Monday, September 19, 2005

The End of Time

Lately I've noticed that very few people seem capable of estimating time in any kind of sensible way.

On the ferry going to NL, I asked at the information desk how long it takes to unload the cars once the boat had docked. He said it would take a while.

A while.

In other words his only response was that the process was not instant. Now, of course, there are factors and variations. I get that. But what would be wrong with saying, "well it can vary, but it usually ranges between half an hour and an hour" or something like that?

Today I asked someone at the university how long changes to an important document would take and he said, "a good while," apparently under the delusion that his response in any way answered my question. Somewhat peevishly, I said, "tell me in hours or days" and it took a while for him to understand what I talking about.

I can't help but wonder if this is part of a general movement away from numeracy in our culture. When I last got my hair cut, I asked for it cut down to three quarters of an inch. The woman didn't have that size on her trimmer so I said a half inch was OK but no shorter. Then she suggested three eighths, apparently thinking that three eighths was closer to three quarters because they both had threes in them.

Are we really to the point that ordinary people are incapable of estimating using numbers and understanding basic fractions? On the way back from NL, I asked someone else how long it would take to get off the ferry and he said, "it depends."

Ah. I never would have imagined it depended on anything.

By the way, the first time took five minutes, the second fifteen. But presumably it might have taken days, since it could be quite a while...depending.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Memo To:

Retail clerks: Check the signature on credit cards after the person signs the receipt. Didn't you wonder why credit cards have signatures on the back.

People with any kind of headphone-based music player: If other people can hear it, it's too loud. If you're at the front of the bus, and I can hear it at the back of the bus, seek treatment for your ears or heart or brain or all three.

Institutional custodians: From now on, please unlock both sides of double doors. How are people supposed to guess which one you've done if you only do ONE SIDE?

Hyperbolic People: 100% means everything. For a while it was cute to say you were going to give 110% but now it's just gotten stupid. Now people are claiming they're going to give 200% or 250% or 1000%. Enough already.

CBC employees: Don't picket the Governor General's installation or any other place that's not CBC-related. There's reasonable protest and then there's just being a jerk.

Smokers: At your earliest convenience, please explain what is is about nicotine that compels you to throw LIT cigarette butts onto the sidewalks and streets of the nation? We all have our stuff -- Lord knows I do -- but I throw my junk food bags in the garbage.

Medical people: Stop complaining about people going to the emergency room for non-emergency medical problems. Open your eyes: tons of people can't get timely medical attention any other way in this country. Also, stop referring to "universal health care" as though we had it. When people can't get appointments with competent physicians, when patients are kept on waiting list for years on end, when emergency services are routinely closed, it's not universal.