I spy with my little eye
February 12, 2008 12:15 PM   Subscribe

What do you look at/notice, as you wander through the world, that I probably ignore?

The origin of this question was my teaching students how to recognize the seven border patterns (sometimes called "frieze patterns"). After I taught this the first time, I suddenly realized that there are border patterns all over the place; I just never noticed them.

This made me wonder what people who are different from me pay attention to as they wander around. If you are a designer, what do you see that I ignore? If you are a plumber, what do you see that I ignore?

I think this isn't chatfilter, but delete if you think it is.
posted by wittgenstein to Media & Arts (126 answers total) 174 users marked this as a favorite
I see typos everywhere. Unfortunately, I never see my typos.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:23 PM on February 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

Bugs--I keep my eyes low when I'm out by myself. Word roots. Also FedEx has an arrow in its logo which you'll never miss again.
posted by Citizen Premier at 12:25 PM on February 12, 2008

Best answer: Clouds. I'm continually amazed at how few people notice when there's a spectacular sunset, or just dramatic or weird-looking clouds in the middle of the day.
posted by notsnot at 12:27 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I see home construction or home improvement mistakes. Bad roofing job, insufficient porch supports, bad tuckpointing job, ugly white vinyl windows, awkward building addition, etc. Unfortunately, these are WAY too common these days.

But I also noticed nice little architectural details, especially in old houses. Attractive knee braces, a sensuous eyebrow dormer, clever shutter dogs, a particularly attractive cornice, a downright sexy bit of copper edging.

It's a disease, really.
posted by jeanmari at 12:29 PM on February 12, 2008

My brother was an absolute genius at finding dropped pens. I don't think we bought a single pen from 1965 to 1978. I guess he walks with his eyes down?
posted by nax at 12:33 PM on February 12, 2008

Take a moment to notice sometime that when you turn the tap in your kitchen, fresh, clean water comes out. Sounds like a tiny thing, but makes you richer than most people in the world.
posted by Iteki at 12:34 PM on February 12, 2008 [8 favorites]

City planning. Poor planning, incompetent planning, inspired planning, absent planning. Nonsensical zoning restrictions and their impact on the landscape. Laziness and corruption at work in neglect. Might be better if I didn't see all this, but it's always there, all the time.
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 12:35 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow, Citizen Premier, I came in here to say:
insects, word roots, and that dastardly arrow.

So I guess what I really notice are coincidences. And the stitching in clothes.
posted by Acari at 12:35 PM on February 12, 2008

Sorry, that was kinda flip. I love the beauty of the prairie. Where other people see flat boring landscape, I see the glory of god. Many people have commented to me that they never looked for beauty along, for instance, I74 or 57 or 80 until I pointed it out to them.
posted by nax at 12:35 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've always been very self-conscious about my weight. So I find myself constantly noticing when thin women's thighs don't touch, whether they have prominent cheekbones/hipbones/collarbones, the tendons in their hands and the way their fingers sink in between their knuckles, whether the brand of jeans they're wearing or the store they're holding a shopping bag from carries my size or not, if they complain about their weight or vocalize their diets, what they are eating in restaurants and how much of it and how quickly. It sounds kind of pathetic now that I type it out... not everything people notice is really worth noticing.

On an entirely different note, two-colored boletes are worth noticing, and I never would have found the ones in my own front yard if I hadn't had a book on wild mushrooms as a kid.

I also have found hundreds and hundreds of four-leaf clovers in my life.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:37 PM on February 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

The lack of freshness in supermarket fish cases. The first shoots of very small plants. The sounds of turboprop engines of passing aircraft.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 12:41 PM on February 12, 2008

I notice birds and how they interact with the *human world*, how they fly faster and higher over traffic, lower and more liesurely in fields, how they speak to one another, what inflections are used. I also notice patterns in nature, geometric shapes, spirals and color combinations of flowers, plants and trees. I take note of placement of things that grow, the where's, how's and why's. I also keep my senses open to the trees. Dylan once said: *You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows* - and in observing the trees - it's right on.
posted by watercarrier at 12:42 PM on February 12, 2008

I tend to notice parenting and teaching styles. There are so many different ways to deal with children, it's absolutely insane. Whenever adults interact with kids I tend to watch how that interaction plays out.
posted by JimmyJames at 12:47 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Like Metroid Baby mentioned, mushrooms. People will walk right by a lawn chock full of Chanterelles. When I point them out, they say they thought they were fallen leaves (even though it's late spring or early summer). (Metroid Baby, there are bunches of those Boletes in Lawrence. The blue staining effect is really cool.)

Also, and this is slightly OT, whether or not my fellow diners recognize/thank waitstaff when they bring them an appetizer, drink, or entree or refill their water. (Whether or not it's indicative of their attitudes towards the waitstaff is immaterial, really -- it's just something I can't help but notice.)
posted by cog_nate at 12:47 PM on February 12, 2008

I somehow manage to completely miss noticing just about any and all people I pass as I'm out and about (actually I've been chastised on a number of occasions for walking right past a friend or acquaintance and completely (though inadvertently) ignoring them as they've tried to say hi, I just don't see people) - but! Any dog or reasonably-sized insect that happens to pass my way, those I don't ever miss. The insects are all so lovely, but I must say the dogs are my favorite, there's nothing like passing a wagging, grinning doogie out playing with his mom or dad to instantly brighten my day =)
posted by zeph at 12:47 PM on February 12, 2008

Oh nax, I totally agree. When I fly home to Manitoba in the summer and pass over the patchwork quilt of the fields I always get a bit teary. Driving through them in the summer is one of the happiest feelings I know.

I always notice light/shadow patterns.
posted by justjen at 12:49 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

License plate typography.
posted by :-) at 12:50 PM on February 12, 2008

I have noticed that as I drive down a familiar road, I always tend to look at the same few things and not others: the same billboards, buildings, signs, spot on the ground, etc. My wife confirms she does the same thing.

In general, I tend to notice poor design, especially in people flow. Door handles that are meant to be pulled on doors meant to be pushed, sidewalks in bad positions that are circumvented by trails in the grass, etc. This is a direct result of reading this book by Donald Norman.
posted by toomanyplugs at 12:50 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Flying things, especially raptors and non-commercial aircraft. Mountains. Water. Guess I tend to have my eyes upwards.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:53 PM on February 12, 2008

Best answer: license plates, eg. where in the current sequence numbers are being assigned.

phases of the moon, how its lit hemisphere faces where the sun is relative to the horizon, and its differing location in the sky each day/night.

birds, especially falcons soaring high up in the sky.
posted by panamax at 12:57 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I likely notice the details of people more than most. As I walk down the street, I make eye contact with almost everyone. (I love how some people, when faced with genuine human eye contact turn their eyes down, like a submissive dog and some get all gruff like how dare I look at them.) I notice the rhythm people walk and how they move between other people on the sidewalk. How their mood shows in how they press the crosswalk button or refuse the free newspaper. I mini-stalk people during my morning commute and secretly analyze them. I draw people on BART, particularly if they've fallen asleep, so I notice hairstyles, cheekbone shape, makeup placement, how they slump when they've fully drifted off.

I notice typos (except my own). Bad kerning - oh how I hate bad kerning (space between letters). Logos that aren't set to corporate standards. Colors that were intended to match, but don't and therefore bug me. I notice phrases that are wrong too much, "hone in" for "home in", "flush it out" for "flesh it out" and so on.

As soon as I buy anything, or consider buying something, I notice it everywhere. Right now, I think the world is all driving Honda Fits. My husband comments on my desire to classify everything. We see a parrot in the park, I have to say, "That's a cherry-headed conure." I do the same thing with trees, flowers, some fashion, some cars, etc.

I don't like open sky, so things that other people notice that I don't involve architecture at the tops of buildings or things above eye level that aren't in a metro area.
posted by Gucky at 12:59 PM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

audio in films/TV shows, specifically voices - especially phasing as actors move relative to the boom or ADR that doesn't fit the mouth's movement. Trainspotting audio gear in TV shows or films.

Design issues - human flow through subway stations, for instance. Layout of rooms.

Good question btw. this is interesting.
posted by dubold at 12:59 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I come from a family of architects, and they definitely look at buildings in a different way than everyone else does. It makes family vacations interesting. Some of it has trickled down to me. When my parents visited me once, they pointed out how a building I passed every day had an especially precarious concrete overhang cantilevering out over a staircase. I had never noticed before, and now I tend to take note of cantilevers. Also from them: I notice when run-down warehouses have big windows with nice frames. Potential loft conversion!
posted by painquale at 1:04 PM on February 12, 2008

I pay a lot of attention to the physical urban form -- buildings, infrastructure, etc -- and the way people move within that. For most people, I think that stuff is just ignored as background except when there is a particularly beautiful building, or when something goes wrong. But I love seeing the layers of uses that have accrued on the landscape -- old fruit trees where there was a farmhouse, cable TV lines snaking up the sides of a building that has been converted to apartments, the bumps from old trolley lines in a street. Even in areas that are now designated as wilderness areas, you can see the physical markings from human use -- fires, logging, mining, etc.

And every building that I go into, I assess for "how easy would it be to break into this place?" I don't know why I do that, since I'm not a burglar and never will be, but I am always looking at window locks, fire escape ladders, and all of the other entry points with a curious eye.
posted by Forktine at 1:08 PM on February 12, 2008

I'm with Gucky - I notice people most. I notice their moods and emotions, what they're wearing, what they seem to be about, who they seem to be. They fascinate me.

Great thread.
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 1:08 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I always notice left-handed people. I don't know why, because I'm right-handed, myself.
posted by thebrokedown at 1:14 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I keep my eyes glued to the sidewalk, so I notice every crack and fissure, every broken square of pavement, every tree root that interferes with the flat surface. And I STILL trip and fall down a lot.
posted by Failure31 at 1:19 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

The "Papyrus" font that seems to be everywhere.

Whether restaurant menus have decent vegetarian selections, meaning food that's not primarily cheese or carbohydrates.

Whether carrots served are actually cut into sticks, or that oddly-rounded form that seems to have become popular lately (and which I suspect is somehow machine made). The latter seem too much like human fingers to me, and I can't eat them.

Whether furniture is laminate/veneer or real, solid wood.

Whether people pronounce the consonant sounds on the ends of words.
posted by amtho at 1:25 PM on February 12, 2008

The different states of moving or still liquids. Puddles, pollutants in puddles. Bricks on buildings. Clouds, smoke, mists, falling snow. The weave of fabrics, carpets, rugs, the patterns in wood. The rare AskMeFi questions that I can answer. Reflections in glass windows. People, people, people. The arrangement of seats on public transportation. Much much more.

I'll be looking more at stuff as I go home, thanks to this question.
posted by not_on_display at 1:27 PM on February 12, 2008

I notice video frame rates, digital video artifacts, and poor time base correction. I can't NOT notice it. I've always been able to notice it—Masterpiece Theater and old, old Nickelodeon drove me batty.

This ability helped me out a lot in my first job as a video engineer-type.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:28 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

For a while, I was working alone late for about a month. Around 6 or so, I would pull a chair over to the window and watch the sun set. It was really nice.

I also notice plants. I look at what plants people have in their yards, and how two very similar houses can look completely different with different landscaping. If i'm in a garden I look at what the similarities and differences are (leaf color, size, shape, placement, flowers...) in plants of a same species.

If I'm at the park, I notice how people look like their dogs, and wonder if I look at all like my cat.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 1:28 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I keep a sharp eye out for bats flying inside my house.
posted by thomas144 at 1:29 PM on February 12, 2008

Best answer: When attending meetings, I like to keep track of how often one person interrupts another, or how often multiple conversations are going on at once. Pay attention, it’s amazing once you’re in tune to it. I once taught an outdoor leadership class when we had to do this and I’ve been doing it ever since.

I notice airplanes. Even at age 38, I always look up when I hear one.

I’m nearing the end of a home building project. I notice things like garage doors, gables, windows, paint colors, lighting fixtures. Some day I hope I can go back to ignoring those things.
posted by bondcliff at 1:30 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I notice typos in signs, handouts, newspaper articles, books--drives me nuts. They jump out at me. I think it is something I've always done, but it's been enhanced by marking student essays and needing to find the errors quickly.

I notice accents of non-native English speakers, and I always try to figure out what their first language is. This became easier for me after I did my ESL teacher training and we had to analyze different grammatical/pronunciation features of other languages and how they affected the process of learning English.

I notice stereotypes in advertising, whether they are about gender, race, class, or sexuality.

I also notice knit or crocheted garments, and find myself trying to figure out how I would construct a similar item.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:30 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I notice eye color. And teeth. Great thread!
posted by pearlybob at 1:32 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I notice rocks. Rocks on the ground, rocks embedded in concrete, stone used in buildings. I think about where the rocks came from, why the concrete is created the way it is, and how the stone is used. But then, I'm kind of a geologist.

I also notice water. Puddles. Streams. Ponds. Storm drains. Faucets. Pipes.

Water and rocks.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:34 PM on February 12, 2008

I notice, slightly more often than most people:

- Real names that would make good science fiction or fantasy names
- Martial arts techniques and training that are terrible and ineffective, despite being cool-looking
- Parallel word opportunities in Scrabble
- How shitty or good software installation packages are
- The analogous color scheme
- When someone is not really confident in their argument

I think that's about it. I'm generally oblivious!
posted by ignignokt at 1:35 PM on February 12, 2008

Oh, and I always notice gratuitous quotation marks. So _watch out_ if you use them.
posted by amtho at 1:36 PM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

I notice speech patterns and oddities, such as silly catch-phrases people use - including myself. In fact, it drives me crazy when I catch my own.

I notice people's eyes. The way someone looks at you tells so much about that person. I think it's amazing.

I notice shapes and lines such as those in architecture, or ceiling tiles, or wherever. I find patterns in the lines... I can't help it.

I notice just about every woman I see, not always in a lustful way (hey, I'm single... what can I say?). For example, I often just notice the beauty that is a person, corny as that may sound. I notice the way a woman smiles and how she interacts with whoever she's with - especially in places like grocery stores or when walking along city streets. And did I mention eyes? I always notice those.

Come to think of it - I notice other people's happiness and I enjoy it. I enjoy my own, of course, but there's something very pleasing about seeing genuine everyday happiness in someone else. I notice, and it makes me smile.
posted by 2oh1 at 1:37 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I notice junk on the ground, because I do a lot of assemblage and collage work and there are some really interesting things that people have dropped, depending on the place. I notice a lot of *tiny* things.

My husband always surprises me when he notices potentially dangerous things I wouldn't - like that those guys in the corner of the bar are selling drugs or the semi truck who's tire is about to fly off.
posted by agregoli at 1:38 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I notice people who are given over to their private thoughts or moods in public. I love to see people riveted by their reading material on the subway, or swaying to the music only they can hear, or gripping a bouquet of flowers and jiggling their knee nervously, or smiling at some inner happy memory, or dumbstruck by something in a store window, or intently texting, or even teary or sad. I consider it a bonus to see a little kid lost in their private moment -- they talk to their reflections, dance along, do ninja moves, etc etc. And it's a big bonus if it's a teenager, doing imaginary guitar-picking, admiring or disproving themselves in a mirror, putting some serious english on a video game, practicing a Justin move, etc etc.
posted by thinkpiece at 1:39 PM on February 12, 2008 [12 favorites]

I notice if people are wearing pants that fit right, or if it makes them look too skinny or fat.

I always stare wide-eyed at sunsets, as if I'd never seen one before.

Having moved to a city relatively late in life, I find it hard not to gape slack-jawed at a) skyscrapers b) the shiny lights of the city at night from the freeway.

Every driver who turns who stops completely rather than just turning already. I notice every single person who does this and it's kind of the worst thing to pay attention to.

The way rainstorms make the leaves look.
posted by herbaliser at 1:49 PM on February 12, 2008

I notice the line of a woman's face as seen from behind and to the side, from the eye to the bottom of her jaw. It makes one half of a vase shape, and I think about trying to duplicate that shape when/if I were throwing a ceramic vase on a wheel.

Things I notice that others have pointed out: kerning mistakes, typos, poor urban planning decisions.

I also notice Mies van der Rohe inspirations or knock-offs, anything that would be fun to ride a skateboard on, and locations for film projects.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 2:05 PM on February 12, 2008

It's hard to describe, but after working in a copy center I'm much more aware of the size of paper goods. Like 8 1/2 x 11 inches is the standard sheet of paper everything is geared around, and if you cut that sheet in half you've got a greeting card size, and if you cut the sheet into quarters you've got postcard sized. When I'm presented with an unusual piece of printing outside of work I find myself considering how to duplicate it. Same thing goes for print quality.

I notice crows in the bare trees against gray winter skies. They are one of the few birds that stay out and active during the winter, and I'll collect the fallen feathers sometimes for luck.

I notice gender and race bias in advertising. This doesn't work all the time, but if you want to know what the ideal clientele of a certain store is like, just see who is pictured in their ads the most prominently. Asian males seem especially rare in advertising, though now that I've said that I'll probably notice a bunch.

I notice people's canine teeth if they're a little pronounced just because I think it looks cool.

I feel like I'm fairly skillful at reading faces and judging emotions accurately. I envy people with a sharp sense of smell since mine is worthless and people have to point out scents before I notice them.
posted by CheshireCat at 2:06 PM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

along the lines of what forktine says, ever since i was a little kid, i always noticed security cameras.

also, im not perfect by any means, but i have always noticed contradiction/hypocrisy in others.
posted by gcat at 2:07 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll have to second the architectural crowd here; but the way I see things ends up being kind of negative, I guess. I notice mistakes, like where the finish was incorrectly applied or trim was installed in such a way that it doesn't terminate properly and things like that. Also, I tend to notice a lot of tiling mistakes, where the installer ended up cutting tiles that he didn't have to, or laid them in a really odd way. For instance, there's a there's a building that was recently remodeled near me that I walk by every once in a while that has tile bases along the pilasters in part of the building. Just by looking at the tile layout, you can tell that it was determined beforehand how they should go in with everything working out fine and no cut tile--the pilasters were basically designed to be built on module with the tile. But the installer still put them in wrong, and even though all the pilasters are exactly the same size the tile layout varies from one to another.

I also notice things that are not to code and really poorly designed parking lots, both of which I can't help doing and I almost feel it's a curse. Especially when watching TV shows and movies since the code thing majorly messes with my suspense of disbelief.
posted by LionIndex at 2:16 PM on February 12, 2008

People. Male, female, young, old. I have a long bus/train commute 5 days a week so I get to see a lot of people, and all of them are fascinating to look at. I hate for people to think I'm staring, though.
posted by owtytrof at 2:26 PM on February 12, 2008

I notice it when people say 'like' too much.

I notice it when strangers behave politely to each other- a small 'thankyou' wave when driving, holding a door or lift for someone, sharing a smile at something amusing.

I notice the trees. I'm no botanist and wouldn't have a clue what they're called, but I notice the shape and texture of their leaves, the dappled sunlight beneath them, the various hues of their bark.

I notice the way human development imposes on natural systems. In my city, for example, the river's floodplains have been built on, the banks have been reinforced, the erosional edges have been replaced by walkways, etc. Also at the beach, I notice all the ways that we try to keep it how we like it, not how it wants to be. Breakwaters to slow erosion, barriers to slow longshore drift, stormwalls to protect us from the storms that wouldn't have hurt us if we hadn't torn down the dunes.

When I'm out of the city I notice the geology. I notice if the rocks are folded or faulted, if there's an unconformity, if there's any evidence of glaciation or uplift or sea level drop. I think about how many millions or billions of years have passed since the mountain I'm on used to be a river bed, and I wonder what it'll be in another billion years.

I notice the southern cross and always find the South Celestial Pole. I'm always a little uneasy in the Northern Hemisphere because I can't find this.

I notice joy. People at airports, in offices, on busses, that for whatever reason are laughing or smiling without concern for the fact that it's slightly more emotion than you're meant to show in public.
posted by twirlypen at 2:26 PM on February 12, 2008

Best answer: Fascinating question!

I'm hyper-aware of incorrect word-emphasis in staged, filmed and audio dramas.

In acting school, we learned to call stressed words "operatives." For example, if you speak this sentence aloud...

"You live in a hut, but I live in a castle."

... the operatives should probably be hut and castle, with a special emphasis on castle.

"You live in a hut, but I love in a CASTLE."

... operatives aren't always set in stone. Another valid choice is...

"You live in a hut, but I live in a castle"

... or some mixture of the two:

"You live in a hut, but I live in a CASTLE"

What won't work is to say...

"You live in a hut, but I LIVE in a castle."

That sounds as if "you" were doing something else in the hut besides living -- as if I wanted to point out that while you DIE in a hut, I LIVE in a castle. But you don't die in your hut. We both live in our houses (huts or castles), so there's no need to say the second clause as if LIVE is the major point. The point is the difference between where you live and where I live: hut and castle.

I've explained this to people before, and they usually say, "Um. That's obvious. No one would say 'You live in a hut, but I LIVE in a castle."

They're wrong. People -- smart people, famous actors -- get operatives wrong all the time. They get them wrong, because they're mostly thinking about what their characters are feeling. They're not paying attention to the rhetorical logic of the words and phrases they're speaking.

Unlike people in Shakespeare's time, most modern actors are not trained in logic and rhetoric. They can't even put into words why you should choose certain operatives over other ones, other then to say certain choices "feel right." But it's not just a matter of gut feeling. There's an internal logic in sentences, and if you don't understand it, you don't really understand what you're saying or why you're saying it.

Many actors mistakenly choose operatives to emphasize cool or special words. For instance, an actor might say, "What did you do with the money? You gave Jane the MONEY, but I told you to give it to Bill." When I point out that the logic of the sentence is Jane vs Bill (it should probably be "...You gave JANE the money, but I told you to give it BILL"), they often say things like, "Yes, but money is such an interesting word. I think this is a play about money. Which is why I want to emphasize that word."

Most of the time, operatives are not for emphasizing cool words, they're for linking ideas -- pointing out how one phrase affects (or overrides) another.

Bad operatives almost never happen in spontaneous real-life speech, because our brains understand the logic of what we're trying to say. They just happen in memorized or read speeches. They make dialog seem unnatural.

As a classical director, I'm hyper-aware of bad operatives. I almost NEVER see a movie or TV show in which there isn't at least one mistake. I'm not exaggerating. They're everywhere. I suspect most people don't notice them, because audiences too are not trained to follow rhetoric closely. My wife used to roll her eyes at me, because I was constantly correcting the TV. But after years of living with me, she's grown equally sensitive to the gaffs. Now we both correct the screen.

I've heard gaffs on "Deadwood," "Lost" and "24." Frodo makes a huge one in "Lord of the Rings." Just the other day, I heard an actor screw up an operative in "3:10 to Yuma." Bad operatives drive me absolutely crazy.
posted by grumblebee at 2:27 PM on February 12, 2008 [27 favorites]

I notice edges of baseboards and moldings, cracks in plaster or loose nails--the places I'd start if I were going to deconstruct a room. And load-bearing walls.

Tree roots.
Bugs, deer, squirrels, horses.

Patterns in water. Little eddys (eddies?), braided systems, the patterns of silt and gravel left after heavy rains, erosion on hills. I can't not stop and look. It drives whoever I'm walking with crazy.
posted by hippugeek at 2:39 PM on February 12, 2008

I notice all the tiny things on the ground where I'm walking.

In the city it's stuff like lost buttons, or pen caps, or glass shards, or someone's broken heel on the pavement. In the country or on a trail it's weirdly shaped rocks, odd looking pieces of wood, or anything human-made that doesn't belong.

I have a box of extra cool items (marbles, tiny toys, etc.) from years of picking things up, too. It's a habit I picked up working as an archaeologist for many years.

I also notice how light falls, particularly sunlight, and the way it makes shadows, how it distorts the surface of some objects, and the shadows of others. If I can, I like to take photos of the light too, although it never comes out that well for me...

Also, apparently like many others, I'm usually seeing typos everywhere, and I always notice weird clouds and the light from the sunset.
posted by gemmy at 2:41 PM on February 12, 2008

And strange or innappropriate or eponysterical names. I do a lot of data entry and that's how I entertain myself--finding the town treasurer named Barbara Rich, the Conservation Commission chair called William Urban, the business in Orange, CT, called Hollywood Tans of Orange.
posted by hippugeek at 2:51 PM on February 12, 2008

How everything smells. Unfortunately. Your deodorant, your head, your hand lotion. From 50 paces.

How people talk about their pets, and their invisible connection, or lack thereof, with their dogs when I see them out walking together. Also, I notice the reaction of every person I pass when I'm out walking my dog. Virtually everyone laughs or smiles (she's a very comical dog), but some people have no reaction to her at all.

The way people place food in their grocery carts. Some people seem to hate their food, judging by the way they violently fling it into the cart.
posted by Enroute at 2:54 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I notice ethnicities. I particularly notice (and delight in) interesting or surprising combinations -- like NPR's Lakshmi Singh, whose voice sounds as lock-jawed Bostonian as is humanly possible (and who, it turns out, has a Puerto Rican mother and a Trinidadian father). I notice the way different people take care of their babies, like the tough-looking Mexican day-laborers who live around the corner who are always standing out in the parking lot rocking their babies, taking their little kids across the street to get raspas, scooping up a kid who's scraped his knee.
I pay a lot of attention to the messages sent by people's clothes. Are they fashion victims? Label whores? Advertising sexual availability? Hiding? Don't care?
I notice how long people's legs are. Man, woman, child, doesn't matter -- I'm checking out their proportions.
posted by katemonster at 2:57 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I notice indoor lighting - outdoor lighting, too, but indoor lighting is the one that can drive me completely insane if it's bad. In college I realized that I'm much more sensitive to it than a lot of people are.

Once I started teaching, I became much more aware of the cues teachers give when they're asked a question and they don't really know the answer.

Oh, and I notice Uggs and Crocks. I wish I didn't.
posted by you're a kitty! at 2:57 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Background music in less-expensive restaurants that just use a radio. Fidelity is good, so patrons' chatter masks all but the lowest frequencies. Incredibly annoying, as are the inevitable commercials, but nobody seems to notice but me.

Also, all the plastic bottles among the trash discarded by the side of the road.
posted by Rash at 3:07 PM on February 12, 2008

Manners. I notice table manners, common manners, chivalry, etc.

Does a man hold a door open for a woman, does a woman hold a door open for a mom with a stroller in a mall, etc. I've been pretty appalled at how some business people eat. How can you hold down a master's degree but eat with your napkin on the table and your mouth open while you chew?

I notice colours and textures - especially how they are mixed and integrated in public spaces. Sometimes they are selected just beautifully. Other times, I just look at them and wonder what the FUCK was that designer thinking (or not, as the case may be)?

Like Metroid Baby, I notice other women - especially thin ones. I'm mesmerised by ones whose thighs don't touch (if you've never experienced it, it's quite an anomaly of nature to you).

I look at how well put together women - and men - are put together. Do their haircuts look especially nice. Do they have a fabulous bag, great but simple jewelry, well made shoes. etc. There's something to be said and appreciated about a quiet elegance.

I think though, one of the things that I would notice more than a lot of other people (unless you have one at home), is a child's pure and spontaneous laughter. It's like somebody has thrown stars up in the air and they're spreading out around you. Honestly, it's one of the most beautiful sounds ever in existence.
posted by dancinglamb at 3:07 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Apparently, I don't seem to notice that I need to proofread before posting.
posted by dancinglamb at 3:10 PM on February 12, 2008

I don't notice nearly as many small details about things now as I used to when I was younger. I am now 36.

In the past I would have noticed the pet dog, its mood, features of its face. Now I will notice how the owner treats the dog, where they are going, what kind of dog it is. That type of observation seems to translate to most things.
posted by veronitron at 3:12 PM on February 12, 2008

I always notice money on the ground, and I always pick it up, too. I'm getting rich off of NYC's pennies, nickels, and dimes.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:17 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

In addition to a lot of other things already mentioned (sunsets, clouds, sunlight, incorrectly used apostrophes, landscaping plants), I notice sprinkler systems and methods of egress from strange buildings. (That's what I get for dating a Fire Protection Engineer in college.)
posted by parilous at 3:18 PM on February 12, 2008

The moon, the vapor trails left by airplanes, little kids, and everybody's jewelry.
posted by ersatzkat at 3:22 PM on February 12, 2008

I notice people's jewellery, especially women's rings. And manners. On my commute I check out what people are reading.
posted by essexjan at 3:24 PM on February 12, 2008

Best answer: I notice the sound of different coworkers' walks so I can tell who it is walking past my cube at work without turning around.
posted by metaname at 3:36 PM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Voices (is it one I recognize? what accent is that?), animals, textures, licence plates (can I make words?) , people (fascinating!), colour, fonts, the sky (look, a hawk!).
posted by deborah at 3:37 PM on February 12, 2008

As an overweight woman, I always see people eating. Who eats junk food, who eats fruit. Who eats alone, who is unafraid to eat in front of others (imagine!). Who eats how much, how often, how fast. Who mentions it when they are hungry, who doesn't. Who talks about food. Who else is watching other people's relationships with food.
posted by arcticwoman at 3:42 PM on February 12, 2008

Whether/how you could get around without a car. How gigantic my parents' house seems after living in the city. APR rates. I also notice how hard does a place make it for me to get information/find out something/complete a transaction (and how many things are they trying to get me to do that I don't really want to). I hardly ever notice shoes, unless they're heels that make me say 'ouch', but I do notice people's hair (high- or low- maintenance, natural style or not).
posted by ejaned8 at 3:43 PM on February 12, 2008

I see flowers and trees in bloom. I notice the colors of crops in fields.

In a familiar place, I see what's new; in a new place, I notice what's familiar. I notice how nobody ever closes a door after they walk through it on TV or in movies. I notice typos, lack of subject-verb agreement, and spelling and punctuation mistakes (except in my own writing). I notice how "There are [two things]" is giving way to "There is [two things]." I notice how unrealistic the American accents are on British TV.

My husband notices wetlands, water and sewage treatment plants. Once we passed a nuclear plant half a mile away and he said, "They're moving fuel rods today." He notices the placard numbers on hazardous waste vehicles.

A friend notices piles of sawdust on back roads. He's attuned to small sawmills.

Someone I know looks to see if a new car has an old license plate.
posted by sevenstars at 3:53 PM on February 12, 2008

When I walk on the beach in Maine (where I grew up), I find the most wonderful tiny sand dollars, the ones that no one else sees or bothers to pick up, smaller than dimes and much more wonderful.

When I walk around the city I live in now, I notice bolts and wires, bits of metal on the ground, and graffiti. I notice typography and typos, like the rest of you (and like amtho, I hate hate hate Papyrus), and I notice streets and businesses with funny names: the kickenbaque lounge, for example.

I also notice people's bodies, the way their clothes fit, and the patterns of their clothes. Body language, too. I notice plants, and I'm always pointing out some patch of weeds or unusual or out-of-season flowers.
posted by dizziest at 3:55 PM on February 12, 2008

1. I cycle to work - I notice broken glass and holes in the road.
2. I notice how often I go to a Company A's website and then have to go to Wikipedia to find out what that company actually DOES.
3. I notice gratuitous use of numbered lists ;-)
posted by southof40 at 4:02 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Very low- or high-pitched sounds, including the Taos hum and old "ultrasonic" burglar alarms. People speaking Spanish or Portuguese. Gender and race bias in films and stock photography. Poor experience design in grocery stores. The urgency with which young people speak to each other. The calls of frogs and toads.
posted by PatoPata at 4:05 PM on February 12, 2008

Whether or not people look others in the eyes during a toast (even/especially a casual "cheers").
posted by asuprenant at 4:08 PM on February 12, 2008

In the early-early spring in a big city, I always have an extreme radar for buds on trees and new growth, that bright spring green poking up from the frozen ground. (Crocuses, etc.) Bugs my friends! But now they've started looking as well...
posted by np312 at 4:30 PM on February 12, 2008

Best answer: The way the end of a long corridor bounces up and down as you walk towards it.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 4:31 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

How many perfectly ordinary women really are beautiful if you just take the time to look at them.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:50 PM on February 12, 2008 [9 favorites]

The severe lack of Oxford commas on the Internet.
posted by yath at 4:53 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wires and pipes, where they lead, how they connect.

People's eyes, especially unusual eye colours or sizes. This is odd, since I generally fail to notice people as they pass me by. I'm extremely bad at picking someone out in a crowd.

I mentally correct mistakes in other's speech (grammar, pronunciation, sentence structure) - I can't help it, they jump out at me. I'm well-mannered enough to not verbalize my corrections, though.

Licence plates! Mainly: how far along are they in the sequence. Just recently Ontario went from "A" to "B" for the first character. I was elated. My friends thought I'd gone insane.

Mass transit. Poor urban planning. Things patched together rather than properly fixed. Form-in-spite-of-function design. Design by comittee.
posted by wsp at 4:57 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, I work on spiders, so I notice spiders and webs everywhere. I also can't pass by something written without trying to read it.
posted by dhruva at 4:59 PM on February 12, 2008

Best answer: I love this question, chatdonkey be damned. Many of mine have been mentioned already.

-Facial types. People who don't necessarily look like each other but are working off of some kind of common face template.

-Unnecessary apostrophes and quotation marks on signs

-Any odd words that are actually other words spelled backwards. Have to test any odd word. Once in a while it pays off and then it's a fun secret to know.

-Perfectly represented multi-ethnic friend groups in advertising, like it's an HR brochure. I keep hoping for an Inuit or Aborigine at the table in an Olive Garden commercial just once. Conversely: homogeneous racial clustering in real life social settings.

-Whether boobs bounce and move and jiggle while a woman is walking at a good pace or are completely immobile. One day I will ask what's going on there.

-Feet: pigeon-toed, outward-pointing, whether someone drags their feet while walking, cool shoes on women, etc.


-The presence or absence of crickets at night in a given place.

-Clothes whose only function is to display a brand name but are otherwise unremarkable.

-Whether a given person I pass is projecting a manuactured persona of some kind. Then trying to guess what needs they are filling by doing that, what they're feeding or protecting against.

-Suspected wigs/toupees

-What would make a good photo

-Every time I'm out, I see things that remind me how amazingly skilled and ingenious we are as a species. Just look at a single building - the unbelievable amount of skill that goes into every part of it, down to the locks in the doorknobs. Think of how long it has taken us to perfect these crafts, how much we've had to specialize, and therefore how dependent we are on each other. I couldn't do any of the things required to craft a modern building aside from maybe hammering nails and painting (couldn't make the nails or the paint though). And don't even get me started on city planning and stuff like sewers. Nobody thinks about the sewers! Perfectly graded to all flow... somewhere. I just think it's amazing what we can do.
posted by kookoobirdz at 5:04 PM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

I am a student of Anthropology/Sociology and a knitting/crochet teacher. I thought about this all through math class tonight because I didn't bring my knitting to school today. Here is the list I jotted down.

Words in license plates. My car is called Redux because the letters in the front half are RDX. I especially love the plates that people got intending to spell something.

My own long feet and seemingly longer thumbs.

The smells in the air. I can smell how long it has been since rain. Or if rain is coming. Also, what time it is by the position of the sun or the moon in the sky.

Knit stitches in commercial garments. How I would recreate them. Which stitches are commercial trickery and not what they mimic.

Space fillers in prepared professional speeches.

Teeth. Decay makes me nervous. Too white and I am also bothered. A little chip adds charm. A small crookedness I love.

As a thin woman I notice when my thighs touch, and when they don't. I'm always looking in full length mirrors hoping they'll touch. I think its creepy when they don't. Also, women who are as thin as I used to be. Sometimes I miss being different that way, now I am average and it was annoying that people said so many nasty things. Now I notice when people do it to the woman who is thinner than me in a room. I try to stick up for her, because I remember.

Subject verb agreement.

Whether the books on someone's shelf appear to have been read, or are just decorative.
posted by bilabial at 5:05 PM on February 12, 2008

I've taken up bonsai recently. Nearly crashed the car for looking at trees.

I bought a car a while back, never noticed there were so many of those cars driving around until i owned one.

So, what I've got on my mind. And I read the signs. They can be so distracting. T-shirts, stuff with words on them. No, I'm not looking at your tits, I'm reading your stupid t-shirt.

Weathering effects on buildings and stuff. The aspect ration on your TV is wrong. Gah! 60hz on a CRT monitor is horrible! Must fix!

In a crowd I spend more time looking at other people rather than interacting with the people that I am spending time with. So many things to notice about them.
posted by Tixylix at 5:06 PM on February 12, 2008

Oh, and boobs. What what I notice is how similar to my boobs others are. Shape, size, bounce. Does her bra fit?

Now you know too much.
posted by bilabial at 5:07 PM on February 12, 2008

Oh, one more! I got a special Florida plate that donates to something every year. I always notice someone with the same special plate. But I also compare whether they got the plate before me, or after. If the former, I feel a special bond. If the latter, I feel a sense of superiority, because I beat them to it. (I know this makes me kind of lame.)
posted by bilabial at 5:09 PM on February 12, 2008

I notice dogs. I've always wanted a dog and I've never had one so when I'm out, I've got a built-in dog-radar and I will be staring at it longingly the instant it appears in my field of vision.

Actually, the same thing happens with cute guys.
posted by tumbleweedjack at 5:17 PM on February 12, 2008

I notice this innocuous question has generated a metric shitload of responses.
It seems like it would be a good one to remember for those occasions where you are expected to make small talk with someone you barely know, and don't care to talk much yourself.

"What do you notice that other people don't?"
"That's interesting."
posted by hexatron at 5:24 PM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

I notice what people are reading.

When I was pregnant, I noticed other pregnant women (everywhere).

I notice people's boots (there is so much snow in Toronto right now, and I am searching for the perfect boots).
posted by Badmichelle at 5:30 PM on February 12, 2008

Best answer: i was an electrician for years, mostly doing renovation in older homes, and i notice switches and receptacles -- i notice if they're straight, if the screws are straight up and down or haphazard, if it was a crappy job and they had to use oversized "goof plates". i also notice old gas lines poking out of ceilings, blank plates, ceiling medallions, the small patches on walls and ceilings that indicate wiring done in a house after the walls and ceilings were drywalled/plastered. in commercial spaces, i notice smoke detectors, heat detectors, whether exit lights are located where they should be (sometimes). when we moved into a new office at work, i noticed pretty quickly that the doors into the office suite were facing the wrong way (so in a fire they wouldn't open outward but inward as we all attempted to flee).
posted by rmd1023 at 5:46 PM on February 12, 2008

Gay flags
Jesus/Darwin fish
Red shoes
posted by arcticwoman at 5:52 PM on February 12, 2008

I always notice spiders, ruggedly handsome men, breasts, armpit hair, muffin tops, flowers, and Thai restaurants.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:56 PM on February 12, 2008

Small children in grocery stores and restaurants who have tuned out their parent(s) and are looking around, all wide-eyed and innocent and charming, soaking up everything they see. Signs, watching for unintended humor. I also check each instance of "its" and "it's" to determine whether it's used correctly, or its usage is incorrect. A friend notices money on the floor everywhere she goes. (BTW, a wonderful question, and fascinating answers!)
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:50 PM on February 12, 2008

Fun question.

I notice hands. The ones with long fingers, tendons and well defined knuckles are amazing. Sometimes I make up stories to match the hands I see and it always surprises me how I can assign character traits to people only based on their hands. Of course, I'm wrong most of the time but I keep doing this.

I can't stand the misuse of you're for your and their for there or they are. Whatever that's called, it bugs me when it's not done properly as I get confused after seeing it wrong so many times.
posted by Yavsy at 6:52 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Boobs, whether people are wearing the right size bra and what size they should be wearing
Retail displays, which products are faced up and straight, and if the shelves are dusty
Business men and the fit/cut of their suits, wedding rings and haircuts
Elderly peoples' mobility
Spelling and grammar mistakes
Front entrances of stores, if they're concrete or tiled and if I'm going to trip on the door frame
Everyone on the train/bus, if they look happy, what they're wearing/reading/listening to
Men in general, faces, clothes, especially how big they are in relation to how badly they could hurt me
posted by sgrass at 7:07 PM on February 12, 2008

I notice:
-Women's butts that are similar in shape to mine; I wonder where they bought their pants
-License plates that are close in number to mine
-Instances of subtly incorrect grammar most people gloss over
-Duplicate (and potentially duplicate-seeming) word usage over the course of a piece
-Every '05 Honda Civic (Peering: "Is that a hybrid like mine?")
-The minute inner workings of taillights
-Cool-looking elevator buttons
-The direction the wind is blowing—I have very fine hair
-Tiny hairs brushing up against my face; reflections of my eyelashes in my glasses
-Tiny scabs or skin disruptions: must pick
-The harmony part in any song: must sing
-Potential instances of lead paint on doors, walls or dishes
-Pennies or other shiny bits of metal or glass on the ground

Pretty much anything on the ground, really:

A year ago this week I was walking down the street, thinking about my boyfriend, and when I looked up at the end of my train of thought, I saw a rubber band lying on the sidewalk—curled in the shape of a heart. Luckily, I had a camera on me at the time, so I snapped a shot—and from that designed my Valentine's Day card for him: the photo of the heart on the cover, the extended version of this story inside.

Things I've been surprised others didn't notice:
-Lane placement while driving
-Volume of voice
-The speed limit
-The color of one's personal toothbrush
-Water hazards in the form of full cups left around the apartment
-Burners on the stove left on
posted by limeonaire at 7:17 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

jeanmari writes "I see home construction or home improvement mistakes. Bad roofing job, insufficient porch supports, bad tuckpointing job, ugly white vinyl windows, awkward building addition, etc. Unfortunately, these are WAY too common these days."

I see this stuff too, especially bad flashing. But I don't think it's gotten worse, it's just always been really bad.

I notice the colour and quality of light, especially artificial light.

I notice stuff in the garbage. I can dumpster dive at 100 km/h, see a caster sticking out of a bin, and come home with a complete set of office chairs. And the board room table they were around.

I notice the hum/squeal of CRTs which are thankfully going the way of the tube radio.

I notice laptop brand names in movies and TV, especially if they couldn't get a product placement so the logo has been pried off.

I notice the stoves on TV sitcoms, mostly because they are so often gorgeous double oven jobbies.

I notice when trailers and trucks don't have legal clearance lighting or mud flaps. Utility trailers are the worst in this regard.
posted by Mitheral at 7:33 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I notice the type of guitar someone in a band is playing. Or, if at a show, their entire amp set up.

I also notice if someone is writing in cursive. You can usually tell, even if they're far away.
posted by Kronoss at 7:35 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

When a man wears white socks with dress shoes.
posted by lhall at 7:55 PM on February 12, 2008

Best answer: Common sense (or lack thereof)
I notice the actions other people take, and how poorly thought out they sometimes are. How they could have saved themselves a lot of work by stopping first, planning the steps more efficiently, and then performing them. Bothers the hell out of me when people do things the long difficult way, when (with a little ingenuity or craftiness) they could probably do it a lot easier. Its hard to teach people how to stop seeing things as "problems" and "start looking for possibilities".

Poor usability
I notice failures of usability/design. Rooms where the power outlets are in really strange un-usable locations. Malls or shopping areas that are difficult to drive through (like only 1 entrance/exit). I seriously hate those moments when you start using a new device, and it’s painfully obvious they really never thoroughly thought through the design. I also really despise devices that were designed to prevent you from taking them apart. Like the screws typically used to build bathroom stalls. If you look at the heads, they are shaped in such a way so you can ONLY screw them IN..... not OUT. Wtf is that all about? You don’t think this building will EVER need maintenance?

Patterns in events:
I notice when random things seem to "sync up". Like if I'm listening to Michael Jackson in my car going to the grocery store, and the first clerk that stops to help me is named "Michael". Or having 4 people in the same week tell me some story about (the food) "Nutella". When traffic seems to just "flow". When I see a piece of graffiti that means nothing to me, but later in the day I interact with someone who teaches me something new and "unveils" the graffiti's meaning unintentionally. When all of my small receipts from one day (food, gas, whatever) all use the same numbers (like $3.44, $43.43 and $134)

I notice "systems":
When I see a building, I don’t just see the outside "skin". I see the ventilation pushing air through and the electricity flowing through wires. I see the plumbing and the tension on infrastructure. Same goes for living things. I don’t just see the outside. I see the sensory systems interacting and blood flowing in arteries and veins. I see nervous system reaction and response. I see the muscles and thought behind locomotion. (The shear amount of communication conveyed by "body language" in living things is amazing) When I look at a city. I don’t just see the buildings. I see all the vast infrastructure systems keeping it running. Sewers, power substations, mass transit, everything working together like one big chaotic system.

there's probably more.. but I've rambled enough. :)
posted by jmnugent at 8:02 PM on February 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

jmnugent writes "I also really despise devices that were designed to prevent you from taking them apart. Like the screws typically used to build bathroom stalls. If you look at the heads, they are shaped in such a way so you can ONLY screw them IN..... not OUT. Wtf is that all about? You don’t think this building will EVER need maintenance? "

People steal the weirdest stuff. It might only be 10% of your client base that need this security feature but why bother stocking two different setups. I used to do special maintenance for a large rental company. Tenants would steal the batteries out of emergency lighting in apartment building stairwells if we didn't take extensive precautions to secure them. Even then we didn't always win.
posted by Mitheral at 8:16 PM on February 12, 2008

I can't help but stare in people's houses when I walk or drive past and see how they're furnished. I'm utterly fascinated by how other people live. Great thread!
posted by Space Kitty at 8:34 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I also really despise devices that were designed to prevent you from taking them apart. Like the screws typically used to build bathroom stalls. If you look at the heads, they are shaped in such a way so you can ONLY screw them IN..... not OUT. Wtf is that all about? You don’t think this building will EVER need maintenance?

That's a feature, not a bug -- it is to keep bored teenage vandals and petty thieves from using their swiss army knife while crapping to disassemble parts of the restroom fixtures.

Lots of public fixtures, not only in bathrooms, but also bus seats, park benches, and more, are held together by security bolts of various types -- a really common kind are those Torx-head bolts that have a raised piece in the center to keep a standard Torx bit from fitting. (Here is a page showing common varieties, for example.) Around the household, mostly you only see security lugnuts -- it is assumed that you won't be giving vandals lots of access to your house. (An exception is in places where window and door bars are common -- those will usually have security or protected bolts -- and doors that open outwards will have protected hinge-pins.)
posted by Forktine at 9:15 PM on February 12, 2008

What grumblebee said about incorrect word emphasis by actors.

And what toomanyplugs said about paths that people have made through grass because the provided sidewalks are too inconvenient. Sometimes you'll even see a sidewalk that's newer than the ones around it (and usually uglier, too) because it's been built on top of one of these.

Customer-serving procedures at new restaurants or stores. When everyone's new, there's confusion over who does what in what order; there may be too many people doing one thing and not enough doing another, etc.; and everyone has this small, slightly sheepish grin.
posted by equalpants at 10:29 PM on February 12, 2008

Hair. The extraordinary variability of hair. More little nuances of color and texture and motion than I will ever know words for. The first way I learn to recognize someone is either their hair or (if exceptional) their body frame. It really screws up my personal recognition when someone radically changes their style. (Or when I taught in a private school in Taiwan and all the hair was short and black.) I've been like this forever, and I don't know why.

Early twentieth-century brickwork. Ever since I photographed a bunch of it while doing background/setting research for someone else's historical fiction.

Songs in triple rhythm, ever since I noticed that all such songs make me irrationally tenderhearted.

Timbres, ever since I learned my way around the audible spectrum in an acoustic phonetics lesson. Are they harmonic? Are they broad or narrow? High- or low-centered? How much do they change over time?

In text, ambiguous wording and garden-path syntax. (The garden-path effect is when you're inclined to make one assumption about the grammatical relations of the words as you read them right to left, but then you hit a word that forces you to backtrack and make a different one.) Words that predispose a reader to a later garden path, even a small one, and that should have been replaced with a synonym to prevent this. Ever since reading Joseph Williams's Style: Toward Clarity and Grace and taking a bunch of linguistics classes.

In speech, repeated use of cognates without any syntactic or rhetorical evidence that they are cognates. Ever since studying Latin.

Unwitting coinage of good band names. Ever since I started reading MeFi.
posted by eritain at 11:08 PM on February 12, 2008

*Food-reading restaurant menus, looking at specials on reader boards and grocery store ads, reading recipes, looking in gardens. I wonder what I would order if I ate at that restaurant, what I would cook if I had a house with that garden.
*Children the age of my children-comparing development, enjoying the way they play, thinking of how they are similar or different.
*Poorly synchronized speech in TV or movies (I'm sure there's a more technical term for this)-drives me completely batty, especially when no one else with me notices it.
*Spelling errors.
*Logical errors-folks who say things like "I don't know why it's such a big deal to use seat belts! We didn't have seat belts when I was a kid and I survived".
posted by purenitrous at 11:16 PM on February 12, 2008

I notice some grammatical stuff: the frequent incorrect use of whom (generally hypercorrection), the use of the plural when the present would be more correct IMHO, including when I do it ("None of them are coming" - none, singular, is the subject, so it should be is, to my German-trained brain). I also notice accents, even light ones, and can tell similar accents apart. I notice weird little speaking affectations people have, and mine too sometimes.

I also notice the smell of the exhaust from different cars. As an example, the exhaust of a '60s-'70s era US muscle car smells very different from the exhaust of my newer Honda. I can smell burning oil and when there is a radiator leak (sweet smell due to evaporating coolant) as well.

I notice the discreteness of individual leaves. My first memory of getting glasses when I was a kid was looking at trees and seeing all the individual leaves from far away.

I also notice when the light is really good. In the morning and afternoon, the light takes on different temperatures, and the world looks incredible. Colors seem brighter and things are less drab.

I don't know if it's uncommon, but I notice when people have really nice handwriting, either because it's tiny and neat, or because it's cursive and old-school scientist looking (I envy both).

I pay attention to what I do with my mouth to make certain sounds. To make an English th, I put my tongue on my teeth. The Spanish t tends to have the tongue closer to the teeth than the English.

I notice how strange everyday life is. Think about a high-school cafeteria. Tons of people, sitting, eating, talking, then BAM! a bell rings, and every.single.one. of them gets up and leaves. How fucking weird is that?

I notice in my studies how fascinated humans are with ourselves. We love to learn more about the stuff we create. It's really awesome.

I also notice when teachers flail wildly because they don't know the answer. The awful ones will say nothing at all. The good ones will stutter and guess, but tell you they aren't that sure. The really good ones will say they don't know, but tell you how to figure it out. The best ones say they don't know and then figure it out on the board with\for you.

I notice the vast, unbelievable amount of space we have in the US and how far apart things are. In Germany, it's like you go maybe 30 miles and hit a village or city. Here you can go hours.
posted by !Jim at 11:43 PM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As a writer, I look for stuff I can steal (by which I mean events, nuances, conversations--not stuff I can pawn to put food on my table!) This involves a process of going from non-attentive to hyper-attentive in no time flat, and sometimes brings mental whiplash when I have to move on and the object of my interest doesn't. This is especially frustrating when there is no reasonably polite way to lurk nearby, or, the opposite problem, when I can't stop eavesdropping on the conversation next to me, even though it's not my business, or it's rude or distracting for me to me to be doing so. In a word, I guess I'm always looking for interestingness. This is not to say I always find it, but that's what my radar is scanning for in case it goes by.

Having just moved to a big city, I notice homelessness. I've never seen it on this scale, and watching the mechanics of how passersby interact with homeless people, and how homeless people forage for themselves, has been a real eye-opener.

And because my new city is near mountains, I notice, well, mountains. They kinda disturb me. I'm not used to turning my head while crossing the street and having them just there like that.

I notice how damn much this society is becoming focussed, visually or aurally, on mobile phones. And how, by doing so, they're missing out on the thousands of things mentioned in the 105 comments already posted above mine on this cool thread. (On preview, more than 105 now.)

I notice people who throw cigarette butts on the street, and the cigarette butts left lying there as I walk down the street, and it drives me crazy. This combines two of my hatreds, second-hand smoke and littering. Someday I'll finally snap with rage and pick up that dirty butt and say, excuse me, sir, you dropped this, and hand it back to someone, and I really hope the guy I do this to doesn't pound me.

I notice people with coffee. Because I hate the stuff and don't drink it. And it's everywhere. Spend a day replacing every overheard mention of the word "coffee" with the word "cocaine" sometime. It's fun to see how it casts the need for caffeine in a totally different light. It's amazing how many events make specific mention of its availability at their functions, as if everyone would just freak out if it wasn't there, and how many social gatherings (classes, meetings) gear their breaks around its procurement. And I especially notice people who arrive late to something while carrying one. Come late empty handed and I'll forgive you. Come late with a take-out cup of coffee in your hand and I won't.
posted by roombythelake at 11:45 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I notice sounds. Background music, soundtracks, car horns, voices, phones in other rooms, the footfalls of different shoes, individual people's walks, the almost inaudible click before the alarm goes off. Sounds affect me like nothing else does. I'll listen to a song's chord progression, arrangement, timbres, and only after 12 hearings will begin to notice what the lyrics say. I recognize people by how they knock on my door. I notice if soundtracks are appropriate or insipid or cheesy. I get distracted by unrealistic sound effects. A screaming child or obnoxious car horn hurts like a physical blow. A good performance of a good piece of music is almost enough to live on.
posted by bassjump at 1:40 AM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I notice patterns in everything (people's behaviour, visual things, music, actions).

And special or nice sequences of numbers. Like 1337 on the milage counter of a moped or 12:34 or 06.07.08. I thought everyone did that but somehow nobody's mentioned it yet. Though perhaps that's because everyone actually does that.

And (this is something that keeps me entertained while idling) I notice false friends in language. Like:

dutch: houden
swedish: hålla

dutch: op
swedish: upp


dutch: ophouden = english: to stop doing something
swedish: hålla upp = english: to keep doing something

I think that's fascinating.
posted by Skyanth at 3:58 AM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

I notice how much of my surroundings have been there for how long. Walking or driving somewhere, I'll constantly be thinking -- oh, someone in 1945 would have seen that just like I'm seeing it, or this is something that's not changed much since the thirties.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 4:32 AM on February 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

When visiting someone else's house, I notice what books or magazines they have. It amazes me that some people don't seem to read.

I notice if people smoke.

I notice if people have bad manners or are inconsiderate.

I notice if a lady wears too much perfume because perfume gives my wife a headache.

I generally think less of all these people, but I try hard to be gracious and forgiving and not let on what I think about it.

I notice whether a tall building skips the 13th floor and goes from 12 to 14 to accommodate silly superstitions.
posted by Daddy-O at 7:17 AM on February 13, 2008

I notice people's shoes, especially where there are lots of tourists around, and try to guess where they're from by the shoes.
I also always notice what books people are reading, and go out of my way to try to look if I can't tell what the title is right away.
I also notice odd combinations of people, and make up stories in my head about what they're doing together.
When I'm driving on the freeway, I always look for people who are singing along in their cars. It's kind of sad how few there are!
posted by exceptinsects at 8:05 AM on February 13, 2008

Oh wow, I got here just in time to see that exceptinsects sees what I see. I see patterns in everything. I hear patterns in speech. I see egregious apostrophe mistakes and mistakes in spelling, punctuation and grammar, and hear them, too! I watch the clouds, I watch the sun, I watch the sea and the sky at night. And shoes, yes, glorious, glorious shoes. And people's fingernails and jewelry.
posted by Lynsey at 9:56 AM on February 13, 2008

I notice mistakes usually before I notice the things that are correct, and if I focus it on myself it makes me edit and re-edit so much sometimes I can't get anything done, or get words written out right. If I'm focused outside of myself it makes people accuse me of being critical and/or negative.

I notice babies, small children, and pregnant women all the time now. I never did before I had kids of my own.

I notice how locked into certain systems and ideas people in general are and how many people don't seem to question, just accept as truth - gender differences a big part of this.

I notice and think about what defines a person's class, how you can extrapolate big general ideas from small things about someone. Also fascinating is how sometimes you can tell so much about a person from their face, like the head cheerleader's face almost always has the same shape/look to it; or you can tell if someone is an asshole just from the generic "look" or type of face they have. I'm probably not explaining myself well, it's hard to put words to.
posted by Melinika at 12:10 PM on February 13, 2008

I'm joining the shoe party - I totally make snap judgments about people based on their shoes and also try to guess where they're from.

I notice when people aren't aware of where their bodies are in space. I spend a lot of time in the same few airports and parts of the university campus where I work, always knowing where I am and frequently surrounded by people who don't know where they're going and have to stop to reorient themselves. In unfamiliar spaces, people's ability to notice that they're IN MY WAY is dramatically diminished.

I did a lot of handstands against walls last year, sometimes in public places, and I started noticing from the minute I'd walk into a room whether there was a clear patch of wall with enough space for me to kick up into a handstand.

I'm also a knitter; I notice whether clothes are handknit or machine-knit or crocheted, whether I can recognize the fiber or the yarn or the pattern, whether the yarn is handspun, whether a scarf has a yarn tail hanging off it that hasn't been woven in properly (appalling!), clothes with interesting construction.

I notice meaninglessness or logical errors in people's small talk. (I don't like small talk.)

I always notice woodpeckers, or other birds that drill - I stop in my tracks when I hear one.
posted by clavicle at 12:12 PM on February 13, 2008

The idea behind this thread would make a great book. I'll take a 1% cut on profits, thank you.

I notice people's resemblances to celebrities. And songs' resemblances to other songs (which can drive me nuts when I can't quite identify the tune in mind).

As a guy who wishes he were a bit taller, I notice the heights of those who are shorter or taller than me, and try to estimate them.

As someone who had to listen to the same adult contemporary pop tunes day in and day out for 4 years at my last job, I notice those same songs as soon as I hear them, like when I walk into a store. Depending on how bad it is, I'll likely groan or grimace. Or walk back out.

Light, electricity, paper, and plastic usage, whether at home or in public. I'm moderately concerned about the environment, but I can't imagine how some people don't go nuts when they see how much waste there is out there.

Talking heads on TV who use cliches which make me want to reach in and strangle them. "It's all about..." and "At the end of the day" are the worst, whether it be about politics or sports.

And similarly, I notice whether athletes have anything insightful to say in interviews, or whether they just spout the same old responses like "They're a hard-working team" and "We just have to play our game."

And yeah, typos suck, too. Especially the "grocer's apostrophe."

Oh, and I've started to notice how Barack Obama does that thumb-index finger thing with his hand when he speaks.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:38 PM on February 13, 2008

I notice volleyball nets (there's more of them than you'd expect), the speed of the windshield wipers on other cars, when people follow old punctuation guidelines, like 2 spaces after a period.
posted by Four Flavors at 7:41 PM on February 13, 2008

Thought of another one: whether or not there's a musical instrument in someone's home. I just don't feel right in a place without one, for some reason.

Also, the age of maps. Is the USSR still there? How about Yugoslavia? Is the 105 freeway built yet (Los Angeles)? Or the 63rd street tunnel (NYC subway)?
posted by equalpants at 3:45 AM on February 14, 2008

The fractal branching patterns of trees, especially in winter - every species has a characteristic pattern. The notion of nature's recursive self-similarity was made clear to me in a eureka moment on a winter trip to the Smokey Mountains when I first perceived it.
posted by Calibandage at 11:12 AM on February 14, 2008

Response by poster: Keep em' coming! My thanks to everyone who took the time to answer. This was quite interesting.

Needless to say, the answers marked as "best" are simply the ones that seemed most interesting to me.
posted by wittgenstein at 12:43 PM on February 14, 2008

people that drive the same car I do

they're/their/there, your/you're, etc
posted by phritosan at 2:13 PM on February 14, 2008

I notice how when I'm in a turning lane, people's indicator lights flash at different frequencies. I'm always looking for one that meshes with mine.

I notice the way that foliage feels on my hands as I walk by. How a soft looking hedge can feel prickly as you graze your hands over the top. The feeling of silky grasses through my fingers.

I too notice odd combinations of people: large groups, pairs, etc. and try to figure out what their relationship is.

I notice suspicious looking people and wonder if I would be able to give a description if asked by the police.
posted by ms.v. at 5:44 PM on February 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Product placement in movies and television shows.
posted by Dave Faris at 11:08 PM on February 14, 2008

As an animator, I study motion. I notice the way people walk. Can identify people I know from a very long way off, even without my glasses sometimes, simply by the way they move. The variation is amazing - slight limps no one else would notice, a swagger, a double-bounce to the step, the sway (or not) of the hips, swing of the shoulders, how they carry their hands while they walk. The body and head, hunched over and scuttling, tall and straight, rounded or arched or puffed-up, young male style. Even the conformational oddities, like pigeon toes or a tendency to pronate; I'll look at the backs of people's shoes to see how they're worn, whether they put their weight to the inside or outside of the foot. It's a constant study, and I like to make up stories in my head about the people I'm watching, to match the way they walk.

As an equine stylist, I can watch hunter rounds at a horse show and notice mostly the way the horse's mane and tail are braided - are they straight, even, small, tight? Is the tail fake? Can you tell? It's not really applicable to most of the population, but it's what I do.

As a person interested in the world, I notice the slow things and the small things. The way mosquito larvae squirt about in a pool of shallow water on a hot summer day, uncomfortable in the killing heat. I try to figure out how the sky shades from yellow on the horizon to purple and blue above at sunrise, without ever going through true green, and where that transition occurs. I watch a wasp build a tube of mud against the side of a building, then fill it with tiny, paralyzed spiders for her young to devour. I watch orb spiders swing through the air to fasten their anchor threads to branches and bushes, then I watch as they circle about the spokes, dabbing the silk onto each line, their progress even and perfect. And I watch rock pools as the snails make little swirling tracks in the sand, as sea stars move, oh so slowly, and the barnacles flit their tiny, feathery appendages out into the water and back in again.

It's a form of meditation, almost, to find one slow thing to watch, every day. The slow things, these days, are the secret ones, the ones no one cares to pay attention to in this fast-paced world.
posted by po at 2:21 AM on February 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

1. Raptors. If there's a hawk, falcon or kestrel anywhere in sight, I'll spot it. (I live in sparsely populated, un-treed West Texas where you can spot a hawk miles away.)
2. Horses. If there's a horse...
3. Classic cars, especially old pickup trucks. I desperately want a 1950s pickup.
4. Hats, particularly worn and cherished cowboy hats.
5. Typos. I'm an reporter/editor who winces at horrid errors such as "The Smith's Ranch," or "Grilled Hamburger's $2.99." I even "edit" billboards, magazines and TV dialogue or news readers' commentary.
6. Ill-fitting or inappropriate clothes on people of an age or size who should not appear in public dressed that way. (As in, tight tank top on a 56-year-old woman with flabby arms, massive love handles plus sun-scorched skin like 200-year-old leather -- true story. Oh, and 5 very different earrings on each ear.)
7. Movie credits. Love reading them, even when everyone else has left the theater.
8. Ramshackle, abandoned buildings. If it's a house, I wonder about the family that once lived there and what happened to each family member; if it was a business, what made it leave -- was it family-owned until no one was left to run it? Wal-Mart moving into town and taking away the business?
9. All the abandoned wrecks of cars, machinery, etc. Why won't someone come along and recycle most of it? Repurpose the steel, iron, aluminum, chrome?
10. Road kill.
11. Beautiful architecture; Texas' 254 counties have some of the prettiest courthouses in the U.S. (Go online to see the one in Waxahachie in Ellis County, or the one in Atascosa County, or Llano County. Of course, not ALL the counties have great courthouses; some have built abominations. The website capitolshots.com has photos of the coolest and un-coolest ones.)
12. Windmills of the West Texas water-the-livestock-and-quench-our-thirst variety. Love 'em.
posted by Smalltown Girl at 11:09 AM on February 16, 2008

A lot of what I notice comes from my hobbies.

I notice running water. If it's a big enough stream to float a boat, I notice if I could kayak down it, if I would want to, what it would be like at flood stage, where I would paddle it (if whitewater) and the consequences of paddling it.

I also notice bikes. I ride/walk much slower once I get near a rack.

I notice potholes and shortcuts when biking.

I notice individual ingredients in the things I eat when I eat out, since I'm usually interested in how to make the same dishes.

Saturn wagons.

Messenger Bags.

Things tied to roof racks.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:30 PM on February 16, 2008

Sometimes I think I have an internal clock with an alarm that makes me get up and walk towards a clock just so I can be walking past at exactly 11:11.
Like some other folks, I notice those little fish people stick on the back of their cars. My favorite had GILFILTE spelled out inside.
posted by BoscosMom at 7:24 PM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Trains. I notice the graffiti. I think about where the train car was parked when it was being defaced. I think about the other cars with graffiti on them and how they ended up being connected with each other. If you think about it, there has to be millions of train cars. I think about the randomness of their connections and the miles they have travelled apart from each other only to be connected at this point passing me as I wait. I think about the cargo and where it goes, where it came from, and why its going there.

For instance, I was driving west through the rockies and saw a train going the opposite way carrying nothing but scrap metal. There had to be at least 120 cars full of it. Why are they shipping this? Where is it going? Who the hell ordered a bunch of scrap metal? Why does this person need a freakin' train-full of this stuff? etc.
posted by chugg at 10:33 AM on November 5, 2008

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