The Attack of the 500-(Square)-Foot Bathroom: What a Plumbing Fixture Teaches Me About Modern Family
I was reading a trade publication about industry forecasts for bathroom fixture trends some time ago (don’t ask).
“Large bathrooms are in,” the experts said.
It’s true. American bathrooms have been steadily increasing in size over the last thirty years. Today’s average bathroom is twice as large as its 1970s predecessor. Many a john in an affluent American community would be larger and plusher than an entire home in another country.
“More people are putting the shower and bathtub in separate places,” the publication continued, “and making room for chaise lounges and specialized bathroom furniture. Some are even installing televisions, sound systems, and reading areas.”
The article had pictures of these amazing bathroom chaise lounges, which were nicer than my living room furniture.
I mulled those bathroom chaises a good long time. Who wants to hang out in the john? I mean, really hang out. You could invite guests over to these bathrooms to watch you floss, and not be embarrassed by your sound system.
It’s the kind of forensic question that preoccupies architectural historians. If we are what we eat, we are, also, where we live.
Our domestic habitats reflect, and probably help shape, our domestic habits.
For example, rooms morph in size according to changing norms about family. The bedroom was largely an invention of the early 1800s. Before then, only the richest colonials would have had separate, or private, spaces for the sleeping hours. We’ve gone from no bedrooms to each child ideally having their own—a design for more individuality within the family.
Similarly, bourgeois homes in the 1800s never would have displayed or super-sized a kitchen decked out in granite and stainless steel as a social focal point. Instead, it was part of the utilitarian, backstage domestic spaces for the help, not to be seen in a prosperous home any more than we’d show off boilers today.
The merging of the kitchen, living room, dining room, entryway and front parlor into one omnibus “great room” reflects in design the multi-tasking, time-constrained styles of modern family. Once-distinct, leisurely, and highly-ritualized entertainment and dining functions, from food preparation to dinner to cocktails and coffee, are blurred and compressed into one non-private space.
And the bathroom’s evolved, from sordidly functional to recreational—into a “place to rest and relax,” as another bathroom remodeler writes.
Really? A place to rest?
You can learn a lot about marriage and family through oblique clues like this.
The most elegant interpretation, I guess, is that bathrooms keep getting larger because we want them to be. There aren’t many other spaces for parents to assert the adult privileges of solitude, privacy, and time, or to enjoy the figurative “adults-only swim” in life.
So much space and time in the home has been kid-ified, from the dinner party table (no more the “children’s table” in the hinterland), to the marital bed, to the living/play areas.
Parents whose adult habitats are shrinking find themselves exiled to the margins of domestic space, and life. We make do. Garages become improvised man-caves. The solitude and “me time” of an otherwise grueling commute make it what 59 percent ranked in a 2002 survey as the “best part of the workday.” And, we’ve got our super-sized, cherried-out bathroom.
It’s the one remaining space, now that the marital bed has been colonized by children in the philosophy of co-sleeping, that really does feel impenetrable, where it really would be, in that catch-all parenting opprobrium of our age, inappropriate, to invite your potty-trained children in for the festivities.
At least in the bathroom, we can “hold the line” on adult prerogative. We can luxuriate, in our adult reservation in the home.
The “American Standard Bathroom Habits Survey” suggests as much. In 2008 they asked how people “make use” (!) of their bathroom time, and found that we “aren’t just taking care of business.” We’re “multi-tasking.” Eighty-eight percent are using “at least one” electronic device in the bathroom; 19% listen to iPods and music; 15% talk on the phone. Three percent watch TV.
One in four Americans spends more than an hour a day in the bathroom.
Here’s the most intriguing finding to me: “Having children only increases their desire to escape to the shower, with 58 percent of people with children taking longer showers than those who don’t.” The shower’s popularity continues to grow. The “percent of consumers who have reduced the amount of time they spend in the shower over the past four years is minimal.”
Two hundred years from now, an astute architectural historian will ask, “why did they make such a big deal over the crapper?” And, they might glean in the shards of bathroom chaise lounges and the bathroom’s large footprint in early 21st-century housing the ghost of “Joe.”
I talk to Joe one night at a party, about parenting life, right when my book was coming out. He confessed that he cherished his bathroom time. His kids bickered constantly, or otherwise demanded his attention. Most of his domestic life involved the management and navigation of his children’s lives and behavior. So he’d sit on the toilet and read as long as he could, to enjoy momentary repose in the only place he could.
“It’s still not all that peaceful” he rued. “Because I can hear them, yelling and fighting…. Just on the other side of the bathroom door.”
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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