My daughter Kasia…

…can really write. It’s always a relief to promise to read somebody’s short story and then find out she knows what she’s doing.

This has been your Proud Father Moment for the day.


Perhaps I’m just easily amused

It occurs to me that you fine folks might not actually know my name. Legally, my last name is “Pierce Jr” — says so on my passport. And my first and middle names are “Darrell Kenneth.” I mention this so that you will understand the following perfectly true anecdote:

If you’re going to have to take a seventeen-hour plane ride (for example, say, from L.A. to Singapore) then it helps to fly business class and to fly on an airplane whose flight attendants are not members of American unions. It’s even nicer if you can manage to fly a high-quality international airline like Singapore Airlines the whole trip, and avoid the aggressively bad service of an airline like United. Alas, in order to get to L.A. this time, I flew coach on United. (This was my own fault for not having checked Singapore’s entry rules carefully enough; but that’s another story for another time.) I sat on the very back row, and by the time we got to L.A. I literally had a headache — because the (all-female) flight attendant cohort spent the entire four hours gossipping about other flight attendants they all knew. I so desperately wanted to stick my head back there and ask when they were scheduled to graduate from junior high school — or if they had any plans for coming around and asking whether the passengers might want a drink or something.

But Singapore Airlines is another animal entirely, and especially when you’re in business class. Among other things, the flight attendants — who are as spectacularly helpful as they could very well be — go to the trouble to memorize the names from the seating chart, so that they can address you respectfully with “Mr. Smith” or whatever.

On the other hand, part of the Singapore Airlines brand is the Chinese / Malay flight attendant — and so these ladies, most of whom speak English as their second language, will all duly look at my name on the seating chart…and then most of them spend the entire flight addressing me politely and helpfully and cordially as, “Mr. Junior.”

I never correct them; it’s too much fun. And besides, I appreciate their courtesy too much to want to give them embarrassment in return.

The advantages of color coding

So I’m sitting at my table in the hotel restaurant here in Singapore, wanting to put sugar in my coffee. There is a bowl on the table with paper tubes, looking very much as though they might have sugar in them. However, some of the tubes are blue and some are orange. I pick one of each up to see what the label says.

The blue one: “”

The orange one: “”

This is not terribly helpful. I attract the attention of a waiter, and as he approaches I hold up a blue packet in my right hand and an orange on in my right. “Excuse me — can you tell me what each of these are?”

“Certainly, sir. The blue packet is white sugar, and the orange packet is brown sugar…Why, no, sir, I don’t understand — it makes perfect sense to me.”

(I made that last part up.)

Why We Need Scientists Dept

You’ll be glad to know that scientists from U.C. Santa Barbara have been doing critical safety research: namely, they wanted to explore the physics of how not to spill coffee. Having rigged a high-tech coffee mug with miniature sensors to record the exact instant at which a spill took place, and set up cameras, a suitable coffee-carrying-through-office course, etc., they were able to provide the following service to mankind:

Following their discovery, the mechanical engineers had some advice for coffee drinkers.

They said leaving a large gap between the coffee and the top of the drinking vessel, and walking slower, prevents spillages.

They added that watching the mug, rather than the floor, while carrying it proved to be a more effective coffee-holding method.

I suggest a follow-up study in which they explore my own hypothesis, which is that using a lid-equipped coffee cup could also induce a statistically significant decline in the rate of incidence of coffee spillage, as well as the severity of such spills as do occur. But hey, I’m not a scientist; so what do I know?

To be fair, the article I linked to didn’t give all their recommendations. Live Science has a slightly fuller account, including the following additional recommendations (along with the delightful exhultation, “But now, there’s hope” for coffee-carriers who just can’t seem to keep their shoes dry):

Third, accelerate gradually. If you take off suddenly, a huge coffee wave will build up almost instantly, and it will crash over the rim after just a few steps.

But the best way to prevent coffee spilling might be to find an unusual cup. According to [co-author Rouslan] Krechetnikov, ideas from liquid sloshing engineering studies, which historically were done to stabilize fuel tanks inside missiles, indicate three possibilities for spill-free cup designs: “a flexible container to act as a sloshing absorber in suppressing liquid oscillations, a series of annular ring baffles arranged around the inner wall of the container to achieve sloshing suppression, or a different shape cup.”

Or, you know…a cup with a lid.

HT: Dave Barry.

It’s important to find the right way to say it

What is the significance of “all countries whose names begin with the letter ‘M'”?

I was, in a former life, a currency trader, and a pretty successful one if I do say so myself. And, like most currency traders — which is to say, like most people who go broke if they are not right, an incentive which rather wonderfully concentrates the mind — my reaction to the introduction of the Euro was, “Are these people insane?” But of course they weren’t insane; they were politicians, which means that if the were wrong it wouldn’t be themselves who went broke, but the people they were claming to serve.

So I, and a lot of other people, have been saying for a long time that the Euro was a really terrible idea. But it’s one thing to say it, and another thing to really capture the imagination.

I think most people can grasp the idea that if you have two countries with wildly different cultures and economies, it’s a bad idea to make them share the same fiat currency. Well, the helpful folks at the Atlantic decided to run regression analyses to quantify how similar (or dissimilar) the Euro countries are — and to compare that to various other collections of countries. So what are some of the combinations of countries that are more suited to share a single currency than are the Euro countries?

  • The countries that used to make up the Soviet Union.
  • The countries that used to make up the Ottoman Empire (including Turkey and Greece).
  • All countries on Earth whose territory is crossed by the 5th parallel north latitude.
  • All countries on Earth whose names begin with the letter ‘M’.

Helmut Kohl: man of genius.

And you wonder why the PIIGS are royally hosed.

The whole chart, including several other collections of countries that would be better off sharing a single currency than are the Euro countries, can be found here.

HT: Tim Worstall.