Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Donkey Killers

We talked cars today. Why are all cars finished with fancy paint that scratches with the minimal contact with another car, a wall, a small rock, or almost any other object? Seriously, what are car manufacturers thinking??? Cars are finished like grand pianos, not like something that is moving around in the city every day, with people getting in and out, parking in tight spots, supermarket carts bumping into them, going over dirts and small rocks. Shouldn't cars exteriors be made of some sort of rubbery material that wouldn't get damaged from its intended use? Better yet, shouldn't all cars have proper bumpers designed for the realities of parking? Cars used to have proper bumpers (although I admit that those seemed to fall down instead of absorb minor impacts). We started looking at cars on our way to school this morning. Every single one had dings and scratches on the paint...

I proposed that we build the Poler-Weitzman car with the exterior made entirely of rubber and bumpers mounted on dampers that absorb the typical bumps of street parking. No "parking assist" system. Just bump into the other cars (that is what they will do to you anyway!). There are many product categories in which one big factory in China makes the products for most brands who just make some tweaks, e.g., mobile phones. Maybe one day most cars will be made by the same factory in China. We could then take the basics of, say, a Prius, and just change the exterior to be all rubber.

As we were arriving to school an SUV with a large grille guard drove buy. I told the kids that in Venezuela those are called mata-burros (donkey killers) and that when I was a youth we all put them on our SUVs (since we did go to forests, mountains, rivers, beaches, etc). The most hard core people had winches on their mata-burros, to be able to get themselves out of trouble if they got stock. Now, that is practical! None of this porcelain paint that today's cars have.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Boiling Frogs

To my surprise the boys were not familiar with the boiling frog phenomenon: drop a frog in boiling water and it will immediately jump away and save itself. But put it in cold water and heat the water gradually and the frog will boil to death. So, if you want to boil a live frog, heat the water gradually (or make sure the pan has a lid). At a "personal" level, beware of situations that deteriorate gradually. Every little bit might not justify a reaction, but before long you might boil to death - at least metaphorically...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Slippery Slopes

I was telling the boys about Steve Jobs' obsession with every aspect of his products - including the interiors which no customer got to see. It told them that while such extremes as making the inside of a computer look good might be considered excessive, they helped avoid "slippery slopes". They boys, to my surprise, were familiar with the expression. Once you let the inside of the computer be ugly, then maybe the part behind the cover could also be ugly. And at that point, maybe the bottom, which you rarely see, could be crapy as well... And before you know it, as Steve would put it, the product is shit!

We spoke about other slippery slopes: maybe it is not such a big deal if I don't do all my homework today or study all the material for tomorrow's exam... Maybe it is not a big deal if I eat two donuts for breakfast... Or, if I skip swim practice today... Or, break the law in some "tiny" way... But you do end up on a slippery slope and humans are not very good at defying gravity. Better to keep things Black and White. Stay on the solid and flat surfaces.

I gave the boys an example that worked for me: I used to have a hard time working out regularly and efficiently. Swimming almost worked, but I would frequently stop after half the time or skip a workout altogether. Until I joined a Masters team that trains three times per week. I decided that I would not miss a single practice. Period. Some days I don't feel like going, other days it is cold. But I know that the moment I start missing some of the practices I'll be on a slippery slope.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Information sources - and cows' milk

N mentioned this morning that calves drink a bathtub worth of milk every day. His statement generated a discussion among the three boys about the plausibility of his assertion. When I asked him for his source, he said the milk container. This got us into a conversation about sources of information and their varying degree of reliability. We felt the milk container was probably a moderately reliable source. Not as reliable as Wikipedia or the Encyclopedia Britannica, but probably more reliable than "the Internet" or your friend who heard it from a friend...

Spoke a bit about facts vs. editorial. It is important to determine whether we are reading someone's opinion (editorial) or reading the facts (news). Ideally we are getting a thoughtful opinion with the underlying facts that support it. Like in the Economist.

We agreed that if multiple sources have the same info, that is a plus, and that ideally we obtain, and understand, the facts supporting the information. Although P made the insightful statement that the world is often counter-intuitive and that sometimes things are true even though we can't quite understand why. This remind me of the process of optimizing web sites (for purchases by visitors, for example) and how one must test many variations and often the best one is not the one anyone would guess (ugly, strange). Nothing like hard data.