Friday News Chum: Failure, Magazine Covers, Binary Units, Teachers in Porn, and some Business Notes

Well, we’ve reached another Friday again… and you know what that means. Time to clear out the links that couldn’t be formed into a coherent themed post. So on to today’s incoherent jumble:

  • Learning from Failure. One of the many books I remember from college is “To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design” by Henry Petroski. The key point of the book is that we can learn much more from failure than from success. I mention this because Wired has a very interesting article on why things fail. Manufacturers know that components in every product will eventually fail (they know this from statistics). The trick is finding the right point for them to fail: a point at which a consumer would consider they had gotten satisfactory value from their product. For example, in an automobile, you might expect to replace the transmission after 200,000 miles, and so there is no need for them to engineer that component to last longer. It isn’t worth the extra effort. This article explores that tradeoff.
  • Cover Stories. Speaking of posed pictures, the American Society of Magazine Editors has chosen the top 40 magazine covers of the last 40 years. Now, I know a number of you are going “What’s a magazine?”. But for those of us who remember magazines, we probably remember at least a large number of these covers. Winners include a naked John Lennon on Rolling Stone, a pregnant Demi Moore on Vanity Fair, the New Yorker’s view of the world, the National Lampoon’s dog, and many more. So what magazine covers do you remember, and how did they influence your life?
  • Units. One article I read this week talked about the discrepancies in our use of prefixes such as K — sometimes we mean 1000, sometimes 1024. The article linked to something at NIST I never knew about — did you know that there are standardized prefixes for binary units? In other words, while my iPod is 160GB, it isn’t 160 GiB. Do you think that if we adopted use of the binary prefixes that consumers would be less (or more) confused?
  • Teaching the Past. One of the stories that has been interesting me this week is the trial of a science teacher in Oxnard. Why is she on trial? Simple: Before she became a teacher, she did porn. Some administrators found out, and …. . In a recent article on the story, she explains why she did it. It is bad enough that she had to go through that experience in order to survive, but to have one bad decision — and one that she has since repudiated — damn her forever is (to me) wrong. She should get her job back and be able to recreate her life. Some argue that it would distract the students, but I find that argument non-credible. First, given the life-cycle of any porn scene, the odds that a particular student would find a particular scene from many years ago and positively identify a teach are low… plus where are the parents who are providing the student with the access to the porn. No, this is a problem with puritanical parents and administrators who want to judge and punish. We’re well beyond the 1600s, folks.
  • Business Notes. A few business articles that caught my eye, out of personal interest primarily. First, Gluten-free food and drinks have become a $4.2 billion market. I remember when there was essentially no market, and it was impossible to find GF foods. Although this makes it easier for my wife (who is GF), I wonder when the fad bubble will burst, making GF food as hard to find as Atkins diet products. Remember the no-carb craze? Secondly, Target is selling its credit card business to TD Bank. This refers specifically to its credit cards, which had been handled by Target National Bank. Target was very good at catching credit card fraud and misuse, and it will be interesting to see if TD Bank has the same quality of service. Lastly, Tesco may be about to give up on Fresh and Easy. That’s too bad — F&E is one of our three regular markets (the others are Sprouts and TJs); we never go to the big chains (Ralphs, Vons, Albertsons) anymore.