Back in the old days, we didn't have all these gadgets to tell us how full something was or how hot the day was, we just looked at the thing or noticed how much we were sweating. Now that we have all the fancy gauges and buttons modern life provides to us, we may have gotten a little bit overdependent on them.
As it turns out, many of these gadgets are scarily inaccurate or even deliberately configured to lie to and appease us.
#8. Fuel Gauges
For most people, there's no mystery to fuel gauges other than "Why is something spelled 'gauge' when it is pronounced 'gage'?" The gas tank is 100 percent full when the needle is pointing to "F" and completely empty when the needle is at the bottom, right?
Actually, no. You might have noticed that for the first 50 or so miles, the needle hardly moves down at all, whereas when you get down to the last bit of gas, the needle goes down to empty and scares the shit out of you, even though you find out after filling up that you still had well over a gallon left.
The biggest reason for this is the float used to measure your gas level, which is a bulb on an arm like the one in your toilet tank. Bulbs are always going to be fatter than the arm, so you can go from full (float is completely submerged) to a little less full (float is floating on surface of gas but is touching the top of the tank) without the arm moving.
For the exact opposite reason, you can go from almost empty to empty without the arm moving.
So since your fuel needle is going to be in the same place for both full and slightly less full, the engineers chose to point it to full. The alternative is a fuel gauge that would never point to full and just confuses the driver. And since it's going to point to the same place for empty and almost empty, they chose to point it to empty.
On the other hand, think about how stupid you'd have to be to run out of gas if your fuel gauge was accurate down to the last drop, instead of forcing you into a guessing game once the fuel light came on. For something that everyone relies on at least once every month, it's weird that fuel gauges only actually convey information for the part of the gas tank when you need them the least, and are totally incapable of conveying information when you're on the verge of running out of gas on a desolate, serial killer laden wooded road. It may not cost you money, but not knowing the difference between 5 and zero percent means that you have to spend 5 percent more of your life standing at a pump.
It's not like math has ever helped anything.
It's one of those ideas that seems smart in theory when it's controlling the behavior of those other idiots who can't handle the truth. But when you're late for a meeting and don't know if you have 40 or zero miles left before empty, it's harder to swallow.
But at least it's a mechanical error. It's not like they're intentionally tricking us, like a dog owner pump faking a tennis ball, unlike ...
#7. Elevator and Crosswalk Buttons
With all the things we have to helplessly wait for in our daily lives -- traffic lights, customer service, Final Fantasy cutscenes, old people in line -- it's nice to know there are some things we have some control over, like closing the elevator door faster with the handy "door close" button.
Unfortunately, this is a lie from the Man to appease the masses. In most cases, elevator "door close" buttons do nothing. According to 47-year elevator maintenance veteran John Menville, the "door close" button is just there to give people the illusion of control. It's a release valve so that after you have to wait for a million stupid things during the course of the morning, this isn't the straw that breaks the camel's back and causes you to go postal on the elevator and maybe break something.
It's also a counterbalancing visual design element for the "door open" button.
Firefighters and other emergency personnel actually do need to speed things along sometimes, so the button does work for them if they use their key, but if you're not there to haul people out of a burning building, you are probably out of luck.
Crosswalk buttons are the same deal, at least at timed traffic lights like the ones in busy downtown areas. The light was going to change every two minutes anyway, and you pushing the button doesn't hurry it along any faster, although it does stop you from spazzing out about how long it's going to take. "I've given the order," you think. "Things are being seen to as we speak."
"Don't worry, folks. I've summoned the little white walking guy."
Good Morning America had a lot of time on their hands and actually checked out buttons in a number of cities, only finding one functional one. It's important to note that many traffic lights (especially in the suburbs) are sensor-driven instead of strictly timed, to the point where sometimes the light for the smaller side street actually never turns green unless something triggers it -- like a car, or a pedestrian pushing the button -- so obviously the buttons have to work there.
But apparently downtown districts are full of people pushing buttons that do nothing, and feeling very satisfied about it.
We all know our bathroom scales lie to us all the time because there is no way we could be that fat after we've been so good about eating a salad once a week, but we expect professional scales -- at places like hospitals, stores and airports -- to be pretty accurate.
The stakes are pretty high, especially in hospitals, like when doctors need to calculate a cancer patient's radiation dosage according to their weight. Turned out the 4-year-old in that link was measured on an inaccurate scale and would have got an excessive dose of radiation if someone hadn't stopped it at the last minute. Even worse, a 2008 U.K. inspection showed that one-third of all hospital scales in the country were inaccurate.
"Ma'am, it looks like you are about 4,000 pounds."
It's more than just a Brit problem -- an American study of scales at the University of North Carolina found 20 percent of scales to be off. Only two other studies on U.S. scale accuracy have been done since 1981, so we could be overdosing patients left and right and not even know why.
Even when inaccurate scales aren't killing people, they are cheating people (or companies) of millions of dollars. In Maine, tons of people complain every year about being cheated by inaccurate firewood weighings, and while we do make a lot of baseless complaints in the U.S., inspectors found 90 percent of those complaints to be true.
"Ha! I knew this wasn't 50 pounds of firewood!"
If you want to go to Maine to see the firewood cheating in person for some reason, you'll pass through an airport and weigh your baggage on a scale, paying more if it's over a certain weight. Those scales are pretty questionable, too. Inspections found a surprising number of inaccurate scales at a variety of airports, including over one-third of the scales at Long Beach Airport and over half the US Airways scales in Phoenix.
Most of the scales were biased in favor of the passenger (underestimating baggage weight), so you might think it's no big deal since you don't get overcharged, but an overburdened plane running out of fuel in mid-flight could be equally inconvenient, depending on your priorities.
#5. Office Thermostats
Of all the workplace conflicts people usually talk about -- politics, glass ceilings, harassment -- the thermostat wars might just take the cake in pervasiveness and vitriol. News outlets document the battle on a slow news day, and even the Today Show has taken a shot at it.
"I'm ready for the meeting!"
One vocal segment of people (often mostly women) are too damn cold, and another angry segment (more men than women) are too damn hot. Saboteurs from each group sneak up when the other group isn't looking and turn the thermostat up or down, which would wear out the building's HVAC system in a day ... if the thermostat actually did anything.
Luckily (?) it doesn't. Building facilities people know better than to trust us employees with those controls. One specialist estimates 90 percent of office thermostats do absolutely nothing. In an industry newsletter poll, 51 out of 70 respondents said they'd personally installed a fake thermostat.
Rendering all of those past temperature arguments at work totally pointless.
And psychology is a beautiful thing. Apparently for most people, just turning a dial on a thermostat can make them physically warmer. One bank installed three fake thermostats, one for each complaining teller, and they were all completely satisfied with their "personal temperature controls."