7 Asinine Things About Society

1) Absurdly Difficult Word Verification Graphics
There’s just no need for this to exceed a certain level of difficulty.  Spam robots aren’t that good.  There are plenty of easy word verifications out there, so we know they don’t need to be impossible.
2) Waiters Reciting Specials Out Loud
This is one of those situations, like wine bottles continuing to use corks instead of twist tops, where progress has ground to a halt because there’s a fear of being perceived as tacky if an idiotic system is improved upon.  Everyone would be happier if specials (and their prices) were printed on a sheet of paper:  Customers could actually examine the specials and decide intelligently about them, waiters wouldn’t have to memorize 800-word descriptions each night, and the restaurant would end up selling more specials (which are usually on the pricier side).
3) The Door Close Button on Elevators
Are we all totally clear that this button has no function?  Not like, “Oh the door close button is kind of unnecessary.”  No, it’s literally a fake button—it’s not wired to anything.  So why the hell is it there, on the panel of every elevator?  Did elevator designers detest a lack of symmetry?  Are they just patronizing us, letting elevator-riders adorably play make-believe by pretending that they’re the ones closing the elevator door?
The other inane elevator button press you’ll see constantly is people pressing the button of the floor they’re going to, even though it’s already been hit by someone else.  Not sure why people do this—do they think that it might hurry things up somehow?  Do they want to make sure the other people in the elevator have a sense of their plans?
4) Sinks with two faucets
This is probably an old faucet thing.  But I’m not sure why it would have ever been a thing at all.  It’s not complicated technology to combine two pipes into one and make the sink usable.

5) Train Transportation Costing Twice as Much as Flying

Here, side by side, you’ll see the price of a NY-Boston Amtrak round trip (normal, not Acela) and a NY-Boston round trip flight for the same exact dates.  The train costs more than double the flight.
Huh?  Why?  Do I get my own room on the train?  
A JetBlue plane can fit 100 people and currently charges $60 for the ride, which totals to $6,000. An Amtrak train can fit 220 people and charges $126, which totals to $27,720.  Really? Amtrak needs over four times as much money to roll a train down the track as JetBlue needs to heave an airplane through the sky? 
6) The English Language Forgetting to Implement Gender-Neutral Third-Person Singular Pronouns
Not impressed, English.  This is an obvious thing to have when you’re a language, and now we’re all suffering because you decided to just skip it.
7) Automated Phone Systems Needing Closure at the End of a Call
There are more than enough people you have to coddle in this world already—we could really do without the automated phone lady being particular about getting a proper goodbye.  But now I find myself legitimately feeling a pang of guilt about just hanging up on an automated system when I’m presented with an option “to hang up,” because the system is making its emotional needs clear.

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45 comments - jump to comment field »

  1. Anonymous

    #3 is not always true, however. I have timed it with a stopwatch in our school’s math building several times, and have noticed that on average pressing the button does make the door close faster.

  2. Anonymous

    That elevator button would also be used by the Fire Department in the event of an emergency. There are keys that will turn the elevator to manual that will allow them to hold the elevator on which ever floor the emergency is, where the doors would . It would also be used to escort high profile personell quickly in and out of the building.

  3. Anonymous

    #1 – my understanding is that computers have been able to correctly answer captchas, hence the increasingly convoluted ones. And irony of ironies, it’s taking several tries to correctly answer the captcha on this form

    #3 – there are some sources to suggest that on some elevators at least, the close door button in combination with the floor you’re after will bypass all other floors.

    #6 – “They” or “Their” isn’t gender neutral? Or do we need to introduce shkle? And instead of him or her we are to use the word shklim or shkler.

    • I was going to post the same thing. Once I heard the reason for the double captcha, it made the whole process of typing them in instantly gratifying and not annoying.

      Also, my main pet peeve with the elevator button is how closely the open and close button look. Just close enough that every time someone is running to try and catch the elevator, you end up looking like a dick because you couldn’t decipher the symbols in time and accidentally closed the door on them.

    • Anonymous

      yes that’s exactly it, one word is known by the system the other is the unknown word from scanned literature that we all are helping to solve by popular vote. So, say 200 of 400 people answer the first (known) word in the captcha correctly, then we are considered human and reputable. Then it takes what we type in the as the second word and compares it to the other 199 people’s guesses and the most common match wins.

      The second word often looks wrong because maybe it’s a typo in the original print, which is exactly why the OCR software couldn’t match it to it’s dictionary, and thus needs us humans to help.

      Hope that makes sense, else watch the youtube vid

  4. Anonymous

    I’ve heard that ‘close’ elevator buttons are not wired as well, however in Japan they do function and everyone presses them often. It is poor manners if the elevator has others in it, you are nearest the panel, and you simply wait for the door to close. Kind of a dick move, so its ingrained into the culture here to close it as soon as possible.

  5. mur

    “6) The English Language Forgetting to Implement Gender-Neutral Third-Person Singular Pronouns”

    The Swedish invented gender-neutral pronoun ‘hen’: it’s a word play with he ‘han’ and she ‘hon’. Sounds like both, yet it is neither. Maybe you can adopt that? Or better yet, Finnish only has one pronoun that’s gender-neutral ‘hän’, meaning both he and she. In colloquial language people just use word it ‘se’ which can refer to any people, animals, ideas and objects! It’s pronounced kind of like ze. That’d be confusingly between she and he :)

  6. I’ve found “clow” works very well for a gender-neutral singular pronoun.

    “When somebody asks for information, give clow one of these pamphlets.”

    “If clow wants to speak with someone in a meeting, write down clow’s message and pass it along afterwards.”

  7. Anonymous

    Captchas aren’t just to foil computers, per se. Some captcha systems have been implemented to gather data on how to defeat other systems (for spam purposes, or worse) that use similar illegible graphics.

    On the positive side, I remember hearing on NPR about a captcha system that used the standard “computers can’t read this word” for one code, then they’d present a scan of a word from a document. This document was an old book or manuscript, and those trying to transcribe it often couldn’t agree on what the word actually was. More often than not, a cloud-sourced stab at figuring it out produced a result that satisfied the transcriptionists, so it’s not all about tricking machines.

  8. Anonymous

    I think most plane travel is subsidized by cargo and most train travel isn’t — thereby increasing the price of the train to an actual cost.

  9. Anonymous

    #6 Actually, we already have a gender neutral third person singular pronoun. Informally, that’s “their.” Yes, it’s the same as the gender neutral third person plural pronoun, but that’s not a problem. You can tell from the context whether it’s plural or singular. We already do the same thing for other English words, like “sheep,” which is both singular and plural. Nobody misunderstands whether you meant the singular or plural form of sheep. In very formal written English, such as in a research article being prepared for publication in a scientific journal, or in a letter to the editor in, say, The New York Times, I wouldn’t use “their” in this way. But the rest of the time, I use “their” in this way virtually all the time. It feels very natural. And so far, I haven’t encountered anybody not understanding what I meant.

  10. Anonymous

    only one thing, the door close button in the elevator is of course wired to closing the door and if you push it the door will close faster than if you just wait for the automatic closing.. with that said, I don’t argue about how important it is to gain 1 or 2 seconds every time you take the elevator..

    Or, I finally understand that there is some truth in american movies when you have someone running to the elevator chased by some criminal or monster, pushing fiercly the “close door button” and still the door is always closing really late…

  11. Plus JetBlue gives you Doritos.

    On the other hand, no one frisked me when I recently rode Amtrak AND I carried on a full size tube of toothpaste. That’s worth it to me as someone who has had to go through the special screening twice in the last 8 months. There’s nothing reassuring about “I will be using the front of my palm to touch your breasts, but the back of my palm to touch your genitals.”

  12. GG

    There is a reason why train ride costs more and it is very simple: you should always charge the highest amount enough people would pay for a product or service. Flying is much faster, but less convenient (limited luggage, airport security, limited space, small bathrooms, one needs to arrive to the airport long before the flight while you only need to arrive 1 min before the train leaves, also many people fear flying etc.). I would guess that any person that wants a more convenient travel is ready to pay more for it. Why wouldn’t a train take it? Pricing has nothing to do with costs (only needs to be above it), but is all about customer’s perceived value…

  13. Anonymous

    I have to disagree with #1, usually captcha verification (as it’s actually called), it often one very legible word and one difficult to read word. Specifically difficult for OCR software to read. The reason for this is when you solve captchas you’re actually contributing to an online library of old books. You, combined with the many submissions of others on the same captcha help that system narrow down, by popular match, words that when scanned were too difficult for OCR software to determine. There’s a very good TED talk by the inventor of this. So yes it may be annoying but you’re contributing to our literature history while helping a site prevent bots.

    p.s. your site uses this type of captcha for anonymous submissions so what the hell dude.

  14. Anonymous

    Regarding the faucet issue, I believe it actually saves quite a bit of energy to separate the water streams into hot and cold. If the stream is combined of both hot and cold the user will inevitably use hot water just about every time he/she turns on the faucet. (Unintended use of he/she there, but applicable.) If the streams are separated the user will choose when to add hot and when to just use cold, often reducing the use of the hot water quite dramatically. So really there is a very good reason to separate the sources of the water, even if it is inconvenient.

  15. Anonymous

    I think the faucet thing dates back to a time when people actually used the sink basin for doing things. You’d stop up the basin and fill it with whatever temperature water you wanted by using the hot + cold. Then you’d do your business with the water in the basin, and then drain it. Today we’re spoiled and wasteful, and we just turn the water on and let it run five minutes while we wash our faces, or hands, or scrub that one spot out of our favorite shirt, or whatever.

  16. Will Best

    1) The technology exists to pattern recognize those, the question with security is always what is good enough. As time passes the spammers get around to adopting better pattern recognition softer necessitating a move up the anti-spam guard scale

    2) If you have a 800 word speech your waiters need to memorize then you are allowed to discriminate based on the ability recite 800 word speeches.

    3) Many close buttons are used. I know several where the door is open for 10 seconds, but you can press close and it will close immediately. They are also used in manual mode where the doors stay open until close is held for several seconds. This allows people to load and unload elevators for things like moving in and out of buildings.

    4) before bottled and filtered water, the coldest setting was useful. The hottest setting is still useful for getting off heavy oil/grease, and I will use the hottest as a good starting place for boiling water because it saves me time.

    5) You are paying for the convenience of not being strip searched.

    6) We were using “he” just fine, until people got all hyper sensitive about it. And as others pointed out words can be appropriated by the masses. See the recent update to the word “literally”

    7) yeah this is stupid.

  17. Natural corked wines are important. The cork industry supports the cork forest, the animals that inhabit the forest, and their local economy. Screw caps are unsustainable, and are definitely not “progress”.

  18. Anonymous

    #6. There is such a pronoun: one. Consider this:
    There comes a time in the life of each student when one will need to choose the best path for oneself, a path that caters best to one’s strengths. One will need to embrace their career and make it their own.

    • Anonymous

      Best answer to #6! People used to write like this.But you snuck two uses of “their” in there! Should read One will need to embrace one’s career and make it one’s own.

  19. Anonymous

    #1 – they have to be complicated. And even the most complicated are still bypassable. have you ever heard of Xrumer for instance?

    #3 – on some elevators it actually speeds up the door closure for real.

    #4 – in the old times people spent more time washing their hands (the same way they were using bathtubs and not having real showers), so sinks were closed and those two faucets were used to mix water and have soaking water at a good temperature. Now, the reason why they didn’t end up mixing the water before pouring into the sink I guess could be referrable to two separate ways of getting cold and hot water which made it way easier to build two faucets.

    • David Spector

      Originally, a plain bowl was filled with water from a groundwater hand pump or a well. To make it warm, water was added from a boiling-hot pot. The transition to separate cold and hot piped water seemed natural: always fill the bowl with water of your desired temperature. But people wanted to use it in a new way, directly from the tap instead of inserting a stopper and filling the bowl. This is why older sinks use separate taps.

  20. Anonymous

    If you added single-occupancy gender-assigned restrooms and requiring credit card signatures at the point of purchase, this wonderful list of modern day absurdities would be complete.

  21. Anonymous

    I hate it when I ask what sodas they have at a restaurant and they just go “Coke products” or “Pepsi products”. Because, y’know, I spend my days memorizing the inventory of Coke and Pepsi. I don’t go out to eat a whole lot (I only go to a restaurant maybe once a month, /maybe/, rest of the time is at home eating) so every time I do start to remember I just forget again.

    Have them memorize their sodas, and not memorize the specials. Just hand us a specials list.

  22. Pingback: An Ode to London - V

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