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Collected editorials

You can’t get it here

Shelf pins

The great bookcase project is completed. (See the pretty picture.) I’ve learned a lot about carpentry. I also learned that it can be hard to find the simplest things in central South Dakota. In the course of designing my bookcases I learned a lot from Walmart. That should tell you a lot about me – I’m the sort of man that goes to school at Walmart.

One of the things that I’ve learned is that cheap prefabricated bookcases have holes drilled up the sides and little doohickeys that fit into the holes, doohickeys that the shelves sit on. The nice thing about this arrangement is that you can move the shelves to accomodate various arrangements of your precious volumes. My volumes are very precious (to me) even though some (not I) are of the opinion that I make up in quantity what I lack in quality.

These little doohickeys are called shelf pins and shelf furniture pegs. It really doesn’t matter what you call them since hardware store clerks won’t understand what you are looking for no matter what you call them. It appears that they come in two standard sizes, 5mm and 7mm. The kind that Walmart uses in their cheap prefabricated furniture, the kind that I too planned to use, were the 5mm size.

Once upon a time when I was out of Central South Dakota I visited a metropolis of sufficient size that it boasted a Home Depot or equivalent. (Central South Dakota boasts no such metropolis or establishment.) While there I purchased a couple of packages of plastic 5mm shelf pins. They were made of brown plastic and were just the thing, I thought, because they would be inconspicuous in the book cases. Surely, I thought (though in truth there was no thought involved), that would more than enough for my needs.


Each of these bookcases (there are three of them) has fourteen shelves. Each shelf requires four pins to support it. A bit of arithmetic will permit the reader to determine that each book case requires 56 shelf pins and that I needed 168 pins en toto. (Poor Toto. First he was beset with tornadoes and wicked witches, and now he must suffer the indignities imposed by 168 shelf pins.)

Thus it was that I ran out of shelf pins midway through the second bookcase. No problem, I thought. Shelf pins are an absurdly simple bit of hardware. I imagine they run about 50 cents a thousand in manufacturers lots. So I hied myself to the local Highmore hardware store. Oddly enough they didn’t have any. I went to the building supplies store. They had metal ones at a somewhat higher price. Since I was about to go over to the state capital (quick, children, what is the state capital of South Dakota) where they have more extensive palaces of consumption I decided that I would delay my purchase of pins until I had checked out what was available in Pierre (answer).

The metropolis of Pierre has a population in the very low five figures. In New England a village of that size would have a post office, a wine and cheese shop, an apothecary, and an antiques shop. (Motto: We buy junk; we sell antiques.) In South Dakota a city of that size offers more extensive shopping opportunities; Pierre boasts a superwalmart, a Kmart, at least two hardware stores, and a building supplies store. Surely, I thought, I could find a few packages of plastic shelf pins there.


I scoured the city of Pierre. Some establishments had larger pins but none had the size I desired save one, a hardware store that had brass pins. These were definitely pricey (“pricey” is a South Dakota version of “expensive”), being 36 cents apiece. I bought out what they had, that being enough to finish out bookcase two and make a start on bookcase three. I finished the rest with plain metal ones from the local building supplies store. It would be nice if all of the pins were the same, but it really doesn’t matter. I fancy that I will never bother to track down a supplier of brown plastic 5mm shelf pins.

South Dakota – we don’t take plastic and we don’t stock it.

What in the Hell are refrigerator pickles?

Once upon a time in the latter days of the summer of 2005 Our Lady of the Large Black Dog had acquired some cucumbers. One of the occupations of little old ladies in Highmore is the growing of cucumbers and tomatoes. Since they invariably have many more than they know what to do with they palm them off on their neighbours. Deborah is one of those neighbours.

We were sitting in her kitchen – an admirably efficient kitchen, by the way – and she was rambling on about what she would do with the cucumbers and wondering whether she should make refrigerator pickles.

I was being agreeable and going along with her in her discussion of what she should do, but I was faking it. Men do this, you know. It’s a defense mechanism. I knew I was on safe ground – she is an excellent cook and I felt confident that whatever she was going to make would turn out very well indeed. Still, I had the gnawing urge to know what we were talking about so I finally blurted out:

“What in the Hell are refrigerator pickles?”

Deborah roared with laughter. Apparently everyone in Highmore save yours truly knows what refrigerator pickles are. She explained. I’m not sure of the details, but it involves a container containing cucumber and onion slices, vinegar, and sundry other ingredients are placed in a refrigerator for a few days.

She made them. I ate some. They were good. And now I am initiated. I know what refrigerator pickles are.

Harter’s Paradox

In my lifetime (presumed finite) I will consider and refer to various numbers, e.g. 1, 2, 42, the largest prime number I will ever write down, etc. Since my lifetime is finite the set of numbers that I will ever consider is finite. Let N be the largest number in that set. I am now considering the number N+1…


In the long run life is just a series of system adaptations to oxygen poisoning.

Science Fiction Awards

There are two major science fiction awards, the Hugo and the Nebula. The Hugo is named after the pioneer of SF, Hugo Gernsback, and is awarded annually by SF fans. The Nebula is awarded annually by SF professionals (writers and editors) and is named after Hugo’s sister Nebula.

This page was last updated October 1, 2005.
It was reformatted and moved October 16, 2006

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Collected editorials