A Necessary Convenience

Q: What 20th century “convenience” is most taken for granted?


A: 69% voted for TOILET PAPER; 42% say the zipper; 38% say frozen foods

Q: If stranded on a desert island with only one “necessity,” what would you choose?


A: 49% of people surveyed chose toilet paper as their greatest island necessity ahead of food.

(From Toiletpaperworld.com surveys.)

History and Invention

Most of us alive in the United States today think that toilet paper has been around forever. Not so. Toilet paper as we know it today was not invented until 1857, and at that time it sold for fifty cents for a package of 500 sheets. This is not to be confused with a product that was used as toilet paper somewhere between AD 857 and 1391 wherein Chinese Emperors commissioned a product that measured two feet wide by three feet long. Because of its size, it is not a bona fide precursor to the product we use today.

In 1857, then, an American Joseph Gayetty invented what we know today as toilet paper. Mr. Gayetty was so proud of his invention that he had his name printed on each sheet before packaging it. Either the product cost too much, or the public wasn’t ready for it. The invention failed. Walter Alcock (of Great Britain) later developed toilet paper on a roll instead of in flat sheets. His creation also failed.

scott-toilet-paperFinally in 1867, Thomas, Edward, and Clarence Scott (brothers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) successfully marketed toilet paper that consisted of a small roll of perforated paper, which they sold from a pushcart along the streets. The product had come into its time, the pushcart had a certain allure, and the commercial success attracted venture capital to give birth to the Scott Paper Company. By 1890, Scott Paper became the nation’s leading producer of bathroom tissue; but even with that realization, toilet paper rolls were not used widely until after the First World War around 1918. There was a taboo or an embarrassment about such things and thus it was that my grandmother, who was born in 1889, probably didn’t use toilet paper until after she was twenty-eight years old at the earliest!

It’s hard to imagine what people used before toilet paper, and what clearly some peoples of the world use to this day. According to history, my aforementioned grandmother growing up in California may have used one of the following: newsprint, Sears Roebuck catalogue pages, corn cobs, mussel shells, newspaper, leaves, or sand, although we never talked about. In the Middle Ages, they may have used hay balls, or a scraper thing-y called a gompf stick that was kept in a container by the privy. Other historical “T-Precursors” included discarded sheep’s wool in the Viking Age in England; a frayed end of an old anchor cable by sailing crews of Spain and Portugal; straw, hay, grass, and the pre-described gompf stick in Medieval Europe; and water and your left hand, in India.

British Lords used pages from a book; early Hawaiians used coconut shells; and French royalty employed lace and hemp, as did other upper class peoples of the world at the time. Sponges soaked in salt water on the end of a stick served the common folk in ancient Rome while the wealthy folks in that same city at the time used wool and rosewater. With this list of uncomfortable-sounding accouterments, it’s no wonder that toilet paper was such an important invention.

To put the invention of toilet paper in historical perspective, here are some other events and inventions around the same time:

Events & Inventions

1829 First Railroad built in the U.S.
1834 McCormick reaper invented
1844 Telegraph invented
1857 Toilet paper invented
1860 Lincoln elected president
1861-5 Civil War
1865 Lincoln assassinated
1867 Dynamite invented by Nobel
1876 Telephone invented
1903 First airplane flight

In the scheme of things, toilet paper rates as one of the major inventions of the 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, it is hard to think that Abraham Lincoln, one of our greatest presidents, did not use toilet paper. Nor did he have a telephone, not to mention a smart phone.

* * * *

Truths and Particulars about TP


How many sheets are on a roll?

Some rolls are two ply and have

500 sheets of the two-ply, others have 1000 sheets of one-ply—so, basically 1000 sheets, either way.

  • The people at Charmin say a roll of toilet tissue will last about five days in a family-of-four American household bathroom. They base these figures on surveys indicating users average 8.6 sheets per trip over a family total of 23 trips. That’s 200 sheets per day or that magical 1000 sheets (one roll) in five days (and I say it depends on how many women are in the house, and how many bathrooms.)
  • How much TP is sold in the U.S. annually. What’s the TP per capita? How does this usage relate to other countries? And finally:

Q: Do most people hang the toilet paper roll with the sheet over or under?

A: 68% like to hang toilet paper with the first sheet going over the top, as in hotel rooms.

Why is Toilet Paper important? Because life without toilet paper would be certainly less pleasant, and one only has to remember the great TP shortage precipitated by Johnny Carson in 1973. The slightest mention of a possible shortage left shelves empty, the pipeline gutted, and people fighting in the stores. What a waste of time! Keep the cupboards full of TP, and try to imagine another invention that helped our civilization flourish by reducing discomfort and preventing the spread of disease all at the same time.

 

A Little Science to the Rescue

Below is my list of a few things for which I would just as soon have someone or something come to me in the middle of the night and handle, so I don’t have to make an appointment for it, panic myself with the anticipation of it, suffer the pain of it, or take the time for it.

1.     Pap Smears

2.     Mammograms

3.     Colonoscopies

4.     Teeth cleaning

5.     Bikini waxing

6.     Shaving

7.     Manicures

8.     Pedicures

9.     Eyebrow tweezing

10.  Mustache bleaching

11.  Chin hair plucking

12.  Eye appointments

13.  Breast reduction

14.  Breast enhancement

15.  Liposuction

16.  Dental work

17.  Haircuts

18.  Wrinkle Removal

19.  Lasik Eye Surgery

20.  Nose jobs

21.  Appendectomies

 

For men we can add:

1.     Face Shaving

2.     Vasectomies

3.     Prostate exams

 

My idea is to have a work crew of nanobots who get off their collective tiny little asses and take care of this stuff for me. So what is a nanobot? The prefix “nano” means one billionth. When referring to size, a nanometer, then, is one billionth of a meter. Still need help? A human hair is 50,000 nanometers in diameter. The smallest thing one can see with the unaided human eye is 10,000 nanometers across. The measurement of the dot above the letter “i” in this sentence is approximately one million nanometers.

Hopefully you have heard of the serious field of study called nanoscience, which researches the fundamental principles of molecules and structures with a size of between one and one hundred nanometers. The nanobot falls more under the related field of microelectromechanical (cool word, huh?!) systems, which we can thankfully shorten to MEMS. The scientists (they’re full-sized people by the way) who are developing this phase of the research strive to manufacture tiny robots that can flow through the bloodstream, delivering drugs and repairing tissue. These structures are usually between 1,000 and 1,000,000 nanometers in size. This is not science fiction. To wit, L’Oréal and Lancôme are already using nanoparticles in skin creams and hair conditioners. IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Lucent (they’re out of business today) were using nanotechnology in their computers. AND WHO HASN’T HEARD OF THE NANOPOD – a very small IPOD that holds 1000 tunes? (How cool to see “nano” was so forward-thinking back when this was penned.)

magnifying-glassOne of the goals of the MEMS scientists is to teach the robots to build more robots! This may present problems if the robots get out of control (as in the novel PREY by Michael Crichton), but novels aside, there is genuine science already proceeding with nanotechnology, nanostructures, and MEMS. This little science lesson is now over. If you’re interested, here are two of many references on the subject: The Next Big Thing is Really Small (© 2003) by Jack Uldrich with Deb Newberry, and Nanotechnology, A Gentle Introduction to the Next Big Idea (© 2003) by Mark and Daniel Ratner.

Now, back to my list. I know there are people out there who actually LIKE to have some of these things done. However, as I look at the bulk of the items on my list, I’d have to assume the nanobot idea will take hold, and some entrepreneur with very tiny offices and very good eyesight will figure out how to rally these miniature non-unionized workers and make a million dollars in the first few weeks of business.

In general, these tasks are things that I would just as soon not be there for at all, and in fact, if a nanobot did it VERY QUIETLY and VERY GENTLY whilst I was sleeping VERY DEEPLY, it would be awesome. They could do it all at once, as far as I am concerned. I’d wake up in the morning and it would be handled. It’s tantamount to the pure joy of coming in from working all day; the house is clean and spotless, dinner is made, candles are lit throughout the house, soft music is playing, and a well-toned, mute, scantily clad person of choice is waiting to pass out foot rubs and bring beverages of any variety, perfectly made, quickly without nagging, begging, or bickering.

Does this sound outlandish? The idea of a washing machine for women in the old days sounded impossible to them, didn’t it? Well, why can’t we expect to have a future that holds really cool stuff for us? I haven’t figured out a way to leave my head at the hairdresser’s, my hands and feet at the manicurist’s, and other body parts at other places to be poked, probed and handled, as it were. More importantly, I don’t like being awake to feel some of these invasions.

Don’t get me wrong. There are sometimes, many times, when having manicures and pedicures, as an example, are just delightful. They are a break in the action. They let us feel pampered, fawned over, and special. It’s when there really is no time, deadlines loom heavy, the “fit has hit the shan,” and you’re just not able to fit it in. Your nails look like crap, your hair badly needs a cut or color, your teeth need cleaning because your breath catches fire when near a heat source, and you wish the twenty-four hour day would expand to thirty, and your need-for-sleep factor would reduce to zero. We’ve all been there.

MY idea of nanobots are those that would be fitted with little microchips and trained to roam the body eating cuticles, handling your pap smear, ridding your teeth of plaque, checking for cavities, and dragging huge (for them) razors across body parts, like ants carrying a hot dog bun, to rid you of unwanted hair. But, until the next huge, or should I say tiny, breakthrough in nanotechnology, I guess I’ll have to continue to do all of my icky things by and to myself and with myself present.

At the moment, though, my clothes are washing themselves in the washing machine.

 

© Kathryn Atkins, 2005

Stuff!

2013-10-12 04.16.31We lasted THREE (3) weeks on our trip to Europe each of us with only one carry-on suitcase. In the winter. That’s right: a few pair of pants, a few tops, washing every few days and drying over the towel racks, and VOILÀ.

It made me wonder when I returned home: Why do we need SO MUCH STUFF?

I overbuy. We overbuy. I buy when I’m bored, when I’m lonely, when I’m procrastinating. Then, I buy too much. Stuff I DON’T NEED. It’s the American way. Well, no, it’s the “affluent” way that keeps economies rolling and people in debt and working. Newspapers in Europe in early January carried articles bemoaning credit card debt (along with extra pounds) as the left over (maybe hung over, too) “blessings” of the holiday season.

I came home and threw out three pairs of socks that I absolutely hate to wear, but keep in my drawer because I made the mistake of buying them in one of the multi packs that Target and Costco sell. “Heck, I’m getting all these pairs for so little money!” I say to myself. And I end up with a bunch of things I don’t want and feel guilty about so I keep them, stuffed into already over-stuffed drawers and closets. When it’s dark in the morning, I grab a navy blue and black sock and wonder when I get to work, how THAT happened. Or wear navy blue hose with a black skirt. I hate that.

I think Henry Ford had the best idea. Black. Any color you want as long as it’s black. Wouldn’t that simplify our lives? And out of sheer boredom, we wouldn’t go shopping so much. Who needs another black outfit? And then the retail industry would falter, the automobile manufacturers would crash, and the worldwide economy would swoon. For a while. And then, all the brain power that drains into marketing stuff we don’t need would flow into important things like global warming, electric cars, solar energy, public transportation in Los Angeles, and real transporters, like on Star Trek, so we wouldn’t have to endure endless, cramped air travel to far-away places. We could live unencumbered.

Stuff makes me stuffy. It weighs me down. It forces me to pause to organize, dust, and categorize it instead of creating, thinking, writing, reading, and loving.

I’m de-stuffing this year. In fact, I read somewhere, that when you go into a drawer, a closet, or a cabinet to remove TEN THINGS in it and throw them away. I almost lost my wedding ring that way, but sanity prevailed. I get carried away sometimes, but I don’t want to get carried away by my stuff. Please. Don’t bury me with it. I plan to enjoy the other side. Without stuff. Heck. Without clothes at all!

© 2008

Take the Keys but Don’t Take the Car!

Some folks might call it crazy. I call it coping.

empty-fuel-guageFor those of us with parents that are of a certain age, we are thankful that someone had the sense to recommend that your octogenarian (in their 80s) or nonagenarian (in their 90s) parent not drive. It’s a good thing someone said it, because the DMV (at least here in California) doesn’t seem to be smart enough to put an age limit on driving.

Here are some stats:

Although they only account for about 9 percent of the population, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show senior drivers account for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 17 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.

A recent report by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found the rate of deaths involving drivers 75 to 84 is about three per million miles driven – on par with teen drivers. Once they pass age 85, vehicular fatality rates jump to nearly four times that of teens.

So how do you get these “I’m very careful when I drive” folks off the road?

Take their keys, but don’t take the car.

Here’s my vast and deep survey upon which I base the above statement. With a sample size of exactly four I have developed this great theory, and I’d like to know if anyone else would weigh in. Or if this helped you make the right decision, let me know that, too.

Four cases “prove” my point:

  1. When my mom was 92 (!), she finally gave up driving (she made the decision, thankfully), but didn’t give up her car. That made it okay somehow. (She lived to 104. Maybe giving up one’s car guarantees a longer life.)
  2. When my father-in-law was in his mid eighties, he insisted that he could still drive. Never mind that he hadn’t driven in three years, and that his license had expired two years previously. Because his car was still in the driveway, he was somehow okay that he didn’t drive because the car’s presence told him he “could.”
  3. My girlfriend’s mom (89) hadn’t driven in years, but knew the car was in the garage. It made the idea of not driving tolerable somehow.
  4. Just this month it became clear that my mother-in-law (over 90) could not drive. “I’m keeping the car,” she announced. “I’m making it available for the family to use in a pinch.” A generous gesture: She’s paying the insurance.

These are only four cases. I get that. And  yes… insurance is a cost, but what’s the real price of getting rid of the car? Your mom or dad feels isolated and immobile. Ugh. If they can afford it, what’s the harm? Sometimes, it’s not what’s real but what we want to believe by any means that keeps our psyches on an even keel. Besides, when we all have driverless cars it won’t be an issue at all. In fact we may look back on these times as “quaint.” But until then, it’s something many of us will have to deal with.

The solution for now is clear. Let them keep the car, but take the keys.

Thoughts? Let me know your experiences.

Decision Making

TOO MANY CHOICES

The ThinkerWhether it’s business, our health, or our insurance policies, the problem is the same. We have too many choices. Result:  We don’t choose. We do nothing at all. We’re exhausted and we’re paralyzed.

Here are three folks who can tell us why we are not happier, and not smarter and not better off with more choices.

  • Barry Schwartz, Ph.D. writes and speaks on The Paradox of Choice. (2004)
  • Malcolm Gladwell author of  Outliers and Tipping Point in his 2004 TED Talk.
  • Sheena Iyengar Ph.D. writes and speaks on The Art of Choosing, (2010). The book discusses “relationship between choice and freedom — one doesn’t always go with the other.”

What to do about it? Simplify. Boil it down to three.

Choose From the Top Three:  Make every decision—as difficult as it is—a choice among three things. Why? Because we don’t have time for more. We can only handle three. It forces us to seriously consider the most important three. It requires conscious choice and a modicum of analysis. There is usually not an advantage in over-analyzing.

Here’s what you get from choosing three: A momentum that will not get mired in the sludge of too many choices. Too many choices paralyze us.

To move forward, to move at all, whittle it down to three.

What if you’re wrong? The beauty is… You will know sooner rather than later.

Make It Easy: Make it easy for yourself and your clients to make decisions. They can handle three. More than that and you risk their not making a choice at all. You risk losing the sale.

And for yourself, you risk not moving forward. Stuck is stuck. Like a statue. Don’t be.

 

Taking a Break

“Give me a break.” In the vernacular, ‘give me a break’ means “Oh, come on.” On the other hand, taking a break has no second meaning. Does that mean it’s more serious? Taking a break is so important that it is mandated by law to protect employees from being forced to work without eating or taking restroom stops.

Taking a Break from WritingTaking breaks makes us more productive. Coffee/tea breaks make life livable. Meditation breaks fill the screen of your mind with a pleasant je ne sais quoi. However it is positioned, taking a break helps balance body, mind and spirit.

One way of taking a break is to have someone do your work for you. Wow, wouldn’t that be cool? This strategy is usually a win-win. Why? The person doing your work often does it better because they don’t consider it work. They like it! And they’re often paid for it, which is good for the economy.

When we’re super busy, we like to convince ourselves that breaks are unnecessary. Been there, done that. However in my saner moments, I figure that if we weren’t supposed to take breaks, we wouldn’t have been designed to eat or to sleep.

“I think I can, I think I can,” says the little train filled with good intentions as it chugs up the steep hill. Of course we all think we can. We’re good. We’re professionals. We’re adults. Mostly, though, we’re invincible. But we’re not. Scientists know. The bad guys are certain: Starve people and keep them from sleeping, and they’ll crack.

Trend Alert: Taking breaks must be important: Google returned 729,000,000 results on the keyword string “taking a break.” This post will make at least 729,000,001! If those were seconds, the time to open up (without even reading) each of the separate results would require 12,150,000 minutes. Gee.  That’s 202,500 hours or 8,437 days. That comes out to 23 years. Taking a break is a very significant concept, evidently. We all need breaks, and more than one every twenty-three years.

Taking a break is essential. Standing up, taking a walk, stretching, reading a book for five or ten minutes. Meditating. Seeing a movie. Going out for a meal. Vacationing.

Breaks refresh, renew, revive, reinvigorate, restore, recharge, revitalize. We all know this. We just need to make time for it, schedule it on our calendars, find a break partner, and make taking a break a habit.

Or we’ll break.

Knowing

Knowing. Hah. That’s almost funny. No one really knows. We like to approach knowing, and as professionals we know more than non-professionals. However,  there’s a reason the doctors, dentists and lawyers all have “practices.” They practice  because they have not ‘mastered’ their professions. In fact, mastering is almost a nasty word to the good ones. Knowing—really knowing—is the opposite of what professionals profess. I don’t even think professors profess that they know everything.

Knowing
Image by  debo243

They are still or (they should be) continually learning. We can always be better, right? In fact this post on the word perfect riffs on this same fact. No one knows and no one is perfect.

 

So what is knowing? Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines it as: (1) having or reflecting knowledge, information, or intelligence; (2a)  shrewdly and keenly alert: astute <a knowing observer>; (2b) indicating possession of exclusive inside knowledge or  information <a knowing smile; (3)  cognitive; (4) deliberate <knowing interference in the affairs of another>

Trend Alert: More folks these days think they know things because they have access to so much information. Information by itself does not necessarily impart knowledge, because having access to it and owning it are two different things. I think we’re confusing access with acquisition. Just because you walk into a bookstore doesn’t mean you know or have a command of what’s in the books. Osmosis doesn’t work for knowledge (note the word deliberate in the definition above.) Effort and work are needed to attain a level of knowing that passes us off as experts.

Furthermore, society and academia sanction doctor or dentist, professor or attorney titles by administering tests and bestowing degrees and titles upon the folks that pass the muster for their industry. But true professionals don’t stop there. They begin there. True professionals know more than many, but we will never know it all. We can just hope to keep learning, and be better at our work and at our selves than we were yesterday.

This guy said it best:

“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.”~ Socrates