You have way too many products on the shelf. It’s very confusing. Here’s how I’d fix it:
- Eliminate everything with phenylephrine as the active ingredient. This shit doesn’t do anything. Buying pseudoephedrine today is about as easy as getting an abortion in Mississippi, but at least it works!
- Don’t allow different formulations of one brand to employ different active ingredients. Imagine if Advil was sometimes made of aspirin! Somehow this is acceptable for cold medicine.
- Stop selling so many 3- and 4-drug combos with ambiguous differences. For those people who get all 12 listed symptoms simultaneously, maybe these are a convenience. I’d prefer to take a decongestant when I’m congested. I’ll take a cough suppressant if I have a cough. Thanks.
- Seriously, why does everything have acetaminophen in it? If people have pain, let them take a painkiller. Pretty soon, multi-vitamins and shampoo are going to come with 1000 mg of acetaminophen. I’d rather keep my liver.
By my estimation, these changes would leave about 5 products on the shelf. Much better.
My smart-o-phone (a Motorola Droid X) quit working yesterday. I turned it on in the morning and it never made it past the manufacturer’s logo screen.
No problem, I thought: I’ll just take the phone to the local Verizon store and they’ll sort it out. The cold and laconic representative assigned to my case proceeded to try the obvious “fixes” (pulling out the battery and replacing it!) before slouching in his seat and staring wordlessly at his computer screen for what seemed like an eternity. Finally I asked, “So what do you think?”
There are a lot of things wrong with self-checkout machines. They are every bit as unpleasant as a vending machine. They are confrontational (“Item removed from bagging area!”). The speed and volume of the recorded speech is calibrated for the mildly retarded and partially deaf. Feeding them bills and coins is a frustratingly slow process. They don’t offer advice or tell you what’s on sale. They deprive you of a reasonable and pleasant human interaction that might ordinarily benefit both parties.
By far the most annoying feature of self-checkout machines is the change mechanism. I would like to meet the engineers who designed these things. Almost all human cashiers will dispense change in a way that maximizes the coins of highest value and thereby minimizes the total number of coins. This is called a “greedy algorithm” and it works because the denominations of US currency were well-chosen.1
The machine at CVS was dispensing 2–3 nickels at a time, which will never result in a minimum coin count. Perhaps, I figured, the machine was using a different but still customer-friendly algorithm: minimizing the total weight of the change. How would that work? Using weights published on the US Mint Web site, I wrote a couple of quick Python scripts to help me understand the difference between the minimized-count and minimized-weight approaches. It turns out that for values between 30–34, 40–44, 55–70, 80–84, and 90–94 cents, they do differ. But the improvement comes from higher numbers of dimes, which are the lightest of the coins. In neither case will an optimum coin distribution contain more than 1 nickel.
This self-checkout change dispenser is controlled by some other approach. But what? Maximizing the time between refilling the machine with coins? Further study is required. But it’s clear to me that these machines are not working with my interests in mind. When you relinquish a perfectly reasonable job to a computer, I suppose one should expect no sympathy from the machine.
I tried to buy some more of my favorite film for
available-light photography, Neopan 1600. And guess what?
It’s been discontinued! Come on, Fujifilm! There are
alternatives at this speed, like Ilford Delta 3200 and Kodak T-Max
P3200, but I don’t like them as much.
It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again:
The New York Times’s latest
piece on femtocells, small cellular base stations that can be
self-installed at one’s home or business, reflects an
obnoxious sense of entitlement among mobile phone users. The
headline screams it: “Bringing You a Signal You’re
Already Paying For.”
Today’s cellular network is outrageously good—so good
that we’ve willingly sacrificed clean tower-free sight lines,
architecture, and low background RF to get there.
Remember when cellular phones had speakers large enough so you
could hear the other person on the line? (Back before half-rate
audio became the default.)
Remember when cellular phones had microphones located near the
user’s mouth, so the other party could hear you?
Remember when cellular phones had antennas that were large
enough to do their job when the tower is more than 100 feet away?
Most people would rather buy something shiny and new than
concern themselves with these practical details. Which is fine. But
then to complain about it? Come on.
I was leafing through the Journal of the American Medical
Association discarded, unread, by the doctor down the hall. The
cover, as is the tradition for the JAMA, is a reproduction of a
famous artwork: Jan van Eyck’s
The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin. I was at a loss to
explain exactly what about the image bothers me—until I
discovered a note inside detailing just how (and possibly why) the
convergence is incorrect. Ha! The figures in the foreground are too
big to fit through the doorway behind them!
Why don’t my trade journals have moments of Zen like this?
Are doctors supposed to have better taste than engineers?
Testimony before the NTSB on June 9
revealed an interesting subplot to the story of the USAir Flight
1549 ditching earlier this year. After the evacuation of the
airplane, the life rafts, which were tethered to the fuselage,
could not be cut free. The sinking aircraft threatened to drag the
passengers under! Finally, a knife was tossed from a ferry, and of
course the story has a
Prior to the rule change in late 2001, I carried a folding knife
when flying for exactly this kind of reason. I’m not a crazy
survivalist and I don’t think I will ever experience a plane
crash, but I’ve been in enough airplanes, boats, and theatres
to know that when things go badly wrong and duct tape won’t
fix it, a knife probably will. It doesn’t hurt to be
I can appreciate why, in the chaotic early days of the
TSA, a ban on
knives in aircraft made sense. But those days have passed.
Airplanes are now fortified with bulletproof (hence knife-proof)
cockpit doors. Thousands of flights per day are supposedly guarded
by air marshals. And frankly, attitudes have changed such that
anyone who makes a threat in flight is likely to get a swift
ass-kicking from fellow passengers.
It is time for someone over there to admit that knives, like
bottled water and toothpaste, are not a threat to national
security. Let’s quit the security theatre and get on with our lives.
P.S.—The House, led (incredibly) by a freshman Republican
from Utah, recently voted to
block the TSA’s planned use of naked body scans at
security checkpoints. Woohoo! Surprisingly, this issue has also
attracted scant attention from the press.