30 years away

As the joke goes, nuclear fusion is 30 years away…and always will be. An article on the €15bn International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) which is being funded by an international coalition, including the EU, the US, China, India, South Korea and Russia,

…Yes, €15bn is a lot of money to be spending building ITER. But, by comparison, the global cosmetics and perfume industry is worth some $170bn a year…

Another comparison is that the EU pays out c€50bn in subsidies on the common agricultural policy. Every year. Who/what organisation/entity is the biggest recipient of subsidies in the UK? Answer under the fold…

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Post for the weekend: Your going to like it’s contents alot

One for my kid sister, a timely reminder of grammar mistakes that make you look dumb.

This guy really should have paid attention. There’s the underclass, and the bad in class…

Enjoy the weekend.

Do you have any questions?

A few blog postings around job interviews have come my way recently.

Some questions to ask when asked if you have any questions:

  1. Why is this position open? Are there any key changes since the last person held the role? – This will give you information about the position, the company and anything that might have taken place upon the absence of the previous employee. It gives you a feel for what role you would be possibly stepping into.
  2. Why did the last person move on? (wait for answer) Is this a trend over the recent few years? – This puts the ball in your court, shows you are confident and gives you important information about the position you are considering stepping into.
  3. If I were the person to take this role, how would you like me to perform in the role as compared to the previous person?
  4. What are the main objectives of this role?
  5. Of those objectives, what is most pressing? What would you like to have done in the next 3 months?
  6. How would you describe your management style? (If you are feeling really confident ask: How would your colleagues describe your style of management?)
  7. Of the people that you’ve seen join the company at my level, can you name a few reasons why they failed?
  8. Do you think the culture here is similar to X (name rival company)? What are the strengths of this culture?

And a good question to ask if you’re the one doing the interviewing:

  1. Tell me the last time you made a mistake.

Expect to hear that it was their fault, otherwise they may have a “victim” personality, trying to deflect blame to others for their screw-ups.

I hope you like my post

An article in Scientific American on a study analysing the use of pronouns. The author noted that:

…the person with the higher status uses I-words less (yes, less) than people who are low in status…when undergraduates wrote me, their emails were littered with I, me, and my. My response, although quite friendly, was remarkably detached — hardly an I-word graced the page. And then I analyzed my emails to the dean of my college. My emails looked like an I-word salad; his emails back to me were practically I-word free.

What do people who lose their jobs do with their time?

One number in particular in this study of how American households spend their time caught my eye. It’s an estimate of how the time that would have been spent in work (market hours) is reallocated between housework, home improvements, etc (non-market work), childcare, leisure, etc. when people lose their jobs.

…less than 1% of the foregone market work hours are allocated to job search

That seems too low to me.

The rest of the breakdown is more plausible, and includes:

  • 51% of foregone market work hours are allocated to leisure (including 20% to sleep, 12% to television watching)
  • 30% of foregone market work hours are allocated to non-market work
  • 12% goes towards time investments in their own health care, their own education, and civic activities
  • 6% is absorbed as childcare

Here are how the 168 hours in a week are spent on average:

More motivation

Following on from yesterday’s post I came across this related article on bonus payments.

The payments were up to $50 (AUD) and made to members of sales and sports teams.

While neither sales nor sports teams improved when people were given money to spend on themselves, Norton and his colleagues found vast improvements for those who engaged in prosocial spending.  While they were purchasing a gift for a teammate, they also became more interested in their teammate and were happier to help them further in multiple other ways.




Motivation to go

An article on Pret a Manger on how to motivate low paid staff. Their staff turnover is around 60% per year, compared to an industry average of 200%. Most of their techniques appear to be on rewarding the group rather than individuals.

Some excerpts:

New hires are sent to a Pret a Manger shop for a six-hour day, and then the employees there vote whether to keep them or not. Ninety percent of prospects get a thumbs-up. Those who are voted out are sent home with £35, no hard feelings.

Pret also sends mystery shoppers to every shop each week who give employee-specific feedback. (”Bill didn’t smile at the till,” for instance.) If a mystery shopper scores a shop as “outstanding” — 86 percent of stores usually qualify — all of the employees get a £1-per-hour bonus, based on a week’s pay.

Every quarter, the top 10 percent of stores, as ranked by mystery-shopper scores, receive about £30 per employee for a party.

When employees are promoted or pass training milestones, they receive at least £50 in vouchers, a payment that Pret calls a “shooting star.” But instead of keeping the bonus, the employees must give the money to colleagues, people who have helped them along the way.


Plane simple

New aircraft must undergo an evacuation test to demonstrate that everyone on board can escape within 90 seconds when half the exits are blocked. A study of 105 accidents and personal accounts from almost 2,000 survivors of how they managed to escape from crash landings showed that this time may not be achieved, and can depend on the social bonds of the people travelling,

…many passengers delayed their escape to help friends or relatives. People travelling with colleagues, however, appeared to focus on their own survival and head straight for the exit.

This has been replicated in trials. Incentivize everyone by offering $10 so long as all passengers all exit the aircraft within 90 seconds and you’ll find they manage it with time to spare with plenty of cooperation. Change it to be $20 for the first 50% off the aircraft, and not that many people get out in time. Hardly unexpected.

Key takeaway: pick an aisle seat, and be within 5 rows of an exit door.

How about the reverse, the fastest way to get everyone on the plane? Letting people board randomly is better than grouping into rows,

…the common back-to-front boarding method is actually the second worst method possible, only slightly better than boarding front to back.

But a more optimal strategy, which would be 5x faster on a plane with 120 seats, is to start with the window seats, then middle, followed by aisle, with passengers doing first the odd-numbered rows and then the evens (to give more space to stand in whilst putting hand luggage away).

Fastest way to board a plane


Related Posts:

Cockpit conversation during last minutes of flight AF447

Stopping aircraft from being shot down in WW2

I predict a riot

Weapons, vehicles, and training notwithstanding, you only need a small number of your population (<<1%) to coordinate an attack and they'll over power the police:

Chart showing number inhabitants per patrolling policeman

The data for the graph is approximate and not all from the same year, but it’s not an order of magnitude out. I’ve split the force into 3 shifts and said that at any one time 1 in 4 of that shift are out of action (office work, taking suspects to the station, etc). I picked the EU5 countries, plus other English-speaking locations as comparisons. For the capital city, perhaps there are relatively more police, but my assumption would be that this would scale across countries. (Actually, the numbers for Haringey, a borough of London, come out to be the same for England and Wales). Overall therefore, the policing levels in London are not wildly different from other parts of the world, though perhaps on the low side.

So if 0.2% ish of the population across multiple extended geographic areas get upset and starts building wigwams, that could be hard to deal with immediately.

Taking 10% of a population to be male youth, it’s not hard to imagine areas where more than 1 in 50 kids are gang members – which gets us comfortably to 0.2% of the population.

Going postal – workplace deaths

Don’t get on with the people you’re working with? You’re more likely to die.

This study began in 1988, with baseline medical assessments performed on 820 healthy employees. Over the next 20 years there were 53 deaths amongst the group, and after controlling for variables and running regressions one main relationship was found:

…risk of mortality was significantly lower for those reporting high levels of peer social support. People with little or no “peer social support” in the workplace were 2.4 times more likely to die during the study.

Stressed by being told what to do all the time? You’re more likely to die.

A longitudinal study, conducted on 18,000 British civil servants – the so called Whitehall Study – found that

…even after accounting for genetic risks and behaviors like smoking and binge drinking, civil servants at the bottom of the pecking order still had nearly double the mortality rate.

Sitting down all day? You’re more likely to die.

Electrical activity in the muscles drop, and calorie consumption rate drops to about a third of what it would be if standing up, and there is a growing body of research that shows that exercising several times a week does not counteract this, such as from this research Alpa Patel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, which tracked 123,000 Americans over 14 years

…who spent six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate that was about 20 percent higher than the men who sat for three hours or less