1599: Water Delivery

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Water Delivery
When I was a kid, I asked my parents why our houses didn't have toothpaste pipes in addition to water ones. I'm strangely pleased to see Amazon thinking the same way.
Title text: When I was a kid, I asked my parents why our houses didn't have toothpaste pipes in addition to water ones. I'm strangely pleased to see Amazon thinking the same way.


Amazon has added bottled water to its line of on-line home order goods, which they are calling Prime Now. In served areas, which include Manhattan/Brooklyn, Baltimore, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, Austin, Houston, Indianapolis, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Francisco, San Jose, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Sacramento, and Phoenix, many products – including but not limited to bottled water – are available to be delivered within one hour. So we are faced with the prospect of water, contained within plastic bottles, contained within cardboard shipping boxes.

As increasing amounts of water are ordered, on-demand, more frequently than the stated delivery time of one hour, this would show increasing numbers of packages sequentially passing from Amazon HQ (or its distribution hubs) to an arbitrary end-user as shown in the comic. Beyond a certain (already impractical) point, it might be better to merge the packaging together into a single longitudinal structure through which one could first deliver back-to-back bottles of water, as shown in the second-to-bottom illustration, and then (as the requested water quantity increases beyond that model) eventually just merge the containers themselves to 'pipe' the water within what can then become one single length-of-delivery packaging/container, as shown in the final illustration. (If kept stationary, only forcing the liquid within to move, this would also solve the problems of what happens with the layers of packaging at the destination, or how to potentially return containers to the suppliers for re-use.)

While this could apply to one degree or another to any merchandise, for the purposes of the comic and for the reasons described next, water was chosen for this example – because that's really what existing water-mains do. And hence Randall's recommendation or vote that we start calling the regular municipal plumbing "on-demand hyperloop-style water delivery". In order to promote any 'new' technology, various buzz-words are used, and here it is hyperloop, reminiscent of Elon Musk's 'piped transportation system', which (from the outside, at least) appears to be taking discrete passenger units (trains, cars, buses and planes) and replacing them with a stationary pipe within which the passengers 'flow.' (Albeit, in this case, still within discrete internal vehicles, not entirely like Futurama's 'piped people', which might be a bit messier). The closest real life application of this concept is that of subways (the "tube") to replace individual people (the "product") in cars (the "packaging"). Randall suggests trying to get someone to buy into this idea, only to later realize that they have just bought the idea of tap water. It is important to note that, in all places where tap water is available, it is not necessarily safely drinkable. Water filters at the destination can solve some of these problems.

The comic also seems to jab at the unnecessary buying of bottled water, when most places in the western world have perfectly drinkable water in the pipes. However, not all recipients like mains water (hardness, softness and various additional water-treatment chemicals can affect taste and the action of water with detergents, and in some cities it might even be unwise to drink tap water, at least for tourists), which is why there is still a healthy business for bottled water (of many brands with subtleties to taste) even in households and establishments with piped-water available. The other explanation, for cynics only, is that the marketing budget for bottled water creates the industry. See The Gruen Transfer episode on Bottled Water (season 2 episode 3 (#13)) where the marketing is considered.

In the title text Randall tells that when he was a kid he was asking his parents why there were not an additional pipe for toothpaste next to the water pipe. Amazon thinking the "same way" is a sarcastic jab implying Amazon saw toothpaste tubes and wondered why water wasn't delivered the same way (in small bottles). Both are implied to be examples of childish ideas, but Amazon is actually following through on theirs. The idea of a toothpaste pipe is revisited in 1649: Pipelines.


[Caption above the frame:]
Now that Amazon is advertising
one-hour delivery of bottled water,
[A larger building complex is show on the left. An arrow goes to a blue bottle in a brown package in the middle of the frame. Another arrow continues over to Cueball on the right. The same building and Cueball is drawn below four more times. More and more bottles in packages are added. First two with a third arrow in between. Then six packages with water, so close that there are only smaller arrows at both ends. Then there is one long package from building to Cueball with 20 bottles close together, with small arrows at both ends of this package. Then finally this turns into a stream of water flowing through a package "pipe", shown with one arrow in the middle of the blue water. Again with small arrows at both ends of the pipe.]
[Caption below the frame:]
I vote we start calling municipal plumbing
"on-demand hyperloop-style water delivery"
and see if we can sell anyone on the idea.


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I...dont get it (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I suspect this is another of "hey, why we are even bothering with bottled water when we have water pipes" ... -- Hkmaly (talk) 13:05, 4 November 2015 (UTC)

Yeah, i'm suspecting that this means that "we've always had 1 hr. water delivery, in the form of modern plumbing. it's pretty similar to https://xkcd.com/1367/ in which (amazon) is reinventing something that already exists. Also advertising is spelled wrong, but that's just a typo perhaps. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Sounds about right. And isn't Advertizing the the American way of spelling it? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_and_British_English_spelling_differences 14:25, 4 November 2015 (UTC)
Yes, it is. Azule (talk) 14:49, 4 November 2015 (UTC)
Criminalizing means making criminal and if the word advertizing existed it would mean making an advert. The correct spelling in American English is advertising (telling the public about a product)) and the original comic is corrected. 16:54, 4 November 2015 (UTC)

I wish the illustration had showed the bottles transition from vertical to horizontal, then merge together to form the pipe. - - EazyEpete -- EazyEpete (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

That would have been better. ☺ Azule (talk) 14:49, 4 November 2015 (UTC)
But less practical, as the point is to add more water, and end-to-end would represent less water-per-meter than side-by-side. -boB (talk) 22:15, 4 November 2015 (UTC)

Global transition to HDPE (Polyethylene) pipes and plumbing can be related to the subject. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

This would make sense if water was simply water. However, the water in my pipes at home tastes terrible and rapidly coats my plumbing with lime deposits. My favorite local restaurant serves the same water...I pay for bottled instead. In the nearby small city, though, the tap water tastes fine. Similarly, I spend a couple months every year at a location in Texas where I don't even feel clean after showering with their tap water because it is so "soft" and I've considered buying bottled water and using a solar shower. In the store you'll find not only different brands, but different types; spring water, distilled water, etc; just because you have a source for one type of water does not mean all other types of water are invalid. -- Swordsmith (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Certainly water isn't just water; there are lots of factors that go into what water tastes like, does to what it comes in contact with, and contains both as good and bad substances -- just like when you go to a paint store and ask for white or black, and find out there are 20 varieties of what we think of as a simple color (or lack of). But we still just call water water regardless of what (liquid) form it takes, and we call white white even when it's just very slightly off, so in those theoretical terms the comic makes perfect sense. -boB (talk) 22:15, 4 November 2015 (UTC)
If water in pipes at your city tastes terrible, wouldn't the logical thing be to complain to municipal authorities and get them fix it? On the other hand ... when I'm buying bottled water, I usually buy carbonated water ; I suspect carbonating tap water wouldn't be practical. -- Hkmaly (talk) 13:10, 6 November 2015 (UTC)

The taste of water in mains is very subjective. Some people will think it tastes fine when other think it tastes bad or strange -- because people have different tastes but also because one gets used to what's at hand. That being said, there are workarounds such as reusing water filters (e.g. Brita) to get drinkable tap water without lime deposits or odd taste; for whole household water (either too soft or too hard), there are water softener filters that can be added to the mains to soften or harden the water. Now the point to be made is why would one have to pay extra to fix a problem with their tap water when they are already paying for that service? Ralfoide (talk) 15:55, 6 November 2015 (UTC)

Possible reference to https://xkcd.com/1165/ ? The one panel looks like a river to me. Mikemk (talk) 15:39, 4 November 2015 (UTC)

Reference and similarity are not synonyms. 12:49, 5 November 2015 (UTC)

I don't want to dive back into my own explanation again to make yet another minor edit, especially if I'm going to cause anyone an edit conflict on a far better addition/change/overhaul. ...but if anyone wants to take the "(cars and buses and planes)" aside and add "trains" in there as well, as examples of discrete passenger units? If it remains there. For some reason I missed the thing closest to the eventual hyperloop concept... edit: Also, I meant to say "prompt home-order goods", but seemed to have forgotten to type it! (Also, I didn't bother explaining the Titletext. Someone should try that. Although I'm not sure Amazon is thinking the same, except through the same '(il)logical extrapolation', vis-a-vis water delivery.) 15:42, 4 November 2015 (UTC)

I believe people are overlooking the 1 hour part of this comic. Amazon has been shipping water for a long time (citation needed). The 1 hour aspect is what makes it closer to a pipe now. You're basically using an on-demand system to request the water in 1 hour and it's being delivered like a tap. This also plays into the title text in that Amazon is ultimately striving to make "real time" deliveries of everything, so a toothpaste pipe is closer to reality now if you define pipe in the same way the comic implies. RTPGiants (talk) 17:24, 4 November 2015 (UTC)

Three comments moved to explain xkcd:Community portal/Technical#Captcha [1]

By the way, how about setting up a service like Amazon's, having someone come to your door with an empty bottle, filling it from your tap, and charging the customer for quick water delivery?--Jojonete (talk) 09:14, 5 November 2015 (UTC)

I like that idea! Here's a similar variation, in case a person doesn't want a stranger coming into their house to use their own tap. There can be a loose network (i.e. coordinated via the Internet) of a million "affiliated" households, servicing the needs of a million different customers ordering water, and then a bunch of dedicated couriers traveling the short distance between the nearest affiliated independent water micro-fulfillment center (AIWMFC) and the customer. Or maybe cut out the dedicated courier entirely -- the nearest AIWMFC's CEO (or her husband, or one of the kids) could fill the bottle themselves, don a hat with the company's logo, and walk or drive the bottle over to their neighbor. This company could probably get times down to an average of just a few minutes rather than that insanely long 1 hour that Amazon.com has with their measly few mega-fulfillment centers. And this could bring speedy delivery even to small towns or rural areas rather than just major urban centers. -boB (talk) 20:55, 5 November 2015 (UTC)

Cynic here! Bottled water are also oft used as a vanity item - display of wealth. 11:28, 5 November 2015 (UTC)

I buy bottled water because I want the thing to carry it, not the water itself. If I'm at the store and know I'll want some water later on when I'm not near a water fountain (eg in the car) I'll pay the dollar or so for the bottle pre-filled with water, not the water itself. 16:55, 5 November 2015 (UTC)

Buying bottled water is all about believing in brands and marketing - so it probably won't take too long before Apple Water becomes popular. 11:32, 10 December 2015 (UTC) The Water from my tap does not taste right - no malt, hops, alcohol or fuzziness. So I buy bottles. Cheers! 17:05, 14 August 2019 (UTC)