Small Wonders

Two things that get me out of bed every day and keep me going through a world I often find brutish, mean, and stupid, are my sense of curiosity and my sense of wonder. It’s another Yin-Yang thing: the Yin of the world’s crap balanced by the Yang of so many neat things to discover and explore.

Those neat things exist on all scales, from the vast to the tiny. (The crap, on the other hand, tends to come in human-sized, in fact in human-shaped, packages.) From quarks to galaxies, the universe is an interesting place.

For today’s Wednesday Wow, I bring you some smaller wonders…

Life is filled with small things we barely notice, but which fill the lives of others. The little plastic thing at the end of shoelaces, or the eye grommets in shoes that shoelaces thread through, are designed by someone and manufactured in factories.

We may not give it much thought, but somehow, due to people, trees get turned into toothpicks, and that journey is long, fascinating, and involves many branches converging.

Society exists in a web of interconnected skills that has, in modern times, become a complex, rich, thick tapestry of products we use without realizing how much thought and effort goes into some of the smallest things.

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For example, the lowly plastic lid on that cup of coffee…

What I especially liked here isn’t just the exploration of the lid, but also of the history of its development and the connection with the rise of mobile coffee.

Even though I lived through it, I never realized 7-11 started it all.

I may have missed it because I don’t drink coffee. Ever.

Seriously, in my entire life, based on several attempts to try it, I’ve consumed maybe a whole cup (and hated every sip). I’ve tried everything from instant to the best Hawaii has to offer, and I’ve tried “coffee drinks” (lattes and whatnot).

It’s just not for me.

Part of it is that I’m not into hot liquid beverages. I love chocolate, but won’t touch hot chocolate. I’ll drink hot tea, but I can’t say I crave it. The one exception is hot spiced (non-alcoholic) apple cider, which I do love on a cold winter day.

But coffee just seems like hot bitter black water to me.

The irony is that I love the smell, I love coffee candy, and Hagen Daz Coffee Ice Cream is my favorite ice cream by a mile. Go figure.

(It’s another small “wonder” — as in, “I wonder WTF!”)

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I may not care for coffee, but I’ll pound down some pasta anytime…

As told by an Italian! 😀

Something I used to do, a learned thing, is add oil to the water when cooking the pasta. A while back I learned that’s a bad idea: sauce sticks to the pasta better if you don’t add the oil.

And you don’t need it, the sauce usually has plenty.

FWIW, I often enjoy an easy-to-make (because I’m lazy) dinner involving Angel Hair pasta (cooks in four minutes), butter, Parmesan cheese, garlic and herbs, and maybe some (pre-cooked, packaged) roast chicken pieces (heated in the microwave).

So now, when cooking the pasta, I just use salt, pepper, and some red pepper. The pasta will absorb those even though most get tossed with the water.

Simple tastes, that’s me!

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Lastly, a new piece from The Piano Guys

It combines two of my favorite things in life: Music (which alone is worth getting out of bed for) and lights (my second word, I’m told, was “light”).

I’m also a sucker for Christmas music. It’s my favorite part of the Christmas season. My YouTube Christmas Music playlist has 66 videos on it, and I have a lot of Christmas music on my iMusic.

I’m amazed at what’s now available for consumer-level Christmas lighting. This is another place a combination of LEDs and computers has revolutionized.

(There are also laser systems that project lots of dots, but I don’t think those look as cool.)

As a bonus, here’s a companion piece to the one above:

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So as you go through the world (listening to music), it’s more than stopping to notice the flowers. It’s stopping to notice all the small wonders that abound everywhere.

For better or ill, we live in a very designed and manufactured world. Nearly every aspect of that world, large or small, has lines of people behind it who made it happen.

The pen you use, or the disposable lighter, or socks, or the box your new headphones came in. They all started with an idea followed by a design followed by a plan followed by factory followed by a warehouse followed by a retail outlet, a long chain with many people.

And if there was any season in which we might be particularly disposed to remember the small wonders (the “tiny Tims”?) then surely it must be this one.

Stay wondering, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

15 responses to “Small Wonders

  • Wyrd Smythe

    891 posts… 8 more to go this month!

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    On coffee, you’re probably better off for avoiding the caffeine. But for me it’s essential. I’m drinking a cup right now. (We just had our office holiday party and given how stuffed I am, it’s either coffee or a nap.)

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Oh, I hope you had some good food. I loved office parties — people brought in some great food (and some weird food 🙂 ). I know what you mean about being stuffed! Too bad most places don’t allow naps at work.

      I’m not sure there’s good evidence caffeine is bad for you. It is known to increase concentration (and wakefulness, obviously). Too much of anything isn’t good, of course.

      Regardless, I don’t shun caffeine. Nearly all the liquid I drink these days consists of [1] Diet Mountain Dew, [2] bottled spring water, or [3] beer. Probably in that order.

      The DMD turns out to be fairly benign in terms of ingredients: carbonated water, concentrated orange juice, citric acid, and “natural flavors”, are the first four. And no sugar, obviously. And while MD is known for caffeine, it’s actually only about 1/4 of what you get in coffee.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        The food was pretty good. I tried to get a little of everything, but lamentably there were some things I just couldn’t fit in. (I’m most regretful of a chili soup that looked really good.) Pretty sure I won’t be eating dinner.

        Mountain Dew actually does have a lot of caffeine. Years ago I gave up all caffeine for several months. (Which I will never ever do again unless the doctors tell me death is on the line.) During that period, I was at a bowling rink with limited beverage options, but one of them was Mountain Dew. Thinking it was like Sprite, I got a 20 oz bottle. The resulting caffeine surge was pretty dramatic. I later learned that the 20 oz bottle had as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. (These days the bottles often list it, but back then none of them did.)

        But at least you’re getting concentrated orange juice with it. (Now I’m actually craving one.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’ve been a (diet) soda drinker all my adult life (I just don’t like sugar soda). I’d be happier drinking ice tea, but it’s just inconvenient enough (and I don’t like packaged iced teas) that I rarely bother. In the summer I sometimes do sun tea.

        So I’ve been through colas and Dr. Pepper (was a Pepper for many years), but the Diet Mountain Dew is nearly perfect. Basically caffeinated orange juice. 🙂

        As to that caffeine, yeah, it’s high for a soda, about 4.5 mg/oz, but coffee, depending on how it’s brewed, can have four times that much. Extremely weak coffee does get down to MD levels, though. (Or MD levels approach weak coffee.) There aren’t many sodas with more caffeine than MD. Jolt was one example — don’t know if that’s still around. Pepsi One is basically the same as MD (55.5mg/12oz compared to 55 for MD).

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I’m a diet soda drinker too, although in my case it’s mostly Diet Dr. Pepper, although I can use Diet Coke as a substitute. I might have to give Diet Mountain Dew a try though. It sounds like it would be healthier. (Real fruit juice, of course, would be much healthier, but that’s just crazy talk.)

        My caffeine level comparisons was for typical home brewed coffee, which usually has around 100 mg per cup. But definitely a Starbucks coffee is going to be much higher. Even a Starbuck decaf has more caffeine in it than a typical 12 oz diet soda. Sometimes I wonder how much modern issues are related to everyone’s sky high caffeine levels.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        One of the reasons I switched to Dew was to get away from phosphates, which are in colas and Dr. Pepper. Supposedly those are bad for you.

        A Starbuck’s decaf has more caffeine than soda? Holy cannoli! (I’ve never been in a Starbuck’s. 🙂 )

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        They do have cold drinks, including tea, but given your utter disinterest in coffee, I can see it. It’s like me going into liquor or cigar place. (I have been in those types of places, but always because someone else dragged me in.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Weirdly, I also don’t care for iced coffee drinks. (Or, come to think of it, cold chocolate sodas.) Apparently my brain just doesn’t like certain flavors in liquid form. So, yeah, I’d have to be dragged into a Starbuck’s. (I have waited outside while people I was with got their coffee fix. Some of the sips I’ve had over my lifetime came from them. “Here, you have to try this! It’s so good, I know you’ll like it!” So far, no I haven’t.)

        On the other hand, I do like cigar and liquor stores… 😉

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I like the smell of cigars (unlit), but the one time I actually tried to smoke one, I thought I was going to vomit. And liquor tastes vile to me. (I drank a fair amount of it for effect when I was younger, but never acquired a taste for it.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I even enjoy the smell of a quality lit cigar. I went through a cigar phase a few years back. Still enjoy one from time to time. (Part of the fun is watching other people’s reactions when you light a cigar. 😉 )

        I never acquired a taste for scotch or bourbon. I’ve gone through gin and tequila phases, but I mostly stick with beer (and the occasional bottle of champagne) these days. I do have a thing for Kahlua and other coffee liqueurs. They make a great dessert. (Another weird place where I love the taste of coffee.)

  • rung2diotimasladder

    I think about this sort of thing too! Our world is complex, and we so often take things for granted. Another one to add to your list: those little springy doodads that you find on jackets to tighten the drawstrings. I had the idea to use those for my castanets to prevent the slipknots from slipping, but I couldn’t think of what they were called. Apparently they have many names: cord lock, toggle spring lock, spring clasp…and so on. Genius invention in my book.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I know the widget whereof you speak. Very handy, indeed.

      Although, I bought some really cheap sneakers from Walmart that combine stretchy shoelaces with those cord locks. Not a good combination. Mostly it’s the elastic shoelaces that are a bad design idea. Worse, they’re anchored to part of the shoe, so removing them isn’t simple.

      • rung2diotimasladder

        My first thought was: “Elastic shoelaces? Why?” But then I realized that you can tie your shoes once and never again, effectively turning them into slip-ons. But then, why not just have slip ons? Hm…

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Might have seemed like a good idea, but it turns out it makes the shoe too loose (at least for my taste). They’re okay as “house slippers” but not much good for anything else.

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