Friday, September 19, 2014

Hamlet & Coffee Cup Sleeves

“Seems,” madam? Nay, it is. I know not “seems.”

Remember that Marathon level? Yeah.
With these words, Prince Hamlet gives us a glimpse into his grand deception. Hamlet is, among many things, a play about seeming versus being. Is he truly mad with loss and anger, or is he acting mad in order to exact revenge? And does it even make a difference?

I'm not sure why, but this is one of those lines that goes through my mind on a daily basis. Being vs. seeming. Seeming vs. being. It's partially a remnant of the many wonderful literature courses I took at Maryland so long ago. But it's also because I go to the same shitty coffee shop every morning to get a cup of "coffee." And I have ritualized the process so effectively that I don't think about what I'm doing. I just get the largest cup in the stacks, grab a coffee cup sleeve, pour in some half&half (before the coffee so I don't have to stir it), then fill up with "coffee." Pop on a lid (careful to align the sipping portal with the cup's edge opposite of the seam). Pay and I'm off.

But the sleeve is worth a bit of consideration. Because it looks like a sleeve at Starbucks. It seems like a sleeve at Starbucks. But it is not a functional equivalent.


How Coffee Cup Sleeves Work

Sleeves are made from cardboard. But cardboard is a terrible insulator on its own. That's why you'll notice that Starbucks uses sleeves that are corrugated. And it's the corrugation that provides insulation via the trapped air within the fluting. It's the same principle as fiberglass insulation: glass is a terrible insulator (that's why glass coffee mugs never took off), but fiberglass traps a big layer of dead air that is a wonderful insulator. Air is the insulator. The corrugated cardboard just creates a layer of air.

But the shitty coffee shop that I frequent stocks coffee cup sleeves that are just a thin layer of cardboard; there's no corrugation. It's worth noting that, when cardboard is in direct contact with the coffee cup, it acts as a conductor, not an insulator. So using a sleeve that has no corrugation (or any other means of trapping a layer of air) has zero functional value. It seems to be a coffee sleeve, but it certainly is not.

What's the Point?

The point is that, in a rush to imitate, many products end up mimicking the form of a similar product, but completely miss the function. Seeming and being are very, very different states. Be mindful of mistaking one for the other.

And the other point is that the temperature of the coffee is too damn high.