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Everything I know I learned from catalogs

Posted: Sunday, December 15, 2002

Recently, in casual conversation, I overheard myself discussing things normally learned in a lecture hall or through world travel. Pretty sure I hadn't been to school or taken a trip lately, I wracked my brain for a moment and came up with the only possible answer - holiday catalogs.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.

We all get catalogs by the bucket load starting in October. Our first impulse for many is to toss them into the big garbage can in the garage on the way inside from the mailbox. There are some, however, that have a particularly intriguing gadget on the cover or appear to be an incongruous collection of things that pique our interest. We drag those inside for study.

A big educational boost for me this year came with two new wine gear catalogs. I now have a comprehensive chart of what all the shapes and sizes of wine glasses are for and how to use a couple different kinds of professional wine tasting glasses. One of the two catalogs offers a still for turning your wine into more interesting libations. With the picture and description, I finally understand how stills work. You never know when you'll need to know this stuff.

Everything I know about solar and wind generation I know from the catalog I get every year filled with all the parts I'd need to convert my home to various forms of alternative energy. It covers the basic equipment to get started and stays with you though appliances. Actually, I took a short class in wind generation years ago, so I knew some basic terminology, but the catalog has given me a much higher and broader knowledge. Kind of like continuing education, only free and with pictures. If there is anything I don't understand, I can call the toll free number and discuss it with a pro.

Probably the most mind-stretching information comes from the real expensive and clever gadget catalogs. Stuff for people with unlimited funds and lots of space. I appreciate the large, clear photos and well-written descriptions of the technology employed and how we can incorporate it into our everyday lives. This morning I learned what aluminum core driver technology is with the help of color charts and graphics. Now, I'm embarrassed by my old paper cone diaphragm speakers. Another catalog is very educational about the science involved in protecting us from the organisms that live in our bedding, carpets and the air we breathe. It seems a little extreme to me, but I'm sure they wouldn't tell us about it if it weren't important. Just try getting to sleep on your old bedding now with the detailed, grossly magnified scientific drawing of a dust mite in your head.

By far, the most amusing catalogs are the ones for hunting gear and tools. You may have thought Dave "I'm not making this up" Barry was kidding about the disposable body stapler for outdoorspeople. I checked it out and found a very appealing and affordable way to field dress deep lacerations for people and dogs. Makes you want to rethink your first aid supplies. Hey, I hope Santa brings me one. I get deeply into the specialty catalogs for outdoor gear. I've learned a lot about taxidermy and the equipment you need as well as the million different animal and bird calls on the market and some insight into why they work. I have a catalog of skulls, real and replicated, that has pictures of hundreds of species, including dinosaurs and an alien. That's definitely a reference manual.

Tool catalogs are a lot of fun as well as educational. You have to admire the marketing genius who named the Exhumer. It's a pry bar that will dig up and remove nails "an undertaker must have buried." Cool or what? Unfortunately, they don't divulge the technology. Maybe they haven't got the patent yet. Automotive tool catalogs explain how to buff paint correctly, the how and why of proper tire inflation and the principles of corrosion. Some of the garden tools baffle me (why do you need to weasel?), so I guess I need to start at a lower level, like a seed catalog.

This holiday season, before you shovel all the catalogs into the incinerator, flip through and learn a few things. Flight theory, animal husbandry, food chemistry - it's all there, freely given to you, the potential consumer. If you aren't getting this university of higher learning at your home, simply mail order one item one time and wait a few days.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.



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