Feedback is our weekly column of bizarre stories, implausible advertising claims, confusing instructions and more
6 October 2021
It’s Behind The Milk!
Feedback is *always* favourably inclined towards anyone who says by way of introduction that they are “a long time subscriber who *always* reads NS from back to front”. So we are smiling beneficently at Cathrine Lowther as she draws our attention to an unfamiliar paper from the medical literature.
“Admittedly, it is 16 years old,” she says. Dear Cathrine, our extensive piling system has a murky dust-ridden layer towards its bottom that some archaeologists associate with the sacking of London by Boudicca. The paper in question, by Andrew Macnab and Mary Bennett, is entitled “Refrigerator Blindness: Selective loss of visual acuity in association with a common foraging behaviour”.
The researchers write that three male offspring, aged 9 to 14, of Bennett were observed to sporadically experience a profound visual problem – this condition being exclusively associated with an inability to find stuff in the fridge. “Even with calm and constructive maternal encouragement and direction,” they write, “the desired object typically would remain unseen until the mother-physician attended the fridge-side and physically identified the precise location of the item. This behaviour was noted only sporadically among the female members of the household, but was unremitting among the males.”
Despite an extensive online search, Cathrine was unable to come up with any follow-up research. “I can’t help but wonder if that is because male scientists fail to appreciate how important and widespread this problem is, or perhaps because they are too busy rooting through the lab fridge searching for their lunch bag that, they swear, they put in there only two hours ago,” she writes. We couldn’t possibly comment – but we would welcome any further reader insights into this or related phenomena.
Eye for an eye
He doesn’t say whether it was prompted by rootling in his fridge, but Jeroen Gildemacher in Groningen, the Netherlands, was recently booking an appointment with his optometrist online. He wonders aloud whether the pitfalls he encountered – bad contrast, text extending rightwards beyond the edge of the internet and so on – were in this case bad design, or instead clever marketing.
Mainly, though, he experienced a counterexample to the sometimes overbearing accuracy of GPS coordinates (21 August). At the end of the process, under the heading “You can find us here”, he found a map 330 pixels wide – of the entire world.
It’s simple, Jeroen. This is an example of the old “if you drown, you weren’t a witch” school of thought – if you can find your way to the optometrist, you don’t need to go to the optometrist.
Cats on the brain
“Speaking of studies that didn’t need to be done,” says a colleague – we weren’t, but we shall, gladly – as they forward on “Dreaming about cats: An online survey”, a new paper in the American Psychological Association journal Dreaming.
The topline results are that cat owners dream more about cats, that cats show up in about 5 per cent of remembered dreams and that therefore, on this metric, they are better than dogs. A small percentage of participants indicated that they’d had negative experiences with cats in the past; “this is related to the frequency of dreams with threatening cats”, the researchers write. So now you know.
Rod for your own back
Further to the UK’s back-to-the future re-embrace of imperial measurements (25 September), David Clark recalls that when the original switch to the metric metre/kilogram/second was mooted in the 1970s, someone at his engineering college in the West Midlands suggested we should move instead to the rod-ton-fortnight system. They went as far as publishing a series of conversion tables, he says, showing, for example, that 30 miles an hour under the old system equated to about 3.26 million rpf (rods per fortnight) in the new.
We note in passing that this is also the number of light years in a megaparsec, although we will leave it as an exercise for the reader to work out whether that’s a coincidence. “The preparation of the tables took an impressive amount of effort as computer time was pretty well unobtainable and electronic calculators were unavailable,” says David. We are unsure whether we should see this as a virtue. We are also slightly worried that whoever it was might have got their mitts on the levers of power in the meantime.
An as-yet nameless phenomenon is in evidence in a paper from 2017 in the journal Nature Communications that Simon Goodman points out to us. Alongside lead author A. Sucker, further authors include a B. Real and a lively trio of Natalia Pieper, Mirko Trilling and Susanne Horn. We’d love to know what’s going on there.
Dare not speak its name
More familiarly, you reveal to us that the CEO of Transparency International Australia is Serena Lillywhite, that Nick Fisch has been given a grant to attend the World Fisheries Congress and that the CEO of Epik, a company that provides internet services to some ugly far-right groups, is Robert Monster. But let’s not go there.
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