Design Undusted: Norman Doors

You have all come in contact with a Norman Door, even if you might not have known that’s what it was called. Remember the last time you tried to go through a push door by pulling on it? That’s a Norman Door. The name comes from Donald Norman who, after spending time in the UK, wrote a book called, “The Psychology of Everyday Things“, later changed to, “The Design of Everyday Things“. Doors are a prevalent example: Every building has them, but they are not necessarily put through any stringent tests of user-friendliness; if the hinges are hung straight, and the door swings one way or the other, that’s usually enough to pass. Donald Norman’s point is that if people are using a product the wrong way, it’s not their fault – it’s poorly designed. He popularized the term “user-centred design” – designs based on the needs of the users, whoever and however many they might be. Below are a few examples of failed designs – either inconvenient to use or just downright impossible. Next time you come across an object with poor usability, you’ll at least know what to call it.

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Nature Undusted: Magnetic (Gravity) Hills

When I was growing up, I went to a place called Silver Dollar City (in Branson, Missouri) several times; it is a family amusement park with rides and various attractions. One of my favourite attractions was a house that played with your mind: It had water running up a drain, floors that tilted at different angles from room to room, and optical illusions that played with proportions and directions in your perceptions. You simply couldn’t trust what you felt or saw while in that house, and when you came out, it took a minute or two to right your bearings again.

But did you know that there are natural anomalies? Throughout the world, there are areas known as magnetic hills, magic roads or gravity hills. Due to the surrounding geography, the road or stream may appear to be going uphill, when in fact it’s going downhill; this makes water look like it’s flowing upward, or cars in neutral appear to be defying gravity by rolling uphill. It’s nothing more than an optical illusion, but such places attract visitors, the curious and the thrill-seekers.

Wikipedia has a list of over a hundred recognized places; chances are, there might be one near you.

To see the phenomena, click on this link to a short YouTube video about New Brunswick, Canada and the history of what was first known as “Fool’s Hill”.

Magnetic Hill

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So Many Projects, So Little Time…

I feel like I’ve been gone for ages – and I guess I have! With the world on hold through lockdown, more than just our social calendar seems to have been turned topsy-turvy. I’m sure I’m not alone in that, but it seems like a lot of routines, such as writing weekly blogs, went on hold as we tried to get our lives back on track through the time of lockdown, of switching to home-office and the changed schedules that brought with it. On one hand, I seemed to have more time on my hands (what with our social agendas being cancelled wholesale), but on the other hand, projects that had been put off wanted tackling. Lockdown is the perfect time to do things like clean out the cellar or deal with household repairs.

One thing I tackled was my craft room: I do a lot of crafts, and I also help people do crafts for projects – whether it’s a personal gift they want to make but don’t know how, or stage props, or repairs to jewellery or baby albums, or making the table settings for celebration dinner parties or anything in between. Because of that, I have a good supply of most supplies I might need. I also do a lot of upcycling crafts – aka tons of plastics, metals, etc. All of that requires space. It went from this…

…to this:

Everything in the cupboard and to the right of it was made in the past 3 weeks. The employees at our local grocery store got used to me raiding their cardboard stacks on my weekly shopping trips! All of the material used was free; to decorate, I used old wrapping papers, magazine pages, old craft book pages, outdated maps, brochures and old music sheets. Handles were made out of everything from old jewellery to cardboard to bottle caps. The boxes atop the dresser (below) were made previously, using beer advent calendar boxes (my husband got the beer, I got the boxes – win-win!).

Now that that sizeable project is done, I’m looking forward to getting back into a full writing rhythm, including blogs! I apologize for my long silence, but as you can see, it wasn’t idle time. While working on paper machĂ©, I was percolating ideas for both my novel and for interesting topics to investigate for this blog – so keep your eyes on this space – there will be more to come soon! 🙂

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Scandinavian ‘magic sticks’ – yeast logs & yeast rings

Here’s a great little piece of history “undusted”: Have you ever wondered what came before sourdough bread, or why it works? Yeast. And the history behind the symbiotic relationship between humans and that little single-celled microorganism is fascinating.

Medieval Mead and Beer

Likely one of the first organisms domesticated by man, yeast was kept at the ready using many different storage techniques throughout history. One of the oldest such known practices are the Ancient Egyptian yeast breads: delicately baked little loaves of yeasty goodness which, when crumbled into sweet liquid, would create a new yeast starter – for beer, or to leaven bread. For most of man & yeast’s history, bread yeast and beer yeast were the same. The user often had a clear preference, either for keeping the top yeast (barm) or the bottom yeast (lees). But this preference seems more random than geographic, as one farmer would prefer the top, his neighbor the bottom and some would save both – and the yeast would be used for anything that needed fermentation.

two unusual yeast wreaths

A yeast ring made out of sheep vertebrae, Gjærkrans HF-00244 (left photo: Hadeland Folkemuseum) and a teethy straw…

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Wordless: Travel Advisor: Moon

If-the-moon-was-just-any-place

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May 28, 2020 · 3:25 AM

Wordless Wednesday: Mascot, 2020

Racoon

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May 20, 2020 · 11:48 AM

Food History Undusted: Mac & Cheese

As I recently mentioned, we had problems with kitchen moths; the source has been found (dates) – the jar which contained them also isolated them; I played the jar like a maraca and sang “La Cucaracha” as we put them in the compost. We are now moth-free! Woo-hoo!

We really appreciate the advantages of storing everything in glass jars: It looks pretty, we can see exactly how much we have, what we have, and it’s inviting to be creative in meal planning. One of the pasta jars we have contains mini “Hörnli / Hoernli” – the Swiss word for “little horns” and what the rest of the world probably refers to as macaroni. The topic came up as a meal idea, and of course, being us, we got into the historical aspect. Where did it originally come from? Did it arrive in America with Italian immigrants or is it a hybrid dish?

Mac & Cheese History

This image above is nearly sacrilege for many people, myself included – I cannot imagine eating pasta from a can! But just after World War 2, manufacturing of canned goods, frozen meals and the like were coming into their stride as families pieced their lives back together and got on with the business of rebuilding the country and economy; televisions entered the home mainstream in the early 1950s (think black and white, rabbit ear antennas, no remote and 2 channels) – but that’s another topic. Product placement during television programmes and news was a major factor in influencing the purchasing power of the average consumer (product placement may have begun as early as 1873, when Jules Verne’s fame led shipping companies to lobby being mentioned by name in his upcoming novel,  “Around the World in 80 Days”).*

The oldest known reference to a dish that may be recognizable as the ancestor to the modern concoction is from the 13th century, from someone in the court of Charles II of Anjou who was familiar with the Neapolitan court; the dish was basically prepared with sheets of lasagne sliced into small squares, cooked in water and tossed with Parmesan cheese. The American version some might be more familiar with has two claims to ancestry: Either it began as a Connecticut church supper dish known as Macaroni Pudding, or it was brought over from Italy in the form of a recipe by Thomas Jefferson, who also brought back a pasta machine.

So, where was the noodle dish invented that we know today as “Macaroni and Cheese”? Switzerland, of course!

The dish, known as “Ă„lplermagronen” (=”Alpine herders’ macaroni“) in the German-speaking areas and “Macaroni du Chalet” in the French-speaking areas, is made with those Hörnli, also known as “Magronen”, which were dubbed for the horns of the cattle, sheep and goats which the herders tend. The cheese was often a local product from the milk of those very animals, and the dry pasta was easy to hike up to their summer chalets where they slept on the Alps during the summer grazing seasons.

For a good, long read about the history of the pasta, click here for a “BBC Travel” article on the topic – and get a good taste of the Swiss Alps in the meal! And be honest – how many of you have a hankering for Mac & cheese after reading this? Click on the image below for an authentic recipe.

Alplermagronen - Betty Bossi

Image credit: Betty Bossi (the Swiss version of Betty Crocker)

 

*Information source: Wikipedia, William Butcher (translation and introduction). Around the World in Eighty Days, Oxford Worlds Classics, 1995, Introduction.

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Wordless Wednesday: Societal Devolution

Corona Jokes 18

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May 12, 2020 · 2:29 PM

Life in the Slow Lane: Spring Cleaning, Glass Jars and Lockdown

Two Wolves, QuarantineIt’s been nearly a month since I’ve posted a blog – my deepest apologies! It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes life takes over a bit too much to think straight. Just like for everyone else on the planet, life as we knew it has come to a grinding halt, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s just different, and it takes some adjusting time. For me, that’s meant recovering energy from a mild case of Covid-19 – it mainly just wiped out our energy for about a month, giving me achy joints; in the meantime, I’ve been getting used to having my husband at home 24/7 as he works from home. It means we get to have lunch together, but it also means that I’ve spent more time in the kitchen than usual. Even with all the adjustments, I could get used to it all and enjoy it! The introvert in me is fine not having a loaded agenda; I’ve had more time to write, to do a bit of “urban” (read “indoor potted plants“) gardening (mainly kitchen herbs), and tackle a bit of spring cleaning.

When you slow down, you tend to notice things in more detail; you might think of old friends that you haven’t contacted in a while, and you pick up the phone to call, Skype, Zoom or message. You notice things around your own home that, as busy as life usually is, you’ve overlooked or ignored as a non-priority.

But now there’s time. Time to look around, time to observe, time to do something that hasn’t been a priority before. You know what I mean… you’ve walked past something in your home that’s out of its place a dozen times or a dozen weeks without putting it where it goes. Those little nick-nacks and thingamabobs that go somewhere else; a book that you’ve been intending to read and have dusted off a time or two in the meantime; that glass jar that came out of the dishwasher a week or two ago that you’ve intended to use… you get the gist.

Spring Cleaning

Speaking of glass jars, I’ve always held on to large ones or unusual ones, thinking I’d put them to use someday. Well, that day has arrived: About a month ago, I started battling those horrid little kitchen moths; likely arriving in a package of dates or a package of Asian noodles (where they’ve been found thus far), they kept appearing every time I thought I’d finally dealt with them. So I did a bit of research, and ended up emptying and taking the cupboards apart! Every glass jar I could find now has something in it – dried beans, rice, spices, flour, grated coconut, etc. Any other time, I would be able to go out and buy large jars; but in this time of lockdown, the only source I’ve had is our local grocery store – and even they have such selves cordoned off… only things that are necessary have been for sale (so I’ve bought them anyway – yes, I ignored the restriction, which was there to keep one from buying things at a grocery store that other shops, forcibly closed, might sell you – but I would have bought them in the same store, anyway. Maybe they took the hint, because last week they started selling 2-5 litre Fido canning jars, and I’ve stocked up “legally” now!). It’s been good – I now know what I’ve got in the pantry. I have TONS of spices (which I use), at least 7 varieties of rice (yes, they are all necessary!), and a good collection of dehydrated foods (all homemade). My husband’s a happy camper, as I’ve made our kitchen decorative shelves into a veritable candy store, with snacks galore: dehydrated snacks like watermelon, bananas and candied ginger; dates, figs, nuts. The glass jars look nice, and you can see how much you have, take what you want without leaving an open package (a neon sign for crawlies), and have something healthy within sight when you get a snack craving. Yes, it took moths to get my kitchen more decorative.

I’m curious: What have you been doing around your house during lockdown that you might not otherwise have undertaken? Please comment below!

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Laughter is the Best Medicine

Even though the Coronavirus is no laughing matter, humans will find a way to laugh through difficulties. So I hope these brighten your week! Stay safe, stay self-isolated, and choose to see the positive side.

Corona Jokes - HomeschoolingCorona Joke - Zoom SupperCorona Jokes 12Corona Jokes 6

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