Friday Free-for-All #84: Pricey, misconceptions, cars

More random questions for your Friday amusement, this time dealing with over-priced things, common myths, and my car.

Friday Free for All

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

What product or service is way more expensive than it needs to be?

The real biggies are personal care products that we all need. In the case of men, this means razor blades and disposable razors in particular. For women, it means sanitary products like tampons, pads, and so forth.

For each one of these, the cost of the physical materials to make them — plastic and metal for razors, and cotton and string or cloth and adhesive for feminine products — could cost no more than a few cents at most.

But let’s be generous and say that the whole thing together — a dozen tampons and the packaging, costs maybe two bucks, and a four-pack of disposable razors or one handle and four cartridges is a buck at most.

So why does it cost ten bucks or more for those razors, or a similar price for three dozen or so tampons that might get used up pretty fast, depending on a woman’s particular needs?

On top of that, why do modern multi-blade razors absolutely suck at shaving? I have literally had a brand new out of the box cartridge absolutely stuff up and become useless after shaving just one side of my face, and leaving way too much stubble at that.

Okay, maybe I just have a difficult beard, but come on. And for anyone thinking, “Have you tried electric?” why, yes I have, and that does an even worse job of things, making it look like I didn’t shave at all.

I’ve seriously had better luck with the non-brand three pack of double-blade razors at the 99 Cent Store.

Of course, I have no personal experience riding the cotton pony, but I would imagine that some women may have to go through multiple tampons in a day, for a few days in a row, and that can add up. I guess this is the one advantage for men — except for Humbert Humbert, most of us don’t have to shave twice a day.

What are some of the most common misconceptions?

Ooh — a list within a list. Here we go, in no particular order. Each of these states the myth first, then why it’s wrong.

Urine is sterile

I have no idea how this one got started, although it probably involves either having to drink your own urine if you’re lost in the desert or the equally untrue “peeing on a jellyfish sting” stops the pain myth. Urine might be sterile when it hits your bladder, but on the way out through your urethra, it can pick up all kinds of bacteria.

Ever hear of a “urinary tract infection?” Well, that’s how it happens. As for drinking your urine for survival, you’d really want to distill out the water first. After all, it contains all the stuff your body is trying to flush out, including sodium and other salts, and pouring those right back in isn’t a good idea, especially when you’re trying to hydrate.

Toilets flush in opposite directions in north and south

More specifically, the belief is that water goes down the toilet — or down any drain — counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere due to the Coriolis Effect.

Now, while this is certainly true for things like the way that storm systems rotate or winds circulate based on the rotation of the Earth, for something as small as a toilet or sink, the effect just doesn’t work. A hurricane or a prevailing current is actually a huge and massive thing. Remember, while clouds may float above the Earth, they only do that because they are not very dense — but they still weight as much as all the water in them, which can be millions of tons.

That kind of mass will be affected by the Earth’s rotation, so you will see the counterclockwise/clockwise thing going on, but only on that scale.

The Moon has a “dark” side

Thanks for this one, Pink Floyd, but the Moon does not have a dark side. All of it receives light from the Sun through its various phases and, in fact, watching it change from day to day in our sky should be the ultimate proof that there is no single dark side.

There is, however, a far side (thanks for that one, Gary Larson), and this is the one that we can’t see from the Earth. We can see the “dark” side, though, and that happens whenever there’s a New Moon in our sky.

Turkey makes you drowsy

This is an appropriate one to bring up as Thanksgiving approaches. The common myth is that eating turkey will make you sleepy because it contains the amino acid tryptophan, which triggers a drowsy response.

But here’s the thing: Turkey doesn’t contain particularly high levels of tryptophan, and certainly not higher than other foods. So what’s really going on? Look at your Thanksgiving meal for that one. Generally, this is one of those occasions where people chow down to excess, and do it with a large combination of foods, particularly carbohydrates and sweet and starchy side dishes.

You know — cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, yams, stuffing — the works. And these, in turn, raise your insulin levels, which lower the amount of large amino acids in your bloodstream… except for tryptophan. In effect the entire meal concentrates whatever effect the turkey had. Also note: Tryptophan is destroyed by lengthy or high-temperature cooking, which pretty much describes that Thanksgiving bird.

Jesus’ birth was due to the Immaculate Conception

Talk about one that is literally a misconception! This one gets particularly confused, especially by non-Catholics, but even Catholics can make the mistake. Jesus was a result of the virgin birth, which happened when Mary conceived without having known a man, or so the story she told Joseph goes.

The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s birth, but it does not mean that her mother was also a virgin. It was simply a semantic trick designed to make it theologically possible for a human woman to give birth to a divinely fathered being. “Immaculate Conception” means that egg and sperm came together in her mother’s womb without being tainted by original sin — you know, that whole thing that Adam and Eve and, by extension, all humankind were being punished for?

Hint: It was that whole eating the fruit in the garden shtick. But, anyway, at some point theologians hand-waved away the idea that Mary would have been conceived with original sin just like everyone else, and so Immaculate Conception was born. Not to be confused with the Immaculate Reception, although that did happen two days before Christmas.

Vikings wore horns

Vikings never wore horns, on their helmets or anywhere else, except possibly (although there’s no evidence) in limited and very ceremonial situations far away from battle.

Why? Very simple, really. Why put a pair of convenient handlebars on your protective headgear for your enemy to grab? If your helmet is strapped on, they can have a good go at trying to twist your head around, and if it isn’t, then they can just fling that helmet off and jam a pickaxe into your skull.

Vikings did, however, have fabulous hair. The whole horn myth didn’t come about until the 19th century and a staging of Wagner’s opera Der Ring des Nibelungen, particularly the Valkyries — who were also the origin of the expression, “The opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings;”

Immigrants’ names were changed by officials at Ellis Island

Not only were they not changed, they were barely recorded. A ship docked, the passengers got off, workers at Ellis Island checked their names off on the ship’s manifest, and then it was “Welcome to America.”

And that was it. We didn’t really even have immigration laws back then. If you got here, you got in with few exceptions that did not involve contagious diseases. (Ask China about that.) Names were changed by the immigrants themselves, for various reasons, and what they put down on official documents was what they got called.

Maybe someone was dodging a criminal past, or didn’t want to sound so ethic, or just preferred to simplify the spelling of their name. It was easy to do back then, but it wasn’t done to them.

There was mass panic during the 1938 broadcast of H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds

There really wasn’t. There were a few isolated incidents, but the idea was blown out of proportion by newspapers of the idea in order to discredit the new rival medium of radio.

It probably would have died out except that Orson Welles and CBS Radio both realized that it had actually benefited them, not the papers — so they had the last laugh and propagated the rumors themselves.

Glass is a slow-flowing liquid at room-temperature

Absolutely not, despite the myth that older windows are thicker at the bottom. Some of them may be, but it’s not because the glass is slowly flowing down the pane. If that were the case, we would have definitely seen some ancient cathedral’s stained glass windows pour into the transepts by now.

The difference in thickness is just an artifact of manufacture that probably happened when the glass actually was semi-liquid, which tends to happen when you heat it to the high temperatures needed to form it into what you’re making. Once it’s cooled down, though, it becomes an amorphous solid and, short of a ridiculous heatwave, it’s not going anywhere.

What do you hate most and love most about your car?

First, let me describe my car. It’s a 2012 Toyota Yaris, and I got it the one time that I practically impulse-purchased a vehicle. What had happened was that for the second time in a few months, the clutch or transmission cable on my 2000 Saturn (bought new originally) went all funky, so that I could only shift into 1st or 3rd gear.

That made the trip to work really fun (he said sarcastically), so when I got to the office, I went online to search for available cars with manual transmissions. Because our company had a couple of Toyota Matrices for business purposes that I’d driven a few times and liked, I figured I’d see what Toyota had.

Exactly one car came up and while it wasn’t a Matrix, it was similar, had a manual transmission, and was also located nearby, at North Hollywood Toyota. I limped my Saturn over there after work, walked into the showroom and said, “I want this one,” and the deal was done about four hours later.

It was slightly used, as in it was a 2012 that I bought near the end of 2013 with about 12,000 miles on it. It had started out as a dealer model, and so had the highest trim level in the most deluxe version of that model. That is, every possible option that could have been put on the car was there.

And that’s a big part of the “what I love the most.” ABS braking, traction control on demand, fog lamps, Bluetooth, cruise control, AC and heating, electronically adjustable mirrors, entertainment system with radio, CD, USB port and Bluetooth Audio, keyless entry, and incredible mileage.

And manual transmission. I have only ever owned and driven cars with a stick-shift and although they told me when I bought this one that it would probably be my last because the rise of hybrids and EVs really makes stick unnecessary, that’s still one of my favorite things.

First off, it gives me more of a sense of control and a feel for the car. Second, it’s quite frequently great protection against the whole, “Can I borrow your car?” thing.

“Sure. Can you drive stick?”

“Oh… no.”

End of discussion.

It’s a four-seater with four doors and a hatchback, and just looks neat to boot. And, keep in mind that I’m not really a car person.

As for what I hate most about it: It’s getting older, already nine model years when I know that most car companies want you to buy a new one every six years or lease a different one every two years. Granted, Toyota is built to last a lot longer, and I did get thirteen years out of a Saturn which was also fun but, honestly, it started falling apart in little ways long before its big meltdown.

Also, because it’s older and out of warranty, it still requires all of that maintenance stuff, but it’s so hard to keep track of as well as to find time to get done. Fortunately, thanks to COVID and working remotely, I’m driving so little that I can get two months out of a tank of gas. Still, there are those time-based things that are necessary. It’s just such a pain in the ass.

My baby also isn’t perfect. There’s some body damage to the rear passenger door and environs. A couple of those were definitely mine in encounters with inanimate objects, but I suspect that at least one curvy dent in the door was not me.

It does give him character and one of these days, I just might get everything done that needs to be done, bodywork and all, and maybe even paint him a bright shade of tangerine, just because.

Oh — and yes, my car’s pronouns are he/him/his. I mean, for one thing, he’s got this big ol’ stick up front. And for another, it just flowed better when I named him. This is the seventh car I’ve owned, so he’s called El Señor Siete — Mr. Seven.

In case you’re wondering, models in order: Datsun, Subaru, Honda, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Saturn, Toyota. Colors in order: Green, white, gray, green, white, gray, silver. Yes, I know that this means I should paint my car green instead of orange, but I’m not as big a fan of green.

At least as a color, anyway.

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