Tag Archives: measurement

Holiday: Coffee Comparisons

coffeeBuying some joe as a last-minute holiday gift for uncle Java? This handy holiday pricing comparison guide may be of value.

Scenario 1:

  • Jungle Booty, one pound bag: $12.00
  • Oils Well That Grounds Well, one pound bag: $9.00

Recommendation: Oils Well is the better value.

Scenario 2:

  • Orbital Scapes, 1 pound bag: $12.00
  • Organic Animal Poops, 12 ounce bag: $12.00
  • Rainforest Tops, 250 grams bag: $12.00

Note: 250 grams equates to approx. 8.81849 ounces. Oh, look! They found another way to say “smaller than 12 ounces.” How very clever.

Ah, this scenario is a bit more tricky. Which is the best value? We better calculate to a standardized unit of measurement like Price Per Pound (PPP). Some retailers are now using a new common unit of measurement (called “the bag”) that they hope you will swallow hook, line and sinker.

Table of Standardized Prices

Orbital Scapes: $12.00 per pound
Organic Animal Poops: $16.00 per pound
Rainforest Canopy: $21.77 per pound (translates loosely as “fuck you”)

Recommendation: Avoid all coffee sold using metric measurements. Evar!

You’re welcome!

Coffee Math

coffee-mathWarning: This post contains math. This is not a drill. For those not mathematically inclined you now have sufficient grounds (meh!) to leave us…

To do math, first we’ll need some coffee. To drink that coffee, we’ll need a vessel of some sort. Perhaps a mug.

Ah. I just burned my face. Now we’re ready for some coffee math!

Today’s lesson is that things are not always as they seem. For example, look at that beautiful assortment of bags of pre-ground coffee on the shelf. Wonderful, ain’t it?

How much are they? $7.99 a bag? $8.99 a bag? $9.95 a bag? $12.95 a bag? According to the Walmart.com website, a bag of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee (in my experience one of the most expensive) is $7.28 per bag. You’ll even get free shipping if you order $45 worth (or other stuff).

Most of the bags of coffee you see, including this bag of Dunkin’ Donuts, are 12-ounces in size. Wait? What?


Personally I think it is to make apples-to-apples comparisons in pounds more difficult. So how much is that bag of coffee per pound?

First, we calculate the price per ounce. Since “per” is another way of saying “divide by” the formula is simple:

Price ($7.28) per Ounce (12)

$7.28 divided by 12

Answer: $0.61 (61 cents per ounce)

half-emptyNext, we multiply the cost per ounce by the number of ounces in a pound (16).

$0.61 cost per ounce * 16 ounces in a pound

Answer: $9.71

Aha! That coffee costs $9.71 per pound.

Why? Wouldn’t one-pound bags make a lot more logical sense? Since that’s a unit we already know and love? A unit that we’ve been raised with since the moment of our birth?

Perhaps I’m just in a black mood, but I think they like 12-ounce sizing because it makes the consumer feel the price is lower. “It’s only $7.28 a bag,” we are wont to say.

“$9.71 per pound” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. All of the sudden we’re talking upwards of a $10 note. Yikes. Consumer no buy-buy. Game over.

My wife just brought home a bag of coffee from a local shop. And guess what? It was in a one-pound bag and only $8. Now that’s refreshing. Sorry, Walmart. Your price sounds lower but it isn’t*.

* Disclaimer: Identical brands of coffee were not compared.

Knot for Teacher

Shouts to planetjan on this one…

This post will be like a big ball of used gum. I keep coming back and editing in more bits. Thus, it won’t be very cohesive and is going to jump all over the place. You have been warned. (Note to my students: Here I employe the classic negativity technique known as “Tell Them How You’ll Suck Right Up Front.”)

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB – for added fun pronounce this as “nicklebee”) was one of the first things proposed by George W. Bush, not long after the Supreme Court decision that helped make him president. With that kind of mandate under his belt he leaped in and, on January 23, 2001, boldly proposed NCLB. The bill was mothered by Senator Ted Kennedy and received “overwhelming bi-partisan support” in Congress. It become the law of the land on January 8, 2002.

One of the driving ideas behind NCLB was that measurable standards and goals would lead to positive individual outcomes in students. This included, of course, incentives in the form of Title I funds and how those funds would be allocated to government-run schools that receive federal funding.

At the bottom of this post I’m including an amazing video from TED entitled, “How do we do the right thing?” This is a topic I ponder a lot. The video covers lots of topics, including doctors, but also has a fair amount about teachers. What does an emphasis on things like test scores tied to funding bring?

The video tells one story. A teacher was visited by a consultant. The purpose of the visit was to help the teacher produce higher test scores for the school. The consultant was there to provide training towards that goal. Step One: Ignore students who would pass the tests no matter what. Step Two: Ignore students who would fail the tests no matter what. Step Three: Ignore students who were too new to the district that their scores would not count toward funding incentives. The remaining “bubble” students were the only ones deemed to be worthy of the teacher’s attention.

Wow. And that’s the system taking a major shit on human beings. Now, let’s move on an explore some other ideas.

Human brains love to categorize things. As a matter of routine we make snap judgements, thin slice and judge books by their cover, in spite of the old adage that says we can’t. It’s something that we do.

How can this sort of thing manifest itself?

One of my favorite researchers of all time is Dr. Ellen Langer. She wrote the book Mindfulness which is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. (If experiments like the ones I’m about to describe interest you, go find this book and read it. You’re in for a treat.)

In one of her experiments, two women were given three tasks. First, they were asked to individually solve arithmetic problems. Then they were given labels at random – “boss” and “assistant” – and asked to solve anagrams as a team. Finally, they went back to solving arithmetic problems individually again.

What do you think happened? The person given the “boss” label solved more math problems than she initially had in phase one of the test. The person given the “assistant” label solved less math problems.

Holy shit. Think about that. These were just words assigned to people in an experiment. I would imagine, as such, that they’d have much less power than the real life labels we take on each and every minutes of our lives. What a mind fuck!

It doesn’t end there. There have been other experiments involving teachers and students. In the experiments groups of students were randomly separated into two groups. One group of students was labeled “gifted” or as having high IQs and the other group of students was not. The label of “gifted” was communicated to teachers. The results were dramatic. Consistently the groups labeled as “gifted” performed higher than the control groups.

The label was affecting the teachers. It turned out that when dealing with students they thought were gifted, teachers interacted with their students differently. They looked at the students more often. They smiled and nodded at them more. They taught more content, set higher goals, called on them more frequently and give them more time to answer.

This sort of phenomenon, where people place greater expectations on others which leads to greater results is known as the Pygmalion effect.

Another example of the powerful effect of labels is the famous Stanford prison experiment. In this case, in addition to labels, the structure of a setting (a prison) powerfully manifested to such a degree that the two-week experiment had to be terminated early after six days.

The mind can be a strange thing. I’d like to close out this post with two more examples of Dr. Langer experiments.

Langer, a social psychologist and teacher, has written a book, this is actually her fourth on mindfulness but first on health, that is philosophical in part, and practical throughout. It is based on many of her studies and those conducted with her students. One classic study Langer conducted had senior citizens, some of whom were in nursing type facilities spend a week living as though it was 1959 again, wearing the type of clothes they wore then, doing things like carrying their own suitcases, which they hadn’t done in years, bringing photos of who they were then and “acting as if” they were their younger version, again. A week later, most were actually livelier, stronger and healthier, they expressed more vitality and took more interest in life than they had in years. (Source.)

And, excerpted from Dr. Langer’s web site

In the 1970s my colleague Judith Rodin and I conducted an experiment with nursing home residents. We encouraged one group of participants to find ways to make more decisions for themselves. For example, they were allowed to choose where to receive visitors, and if and when to watch the movies that were shown at the home. Each also chose a houseplant to care for, and they were to decide where to place the plant in their room, as well as when and how much to water it. Our intent was to make the nursing home residents more mindful, to help them engage with the world and live their lives more fully.

A second, control group received no such instructions to make their own decisions; they were given houseplants but told that the nursing staff would care for them. A year and a half later, we found that members of the first group were more cheerful, active, and alert, based on a variety of tests we had administered both before and after the experiment. Allowing for the fact that they were all elderly and quite frail at the start, we were pleased that they were also much healthier: we were surprised, however, that less than half as many of the more engaged group had died than had those in the control group.

Dramatic results, eh? My advice is to be mindful about your brain. You never know what it might be doing to you.

Testing my resolve

For 2011 I'd like my right foot to weigh less than 40. Also, I want to paint my toenails red.

“They” say that 80% of us will fail on our New Year’s resolutions. I like those odds so count me in!

Of course, one of mine was to get a post about resolutions up by Jan. 1. Oops. Missed it!

Personally I think waiting for a date on a calendar to try to make a change is a bit silly. If you want to improve something, go ahead and do it now. Why wait?

On the other hand, the first day of the year is a very easy day to remember. It will help you with one of the principles of Kaizen – namely, if you measure something it will improve. “How long has it been since I bit someone’s throat? Oh yeah, New Year’s Day. Now I remember!”

Before I pontificate further let’s do a little exercise together, shall we?

Grab a sheet of paper and write down your list of this year’s resolutions. No fair peeking ahead to find out what comes next! In fact, I’m going to do the jump thingy to enforce compliance. Fill out your sheet then click to continue reading.

Continue reading →

The perfect marriage of analog and digital

I would like to relate a little story. This morning my wife asked me to stop at the store on the way home from work and get some shrimp. She was making a shrimp salad using leftovers and just needed the shrimp. The little shrimp, what we sometimes call “bay shrimp” or “salad shrimp.”

“How much do you want?” I asked.

“Oh, about three handfuls,” she replied.

Wow. We yanks really do need to switch over to the metric system, don’t we? 🙂

So we had a wee little problem on our hands. I don’t speak the kitchen language of dashes and handfuls and things. I like cooking by weight. I have a little digital scale for that. And if not by weight then I measure everything as accurately as I possibly can. How much could there possibly be in a measurement like “handful,” I wondered.

I decided to try to nail things down. “Three handfuls, eh? That sounds like it might be half a pound.”

“Nope,” she said. “Half a pound is not enough.”

“Well then,” I continued hopefully. “Maybe three handfuls is more like a pound?”

“Naw. A pound is more than we need. We won’t use it all.”

“Aha!” I exclaimed. “What we need is .75 pounds then.” Finally, a satisfactory answer. The matter was settled.

“Nope,” she said, shocking me out of my premature conclusion. “We need three handfuls,” she stressed again.

You see, my wife is what I’m going to refer to as “analog.” She’s very much about feelings and the arts and premonitions and intuition and some other things that don’t always make much sense to me. She doesn’t care for measurements in the kitchen and only does so when it is required. The rest of the time it is a dash of this and a dash of that. When she serves up a dish I ask, “Will you be able to replicate these results?” (Translated that means, “This dish is good but will it taste the same next time?”) But somehow she is always able to do just that. She has analog skills and powers that I just can’t understand.

Me? I’m more of a “digital” kind of guy. I like ones and zeros. Truth is a binary and that sort of thing. I often claim that the person I’d most like to be like is Mr. Spock. He’s my hero. And not the elder Spock who was an emotional wreck. I’m talking about the Mr. Spock from the original series. That guy rocked.

So we were speaking two different languages. I couldn’t help but feel amused by it. We had each drawn a little line in the sand in our kitchen and each of us was trying hard to frame the discussion our way knowing darn well the other person was being obstinate. I guess that is sometimes our way.

After work I went to the store and told the guy at the seafood counter, “Three handfuls of shrimp, please.” It turned out to be .83 pounds.