Answers you may not want to know the answer to
December 31, 2020 8:25 AM   Subscribe

"About 2 degrees Celsius of our body heat comes from the metabolism of microorganisms helping us digest our food." @baym - Michael Baym asks "What something that’s commonly known in your field but would probably make people outside your field uncomfortable to know?"
posted by Mitheral (74 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
 
About 2 degrees Celsius of our body heat comes from the metabolism of microorganisms helping us digest our food.

If this is indeed true, it delights me.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:01 AM on December 31, 2020 [15 favorites]


And we're all sitting around trying to think of things that are suitably icky but are not legally actionable.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:39 AM on December 31, 2020 [6 favorites]


TBH I'm left far less uncomfortable than expected. Can I get my money back?
My grimy disease- and narcotic-covered money
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:46 AM on December 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


Our nuclear missile systems were not only built by the lowest bidder but are maintained by 20 year old seargents who in general couldn't pass a high school math exam. And that's not even touching security which is outside my field.
posted by muddgirl at 9:50 AM on December 31, 2020 [12 favorites]


And the nuclear code, for many years was 00000000.

Command and Control by Eric Schlosser should be required reading, IMO.
posted by tclark at 9:52 AM on December 31, 2020 [15 favorites]


Internal voice : “This sounds interesting! Please don’t be a Twitter thread, please don’t be a Twitter thread...”

It’s a Twitter thread.
posted by panama joe at 10:02 AM on December 31, 2020 [33 favorites]


When people talk about criminal defendants "getting off on a technicality" that's not only the norm (in terms of when defendants "get off," I mean - the majority of cases plea out) but often the best case scenario. "Technicalities", inasmuch as it means anything at all, refers to cases being dismissed due to police or prosecutorial misconduct, and this is about the only way left to hold the system accountable for that misconduct, judges very much want as few cases to go to trial as possible, plea bargains are not only the norm but also require the defendant to officially agree to the set of facts that is simplest and most convenient for the court, regardless of truth, basically with a gun to their head, meaning lots and lots of innocent people every day are convicted of crimes under the best advice of their own counsel, because proving their innocence is too much of a gamble, when criminal trials do happen, they're most likely to be "bench trials" with no jury present, and complaints about "technicalities," beyond everything else imply a burden of proof on the defendant rather than on the state.

In short, criminal justice has virtually nothing to do with discovering truth, and everything to do with officially stating what is "true" and processing matters as quickly as possible within a very creaky system.

Most mefites probably know all of this, however.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:03 AM on December 31, 2020 [63 favorites]


Here with the obligatory "Software engineering; everything is a godawful kludge made of toothpicks and duck tape and no one knows wtf they're doing"
posted by J.K. Seazer at 10:05 AM on December 31, 2020 [20 favorites]


My work isn't actually important enough to people's daily lives to count. But, the amount of groundbreaking scientific discoveries that include parts held together with rubber cement, dental floss, cigarette papers, and metal tape would surprise many outside of the field. Also, the number of times I've used a cut human hair mounted on a stick as a tool in the cleanroom surprises people on tours. (Some fine wires come close, but hair has a very hard to achieve combination of integrity and bendyness. It always bounces back and makes it easy to deliver a well-calibrated punch to a suspended membrane.)

That you can taste solvents (acetone, isopropyl) when you've been using them with improperly gloved hands makes my family uncomfortable.
posted by eotvos at 10:14 AM on December 31, 2020 [23 favorites]


I'd love to believe this part of the thread:

@artisticone14
We've been talking to aliens for a while now.

@ThomasTallis7
Replying to
@artisticone14
You mean extraterrestrials? I am not personally in the loop on this subject but it strikes me as likely that there are advanced species in this universe and that, over millions of years, they would notice this beautiful blue ball with water. So your colleagues talk with ETs?

@artisticone14
I used to work at WPAFB [Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio] with security clearance. That's all I'm saying.
posted by MinPin at 10:24 AM on December 31, 2020 [12 favorites]


maintained by 20 year old seargents who in general couldn't pass a high school math exam

or, indeed, a missile exam
posted by BungaDunga at 10:54 AM on December 31, 2020 [3 favorites]


Standard breakers like you have in your home will generally hold at 110-125% of their handle rating indefinitely (IE: a 15A breaker will won't trip under a 16.5A load). Some will handle up to 150% for up to an hour. Wire sizes feeding those breakers are selected under the assumption they won't be loaded to more than 80% for more than 3 hours with a 50% duty cycle.
posted by Mitheral at 11:24 AM on December 31, 2020 [9 favorites]


Pigeons can be taught be taught to identify works from different painters and make the same mistakes as college students performing the same task.

What field is this? Art? Pigeonry? A combo field I am not yet aware of?
posted by Emmy Rae at 11:48 AM on December 31, 2020 [16 favorites]


I used to work at WPAFB [Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio] with security clearance. That's all I'm saying.

Here’s one that relates to this comment: a basic “security clearance” means your credit report is decent and there’s nothing in your background check that shows you could be easily blackmailed. The janitors that cleaned the toilets in the public lobbies at Wright-Patterson also have a security clearance. It means jack shit when it comes to whether or not you happen to know exciting stuff.

My father has a “burn book” in his work desk that will get declassified 50 years after his death, and the absolutely only text written in it is the phone number of the local Pizza Hut. The book would be completely empty except the local DoD InfoSec guys will occasionally come by and destroy all Post It notes with things written on them, but they (obviously) aren’t going to destroy a classified notebook.

That notebook works as a metaphor they describes 95% of all “classified” work, so anyone trying to brag about a clearance is just the Bill Paxton character from the Arnie film True Lies.
posted by sideshow at 11:49 AM on December 31, 2020 [41 favorites]


The pigeons thing...I had to look that up, too.

To be fair, when I was an art history freshman, I was also primarily motivated by food.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:51 AM on December 31, 2020 [4 favorites]


we still don’t really know how anesthesia works

This is one I am going to hide from my wife. She’s scared shitless of being put under, and has surgery in a couple of weeks. Definitely something she shouldn’t get into her head.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:53 AM on December 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


Helicopter blades do not just spin to keep them in the air. There's a dizzying array of other movements going on depending on whether they are hovering, moving, etc. that need to be perfectly synchronized at umpteen jillion RPM. I resolved never to get in one when I learned about the details.

Not technically my field but I did mention this at a party once, where three people looked at me like I was weird while the actual aerospace engineer who was listening nodded in total agreement.
posted by mark k at 11:57 AM on December 31, 2020 [14 favorites]


What made me decide to nope out of helicopters was learning about the Jesus Nut.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:22 PM on December 31, 2020 [12 favorites]


Seems like most of them boil down to, there are no adults in the room, and you are far less safe from nature than modern living leads you to believe.

At the same time, we've made things safe enough for seven billion of us to survive, which considering the gray wolf population in the lower 48 of the US is 6000, and they're no longer considered endangered (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/10/gray-wolves-taken-off-endangered-species-list-in-controversial-move/), and the human population in the same area is over 300 million, means we're all far safer than any organism has a reason to be.

Also, according to Wikipoopia, 53.6% of the seven billion or so people on the planet are whatever internet users are considered to be, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Internet_usage) so the bug-ridden, insecure kludge-fest of IT somehow keeps going enough to make sure some of us can watch Tiktok videos and order socks.

Sometimes it makes me wonder why I try to be good at my job, or why anybody needs to aspire to any level of competence at all, when it's really apparent that survivable mediocrity at literally any level of responsibility is probably the more enjoyable choice.
posted by fnerg at 12:22 PM on December 31, 2020 [22 favorites]


Some of these are actually heartwarming, like feathers from dead birds being grafted to broken feathers on living birds, or organ harvesters gruesomely stripmining our corpses if we agree to be organ donors. I don't care; put me in a blender if you like if it's going to help someone. I'll still be dead!
posted by confluency at 12:40 PM on December 31, 2020 [9 favorites]


Actually, I should amend that last bit and say I'm probably already survivably mediocre, and just don't know it. Anyway...
posted by fnerg at 12:43 PM on December 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


My father has a “burn book” in his work desk that will get declassified 50 years after his death, and the absolutely only text written in it is the phone number of the local Pizza Hut.

Look, it’s critical to the national security of the United States of America that no unauthorized person should ever call that Pizza Hut.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:43 PM on December 31, 2020 [8 favorites]


Wire sizes feeding those breakers are selected under the assumption they won't be loaded to more than 80% for more than 3 hours with a 50% duty cycle.

I think you had a typo there. The 80% rating is for a continuous load, that is, 100% duty cycle for more than 3 hours.

Here is a trip curve for a typical home circuit breaker. As you can see from the graph, you can pull 200% of rated current for up to 10 minutes. This explains why you can safely run your microwave oven and bread toaster off the same outlet at the same time even though the combination exceeds the breaker's nominal current rating. Both appliances won't be on for more than 10 minutes at the same time.
posted by JackFlash at 12:54 PM on December 31, 2020 [4 favorites]


What field is this? Art? Pigeonry? A combo field I am not yet aware of?

This will be animal cognition, which (broadly speaking) is about determining what cognitive abilities animals have that we can analogize to ourselves, partly but not entirely in an effort to use animal models for human faculties. The fact that you can train pigeons to do this and that they make similar mistakes to humans is weird and suggests that that pigeons are using similar processes to judge art produced by humans as humans do, which might be able to teach us about exactly how humans do make these distinctions about art. Either way, it's interesting that pigeons can produce categories of artistic objects like "good art" vs "bad art" (at least in terms of how representational the art is) or distinguish impressionist art from cubist art.

(I'm in the other tradition of animal behaviour, the one which thinks it's more interesting to see what animals do in naturalistic contexts and why and which is a little less interested in comparing the abilities of different species in relatively artificial contexts; broadly that is referred to as "behavioral ecology".)
posted by sciatrix at 12:56 PM on December 31, 2020 [10 favorites]


Here with the obligatory "Software engineering; everything is a godawful kludge made of toothpicks and duck tape and no one knows wtf they're doing"

Oh, good. You saved me the trouble. Everyone else: okay, you know that meme GIF of the redshirt bridge crew on Star Trek: The Next Generation? The one that shows him staring at his console in fear, putting his hands to his head in growing horror, and then keeling over?

Imagine for our purposes that he'd just opened up the metaphorical hood on pretty much any large-sized software system that isn't (e.g.) space- or air-travel-related and you'll have an idea of what things are like in there.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:06 PM on December 31, 2020 [5 favorites]


I like this one. I find it comforting.
You have rarely if ever gone swimming in the ocean without a shark knowing about it.
posted by jeather at 1:13 PM on December 31, 2020 [22 favorites]


I used to work at NASA-Ames Research and had US Navy security clearance.





Smurfs are real.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:35 PM on December 31, 2020 [20 favorites]


In research on the law and criminal prosecution, researchers found that 100% of defense attorneys believe police "routinely" lie on the stand or fabricate evidence, and do so in "most" cases. That's no surprise if you've ever spoken to a defense attorney for more than thirty seconds, during which time you will probably learn they refuse to let their kids watch Paw Patrol because it lionizes and normalizes cops.

What should make everyone's blood boil with red-hot fury is that 75% of prosecutors believe the same thing. Yet keep putting those cops on the stand and shrugging their shoulders about it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:38 PM on December 31, 2020 [54 favorites]


My father has a “burn book” in his work desk that will get declassified 50 years after his death, and the absolutely only text written in it is the phone number of the local Pizza Hut.

Please don't mention this in front of the Q-anon people.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:49 PM on December 31, 2020 [19 favorites]


That notebook works as a metaphor they describes 95% of all “classified” work, so anyone trying to brag about a clearance is just the Bill Paxton character from the Arnie film True Lies.

To tie this in with the comment in the Twitter thread about nukies all being burnouts, it's a great feeling to be threatened with your job or jail time if you accidentally forget your phone in your pocket when walking into a classified lab, only to hand your work off to teenage recruits out in the field who immediately post photos of your hardware on Facebook.

I think the 737 Max debacle highlighted this for a lot of people, but manufacturers have a ton of latitude with certification of aeronautical equipment. New models of aircraft are few and far between; it's much cheaper to build variants of your old designs and certify through "similarity" - Version B is substantially similar to Version A, therefore we don't need to do all that testing and analysis that would otherwise be required. The 737 was originally certified in the '60s, and it's been riding on that approval ever since. An awful lot of what you ride in has been operating the same way.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:53 PM on December 31, 2020 [7 favorites]


John Carter (@carter1345)
Dec 30 Replying to @baym

The police aren’t legally obligated to protect you.
But how about serving? They still serve, right?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:30 PM on December 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


Banking software is turtles standing on turtles, and each turtle is older and clunkier then the one above it and the final turtle is 60 years old and the people who actually understood it died decades ago, but it works, usually, so they just keep adding turtles on top.
posted by signal at 2:31 PM on December 31, 2020 [16 favorites]


I like this one. I find it comforting.
You have rarely if ever gone swimming in the ocean without a shark knowing about it.


Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word "comforting" that I wasn't previously aware of.
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:34 PM on December 31, 2020 [15 favorites]


In research on the law and criminal prosecution, researchers found that 100% of defense attorneys believe police "routinely" lie on the stand or fabricate evidence, and do so in "most" cases.

I once worked closely beside (and, after a fashion, sort of befriended) a Scottish High Court Judge over five years. He once said to me that only thing that, in his experience, was less reliable than eye-witness testimony was the testimony of the police
posted by deeker at 2:35 PM on December 31, 2020 [15 favorites]


Your shark buddy is always there, just looking out for you!
posted by confluency at 2:36 PM on December 31, 2020 [10 favorites]


I’m still laughing at the phrase “survivable mediocrity,” about fifty comments later.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 2:40 PM on December 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


Dunno that I ever have had any job that the dark secrets of would alarm people or make them especially uneasy. I did in my twenties work for Sony selling Walkmans and discovered that while product lines differed from country to country, there was one high end model here in Canada that seemed apparently identical to a Japanese model — same features, same dimensions, same casing — but had a different model number (unsurprising) and a different weight (about 35 grams heavier here).

I asked a service guy about it and he revealed that the Japanese market valued light products but North American buyers associate it with cheap and flimsy craftsmanship, so ours have a small lead ballast in them to give them a more comforting heft.

The realization that my employer was adding a useless toxic addition to the product merely to charge buyers more has cast a long shadow in my engagement with commercial culture since then.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:46 PM on December 31, 2020 [19 favorites]


In short, criminal justice has virtually nothing to do with discovering truth, and everything to do with officially stating what is "true" and processing matters as quickly as possible within a very creaky system.

Just before the Plague Year commenced, I had been in touch with the John Howard Society about volunteering. During the lockdown, I have been occasionally commenting on local news stories about advocates’ efforts to relieve overcrowding in a city jail by getting some non-violent prisoners an early release. I think letting people know about the existence of pre-trial custody, the distinction between prison and jail, and the difference between indictable offences and summary offences is valuable.

The usual response is “want to stay out of jail dont break the law lol”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:57 PM on December 31, 2020 [10 favorites]


But if you do break any laws, don't tell anyone. A police detective relative once told me that lots (maybe most) cases that are 'solved' by detectives are the direct result of someone the criminal knew personally ratting them out to the cops.
posted by TwoToneRow at 3:04 PM on December 31, 2020 [6 favorites]


Not my industry, but
You know why Amtrak's train cars have looked the same for your whole life, without a redesign? Because they can't get them to wear out and need replacement.
When the Budd company got the contract to build that Amfleet rolling stock, they made the classic 'We invented chewing gum that never loses its flavor; we sold a lot. Now we have to convince them to spit it out and go buy another pack, or we go bankrupt'. Car #650 of 650 was finished in 1983; there are still like 630 still in use. And they work just fine!
The Post Office aesthetic of US long haul passenger trains, where everything looks obviously built for high volume durability and not a fashionable èlan? They did that too well.
The entire carriage and understructure is built out of such high quality stainless steel that we're still using the originals, welded together in the 70's and reupholstered in the 90's. Yes, the seats look worn, but are still very comfortable (luxurious compared to airline seats), and the hot showers in the sleeping cars still have great water pressure. But the reason the only thing that doesn't function in your Superliner Roomette is an odd knob marked Volume, is that it was originally designed to receive AM radio broadcasts while you read the newspaper and complained about Ma Bell replacing your rotary phone with this newfangled Touch Tone Dialing nonsense.
posted by bartleby at 3:08 PM on December 31, 2020 [64 favorites]


Most government audits involve training the auditors to see what you want them to see, not what really happens. Also, auditing firms hire people right out of college and put them under a senior manager and expect them to understand and dissect complicated financial data.

I once had to present to an auditor whose only previous experience was an cashier at a retail ice cream shop.
posted by gwydapllew at 3:09 PM on December 31, 2020 [5 favorites]


An individual water molecule in a glass of water undergoes many many more collisions with other water molecules in one second than the number of times your heart will beat in your lifetime.

happy new year, mortals!
posted by lalochezia at 3:24 PM on December 31, 2020 [15 favorites]


All that data on your hard drive? It doesn't actually exist as a string of zeros and ones.

Hard drives are actually quantum dimensional tuners, filtering out an untold infinity of unwanted realities. When you go to "access" "your" "data" you are, in truth, obliterating every other possible reality that could ever exist, except for the one where the data you seek is actually written in tiny little cursive script, in pencil, by microfaries. The capacities of disks keep increasing because we are able to build smaller and smaller pencils.

Also the fairies all die eventually.
posted by glonous keming at 3:27 PM on December 31, 2020 [11 favorites]


A perky little jingle to hum to yourself at life's frustrating moments.
posted by bartleby at 3:31 PM on December 31, 2020 [2 favorites]


I've never wanted to join twitter but seeing a thread with William gibson, no jemison, john scalzi and charles stross chatting together kinda makes me want to...
posted by supermedusa at 3:34 PM on December 31, 2020 [3 favorites]


*nk
posted by supermedusa at 3:42 PM on December 31, 2020


The earth, moving in its orbit, crosses its own diameter (ie is now adjacent to where it once was, without overlapping)...every 7 minutes.
posted by sexyrobot at 3:42 PM on December 31, 2020 [5 favorites]


There are arithmetic expressions involving nothing more than addition and multiplication which cannot be proven to be either true or false. They're probably really long expressions, but at least in theory they're nothing you couldn't work out with a pen and paper.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:43 PM on December 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


Braille signage is next to useless. Only a small number of blind/VI people can read braille, and even those that do probably won't find your sign unless you show them where it is. Nearly all braille on signs is there to make sighted people feel better (or to comply with regulations).
posted by giltay at 4:12 PM on December 31, 2020 [17 favorites]


Here with the obligatory "Software engineering; everything is a godawful kludge made of toothpicks and duck tape and no one knows wtf they're doing"

Obviously this is company specific, I'm going to take the opposite stance. Much of the technological infrastructure that makes modern life possible is result of thousands upon thousands of smart men and women, and just because it's too complicated for the layperson to understand the entire picture, that doesn't mean those thousands don't know their part.

For example, at my place of business, we have a giant flow chart that takes up a 6' by 25' wall that shows what happens when a user says "Hey Siri, play X" and X starts playing on their device. The "new employee" class in which you learn how a song gets from the servers at Universal Music Group to a place where you can play it on the Music app on your iPhone takes most of a full day.

Hell, MetaFilter.com might have a small staff, but it's running on Amazon Web Services, which is something that thousands upon thousands of people have worked on for years and years to make happen.

So yeah, there might be places where critical pieces of the company business where wrote by the one smart dude who worked there 12 years ago, but in general there are lots of people putting lots of effort that costs lots of money to make the technological magic work, and the general public having no clue how it works is the result of much if not most of that effort.
posted by sideshow at 4:23 PM on December 31, 2020 [14 favorites]


Huh. I did not know that about breakers. It explains how, while we did often trip the breakers, the triplex I am in survived so long with three units sharing 4 power circuits, covering three fridges, three microwaves, and multiple space heaters.
posted by tavella at 4:43 PM on December 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


"The janitors that cleaned the toilets in the public lobbies at Wright-Patterson also have a security clearance. It means jack shit when it comes to whether or not you happen to know exciting stuff."

Though the opposite is also true. When I was in college, I was a summer intern at DARPA, which meant I had to have a Secret clearance. Which really is not much, despite sounding very serious, you can get it pretty quickly (at least in the 80s) and the investigation is fairly light. But... they had me acting as secretary to the whole naval research office there, which meant I had the key to the cabinet where all the other keys to the filing cabinets were, and thus the files to every project. Partially because I was too proper, but mostly because I was too entranced with my new access to Arpanet, I didn't go fishing around but even the stuff that came over my desk for filing was sometimes _quite_ interesting. And it amused and horrified me equally that teenaged me had so much access to sensitive stuff.
posted by tavella at 4:55 PM on December 31, 2020 [3 favorites]


Much of the technological infrastructure that makes modern life possible is result of thousands upon thousands of smart men and women, and just because it's too complicated for the layperson to understand the entire picture, that doesn't mean those thousands don't know their part.

This is achieved by 'black box' methods though. The whole process of anything worthwhile these days is too big for any one person or even a small team to know the details of every stage, so what happens is developers know and work on their particular part(s), and everything else is an opaque black box - you know what data should go in, and what results should come out, but how it achieves that might as well be magic for all you care. Which is fine, as it's basically an implementation of 'standing on the shoulders of giants'. I mean, *maybe* every single step of a complex app may be well supported and known by highly skilled people within a single org. But the libraries it relies on, the OSes it runs on, the AWS stack it hooks into, the routers the traffic passes through... It's all an almost unimaginable amount of pieces of code, hopefully still being maintained and updated, and you just have to assume the parts you're not responsible for will carry on working.

Until one tiny bit breaks, or a huge security vulnerability is discovered in some critical library, or it turns out the one volunteer responsible for almost all the entire timezone database, used in pretty much everything retires, or one day google or microsoft or amazon just... stop working for a bit.

Having been involved in making the sausage for my entire IT career, so to speak, and the amount of incompetent fuckwits I've met, that most of everything works most of the time is a real miracle in my view.

Here's my uncomfortable sysadmin revelation. Yes, we can read everyone's email, or see what you're doing on your work-owned computer if we really want - bypassing access controls is not hard if you control the system that enforces them. We don't do that, because we have way too many other things to do. (And ethics.) It's far more likely to be middle management ordering the sysadmins to give them access who'll be doing that.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 5:15 PM on December 31, 2020 [12 favorites]


I like this one. I find it comforting:

You have rarely if ever gone swimming in the ocean without a shark knowing about it.


Me, too. I immediately imagined it as the sharks being like, "Oh, hey, there's Orlop! Hi, Orlop! Nice day for it!"
posted by Orlop at 5:19 PM on December 31, 2020 [7 favorites]


I imagine it more like "Oh boy, the DoorDash delivery's here!"
(OceanDash?)
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:48 PM on December 31, 2020 [4 favorites]


I've never wanted to join twitter but seeing a thread with William gibson, no jemison, john scalzi and charles stross chatting together kinda makes me want to...

Honestly if you want to continue respecting someone, don't follow them on Twitter.
posted by muddgirl at 7:09 PM on December 31, 2020 [4 favorites]


Helicopter blades do not just spin to keep them in the air.
Here is a slow-motion video of a helicopter blade in flight.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:02 PM on December 31, 2020 [5 favorites]


The vast majority of illustrations in science textbooks (biology, anatomy, physiology, geology, botany, zoology, microbiology, genetic, etc, etc) are simply modified copies of other existing illustrations. Very little new work is created based only on actual direct observation, original reference photos or micrographs, original data, or other primary sources. It's one of the reasons why textbooks are full of inaccuracies. It's like a game of broken telephone where each iteration drifts further from the original coherent message.
posted by Kabanos at 8:37 PM on December 31, 2020 [8 favorites]


Correction above regarding circuit breakers; that particular curve allows 200% rated current for 10 to 40 seconds, but you get the general idea from the shape of the curve. The breaker allows an over-current for a considerable amount of time to handle short term overloads. Like the wires in a heating pad or heated car seats, it takes a while for the wires in your walls to warm up so a temporary over-current isn't dangerous.
posted by JackFlash at 9:32 PM on December 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


The fact that email works at the scale it does, with so little lost mail, AND such a high load of spam, is astonishing. The amount of data being transferred, using ancient protocols, between competing companies, and it mostly just works.

I work at an email infrastructure company and we send enough emails every couple of days for every single person on the planet. It’s just a mind boggling amount of data.
posted by sleeping bear at 9:41 PM on December 31, 2020 [4 favorites]


Braille signage is next to useless. Only a small number of blind/VI people can read braille, and even those that do probably won't find your sign unless you show them where it is. Nearly all braille on signs is there to make sighted people feel better (or to comply with regulations).

About the only place I ever encounter Braille is in elevators, or very very occasionally in institutional settings like university and buildings. About the only place I have ever noticed a Braille sign in the wild, as it were, was in a Subway restaurant not far from here. In the washroom there is a large sign with both raised text and Braille declaring that EMPLOYEES MUST WASH HANDS BEFORE RETURNING TO WORK.

I pondered the combination of who might need that sign, who the overlapping Venn circles of target audiences were, and the circumstances under which it might be needed, and thought, "This is probably the filthiest sign I have ever seen."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:08 PM on December 31, 2020 [12 favorites]


As well, while I do not for a moment doubt Subway's commitment to a diverse workforce and non-discriminatory hiring practices, I have never yet seen a blind sandwich artist.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:57 PM on December 31, 2020 [1 favorite]


It's not a huge deal, but I did learn while working at a dry cleaners that there was no such thing as medium or light starch. "Medium" went into the same machine as heavy starch, and "light" went in with the no starch load. In reality, there was only starch or no starch.
posted by emjaybee at 11:10 PM on December 31, 2020 [12 favorites]


I felt warmly towards my digestive biota already, and now I know they’re warming me. It’s like a hug all the time in here.
posted by clew at 11:29 PM on December 31, 2020 [13 favorites]


Museum and antiques conservators use a wide range of solvents to clean different surfaces, and one popular solvent is saliva. It's buffered, non-reactive, readily available and most importantly, free. Human saliva, I mean - apparently you can buy sterilized pig saliva, but I've never heard of anyone using it. We don't lick the objects (we're not animals), but just moisten a nice little cotton swab and use that. A friend of mine cleaned the whole of a 3 foot diameter rattan shield from the Boxer Rebellion; it took him ten days, with frequent breaks when his mouth dried out.
posted by Fuchsoid at 12:48 AM on January 1 [21 favorites]


About 2 degrees Celsius of our body heat comes from the metabolism of microorganisms helping us digest our food.

Could this in some way be causally linked to the average body temperatures trending lower over time (as previously mentioned here & on AskMe)?
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:28 AM on January 1 [2 favorites]


the number of times I've used a cut human hair mounted on a stick as a tool in the cleanroom surprises people on tours

A student in the structural biology lab downstairs recently informed me her boss pioneered the use of cat whiskers for manipulating protein crystals. Apparently they're just the perfect stiffness and diameter. I asked if this meant the lab members all had a lot of cats that walked into walls more than usual and was informed that no, cats shed whiskers often enough that if you're looking out for them, you can keep up with one structure lab's demands no problem.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:51 AM on January 1 [12 favorites]


Braille signage is next to useless. Only a small number of blind/VI people can read braille, and even those that do probably won't find your sign unless you show them where it is. Nearly all braille on signs is there to make sighted people feel better (or to comply with regulations).
Local grocery store has an entryway with stone walls, there's a sign in the middle with Braille, and I used to imagine how bloody one's fingers might get finding it. I also notice the many wheelchair curb cuts with utility poles in them.
posted by theora55 at 8:08 AM on January 1


Museum and antiques conservators use a wide range of solvents to clean different surfaces, and one popular solvent is saliva. ... We don't lick the objects

Well phooey. So much for my resolution to become a museum and antique conservator in 2021.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:47 AM on January 1 [1 favorite]


I am conserv,
of anshent stuff.
they get so old
and looking ruff.
when need a clean,
i do my part -
i spiff them up.
i lik the art.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 12:35 PM on January 1 [37 favorites]


I feel like there are some geologists, gemologists, and even archaeologists, who are being very quiet right now about lick-testing the rocks.
posted by bartleby at 12:45 PM on January 1 [5 favorites]


Got you covered.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:19 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]


in general there are lots of people putting lots of effort that costs lots of money to make the technological magic work

Arthur C. Clarke observed that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

It occurred to me one day that I am able to type stuff like this and have it show up on the other side of the world because there now genuinely does exist an esoteric system for engraving inscriptions of power into the surfaces of crystals of potency.
posted by flabdablet at 5:03 AM on January 3


QI recently had a blind guest on the show. Toksvig and the crew were v v proud of producing a Christmas card that was in Braille. The guest didn't read Braille. It was all very 2020.
posted by jojo and the benjamins at 12:08 AM on January 4 [1 favorite]


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