19 Things I Don't Understand, Volume 3

1) How they build an underwater tunnel. I just can’t imagine how anyone would go about doing such a thing. I’m picturing a guy in scuba equipment alone on the bottom of the ocean with some bricks and a hammer. I don’t really see how he can end up with a tunnel.

2) Why there are those other four digits tacked on to each zip code that no one cares about. The only times I’ve ever written these last four digits are in situations where I’m being incredibly anal, like mailing my passport across the country or sending in my college application or something. But are they ever necessary? Has there ever been a letter returned to the sender with the explanation, “Incomplete zip code”?

3) Why we still change the clocks twice a year. There’s gotta be a way we can figure it out so we can just set the time and leave it like that. Someone explained Daylight Savings Time to me once, and all I remember is that it had to do with some incredibly complicated explanation involving farmers wanting to wake up incredibly early. But what does that have to do with anything? Farmers can wake up when the damn rooster cries either way, right? They can set their alarms for sunrise no matter what. Right? Clearly I’m missing something. But 300 million Americans changing the clock twice a year can’t be the answer. As it is now, just when it’s starting to get dark earlier and earlier every fall, those dicks make us change the clocks and suddenly it’s getting dark at like 2pm. Let’s stop with that—everyone likes Daylight Savings Time more than Standard Time because it gets dark later, so why don’t we all just agree to set the clocks to DST and then just leave it alone?

4) How Hugh Hefner pulled it off.
He’s an 82-year-old polygamist and everyone just decided that it’s okay. And incredibly hot girls in their 20’s are trampling over each other to have sex with him. What? How? How did he do that? My grandfather is about Hefner’s age, and no one wants to sleep with him.

5) Why my car blinker stops working and then starts again. Every few months or so, my car blinker stops working and I can no longer signal to other cars regarding my pending turns. In most situations, you can manage alright without a signal. But when I pull the old “move diagonally across four lanes because that exit I take every day just crept up out of nowhere,” or when I need to come to a stop in fast-moving traffic because I’m about to take a left into that alley, the lack of a blinker suddenly becomes a large problem. I know I could do the whole hand signal thing, but then I would be a huge d-bag.

But here’s the weird thing—after a couple days, the blinker starts working again. Just like that. And it’s great to have it back—but then a couple months later, it goes on strike again. Inexplicably. And then a couple days later, it starts working again. Inexplicably. I understand why things stop working—something is broken, the battery is dead, the bulb needs to be replaced, etc.—but I don’t understand why my blinker always starts working again.

6) Why there are ever people who have attempted suicide multiple times.
If someone is genuinely interested in ending things, it doesn’t seem like that difficult a thing to do. There are roofs all over the place.

7) The whole Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zaire thing.
In the old days, it was simple. You had Congo and you had Zaire. Then, Zaire got jealous because Congo is such a cooler name than Zaire and it changed its name to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Then Congo was like, “dude” and it changed its name to the Republic of the Congo. And now people like to refer to “The Congo” and I don’t know which one they’re talking about. This would be like if Mexico changed its name to “The Superior Republic of the United States of America.” You can’t just do that.

8) Why companies with large advertising budgets still produce unfunny commercials.
I can’t count the number of times I’m watching a commercial that’s supposed to be funny and I’m like, “Really? That’s the best you could come up with? I could write a funnier commercial in the next five minutes.” A team of well-paid advertisers should make me laugh. A classic example is those lame Seinfeld/Bill Gates commercials. Microsoft spent $300 million on that ad campaign. And the few companies that actually produce competent humor really stand out—Southwest “Wanna get away?”, Career Builder “Guy working with monkeys,” Geico “Caveman,” and the Sportscenter ads, to name a few. One of the best ad campaigns I can remember was Snickers’ “Not going anywhere for a while?” Not only did it allow for endless funny commercials, but it totally made me think of a Snickers bar as a hearty meal, when in reality it’s candy.

9) Why there are ever typos in a published book.
This boggles my mind. Most books I read have one or more typos in them. How does a publisher send a book to be mass-produced without having a competent proofreader skim each page with a fine-tooth comb.

Far more egregious are the atrocities Kaplan, Princeton Review, and Barron’s produce as SAT Prep Guides. Without fail, every prep book by these mega-brands is littered with dozens of errors. And I’m not talking about typos—the practice test answer keys are full of errors. I know it seems impossible, but trust me on this—I run a tutoring company, and unlike my explanation of the history of the Congo, this rant is based on fact. One of our students once showed me a practice test in Kaplan’s Math SAT II prep book. There were 10 questions and then the next section had the corresponding answers and explanations. I shit you not—five of the 10 answers were incorrect. The poor student thought he got 3/10 right, when in fact he scored an 8/10. All well and good for this wealthy student with access to someone who could correct the book. How about the thousands of students who only have that book and rely on it to get them ready for this test—they finish that section thinking they have no idea what they’re doing. Kaplan’s revenue last year was $2 billion! How could they be so outrageously irresponsible as to publish such crap when students all over the world rely on their brand to get them ready for an critical test?? They could have spent $1,000 to pay me for 10 hours of editing and I would have caught every single error. It makes no sense. I need an explanation. Who the hell is in charge of editing at Kaplan? I need to stop before I throw my laptop out the window in disgust.

10) Who gets to name all the streets.
Naming a street is a huge deal. Who ends up with such a privilege? And how do they come up with the street name? And how do they decide if it’s a street, road, avenue, boulevard, drive, way, place, or circle? While we’re here, who assigns new area codes, and how do they choose them? Is there any rhyme or reason to these decisions? The only consistency I can find is that most major metropolitan area codes have either zero or one as the middle digit.

11) Why there is always a “Last Seen With” next to the missing child.
I don’t really get this. There’s always someone whom the missing kid was “last seen with.” Seen by whom? And is that person missing too? If so, it’s an obvious kidnapping. If not, why is that person in the bulletin?

12) How a water cooler can instantly produce hot and cold water.
Whenever I press the red lever, the cooler is ready. Sizzling hot water pours out. And whenever I press the blue lever, it’s ready with the cold. How does it do that? And why isn’t such a remarkable machine more expensive?

13) Why Starbucks decided to call their small size “tall.”
Are they just being dicks? Because it doesn’t sound like an Italian word. It sounds like an English word and that they were just kind of feeling like dicks the day they named the sizes.

14) Why doctors can’t write at a 5th grade level.
I was always shocked at how bad the doctor’s handwriting was on the little prescription slips. I’d look at it and think, “How the hell is the pharmacist supposed to read this?” But I always assumed that it was that my doctor had dysgraphia or something. Now, though, I’m hearing that $19 billion of stimulus money is about to be spent on electronic medical technology, because “Illegible handwriting contributes to errors and wastes time tracking down doctors” (1). Really, doctors? Are you that busy?  You can’t write legibly for two seconds so the pharmacy doesn’t have to call you? Is it just arrogance? Are they just like, “Damn it, I didn’t go through medical school and residency for 10 years so I could be forced to write like a 5th grader or above. I’m the man in this office and I’ll write this prescription in any handwriting that damn well suits me.”
15) Why I spent a considerable amount of time here. This is a little like Sudoku in that I spent hours doing all of these and most of that time I was really unhappy.

16) Why a train from New York to Boston costs $110.
It should go like this:

NY-Boston Bus: $20
NY-Boston Train: $35
NY-Boston Plane: $60

Instead, it’s like this:

NY-Boston Bus: $20
NY-Boston Train: $110
NY-Boston Plane: $60

Where does Amtrak get off? Am I getting a foot massage onboard? Are there hors d'oeuvres and champagne? Is Mozart the conductor? 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 $109, which totals to about $24,000. Really? It costs Amtrak four times as much to run a train on the track as it takes to heave an airplane through the air?

17) Why high schools don’t prepare their students to live in the world.
A typical high school student takes four years of English, four years of History, three to four years of Math, three to four years of Sciences, and a couple electives like Journalism, Psychology, or Photography. That means that students not lucky enough to have parents with the time and knowledge to teach them about how the world works will have taken about 25 academic and elective courses only to graduate high school with no idea how to rent an apartment, take out a loan, open a bank account, invest money in anything, understand a mortgage, lease a car, choose a career, get an internship, write a resume, apply for a job, purchase health and car insurance, and countless other core life skills. But they’ll have dissected the shit out of Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Now this isn’t to trivialize English class. Analyzing literature is a valuable learning experience. But four years of it? And writing skills are paramount in the real world—but more to the point, it is communication skills that are critical, which includes writing professional emails and cover letters, interviewing, and public speaking, and both writing and communication can be learned in a variety of contexts, not just English class. Likewise, math up to Algebra or so is useful in the real world, and there is something to be said about harder maths sharpening one’s analytical skills and left brain. But four years? Wouldn’t students be better off cutting out a few of the standard courses and instead being required to take a Basic Money and Investing course and a Job and Career course (in which students could learn about the structure and content of an assortment of careers, and take one of those tests that identifies which careers best match their specific personality and strengths)?

18) Twitter.
Everyone keeps saying the word Twitter and talking about “Twittering” things, and I don’t get it. I went to the site one day and then they asked me to sign up and I exed out the window. Then again, I just discovered Hulu so maybe I’m in the minority here.

19) What is outside of the universe sphere?
The other day, I was listening to Brain Stuff—the podcast for nerds—and the guy explained the following:

The universe is a sphere with a diameter of 30 billion light years. If you condensed all of the stars, planets, and other normal matter in the universe into a cube with the density of the sun, that cube would have edges of 1,000 light years each. To put that in perspective, the Milky Way is 100,000 light years in diameter so this cube would be really small next to it, only stretching 1/100 of the way across it. And to compare the “matter cube” to the “universe sphere,” if the universe were the size of the Earth, all of the matter that exists would fit inside a shoebox. The point being made was how ridiculously empty the universe is. Of course, I was deeply riveted.

In any case, let’s back up to the universe being a huge “sphere.” If that’s true, then what the hell is outside of the sphere? There’s gotta be something there on the other side of the outer edge? Or is it one of those incomprehensible things where you hit the outer edge and suddenly appear on the other side, like Pacman? Like how people used to think you could sail to the “edge of the Earth” when in fact if you kept going straight you’d end up back where you started?

I hate astronomy. I want so desperately to know the answers to everything in astronomy and we’re so far from knowing anything as a species.

More things I don’t understand.

Even more.


Anonymous said...

For the Congo-Zaïre thing: previously, it was Congo and Congo, only Mobutu changed it to Zaïre.
If you wanna differentiate the two Congos, that's easy, you should add Brazzaville to the smallest one (from the capital), so you have Congo-Brazzaville and Congo.

Emperor Paolo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emperor Paolo said...

I totally agree with 17. I dont understand why high schools don't teach kids about money and the real world. Im in high school and Im pissed and confused as well.

Anonymous said...

I agree with #17. I think that high school grads lack college preparation and time management skills.

Leigh said...

In terms of errors in published books, most books are actually read by up to FOUR proofreaders. I am a writer and proofreader and can't get in with a publishing house no matter what I do, yet I can find errors in any book, newspaper (*cough* NY Daily News *cough*), magazine, or Web site. I don't get it either. I'm guessing it's because the books pass through so many hands that it's easy to make mistakes that don't get caught.

Love the world said...

What a weird coincidence!'Coz what you mentioned in 9,14 and 17 are also puzzled me in china.Back in high school when I was painstakingly preparing for my college exam,I remembered I always got frustrated with the error in the prep textbooks.And one of the funniest things was whenever we got different anwers from the corresponding answers,we always assumed that the corresponding ansers were wrong and we were right.
In terms of the doctor handwritting thing,I'm 100% agreed.I guess doctors tend to think that the more illegible their handwritting is,the better people will think they are.Especially when you are seening a old reputable herbalist doctor who has a long white beard and white eyebrows and hair,their illegible handwritting will add an extra mystery to him.
In terms of high school don't pepare students to live in real word,quite true.Looking back to my high school life,one word to sum up-bookworm.And the funny thing is,people who are currently studying MBA begin to requst their professors to teach them how to survive in the real world,given today's bad economy and huge lay-offs.

L said...

You should compile all these questions into one of those why-do-men-have-nipples books (except then you'd have to find the answers to these questions instead of just wondering about them). :)

ditto on starbucks cup sizes...
yes amtrak prices are ridiculous..to go from New York, NY to EWR (Newark Airport), it's $40...x_x

Anonymous said...

#6- I don't agree with suicide at all-I believe that there is more than one way out of a situation. Anyways, we don't own our life- God does. Those with multiple suicide attempts- I think people like to test themselves or they lack consistent emotional support.
#4- The only reason why people sleep with Hugh Heffner is because he has money and power. It doesn't mean that he is respected and honored in society as a worthy person.
#5-Your blinker- go to Autozone. They give you free and helpful advice on replacing certain parts
#16- A. Airlines are now charging for each baggage you check in. I paid $30 round trip for my one rolling luggage which is now covered with an unknown tarry substance. Not only that, I missed my connecting flight because of an incorrect gate# printed on my ticket. The response of the airline was for me to understand that the gates change constantly. Then why print a gate# on a ticket and then change the gate# within 45minutes of the flight?
About Kaplan, it's overrated. Their reviews are not user-friendly. I find myself studying excessive information that is not even on my exam.

Newman said...

I completely agree with you on #17. I teach middle school math (Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1) and I wish I could focus on how it would help you in the real world, rather than prepping them for an end of the year test.

P.S. We can get together and start a new business for #17. I am always looking for something else to do...

Anonymous said...

Starbucks Mochas are groo-vee!!!

Anonymous said...

Why gold frankinsense and myrrh?

Why not just gold?

Baron Trump ...

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