Thanks for the Catalogs... April 11, 2008 7:32 PM   Subscribe

Ten days have passed since I posted this thread to AskMetafilter. My postman is cranky with me, my friends think I'm crazy, I have about around 30 lbs of new catalogs [c. 200kb pics, flickr, 1, 2], and a reinvigorated appreciation for all y'all (not that it has ever been in jeopardy)...

(the BFQ and Time/Life books didn't come in the mail, obviously... they represent a pre-existing shelving shortage 'round here...)

I also have 6 notice slips to go pick up more(!) catalogs at the Post Office (indicating that they were too big to fit into my box). I've only had a chance to look through a couple of them... but next week is going to be catalog-browsing-intensive.

Has anyone else had some catalogs start trickling in? Any standouts?
posted by cadastral to MetaFilter-Related at 7:32 PM (49 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

Yay, this makes me happy. mathowie and I were talking about the Awesome Catalog Thread today on the podcast, due out Mondayish.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:35 PM on April 11, 2008


I was all ready to (half-assedly, jokingly) call you all a bunch of tree-murdering thugs.

But then I read the thread, and... and I think I might be just a little aroused. Ok, fine. FINE! I'm turned the fuck on, ok!? I'm experiencing something almost exactly the same as sexual jealousy. Glossy catalogs full of incredibly awesome shit... I know and love so many of those wonderfully dry things... oh my god nom nom nom nom...

*Passes out. Wakes up under a mountain of paper.*
posted by loquacious at 7:46 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


OOHHH I didn't see that one! Thanks!
posted by louche mustachio at 7:49 PM on April 11, 2008


Real glad y'all liked it so much. I was thinking when I was typing out the original question "This is something MetaFilter does (is going to do) really, really well..." I had brought this conversation up to literally a couple dozen friends in the 3 months before I posted the question. They turned me on to maybe 3 quality catalogs. I post one question here, and get 50 fantastic ideas overnight.

If you can suffer through a bit more back-patting... not only does MetaFilter do this well, I can't think of another site that would've returned so many varied, spot-on ideas. There are plenty of great niches of smart or creative folks all over the 'net, but they're usually centered on a particular topic or specialty. For a generalist asking answers to such a general question, this was the perfect place. Thanks again.
posted by cadastral at 7:56 PM on April 11, 2008 [2 favorites]


This captures exactly why I love AskMe. Not only is everyone extremely helpful with weird requests like finding a bunch of ridiculously large niche catalogs, but they are also the kind of people who think that ridiculously large niche catalogs are awesome.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:10 PM on April 11, 2008


(Also, as that first photo might embarrassingly suggest... I do not own a vacuum cleaner. If anyone in South St. Louis wants to cart a vacuum over to my house before any future catalog photo-sessions, I can, uh, pay you in catalogs?)

(On second thought... My lease is up in 4 months. I'll just hold out 'till then...)

posted by cadastral at 8:23 PM on April 11, 2008


Thanks for linking that here, or I would have missed it. I've added my own answer, but I guarantee I've gotten more than I've given.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:20 PM on April 11, 2008


I'm glad you reminded me about that thread: my current favorite catalog showed up earlier this week, so it's been added to the list.
posted by jamaro at 11:05 PM on April 11, 2008


What I love about threads like yours is that it inspires me to look for other odd catalogs that might have Items of Interest. The very best of Metafilter inspires me to find more information on my own and to explore new things.

*looks up anatomical model and chart supply companies... yay*
posted by louche mustachio at 12:33 AM on April 12, 2008


I added an answer (my husband collects knives). I'd be looking for a cool toy catalog myself. Stuff like Michigan J. Frog (have one already, but you get the idea).

I had forgotten that American Science and Surplus has a paper catalog. Been to one of their brick and mortar stores and found stuff like a wooden glove stretcher (useful for picking toast out of the toaster) and a mortar and pestle that was surplus from Coors Beer's labs, never used. I live too far away now, so that's one I'll definitely be ordering. Thanks for the interesting thread!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:25 AM on April 12, 2008


This is fantastic follow-up! I like the catalogue photos. And feel a little bit jealous too. Someone has more goodies than me.
posted by eponymouse at 6:53 AM on April 12, 2008


Seriously considering buying some of these catalogs in case I have kids one day. Tell the kid he can pick out his own birthday present from one of the catalogs in the boxes in the basement. Or just let them sit in the basement- and let the the kid "discover" them when he's snooping around. How cool would that be.
posted by proj08 at 7:20 AM on April 12, 2008


Two comments:

I wanted asavage to post in that thread so much. I wanted to know where HE shopped.

Second, I'm surprised there's only one comment, and that in jest, about what a stupid idea this is environmentally (I can't really address the probably negligible economic question for a retailer sending out a bunch of phonebook-sized catalogs monthly/yearly for the amusement of a dozen mefites). I KNOW it sounds really cool. When I was a kid the only thing that stopped me from sending away for lots and lots of catalogs was the fact that then you usually had to fork out a few dollars which would be reimbursed upon ordering. At least anyone who's doing this for "inspiration" or "amusement" can promise to instantly head to Catalog Choice when they've gotten their first catalog (I'm assuming they won't need updates if they never purchase) and cancel the sucker.

Or maybe ya'll can have a meetup and share catalogs and geek out together.

(P.S. One of the catalogs in the thread that I used to receive was A. S. & S. I finally cancelled it because they send at least one a month and they don't use photos in their catalogs, only online. There are so many reasons catalogs suck irl now. Window shopping online is a privilege we have now that I didn't have as a kid. Do glossy pages really provide that much of a user experience?)
posted by artifarce at 7:39 AM on April 12, 2008


Along the environmental line of reasoning.. One of the frustrating things about this project will be discovering which catalogues are easy to get, and which hard. You'll discover that DigiKey will happily fill your mailbox on a very regular basis, and it will become irritating as hell. McMaster-Carr catalogue on the other hand.. But, it is good for ten years when you get it.
(if McMaster-Carr is easier than it used to be, let me know, because it's pushing ten years, and I wouldn't mind a new one sometime soon)
posted by Chuckles at 8:20 AM on April 12, 2008


Wow, the 2008 McMaster-Carr has reached $60 on e-bay.

The only person I know with one of those (actually 2, one pristine, one greasy and burnt in the shop) buy a few tons of stuff from them every year.
posted by Dr. Curare at 12:17 PM on April 12, 2008


Behold I have become Metafilter, the crusher of postmans backs, devourer of words!
posted by blue_beetle at 1:27 PM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I could have sworn I got a McMaster-Carr catalog after ordering a few small random computer things from them once. I know that happened with Mouser. I was actually pretty horrified and called right away to get off their mailing list. I get really annoyed when I order from a company off the internet and they start sending me paper catalogs. The internet means I don't need your damn junk mail clogging my mail box.

But if I'd known I could sell my McMaster-Carr catalog on Ebay...
posted by dirigibleman at 2:01 PM on April 12, 2008


somebody here must know this one: there was a publisher in the US who specialised in bizarre kinds of how-to books, often reproductions of old manuals from the 1950s or 1890s or just about any other time.

the catalogues themselves were fun to read, as the books covered things like how to embalm corpses, or take out a tank in a street battle, or build an industrial-grade liquor still.

i'm quite sure the publisher went under after 9/11 as many of the books were about weaponry or explosives or guerrilla warfare etc & had to be taken off the market.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:47 PM on April 12, 2008


Loompanics?
posted by box at 3:10 PM on April 12, 2008


yep, that's the one!
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:21 PM on April 12, 2008


I guess I'm the only person here to feel disgust at the thought of actually trying to get as many dead-tree catalogs as possible. I think that's pretty fucked up.
posted by puke & cry at 4:50 PM on April 12, 2008


How else would someone read on the can?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:55 PM on April 12, 2008


Because metafilter is totally devoid of people who collect words printed on paper, it's shocking that this would be popular. A more liberal hive of ebookery you'll never find.
posted by Skorgu at 5:38 PM on April 12, 2008


[this is gross]
posted by danOstuporStar at 5:58 PM on April 12, 2008


Because you can take any comment and polarize it in your response to make the commenter look like they hold and extreme position. Give me a fucking break.
posted by puke & cry at 6:49 PM on April 12, 2008


I guess I'm the only person here to feel disgust at the thought of actually trying to get as many dead-tree catalogs as possible. I think that's pretty fucked up.

How is it any different from getting books? You either keep them forever, give them to your friends, or leave them out on the hall table for your neighbors. Most catalogs are printed on 100% recycled paper anyway.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:23 PM on April 12, 2008


Catalogs are issued serially; each iteration makes the previous one obsolete as product availability changes. This obsolescence also applies to some textbooks, and in the long view, you could say, all books, but there's certainly a vast disparity in disposability between novels and McMaster-Carr catalogs. It's different than getting books, also because book publishers don't send you errata or updates or special seasonal versions of their books at no charge or deliver to you other books they think you might like. Most of us think of catalogs as junk mail, but whatever, it's free fuel, at least.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:12 PM on April 12, 2008


(So sorry it's "gross"... in an effort to be carbon neutral, I'll be planting a "fuck you" tree for every catalog I receive. In thirty years time, we'll harvest the timber and build a monument to your mediocrity... In the meantime, I'm going to take my catalogs, the items within, and all of the wonderful ideas they inspire, and make beautiful thingsss.... [thanksss mefi])
posted by cadastral at 2:21 AM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I never had any desire whatsoever to go into illicit drug manufacture until I first saw a copy of the Sigma Aldwich catalogue. Then I became obsessed with the idea. Fortunately, the lack of so much as a Chemistry 'O' Level stopped my plan from being put into fruition, but with MDMA selling for £20 a pop at that time, the vision of myself as the British Ecstasy kingpin had real persistance.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:49 AM on April 13, 2008


Fuck it... I'm drunk enough to take this gambit right now...

So, let's come out with it. I'm the most sympathetic guy you'll ever meet for progressive causes. Hell, I'm left of Trotsky. Whatever. But... there's a poisonous and destructive current to the U.S. left (and maybe other progressive tendancies, worldwide... But I have no experience on that, and won't comment) that has a dogmatic, reactionary rejection of things that (even modestly) run against the current of their "pet cause."

You hate waste? I get it. You despise excess? Me too goddamit. You think that these things you enjoy (these creature comforts, these social or artistic touchstones, this goddamn internet for chrissakes) comes out of the ether? You're fucking kidding yourselves.

You know who creates these lofty perches for you to snipe comfortably and opine from? I'm not saying me because I'm not particularly gifted in that way... but I am saying that it's someone who sees a tree in British Columbia, allows that it may be turned into a catalog, and allows that the inspiration that the end product produces may have a net positive effect on humanity greater than the utility of that tree in its natural environment.

You wanna play anarcho-primitivist, go do it. (Don't do it on the inter-goddamn-net because that's farcically... retarded, for obvious reasons, but... if it's your thing, do it...). But don't be SO oblivious to the fucking engine of innovation, and your personal comfort. Again... not me, of course, but the people who are gifted enough to see these tools and create... It's just... the height of disingenuity. One tree... one goddamn tree that you never saw in your life... that you have an utter inability to conceptualize in any way past than the MOST fleeting, polemicizing, and abstract terms... is now dead. And someone more gifted (but infused with the same spirit) as me will cure your aunt's specific strain of cancer, or figure out a way to give kids on the West Bank potable water... or whatever, in return.

How badly do you love that tree? How deep are you willing to dig for some knee-jerk reaction to its felling? How comfortable are you with your place in the non-productive (Marx! A bona fide lefty!) sectors of the economy... that you would ever dare impart your foolish short-sighted, specious, ostentatious viewpoint on this impulse based, not on accumulation, but on solving problems and coming up with novel solutions?

We make things. We are the engine of everything you enjoy. I'm not asking you to thank us... I'm asking you to kindly not bitch as we improve your life.
posted by cadastral at 3:03 AM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'll regret this tomorrow, of course... and I apologize. What I'm saying--put more kindly--is that these trees died for a reason goddamit... as well they should. I'm not trying to line my shelves... I'm ("we're"?) trying to make beautiful things... useful things... things that help people. If you think it's excessive... I dunno. I'm saying... I'll make you something, or something. I don't want you to be upset.
posted by cadastral at 3:08 AM on April 13, 2008


I agree, cadastral. I find the knee-jerk "progressive" reaction to every goddamn thing annoying enough to make me want to become a capitalist polluter. Some people can't enjoy some Little League kids having a special day or a catalog fan satisfying his craving, they have to go "OMG corporate fascist anti-environmental EVIL!" Right, if only cadastral hadn't ordered those catalogs, we'd all be living at peace in a happy, fully green world. Sheesh.
posted by languagehat at 6:42 AM on April 13, 2008


One tree... one goddamn tree that you never saw in your life... that you have an utter inability to conceptualize in any way past than the MOST fleeting, polemicizing, and abstract terms... is now dead. And someone more gifted (but infused with the same spirit) as me will cure your aunt's specific strain of cancer, or figure out a way to give kids on the West Bank potable water... or whatever, in return.

*laughs*

Not much of a dog in this fight, but that may be the most facile, ridiculous defense of a generally wasteful economy I've ever seen.
posted by mediareport at 7:16 AM on April 13, 2008


i'm quite sure the publisher went under after 9/11 as many of the books were about weaponry or explosives or guerrilla warfare etc & had to be taken off the market.

Um, I don't think the reason Loompanics went out of business is that books about weaponry and explosives had to be taken off the market after 9/11.
posted by mediareport at 7:20 AM on April 13, 2008


that may be the most facile, ridiculous defense of a generally wasteful economy I've ever seen

For Christ's sake, he's not defending "a generally wasteful economy," he's defending himself against someone who claims to "feel disgust" at his actions and calls them "pretty fucked up." What's he supposed to do, bow his head in shame and burn his catalogs in repentance? He made a nice thank-you post and someone felt compelled to shit in it. He's entitled to his annoyed rhetoric.
posted by languagehat at 7:24 AM on April 13, 2008


In short: if you're against large-scale corporate/governmental actions, oppose them effectively. Don't show off your righteousness by parading it in MeFi threads. You know what Jesus said about not praying in public? This is the kind of thing he was talking about. If you're actually working to end corruption, pollution, and a war-based economy, more power to you; if you think shitting in MeFi posts is the moral equivalent, you're not only an asshat, you're an ineffective one.
posted by languagehat at 7:28 AM on April 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


I also don't feel like I have much of a dog in this fight (although I really hate catalogs that offer an incomplete list of the selections on the website--to my mind, anyway, it kinda raises the pointlessness of print catalogs in high relief--but I digress), but here's a theory:

Because of the guidelines and moderation for AskMe commenters, people who might have otherwise expressed their--let's aim for neutral here--negative feelings toward the poster's goal in the post itself were unable to do so. And so these folks have, instead, been sitting on their hands, stewing in their frustrations, like chili in a crockpot. And so, when they finally get a chance to express their true opinions in almost-anything-goes Metatalk, maybe the gloves come off a little.

Honestly, when I think of it that way, the negative responses here seem rather restrained.
posted by box at 8:52 AM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've always assumed those kneejerk I'm-vomiting-and-cutting-myself-now-because-you-made-a-useful-item-out-of-plants-that-grow-back people did it because of the tree trunks up their asses.

I figure it's some sort of parasitic mind control thing.
posted by blacklite at 9:02 AM on April 13, 2008


It's all right, all the catalogs are printed on locally grown fair-trade hemp paper with ink made from past-their-sell-by-date organic beets.

I'm pretty far left too, but a lot of what I see in progressive causes is fingerpointing and grandstanding, and a terminal aversion to fun, light-heartedness, or most other good things I can think of (including, in some lefty circles, sex).

Seriousness is not automatically responsible, nor is fun automatically irresponsible ... that kind of thought puts me in mind of Tom Robbins saying that eschewing whimsy is experiencing rigor mortis before death. And I think he's wrong about a lot of things but he's probably right about that.
posted by johnofjack at 9:45 AM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Catalogs are issued serially; each iteration makes the previous one obsolete as product availability changes. This obsolescence also applies to some textbooks, and in the long view, you could say, all books, but there's certainly a vast disparity in disposability between novels and McMaster-Carr catalogs.

The *majority* of 500 page specialty catalogs are sent out only upon request, and they don't just send you a new one if you haven't ordered anything, because it's too expensive for them. It's not like effing Pottery Barn who sends catalogs every other month just because you bought a garlic press with a credit card once at Williams-Sonoma. Obsolescence in a catalog doesn't matter if you're not intending to buy anything; it was pretty clear the OP wanted specialized tool porn.

but I am saying that it's someone who sees a tree in British Columbia, allows that it may be turned into a catalog, and allows that the inspiration that the end product produces may have a net positive effect on humanity greater than the utility of that tree in its natural environment.


Trees are not turned into catalogs. Trees are turned into lumber. Paper is made from pulpwood (bits and pieces of trees that can't be made into other things, or trees unsuitable in some other way for construction), and pre-consumer (recycled right at the paper factory) and post-consumer waste recycling. Paper makers we're recycling long before it was hip.

As far as the destruction of ecological systems go, catalog production is far, far down the list. Ethanol crops are far more destructive worldwide- they're the reason rainforests are continuing to be cleared at an impossible rate, and why pollution from the Mississippi has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Estuaries are he most productive ecological zones in the world (they beat out rainforests) and no one even thinks twice about them because they're not sexy. Papermaking can produce polluted wastewater, but that's bleached, highly processed paper that goes into books, toilet paper, kleenex, and paper cups. Bringing your own mug to Starbuck's is probably more helpful a way to limit waste and pollution than not buying catalogs.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:47 AM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Which is better, environmentally speaking: looking at a company's website using a computer and electricity, or looking at a catalog printed on paper?

Honest question, not snark. I suspect the website is better, especially since I already own the computer, but maybe I'm wrong. There are probably too many variables to answer this.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:24 AM on April 13, 2008


"...you're not only an asshat, you're an ineffective one"

I dunno, I thought that was a pretty effective display of asshattery.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:20 AM on April 13, 2008


In a sense I agree with the naysayers.. I think cadastral is drinking from a fire hose on this one myself, and it is a bit wrong headed. There are many specialty catalogues which behave like Pottery Barn (DigiKey, for one), and this project will be quite wasteful because of those companies.

If AskMe had been functioning at its peak, this would have come up in the question. Something like:
"Lee Valley's catalogues are great, but be warned that they will flood you with seasonal updates for two years, and those are pretty useless. Asking them to show some restraint might help."
And, some answers could have gone along the lines of:
"why don't you go to the local university/engineering office/whatever, and ask for a few of their old catalogues -- especially these three -- they are almost as useful when they are two years old, and you won't be wasting everybody's time, money, and resources."
Or even, and the equivalent has happened many times in AskMe on other subjects:
"I have a stack of great catalogues I no longer need, let me know if you're interested in any of them."
That said..


Which is better, environmentally speaking: looking at a company's website using a computer and electricity, or looking at a catalog printed on paper?

Not snark? Honestly, if you've ever owned a car, if you live in more than 500 sq.ft per person residence, or if you average more than 5,000 miles of air travel per year, you are a fucking hypocrite for asking this question. Or, you know, if you eat meat, which marks me as a fucking hypocrite too, just so we are being fair.. Honestly.

You see these weird AskMe questions all the time about "Should I do this or that for the environment?" The first thing people need to do about environmental issues is to get a grip on scale.

In addition to scale though, you have to get the notion of interchangeability between computer parts databases and paper catalogues out of your mind. They serve drastically different purposes! One day, some form of ebook reader, some advanced tablet PC of some kind, will probably replace the paper catalogue effectively. That is still far in the future.
posted by Chuckles at 11:39 AM on April 13, 2008


Hmm.. Maybe the difference between computer parts databases and paper catalogues hasn't been expounded on enough for everybody to get it.

If you are looking for a specific part, or data on a specific part, the computer database is far superior. For this job, computer databases have replaced paper catalogues very effectively. I gave away my dictionary the other day because of this. The way I use a dictionary, I have no need to browse pages, or to read consecutively, I only ever need to look up a specific word. A computer performs that kind of lookup incredibly effectively, and despite the limitations of computer displays, I think computers are a complete replacement for that kind of reference tool. But, that isn't the only purpose of a catalogue..

There is tremendous power in the information contained in raw material catalogues (and to a lesser extent tool catalogues) that you may not appreciate if you aren't involved in design/fabrication of tangible goods. First, learning that a certain kind of part exists at all. Then learning what to call it how to order/acquire it. Finally, how much does it cost -- it isn't a useful part unless it fits the budget. These things are as fundamental to design as the underlying scientific principles. It is always best to learn about these things by direct experience, I'm sure, but that isn't always possible. So, having catalogues to read, cover to cover, is indispensable.
posted by Chuckles at 12:17 PM on April 13, 2008


It's politeness to assume that others are doing their personal best to be conscientious. It isn't sense.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:48 PM on April 13, 2008


Honestly, if you've ever owned a car, if you live in more than 500 sq.ft per person residence, or if you average more than 5,000 miles of air travel per year, you are a fucking hypocrite for asking this question.

Oh, shush. I didn't say I was going to take one step that would save the world and wondering which of the two options it should be. I was idly curious about how the two ways of shopping compared, that's all.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:58 PM on April 13, 2008


Honestly, if you've ever owned a car, if you live in more than 500 sq.ft per person residence, or if you average more than 5,000 miles of air travel per year, you are a fucking hypocrite for asking this question.

People like you make me want to build a coal-fired Hummer out of old-growth Brazilian maple.

And you wonder why there's no left left in the US.
posted by dirigibleman at 2:05 PM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


artifarce: " I'm surprised there's only one comment, and that in jest, about what a stupid idea this is environmentally ...Do glossy pages really provide that much of a user experience?)"

Well, yes, they do (if they have photos). If you are receiving huge catalogues to find a few parts now and again, of course the paper versions are inefficient and wasteful. If you are planning to keep them forever as a permanent reference (or just to look through them just because it's a pleasant experience), they are certainly not wasteful. I would venture that they are far less wasteful than the mountains of junk mail that used to pile up in our mailbox every day until we moved to where the junk mailers haven't realised people live yet. I would venture that the energy expended on a hard copy catalogue referred to with reasonable regularity over several years is equal to or less than a similar amount of electricity used along the entire chain of machines to deliver a response to a database query.

Those who decry the waste of this project seem to ignore that these catalogues are not to be thrown out next week when the next version arrives and that they are no different in the collector's eyes to the finest literature. Horses for courses and all that.
posted by dg at 1:06 AM on April 14, 2008


I missed this question the first time round, so I'm glad it was repeated here. I don't get many catalogs anymore, (mainly because I was spending way too much money on useless stuff that I really didn't need,) but I do miss that moment of tantalizing expectation when I sat before a pile of new possibilities.

I was also fairly certain that because of the vast and varied interests of my household, the mail carrier was sure to be turning me in as being suspect to some kind of malfeasance. It wouldn't have been uncommon in a single day to get a set of catalogs from at least one weapons seller (outdoor sporting, guns and knives, etc), several that sold strange chemicals in bulk (gardening and aquarium supply wholesalers), machine and fabrication equipment (tools), Radio Controlled hardware (Toys. Or detonators, you know, which ever).

Hell, I was suspicious of me, and I live in here.
posted by quin at 8:12 AM on April 14, 2008


« Older Los Angeleeeeeeez   |   Questions about the way Contact Activity Works. Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments