Have a Good Day

I currently work a part-time job as a cashier on a college campus.

This is not a picture of me. But you get the idea. A cashier is an anonymous, friendly face, whose sole purpose is to help and to serve. Like a robot. Except with a human face. Essentially, a cashier is a  robot that doesn’t creep you out when it asks you how your day is going, (staring with those vacant, hungry eyes).

 

 

The whole interaction goes something like this:

  1. The customer approaches with a product, ritual greeting are exchanged.
  2. The cashier asks a couple of friendly, heavily scripted questions.
  3. The customer responds with correct and appropriate scripted responses.
  4. The cashier inputs relevant responses into a machine.
  5. The customer offers up payment.
  6. There is a ritual well-wishing and…
  7. …if all goes smoothly, the customer leaves and everyone is happy.

It is a simple, mindless, repetitive process that I could probably do in my sleep.

I am an efficient, friendly cashier overall liked or at least tolerated by customers and co-workers alike. I take no small pride in my ability to ring up hundreds of students and keep a smile on my face. There is, however, one tiny little crucial thing which I have never quite been able to figure out: small talk.

xkcd

In particular, I want discuss a certain phrase that has always bothered me. That is,

“Have a good day!”

Where to start? First, as a cashier, it’s important to know what you’re about to say, otherwise whatever’s in your mind will slip out, and if what’s in your mind is “I’ve been wearing the same socks for three days now, I should sleep, I can see wavy sleepy lines everywhere, that’s kind of silly, look, a man with a beard!” or, really, anything personal, it will lead to a long, awkward moment where you try unsuccessfully to  turn it into a joke and then awkwardly laugh it off.

I’ve found that the most crucial time to stay “on script” is that awkward time between the end of a transaction and the departure of a satisfied customer. I’ve found that the simplest, most polite way to smooth this transition and encourage a customer to enter into that final vital step is to tell them that you hope that the rest of their day is (ambiguously) pleasant. For some reason, this is the appropriate and agreed upon cue that says “look, I like you, but I’ve got seven other customers here. Please keep moving” without producing any hurt feelings. I, certainly never known to over-think anything, find that even this can be a little excruciating when you’ve served three hundred customers, just survived an all-nighter, and am struggling to remember how I got here. What eventually comes out of my mouth is something like this:

“Have a[n] nice great fantastic super swell awesome pretty cool terrific exciting interesting not-too-bad good day!

After some painful soul-searching processes, I decided that the most appropriate and all-encompassing phrase, my phrase, would simply be “have a good day!” – because that is what I wish for people going through my line hour after hour. A “nice” day is unlikely if you, a student, have an impending test that you may or may not be prepared for, or if you’re experiencing some unknown tragedy, I don’t want to belittle it with a work like “terrific.” If you, the customer, approach with a huge, ear-to-ear smile, I may up the ante with an occasional “have a great day” – but for the most part, I want whatever your day is, even a very awful day, to have some redeemable sense of “good”ness about it. That is then the phrase that slides the most easily off of my tongue, as I look sincerely into a customers eyes; “Have a good day.”

This, readers, is only a small part of the mental processes that keep your cashiers occupied during long, slow stretches without human interaction. Let your local cashier know they are loved and appreciated to responding to their ritual goodbye “have a super-terrific-jolly-nice day!” with an over-enthusiatic “Me too!” Then walk away very quickly and let them try to work out what just happened for the rest of the day.

Admit is, we all secretly need a shirt like this:

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BONUS:

Are you strange?

Also, if you’re feeling especially ambitious, why don’t you reinvent my script?

Reimagine the trivial conversations that happen in your everyday life and reinvent one in a way that makes it more meaningful, personal, or sincere.

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Peanut Butter Jelly Time

This post is a nod to the new “gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches” my school now offers for four dollars, nineteen cents for the more adventurous soul.

I’ll skip over the basic sandwich trivia and jump right to the peanut-butter-jelly of the issue.

Who ever thought to combine the salty, savory taste of peanut butter with the a spoonful of sappy-sweet strawberry jelly?

My research did not turn up a name of an inventor of the sandwich in question, but it did uncover some interesting history. Peanut butter, jelly, and bread were apparently included among American Army rations during World War II – though the idea of combining the three was already discussed as early as 1901, when Julia Davis Chandler mentioned it in The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics. Peanut butter sandwiches were not an entirely new idea, but had previously been reserved for upscale events such as formal tea parties. As the price of peanut butter dipped, sandwiches with peanut butter became more common and particularly popular among America’s youths. According to Wikipedia – a very reliable source, I know – “a 2002 survey showed the average American will have eaten 2,500 of these sandwiches before graduating from high school.” Just take a moment to absorb that fact.

More about the peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich:

http://www.bbb.org/blog/2012/04/happy-national-peanut-butter-and-jelly-day/

Take a few minutes to research one of your favorite foods. Does it have a culture or cult following? Where does it come from and how does global economy determine who eats it, when and for what occasions? Does it have any symbolic meaning or cultural significance?  How do historical events shape the food we eat today? What is the context in which this food is traditionally consumed? And, finally, how does what you eat reflect what you are?

And now, as if you didn’t see this coming…

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BONUS:

Liminal Spaces

I had a break today with nothing on my schedule – a rare and glorious moment – and decided to go indoors-spelunking, that is, exploring the interior of strange and new buildings; I happened to have one handy down the street.

I was opening and closing doors and darting from place to place when I happened upon this strange circular room with a mystical-looking name.

The room was very simple but difficult to describe. There were two doors and no windows, no natural light. A simple circle with a flat bottom and top, a cylinder like a tuna can. The wall was framed by a wide, comfortable bench inlaid with patterns of plump diamonds and cat-eye-slits, in reds and earthy browns, floating above a lime green carpet. The design of the bench is the sort that compels one to sit, just to see what it is like, but serious enough to make you pause there and not know why you wait. Everything about the circle drew you into the it, so that there was no forward or backward, it was imprecise and beguiling.

I wouldn’t have hesitated there for more than a few minutes to enjoy the silence, but two women came to the door and I liked the way that they looked at the room, like they understood how magical the place was. The women had both grey hairs and walked slowly, as though this was where they had always been headed and this room was their very last stop. I smiled because I felt like the room was a peculiar little secret I shared with them. They sat and soon we were conversing in a calculated way.

We sat three corners of a triangle facing in, speaking one at a time and listening deeply to each person speak. I was a stranger, they were friends – they were teachers and I was a student – they were old and I was young. There was no inequality in that space, only a sort of unspoken contract that comes with sitting in a circle in a hidden little room in a building built to be lost in.

We talked about words, about places, about people that mattered, about where we were, about what the world is like, about where we go or have been, about things that made us smile – an almost nonsensical little chat made serious only by the shape of it all.

In a liminal, transitory space we waited for the same thing, then we left.

Have you ever thought about standing in a doorway?

While you are standing in a doorway between one room and another, are you still in the room you left behind or are you already a part of the room into which you are entering?

 

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BONUS:

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.

– J. R. R. Tolkien


The art of living Spontaneously

One thing that I strongly believe in is living in the moment. Not to understate the importance of setting goals and seeing them through – those are good keys to success in life – I think it is important not to live a life of waiting for tomorrow. There are opportunities all around us all the time to act not just as a passive observer but to instigate life, create, act, and do.

Improv Everywhere is a group that creates spontaneous situations that surprise, provoke thought, break up the tedium of everyday life. Take a look:

Did you notice the faces of observers? Shock, a little embarrassment, curiosity – but in the end, they came to the realization that they had experienced something unique and were themselves a part of something bigger.

Improv Everywhere makes satirical statements about culture, such as the walking-and-texting trend, by offering a humorous public service for a day:

They unite people by presenting a problem and inviting strangers to work together to find a solution:

And they make you question all of your assumptions about who and what people are:

I enjoy Improv Everywhere because many of their works really capture what it means to live spontaneously. The word “spontaneous” comes from the Latin “sponte,” which means “of one’s free will.” By being spontaneous, you are demonstrating your human ability to break out of the imposed pattern of everyday life – to seek and find pleasure in the little things. I challenge you to take the opportunity to be spontaneous. Be aware of the moment and capture it – seize the day, so to speak. You never know what might happen.

Here’s a link to the Improv Everywhere website if you would like to see more:

http://improveverywhere.com/

Questions:

  •  What are some ways spontaneity can be productive, positive, and useful in everyday life?
  • How can spontaneity help in your career?
  • Does spontaneity have to be silly? Why or why not?
  • How can spontaneity provoke social change?

Leave a reply below!

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BONUS:

BONUS CANCELLED FOR TODAY.

GO OUTSIDE, DO SOMETHING CREATIVE TODAY.

THEN TELL ME ABOUT IT VIA THE “comment” BUTTON.

:)-|-{

I want to take a moment to talk about stick figures – the ubiquitous human figure, the great equalizer in portraiture art – the lines and dots. Anyone who can draw relatively straight lines and a circle can construct one – which opens up a world of possibilities.

[see: xkcd – a great webcomic which utilizes stick figures to convey thoughts about the world.]

mobius

Contributed by Steven Ellis, super-genius

I was curious about the origin of the stick figure so I did a little research and I uncovered a fascinating lecture someone already presented on the topic, so I thought I’d save some time explaining and just share the link, because he tells it better than I can:

If you want to see the slideshow from his lecture, it’s also here:

It seems that stick figures have been in use long before the 1900s, however, for instance here’s on the left you can see a photograph of a human figure etched into stone at Fort Ancient in Jackson County, Ohio, thought to be prehistoric in origin.

 

The symbol is an expression of human existence throughout history, from cave-painting, to hieroglyphics, to male and female restroom indicators, to friendly emoticons, the stick figure is the quintessential human presence in the canvas of a story.

Questions:

  • What are some other instantly recognizable universal symbols?
  • What does the stick figure represent? Does it exclude anyone?
  • If you wanted to create a universal method of discourse, what images might you use and why?
  • What does the stick figure include in its representation of the human body? What does it omit? What sort of ideology does this selective portrayal exhibit?

Leave a reply below!

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BONUS:

xkcd

Furthermore, if you’re up for an adventure:

http://www.drawastickman.com/

Play Fair

My introduction into the world of ciphers began with the Playfair cipher.  It’s beautiful because it’s brilliantly difficult to crack – yet, as Wheatstone, the puzzle’s inventor, boasted – a schoolboy could learn to use it within fifteen minutes.

All you need to know in order to solve or create a Playfair cipher is the keyword, how to construct the 5 by 5 word table, and four relatively simple rules.

To create the table, you fill in the first spaces with your keyword with no repeating letters, then fill in the rest of the alphabet in order minus the letter “Q.”

Exempli gratia: (Keyword: DANGER)

D   A   N   G   E
R   B   C   F   H
I     J   K   L   M
O   P   S   T   U
V   W   X   Y   Z

At this point, you can go ahead and write your message out: “NOTE TO SELF: UPDATE BLOG POST ABOUT THE CHEESES”

You can now split your message into 2-letter segments called digraphs, taking into account…

Rule 1: if you have the same letter two times in a row (or only one letter left), add an “X” after the first letter.

So at this point your message should look like this:

NO  TE  TO  SE  LF  UP  DA  TE  BL  OG  PO  ST  AB  OU  TX  TH  EC  HE  ES  ES

Still legible – but ready to encrypt!

Here’s where the rest of the rules and the chart become important.

Rule 2: If the two letters appear in the same row – replace each with the letter immediately to the right – wrapping around to the left if the letter is on the far right.

Rule 3: If the two letters share a column, replace each with the letter immediately below it, wrapping around to the top if the letter is on the bottom.

Rule 4: Here’s where it gets tricky. Simonsingh.net provides a good explanation:

If the digraph letters are neither in the same row nor the same column, the rule differs. To encipher the first letter, look along its row until you reach the column containing the second letter; the letter at this intersection replaces the first letter. To encipher the second letter, look along its row until you reach the column containing the first letter; the letter at the intersection replaces the second letter.

But it makes the most sense when put in practice. Here’s an example of how I would begin to encrypt my message:

“NO”

D   A   N   G   E

R   B   C   F   H

I     J   K   L   M

O   P   S   T   U

V   W   X   Y   Z

becomes “DS”

“TE”

D   A   N   G   E

R   B   C   F   H

I     J   K   L   M

O   P   S   T   U

V   W   X   Y   Z

becomes “UG”

“TO”

D   A   N   G   E

R   B   C   F   H

I     J   K   L   M

O   P   S   T   U

V   W   X   Y   Z

becomes “UP”

“SE”

D   A   N   G   E

R   B   C   F   H

I     J   K   L   M

O   P   S   T   U

V   W   X   Y   Z

becomes “UN”

“LF”

D   A   N   G   E

R   B   C   F   H

I     J   K   L   M

O   P   S   T   U

V   W   X   Y   Z

becomes “TL”

Ergo, with the keyword “DANGER,” “Note to self” becomes “DSUGUPUNTL”

Sources:

http://www.simonsingh.net/The_Black_Chamber/playfair_cipher.html

Simon Singh provides a little more background about the cipher and an online encryption/decryption tool.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Playfair_cipher

Wikipedia has an excellent visual tutorial under “Example”

Questions:

  • How can you use ciphers in everyday life?
  • Why are some ciphers more difficult to crack then others?
  • What are some secrets that changed history? Who kept them, why, and how do we know them today?
  • How has the art of sending secret messages changed with the development of new technology?
  • Where do hidden messages show up in pop culture?

Leave a reply below!

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BONUS:

A song or two about the keeping of secrets:

Sweet Trivia

Today’s letter is the letter “M.”

Have you ever looked at the “M” on an M&M and wondered, moments before a mouthful of delicious chocolate and color, how exactly that got there?

According to mental_floss, the “M”s are applied via a method similar to offset printing. They run down a conveyor belt and are individually stamped with a vegetable-based dye. This printer allegedly stamps around 2.5 million m&m’s an hour, but occasionally it misses due to small variations in the candies.

The “M”s are made of a wax-like substance that floats in water – if you drop one of the candies M-side up in a bowl of water, the M will slowly peel off and float to the surface.

Creating something like this:

A little terrifying…reported to still be delicious.

What do the “M”s stand for? The original founders of the M&M brand were Forrest Mars and Bruce Murrie, both sons of other famous and successful candy makers. From their initials they  derived the name “M&M”. The partnership eventually dissolved (much like in the picture above) – not so “sweet” for Murrie. The name, however, stuck.

Read more about it here:

http://mentalfloss.com/article/30494/what-do-ms-mms-stand-and-how-do-they-get-them-there

Questions

  • What are some instantly recognizable logos? Why are they recognizable?
  • Why are so many candies colorful?
  • What do M&M’s represent in pop culture?
  • If “M” is a word – what kinds of connotations does it have? (Suggested, not literal meaning.)

Leave a reply below!

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BONUS:

 

Also, here’s some more cool science experiments you can do with candy:

http://www.stevespangler.com/summer-science-2/colorful-dissolving-candy-kitchen-science/

AL-U-MIN(-I)-UM

A response to Anonymous:

https://rebeccaadabsurdum.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/some-of-the-most-puzzling-people/#comments

There are, in fact, two widely accepted spellings for the metal: Aluminum and Aluminium.

English chemist Sir Humphrey Davy –

“Sir Humphrey Davy
Abominated gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.”

http://www.schoenml.org/112fp/clerihew.htm

is responsible for the naming of the element. In 1807, he named the element “alumium” – which he soon changed to “aluminum.” The name “aluminum” only lasted for five years before, in 1812, Davy finally settled on the name “aluminium,” which has been the name for it since.

If all this is true, why do we still have this?

Here’s where it gets complicated. Although both versions of the word were in circulation, the scientific community as a whole preferred to use the finalized “aluminium.” Noah Webster’s Dictionary of 1828, however, only listed the word “aluminum.” Future dictionaries adopted this practice although American scientists retained the British “aluminium” in practice. Neither word was widely used, however, as up until around 1895 the metal was considered a rare and valuable substance. A way to extract the metal cheaply was discovered and suddenly it was everywhere. Michael Quinion* suggests that during this time journalists were scrambling to write about this new metal and turned to Webster’s Dictionary for the correct spelling of the word, so that the public read exciting news stories about wonder-metal “aluminum.” The scientific community in America later followed when the American Chemist Society officially adopted the word “aluminum” in 1925, however there has been a recent shift to try to re-standardize the word “aluminium” in the USA.

*read more about it here:

http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/aluminium.htm

For more word trivia, check out World Wide Words here:

http://www.worldwidewords.org/index.htm

Questions

  • How does a word change over time?
  • Are both spellings “correct”?
  • How does what we’re writing about reflect cultural and societal shifts?
  • What are some other words with more than one accepted spelling? 

Leave a reply below!

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BONUS:

Don’t tell me you didn’t see this coming.-“aluminum”

If you need them in order. -“aluminium”

The Cube

During the mid-1980s, “it was estimated that one-fifth of the world’s population had played the Cube.” (http://www.rubiks.com/world/cube_facts.php)

Today I bring in a guest expert, Matthew Young, to discuss the phenomenon that is the Rubik’s Cube. Matthew Young is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computational structural analysis at Purdue University. His hobbies include solving sudoku puzzles, excel coding, and writing internet memes. He recently acquired his own Rubik’s Cube and was willing to answer a few questions.

  • What is a Rubik’s Cube? How do you solve it?

“The Cube is made of three layers, each of which independently turn. The goal is to take a cube which has all the colors mixed up and to get them all in order, so that it has all of one color on each face.”

  • Why do you enjoy playing with a Rubik’s Cube?

“Because I like the feeling of accomplishment I get when I solve it. I like how the colors look when it’s scrambled up. I like it because it brings people together. I like it because it’s fun.”

  • How does it bring people together?

“People like to solve it together. They like to show off what they know or to learn from someone else.”

  • What kind of math goes into solving the Rubik’s Cube puzzle?

“Algorithms. Lots of algorithms.”

  • What are algorithms?

“Algorithms are basically step by step instructions that are laid out using math. Like – first add two, then subtract three. I don’t know all the math that the Cube uses. I just know that once you solve a face of the cube, all possible solutions are accounted for, and then you apply an algorithm. Like, turn this side, then that one. And repeat until it’s solved.”

  • What is the point of the Rubik’s Cube?

“Learning how to solve the Cube isn’t so much an insurmountable challenge  as an opportunity to learn about your own problem solving skills.”

  • Fun facts:

The Rubik’s Cube was almost named The Gordian Knot after the legend of the Gordian knot which was said to be tied so intricately that almost no one could untie it. 

Instead, it was named after it’s inventor, Emo Rubrik in 1974. It took Rubrik a whole month to solve his own puzzle for the first time – before he solved it, he wasn’t even sure it was possible!

(http://www.funtrivia.com/en/Hobbies/Rubiks-Cube-17422.html)

~

“The Cube has inspired everything from fashion, architecture and music to films, plays and political speeches. There is also a dedicated art movement known as ‘Rubikubism’.”

(http://www.rubiks.com/world/cube_facts.php)

~

Questions

  • What are some other toys with a cult following?
  • What kind of influence can a toy have on a culture?
  • How smart do you have to be to solve a puzzle like the Rubik’s Cube?

Leave a reply below!

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BONUS:

In case you’re still dubious about Rubikubism, here are a few examples:

Fashion:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Rubiks-Ladies-1980s-Fancy-Costume/dp/B0066EP8OC/ref=pd_sim_sbs_k_h_b_cs_1/277-7521178-7454317

Architecture:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/2959247/Beijing-Birds-Nest-architects-unveil-Rubiks-cube-addition-to-New-York-skyline.html

Art:

http://www.darkroastedblend.com/2010/10/rubiks-fix-cubes-spheres-more.html

And, yes, even music:

If you haven’t picked up a Rubik’s Cube since the 80s – go pick one up today. Maybe today’s the day you’ll finally solve it!

Hey Diddle Diddle

I never cease to be amused at the strange origins of nursery rhymes and children’s songs. As a child, poems like Ring Around the Rosy were simply about flowers, falling and laughing.  I hope I’m not ruining it for you when I tell you that it’s actually a poem about the bubonic plague. “Ring around the rosy” refers to symptomatic marks that would appear on the bodies of people suffering from the plague, “pocketful of posies” refers to the sweet-smelling herbs that were thought to ward off the disease. When these fail to ward off the disease with sweet-smelling posies, death is inevitable. “Ashes, ashes” refer to cremation ashes – and, well, “we all fall down”? This falling down is not the type followed by amused laughter.

Nonsense can serve as a hidden vehicle for a message reflecting hidden values and political dissonance of the time, they can reveal rebellious thoughts and provoke social change. They tend to reflect the voice of the people in times when “the people” cannot otherwise safely speak their mind. You can read more about Nursery Rhyme origins here: http://www.rhymes.org.uk/index.htm. Not all nursery rhymes, however, have morbid origins; for instance, Hey Diddle Diddle – http://www.rhymes.org.uk/hey_diddle_diddle.htm. Hey Diddle Diddle is meant to be an amusing poem to make children smile. Nursery Rhymes have power because they rhyme and are silly – children quickly learn and repeat them and add them to clapping, jumping, and spinning games. Even beneath the nonsense, the words hold a unique power to capture the sentiment of the times and spread it invasively from place to place.

Questions:

  • What is the origin of your favorite nursery rhyme?
  • What might be a modern use of nonsense as a vehicle of the voice of the people?
  • What are some issues that might be addressed in a modern nursery rhyme?
  • Do nursery rhymes serve to indoctrinate children? Are they an attempt to make horrors more palatable? Why use silly words to discuss serious matters?

Reply below!

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BONUS:

Because I ruined lovely childhood memories:

http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/357960