If you think Cha Cha is just one more dance you wouldn’t dare attempt in public, then you’re not a geek. Not a lazy geek anyway. Cha Cha is a human powered search service. That is, you send in a question, and literally seconds later (okay, maybe a couple of minutes) the service responds with an answer. The answer is provided by an honest to goodness human being at the other end of the wire. Someone on the staff searches the web for the best answer they can find and sends it back. You can even reply to the reply if you don’t quite get the info you need, and ask for a clarification.

The really cool part of this is that in addition to entering questions on their website, you can text in questions from your phone by sending them to the number 242242. It counts as a text message, but no additional charges apply for using the service. Often this is much handier than trying to surf for answers on your tiny WAP browser.

This can be really useful when you’re hankerin’ for Kung Pow Chicken at 4am in a strange neighborhood. This is presumably how they pay the bills. The service is free, so I gotta believe that vendors are paying to be top of the list of pizza joints they recommend. They will even pay you (not much) to be one of their agents if you have mad web searching skills and a lot of free time on your hands.

I’ve been playing with the service on and off for awhile. Obviously, the more specific the question, the better the answer you’ll get. Ask where the nearest gas station is to your location, or how many teaspoons in a tablespoon and you’ll get a prompt and specific reply. Ask for the meaning of life, or why bread always falls on the buttered side, and you’ll get a slightly more frivolous response. But in my experience, always a polite and prompt one.

All of which brings me to tonight. I’m planning to put a bathroom into the new bunkhouse we’re building at the cottage. I was going through the work in my head and realized I didn’t know where to position the toilet flange in the floor. I’ve never plumbed one in from scratch before. However, every toilet I’ve ever replaced just seemed to fit on whatever flange was already there, so I assumed there must be a standard offset. I was about to search for an answer when I thought about Cha Cha. This was a specific, but hardly a common question. I wondered how they’d do, and further, I wondered if I could beat them to the answer. So I texted the question:

How far from the side and back walls should a toilet flange be installed? (in USA if it matters)

I gave them a 30 second head start and then fired up my browser. I had found an answer but was trying to verify it when Amanda responded to me with the following somewhat mystifying answer:

A toilet flange should be about two bays from the walls. Thanks for using ChaCha!

Huh? “Two bays?” I was clearly expecting inches, but would have settled for centimeters, micro-furlongs, or even fractional cubits. But how do you measure a bay? Now the gap between floor joists is sometimes called a bay, but with 16″ centered joists leaving a 2 bay gap would put the center of the toilet between 3 and 4 feet from the wall. And that didn’t make any sense as a side wall clearance at all since you can’t cross joists in both directions. Clearly some clarification was needed. So I responded back to Amanda:

“2 bays”?? I was kinda hoping for something in inches or any other standard unit of measurement.

To which she gave the snarkiest answer from the service I’ve received so far:

I do not know what you are asking for. Be more specific next time!

Ummm… okay. Obviously when asking for a distance, expecting the distance to be conveyed in a reasonably common unit of measurement is not implied. But I’m game. So I send back:

Sorry, I just dont know how big a bay is. Can you provide a conversion factor to something more common?

Which resulted in the unexpected answer:

Sorry, I don’t know what the hell a bay is either, and apparently neither does Google.

So there you have it. Position your toilet exactly 2 bays from the wall. Extra points for any reader who can find the reference she located to find that helpful factoid. So far I haven’t been able to find it.

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