September 5, 2013

Why fly swatters don't work very well, and faith in pointless technology

Apropos of nothing, I've been busy killing flies every day for the past week at the local Wendy's when I drop by for lunch or dinner. Normally not a problem, but during a hot summer day, they can get everywhere. And all it takes is one of those suckers landing on your food, and you might as well eat it off the bathroom floor.

The weird thing is that I can land direct hits without even using a fly swatter. Come to think of it, those damn things rarely do what they're supposed to. In fact, you feel a real sense of triumph when and if you finally manage to kill a fly with one of those things. So why do we keep buying them? "Just to have it handy," even if it does a crappy job.

Instead I improvised a "rolled-up newspaper" thing, only using napkins. Wendy's has fairly thick napkins, not flimsy ones, so that may make a difference too. Take a stack of three of them, roll them up slightly on a diagonal, so that one end of the roll is thinner and the other wider. About 1 inch across at the wide end. Pinch the thin end to make it more compact and easy to use as a handle, and flatten the wide end so that it isn't so loose and circular. Then get close enough and give it a good flick of the wrist.

You'd be surprised how easy it is to whap those fuckers on the first hit. Sometimes it may take several tries, but I'll get at least over half of the ones there, with no real practice and without having to chase them all over. Once I nailed one on the first try while jumping to reach it high on the wall. Yeah, I know, but sometimes you have to look a little weird to clean the place up and make it nice and enjoyable for everyone.

So why does this improv device work way better than common fly swatters? I think it's because the large perimeter of the swatter gives the fly a huge advance warning that something's moving toward it. It doesn't matter if those holes reduce air resistance -- it's feeling moving air within a certain rectangle, with or without holes. And that rectangle is about 3" x 3", or 9 square inches -- pretty big compared to the fly's body.

The rolled up napkin thing is only 1 inch at the widest, and tapers toward the handle. The fly doesn't sense the thing coming as easily. And you don't need those air holes anyway -- as though it were some billboard-sized banner that you need to cut wind vents in, or like you'd need to be Hulk Hogan to swing the swatter if it didn't have those perforations.

Frog tongues are designed by adaptation to hit flies, and they look about as far away from a fly swatter as you could get. They're thin, not shaped like a broad paw. But what does millions of years of natural selection know, that a bunch of 20th century engineering nerds couldn't improve on by brainstorming from square one? "Look -- it's got holes to reduce air resistance! The fly will never see it coming!" Guess again, dork.

The faith in engineering, and ignorance or dismissal of design by natural selection, is one of the clearest signs of how autistic modern people are becoming. Don't bother checking how well the fly swatter does its job -- if it's pathetic, then we'll just have to live with that. I mean, you can't get any more optimally advanced than WIND HOLES, people. You're just going to have to wait around until the next quantum leap in bug-killing technology.

It's like people eating vitamin supplements rather than vitamin-rich food, and thereby not absorbing any of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Or pumping their legs on a stairmaster while wearing cushioned shoes, and wondering why their proportions look weird (an identifiable, unnatural "gym body"). Or sitting in so-called ergonomic chairs with this shock-absorbing mesh stuff, and wondering why their legs feel strangely both stiff and mushy when they get up to walk around. Gee, maybe sitting down in a zero-stress environment could cause bone loss like it does for zero-gravity astronauts? Fuck all these bone-weakening Aeron chairs.

Pay no attention to how technology is getting in the way -- it's the new and improved model, designed by a team of experts, say goodbye to bla bla bla.

Mother nature knows better than some bunch of nerds.


  1. I had thought flyswatters were like sharks (or is it alligators?), just about optimally engineered long ago (apparently the first patent is from 1900) and thus never needing improvement.

  2. I remember from my teen years that some guy had written a master's thesis on what the best way to kill flies was. It was published in Reader's Digest or something. He concluded that a method whereby you clap your hands in the air slightly above and slightly behind the fly was most effective and definitely superior to a fly swatter. The theory behind this was that the fly will take off (backwards, apparently) when it senses the movement nearby but you'll get the jump on it because you're already aiming where it's going to be. I tried it out and found it to be effective as advertised.

    I then tried to leverage this into impressing girls when I would be eating outside with them (I mean come on, it's a pretty neat trick) but I didn't exactly count on the grossness factor of killing a fly with your bare hands during a meal, so it wound up being a pretty big turnoff. I guess you should stick to the chopstick method - that ought to be good enough for an Elizabeth Shue or equivalent.

  3. "just about optimally engineered long ago (apparently the first patent is from 1900) and thus never needing improvement."

    So many clueless things in one sentence...

  4. "but I didn't exactly count on the grossness factor of killing a fly with your bare hands during a meal"

    Right, I'm looking for a method that doesn't involve greater contamination than the fly landing on the food. Maybe if you wrapped your hands in napkins or something...

    "that ought to be good enough for an Elizabeth Shue or equivalent."

    Ali.... with an "i" -- damn, girls were so cute back then.

  5. Get with the 21st century and get an electic fly swatter.


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