished”. The original distribution of Coke in non-resealable glass bottles just drives the point home.

Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail is well-liked, but the brand will never have the profits, and therefore the presence, of Coca-Cola. The deep reason for this is that, as a modern stable artificial food, Ocean Spray’s product is too good, while Coke is artificially imperfect in an incredibly fortuitous way.

States

Massachusetts is the Bay State.
Pennsylvania is the Keystone State.
Kentucky is the Bluegrass State.
Virginia is the only one that seems to have remembered that it’s a commonwealth.

Super

For the third Sunday in a row, I chipped out my car from behind the latest accumulation of ice, in order to buy some groceries. This time I had some help from sun and rain; it was just a few minutes’ work.

We had a nice superbowl party in our apartment, and now I’m engorged with all sorts of great homemade pizza, dip, and desserts. About the broadcast itself, I offer no comment.