for 24 October 1996. Updated every THURSDAY.

 

 

Knock Your Socks Off

 
 
For years now, the government has
required Calories, Serving Size, Net
Weight, and USRDA factoids to be
printed on our edibles. Why should
noncomestible items be any
different? If you're a This Old
House fan looking to remodel your
bathroom, you want to know not only
how many gallons of water a tub can
hold and which shades of porcelain
paint are available, but most
crucially: How many baths is the
average family likely to get out of
this thing? What's the
bath-to-bathtub-ring ratio?
 
Balancing the personal bank account
is only the beginning of home
economics. You don't have to have a
calculator handy, for example, to
figure that 45 minutes spent
matching ten-and-a-half pairs of
hole-ridden black and gray socks of
highly similar, but significantly
distinct, design rates poorly from a
Time/Motion standpoint.
 
Having studied this very situation
empirically, allow me to elaborate
with some collateral data: Of the
old 21 socks, fully one-third
exposed some silver-dollar-sized
portion of the foot to the elements.
Quick reflection suggested that none
of these had aged more than twelve
months. Some, in fact, were a good
deal more youthful. Ten-and-a-half
pairs into 365 days - that's a
little less than 35 uses per pair
yearly. In other words, over the
course of 35 wearings, 33 percent of
these socks had become useless.
 
 
One could only look forward to
diminishing returns: another 35
uses, and the remaining seven pairs
were likely to be rendered useless
for anything but - actually, an old
sock isn't good for anything. Not
only that, but, paradoxically, the
durations of these sock-matching
bouts were only likely to lengthen
as pairs had to be broken up, with
spares sent down the garbage chute
for painless incineration. (And thus
we'll spare the reader the
observational comedian's staple joke
about dryers which teleport missing
socks to a Bizarroland dimension, to
be united with the lost umbrellas
which will be all be returned to you
in Heaven.)
 
Thirty-five uses - the outermost
lifespan of a sock? No doubt
Pentagon officials taking bids for
U.S. military sock contracts are
accustomed to making (and
disregarding) such calculations. But
this consumer was not, and he was
frankly appalled.
 
What's the domestic econometrician to
do? First step: eliminate the
matching problem. Tossing out all
10.5 vintage pairs, Yours Truly took
his bullish feet by the big toes and
marched them down to Macy's sock
department. He settled - after
browsing for somewhat less than 45
minutes among the offerings from
Calvin Klein, Nautica and Gold Toe -
upon a 90% cotton/10% lycra blend
from Tommy Hilfiger. The
all-American Red, White and Blue
logo on the side of each upper tube
detracts, but the long-lasting
stretch and cooling, smooth fibers
made the sale.
 
Twenty-four identical pairs, in fact.
 
 
Unscientific analysis suggests that
24 pairs will provide a full 24
months of hole-free sock comfort.
The diminishing-returns part is
tough to figure; given Hilfiger
quality, there may be as many as 7
or 8 unspoiled pairs by the end of
that period, at which point the
experiment can be repeated with the
benefit of hindsight.
 
Then it will be time to take it to
the next step: Call in Ralph Nader,
and demand that all domestic
consumer products, no matter how
mundane, bear a new label showing
what has been revealed above as the
most important quality in a durable
good: Uses Per Year.
 
Harper's "Index" sometimes tackles
this highly local, yet surely global
problem: "Number of Q-tips that the
average American sticks down the ear
canal each year, despite dire
warnings contravening such high-risk
practices: 212." That sort of thing.
And once in a while, a Sunday
magazine ambitiously photographs a
pyramid of toilet paper rolls
representing a lifetime's worth of
Charmin for the typical Western
adult.
 
 
Before bringing another wailing mouth
into the world, parents need to plan
to set aside dough for college and
at least two years of diapers. If
they can scrape enough together,
they can really make out by buying
all the Snuggles at once at one of
those Price Club warehouse
discounters. And why wait for
college? The kid is going to be in
school for at least 15 years. So
load up on #2 pencils and whatever
Consumer Reports says is the most
durable sharpener. Oh, and a can of
WD-40 for when the crank starts to
squeak.
 
Service journalism? Today's media is
only scratching the surface... and,
boy, are these socks itchy.
 

[Zero Baud Archive]

courtesy of
Ersatz