19 Things I Don't Understand, Volume 6

You know I've been in an especially dark pit of procrastination whenever this blog has a new look.  Yes, I was an very bad place yesterday when I decided to spend a significant amount of time in Blogger's settings, giving my little pixel of the internet a makeover.  We tried on all sorts of outfits, and this is where we ended up.

And what better way to commemorate things than yet another list of things that I don't get.

1) What the arctic tern's problem is.  So I've always wondered what birds' issue is and why they need to migrate like 10,000 miles twice a year.  It's ridiculous.  If it's a matter of going from one climate to another, there's no reason to go that far—the North Pole is 6,000 miles away from the equator.  Every climate possible exists in between.  There's no explanation for going farther than that.  It would be like me commuting from New York to Richmond every day for work because I found a good deal on an office there. 

And then I read this:

Arctic terns are the champions of long distance migration. They fly about 11,000 miles from their breeding grounds in the Arctic to their winter home in Antarctica.

Champions?  Champions of what—horrible decision-making?  They're not even changing their climate.  This would be like finding an office in downtown Manhattan for $1,300/month, but then deciding to commute every day to San Francisco, where I found an office on an identical-looking street for $1,300/month.

 An atrocious decision-maker

Maybe there's more food on one of the poles.  Okay, great—then just stay at that pole.  Maybe it's better to breed at the other pole.  Really?  It's that important which pole you breed on?  I'm sure you can find a place on the eating pole to rear your young.  If you stop the 22,000 miles of commuting each year, you'll have plenty of time to suss out all the best locations.  Maybe each pole gets too cold in the winter.  Then go 1,000 miles of latitude away and you'll be fine.  Either way, going from pole to pole each year is not the answer.



2) What the hell is going on in a girl's shower.  I was out of town last week and stayed in the apartment of a female friend.  When I used her shower, I noticed that there were about 30 bottles on the shelf.  "Good," I thought, "it'll be easy to find normal shampoo on this shelf to wash my hair."

Not so.

I fumbled through dozens of healing body washes, pore-invigorating fruit scrubs, moisturizing conditioners (no idea what conditioner does) and other creepy products—and no shampoo.  This is not to mention the several bizarre objects I assumed you were supposed to use to apply the various potions on the shelf.  I ended up using some feminine body scrub to wash my hair and smelled like apricots and lilacs for the rest of the day.

3) Why I don't just unsubscribe from all the trash-mail that I get.  During my brief and ill-fated yoga phase a couple years ago, after one session the instructor was talking about being present and breathing and all these things I don't do, and then he said he had this mailing list and I was like, "This guy knows shit and I know nothing" and I signed up.  This resulted in me having to delete 4,000 promotional emails from that yoga studio over the past two years.  Finally, yesterday, just as I was about to press the bracket key to archive the latest yoga spam, I paused, decided to scroll down to the bottom of the page, clicked "unsubscribe," and now I'll never receive another email from that studio again.

Why did it take me 4,000 emails to do that?  Why are there 30 other companies spamming me that I haven't yet unsubscribed from?  Maybe it's because it's so easy to press the bracket key in Gmail, maybe it's because 5% of me thinks there's a 5% chance I'll want to read one of the emails at some point—but it makes no sense that I haven't unsubscribed from all of them, given how easy it is to do.

4) Why everyone sleeps with a blanket.  Is it because we're cold and we need the blanket for warmth?  No—if that were the case, people could just turn the heat up a little.  And even when it's hot, people still need to be under a sheet.  Why?  When the room is a comfortable temperature, why do we need to be under something when we sleep?  Is it some biological thing, where it helps us feel safe when we're sleeping?  If so, that's idiotic.  So like, what's gonna happen?  A murderer is gonna break into the bedroom at night with a gun and shoot up the place, and then in the morning when you wake up, you see all these bullet holes in the blanket, and you're like, "Wow, thank god I had this blanket on, or those bullets would have gotten to me"?  That's what's happening?  And if it's not the temperature or safety thing—then what is it?

5) Why we all smile in photographs.  So Links of the Week sent me to this collection of early 1900's photographs the other day.  One thing that jumped out at me was that no one was smiling.  Indeed, people in old photographs always seem to look like this:


From looking at photographs, it seems like everyone in the old days was incredibly serious and depressed.  But the fact is, smiling in photos was simply not in style.  When I thought about it a bit, the question turned from, "Why is no one smiling in early photographs?" to "Why do we all smile in photographs today?"

If you walk down the street, no one is smiling.  If you look around your office, or a restaurant, or anywhere, people aren't smiling.  It's unlikely that you're smiling right now.  People's faces are, by default, not smiling.  People smile as a reaction to something, and then they go back to normal.  They also make their surprised face, angry face, and confused face sometimes—and then they go back to normal.  So before recent times, people felt—logically—that photographs should capture what they look like 99% of the time, not the 1% of the time they're smiling.

And then, at some point, something changed.  At some point, people decided that we all needed to shape our faces into an expression that was not actually triggered by anything in that moment, but rather, is faked.

Pretty weird, right?

Why do we all smile in photos?  To look happy?  Who are we trying to fool?  Everyone who looks at photographs knows that the smiles are fake. 

Go to your Facebook page and go look at your "friends."  Everyone is fake smiling.  Pretty odd when you think about it—right?

But it's one of those things that we started doing and now we can't stop.  Because now that we're all used to smiles in photographs, if we stop, everyone will think everyone is depressed. 

And this isn't just us—this fake smiling epidemic has spread all the way to the top.  Look at our president:


He's fake smiling.  Have you ever seen Abraham Lincoln fake smiling?  No—there are no photographs of Lincoln fake smiling because no one fake smiled for photographs back then. 

Check this out:


All serious until Reagan, and then they're all smiling.  Good thing this only started recently.  Imagine how much less cool Mount Rushmore would be with four smiling presidents.

6) Why it's called "Instant Messenger."  What's being sent are "instant messages."  So what happened—they just took a noun that sounded a lot like "message" and used that?  It doesn't make any sense.  Are they suggesting that the service is some fruity little messenger with some bowtie that's delivering your IM's?  While we're here, I have no idea what BBMing is.  I hear a lot of people talking about it—usually icky people—but I don't really get what it is.  How is it different from text messaging? 

7) The whole Chuck Norris thing.  So there's this recent trend of people making really lame Chuck Norris jokes—like, "Guns don't kill people—Chuck Norris kills people."  And granted, I've never seen a Chuck Norris movie or TV show—if I had, I might feel differently—but I don't begin to understand why Chuck Norris is cool and/or funny and I don't see how people can buy into him as a badass.  He's a doofy-looking middle-aged man with a mullet.  What am I missing?

8) The term "refried beans."  Beans aren't really fried at all, right?  Let alone twice.

9) Why Toblerones make up half of the merchandise in every duty-free airport shop.  This phenomenon is just weird.  Seriously—what is the deal with duty-free shops and Toblerones?  What a random product to be the ubiquitous duty-free inventory.  And they're not normal Toblerones—they're like 20 pound Toblerones that a giant would buy.  And I've never seen a giant in one of those shops—so what the hell? 

While we're here, I don't really understand the concept of "duty free" at airports?  First of all, who calls it a "duty" anymore.  Secondly, so because of some small discount in price, people are falling over each other to buy massive chocolate bars, whiskey, and huge cartons of cigarettes?  Is it really that big a draw?

10) Planets that are "gaseous."  It always upsets me when I hear that planets like Jupiter and Saturn that are so huge and rad are actually just made of "gas."  What kind of shitty planet is made of gas?  A big sphere of gas isn't a planet, it's a gas cloud.  So are Jupiter and Saturn planets?  Or are they just big dumb clouds?  I searched around for a bit and found this:

Gas giants are commonly said to lack solid surfaces, but it is closer to the truth to say that they lack surfaces altogether since the gases that make them up simply become thinner and thinner with increasing distance from the planets' centers, eventually becoming indistinguishable from the interstellar medium. Therefore landing on a gas giant may or may not be possible.

This shatters my fantasy of going to Jupiter when I'm older, and they won't even be able to land a satellite on Jupiter or Saturn and send back pictures of what it looks like.

11) How it's possible that women only gained the right to vote 90 years ago.  Let's break this down:

1787:  Slaves are granted the right to vote.  So:
  • Denying slaves their freedom:  Okay
  • Denying slaves the right to vote:  Not okay
  • Denying slave-owning women their freedom:  Not okay
  • Denying slave-owning women the same voting rights that their enslaved slaves have:  Okay
1870:  Freed slaves are granted a full vote.  So:
  • Denying former slaves their freedom:  Not okay
  • Denying former slaves the right to vote:  Not okay
  • Denying women who used to own the voting slaves the right to vote:  Still okay
1919:  Women still can't vote.  So:
  • Denying a distinguished female professor of politics the right to vote:  Okay
  • Denying the drunk male college freshman taking her class the right to vote:  Not okay
  • Denying the black drunk male college freshman entry into her class at the all-white university:  Okay
  • Denying the black drunk male college freshman the right to vote:  Not okay
The whole thing is just weird.  So to recap:
  • Denying black men basic human liberties throughout history:  Okay
  • Denying black men the right to vote throughout history:  Not okay
  • Denying white women basic human liberties throughout history:  Not okay
  • Denying white women the right to vote until recently:  Okay
12) What the hell the deal is with the word "Latin." First, Latin weasels its way into being the name of the Roman language, when the language clearly should have been called Roman.  And now, you have all these Spanish-speaking people in the Western Hemisphere, and they're called Latin Americans.  Huh?  Why?  And the whole "Latino" thing?  What's going on?  Further, when native Spanish-speaking Americans who have no accent normally say "Latino" with an accent, it irritates me.  
 
13) Why it's a good use of resources to light up massive skylines every night. 


I feel like at least 1/3 of the windows in city skyscrapers are lit up at night.  Why?  Isn't that a massive waste of energy?  Who is paying those electric bills and why are they okay with this?  It can't be all because cities want a pretty lit-up skyline at night, right?

14) Why juries of clueless citizens are in charge of making critical legal judgments.  I've always thought this "jury of one's peers" thing was incredibly stupid.  The average juror A) has their own set of biases and prejudices; B) doesn't want to be there and is probably tuning out during most of the testimony; and C) could easily be swayed into conforming to the will of the most coercive or opinionated jurors (who themselves might be acting on prejudices after tuning out on most of the testimony).  Why does this make sense?  I feel like juries are something that would have existed back in the 1800's and we'd read about them today and they'd seem so silly and antiquated now.

And if juries are making the key judgment when all is said and done, what the hell is the judge's job?  To MC the event?  To slap on the sentence?  The judge, unlike the 12 random jurors, actually does this as a career, is specifically trained not to act on any prejudices, is probably listening intently to testimony, and has years of experience in courts and knows how much weight to give to various testimony.  Shouldn't the judge be the judge?

This just scratches the surface of things I don't understand about the justice system.  I'm thoroughly confused about bail, and appeals, and parole, and a lot of other things.

15) Why everyone wants to sleep with Ron Weasley in Harry Potter 6.  A few years back, I read the first three Harry Potters.  Loved them.  But then when I saw that the fourth one was 2,600 pages, I threw in the towel.  Recently, I was on a 12-hour international flight that had this huge movie selection, including all the Harry Potters, and I decided to catch up on it all.  So I watched the 4th, 5th, and 6th.  Clearly I'm now completely riveted and would smother a baby to have the 7th one come out tomorrow.

But the Ron thing I don't get.  He's an ugly, pre-pubescent red-head.  Why is every Hogwarts chick trampling over each other to sleep with him?  It's unclear.

Further, and this is a spoiler—

I can't believe that Dumbledore died.  This dude was all-powerful.  How do you kill an all-powerful person?  How does someone who can fly and warp across the world and go invisible die by falling off a balcony??  Very, very upsetting.

Let me also mention that if anyone comments on this post and ruins the 7th movie for me, I'll do that thing to you that the dick guard did to the red-head gay guy who was raping Andy Dufresne. 

16) Whether cracking your knuckles actually has long-term consequences.  I've heard reputable sources say that it does, and other reputable sources say it doesn't.  So I'm going to continue doing it 34 times a day and hope really hard for the latter.

17) What the ethernet is.  I understand what the internet is.  And I understand which port on my computer I'm supposed to plug the internet cable into, and what that cable looks like.  But then this word "ethernet" comes up when people are explaining to me how to connect to the internet.  Normally, I pretend that it didn't happen and just plug the cable into the computer and hope that no one knows that I don't know what "ethernet" means.  

18) The "J" people write in emails in place of a smily face.  When this first happened, I assumed that it was a formatting thing and that the sender had intended to use smily faces and it had come through as capital J's instead.  But since then this has happened multiple times more.  What am I missing?  Did people all agree that J would henceforth represent a smile and no one told me? 

19) The "door close" button in elevators.  Okay, so let's discuss this.  The normal situation is that you press your floor, and then after three seconds, the elevator door closes.  Now how about when you press your floor and then you press the door close button?  It still closes after three seconds.  The door close button doesn't do anything.  I'd bet it's not even hooked up to anything—it's a placebo button, literally just there because the guy who designed the elevator was all unsatisfied with the asymmetry of just having a door open button.

Now just say that I'm wrong and the door close button actually does something—how much time does it save?  A half a second?  Who is that hyper-Type A that they would press a button to cut a half a second out of their vertical commute?

Me.  That's who.  Me.  I wear out the door close button.  I don't just press it once either.  I press that shit like six times during the three seconds before the elevator door closes.

Whatever.


The extended list of things I don't understand:

Volume 5
Volume 4
Volume 3
Volume 2
Volume 1

32 comments:

Dan said...

The blanket thing is odd now that you mention it.

Like the new look!

Anonymous said...

Harry dies. Haha just kidding...or maybe not. Read the book, slacker:)

Anonymous said...

Your blog is like, modern looking now. I don't know, I'll have to get used to it, but as you mentioned, I'm like the stupid jury member and you're the judge. So I'll have to cope, I guess.

I absolutely have to sleep with a blanket, but not a normal blanket, like, a quilt type of thing that's really hot and annoying when it's not cold outside. I don't know why but I feel awkwardly vulnerable without it, and it's not about safety thing itself but feeling safe thing. Which makes no sense, but still.

Chuck Norris jokes annoy me, but Jeff Van Gundy Chuck Norris-like jokes make me happy.

Cracking knuckles is upsetting, just stop.

Carrie J. said...

Now that all the posts are on the right side of the page, I'm like you with wimp.com - I can't stop clicking on them.

I was so happy to come across the college dude/ normal dude one again. One of my favorites.

samantha.p.friedman said...

I have been wondering about Number 18 myself for quite some time now. If anyone has some insights, I'd really appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

I've been told that the reason people didn't smile in old photos is because it took an hour or more to take a photo in those days....
not sure if it's true or not & I'm too lazy this morning to look it up, but there it is.
Came across your blog a short time ago & love it: )
~Joey

Anonymous said...

I think the deal with the J instead of a smiley face is an Outlook thing. It shows up as a smiley for people using Outlook, but as a J for pretty much everyone else.

Anonymous said...

I have relatives from another country who never smile in pictures. We constantly tease them about it, but it's just not done in their society.

matt said...

The last time I remember using the "door close" was when I was late to my summer job at Mount Sinai during high school. I used to loudly pound the hell out of it while shaking my head and making the "I'm doing all I can" face at people running for the elevator.

Anonymous said...

Why Sue Bee Honey is not a
major sponsor of the World
Cup.

Brett Michaels ...

ps Now everyone hears it...

Anonymous said...

Celtics in 6? Celtics in 7? Complete and utter heartbreak?

Anonymous said...

I think people like to feel cozy when they're sleeping, and a blanket is cozy.

SO true about Mt. Rushmore...I can't even imagine. Naturally, it was Reagan who started the smiling. He was an actor.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so, I found your post funny. But some of it struck me as sort of...well..."what kind of question/complaint is that?!"
For instance:
4) I sleep with a blanket because it saves money and maybe I'm too lazy to walk down a flight of stairs, raise the thermostat reading, and my heating bill as well. It actually does give me some sort of security check.
5) Yeah, I guess we should all look rather stern and troubled rather than happy, or at least content. I smile in photos because we all look better with smiles on our faces. You never hear songs telling to you keep on "frowning" or "turn that smile upside down."
8) I don't know if you know this, but frijoles refritos is Mexican for "really fried beans." The term coined on so many hated cans is actually a mistranslation of the Mexican word "refritos."
13) I am sure New York owns every single room in every single building in New York. They have the power to turn on and off every single light source in the entire city of NYC at their whim. I am pretty sure that "1/3 of the lights" are on because people live there. Unless we are suddenly bat people who lack the need of light and just leave it on purposely to screw with the government. You tell me.
17) I'm sure you can Google "what is ethernet?" for yourself, but in the event that you don't feel up to it, I did it for you. Ethernet is the most used and most popular protocol that controls data transmission over a LAN (local area network, like a school or home or office building.)

Well, this is just me, but all of these just bothered me. Plus, this only the 6th volume. I have yet to complain about your previous and future ones. Till next time <(^o^<)~~

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm pretty sure it's not illegal to not have a blanket, but it's just generally accepted and considered orthodox to have one. In fact, I have relatives in the Philippines that don't have blankets, but keep them in a closet or something. I guess the owning and placing of a blanket on a bed introduces the mere opportunity. I mean, it's nice to have it JUST in case you need it, per se, in a sudden draft or unexpected cold front. hurhur

Dan said...

For me, it's not even about the temperature. I just need a blanket over me when I sleep. Sometimes I'm hot and the blanket makes it unbearably hot...but I still use one. I sound like a crazy person.

Anonymous said...

The arctic tern thing had me laughing...

Anonymous said...

Our court system is completely archaic and inefficient. What always gets me is when lawyers show a some convincing evidence that the judge shoots down as unfair and then tells the jury to disregard that piece of evidence...even though they already saw it and obviously will not be able to pretend they didn't.

As for the commenter who said that the city lights on at night are where people live, how does that account for all of the skyscraper lights on at 3am (like in the Empire State Building in that photo). Those are just empty offices with the lights on.

Anonymous said...

You must be freaking out about the Celtics series.

Anonymous said...

At the guy with the city lights comment

I suppose you're right, but maybe people are working there. Security guards, janitors, thieves and burglars (LOL). I don't know, but not ALL buildings can be office buildings can they?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about the source of your confusion about "Instant Messenger." The "messenger" is the actual program itself, which delivers MESSAGES to you. And it delivers them INSTANTLY, and so it's an INSTANT MESSENGER. Get it?

You sound pretty silly complaining about Romans speaking "Latin" instead of "Roman." Americans don't speak "American," stupid.

Yeah, the Toblerone thing is kinda weird...but you obviously have NO IDEA how much of the price of a pack of cigarettes is taxes (Federal + State excise + State sales) if you don't understand why people are buying them at the duty free by the carton.

Anonymous said...

whoa! you commenters need to lighten up with the name calling.

Tim Urban said...

Someone just sent me this thrilling quote from an old New Yorker article:

“In most elevators, at least in any built or installed since the early nineties, the door-close button doesn’t work. It is there mainly to make you think it works. (It does work if, say, a fireman needs to take control. But you need a key, and a fire, to do that.) Once you know this, it can be illuminating to watch people compulsively press the door-close button. That the door eventually closes reinforces their belief in the button’s power. It’s a little like prayer.”

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/04/21/080421fa_fact_paumgarten?currentPage=all#ixzz0rS9CInVR

Anonymous said...

lo and behold, you were right! will you stop pressing it now?

Tim Urban said...

No. No I'll probably keep pressing it.

Anonymous said...

Getting/got the iPhone 4?

Anonymous said...

^ re comment: don't you know that whenever tim buys apple products is the only time i'm convinced to buy one.

and yeah some people need to lighten up on their comments, it's so funny how rabid some people get.

also, i like these posts of yours tim. they make me think twice.

like the toblerones. i've always wondered not just why they're sold everywhere, but why they even continue to be sold -- NOBODY i know eats them.

Anonymous said...

More heartbreaking loss of the month goes to Ghana or Lakers?

Anonymous said...

This goes well with the links to random videos and gifs you last posted.

http://30.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l4nwoe6bJa1qahhxwo1_250.gif

Can't stop watching it, wonder how many faceplant fails were had before this bouncy success..

Anonymous said...

To the choadbags posting the fiesty comments: Remove the toberlone that is wedged up your bum and get a sense of humor.

This post is delightful!

Anonymous said...

And a note to myself, learn how to spell feisty.

Mary said...

Re #4. I agree with "Anonymous: I think people like to feel cozy when they're sleeping, and a blanket is cozy."

I believe it's blankets are a psychological comfort thing. Similar to reasoning for why dogs and wolves prefer to sleep in small spaces, ie: dens.

Re #5. I agree with "Anonymous: Naturally, it was Reagan who started the smiling. He was an actor."

Vapid, self-absorbed actors . . .

Re #11. Voting - I'm appreciative you're tuned in to the struggle our female predecessors faced.
An interesting sidenote to female voting rights; the Wild West was MUCH more progressive with regards to the suffrage movement: http://theautry.org/explore/exhibits/suffrage/

mmKALLL said...

What I don't understand is why you have timestamps on comments without the dates.