A Short Story for Engineers

You don’t have to be an engineer to appreciate this story.

A toothpaste factory had a problem: Due to the way the production line was set up, sometimes empty boxes were shipped without the tube inside. People with experience in designing production lines will tell you how difficult it is to have everything happen with timings so precise that every single unit coming off of it is perfect 100% of the time. Small variations in the environment (which cannot be controlled in a cost-effective fashion) mean quality assurance checks must be smartly distributed across the production line so that customers all the way down to the supermarket won’t get frustrated and purchase another product instead.

Understanding how important that was, the CEO of the toothpaste factory gathered the top people in the company together. Since their own engineering department was already stretched too thin, 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 (request for proposal), third-parties selected, and six months (and $8 million) later a fantastic solution was delivered — on time, on budget, high quality and everyone in the project had a great time. The problem was solved by using high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box would weigh less than it should. The line would stop, and someone had to walk over and yank the defective box off the line, then press another button to re-start the line.

A short time later, the CEO decided to have a look at the ROI (return on investment) of the project: amazing results! No empty boxes ever shipped out of the factory after the scales were put in place. There were very few customer complaints, and they were gaining market share. “That was some money well spent!” he said, before looking closely at the other statistics in the report.

The number of defects picked up by the scales was 0 after three weeks of production use. How could that be? It should have been picking up at least a dozen a day, so maybe there was something wrong with the report. He filed a bug against it, and after some investigation, the engineers indicated the statistics were indeed correct. The scales were NOT picking up any defects, because all boxes that got to that point in the conveyor belt were good.

Perplexed, the CEO traveled down to the factory and walked up to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed. A few feet before the scale, a $20 desk fan was blowing any empty boxes off the belt and into a bin. Puzzled, the CEO turned to one of the workers who stated, “Oh, that…One of the guys put it there ’cause he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang!”

$8 million vs $20 Hmmm! Money well spent?

Source: A Short Story for Engineers

How a permanent shift toward online grocery shopping means less innovation, fewer new brands

Contactless shopping and the elimination of free samples. Less browsing and “product discovery” and more focus on the expediency of repurchasing.


The pandemic has altered what products people purchase, when and where, who is buying them, and how much time is devoted to the endeavor.


With customers’ selections reinforced by online advertising, repeat ordering and other algorithms, the food system is becoming bifurcated as consumers who have expressed enthusiasm for healthful or artisanal foods are offered more of the same, while those with a penchant for highly processed comfort foods are inundated with opportunities to restock.


more men are claiming to be the primary shopper during the pandemic, and “they do buy different things and buy differently.” Men, Baum says, tend to favor efficiency: shopping club stores for bulk purchases, convenience stores and online. They report making fewer, larger, quicker trips for a narrower range of items.


Food manufacturers are focused on producing more of the top-selling varieties of a particular product, pushing off the launch of different flavors or spinoffs until sample stations can return.


Source: How a permanent shift toward online grocery shopping means less innovation, fewer new brands – The Washington Post

The eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life

  1. There will always be too much to do – and this realisation is liberating.
  2. When stumped by a life choice, choose “enlargement” over happiness.
  3. The capacity to tolerate minor discomfort is a superpower.
  4. The advice you don’t want to hear is usually the advice you need.
  5. The future will never provide the reassurance you seek from it.
  6. The solution to imposter syndrome is to see that you are one.
  7. Selflessness is overrated.
  8. Know when to move on.

Source: Oliver Burkeman’s last column: the eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life | Health & wellbeing | The Guardian

Cricketer left in need of windscreen repairs after smashing own car with huge six

O’Brien could have done with the services of his namesakes after his huge strike – one of eight sixes he blasted during a Twenty20 match in Dublin – sailed out of Pembroke Cricket Club’s ground and into the adjacent car park, where he had had the misfortune to leave his vehicle.

Source: Cricketer left in need of windscreen repairs after smashing own car with huge six | Cricket | The Guardian

Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful

Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.


Our new normal is always feeling a little off balance, like trying to stand in a dinghy on rough seas, and not knowing when the storm will pass.


Rather than being at the mercy of what’s going on, we can use the elements of our natural reward system and construct things to do that are good no matter what.

Source: Our Brains Struggle to Process This Much Stress | Elemental