Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Neat Box of Tricks

Rapid Packing Container

Boxes within boxes within boxes....

Like many lucky houses at this time of year, mine is filled with a stack of cardboard boxes in which gifts arrived from the glorious internet. Here they are teetering in my basement. This is nowhere near the number of boxes there actually are, because they are nested one inside the other, to reduce the size of the pile. They are still in my basement because I am one of those people afflicted with the inability to waste a perfectly good box that might, at some distant future time, be needed for somethingorother.

But they take up space and remind me, every time I see them, to feel a pang of guilt about all the wood pulp shopping via the internet uses.

This is why I love folks like these guys from Cooper Union, Henry Wang and Chris Curro, who re-designed the humble cardboard box to be easier to use, less wasteful, take up less space, and be reusable to boot.

They are seeking funding to get their box — the rapid packing container — out into the world.

Packaging has always been important, but the way we purchase and use foods underwent an enormous change in the 1970s due to he invention of the Tetrapak — that now ubiquitous folded card-based box that your milk (and juice) comes in. It made the Rausings (the family whose company developed and owns this technology) into billionaires.

Nearly everyone in the world has used one of these

Some might say that the aesthetic charm of the bottle as a packaging medium was lost when the almighty Tetrapak made its way onto shelves, and they’d be right.

Tetrapaks don't clink like bottles, but they don't break, either

But bottles are heavy, round, breakable, and it takes a lot to recycle them. If you want the pleasure of storing and pouring your milk and juice from bottles, then buy some and decant your Tetrapakaged liquids into them once you get home. Then you can squash the empty box flat and recycle it.

Good luck, Wang and Curro — I hope to see Amazon invest in your box in time for next year’s holiday season. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Carpenters at Christmas: Brought to you by 1977

Hey, Kids! If you're bored with your iPads, Wii, Xbox or phone, you might want to check out what TV used to be like when I was a kid. There were these things called "TV Specials" which took the form of a "Variety Show" where a celebrity starred in a series of hyper-scripted skits interspersed with "musical numbers" on sets with poor lighting. The entire "show" lasted an hour, and usually followed a premise of some sort that delivered a loose narrative. Sponsors advertised during the commercial breaks. 

"What did the people at home do while they watched a "TV Special?" you ask. Well, they sat on their sofas and drank tumblers full of whiskey and chain smoked cigarettes, which they disposed of in "ashtrays." 

"That doesn't sound like fun," I hear you say. Well, you're right. It was an excrutiating ritual engaged in by desperate people with nowhere else to turn for entertainment. They drank because it's impossible to watch sober, and they smoked because they had nothing else to do with their hands. During the breaks, they would visit the bathroom and down handfuls of pills — valium, mostly, but also quaaludes and aspirins — even antacids and antihistimines if they were very bored. By the end of the show (or the "closing number"), either the folks at home would have fallen into a deep stupor or destroyed the house in a drug-fuelled frenzy. 

"If these shows were so awful, why did they exist?" you ask. Good question. They existed solely to serve the satin and polystyrene industries. Most costumes consisted of yard upon yard of colored shiny fabric and fake fur, and the sets were cheap and highly flammable. 

Usually, singers were pegged to show off their acting skills by pretending to be themselves. Here, for example, Richard and Karen Carpenter play a musical pair of siblings called "The Carpenters" who live in California and entertain people with their wacky hijinks. Richard mopes about wearing suits with outrageously large shoulders, a pageboy haircut, and frilly shirts with giant bow ties. Every now and then he plays the piano in the contemporary style of Van Cliburn or Liberace, which is to say, theatrically. He can also be heard lisping through lines of dialogue. Karen is rarely seen out of a tight satin suit, looking ghoulish while feigning interest in a make-believe party she's throwing for her back-up dancers. Meanwhile, she lip-synchs her way through a selection of seasonal classics with a modern twist. 

Occasionally, "traditional" forms of vaudeville entertainments found their way into such shows, often as a nod to the very elderly viewers or the very young, neither of whom can be counted on to have developed a sense of horror when presented with puppets and talking mannequins. 

If you can make it through this entire Christmas Special, you win. But if you can't, just keep leaping ahead to watch snippets, for an idea of what life was like in 1977. 


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Female - by "Anon"

Check it out, bitches. McGraw Hill chose me to represent the epitome of the Female of the species in their textbook Teen Health. Boo-ya. I was all “will there be hair and make-up, yo” and they said “no — you’re perfect just as you are.” Hear that? “Perfect.”

I’ve lost weight recently — can you tell? Check out my upper arms and the huge gap between my thighs. We tried loads of different poses, but they went with this one. I was fed-up. It was, like, five, and I’d been standing all day. I was all “Imma stand here till you clowns make up your minds,” and they said “show us more attitude, Baby,” so I tilted my hips, but they said “not that much attitude.”

You might be wondering about that lump under my arm. It’s not what you think it is. Don’t be rude, gutter-brain! It’s an in-grown hair that got a little out of control. I’m getting it seen to next week.

Speaking of hair, I said “since this is a paying gig, can I submit the receipt for my wax?” They said no. Cheap bastards. When I asked why, they said “we don’t require a wax.” WTF? I said “I will be naked, you know,” and they said “naked-schmaked.” “Is this a legal term?” I asked, and they said “kinda.”

One thing I am disappointed with is that you can’t see my face. That’s what happens when they show you from behind. 

The Battle of the Bulge, Explained

First of all, some people called this “offensive,” then “counteroffensive,” but history has called it The Battle of the Bulge. For reasons that will not be immediately obvious (because this diagram is based on photographs taken from above), you cannot see the bulge. You just have to imagine that it’s there.

Oh Jesus. Wrong slide.

(Illustration taken from McGraw Hill's textbook Teen Health.)

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Best A Man Can Get? In Praise of the Beard

Brett Keisel #99 Phwoar.

Dear Gentlemen: if you want to enhance your masculinity, if you want to make other men quake in their soft-sole shoes and women go all tingly in their lady parts, then go with what nature intended: grow a beard.

Not some facial hair that has been tamed and maintained by a setting on your trimmer; an actual beard, the kind that grows unhindered and lends an aura of mystery and glory to your face. No artful shaving of the cheeks and neck to keep it in check, either; go full-on mountain man.

Here in Pittsburgh, we have a fine sporting chap by the name of Brett Keisel. He’s a defensive end for the Steelers. He’s 6’ 5”, has two Super bowl rings, and what he calls “the greatest beard of all time.” He’s not modest about it. He knows he’s playing the alpha male card every time he looks in the mirror or into the eyes of an opponent. There's even a fight song dedicated to it. 

A beard that says "don't mess with me," and "form an orderly line, ladies."
This Sunday, the snowfall was measured in Pittsburgh by examining how much of it collected in Brett Keisel’s beard. This is a town that loves its football players, but you rarely see a Roethlisberger shirt; instead, you see a lot of Polomalus and Keisels. What do those guys have in common? Famously abundant hair.

If you need any more convincing, then take a look at what Keisel looks like without his beard — which he periodically shaves off to raise money for charity.

Just another lunky dork.

Ask yourself why Duck Dynasty is so popular. Are we that interested in duck calls? No! It's the sexy beards!

Case. In. Point. 

And don’t let the Gillette people fool you: ladies do not prefer the smooth-all-over look. Stop shaving your chests, your legs, your armpits and your balls. That’s just weird. Gillette has a financial stake in getting you to act like a clown and engage in something they call “body styling.” They do this by paying three hot models to suggest they like hairless men. This is reverse psychology! They’re playing on the likelihood that men prefer hairless women (and that shaving each other’s private parts is some acceptable form of hanky-panky. It isn’t.). They try to ensnare you by using words like “confidence” with the underlying implication that if a man is confident with his penis, he won’t mind letting it hang there out in the open with no place to hide. There’s a reason why it’s called the “happy trail,” Gentlemen. Think about it.

So please, dear Gentlemen: when making your new year’s resolutions, consider being the best a man can get — and toss out your razor. For good.