This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.
In reply to Jim, I'd say that the importance of being able to detect submarines has not diminished as a result of the ending of the Soviet Union. There was a news story last year where a Russian submarine sailed around in the Gulf of Mexico for about a month undetected.
I noticed that there is a free to view copy of "The secret life of plants" book on scribd.com for anybody that wants to read it or get an impression of its contents:
I don't remember the book myself from the early 1970s. There was a more famous book pushing a similar line of mumbo-jumbo around the same time called "Supernature" by Lyall Watson. "Supernature" is reputedly the book which inspired Prince Charles to talk to plants.
There actually used to be a method of detecting submarines using animals. Submarines used to jettison waste while travelling along, but some waste tended to float to the surface where it attracted the attention of seabirds. Submarine designers closed down this particular detection route by having a system where waste was packed into sealed steel cans before getting rid of it which drop to the bottom of the sea.
In reply to Jim, I'd say that the importance of being able to detect submarines has not diminished as a result of the ending of the Soviet Union.
As a former P-3 pilot, I don't deny the importance of tracking submarines. I was just surprised that there's still a Soviet submarine threat.
Now that I think about it, we may be separated by a common language. On your side of the Atlantic, when you refer to "Soviet subs," that may mean ALL subs. While on our side of the pond, "Soviet subs" only includes the set of Soviet subs and excludes all others.
If I'm not wrong, one of the problems with the Hubble Telescope was the confusion of units.
I guess we can blame Jimmy "the peanut" Carter for the failed introduction of SI units into the USA.
But at least Americans are no longer confused by pints and gallons and that old mnemonic "a pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter" whereas a US gallon actually only weighs a pound back in the good old, due to the advent of litres in the UK. Canadians are easier to confuse in the US and the UK and I managed to scare one seriously when he suddenly realised that the speedo in my car was reporting MPH and not KPH. He was happy enough staring at the road while he thought we were only travelling at X kph but when he realised it was x MPH he panicked a bit.
Not as much as I panic when my host in Holland is driving like a lunatic, conversing and trying to text message at the same time.
I suspect an internationally agreed "football field" standard (or an olympic swimming pool standard which seems to be an area equivalent in its common use rather than a volume measurement)is not a good idea anyway. Once you mention something as being equivalent to 100 football fields I am afraid the average man on the Clapham omnibus (another unofficial standard and even more confused as to what it is a measure of) will immediately start visualising 100 football games being played at the same time and wonder how he/she can watch them all at once even with all the wonders of modern TV recording and playback systems and will rather lose sight of the original message.
Perhaps I should refer us back to the discussion "27,000 litres of water used to make 1 kg of chocolate where one has to recall that the 27,000 litres of water are not lost to the world as 27,000 litres of fossil fuel would be and it might be more useful, in terms of context, to use, as a reference, the total volume of water on earth (roughly 1,260,000,000,000,000,000,000 liters) or in the solar system.
Thus the amount used (but not lost or destroyed) per kilo of chocolate is 2.143e(power-17) Earth total.
Was there ever a standard punnet? I ask because in these times of austerity the punnet is now in grams in UK supermarkets with a 400gm punnet at £2 and a 600gm punnet of Kent strawberries at £2.85.
But supermarkets are increasingly controversial. Not least for exploiting any changes in currency or units of volume or mass to rip off the public.
Not an exclusively UK problem, the Germans, already incensed by 1 mark = 1 Ost mark were again incensed when the mark to euro changeover also saw them on the losing end of the exchange.
Sadly, most standards are not about harmonisation and making life easier but about protectionism or money or both. Why, in Europe, are there still so many standards authorities all with different standards? Simple. This is the Japanese method of protectionism as exploited by them wonderfully to keep foreign car makers out of their markets but allow them access to everyone else's markets.
Take marine standards, there is Lloyds of London, Germanische Lloyds, DSNV, BV, RINAS etc. and whenever anything has to be certified they all want their say. And their money.
So when it comes to football fields there will be a USA standard (plus a secondary soccer field standard) and an EU football field standard with individual EU members each having their own standard.
Or is that "Here, Here"
but I am swinging a pint in the air. is it a half liter....
WTF cares its filled and can travel down my throat to my belly. If I tip back enough I can forget for a moment how many "scientifically" inclined folks seemed to have forgotten their science.
I may augment the pint with a shot... Vodka... Not quite the cheapest stuff ...
Make that 5.
I don't think, though to be fair I wasn't here at the time, that the Germans were particularly incensed at the Ostmark conversion. It was an obvious and admitted subsidy to the east, where decades of control of prices of almost everything meant the people were rich. In that they had plenty of cash, because there were usually shortages of stuff to spend it on, because of said price controls.
I'm also unconvinced about Germany losing out to the euro thing. I get the direct, cash-comparison looking like a "loser", in that the mark entered the euro at a relatively low ebb. Bear in mind that the exchange rates at the start of the euro were the market rates, and not politically-determined.
Still, that "undervaluation" of the deutsche Mark on 1 Jan 1999 is partly blamed for the recent imbalances - German stuff was too cheap, hence people bought more of it, German exports took off, the German economy improved again. Though don't forget the labour market reforms from the - shock - socialist Gerhard Schroeder played a big part too, as did the German habit of saving for armageddon (savings which got transferred as loans to the periphery, which were used to purchase German goods, and so on.
Further, the exchange rate being now locked in could no longer change to compensate for the resulting imbalance in production and consumption. I'd argue that it shouldn't either (and ultimately can't work in a global, post-national economy). Having something as basic as your unit of exchange standardised (as it was for most of human history) is pretty useful and we need to re-learn how to live with it being standardised, rather than the freedom for governments to rip off their citizens by engineering beggar-thy-neighbour devaluations when they've messed up. Feel free to disagree.
Well, I can't answer for all of Germany, just my wife and her friends.
They mostly fall into that group who didn't like losing the mark to the Euro and, like decimalisation in the Uk, their concern was that as products were repriced, "rounding" etc. saw prices effectively increased. Not much individually obviously but cumulatively it amounted to a fair amount.
Yes, I remember decimalisation also.
I('m just trying to remember but I think we did the decimalisation then later on shifted from lbs and ozs to kilograms and litres. Another opportunity to squeeze a few bob extra out of the public.
Retailers more recently have "helped" the cash starved customers by keeping the package price the same and reducing the contents.
I'm still trying to fathom out half price strawberries which now come in a variety of punnet sizes weights and prices. And bananas.... lose by the pound or in plastic bags by the "unit". This is where we really need standardisation so we can read (without a magnifying glass) a common price mechanism. Price per 100gms is fine if it applies to all.
A certain supermarket maligned, apparently, by labour recently, when it marks down goods for quick sale, often ends up charging more for out of date product than for the in date product where offers apply. 2for1 price means you effectively by two at half price yet when they are marked down special offers do not apply and you now can by them individually for about 1/3 off instead of a half.
And what does 6 items or less mean? It obviously doesn't mean 6 items literally because you often see people with a whole lot more.
Ah - anecdata based on a small sample size.
Whatever rounding effects and such you get when currencies change can't last long. Unless all the world's sellers of things collude to rip off the public. Did we see huge increases in retail profits after decimalisation, or euroisation? That would be essential if any more than "cursory" opportunity were taken.
Germany whinged because the "conversion" was easy in your head - 2 marks is 1 euro. Except it wasn't, it was 1.95583. So your DM1.95 coffee became €1. So people felt they were getting ripped off by 5% (5 pfennig per euro of course!) when objectively they weren't.
Supermarkets changing prices, yes of course they can do that. Getting "bamboozled" by strawberries that were "2 for 1" but are now "25% off!!" instead is just part of life. Prices do go up as well as down.
When you buy something, you are either happy with the price demanded and buy or aren't and don't. I think a lot of people are burdened by some kind of primeval fear that they could have got the same thing for 3p less if they'd looked a bit farther. Or the haunting fear that, gosh, the retailer might have made a profit out of that transaction and that would not do. It's the stuff of Mail headlines, complaining that some dress costs less in New York than in London. As if there is a single global natural, and above all "fair" price for everything - or rather - that your local shop should have it at the lowest price, and if it doesn't that's not fair.
And to be a real pendant, it's "six items or fewer".
Now we edge in on the myth of Price Gouging. We look at the price and worry that we might have gotten it cheaper and do not wonder if we might have gotten a deal.
I bought a CPAP recently. I got a steal from my doctor. He was unloading the machines because he had been bought out by the local Doctors Clinic. The price seemed excellent. I got home that night checked online and it seemed to still be excellent.
The next day another ad popped up. The same machine was now $300 less than I paid.. The agony of having paid too much ...
But how do I value my family not being disturbed by my sonic orations.
I think gouging is a different phenomenon. When a hurricane is about to hit your city and you can't get out, those who are able will pay the $100 for a bag of rice and $5000 for a rifle that the shopkeeper wants. During the petrol strikes in the UK some years ago, a few enterprising independents with remaining stock charged £5 a litre. That isn't a myth, it actually happens, and there are even laws against it in some places, to ensure the benefit goes to the quick rather than the rich. Cue political discussion.
Rounding prices up (rather than down, or 50/50) when a once in a lifetime opportunity, such as decimalisation or a change of currency presents itself, doesn't seem to fit the definition. Inflation and competition see to it that any benefit from doing this is short-lived.
Retailers don't look too closely at the margin on individual producs anyway. They can't. If someone goes into a supermarket and buys one of the thing with the biggest markup the supermarket still makes a loss on the sale. The public also doesn't understand the difference between profit and mark-up. They essentially believe retailers have no costs and think it's evil profiteering that one loaf of bread in their local shop costs more than 1/1000 of 1000 loaves at the factory gate. The Italian press have made a Daily Mailesque art form of this, with annual stories about how a loaf costs 3000% more than the wholesale cost of the wheat in said loaf.
It is also about outdated perceptions.
Supermarkets originally arrived on the idea of "stack it high and sell it cheap". The self service business model proved to be one of the most effective and still is.
But like all models it has costs.
The costs of doing business via the self service model are spoilage and shoplifting. You can't eliminate either without damaging the model so much it no longer works.
So instead they persist with the model but keep track of losses, so much easier with computers. As shoplifting increases and threatens margins so they respond just enough to protect the margins but not so much as to damage the model.
So we have the store detective. In my youth as a weekend assistant at Waitrose that was a little old lady who wandered the isles all day with a basket with about two items in it.
Then comes security tags and uniformed guards at the doors, and in the US we now have till reciept checks at the door and the receipts marked by the door staff to show you took the goods with you (otherwise they'd simply buy some stuff, off load it outside, come back in and grab duplicates and when stopped show their receipt).
Of course, when they start tagging packaged meat and the staff neglect to detoxify the tags you get stopped at the door when the alarms go off.
And for some reason Sainsburys with their DIY fast track just take your money when you hand in your points card and bar code reader so anything tagged is still actively tagged as you try and leave the store.
But the point is that the idea that prices are cheap is misleading. Supermakets haven't bothered to tell anyone but what they are effective at is convenience and not price. This is especially noticeable at the specialist stores like Halfords for car accessories. I went there for a new fuse box for the wife's car.
So I went to an auto electrics specialist shop, not part of a chain, and the price they wanted was £4.50.
But please, maybe the public don't know the difference between mark-up and profit, but the supermarkets are not charities and they are making substantial amounts of money and it would be a mistake to think that equal profits are made all the way down the supply chain or that they are necessarily the cheapest any more.
Look, a good use of a model!
The model is bounded within the store. It corrects itself at the register (which is tied to accounting which handles payroll and expenses). If the model isn't working, you see that in the accounting books. Revenue < Expenses. FIX IT QUICK!
The challenge with the offloading to computers is the many ways people manipulate the inventory system and all the different layers that do the manipulation.
If you RFID every item, you can conceivably drive a cart down the aisle and inventory your stock. If someone wants to help you shrink your shelves without you knowing they can find that RFID and stick it to the opposite side of an adjacent product. Or in the case of DVDs, excise the DVD and leave the wrapper (which is why DVDs are so painful to get open these days if you do buy them).
Any automation will leave a hole for someone to sneak through.
Some of the holes people are finding are amazing. The TIDE scam was a great example. People noticed that the high margin, high return items were too carefully watched. Go take lots of the low priced low margin items and resell them "legitimately" to other resellers.
How many guards do you hire?
How well do you train them?
How much do you pay them?
No matter where you are or what philosophy you espouse (Communist, Socialist, Corporatist, Capitalist), Revenue has to exceed Expense.
The supermarkets make miserly returns on turnover and even more miserly returns on capital. One wonders why they even bother, other than for the fact that they are already doing it and can't think of anything else to do.
That is the secret of their success. That they make such pitiful returns yet stay in business. Quite the opposite of the popular belief that supermarkets are driving the dear old "mom'n'pop" (since when did such an abberation become customary in rightpondian English?) stores out of business by making sickeningly huge profits.
Your price difference on one article is great anecdata but hardly useful. That convenience can easily be worth more than heading to the old-fashioned hardware store - the £10 "surcharge" is eaten up in a few miles driving, for example. And you'll find plenty of stuff the friendly neighbourhood hardware store is marking up hugely.
Huge markups are not always insane. It helps keep the doors open. I was at a hardware store a couple of years ago looking for a lightswitch. There was one on the rack. I grabbed it $4. I started to walk away, but something on a bottom shelf caught my eye. Bulk light switches. $0.99 ... I picked it up. I compared it to the carefully packaged item. The same switch. Pretty **** clever that packaging...
Then again, paying $4 to get a switch and install it yourself is still a lot cheaper than calling in the electrician. You can look at the package and say HE TOOK AN extra $3 from me for the honor of throwing away packaging. OR you can say, Hmm. one way I saved $60 over calling in an expert. The other way I saved $57.
Either way though is a lot cheaper than improvising your own from available items short of leaving the wires bare and touching them together when you want to turn on the lights. If you just bend them correctly you can create a spring loaded switch that keeps itself on when touching and apart when not.
Which reminds me of that embarrassing incident 30 minutes or so after I bought the light switch. I installed it, putting the hot lead on one side and the ground on the other. I turned on the light switch and the breaker blew. ****. Three more throws of that switch before I suddenly saw the circuit in front of my eyes. I called myself a few names that would be filtered by this lovely forum, looked around to see if anyone else had seen my awkward idiocy and swapped the leads...
Which reminds me of the time I thought it would be cool to adjust my 220v water heater with my wet hand and a swiss army knife. Never did find that knife. The real irony was the 15 months of training I had just completed that included extensive sections on proper electrical safety precautions.
My colleague and I were at the Ryvita Plant in Poole, installing an American made Mass flow meter.
The design of the power supply part of the PCB was such that it was as easy as anything to short the L and N terminals (not so easy in the UK manufactured version) and that, inadvertently, was what we then did.
There is nothing so embarrassing as the sudden hush of an entire factory shutting down as various mains breakers tripped out and the silence then filled next with the sound of rushing feet heading our way as the plant manager came to see what had shut-down his plant.
The next day when we arrived we found their electrician had been busy and installed our own personal circuit breaker so that if we repeated our misadventure only our bit of kit would be affected.
Mistakes in the home environment are far less embarrassing.
Incidentally, Ryvita is a healthy diet option.... but my colleague (from Manchester) was impressed by the works canteen (something that appears to be disappearing from the British working scene) where breakfast was all things cooked in deep fat fryers.... including black pudding, sausages, bacon, mushrooms etc. The sight of all these staples swimming in fat was almost too much for him.
Possibly the only "food" product for which the packaging is both more nutritious and tastier. Allegedly.
As I didn't mention which food product I assume no writs will be served.