Mad Fuses

Whatever you say, buddy.

There was an a lot of response to my mention of a cabinet in my office that protested suspiciously that it contained no fuses.

There was pretty much universal demand that I open the cabinet, to find out if there were fuses, no fuses, or spring snakes in there.

Only Adam, however, took up the challenge of explaining the presence of the mystifying label, in light of my claim that labels are only applied in cases where the information on them is not self-evident, and that there is a cost associated with not knowing that information. Check on the info not being self-evident, no check on there being a cost to not knowing the information. Adam tried to explain that there was, maybe, a cost:

Frequently, the precise switch or fuse, is unlabeled and elusive. Example: My parents’ apartment has many intricacies (electrically speaking), poor labeling, and a poetic absence of order or common sense. If I were looking for the right fuse, and couldn’t find it, and saw a box like the one here in the pic, I would appreciate knowing that that NO FUSES were inside before I went ahead and opened it. Granted, opening the box usually isn’t such a big deal. Unless it is closed with screws, locked, or if there is just a bunch of crap conveniently positioned in front of it which would need to be moved before opening it (like at Mom and Dad’s).


Not a terrible theory, but what I hadn’t shown before was the context around that cabinet. Here, then, is the whole picture:

Wait, what about those other ones?

As you can see, the cabinet with allegedly no fuses in it (middle, top) is surrounded by 3 other cabinets, none of which have NO FUSES signs on them. For Adam’s theory to be correct, either that cabinet has to look more like it has fuses in it than the others, or all the other cabinets do have fuses in them, or they ran out of “NO FUSES” signs after just one.

No, let me stop you there. Don’t weigh the options. Instead, I will reveal what is inside that cabinet, and what is more, I will reveal what is in the cabinets alongside it!

Aptly labeled. But why?

Ooooh... that makes -- no, actually that makes no sense at all.

The cabinet in question? Well, it’s true, there are no fuses in it! And the semanticist in me even appreciates that there may be a distinction being made, although it unquestionably contains strips of metal that bridge circuits — those heavy, thick copper plates are more like permanent switches than fuses, because they are clearly not designed for the purpose of breaking a circuit by burning away when they are overloaded. They are probably the electric company’s demarc.

Do, however, take note of what is in the cabinet directly below this cabinet with no fuses in it. Go ahead and click through to the full-size image if you can’t tell… no wait I’ll just tell you IT’S FUSES.

I submit to you that really that wall should look like this:

Emphasize the positive!

Methinks the cabinet doth protest too much

Duting my initial survey of the office I now work in, I came across this box:

No sandwiches, either.

I have honestly been having a really hard time putting into words precisely how this sign made me feel. It’s been bothering me. And after literally hours of musing on and off, and several failed attempts at writing it up, I realized it was simple — I felt deeply and abidingly suspicious that there were in fact some fuses in that cabinet. And I felt compelled to tell it that okay, okay, whatever, I believed it.

I mean, why would a cabinet that didn’t have fuses in it need a sign saying so?

In fact, come to think of it, why do we put signs on things at all?

We label things when two conditions are satisfied:

  1. There is a cost associated with people not knowing the information
  2. The information isn’t plain to see

For example, take “CAUTION: HIGH VOLTAGE”, and other warnings. The cost of not knowing about the high voltage is a potentially lethal shock. And electricity is invisible. Sure, let’s let people know about that.

With something like “Recycling: Plastics and Glass Only”, the cost of not knowing is recyclable materials might be put in landfill or inappropriate materials might contaminate the recyclables. And it’s not possible to know where some bucket will be carted off to without some indication. So that makes sense.

But this NO FUSES business? Granted, unless you have x-ray vision, you wouldn’t be able to tell without opening the cabinet that there were no fuses in it. But what’s the cost of someone not knowing that in advance? In order for it to make any sense, there has to be some consequence to being wrong about the presence or absence of fuses in that cabinet. So it’s possible that there used to be people who were desperately looking for fuses all the time, and they couldn’t afford the precious seconds looking for them in the wrong place. But then why don’t I see that sign on everything that doesn’t have fuses in it?

Or maybe there are many more people than I would think who under no circumstances want to see fuses. Like maybe fuses killed their parents. And that sign is just to let them know that it’s totally safe to open that cabinet without their having to confront the painful past.

Of course those two scenarios are absurd. Consequently, failing to come up with a way to reconcile that sign’s message with the two requisites for rational signage, I cannot take it at face value. The most obvious conclusion is that the sign is trying to deceive me. Because fuses were in high demand in that office, but the fuses in that cabinet were already being used for something important. So in order to keep people who would go to any length, no matter how nefarious, from stealing fuses that were already in use, someone put up a sign that claimed that cabinet had none. Crazy? Definitely. But, not as far fetched as what I’d need to believe to think that there really weren’t any fuses in there.

Maybe the sign is trying to be sarcastic. What do you think? What could possibly explain that sign? Oh, and no, I haven’t yet checked inside the cabinet.

UPDATE: after much urging from the peanut gallery, I went ahead and investigated the oh-so-innocent sounding box. What I found was surprising.

Gentlemen’s Cabaret

When did this use of the term “gentleman” appear? Why did that term, rather than any other, come to be the accepted euphemism? Was “men’s” already taken? That’s what popped into my head when I saw this awning.

That and: is it really possible to walk into a strip joint and think, as you pass under the “gentleman’s cabaret” sign, “Yes. Yes, I am a gentleman, and that, more than anything else, is what defines me in this place. That is the quality that is common to all the men present — we are gentlemen, one and all.”

And yet I don’t detect any trace of sarcasm, or even irony, in this usage.

Further reflection clarified things for me, though. It’s relatively recent that gentlemen are thought of as “well-mannered” men. The original meaning was “high-born”, or ’’well-born” or “noble”, and yeah, we’re talking about men with power, not graces. Although obviously the two certainly go together since social graces are codes for recognizing people of sufficient station to mingle with you.

Now that we don’t put nearly as much stock in older notions of born and bred nobility, one can “act like a gentlemen” and we understand that to mean that one is conducting one’s self in a respectable manner. I think I’ll have to save for another discussion how a similar thing has gone on with the term “noble”.

In any case, it’s clear that “gentleman’s club” originated because men with power like to be attended to by scads of hotties.

Which leaves me giggling about the contrast between the modern sense of the term and what behavior I expect out of the crowd inside the club. I don’t think they’re wearing top hats, for one thing. Those things get knocked off when a stripper knocks about your face with her shaking breasts.