The $8 Million Replacement for a $20 Dollar Fan

A toothpaste factory had a problem. They sometimes shipped empty toothpaste boxes without the tube inside. This challenged their perceived quality with the buyers and distributors. Understanding how important the relationship with them was, the CEO of the company assembled his top people. They decided to hire an external engineering company to solve their empty boxes problem. The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP, and third-parties selected. Six months (and $8 million) later they had a fantastic solution – on time, on budget, and high quality. Everyone in the project was pleased.

They solved the problem by using a high-tech precision scale that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box weighed less than it should. The line would stop, someone would walk over, remove the defective box, and then press another button to re-start the line. As a result of the new package monitoring process, no empty boxes were being shipped out of the factory.

With no more customer complaints, the CEO felt the $8 million was well spent. He then reviewed the line statistics report and discovered the number of empty boxes picked up by the scale in the first week was consistent with projections, however, the next three weeks were zero! The estimated rate should have been at least a dozen boxes a day. He had the engineers check the equipment; they verified the report as accurate.

Puzzled, the CEO traveled down to the factory, viewed the part of the line where the precision scale was installed, and observed just ahead of the new $8 million dollar solution sat a $20 desk fan blowing the empty boxes off the belt and into a bin. He asked the line supervisor what that was about.

“Oh, that,” the supervisor replied, “Bert, the kid from maintenance, put it there because he was tired of walking over to restart the line every time the bell rang.”
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Amazon seller lists book at $23,698,655.93 — plus shipping

Lots of normal people would pay $23 for a book.
But $23.7 million (plus $3.99 shipping) for a scientific book about flies!?
This unthinkable sticker price for “The Making of a Fly” on Amazon.com was spotted on April 18 by Michael Eisen, an evolutionary biologist and blogger.
The market-blind book listing was not the result of uncontrollable demand for Peter Lawrence’s “classic work in developmental biology,” Eisen writes.
Instead, it appears it was sparked by a robot price war.
“What’s fascinating about all this is both the seemingly endless possibilities for both chaos and mischief,” writes Eisen, who works at the University of California at Berkeley and blogs at a site called “it is NOT junk.” “It seems impossible that we stumbled onto the only example of this kind of upward pricing spiral.”
Eisen watched the robot price war from April 8 to 18 and calculated that two booksellers were automatically adjusting their prices against each other.
One equation kept setting the price of the first book at 1.27059 times the price of the second book, according to Eisen’s analysis, which is posted in detail on his blog.
The other equation automatically set its price at 0.9983 times the price of the other book. So the prices of the two books escalated in tandem into the millions, with the second book always selling for slightly less than the first. (Not that that matters much when you’re selling a book about flies for millions of dollars).
The incident highlights a little-known fact about e-commerce sites such as Amazon: Often, people don’t create and update prices; computer algorithms do.
Individual booksellers on Amazon and other sites pay third-party companies for algorithm services that automatically update prices. Some of these computer programs purportedly work very well, getting sellers up to 60% more sales because they underbid the competition automatically and repeatedly.
The advantages are clear: If you’re managing dozens of sale items on Amazon or eBay, it’s difficult if not impossible to keep up with all of them.
“If you have more than 100 items, then it’s impossible for you to manually focus on the price,” said Victor Rosenman, CEO of a company called Feedvisor, which sells algorithm services to people who use Amazon.
“It’s pretty much like the stock exchange. What you see there is the prices changing all the time — but they never change drastically. Sometimes it’s a dollar here a dollar there — maybe $10. For a book, it probably would be pennies.”
These algorithms vary widely in quality, however, as the Amazon case shows.
Sellers easily can avoid the million-dollar-book situation if they set price ceilings and floors on their pricing algorithms, so that the competitive bidding shuts off at a certain dollar mark, Rosenman said.
“It’s like you put on the gas and didn’t have the handbrake,” he said. “This is a very basic mistake. So I am very, very surprised this thing happened at all.”
Some of these algorithm services give clients control over their equations, letting them edit them as they go. That doesn’t always work out well, Rosenman said.
His company handles all of this for clients, but charges a hefty fee, taking 1% to 5% of the seller’s profits and charging monthly fees of $500 to a few thousand dollars a month, depending on the size of the contract, he said.
Robot-adjusted prices may change a few times an hour or a few times a day, he said, depending on how competitive a price war becomes.
These algorithms try to detect if they’re working against other computers or humans and then they adjust strategy accordingly, he said.
They also take other factors into consideration, including how well the seller is rated by Amazon users. A seller with a great track record may be able to sell books for a slightly higher price because of his or her reputation.
Eisen, who first blogged about the overpriced book, writes that “alas, somebody ultimately noticed” the wild price of “The Making of a Fly.” On April 19, he says, the price of the book plummeted from more than $23 million to $106.23.
On Monday afternoon, the new book was listed at $976.98, and Eisen thinks the price is escalating again.
Neither Amazon nor either of the individual book sellers responded to requests for comment from CNN.
If nothing else, Eisen writes, the situation earned the fly-book’s author some bragging rights: “Peter Lawrence can now comfortably boast that one of the biggest and most respected companies on Earth valued his great book at $23,698,655.93 (plus $3.99 shipping).”
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My wife texted “I’m leaving you”

And followed with “after lunch to go shopping with my sister.”
I asked why in the world she sent the message that way. “I just wanted you to realize how good you have it with me.”
I texted her back “Remind your sister she said she would come over later to give me a hand job”
A minute later I finished the message “-searching and resume building.”

Why do I never see cheese used in Asian Cuisine?

As others have mentioned, most Asian people are lactose intolerant. From a western perspective this seems odd, but is actually the “normal” human condition. Everything that follows is from Marvin Harris’s book Our Kind, which I’m trying to simplify into ELI5 style.
Lactose is the sugar in milk. Your body can’t use lactose, and has to break it down into simpler sugars. This is done by the enzyme lactase. “Naturally” mammals produce lactase while they are nursing from their mothers, but then stop producing it as they grow older because “naturally” they won’t ever consume milk again.
I say “naturally” and “normal” because humans are different, we developed agriculture and domesticated other animals. This takes us out of the natural cycle a bit, allows us to do things our biology wasn’t really intended for. However, natural selection still applies – if we do something that increases our survival rate and success at reproducing, that trait will be selected and pass on to the next generation, propagate and become “normal”. These traits can be genetic (genes, like being strong or fast) or cultural (memes, like wearing makeup).
When we started domesticating milk-producing animals such as goats or cows, we gained the option to consume milk as adults. Our natural state does not allow us to do that, but some individuals would be different and possess a mutation wherein they would continue producing lactase as adults, allowing them to consume milk. In some cultures that trait was very valuable, resulting in increased survival and reproduction, thus the trait became very common and eventually the “normal”. In other cultures the trait had no net gain and therefore does not propagate, and so not the “normal”.
So what’s the difference in the cultures? What makes adult lactase production a big win for those of Northern European descent, but pretty worthless for East Asians? It has to do with geography and available sources of calcium and vitamin D.
You need calcium in your diet. You can get that calcium a few different ways – milk being one, leafy green vegetables being another. To make use of calcium your body also needs either vitamin D or lactose. You can get vitamin D from seafood, or your body can make it when exposed to sunlight. Without vitamin D, lactose assists with the use of calcium. So, cultures with easy access to leafy greens plus sunlight or fish, calcium is taken care of and milk has no advantage. Cultures without access to leafy greens – or without access to sunlight or seafood – need dairy either as a source of calcium, or a source of lactose to use the calcium, or both.
This leads to the difference between dairy that’s fermented (yogurt or most cheese) or unfermented (straight up milk). Fermented dairy products still have the calcium, but the lactose is broken down into simpler sugars, so lactase is not necessary to digest it. Therefore a culture with access to fish or sunlight but not leafy greens would benefit greatly from keeping dairy animals, but don’t benefit from still creating lactase as adults – they consume the milk as yogurt or cheese to get all the calcium they need and make use of that calcium thanks to vitamin D.
So now finally, enter the Northern Europeans – the people that would eventually become western society as we know it today – developed in a climate that required them to bundle up most of the time due to extreme cold, so no sunlight to make vitamin D. They also had very little seafood in their diets at the time (~12,000 years ago), and limited access to leafy green vegetables. Calcium and vitamin D are lacking. So, those individuals who possessed the ability to consume unfermented dairy as adults had an advantage. They survived and bred more frequently, thus passing the trait on and making it “normal”. Within 5000 years after the domestication of dairy animals, 90% of northern Europeans possessed the ability to produce lactase into adulthood and dairy of all types was commonplace.
Meanwhile let’s consider China ~12,000 years ago. Leafy greens were a major part of the diet, so calcium is not an issue. Those in coastal areas developed fishing techniques much earlier than Europeans, as well as a trade infrastructure to transport that seafood pretty far into the mainland, so vitamin D is not an issue. Thus no advantage to unfermented dairy consumption among the bulk of Chinese. Only those far inland and to the north would have an issue – those peoples who became the Mongols, who did consume dairy. Furthermore even fermented dairy never took hold in Chinese culture because of their trade networks – the Chinese were able to obtain their labor animals from other cultures (tibetans, mongols, etc) – therefore did not breed their own cows or goats. Pigs were the primary meat animal raised. With no need for dairy, and without really having it around in the first place, they developed into a culture with virtually zero dairy of any type. And much like the Northern Europeans went on to culturally dominate western civilization, Chinese culture influenced many others in Asia.
So… in summary (TL;DR): Dairy consumption has 2 extremes produced by geography and available diets: Lots of dairy including raw milk driven by Northern Europeans, and virtually zero dairy of any kind driven by the Chinese. Between those extremes are everybody else, who for the most part made use of fermented dairy for its calcium, but remain lactose intolerant.
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Ha-ha

A ha-ha is a recessed landscape design element that creates a vertical barrier while preserving an uninterrupted view of the landscape beyond.
The design includes a turfed incline which slopes downward to a sharply vertical face, typically a masonry retaining wall. Ha-has are used in landscape design to prevent access to a garden, for example by grazing livestock, without obstructing views. In security design, the element is used to deter vehicular access to a site while minimizing visual obstruction.
The name “ha-ha” may derive from the unexpected (i.e., amusing) moment of discovery when, on approach, the vertical drop suddenly becomes visible.

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US woman sues casino that ‘offered dinner instead of $43m jackpot’

A US woman is suing a casino that told her the slot machine displaying a $43m (£34m) jackpot was faulty and offered a steak dinner instead, reports say.
Katrina Bookman took a selfie showing the machine saying “printing cash ticket $42,949,672.76” at the Resorts World Casino in New York last August.
But she was escorted out and was told the next day she could have just $2.25.
Her lawyer, Alan Ripka, says she is entitled to the full amount displayed on the machine.
The lawsuit filed at the Queens County Supreme Court said the Sphinx slot machine’s “bells, noises and lights” as well as the message on the screen told Ms Bookman she had won the jackpot, Courthouse News reported.
The subsequent disappointment left Ms Bookman anxious and depressed, the report said.
She is seeking damages from the casino for failing to maintain the slot machine as well as two companies that make and operate games machine, reports said.
A Resorts World spokesman said at the time that the machine had suffered an “obvious malfunction”.
The New York State Gaming Commission said the machine had been displaying a disclaimer that said “malfunctions void all pays and plays”.
But Mr Ripka told US media at the time that the casino had not responded to requests for an explanation about how the slot machine malfunctioned.
In 2011 the Iowa Supreme Court denied an 87-year old grandmother a payout of $42m after a Miss Kitty slot machine showed a message saying she had won a bonus of that amount.
The casino said it had been a malfunction and offered her $1.85 based on the symbols the machine was displaying at the time.

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That Time the TSA Found a Scientist’s 3-D-Printed Mouse Penis

When Martin Cohn passed through airport security at Ronald Reagan Airport, he figured that he’d probably get some questions about the 3-D-printed model of a mouse penis in his bag.

The model is 15 centimeters long, made of clear translucent plastic, and indisputably phallic— like the dismembered member of some monstrous, transparent, 11-foot rodent. One of Cohn’s colleagues had already been questioned about it when she carried it on an outward flight from Gainesville to Washington D.C. She put it through the security scanner, and the bag got pulled. A TSA official looked inside, winked at her, and let her go. She was amused but embarrassed, so Cohn offered to take the model home on the return flight.

Once again, the bag was pulled. A TSA officer asked if Cohn had anything sharp or fragile inside. Yes, he said, some 3-D-printed anatomical models. They’re pretty fragile. The officer pulled out two models of mouse embryos, nodded to herself, and moved on. “And then,” Cohn recalls, “she pulled out this mouse penis by its base, like it was Excalibur.”

What is this?

“Do you need to know or do you want to know?” said Cohn.

I’m curious, she replied.

“It’s a 3-D print-out of an adult mouse penis.”

A what?

“A 3-D print-out of an adult mouse penis.”

Oh no it isn’t.

“It is.”

The officer called over three of her colleagues and asked them to guess what it is. No one said anything, so Cohn told them. They fell apart laughing.

“Technically it’s not even my dolphin vagina mold. I was carrying it for someone.”
Continue at the Atlantic