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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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • Anonymous

      “They” and “their” are gender neutral, but they’re not singular. It’s incorrect to say, for example, “The person who bought that drink left their wallet.”

      • Barry Geibel

        and perhaps by the time I die, this will formally become part of our language. It sounds so unnatural to say “his or her” or “one”.

    • Anonymous

      It’s only incorrect if one is an incredibly anal prescriptivist, who are the worst type of linguist. “They” and “their” are perfectly acceptable in this context. Descriptivism ftw.

      • wobster109

        In a professional setting you need to assume your reader is an incredibly anal prescriptivist!

    • Anonymous

      “One” is the gender neutral third person singular pronoun idiots ! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_(pronoun)

      • wobster109

        I like “one” for people in the abstract, but it doesn’t work when one is talking about a specific person. I teach online, where I never know my students’ genders. When I want to tell my teaching assistant that some kid is having trouble with exponents because he/she was out last class, I can’t really use “one” there.

  • Anonymous

    #1 – her is a really amazing TED Talk about why those captchas are so crazy. The synopsis is that you are really helping to digitize books one word at a time and that those captchas are part of a Massive-Scale-Online-Collaboration. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Ht4qiDRZE8

    • 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

      If that’s the case with the Captcha being a deciphering thing, why is there a right and a wrong answer?

    • Anonymous

      One word is known to the computer. The other may be unknown, or it may be confirming what other people answered.

    • 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

  • Anonymous

    The door on my elevator stays open for well over ten seconds if you don’t push that.

  • Anonymous

    #3 I have to press *and hold* the Close Door button. It shortens the timer while being held on many elevators.

  • 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.

  • Anonymous

    Looks like most of the time, the close door button does not work:


  • 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 🙂

  • 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.”

    • Anonymous

      You’s a goofball.

    • Why clow?

    • cduff

      For some reason I read clow as CeeLo as in CeeLo green. PS: I would rather substitute “yo”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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.”

  • 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…

  • 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.

    • Daniel

      Yes, but the problem is that the OCR word is, in most cases, not the one that’s hard to decipher. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, because the system doesn’t know the right answer, and hence accepts anything you enter. Humans fail at captchas because of the increasingly convoluted artificial control words. Of course they were made more and more convoloted and indecipherable because they figured out that contrary to their expections, algorithms didn’t have much trouble at all to figure them out. The slight problem is that making they seem to only get more difficult for humans to decipher, while algorithms are doing a better and better job.

      • Google’s street view number captchas are better. I’ve not failed one yet and it will be a long time before computers can extract a house number from a photograph.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • Speak for yourself, in the UK we’ve been conditioned to not be so wasteful as that. Ever since Blue Peter told me to, I have been turning the tap off whilst brushing my teeth.

  • Anonymous

    In British English at least it is common to use they/them/their instead of ‘he or she’ etc.
    ‘There comes a time in every student’s life when they will need to choose the best path for themself…’

    • Anonymous

      You have got to be joking. David Mitchell would have a stroke.

    • Barry Geibel

      Don’t be fooled, we do this in America, too. Using “his or her” is so over-the-top PC that most people would audibly groan if they heard someone use that.

  • 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.

  • 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”.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Anonymous

    I thought your post was very funny. These people take themselves too seriously.

  • Anonymous

    I think the cold water also used to be drinking water while the hot water was not. Therefore, the separation.

    • 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.

  • “Needing closure.” LOL!

  • 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.

  • Anonymous

    6. Totally true. I miss the neutral-gender pronoun as well.

  • Pola

    The two-fauceted sinks are still quite common in the UK. :-))

    • pimpong

      The most bizarre explanation I had on a question to a brit was that the sink hole should be plugged and then both faucets turned on so you can make up the perfect heat mix of water you want to wash your hands in or sprinkle your face with.

  • 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.

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  • Anonymous

    It’s much easier for me, the gender thing- I go to an all girls’ school. 😛

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  • Ken

    #5 – I think the explanation is simple…Amtrak is a quasi-government agency that basically has a monopoly on the rails, while the air travel industry is highly competitive with many different carriers that fight to keep costs low as possible. There is no real motivation for Amtrak to keep prices low, especially since they are subsidized heavily.

  • Naschen

    They did leave their wallet, and any linguist who tells me to learn proper english because what I said was wrong will be told to remove their head from their ass 😉

  • Keln

    On the elevator button thing…I’ve fixed, wired up, trouble-shot, and torn apart elevator controls and the door close button does actually function. In most elevators (all of the ones I’ve played with) it doesn’t do anything once you’ve selected a floor and the elevator is in auto. If no floor is selected, then pushing the door close button will cause the doors to close. If the elevator is taken out of service, you can use the open and close buttons to operate the doors without them automatically re-opening or re-closing (usually for maintenance or emergency personnel), although in some elevators this has to be accompanied by a pushed-in or pulled out button or key switch that “locks” it. As for re-pushing a floor button, the only instance in which that does anything is when someone enters an elevator just when the doors were going to close. Some elevators will override their timer and close the doors right away and move on to the next floor in sequence. In other elevators this doesn’t work.

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  • Chintan

    #5 isn’t too surprising considering a few things:

    1. Amtrak needs a 200+ mile track, which must be built and maintained. The sky on the other hand, is just there, and is free. So it’s not too surprising that it’s more expensive to roll a train down a 200+ mile track than it is to heave an airplane through 200+ miles of sky.

    California is in the process of spending over $60 billion and many years building a high-speed rail track. The trains themselves will cost way less than that.

    Also, keep in mind that people have to be driven out of their homes to make way for a new rail line. That involves significant human costs, financial costs, and lawsuits. And those problems are much worse in high-density areas.

    And I know what some of you are thinking: yes, roads have many of the same issues.

    2. Energy is cheap, other things like labor or not.

    Air travel seems like it should be more expensive for one main reason: it is very energy intensive. Planes use powerful engines to blast through the sky at 500+ mph and trains use much less energy to efficiently roll on low-resistance steel rails. But energy is relatively cheap. Yes, airlines do spend about a third of their expenses on fuel, but that’s pretty cheap considering how fast planes go. Put another way, airlines spend twice as much on other expenses as they do on fuel. And fuel is the only area where airlines have a major cost disadvantage against rail.

    3. Competition

    Airlines compete heavily with each other. Rail companies don’t.

    In theory rail companies could be set up to compete with each other by making the tracks public use and letting multiple private rail companies pay to use the tracks, much like how airports works, but I don’t see that happening in the US anytime soon.

    • Guest

      Funnily enough, I regularly take Amtrak instead of flying, as the train tickets cost between $25-40, while the plane tickets for the same journey are regularly $125-200-ish. The plus side is also that Amtrak ticket prices appear to never fluctuate, unlike with planes. Even a ticket bought the day of, at the station, will cost the same as all the others.

  • Christopher Brennan

    The door close button is wired into the elevator controls, however in many situations it’s only engaged when the “Firefighter Service” feature of the elevator is engaged. This allows firefighters to have complete control over both opening and closing the elevator door independent of the elevator’s “brain.” We also have the ability to hold an elevator with the doors open so that it cannot be recalled to the lobby.

    Not sure if someone else already said this, I didn’t scour the comments.

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  • Tommy Maq

    Qe = gender-neutral replacement for he and she
    Qer = GN replacement for him and her
    Qis = GN replacement for his and hers
    Qod = GN replacement for “supreme being”

  • Some Body

    It may be a difference in practice between places, but out where I live, elevators’ close door buttons do actually close the door once you press them (there’s an automatic delay otherwise). On the other hand, the buttons next to pedestrian road crossings never affect how the traffic light behaves.

  • JimiQ

    Re 3) The Door Close Button on Elevators
    This is covered at length in a chapter of James Gleick’s fin de siècle “Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything” (ISBN-13 978-0679408376). And IIRC, this references the amusing pondering on the subject in one of Douglas Coupland’s books which suggests there’s a disease whose major vector of transmission is this very button…

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