It’s a watercooler wonder!

There are places at your workplace. There are your desks. There are lobbies with sofas. There are places where you sit and read the newspaper. There are loos. There are smoking zones. There are coffee machines. And then there is the water cooler. A place that is frequented by just about every employee and is yet one of those non descript places that is just there. It’s one of those places that, if it is there, you wouldn’t give it a second glance (well, unless you want to drink water, or there is a good looking girl standing there) but if it is absent, you will notice it’s absence. Yet, the water-cooler has this wonderfully magnetic personality. Every time you pass by it, it draws you toward it. Somehow, your throat gets dry and you are desperately in need of a small sip of water. Mystic.

The water cooler is also one of the most interesting places on the entire campus to look at human behaviour. It evokes such oddity in human behaviour that it’s absolutely astounding to behold. Normally rational and sane people, people who are part of a species, 70% of whose body is made up of water, would exhibit such erratic behaviour when in presence of the water cooler. Allow me to illustrate:

The residue removal syndrome

Ever go to a water cooler and wait for your turn? Well, if the answer is yes, chances are that you have witnessed people with or yourself are affected by the residue removal syndrome. There is usually a common glass that people use to drink water. Now you see the guy in front using the glass to drink water. You see clear daylight between the cup and the lip. There can be no slip. He drinks water, finishes his turn and hands over the glass to you. You smile politely, thank him and take the glass only to find that there is a little amount of water left in it. Now you have witnessed him drinking water and he hasn’t dropped dead. So, it’s safe to assume that the water is indeed safe for consumption. Yet, the small residue that remains in the glass is deemed unfit for consumption. No reason. It just is.
So you swirl it around to check for sediments, traces of arsenic, strands of algae, left over copper filings and all related material. You are not likely to find any anyway. You make sure, just in case, and satisfy yourself that the water is indeed clean. And then what do you do? Simple. You pour the contents out. Then you flip the switch to re-fill your glass and drink it. The residue removal syndrome claims another victim. Scientists have tried to work out the rationale behind this but have thus far reached no consensus. The possible causes have been cited to be stupidness, idiocy, bone-headedness and as one scientist puts it, ‘People! Pffft!’
The less enlightened among us say, ‘It’s a water cooler wonder!’

The food court cooler

At my workplace, there are water-coolers at the food court. Now, since the population is much higher in the food court (during meal times mostly but also at other times – after all, it is an IT company with the concept of a ‘bench’), the arrangement is slightly different. There are many glasses that are kept to prevent a long queue. Now the arrangement of these glasses is an interesting one. The glasses are kept on a two-tiered shelf. The bottom one has upturned glasses. These are the ‘fresh’ and ‘clean’ ones. They’re replaced periodically, as soon as the supply gets exhausted. Then, there is the other tier. The ‘unholy’ tier; where the ‘used’ glasses are placed, face up.
Now, people follow the following sequence:
1. Take a glass (an upturned one).
2. Proceed to the cooler (located 2 steps away)
3. Check for any impurities in the glass.
4. Satisfy yourself that there are none. In case there are, convince yourself that there are none.
5. Fill the glass with water up to the desired level.
6. Drink water.
7. Keep the glass on the ‘used’ shelf with the rim facing upwards to indicate that it has been used.
8. Walk away.

This is a sequence that is fairly common and requires little or no amount of dexterity, apart from quick thinking-on-the-feet ability and extreme decision making abilities to convince yourself that the glass is indeed clean. (Legend has it that the greatest managers of our generation have honed their decision making skills in the vicinity of a water-cooler. In fact, the famous One Minute Manager is rumored to be an extension of the water cooler management principle.) Retrace to step 6. Studies show that about 90% of the people who drink water from the cooler have a clear one foot cup-lip distance. There is no salival exchange between the living being and the cup. Yet, these glasses are considered ‘used’ and not deemed fit for future consumption. Why? Well, it’s a water cooler wonder!
<Addendum: If you try and reverse the trend by actually upturning a ‘used’ glass that is not really used, and try and put it back in the fresh glasses tier, the looks you receive are akin to the looks that a person gets when he goes to an agraharam in Kumbakonam and asks for chicken biryani.>


Yesterday’s water
One in every two employees has his own personal water bottle that he keeps at his desk. This water bottle is the subject of the incredible phenomenon of ‘yesterday’s water’. What is this? Allow me to explain.
The man walks in to the office, switches on his computer and while waiting for the system to start, goes out to refill his bottle. Ordinarily, a simple press of the switch to fill the remainder of the bottle would suffice ( research of course proves that 97% of all water bottles in an office have water left at the end of the day). But no. The water that remains must be decanted. The reason: ‘It’s yesterday’s water. It’s not fresh.’

I would like to take time out to explain the complex phenomenon that is, the water supply system: The water is present in a reservoir. This gets supplied to buildings where it is stored in tanks. It is from these that they find their way into the water cooler. It is indeed true that there is fresh water supply everyday but that does not mean that the tank is emptied every night because it contains ‘yesterday’s water.’ Home truth: The water that you fill from the water cooler is NOT today’s water. Repeat, NOT. The water may contain traces of water that might be days, weeks or even months old. What is then the reason is for disposing of ‘yesterday’s water’? Well, It’s a water-cooler wonder!

Elevator people – Part deux

Continuing the chronicling of my findings from part 1, here are some more elevator people:

The button pusher
Deep in his heart, he believes that elevators, as useful as they are, are an utter waste of time. Think about it. There could be a million other places you would rather be than stuck in a elevator waiting for the doors to open and let you out. This is exactly his thinking. He, though, does recognize that in spite of it being an irritant, he needs the elevator more than the elevator needs him. In this way, he develops a deep-lying mistrust that he carries with him to his grave. Every time he enters the elevator, he feels the elevator sneer at him mockingly and he vows to one day, get the better of it. Secretly, one such button pusher somewhere in the world is busy inventing a door-less elevator that is not really an elevator at all. There is no door at all, neither is there an elevator. What there is, only he knows.

This species resemble rather disheveled individuals who resign themselves to their fate. Yet, they do not, however, go down without a fight. In order to inflict maximum damage on his tyrant, he makes sure that he presses the elevator buttons at every possible opportunity. The button that most incurs his wrath is the ‘close door’ button. Somehow, he feels that one simple press of the button does not do the trick and hence carries on pressing the button until the door actually closes. Satisfied with his handiwork, he looks at the elevator condescendingly and smirks. The frequency of the button presses varies with his mood. The unit generally employed to measure his level of irritation is Presses Per Second or PPS. The PPS levels range from 2 (mildly irritated) to 274 (extremely agitated, possibly homicidal).


The phone folk
These are the technology-savvy lot. The moment they get into an elevator, an invisible switch flips in their head and out pops the phone. Now, this phone could be the most basic of phones, say a Nokia 1100 or an extremely high-end-12 megapixel-HD touch screen-2GHZ dual core processor-1GB RAM one. Whatever the phone may be, the purpose it serves is the same. In the hands of the phone folk in an elevator, a cell phone is nothing much more than a glorified clock. Research shows that more than 90% of the time, the singular usage of the phone on the elevator is to look at the time. The other 10% is to wipe the phone clean. Never mind that it was resting peacefully in the pocket where there was no dust that gathered. It must be given a wipe-down. This is the law of the elevator for these folk.

Research also points out that more than 90% of the phone folk who whip out their phones to look at the time wear a watch. Turning the wrist to point toward your face is deemed to be more tiring and effort-taking than reaching into the pocket, turning on the phone, unlocking it and then looking at the time. These phone folk are also affected by peer pressure. They see a person wielding a phone and in their minds, they are possessed. ‘Thou shalt look at your phone’, dictates the dictum.

A sub-species of the phone folk are the Blackberry boys. These are the “official” folk who, somehow, must take out their blackberry from their hip holster and wield it. They must do it. They just must. For the sake of mankind. They will get no new email or message. Yet, for posterity sake, they must clutch the berry. They will re-read mails, they will delete mails, they may even mark mails as unread but they will do something. There is a sense of outcast-ness, really, in the blackberry boys. They consider themselves superior to the other phone-folk, simply because they possess the berry. In turn, the other folk ostracize them and tend to flock and socialize amongst themselves before interacting with the berry boys. The feature that sets all phone folk out (berries or no berries) from the rest of the elevator people is their utter ridiculousness. After all, more often than not, there is no network coverage in the elevator, rendering their main weapon, the phone useless for the purpose that its name suggests.


The courtesy people and the last minuters
The courtesy people and the last minuters form a deadly duo. One that can be quite annoying and more importantly, disastrous, if you are looking at getting to work on time. The first half of this duo, the courtesy people are those wonderful, good-hearted human beings who are very very nice. They are, in fact, so nice that they end up pissing you off. They get into the elevator, look to see if the button of the floor they want to go to is pressed, if it is not, presses it but unlike the other elevator folk does not return to his base station. No. Not these folk. They take the role of the good Samaritan to a whole new level. He positions himself so that he gets a clear view of the lobby outside the door and waits, all the while making sure that he is within touching distance of the ‘open door’ button. He waits. And waits. And waits until the door begins to close. It is at this point in time that he springs into action. His senses get heightened and his spidey-sense kicks in. He looks to see if someone is trying to reach the elevator just as the door closes. If he senses that there is indeed some such person, he displays wonderfully quick reactions and makes sure that he presses the button and opens the door for the late-comer. In extreme cases, they put life and limb on the line by hurling themselves or their their body parts (usually their arms) at the closing door and ensuring that it doesn’t close.

The other half of the deadly duo: The last minuter. This person is just like that guy in the disaster movie who is the last man off the sinking ship or the last to escape a burning building, who almost makes it but inevitably ends up dying. Unlike that chap in the movie, however, this guy has a secret weapon to avoid death. His partner in crime: The courtesy guy. The last minuter has this super-power: to be just on time. Well, in actual fact, he is late for the elevator but somehow, the courtesy guy makes sure that the last minuter is on time. In elevator parlance, the time of reference is the time the elevator door starts to close but for this dynamic duo, the time of reference is the time that they can no longer see that last sliver of light as the elevator door completely closes. Chances are that, when the pair of them operate in tandem, you are going to have to spend a few extra moments in the elevator.


The Look-downers
This peculiar species are great admirers of Sir Isaac Newton. They worship gravity. As soon as they get into the elevator, they take a quick look to see if the button for their floor is pressed (if it is not, they do the needful), take up their station in the elevator and then perform the only item in their single point agenda : Look down. It’s not like they are shy; some of them genuinely are but then they are only acting in accordance with the gravity balancing theory. The gravity balancing theory is the theory by which the look-downers maintain the gravity-balance of the elevator. On the upward going elevator, looking down balances the entire anti-gravity act of going up. Whereas, on the downward traveling elevator, the act of looking down merely augments the gravitational effect of Earth and keeps the Gods happy. Well, this is the belief of the look downers anyway. These folk are easily the least controversial and most often ignored of all the species.


Well, there you have it; a few of the elevator folk that you’re likely to encounter in the life of ups and downs. So the next time you’re in an elevator, look out for these species and yes, Bon Voyage!

Elevator people : Part 1

The average software engineer works on the 3rd floor. Yes, like 87% of all facts in the world, this one is made up too. When the average software engineer goes to work every morning and comes back every evening, he experiences a life of ups and downs. In other words, he takes the elevator.

This elevator is a wonderful invention, really. It takes you up and then down, all on the click of a button. When buildings rise, elevators become paramount. Imagine climbing a seven storey building. Ok, dont. You get the point. Well, this elevator ride leads itself to some wonderful insight into life.

I work on the seventh floor, incidentally, the highest one in my building. I have had the chance to observe people on the elevator and have been absolutely fascinated by the results. Here, I chronicle some of my findings:


The Liftman

This particular species acts as the lift operator in the absence of a real lift operator. Most companies do not have a designated lift operator. Hence, he is THE ONE. He is the one who closely guards the control panel of the mothership and takes implicit charge of the buttons on the panel. He herds his flock into the lift, looks around expectantly to see if anyone stuck in the crowd has missed pressing the button they need to and does the needful. He also is in charge of the fan switch. He puts the fan on if he deems fit to and if the liftman is environmentally conscious, he does what is best for the Earth. He figures that people can go without the comforts of a fan for a couple of minutes and hence does not turn it on. In case of the unlikely event of a break-down, the liftman takes moral responsibility and tenders his resignation to the board of directors. These are very rare and are generally confined to one per elevator.


The Wall Hugger

This species is a remnant of the Chipko movement. He has a single-point agenda in his mind when he enters the elevator. SIEZE THE WALL. The wall of choice is generally the back wall but in case of unavailability, he settles for the sides. His mind works in strange ways really. In his mind, in order that the balance of weight be maintained, he has to be the counterweight that balances the weight of the people who stand centrally. Physics lies central to his thinking. The walls are his birthright and he shall have them. Pink Floyd is his band of choice with him being another brick on the wall. The wall hugger has a modus operandi that involves the clear cut search for a space that is close to the walls of the elevator. He darts in,pushes people off along the way, gets his place, and then apologizes for the inconvenience caused. The wall huggers also have some among their species who are not the hardcore physicists but are rather just purely too  lazy to stand without support for the 2 minute elevator ride. This class of the species do not mind not getting the wall but given a choice, would want to lean against it.


The footboarder
Now, if you’ve ever been a student who has used public transport ( read bus ) for travel in the peak hour traffic, chances are that you have, at some time in the past, been a footboarder. A footboarder is basically the one who travels on the footboard of the bus. The footboard is that mass of wood/steel that is designated to be the last step on the small flight of stairs that leads into the bus. The footboarder uses every part of his body – arms, legs, teeth, tongue – to get a grip of some part of the bus lest they be left behind. Most students who are footboarders become so familiar with this mode of travel that even if a bus is empty, they instinctively still confine themselves to the footboard. These are the people who continue the habit in offices. Footboarders are the ‘dwarapals’ or the gate-keepers. Most of the footboarders tend to be journeymen. They tend to be ones that get off at the higher floors. In spite of this, they insist on standing at the gates, enetering and exiting at every floor to let people out. People of this species are generally found to be very nostalgic and hence relive their student years in this small way. Also, they tend to be men of valor who stand facing the doors with their chests swollen in pride and arms folded in readiness. They also act as the custodians of the safety of all the elevator folk.


The One-floorer

This species has a very peculiar body structure. All their bones are lazy bones. They can’t be arsed to climb up one flight of stairs. They must, and I repeat, must use the elevator. A flight of stairs consists, on an average, of 15 steps. To climb up the 15 steps takes about 25 seconds. Take into account the landing between 2 adjacent flights of stairs and the general effort involved, the average time taken is estimated to be 35 seconds. Also, since this is pretty much the only exercise that most of the people do, it is pretty good for health too. Yet, this species is typically apathetic to these views on health and fitness. They prefer to wait in the lobby for a whole 5 minutes for the elevator to come. Clearly, time is not of essence for these folks. Another peculiar quality that these people have is the compulsion to get into the elevator first and thereby occupying the back. Now, this in itself is not something wrong but then what ensues is that when their stop arrives (the first stop, of course), they invariably lead to people having to move uneasily in the elevator in order that these people can get out. Not only does it lead to a lot of uneasiness and general irritation among the co-passengers, it also leads to the Lift Man being called into action to use all his powers inorder to re-establish order in chaos. However, these people do find supporters in the footboarders, who just love any excuse to get in and out.