Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting



The $1000 Jar of Jelly…

A few years ago my wife and I were shopping for plants at a nursery to add to our ever-evolving landscape.  And by evolving what I really mean is that some plants unpredictably grow more and faster than expected while others don’t seem to do nearly as well – and for seemingly no good reason at all -- expire.  Among all of the decorative plants we were perusing at this large nursery there was one little bushy one that caught my eye – a red currant.  Now why would I want one of those?  Well, perhaps because it is a very well known and appreciated plant in my birthplace of Latvia.  There they are called “June berries” because that’s when they bear their incredibly bright red and perfectly round little berries that are attached to stems in row upon row like miniature ruby-red pearl necklaces.  A nice reminder of my heritage I decided. 

And this particular plant must have felt the same way about me because it has grown and thrived.  With each year the plant has become more and more prolific in the berry production department.  In previous years, I found that picking and eating these tart little berries right off the vines was quite sufficient.  And I was more or less willing to share this harvest with visiting birds that seemed to like the berries even more – at least they were more diligent in making sure that they were all consumed. 

However, this year I decided that I would get a bit greedy and keep this harvest all to myself.  So with a quick trip to the local hardware store up went a tent of bird netting.  Enough of this unauthorized sharing of my berries! 

The late June harvest yielded two large bowls full of these ruby-red little gems.  I’m sure you will appreciate that a “harvest” doesn’t just happen.  In this case, the harvesting consisted of at least an hour’s worth of stooping and crawling around this bush to get at all the “low hanging fruit”.  And here I had always been told that “low hanging fruit” was easy to get at.  (At least that’s what my bosses always told me when I tried to explain that new business was hard to find – “Well, Aris just go out there and find some ‘low hanging fruit’”). 

With the “harvest” done, the next obvious step was to decide what to do with two large bowls full of berries – clearly more than my digestive system would accept in any reasonable time span.   Aha, let’s make red current Jelly suggested my wife.  “OK, if you can find a recipe I’m game to try this experiment.”  Shouldn’t be any harder than a lab experiment in Chemistry 101.  

Well, what will we need besides the berries already on hand?  In what will we put the finished product?   Oh yes, we need jars – little jars if possible.  We will also need plenty of sugar.   And don’t forget the paraffin for the top seal.  With “only” two stops to buy the needed ingredients, we were all set to do the real work – the making of the Jelly.

The first step was to remove the berries from the stems.  Little berries on tiny little stems don’t give up their attachments all that easily.  With both of us working we got this task accomplished in a bit less than an hour.  Next came the mashing.  Unfortunately, all we had available was a standard-issue potato masher.  That turns out to be too coarse for effectively smashing such tiny round objects.  Nevertheless, after another half-hour or so we had something that looked workably “smooshy”.  Then came the step of bringing the “smoosh” to a boil and squeezing it through a cheesecloth-lined strainer.  Do you have any idea how long it can take for a thick liquid to drip through such an arrangement?  Not having tried it before I didn’t realize either.  Another half-hour or more later, we were ready for the next step of adding the sugar and bringing the mixture to one more serious boil.   The final step in the Jelly fabrication process was adding the thickening agent and then pouring the finished Jelly mix into the jars. 

But we weren’t quite done yet.  We still had to melt the paraffin -- using a boiling water bath -- and pour a thin coating over the top to seal the Jelly so it could be kept for more than a few weeks in the refrigerator. 

Finally we were able to stand back and admire our accomplishment.  There in front of us stood a total of three medium size 12-ounce jars of the most beautiful red-colored Jelly that one could possibly imagine.  No electronic display would ever be able to capture and reproduce the intensity and beauty of this product!   How could it?  How could one possibly capture the result of three trips to the store, the bringing in of the harvest, and the time and labor to create such a perfect product?   As we stood watching the Jelly cool and the paraffin harden, we continued to admire the results of our afternoon’s efforts. 

Then a thought crossed my mind.  What if someone else wanted to have one of these jars of Jelly for their very own?  Well, then we would have to at least cover our expenses and the time invested.   Doing a quick estimate for the total hours spent in this effort and converting this to a modest billing rate, the total for the three modest-size jars would be at least $1,000.   So with a reasonable profit margin and overhead costs for “facilities” the price on each jar would need to be at least $500.  Would you be willing to pay $500 for a medium size jar of intensely red and flavorful red currant Jelly?   

This simple experiment was an excellent reminder of how much we all depend on and benefit from the cooperative efforts of all of humanity.  By specializing and developing efficient methods of food production, and the fabrication of other goods, we are able to enjoy much more than we otherwise would.  I don’t think many of us could survive even for a week or two on one jar of Jelly.  

In the field of information display, we have recently seen the benefits of intensive manufacturing process development by large groups of engineers and massive investments in fabrication facilities that allow for the cost-effective production of large flat-panel displays.  It was only a few years ago that many of us in the display industry were convinced that LC displays with TFTs could never be made larger than about 20 inches.  And if we had continued to do the LCD fabrication using the laboratory like facilities that were available at that time, then the current status would be similar to my experience in “manufacturing” jelly.  Each finished product would cost more than anyone could afford to pay.  And even if the red, green, and blue colors in the completed display were as intensely gorgeous as the red in my currant jelly that would not be enough to make up for the unacceptably high price.   It’s a wonderful outcome that we humans have figured out how to work together and specialize to create results that far exceed what any one of us could accomplish as individuals.

Should you wish to offer or discuss your own experiences in creating something that gave you satisfaction even if the result could not be measured simply in financial terms, you may contact me directly from this site, by e-mail at, or by phone at 425-898-9117.