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Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

Monthly Archives: February 2011

(Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be about the DMV.  “It’s so slow — and can you believe those lines!  They’re so long!” You don’t say!)

An activity is said to be efficient when it is performed “in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort.”  And while it’s hard to know when a process is as seamless and efficient as it can be, it is not usually very difficult to tell when things are wildly out of control.

I used to believe that I was obsessed with finding the most efficient way to accomplish whatever is on my agenda.  Eventually, I realized that I am not obsessed with hyper-efficiency so much as I am completely awestruck and depressed when I am required to engage in an ungodly and unapologetically inefficient activity.

Because this topic is so important to me, I have decided to find the most horrifying example of inefficiency in action in our daily lives.  Think of this article as a public service that results in your being painfully aware when you are at the pinnacle of time and energy-wasting.

In other words, misery loves company.

After a great deal of deliberation and countless hours of internal (and external!) monologue, I am proud to declare once and for all that the least efficient process in the universe is grocery shopping.

(I believe this is where, if this were a live conversation, at least half of you would loudly declare, “But I like grocery shopping, jerk!”  That’s fine!  Really, it is.  I’m not trying to make a value judgment here, only point out that there’s a lot of wasted energy taking place between the fruits and veggies in the front of the store and the dairy section in back.)

So what makes grocery shopping so groce-ly (!) inefficient?

Why, because of the NUTs, of course!

Number of
Unnecessary
Touches

For this discussion to work, let’s first assume the following is true (or true enough for these purposes): In an ideal world, the first time we touch a useful object should also be the last time the object remains unused.  At least at the consumer level, this is the most efficient way of operating.

(BEWARE: FIRST GRADE MATH AHEAD!)

We can calculate the number of unnecessary touches (“NUT”) by adding up the total number of touches and subtracting the last touch (which is the necessary touch, when the item is engaged for its intended purpose).

A classic example of a zero NUT (“no waste ideal”) situation takes place when you purchase a hotdog from a vendor at a baseball stadium.  The transaction is simple: you hand the vendor 300 dollars in cash (inflation!) and they hand you one of the worst hotdogs you have ever eaten (in under five seconds).

Only one touch, one necessary touch.  This means that there are zero unnecessary touches: 1 total touches minus 1 necessary touch equals zero NUT!

See?

Now let’s consider the example of a soup can at a grocery store.  How many times is the can handled before the last, necessary touch (when the soup is opened/consumed)?

Let’s follow journey of a can purchased by an average supermarket shopper:

Touch 1: Pick up can of soup in SOUP AND BAKING GOODS aisle.
Touch 2: Put can of soup in shopping cart.
Touch 3: Put can of soup on conveyor belt for cashier to scan.
Touch 4:
Put can of soup in shopping bag.
Touch 5
: Put can of soup back in shopping cart (bagged).
Touch 6: Place can of soup (bagged) in trunk of car.
Touch 7: Take can of soup (bagged) from trunk of car and place on kitchen counter.
Touch 8: Take can of soup out of bag and place directly on kitchen counter.
Touch 9: Put can of soup in appropriate kitchen storage location.
Touch 10: ACTUALLY USE CAN OF SOUP FOR ORIGINAL INTENDED PURPOSE

This means that the average consumer must handle the can of soup a full ten times before actually enjoying any soup-y goodness.  In this case, NUT = 9 (10 total touches minus 1 necessary touch).

One can of soup provides some insight into this inefficiency problem, but now let’s multiply the NUT by the number of items purchased on a given shopping expedition.

On my last “trip” (aren’t trips supposed to be fun?) to the grocery store, I bought about 30 items. Thirty items times nine (the NUT coefficient) equals two hundred and seventy actions over and above ideal efficiency.  That means the total NUT for my trip will be 270, a number signifying a high degree of inefficiency.

How do we know 270 denotes a “high degree of inefficiency”?  Simple.  Imagine your mother calls you up on the phone and asks you to do 270 pointless things.  That seems like a lot, doesn’t it?

Of course, any time you are purchasing goods that you are not immediately consuming, you are going to find yourself with a NUT higher than zero (and thus, not engaged in idealized efficient behavior).  But the grocery store provides a unique opportunity to participate in a spectacularly inefficient process dozens of times in the same location!

And that is why grocery shopping is the least efficient process in the universe.

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WARNING: This post is nothing close to what you’ve come to expect from Faux Outrage.  It’s not (supposed to be) funny.  It’s not wacky, whimsical, or [some other descriptive word that begins with “w”].  Most importantly: it’s not true.  I don’t know if you want to call it fiction or poetry or what, but whatever it is, it’s a deviation from the norm.  So there.  You’ve been warned.  Enjoy!


I didn’t even know they made a 6:35 in the morning.

And yet, here we are, together, standing like statues in the sunlight, half-sleeping on the corner of Fifth and Maryland.

What a coincidence that we have the same goal: to leave Point A in the dust, to say goodbye to all of that.  To leave everything behind except for the clothes on our back.  To forget the past.  Point A is a memory, already fading.  Embrace the future!   We have so much to look forward to.  Think of Point B.  Our Vatican!  Our Jerusalem!  Our Mecca!  Our Mount Olympus!  We will be there soon, standing high atop Point B, our giddy yelps unapologetically echoing throughout the distant valley below.

Without notice or regard, you suddenly yawn widely, wildly, sharp teeth blaring like a new set of speakers.

Like baseball fans doing the wave around a stadium in summertime, your yawn floats thoughtlessly from one soul to the next.

We are tired, our mouths agape in unison.

We are one.

We look shocked, to be honest, but I am certainly not.

We are a team, you and I.

We are yawn buddies, kindred spirits.

We are bus brothers of the morning.

We are anxious soldiers waiting to be deployed.

We are one!

And yet, for some reason you are far too enveloped in your ink-smudged copy of the Tribune to recognize this fact.

I want to rip the newspaper from your fumbling hands and set it on fire.

I am here!

It is 6:40 now and I swear there is dew collecting on my shoulders.  This is the kind of theory that I would confirm if I weren’t so groggy and apparently glued to this rusted celery stalk of a lamp post.  If You See Something, Say Something! an official-looking sign pleads vaguely.

“I see you’re reading the newspaper!”

“What?”

“The newspaper?”

“Yeah.” you say, still staring into the black and white void.

You didn’t even look up.

What happened to our plan?

I close my eyes and brace for a cool breeze that never arrives.  Only the sporadic and unnatural gusts brought on by the Civics and Camrys and Corollas slicing through the silence placate my senses.

Thought experiment time!

Let’s say you are hungry.

You are lunch-level hungry.

You are not starving (although you have been known to exclaim, “I’m starving!” in the company of similarly situated folks who have never in their life experienced real poverty).

Let’s also say that three identical, average-sized Styrofoam(R) brand containers have been placed before you.  Each container contains one pound of food fit for human consumption.

The containers are labeled (accurately) as follows:

  1. chicken with brown rice
  2. spicy noodles with vegetables
  3. sushi with seaweed salad

You may select one container.

Which do you choose?

I’ll give you a moment to think about it.

Your container-selection thought process probably went something like this:

  1. Note contents of Container 1 (“C1”)
  2. Note contents of C2, compare to C1
  3. Select more desirable container (C1 vs. C2)
  4. Note contents of C3, compare to more desirable (C1 vs. C2)
  5. Select most desirable container overall (C3 vs. [C1 vs. C2])
  6. “I choose Container [1-3].  That’s my final answer.”

Here’s what your thought process did not look like:

  1. Each container has 1 pound of food
  2. Therefore, no container is superior to the others
  3. “I choose any of the containers.”

I don’t think it’s controversial to point out that we prefer some foods over others.  We are willing to pay a certain price for a particular food item because of what the food is, not simply because it is “food” in the generic sense.

Should “Chinese food” cost the same regardless of whether you’re buying shrimp or noodles or rice or beef or spring rolls?

(Hint: It shouldn’t!)

In other words, since there is no (rational) part of our brain that believes our grocery shopping could be accomplished utilizing this all-food-is-equal theory (“I would like 13 pounds of food at ten dollars per pound, please.”),  why does it make sense to choose our lunch this way?

(Hint: It doesn’t!)

The upshot of this realization is that I am completely paralyzed when I encounter any food-by-the-pound buffet-style “restaurant.”

A pound of tuna may weigh the same as a pound of bok choy, but that is where the similarities end.

Tying the price of all goods in your shop to a characteristic unrelated to the essence of the goods (weight as opposed to taste/texture/nutrition) seems contrary to what we know about ourselves (we have varying desires for different goods) and our economy (our level of desire should dictate what we are willing to pay for a particular good).

once wrote of capri pants, “I’m not going to support any article of clothing that is trying to introduce an entirely new class of weather.”  Similarly, I am not going to support any eating establishment that by definition forces me to construct my meal in an entirely foreign way: based not on its inherent deliciousness vs. pricepoint, but rather on some weird hybrid desire-to-weight ratio.

Now before I get too carried away, I should point out that I do understand that it is possible to get “value” at one of these by-the-pound spots.  I know that if you eschew heavy/cheap foods like noodles, cooked rice, and mashed potatoes in favor of airy/costly items, you can “win” the buffet game and victoriously chomp down upon your efficiently-crafted, financially sound lunch.

But you won’t necessarily be eating what you want.

And really, is that any way to live?

(Hint: Nope!)

Quite simply, I refuse to trade the simple “what I want” calculation for the far more complex and less reasonable “what I want given the taste-to-weight ratio.”

“How tasty do I think that chicken is going to be and how much does it cost?”

Suddenly becomes…

“How tasty do I think that chicken is going to be?  How much does that chicken weigh?  Do I know how much ‘a pound’ feels like?  Does it weigh so much that its deliciousness is overcome by the potential cost?  Would I be better served obtaining a less scrumptious item that is lighter per morsel?  Does the chicken seem to be secretly infused with some sort of secret sauce or heft-adding liquid and/or cheese?  Should I be more upset that the guy who just sneezed all over my plate just infected me with Dengue fever or because his snot will actually make my meal cost more?”

That’s no way to live.

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