Metatalktail Hour: July 30, 2021 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Happy weekend, MetaFilter! This week, wittgenstein wants to know, "What do you pay attention to/notice as you wander through the world that I probably ignore?"
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) to MetaFilter-Related at 10:25 AM (110 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

Great question. I am an admitted slightly paranoid, but I am always looking at or looking for the cameras that are watching your every move in public. While driving, I watch the front wheels of the cars near me, next to me or just in front of me because they cannot go anywhere without turning those wheels. Those wheels will lead the car. When walking the streets, mostly in NYC, I always notice the people who are smiling. They stand out from the head down, on a mission people. I am also a 'car guy' so I notice lots of older cars. Love some of the 60s and 70s muscle cars, station wagons, etc. And, for some reason, I always notice people's dominant hand. My gf thinks it is weird when I say, "That guy is a lefty." I think I learned that in my youth, when I was 18 and/or 19 going to dive bars that had too many fights. The first swing from someone is always from their dominant hand and often is a haymaker coming from down low so need to be ready for it. I also tend to notice things that are not there that should be there.
posted by AugustWest at 10:51 AM on July 30, 2021 [14 favorites]

I don't steal things because it's wrong, but I look at how hard or easy it would be to steal things in stores, or get around security in places with heavy security. In most places that aren't an airport or a courthouse, it would be trivial to entirely bypass security. I blame early and prolonged exposure to Penn & Teller (they do a LOT of bits about bypassing security, I feel like) and Skyrim for this.

I also compulsively look for loopholes in everything, which might have to do with how my brain works and might be a result of being an edge case or exception in many areas of my life for my entire life. The theme of all my favorite media can pretty much boil down to "logistics" so it's probably just how I am.
posted by blnkfrnk at 11:35 AM on July 30, 2021 [9 favorites]


I coach and classify in a para sport. My brain works all day on identifying functional movement patterns, thinking up reasons & rationales, crunches it's way through interventions. I can't not see you walk and have my mind flooded with thoughts about how rested you might be, what kind of injuries you might have, contemplations of what hurts and why, ideas for better movement.

This isn't (entirely) conscious; it's just the soup of reality I live in. I'd like to think that I was good at my work but my proficiency doesn't come from having all the answers - mostly it's just noticing something I couldn't ignore anyway.
posted by mce at 11:55 AM on July 30, 2021 [14 favorites]

I've moved so often that even though I'm settled now, I still reflexively always keep an eye out for nice cardboard boxes.
posted by scratch at 12:03 PM on July 30, 2021 [20 favorites]

Oh, and in movies and TV shows, if they show a character reading or standing by a bookshelf, I always try to see what the titles are. For instance, in Seinfeld, Jerry has a copy of the paperback edition of Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown. I think it is unlikely that Jerry would have read or bought this book. It's good, though. You should read it.)
posted by scratch at 12:09 PM on July 30, 2021 [9 favorites]

I'm almost always noticing patterns and shapes and trying to figure out how they fit together. For example, if I'm talking to you, (especially if I'm stressed) part of me will be wondering if the triangle shapes of your collar would fit onto the area of your face mask, if they were rotated. Or noticing how the shadows of a nearby fence almost, but not quite, match the cracks in the pavement.
I get a kind of pleasure from shapes that doesn't seem to be shared by other people I know. For example the extreme pinched, narrow waist of a wasp. So perfect.
posted by Zumbador at 12:18 PM on July 30, 2021 [15 favorites]

If your hand is held in such a way that it is likely to have a leash in it, my head automatically swivels to check for puppies.

I annoy my friends by pointing out minor architectural flourishes as we walk. I really think if the suburbs had richer visual environments, people would spend less time hyperfixating on the color of the trim of their neighbor's garage.
posted by praemunire at 12:24 PM on July 30, 2021 [8 favorites]

I hear music in stores and restaurants that's lower than most of my friends perceive. I'm forever singing along to ... nothing, as far as they can tell!

I'm oblivious to a lot of visual things, since my eyesight could be better, but I will tell you what I very much don't notice - people looking at me. Recently I have started dating a guy who notices when people are looking, and he points it out, and I just...don't. White privilege, in part, which he does not have, but probably also due to the fact that my mother used to fly into a rage when I was a teen and men would look at me (I had giant boobs, especially for one so young - I had surgery to adjust this in my 30s). I may have just turned off that setting.
posted by wellred at 12:28 PM on July 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

I always check the braille in elevators, hotels, tourist attractions, etc. to see if it's correct. It usually is, but not always.
posted by Melismata at 12:34 PM on July 30, 2021 [15 favorites]

When I hear a chipmunk chucking I look for the nearby raptor.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 12:47 PM on July 30, 2021 [7 favorites]

Everything. I notice everything. It's a result of having to be hyper-aware of, well, everything, as a child of a narcissistic parent. My husband is constantly amazed by my ability to point out what to me are very obvious things, but that he doesn't even see because it's really not worth noticing. And yes, it is exhausting to be in the world. I can tune things out if I consciously make an effort, though, so it's not always bad.
posted by cooker girl at 1:11 PM on July 30, 2021 [14 favorites]

I went to a lecture once on Art Deco architecture in which the lecturer said "no-one looks up". Ever since then, I try to look up.

Also, I have cat radar, despite being very unobservant otherwise.
posted by paduasoy at 1:22 PM on July 30, 2021 [7 favorites]

What the music is, playing in the background. Or even, from a passing car with open windows. Because - can I identify the song?
posted by Rash at 2:14 PM on July 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

I frequently notice font smoothing on computer monitors. It's very irritating -- not quite nauseating. Fortunately I can turn it off on my work computer by screwing with the registry in Windows.

I've never talked to or heard of anyone else with this issue.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 2:34 PM on July 30, 2021 [6 favorites]

I went to a lecture once on Art Deco architecture in which the lecturer said "no-one looks up".

This is very true.

The windows of the top floor of buildings when I'm walking through an urban place, such as a town centre, here in England. That's sometimes where the interesting things are; anonymous flats and apartments above shops; derelict rooms and floors with broken windows and shrubbery growing between bricks; people looking back at me, sometimes startled because they've been spotted; strange storage places; occasionally, when it's snowed and the roof above is the only clear one on the street, hints of a cannabis farm.

In terms of music, this last decade or so I've probably listened to Boards of Canada more than all other artists combined. I've gotten semi-decent at recognising samples, fragments, variations, from one track which appear in another.
posted by Wordshore at 2:45 PM on July 30, 2021 [9 favorites]

Whenever I see a string of capitalized words, I check whether they form a pronounceable acronym.
posted by solotoro at 3:13 PM on July 30, 2021 [11 favorites]


On houses, yagis and log-periodics pointing to the nearest TV tower, dishes for satellites, occasionally a ham radio operator's HF dipoles and assorted monopoles, discone RX/scanning antennas. CB whips on trucks and cars. Vertical antennas on big poles giving away the locations of local taxi dispatchers. Rubber ducky whips on bus stop displays, railway equipment, air quality monitoring stations and other such infrastructure lurking around the urban world, various lengths giving clues to frequency. Wifi infrastructure: access points in buildings, point-to-point links between them. Cell towers with their sectional antennas. Old microwave horns. Broadcast masts, clusters and dishes on the top of skyscrapers. Wireless mic pickups at venues. VOR/DME beacons for aircraft. Millimetre-wave radars for counting vehicles and pedestrians. The myriad of antennas on ships and boats: radomes, GPS mushrooms, VHF and AIS. Self-tracking satellite domes on fancy yachts and RVs. At airports, rotating surveillance radars and direction finding arrays on control towers, ILS localisers on approaches.

You can tell a lot about the world from the antennas you see in it.
posted by automatronic at 3:30 PM on July 30, 2021 [15 favorites]

Oh, and the book Telegraph Pole Appreciation for Beginners changed my observation of telegraph poles for a while, but I have slipped back. I probably need to read it again.
posted by paduasoy at 3:52 PM on July 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

I notice people’s teeth. In person and on tv/movies, etc. I notice the color, alignment…I don’t know why.

I’m also very aware of books and bookshelves in the background of ads, tv shows, movies, photos. Points are given if I recognize a title. Bonus points if it’s a book I own.
posted by bookmammal at 4:37 PM on July 30, 2021 [6 favorites]

I'm not sure if I'm the only one who notices sidewalk chalk hopscotch boards, but I am unusual in that I always play them, even loaded down with grocery bags. This can be challenging, since although I have smallish feet for an adult human, they are not nearly as tiny as the feet of the age of human that frequently draws the hopscotch board.
posted by the primroses were over at 4:42 PM on July 30, 2021 [9 favorites]

I pay attention to alligators in the dang road, unlike my no account wife.
posted by saladin at 4:55 PM on July 30, 2021 [5 favorites]

Typos on public signage.

Spider webs in my mouth and hair (spiders think no one is as tall as me and they are so very wrong).
posted by Twicketface at 4:59 PM on July 30, 2021 [7 favorites]

Looking all four ways at intersections while walking or driving in Portland, OR. I've never, anywhere, seen more drivers running stop signs and more pedestrians failing to check for traffic before they step off the curb.

My retirement plan comprises being hit in a crosswalk by a Tesla driver. You know they have good insurance.

Also when I see stuff discarded on the sidewalk I have to look through it and see if there's anything good.
posted by bendy at 5:03 PM on July 30, 2021 [5 favorites]

While walking my dog, I seem to always notice which cars have expired registration tabs. Or rather it's that I'm noticing all the tabs, so I am noticing that many of them are expired.
posted by QuakerMel at 5:11 PM on July 30, 2021 [3 favorites]

There are some typical nerd hobbies I have, so anytime an unusual car or anything techy is in a movie, I'm pausing it to check it out. I frequent (and sometimes contribute to) the IMCDb. When Jeff Thompson created the Law & Order computers tumblr, I said "It's about time!"

Spelling mistakes jump out at me, without me searching them out. That's because I was a spelling bee champion as a kid, or is it the other way around?

Several years ago I tumbled on a trail run and twisted my knee, so I always pay attention to where my feet are placed. Even indoors.
posted by Monochrome at 5:15 PM on July 30, 2021 [2 favorites]

I find four-leaf clovers.

I'm a backyard birder of no consequence, so when I see or hear a bird that I don't recognize, which is delightfully often when you're not very good at this hobby, about 60% of my attention is drawn to it. Sorry, person I am talking to, it's not that you're not interesting, it's just that I have a bird problem...
posted by eirias at 6:05 PM on July 30, 2021 [10 favorites]

Everything, I notice everything. Well, almost everything. Things that others miss. Far more than any family member or friend. And it's not like it's bothersome, all this noticing, though it may have been to my family at first. It's not debilitating, it feels more like a superpower. Early on I noticed that I noticed more, so I began to act accordingly. I like noticing obscure details, tiny flaws, inconsistencies. I like taking in everything. My coping mechanism is that I don't need to share what I've noticed. I try not to draw attention to what I see. No one is truly impressed that you caught what they missed, sometimes even when they ask for your opinion. But I like my sharp eye. It helps me avoid so much bullshit, and usually shows me what could really benefit from my attention.
posted by Stanczyk at 6:21 PM on July 30, 2021 [10 favorites]

Kerning, the spacing between every combination of two letters) on signs, logos, ads, etc. In a super general sense, the space (not distance, space) between any two letters should be the same-ish.
It's a curse, once you start seeng it, you can't unsee it.
I have passed on this curse to my son.
posted by signal at 6:48 PM on July 30, 2021 [8 favorites]

Airplanes. If I'm outside and I see a plane, helicopter, or blimp in the sky I watch it until it goes out of my vision. Especially smaller prop planes. I have done this all my life.

I am fascinated by wild animals. Growing up all we ever saw was squirrels. Now I get rabbits, coyote, turkey, skunks, raccoons and an occasional fox. I will never get tired of seeing any of them, even squirrels.

Lately if I'm out walking or hiking and I come across some railroad tracks when I get home I'll look them up on Google maps to see where they go, or more often where they once went.
posted by bondcliff at 7:09 PM on July 30, 2021 [5 favorites]

I smell all the smells.

Once going up in an elevator with a friend and a stranger carrying a pizza my friend said something about how much he wanted the pizza. Me: "I don't like green peppers." which weirded out both my friend and the stranger with the pizza. Geez, how can you NOT smell the green peppers?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:52 PM on July 30, 2021 [13 favorites]

I notice typos or other small editing errors a lot. They bother me, but I try not to nitpick about them.

I also notice when a light is flickering or about to go out. The tiny voltage changes when an A/C unit turns on, or the slight off/on pattern as a dying bulb clings to life. It’s very distracting to me but I’ve been told that no one else cares.
posted by Night_owl at 8:08 PM on July 30, 2021 [9 favorites]

When I had a job that involved doing a lot of home visits, my manager taught me to always know the nearest place to get a coffee and the nearest public bathroom by every client. I don’t do home visits anymore, but I still find those two things immediately for every neighborhood I go to.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:55 PM on July 30, 2021 [4 favorites]

Double spaces. I was a newspaper editor when double spacing on word processors went OUT for laying out pages and single-spacing came IN (native spacing of fonts in the programs got "smarter") and I used to literally have dreams where I was removing double spaces from layouts.

I'm very good at telling when US neighborhoods were built, and what public transit (if any) they had available. Not by the housing stock per se (frequently it's been entirely rebuilt!), but by where the power lines are and how far back the houses are set and how narrow the lots are and things like that. (In neighborhoods built before 1850, I'm honestly lost except for "THIS SEEMS OLD." But in anything Civil-War-ish or later, I can usually pick it out within a decade.) I'm technically the world's current leading expert on midwestern streetcar neighborhoods? But mostly just because the last guy died and I'm one of probably six people who read his book. Anyway, I've been quoted. Relatedly, I'm freakishly good at driving around your neighborhood or subdivision and saying, "Oh, that was the farm" where the One Weird Lot is, or the House With An Odd Addition In A Farmish Way, or the Spot Where the Road Is Weird. If you check the plat, that will always be where the original farmhouse was located (whether it has been knocked down and turned into a McMansion or not), that the farmer sold to developers in the 1920s or 1940s or 1960s.

If you live east of the Mississippi River in the US or Canada, and show me a map of your town, I can typically tell you right off the bat whether your town was originally colonially settled by the English or French -- the property parcels are really distinctive, and persist into the 21st century, even in places where one group or the other was entirely slaughtered, because people care a LOT about property rights even when everyone is dead. (I am not as good at identifying Spanish settlement patterns, buuuuuuuut process of elimination usually lands me in the right place; Spanish settlements have a Plaza Mayor and the streets are in the directions of the prevailing winds, which is literal insanity, so if I look at a street grid and it's TOTALLY MAD and there's a plaza, probably Spanish. The French make ribbon farms along rivers and the English LOVE THEM SOME RECTILINEAR GRIDS ALIGNED WITH CARDINAL DIRECTIONS.)

I can tell whether music is live, amplified, or canned from a really long distance away, often before anyone else can hear that there's music. My children complain bitterly about my bat ears because I catch them trying to be sneaky, because I hear All The Things. I hate getting ear infections (I'm prone to them), because I rely SO MUCH on my hearing to keep track of my kids, monitor the house's systems, etc. Since there have been SO VERY FEW cars driving during Covid, I am now like a dog who can identify the engine sounds of ALL of my neighbors' cars, and I freak people out by saying, "Oh, that's the UPS guy," when he's just turned on to the block and you can't even see him yet. I can definitely identify FedEx, UPS, USPS, and Amazon by their distinctive truck noises. I kinda freak when a neighbor gets, like, an appliance delivered. My ears are like, "THAT IS NOT A USUAL DELIVERY TRUCK!!!!!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 9:13 PM on July 30, 2021 [33 favorites]

Fonts and keming. To be honest, I'd be much better off I didn't spot these. The Royal Mail van near me has an identifier like "RW3", set in Arial/Helvetica, but for some reason the W is an upside-down M (why?! it's maddening!). The council signs reminding residents to cut their overgrown hedges are set in bold, but contain a "fi" ligature in normal weight.

Also, misbadged cars. People who buy a BMW 3-series and stick on a "M3" badge from eBay. Or "V8" badges on a car which was never sold with a V8 engine. Don't know that I could ever respect someone who does that.
posted by Klipspringer at 1:44 AM on July 31, 2021 [10 favorites]

A colon and then nothing after it.
posted by Stanczyk at 5:57 AM on July 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

I had a friend who went through nursing school, and for one of her classes they did a one day count of people living in their cars. She asked me to help her, so I did. For four hours we drove through Seattle neighborhoods. She had a two page sheet of all the possible indicators, some obvious, many not. I was flabbergasted. Almost every block or so, there was a vehicle that someone was living in, no matter where we were (mostly on the north end). And this wasn't recently, when the number of people on the streets has exploded, but like 7-8 years ago.

I don't remember all of it, but every now and then I point a vehicle out to my wife, and she'd never have recognized it.

I realize this might sound a little dispassionate, but that day with my friend had a big impact on how I see the world around me, even if I can't directly contribute to everyone in need.
posted by Gorgik at 7:58 AM on July 31, 2021 [22 favorites]


Specifically, official road and warning signs. I used to teach graphic design, and used to tell students that they were one of the purest forms of communication. (I mean, the word 'sign' is right there in front of you!).

For example, a notoriously hard concept to distill into a road sign is "Share the Road".You often see places rely on two signs to get the idea across, one for a pictogram and the other for the text.

One of my favorite genre of signs are the enigmatic, vestigal ones that may no longer be needed, but remain in place.

For example, there is "No Dumping" sign on a very busy road (technically a state highway) about three blocks from my suburban town's three schools. The thought of someone dumping trash in this spot seems utterly absurd. It's perhaps the most well-trafficked road around.

But maybe 50 or 60 years ago, it was less populated and it was a convenient dumping spot? Does the sign get automatically upgraded/replaced every 20 years without evaluating if it's needed anymore? If the sign was removed would it suddenly be filled with trash overnight?

Now you know the sort of internal dialog running through my head every day.
posted by jeremias at 8:14 AM on July 31, 2021 [5 favorites]

Whether or not a space has fire protection (sprinkler system). How air supply and return was handled. How these utilities plus power and data are hidden or exposed.
The approach (if any) to sensitively adding modern amenities to historic buildings.
How fire egress is handled, particularly in big assembly spaces.
Whether public spaces are festooned with anti-skateboard and anti-homeless measures.
Whether there used to be a water feature which has been converted to something which requires less maintenance.
Where things are cracking and the plaza/building design was set up for it - and where not.
Where a space encourages (by design or accident) people to congregate and whether it is a positive gathering or a bothersome congestion.
How people loiter, or not, in a placeand whether there is an apparent demographic difference.
Whether signage is trying to force behavior which is not encouraged by the space, particularly where there are multiple signs saying not to do the one thing which everyone does at that location anyway.
That's a few.
posted by meinvt at 8:19 AM on July 31, 2021 [3 favorites]

A colon and then nothing after it.

I pray I never need this kind of surgery.
posted by biffa at 10:16 AM on July 31, 2021 [23 favorites]

Fire extinguishers in public buildings. Are they accessible? Are there signs? Has it been inspected recently, or at least have a current year tag on it?

Other safety features in general, definitely more than the average person, but probably about average for someone who does this for a living. Fire extinguishers are my thing, though.

Other than that, maybe flowers in the neighborhood, or how gorgeous fruits and vegetables can be.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 10:55 AM on July 31, 2021 [3 favorites]

Where all the men are on a not-so-busy block, how many of them are together, whether they're occupied with something or not, if they move anywhere. I think almost every woman/NB I know clocks this all immediately, and many men just don't.
posted by lauranesson at 11:12 AM on July 31, 2021 [14 favorites]

A colon and then nothing after it.

posted by Greg_Ace at 12:19 PM on July 31, 2021 [25 favorites]

Technically it refers to the top of the page. The h1. But yeah, my beans runneth over.
posted by Stanczyk at 12:37 PM on July 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Soaring birds. My dad used to fly hang gliders and model gliders, and he still tends to point at circling buzzards and say "they must have a good thermal off the parking lot" or "look at that ridge lift." I don't do it as much, but I definitely picked up the habit a little.
posted by sibilatorix at 12:40 PM on July 31, 2021 [5 favorites]

I always notice music, any time, anywhere, even if it's barely audible. It latches onto the conscious part of my brain whether I like what I'm hearing or not (and much of the time I don't). Doesn't matter whether I'm reading, cooking, driving, in the middle of a conversation, whatever. Even if I can only hear snippets, I have to try to figure out the beat and rhythm of it.

When I took up photography I started noticing all sorts of details everywhere in the world around me that I hadn't paid attention to before. Things like interesting architectural details, whether the sky has any photogenic clouds, juxtapositions of different objects and/or colors, interesting shadows, the specific quality of daylight at different times of day and in different types of weather, the artistically designed and ornamented iron curb grates in the older part of the town I used to live in (I'd lived there for years and never noticed them). By the same token I became acutely aware of how power/phone/whatever lines are just freaking everywhere, frequently spoiling some object or scenic view I wanted to take a picture of. A significant part of my photography time is figuring out how to compose a shot while avoiding those lines. Oh how I yearn in vain for a totally wireless world... Apart from that, though, photography has definitely increased my overall enjoyment of life.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:49 PM on July 31, 2021 [4 favorites]

I seem to find a lot of * or similar marks that seem to indicate a footnote without then the accompanying footnote. I certainly have spent a lot of time looking through comments, twitter threads, and even printed materials for a foot or end note that doesn't exist.
posted by Carillon at 1:40 PM on July 31, 2021 [7 favorites]

I think Nature, and everything in it. I hadn't realized this was a skill. My Dad used to say, Mackerel sky is always followed by a storm. Or point out a toad in a window well. I'd taken a class in high school, called, "Maine Outdoors," which involved the teacher leading us into the woods and naming ferns (bracken, cinnamon, etc.), and teaching us how to chew on the young bark of a yellow birch to get a wintergreen flavor. Looking for hawks in the sky, looking at moss in the ground, just general observation of Nature, clouds, animals, gardening, etc.

One day, I was riding in the car with a friend, along an Illinois highway. We were going to the mall, because she loved Hello Kitty stuff. I was looking at the clouds, and pointing it out to her. I saw a hawk sitting on a pole. I told her all of these things.

She looked at me strangely, and said, "you see beauty in a lot of stuff, don't you?" And I had no answer. It was Nature. And I realized what a gift my Dad had given me, to point out all of those things to me as a child and young adult, and the teachers. To look at all of those little things in Nature that others, who may not have grown up with, and I took it for granted, that no one else sees those things. The bird books, the quizzes in what is a group of turkeys called (a rafter), just the general things that I grew up with that many others did not.

I realized what I was doing with her, was what my Dad did with me. Point out something and name it. Those clouds. That bird. This piece of moss. This frog. Things we did as kids, climbing pine trees, and playing, pulling apart mica and splashing in streams, coming upon lady slippers and stinking Benjamins, those weren't something that everyone else had. So I would say Nature, and I still have a lot to learn in that regard, but I try to observe it every chance I get.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:50 PM on July 31, 2021 [24 favorites]

Patterns and trends.

Not in a fashion sense (that too I guess) but patterns of human and animal behavior, natural processes, or really of anything that happens multiple times, and it creates a picture of the world and possible future trajectories for me to monitor for correctness or not, and to update my predictive model accordingly.

It's a protective coping mechanism for sure. Definitely comes from growing up with awful narcissistic parents. Empathy and hypervigilance has its pros and cons.
posted by ananci at 2:58 PM on July 31, 2021 [3 favorites]

My spouse is always noticing and pointing out electric and gas meters; they used to work for a power utility.

I seem to notice license plates more than those around me. Whether from different states, or vanity plates, or just patterns in standard plates.
posted by eruonna at 3:54 PM on July 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

This is actually a thing I wish I didn't do, because I've embarrassed myself and made other people feel uncomfortable. When I'm talking to a person, my eyes will, of their own accord, notice interesting things about their appearance and settle upon the most compelling one. I can, with difficulty, control it to an extent if I remain super conscious of it. But if I get caught up in the conversation to where I lose awareness of where I'm looking, my eyes are having a field day.

Sometimes they'll settle upon a "flaw" like a mole, a scar, or crooked teeth. Far too often it's someone's prominent cleavage. Sometimes it's a detail of the clothing, often at the chest area, which makes it appear that I've been staring at their boobs when I actually wasn't. For example, an interesting pattern in a smocked bodice, or their sweater is buttoned up the wrong way, or the clasp of their necklace has come around to the front.

I can't tell you how many times I've been talking to a person and not realized I was staring until they cross their arms over their chest or move to hide their scar or mole with their hand, at which point I feel like an ass. And the thing is, I'm not even judging. I'm not thinking "damn, nice cleavage!" or "wow, that's an ugly scar" or anything of the sort. My brain is just so focused on the conversation that I'm not consciously thinking about anything else, including what my stupid eyes are doing.

I'm also prone to noticing typos and misspellings in emails, correspondence, articles, etc. Possibly this is related to the above... maybe I just have a natural tendency to zoom in on visual details and notice when things are off or unusual in some way. That particular tendency actually led to my promotion at work. I was stuffing envelopes for the marketing manager and happened to notice a typo in the letter that I brought to her attention. She started bringing me things to proofread and eventually hired me when she had an opening in her department.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:11 PM on July 31, 2021 [4 favorites]

Double spaces. I was a newspaper editor

The New York Times has no consistent way of signifying links in their online version. Sometimes the link underline includes the quotes around the words, sometimes the underline includes commas or other punctuation after the words, sometimes the underline includes one - or both - spaces around the words, and sometimes it's normal.

I always read stickers and fliers posted on telephone poles and other similar places and try to parse what graffiti says.

Also in Portland, OR, the disturbing lack of non-white faces I see.
posted by bendy at 4:27 PM on July 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

I watch the sky. I love clouds and the colors of the sky. Sunrise and sunsets are obsessions. I'm also drawn to the intersection of sky and trees. I am dazzled by the quality of light on leaves and shadows as the leaves interact with the wind. I love trees but sometimes I need to see more of the sky. I have found a parking garage by a residential neighborhood where I can go watch the clouds 360° without much buildings/powerlines/trees blocking the sky. I often go up there and take photos when the clouds are crisp or have dramatic lighting.

Inside, I love the look of light falling on objects that glow or reflect, or on the interplay of light and shadows.

In bed in the morning, I look at my east window covered in a pastel floral curtain and watch the shadows cast by the bamboo and bushes as the sun rises and the leaves blow.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 5:06 PM on July 31, 2021 [5 favorites]

I notice people’s teeth. In person and on tv/movies, etc. I notice the color, alignment…I don’t know why.

A fun thing with this, though it'll ruin older movies for you, is you can tell when teeth whitening and modern dentistry began to catch on. Even the leading man, bombshell, etc., types have very grey or yellowy or coffee stained teeth.

If someone carried a gun every day: cop, spy, concealed carry dude, whatever, they will tend to keep their dominant hand still and close to the gun (or where it used to be) when they are walking around and won't swing both arms. So that's fun to watch for. Putin tends to do it, actually. If you watch him walk, he keeps one of his hands more still and sort of hovering around his the lower part of his abdomen/upper part of his waist where a pistol might hang out.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:33 PM on July 31, 2021 [9 favorites]

Another thing I really, really notice is anything even slightly liturgical (religious or not). If I'm at a graduation, I can't help noticing that the podium is awkwardly-located for the speakers to walk to, and there's going to be a traffic jam near the piano. During ceremonies, I've got a running constant commentary in my head, like it's a gymnastics meet and I'm Nastia Liukin commentating. I get so excited on the rare occasions when I get to attend a secular ceremony/religious thing/formal event with another liturgist, because we can whisper through the whole thing, judging it. Whereas literally nobody else ever wants to hear about "how this funeral could have been edited to make it better" and I have learned not to say it.

Also if an American is asked to offer a few impromptu words, like, before a meal or to open a meeting, I can usually tell their religious background (or their family's), because public speaking in the US is so heavily-inflected by people's experiences of religious services. (Like, even if someone mostly got their public speaking mojo from listening to politicians, the politicians are heavily influenced by religious services.) The choice of words, how the sentences are structured, what people think sounds "right" when they speak off-the-cuff -- it all unconsciously creeps in. Sometimes I can tell you why something is identifying, sometimes it just "feels" Lutheran and I can't really tell you why. Like remember how all the Catholics in the US freaked out when Biden quoted "On Eagles' Wings"? Like that, but all the time, about all the things.

(And if you want my opinion, most people are best off using an existing ceremony structure for a wedding/funeral/baby naming/whatever rather than writing a ceremony from scratch -- people have literally no idea how to do it so it isn't either cringey or excruciatingly dull, and they NEVER think about the transitions, where people have to switch from one activity to the next or, most direly, move around the space, so even if the ceremony itself isn't cringey, there will be awkward transitions because nobody planned for them. And most people should at least scribble down a few words on a napkin before speaking impromptu or they will follow themselves into verbal cul-de-sacs, have no idea how to exit, and panic. I can also teach people to do a 60% better job reading a scripture section or a poem out loud in like fifteen minutes, and they will feel way less awkward doing it, but mostly people don't think about it until they're up there, in the middle of it, reading in a monotone, and realizing this is all very awkward.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:26 PM on July 31, 2021 [13 favorites]

I'm a birder, and a bit of a naturalist in general so I notice those sorts of things. But I also notice aspects of the environment that are weirdly out of place. That mound there where there shouldn't be one, obviously a new septic field. Why are older trees in that spot but not there? I'm the worst person to talk to outside (especially if I happen to have binoculars around my neck) because it really looks like I'm not paying attention to you when I am, I just happen to paying attention to other things, too. Hmm, I'm seeing some overlap with the recent ADHD threads (as if I hadn't noticed that before, and probably got distracted by something).
posted by mollweide at 7:15 PM on July 31, 2021 [2 favorites]

Birds, and nature in general. I’ve learned a bit how to bird by ear, and the song of the white-crowned sparrow in early spring always brightens my day. Very early one summer morning (5:45 or so) I saw a bunny in some office building landscaping at a very busy Bellevue, WA intersection (think 6 lanes one direction, and four the other) - not at all what I expected to see!
Also windows. Especially older wood-framed windows. I’ll look close to see how many have original (often slightly wavy) glass. I harshly judge homes that have replaced some/all of their old windows with vinyl sliders, which are only marginally better than their predecessors, aluminum frame sliders.
posted by dbmcd at 7:59 PM on July 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

a traffic jam near the piano my new sockpuppet name.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:15 PM on July 31, 2021 [3 favorites]

music, fragrances, as y'all above. i am a compulsive reader of words in my field of view. i look for plausible interpretations of strings of syntax other than their evident intended meaning (and maybe one level of available irony).
what i think i notice that [most others] don't is objects in the environment that might resonate sonorously (or otherwise) and how i expect them to feel against my knuckles when i rap on them. railings, tables, cabinets, banisters, streetlamp stoplight signpost, bench. have tried to break this habit of knocking on things to see hear if and how they'll ring during the pandemic. i'll be walking up the sidewalk and a lamp post, a shallowly-scalloped octagon, perhaps, in a cross section of a hollow steel (?) column reaching up, will just call out, its paint buckling, pitting and rusting through, but a hand-sized patch there that wouldn't abrade my knuckles too much -- or boarding an elevator, the very mid-point of any of those brushed aluminum cylinders with two anchor points serving as hand rails -- and my shoulder will jerk, my fist clench before i remember NO: Don't Touch Stuff and jam it back down in my pocket. but i did forget and rapped on that light post, once, a couple weeks ago. it still rings nice. just like i know it from the before times. it is pretty neat to knock on a piece of common urban architecture and hear this great clear tone peal out: most of those people who just scanned for the source of that noise didn't know street lights might be bells.
posted by 20 year lurk at 10:43 PM on July 31, 2021 [8 favorites]

love this question!

I notice and make note of fruit trees near me (especially the dainty kind that don't make it to the supermarket: mulberry, loquat, pecan, carob ) and treat myself when in season.

A mesh result of logical thinking, programming experience and disability - I'm drawn to the easiest way (least energy) to do things and get places (least traffic lights. most available parking. shortest drive. no stairs. no reverse. least people).
posted by mirileh at 4:54 AM on August 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

Overland powerline pylons.
posted by Stoneshop at 5:34 AM on August 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

I notice a lot of things, often tiny details, and it has been helpful in the job as an event manager.
But it can be quite distracting in private life. One thing i am always aware of is service personnel: in Cafés, restaurants, shops, etc. Or any staff anywhere. Without meaning to i notice and analyse (in my head only) the interactions of the wait staff, with each other and their costumers. I see looks that pass between wait staff, their silent cues to each other.
Or bands, the looks and nonverbal cues the musicians exchange on stage while playing. Both during formal sets, and even more fascinating during jam sessions. I enjoy this as much as the music itself. O i do miss live gigs.
posted by 15L06 at 5:38 AM on August 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

Nonverbal communication on stage between band members, definitely. Who's having a bad night, who's mad at who. And it's fun from the other angle, too, watching people in front of the stage.

Having had the pleasure of performing music inside a few museums, with convoluted load-ins involving twisting underground passages, multiple elevators and such, whenever I'm in museums and there's an exhibit with especially large pieces, I ponder the process of getting that piece from the loading dock to wherever it's on display.

I also notice typos on menus, incorrect usage of accents on French words. E with an apostrophe after it instead of é will help me form an opinion of the restaurant.
posted by emelenjr at 6:09 AM on August 1, 2021 [8 favorites]

When I took up photography I started noticing all sorts of details everywhere in the world around me that I hadn't paid attention to before. Things like interesting architectural details, whether the sky has any photogenic clouds, juxtapositions of different objects and/or colors, interesting shadows, the specific quality of daylight at different times of day and in different types of weather, the artistically designed and ornamented iron curb grates in the older part of the town I used to live in (I'd lived there for years and never noticed them).

I've experienced this too, especially the quality of the light at any particular time. During Covid, my main exercise has been wandering around the city with a camera and taking shots of weird little details of urban life and it's amazing how much stuff is there that we don't ever stop to look at.
posted by octothorpe at 6:39 AM on August 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

>A colon and then nothing after it.
The cheek!

(I guess I notice opportunities for puns.)
posted by k3ninho at 7:08 AM on August 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

Signs that an interior space hasn’t been fastidiously cleaned. Not like a filthy disordered place, but like your typical office or home that has been vacuumed and decluttered, I’m immediately focused on the cobwebs in the corners or the dust on the blinds or the fingerprints on glass.

Shoes. Especially unusual shoes that cannot be purchased where I live. Here in the US if you see a group of people and you can’t tell if they’re visiting from abroad or have immigrated here, the shoes give it away every time.

Obviously a doctor thing, but people who have physical findings that suggest a specific internal disease. Calf edema and distended jugular veins for congestive heart failure. Barrel chest and pursed lips for emphysema. Rosacea and a protuberant belly for alcoholism. Meth mouth. The glazed eyes and the shuffling gait of someone on methadone. Clubbed fingers. It’s not like I want to diagnose or judge anyone, but it’s useful in terms of knowing that lady is going to take a long time to cross the street and being patient or recognizing quickly the signs of a psychotic person to avoid.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:20 AM on August 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

For anyone who wasn't around in 2008, here is a link to the first time I asked this question.

The previous link to Border Patterns no longer works. Here is an updated one.
posted by wittgenstein at 9:27 AM on August 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

I notice whether you say “please” when you order something at a restaurant. I notice whether you make a long list of special requests vs. one or two, vs. finding something you can eat as-is; I also notice how you behave if the kitchen gets something wrong.

I also notice if you cut your whole meal up into bite-sized pieces before you start eating. I would never dream of saying anything about it, but I notice.

If we are on an airplane, I notice whether you flout the carryon allowance or the seatbelt sign. If you leave your seat, I notice whether you keep your balance by touching the overhead lockers vs. jostling everybody’s seat backs/headrests on your way up the aisle.

At work, I notice typos in contracts and errors in spreadsheets, because it’s my job. I notice good public speaking skills, because they’re rare.

I notice gapped teeth, forehead scars, red hair, and sharp noses, probably because I have these things. I notice left-handedness, thanks to my dad.

I notice the receipts left behind by previous shoppers at the self checkout, and I always pick them up to discard them, the better to prevent return fraud.

I always stop to read them first, though, just for the little glimpse into a stranger’s life.
posted by armeowda at 10:00 AM on August 1, 2021 [8 favorites]

Rainbows: little rainbows everywhere. Any edge of cut glass, droplets of water on stuff, the rims of the lenses in my glasses, interference patterns in an oil slick in the gutter, the wings of an insect, diffractions from hologram stickers - see all those little spectra, glinting in the sunlight? I do.
posted by Rash at 10:42 AM on August 1, 2021 [7 favorites]

If the Moon is in the sky, I notice it, and I think about the relative position of the Earth, Sun, and Moon. At night, I check the constellations. Most of the time I know which planets are up in the evening sky, but what with never leaving the house I've lost track.

I see a lot more satellites and shooting stars than most people. My friend claims to have never seen a shooting star, which I cannot imagine! As a kid I was always watching for shooting stars.
posted by BrashTech at 11:04 AM on August 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

My spouse is always noticing and pointing out electric and gas meters; they used to work for a power utility.

I’ve been working for a utility for over 14 years and was coming in to say exactly this - not just the meters but energy infrastructure generally.

Whenever I’m on walks with my kids I go out of my way to find utility locating paint marks on the road or sidewalk and teach them how to interpret it.
posted by nickmark at 11:25 AM on August 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

A colon and then nothing after it.


Consider the alternative...

Metafilter: 💩
posted by y2karl at 11:52 AM on August 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've recently been re-watching Star Trek Voyager with my spouse. It's become clear that I'm incredibly sensitive to the misuse of physical units in a way that is probably weird. (My spouse notices all sorts of language and history mistakes that I miss.) The degree to which SF writers use real units and then don't bother to spend a moment considering what they actually mean drives me up the wall every time. Sometimes the units just make no sense at all: swapping energy for power, using absorbed radiation dose units to describe emission, picking units that make even less sense.

But, more often, they get just close enough to right to really destroy my suspension of disbelief. If you want to talk about a quantitative thing and you don't know what the real units mean, just make up a new word! Everyone who doesn't care won't care. Everyone who cares will be happy that you didn't use a real word incorrectly. The number of times the Voyager writers decide to pick an arbitrary number of light years for a throw-away line that ruins the entire plot for me is really frustrating. (I've ranted about this before)

There are very few examples of SF I can think of that don't screw it up nearly every time they try. Which I find very strange. It's a pretty basic thing to get right if you spend your career thinking about objects traveling through space. Even most books screw it up. Vinge and Reynolds stand out as always going out of their way to get it right. As do a few golden age authors. Many others don't use real units often enough to get it wrong. But, books are nothing compared to television. There aren't many episodes of the best SF TV in the world that don't have at least one jarring mistake.

Also, nting antennas and security cameras. I also always check that stairway doors open from both sides when entering them in a way that probably makes friends think I'm paranoid. Perhaps I am paranoid.
posted by eotvos at 12:03 PM on August 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

SF writers use real units and then don't bother to spend a moment considering what they actually mean

Two words: Kessel run.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:23 PM on August 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

It's become clear that I'm incredibly sensitive to the misuse of physical units in a way that is probably weird.

When I was a kid, my dad and I once watched a film in a museum theater. An announcer warned the audience that the film included a flash of bright light, "But don't worry--it's only for a megasecond."

My dad still makes "megasecond" jokes to this day.
posted by Carouselle at 1:36 PM on August 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

On here: usernames. IRL: dogs, what shoes people are wearing, haircuts, clouds, noses, car number plates, little widgets, nuts and washers in the gutter that I can pocket and add to my stock of said items for making things from.
posted by Chairboy at 2:54 PM on August 1, 2021

I notice what a person's dance is saying, as opposed to their lyrics. I always examine the abstract in nature, shadows, water surface. In photography, where to focus, where is the horizon line? I always listen to the birds. I listen to unusual statements which pop into my consciousness, which are atypical of my normal inner dialogue.
posted by Oyéah at 4:11 PM on August 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've been very sick this week, and am still not 100%, so I've been reading this thread, and not contributing. I will try to put something I've been thinking about during covid into words. First of all, I grew up near the woods, so the smell of pines = home to me. Even just a hint of pine on the breeze is enough to evoke home for me and I will brush fingers against any pine tree I see to get a mini version of that. I live in an apartment, with a nearby suburban neighborhood of single family houses. I have not been near a real wood since Covid began, and won't be able to do that until the pandemic truly wanes. I take walks for exercise in the nearby suburban neighborhood, and made up my mind during covid to do my best to find hints of nature in these manicured spaces. So I try to do a kind of "close looking"/listening during these walks. A chipmunk, a rabbit, a deer eating on a lawn, a perfect pine cone, the call of a blue jay, moss on a rock, fireflies, cloud formations, fish crows squawking; goldfinch sightings are a major score. Anything that evokes nature defying the manicured spaces is fair game. I try to take cell phone photos if I can swing it, and take these photos in such a way that you can't immediately tell you are in the suburbs.

My other hobby is looking for blue porch ceilings. These can be hard to photo well without freaking out the homeowners. This is my best effort.
posted by gudrun at 6:48 PM on August 1, 2021 [6 favorites]

Plants and fungi and scat/tracks
Free shit on the curb
posted by momus_window at 8:48 PM on August 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Rocks that are good to climb
posted by suelac at 9:29 PM on August 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Fascinating thread thanks, love reading what y'all see

Fire extinguishers, exits and egress and obstructions - it's got me out a building once. In dodgy areas anything I could weaponise - had the kind of childhood where that was a thing, also been a security guard in south Auckland which I don't recommend!

I notice flowers, 'weeds', cobwebs in odd places, surfaces, entryways and lost bits of space, also thieves and chancers and anything out of place.

Landscape training, plus security work, plus an odd family mix of Romany and military has made me/left me as hyper-aware, which I mainly hide, and people seem to see me as friendly and approachable - which is mostly a learned act!
posted by unearthed at 2:31 AM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

>A colon and then nothing after it.
For several years I taught human physiology to pharmacy technicians. After class in 2015, a group of them mentioned that all the long words made learning the concepts real hard. I replied that it was a lot harder for their Polish classmates for whom even the short words were a foreign language. Later I reflected that, probably, all the long words would be the same and the little words [articles etc.] would be the bigger problem. My hypothesis started with vindication:
homeostasis; homeostaza
cytoplasm; cytoplazma
aorta; aorta
but soon collapsed:
carotid artery; tętnicy szyjnej
kidney; nerka
liver; wątroba
so I compiled a list for class to a) educate the monoglots b) promote empathy for other people's difficulties.
thalamus; wzgórze
hypothalamus; podwzgórze
colon; dwukropek
This went down well until the last line when two of my star front-row Polish students started shaking their heads and one of them gestured jabbing two fingers forward making two dots.
posted by BobTheScientist at 2:44 AM on August 2, 2021 [6 favorites]

Did someone mention pancreas? I am the least observant person I know. But a few years ago, I was prevailed upon to attend a weekend Buddhist retreat. It was great. Everyone was looking forward to the "guided meditation" after Sunday lunch because it's a conscious relaxation technique [and a nice excuse for a post-lunch zzzzz, judging from the snores]. We all found a space to lie down on the floor; the guide rang the bell and then started with "now relax your toes; relax your feet . . . relax your hips; relax your spine; relax your pancreas >!WTF!< I was pretty sure the only person there who could point to their pancreas, let alone relax it.
posted by BobTheScientist at 3:02 AM on August 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

My eye is very attuned to trends and fashion. I see what people are trying to communicate with their clothes, and, especially, what their social media brand is, based on their outfit. I see tribes and in-groups. I see who in a group are "correct" in their deployment of the style, and who are trying but failing. The tiny choices of hairstyle, shoe, sock, accessory that make a huge difference to what you are saying you are.
We cannot escape from signification and it makes me sad, and makes me want to wear sacking or an invisibility cloak.

I also notice wildlife and wild flowers, birds, trees. This is less saddening.
posted by Balthamos at 3:18 AM on August 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

I notice dog gaits. Does the dog have good sound movement or is something wrong? And if something's wrong, where is it? The spine? The neck? A limb? Which one?

One thing that really pisses me off is people biking with dogs when the dog is obviously uncomfortable and has a choice of running despite the discomfort or getting its head yanked off. Most dogs do not like running with bikes. If you look at the way they're running and compare that to your mental picture of a dog running freely, you'll see it clearly.

And I notice the way people walk their dogs and how the dogs feel about it. The people walking with earbuds in while looking at their phones, totally disconnected from their dog and the world around them while the poor dog marches along vs the people who walk in happy communion with their dog, the dog smiling up at them, the quiet word of praise, the patient wait while the dog sniffs something of interest.

Also, I notice all the smells. I don't want to. But I do.
posted by HotToddy at 7:29 AM on August 2, 2021 [11 favorites]

I always notice all the jumble of infrastructure you see when entering a city by train. I don't know what half of it is, but it's all interesting.

Things I cannot fail to notice, even though I want to:
Words in general. If there are words within sight, I will read them involuntarily. Until I got together with my husband I had no idea that others don't do this - he can go to the supermarket and buy crunchy peanut butter instead of smooth because he didn't read the labels, which I find completely incomprehensible.

More specifically: patterns of lines in books. I always look for groups of 5 long lines with one shorter line between them, and will always count those patterns (5+1) on the page, even if there isn't a shorter line to break up the longer ones. I have done this since I was a child, have never heard it described by anyone else, and I have no idea why I do it. If I find I'm focusing more on that than the content of what I'm reading, I know it's time to go to sleep.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:33 AM on August 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

Two things I notice in films, wind turbines, for professional reasons, but more annoyingly, when someone gets murdered by someone sneaking up on them and popping a plastic bag over their head. With their hands free! Dude it's made of <1mm thick plastic, you can rip it with your pinky finger, never mind both hands.
posted by biffa at 8:00 AM on August 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

Trees. I'm not very good at identifying, but I look at their size, if they have lots of dead limbs/webworms ( big problem here), leaf shape, deciduous or not, etc. We have a few woodpeckers in this area so I like to follow the tapping to find them and check out whatever tree they are in.

Texas has many live oaks and hackberry trees as befits a dry, hot place, but my neighborhood also has tons of pine trees and cottonwoods.
posted by emjaybee at 9:22 AM on August 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Spanish settlements have a Plaza Mayor and the streets are in the directions of the prevailing winds, which is literal insanity, so if I look at a street grid and it's TOTALLY MAD and there's a plaza, probably Spanish.

You know, this explains so much about driving here in California.

I notice the everyday oddities of life, like vanity plates with confusing acronyms or the bottom of the Method bottles. I notice people on the street and say hello to them. I notice the flaws in everything new before I notice the parts I like.
posted by saveyoursanity at 10:49 AM on August 2, 2021

Background noises.

It usually bugs the ever loving out of me.
posted by porpoise at 11:19 AM on August 2, 2021

Punctuation/spelling/grammar, because I've been an editor/copyeditor/proofreader for more than 30 years. I wish I could let go of it and simply enjoy reading things, but I can't, and everything causes my eyes to twitch or my teeth to grind. My friends have the happy refuge of reading fanfic, but for me it's only rarely engaging enough that I can look past the egregious errors.

Colors, because part of my synesthesia is that colors can affect me in very noticeable physical ways, including a couple colors that literally nauseate me and I get queasy looking at them. One, burgundy/maroon/brick red, is especially popular in websites (again, fanfic not quite the refuge I wish it was, since AO3 chose it as their color and even using a blue skin doesn't completely block the goddamn red) and clothing/decor lately, and when a friend painted her entire living room burgundy my heart sank and my stomach lurched. Most people I know only really pay attention if something's in a color they like, or couldn't tell you what colors they saw in a given place once they're away from it.

I'm usually pretty good at spotting other twins out in the world. I don't know if twins generally have a twindar or not, but I've often noticed pairs of kids that no one else around me realized were twins but the parents were astonished that I could tell.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 2:49 PM on August 2, 2021 [4 favorites]

After living in NYC for 17 years, I now live in a house upstate with a lawn. Said lawn needs to be mowed... every five seconds. It's something I never even thought of my entire adult life and now its ALL I THINK ABOUT. I am suddenly obsessed with lawns. Whenever I drive around, I look at other people's lawns and jealously wonder how they keep them so nice and neat. Whenever people talk about houses they're considering buying, my first question is "How much lawn does it come with?" and my follow up comment is "Oh, thats too much. You want much less lawn than that."

I mowed this lawn THREE DAYS AGO... and the damn thing is already looking shaggy! HOW do people keep them looking good? It's keeping me up nights.
posted by silverstatue at 7:19 PM on August 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

"I mowed this lawn THREE DAYS AGO... and the damn thing is already looking shaggy! HOW do people keep them looking good? It's keeping me up nights."

PLANT CLOVER. Buy some white Dutch clover and strew the seeds all over your lawn, ideally a day before a rainstorm. It only grows 4" tall max before it tops out (usually 3"). It provides nitrogen to your grass so your grass grows better and more thickly and doesn't need fertilizer. It feeds local pollinators. And it shades the roots of your grass and helps your grass retain more moisture, so your grass doesn't need nearly as much water. Suddenly you don't need to water or fertilize your lawn, but you still have the greenest, thickest lawn on the block, and your lawn is green deeeeeeeep into a drought without you watering ever.

Best part is you just mow clover the same as you mow lawn, and it pops right back up and starts feeding pollinators again very quickly! LOVE YOUR BEES, MAN!

(Also hiring local teenagers to mow is a time-honored way to build community and help teenagers become more responsible by regularly working a paying job for people they have social connections with!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 9:12 PM on August 2, 2021 [12 favorites]

>thalamus; wzgórze
hypothalamus; podwzgórze
colon; dwukropek

Right, dwu-kropek!

(I guess I also notice structural grammar.)
posted by k3ninho at 12:03 AM on August 3, 2021

I live in the south east of England and during lockdown got the bug for finding historic and prehistoric sites that were within running distance of my house. There were a lot more than I thought: that long straight footpath to the next village turned out to be what’s left of a Roman road. The alleyways that cut down the back gardens of the Victorian houses in my neighbourhood turned out to be medieval rights of way across fields, that were left in place when the land was sold for development. Now I pay much more attention to the landscape around me, and am more tuned in to likely signs of an old road, barrow grave, field boundaries and so on.
posted by greycap at 5:50 AM on August 3, 2021 [11 favorites]

Great thread.

Seconding nature. I walk a path with my dog everyday. It runs under high-voltage power lines and adjacent to decommissioned railroad tracks. The tracks bifurcated a marsh so on one side, it has become overgrown with Cottonwoods and scrub trees in a poorly drained depression. Not quite a swamp, by definition, but close. The marsh has ancient long grasses and cattails along with a nice sprinkling of wildflowers and strawberries with the occasional patch of poison ivy. After it rains, and there is an abundance of water in the marsh and in the "swamp" I notice an air temperature change that is subtle but noticeable. The air smells of all of the elements soaked by the rain. The moss, the trees, the vegetation...Ah...I love that smell.

I notice time passing, broadly, along my path. I await the singing of frogs and the arrival of tadpoles. I was lucky, 3 years ago, to be on the path and discover hundreds if not thousands of tiny toads scampering off the path and away to somewhere. I thought they were crickets because there were so many and they were smaller than a dime. It was amazing to be at that place in that moment. It opened my eyes to these things happening all the, just not noticing them.

I work near O'Hare and the geese are foraging on the streets of industrial parks and hatching goslings. As I thought of it, I realized that this was a marsh, was a place for them to spawn safely, for time immemorial before it was this. It put in context, that I am here for a blip on the scale of time but I am part of the whole. What has been will be. We are finite but things continue. Time moves on.

Nature is amazing.
posted by zerobyproxy at 7:14 AM on August 3, 2021 [6 favorites]

I notice people on the ground, anywhere, even when I'm driving by. Are they resting or sleeping? Leaned up, panhandling? Or are they dying/dead from overdose? I can't tell you how many times I've driven by someone, pulled over, and then run back to check on the person. I'm really good at checking someone's breathing (and their respiratory rate) from several feet away at this point.
posted by VioletU at 7:49 AM on August 3, 2021 [2 favorites]

... scat/tracks
Free shit on the curb


As for me:
Inappropriate/ironic background music e.g. The Clash in the supermarket
Inadvertently funny store signs/advertising, e.g. Big Man Package or a shelf tag saying that the product is "made without certain ingredients."
posted by donpardo at 10:09 AM on August 3, 2021 [5 favorites]

Well, for starters my wandering days are over - to me "wandering" implies a certain amount of carefree exploration which is no longer possible for me due to mobility issues. So I notice things like stairs, especially stairs without handrails or with awkwardly-placed handrails, but also nature strips or other things that have to be stepped over or onto, those concrete bar things to separate parking spots from each other, that kind of thing. I notice when the alternatives to stairs (ramps, lifts) are hidden, when they require walking far out of the way, or involve walking much further and more effort than grappling with a couple of stairs. (I am lucky to have that choice.) In the Before Times of visiting the US, I notice the almost complete absence of suburban footpaths (sidewalks) so that if you do want to wander round a neighbourhood (and are capable of it) your choices are traipsing over uneven ground or walking on the road. I notice when pedestrian crossings linked with traffic lights don't last long enough for someone to get all the way across unless they are able to walk at a fair clip.

I notice places to sit and the lack thereof. I notice whether seats and chairs have armrests or not, both to assist those who need them to get up and to get in the way of those whose body width is above average and thus need to squish themselves painfully in. In places that have seating, like cafes or entertainment venues, I notice whether there is a choice of chairs/seating. I notice whether the chairs are flimsy or sturdy. I mentally rate their chances of not breaking if I were to sit on one. I notice how closely they are placed together and whether they can accommodate someone larger, taller, accompanied by a pram or suitcase. I notice how much room is around furniture and other obstacles - enough for a "normal" person to get through? Enough for a large person? Enough for a wheelchair or mobility scooter?

Unrelatedly, I also notice pronouns - not just personal pronouns, but whether there is agreement between the chosen pronoun and the rest of the sentence. I don't know whether I notice it more because it irritates me or it irritates me because I have begun to notice it more, but I keep hearing people say things like "Her and her friends are going to dinner". Also subject-verb agreement with "none", which is singular, but because it is frequently followed by "of them" or similar plural pronoun, results in the plural verb form. "Her and her friends are going to dinner and none of them are wearing masks." AAARRGGHH. Worse still, I notice when I myself say things like that, and try to comfort myself by thinking I am just mirroring people's speech patterns to aid communication.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:36 PM on August 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

I still neaten up shelves in bookstores; add a "face-out" or sort the book series by release date. I recently sorted the 1960's Tom Swift series (by number) and the Target Doctor Who novelizations (by Doctor) in a local used bookstore.
posted by JDC8 at 12:08 AM on August 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

Good line breaks. I used to work in subtitling where breaking lines right for readability is a big part of the job, so now seeing...

long paragraphs that break with an orphan word like


short word blocks
line up awkward

...drives me up the wall. I can't stop adjusting other people's powerpoints and stuff. Also, birds.
posted by Freyja at 8:20 AM on August 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Be sure to get people's consent before adjusting their birds.

(And yes, I notice how words and phrases can often be deliberately misinterpreted for comic effect. Or "comic", depending on one's view.)
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:20 AM on August 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

Various people in my life can attest that you can judge my current mental state by observing if I notice and comment on whatever airplanes are overhead.
posted by Alterscape at 10:21 AM on August 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

As a cyclist in a city with unbelievably poor roads in a lot of areas, I notice every seam/patch/crack in every block of every street, even if I'm not riding. Whether it's natural degradation, a pothole, or a repaired/repaved/uneven patch, I can't not see every single defect in a road.
posted by pdb at 5:45 PM on August 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

I live in the same city and I agree; many of those roads are an issue for car drivers as well. I'm utterly astounded - I lived in comparatively small towns before I moved here and it blows my mind that a city this size would have so many roads in such terrible condition.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:55 PM on August 5, 2021

I notice when people in media have what I consider to be Upstate NY accents and I always look them up to see where they're from.
posted by lyssabee at 7:05 AM on August 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

I notice when interiors have wood and metal features rather than man made materials.
posted by waving at 12:05 PM on August 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Old neon signs. Newer ones as well, but old neon's got character.
posted by Rash at 5:14 PM on August 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

I can't help mentally editing every sign I see.
"customers must wear face masks while shopping" (a chalkboard sign outside a little shop near where I live) always creates the internal dialog
"'while shopping' is redundant... So is 'customers' ... No entry without mask is clearer. But the shorter message is maybe not so friendly? Do they need to specify 'customers' particularly?" and so on.
"Danger, children" always puzzles me.
And then there is my favorite,
"Viscous Dogs"
posted by Zumbador at 9:54 PM on August 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

"Viscous Dogs"

Most dogs I know are more slobbery than viscous.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:32 AM on August 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Ears. Several years ago I started noticing ears. It's astounding how different people's ears can be. Some are quite lovely and others really ugly. Now I can't stop noticing ears. It does make standing in lines more interesting.
posted by BoscosMom at 4:19 AM on August 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

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