Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Package From Kazakhstan...

Yesterday I picked up a small package from an eBay seller located in Kazakhstan. I purchased an interesting Soviet-era slide rule from this seller, a modern (1978) model made in Kiev, Ukraine. But the package itself was actually more interesting than the slide rule!

The first thing I noted about the package was that it was made up in a way that seems quaint and old-fashioned to us: it was wrapped with heavy kraft paper, and very neatly tied with twine. Looking closely at the twine, I could see that it was quite primitive by modern standards – bits of seeds and unintended organic matter were embedded throughout it. Then when I turned the package over, I spotted something totally unexpected: sealing wax, complete with a stamp! I can't read the Cyrillic characters on the stamp, but it doesn't look like a personal stamp, but rather some sort of official stamp – customs, perhaps?

I disassembled the package carefully, as I was curious now about how the rest of it was constructed. The kraft paper was glued with the rubbery cement we used to call “mucilage”. Inside the kraft paper was a flat candy box, with a formed plastic holder for 20 pieces of (delicious looking!) chocolates. This piece of plastic made a very nice crush-resistant cushion for the slide rule itself, which was under it. A very thin plastic bag (of a type I've seen often used as a shopping bag in Eastern Europe) wrapped the slide rule.

My seller went to a lot of trouble to make this package, certainly more trouble than most Americans would. I can say this with some authority, as I buy slide rules from all over the world, and I can definitely see patterns in the packaging. Apparently packaging style is culturally determined!

Americans are by far the worst, on the whole. I have purchased expensive slide rules (say, $50 or $100) from American sellers who simply threw the slide rule in a much larger Priority Mail box and sent it. German sellers, on average, are not much better than the Americans. The British sellers, on the other hand, tend to be very conscientious packers – at least half the packages I receive from Great Britain would survive being run over on the freeway. But the best of all, so far, are the Israelis. There are three Israeli sellers whom I've purchased multiple slide rules from, and all three of them are exceptionally careful in their packing. One of them, a fellow named Yoram, sends me packages that are themselves marvels of mechanical engineering, with carefully carved and fitted pieces of foam to protect the slide rule I purchased from him.

Of course there are exceptions to the above observations. There are some American sellers who package things extremely carefully, and likewise some of the German sellers. One of these careful German sellers (Franz, who has become a good friend through our shared interests) sends me boxes of slide rules that are all individually wrapped in newspapers, a method that was common (and effective) when I was a kid growing up in New Jersey.

My package from Kazakhstan provoked some interest at our Jamul Post Office. As I walked out, someone who had overheard me exclaiming about the package wanted to see the package – and within a minute or two, we had a knot of people all looking at this quaint package that had traveled so far. Then, of course, I had to explain to several of the younger folks just what a slide rule was – as always, that led to some funny looks from people who were clearly wondering what sort of lunatic I was. Who would want to collect sticks that let you (sort of) multiply and divide ?

Lovely Weather...

Just two days ago the weather forecast called for “chance of patchy drizzle”, which generally means (for us) slightly denser than normal fog. We often get such weather this time of year; it's a welcome respite from the heat, but usually little precipitation accumulates. Yesterday afternoon I had to drive from Solana Beach to National City, and there was intermittent heavy rainfall along that entire path. As I drove home that evening, I was hopeful that we had gotten (or would get) some of that rain.

So I was delighted to see, as I drove down the length of Lawson Valley Road, that there was running water along the side of the road and everything looked thoroughly wet. When I drove alongside the creek, I could see water accumulating in it, so I knew we'd had some amount of rain. Finally, when I got home there was heavy drizzle (which turned into rain later), and my rain gauge showed 0.56 inches. This morning it's reading 0.64 inches, and there's more rain in the forecast for today and tomorrow...

Even more surprising is the temperature – right now it is just 41°F outside. With 100% relative humidity and light winds, it's actually uncomfortably cold – just a bit different than the 100°F, 7% relative humidity we had last weekend!

More of this, please...