THE DEATH RAY
19 January 2003
It's fairly safe to say I haven't thought about Arnold Nordsieck in
years. Arn is the father of Walt's best friend in college. He died a long time ago. All I
really knew about him was that he was a professor of physics. It wasn't until I thought
about writing this piece that I went looking for some specific information on the web and
discovered that he was a pretty important guy (there is apparently an Arnold Nordsieck
scholarship offered at the University of California Santa Barbara). The favorite reference
I found was on a site about Robert Oppenheimer and how "Oppie" and Arnold
Nordsieck had been at a party and were "reading Plato in the original Greek."
Gee--and I thought he was just our friend's Dad, who made great rum
What made me think of Arn was remembering how he had invented a
"death ray." It wasn't really a death ray--it was something that we all
called the death ray. (That's why I was researching on the Internet--trying to find
something likely that might have been the death ray, but all I could find was the electrostatic
gyroscope. Maybe that was it. I don't know.)
Anyway, he always joked that the only thing it was good for was
opening potato chip bags.
Where is Arnold Nordsieck when we need him?
I was sitting in the car outside Office Max. I realized that if I'm
going to carry my new Palm Pilot around with me, I needed something more substantial than
a pouch made of bubble wrap, so I went to find a carrier. I managed to find a relatively
inexpensive (read: "cheap") one at Office Max and, as I had entered my shopping
list into the Palm and wanted to take it with me into Safeway, I wanted to put the pilot
into the leather carrier before I went into the supermarket.
As is everything else you buy in most stores today, the thing came
encased in an overly large molded hard plastic case. I guess it's a sad sign of the times
that they have to make things like this to prevent theft, but my word...there is NO
WAY TO GET INTO THE BLOODY THING!!! I figured out real fast that there was no way to tear
it apart with my bare hands.
Not only are we living in an age when you have to do whatever you
can to prevent theft, but it's also dangerous to carry around sharp objects. You never
know when Grandma is going to be hauled off to the hoosegow for daring to have a metal
nail file on her--she might want to hijack a plane or something. So I had no scissors,
knives, or other instruments which might cause me to be in trouble with the law.
How to open the damn package? The closest thing to sharp edge that I
had was on my keychain. There is one key that I have no idea what it opens (don't we all
have a key like that?) so I figured it was safe to use that--if I bent it, no great loss.
I poked and prodded and pried and cursed and sweared--and prayed for
a death ray. It took me a good 15 minutes to finally get into the package.
If Arn were still alive, he'd be in great demand today.
I decided to have some Kashi cereal for breakfast this morning. I
had an unopened box on the shelf. Now that I've been reminded of the death ray, I longed
for it as I tried to open the plastic liner to get to the cereal.
Is there anything which is easy to open any more? Only cans,
it seems, haven't changed. We're used to can openers, so we don't think twice about having
to open a metal cylinder to get to the good stuff inside.
But anything else--cereal, crackers, bread (now that they double
wrap bread so once you open the easy outer bag, there's still that sealed-with-cement
wrapper inside to deal with), wine bottles (the new stuff that they gunk around the top
even before you have to deal with the cork), cookies and, of course, potato chips. They're
all (along with a lot more) impossible...or very difficult...to open.
Then there are the non-food items. Who can easily open a CD? Heck,
they now make instruments especially designed to remove that annoying bit of tape that
seals the CD shut. It's frustrating to struggle with the outer plastic covering, then the
inner cellophane shrink wrap and then you STILL can't open the damn thing until you remove
the bit of tape that seals it shut...and does it ever come off in one piece? Of
There are just some bits of "progress" that I question. And
when it involves the impossibility of opening anything, I question it a lot.
The world needs Arnold Nordsieck and his death ray.