Have You Ever Noticed? (Part 2)


Several months ago I wrote a piece I called Have You Ever Noticed?  You can click on the link if you missed it.  Well since that time I have had more questions (random, stupid and otherwise) pop into my head which I have neither the time nor the inclination to research.  Presuming that research would actually turn anything up.

Like what, for example? . . .

I have read a lot of history, but have never read the first thing about who invented socks.  Or why.  But I have to hand it (sorry) to that person – socks were a great idea.

Air conditioning – a wonderful invention.  It chills air by taking heat out of it and dumping that heat outside of the structure being cooled.  So does the amount of heat that the refrigeration process removes from inside air equal the amount of heat added back to outside air?  And if the answer is anything close to yes, does that mean that the only reason we really need air conditioning so much is because . . . everyone else has air conditioning?

Babybel cheese, you know, those bite-size round cheeses that come in a net bag.  Every one I have ever seen is sealed in a red wax coating that must be removed first.  So why is every one then wrapped in plastic too?  This seems excessive.

I recently watched an ad on TV for a new Lexus.  Why do they use a woman with a British accent to sell Japanese cars?  It would be perfectly natural for a British woman to do the voiceover for a Jaguar or a Range Rover – after all those cars have a legitimate English heritage.  I have heard German accents used to sell German cars.  And British voices (with their haughtiness dialed up to the maximum) used to sell German cars, as I think about it.  But I have never heard any TV commercial use someone with a Japanese accent to sell a Japanese car.

Has anyone in the history of packaged food ever gotten 9 actual servings out of a normal-sized package of dry spaghetti?

How does adding an electric motor (and batteries) actually improve a paper towel dispenser?

Why has nobody ever sold root beer with melted vanilla ice cream mixed in with it?  Because that is the best part of a root beer float (or black cow, depending on where you are from).

Why is it an inviolable rule of computer hardware and software that the guy currently working on your system always tells you that the last guy to work on your system screwed something up?

Cottage cheese – yes, the globular white stuff in the plastic tub in the dairy case at the supermarket.  Who is actually in charge of deciding whether a curd is small or large?  Perhaps this is something found in a thick volume of the Wisconsin Annotated Statutes.

Toilet paper.  Is there a bit of social etiquette that is so frequently flouted as the social obligation to replace the roll after the old one has been used up?  A thought occurs to me: Why has nobody ever manufactured toilet paper with something on the order of a Cracker Jack prize or even a Chinese cookie-style fortune hidden in the first sheet or two of a new roll?  I think that some little incentive to break out the new roll would do a lot to overcome this bit of societal friction.

The humble perforation – the line of small holes punched into something to make it easier to tear.  We all have years of experience with these.  Notebook paper, postage stamps (remember those?) and consumer packaging of all kinds.  When the design of the particular item wants you to tear it in a specific place, the manufacturer helpfully provides a line of perforations.  And in actual use, where does the particular item actually tear?  That’s right, anywhere but the perforation line.  I have been formulating a theory that if you want to make a material stronger in a particular place, the solution is to perforate it.  Because it will almost never tear in that exact spot.

One of the staples of television and movies is the surgery scene where a bullet is removed from a gunshot victim.  Sometimes these are performed in a proper hospital, sometimes in a crude field hospital, and sometimes in the back of a dirty white van while using bourbon as both antiseptic and anesthetic.  I have noticed that there is one constant – why has the on-screen removal of every bullet from any person or object since the beginning of talkies in the late 1920’s end up being dropped with a “clink” into a metal bowl or container?  Every. Single. One.  Plastic has displaced metal in almost every application in healthcare, but apparently not for the on-screen catching of surgically removed bullets.  “Clink.”

Now be honest . . . wasn’t this better than more news, commentary and advertising about the election that will be (blessedly) over in a few days?



20 thoughts on “Have You Ever Noticed? (Part 2)

  1. A hardware / home improvement store named “Lowes” when their prices usually are anything but.

    About cottage cheese – I have a theory about your theory. The factory has this large crusher, much like a rock quarry, in which the slab of cottaged cheese is dumped in. The crusher then breaks it up with the various curd sizes being segregated accordingly.

    Of these theories, two of them can be interrelated – toilet paper will often tear at the perforations, particularly when you don’t want it to. Just an observation. 🙂


    • Your cottage cheese theory makes more sense than my own, which involves a roomful of highly skilled and experienced grandmothers making the call on each curd as it rolls along an inspection tray.


      • Cottage cheese curds pass through screens after being broken up by moving rakes. The screens are different for different brands. There is no standardization. The whey is added after the screens have done their jobs.


      • This is whey more information than I knew about this topic.

        I am amazed that nobody has yet mentioned the thing about bullets dropping with a clink into the metal bowl. This was my favorite item in this piece, something that actually makes me giggle every time it happens on TV or in a movie.


  2. Some great questions. The air conditioning one is near and dear to my heart, HVAC design being the course I got the best mark on in engineering school. AC actually dumps more heat outside than it removes, because there’s the energy of running compressors and fans, inefficiencies etc. Luckily AC also removes water from the air, and the latent heat that goes with it. I read an article in NYT recently that people in cramped cities in India are getting air conditioning like mad, because of both the heat that their neighbors’ units blow at them and the noise.

    Speaking of cheese I’ve wondered why cheese curds are delightfully squeaky when fresh, but quickly lose their squeakiness overnight…

    And finally here in Canada we have mostly sticker type stamps, a regular letter stamp is marked with a P (for permanent) instead of a value. No perforations, no licking, no buying 2 cent stamps when the price goes up.


    • So air conditioning is just like everything else? When just a few do it there isn’t much of a problem. But when everyone tries to do it things spiral out of control.

      I cannot answer your question on squeaky curds. But it is a good one.


  3. The thing that bugs me about those automatic paper towel dispensers is that they’re usually located right above the trash bin. As you pull out your clean sheet of paper, any accidental hand movement feeds a foot of clean paper right into an overflowing bin of used towels.

    And to be pedantic once again, I believe you mean that toilet paper replacement etiquette is flouted, not flaunted no? Unless you mean that people are ostentatiously replacing the TP, not Ignoring the need for replacement.


    • Also those dispensers almost never give you the amount of towel you really need. It is either too much or too little.

      I guess I need to start sending an advance draft to you for proofreading. Or perhaps something called The Pedant Cooperative could be a viable business model to serve writers like me? Then again, maybe the encouragement of showboating displays of roll replacement (like touchdown dances in football) would serve the need I have identified. It could make a great YouTube channel.


      • Please note an important change regarding public restrooms. Spigots used to give us water – now they are designed to give us only so much water. Paper dispensers don’t give your paper towels anymore – they only give you so much paper. So instead of providing water, towels and soap, public fixtures are designed NOT to give you water, towels or soap – only so much as other believe you should get.


      • I guess technology has allowed managers of public restrooms to ration those things that are free to users of restrooms, and thus subject to unchecked demand. Doesn’t everyone use more of some company’s paper towels than those he has to buy for himself? I guess it’s cheaper than the old-style restroom attendant.


  4. I must joyfully decline (get it?! ha ha) to answer most of these questions, J.P. — because I fear that pondering some of them too deeply could quite literally drive one insane. Much like watching pre-election ads! Though I join you in a silent-but-heartfelt tribute to whoever invented socks — and Babybel cheese, for that matter, even if I wish the latter came with a battery-powered motorized dispenser. Thank you for the HUGE smile I’m wearing right now!


  5. How come those plastic bags in the vegetable section never want to allow themselves to be opened. You rub and rub along the edge but it just gets more and more wrinkly. Or those pesky organic disposal bags that do the same thing? So let me see, I have just finished taking a nasty, dirty full of organic waste off the kitchen counter and taken it to the green bin outside. Now I have to (ahem) wet me finger with my still nasty hands to pen the new bag? Or I have to wash my hands first, then wet two fingers (or more inadvertently) to open the new bag? They couldn’t add a little tab to each bag that I have to buy a box of for fifteen bucks? C’mon people!


    • Excellent point. You remind me of the recycling dilemma in my area. The waste company runs a separate truck over the same weekly route as the truck for regular garbage. Double the diesel burned, double the greenhouse gases, double the tires, brakes, and everything else that uses fossil fuel to manufacture and dispose of. And to top it off we have to pay extra for it because there is no market or use for what they’re recycling. Oy!


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