Optimal Way for Airplane Boarding

A few years ago, Fermilab astrophysicist Jason Steffen observed while flying to a conference and got to thinking: is there a more efficient way for passengers to board an airplane?

Turns out, the answer is yes. If you’ve ever boarded an airplane where the people were asked to board by “zones” or by row numbers, you know how much of a logjam that ensues. It turns out that random boarding is better (faster) than zone boarding. But is there an even better way?

Jason Steffen with the answer. He set up a model using an algorithm based on the Monte Carlo optimization method used in statistics and mathematics. Turns out, the most efficient boarding method is to board alternate rows at a time, beginning with the window seats on one side, then the other, minimizing aisle interference.

You can see a video of this boarding process below:


Now, all you have to do is petition your friendly airline to implement this method for boarding.


(via CNET)

Steve Jobs Resigns as Apple’s CEO

Wow. Steve Jobs just resigned as Apple’s CEO. Biggest news of the day, by far. That earthquake on the East Coast yesterday? This is an earthquake for the West Coast. Tim Cook becomes Apple’s new CEO while Jobs transitions his role as Chairman of Apple’s Board.

The WSJ has a nice list of the best Steve Jobs quotes over the years, such as this one:

These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. You may have a child with a birth defect and be able to get in touch with other parents and support groups, get medical information, the latest experimental drugs. These things can profoundly influence life. I’m not downplaying that.

But it’s a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light — that it’s going to change everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.

And oh, this is my favourite Steve Jobs video. A must-watch, if you’ve never seen it.

Apple at the core…Its core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better. That’s what we believe. 

Think Different.

The Mona Lisa: 100 Year Anniversary of Its Theft

One hundred years ago today (August 21, 1911), it was a quiet Monday morning in Paris, France. The Louvre, arguably the world’s most famous art museum, was closed for the day. But three men were running away from the Louvre: Vincenzo Perugia and the brothers Vincenzo Lancelotti and Michele Lancelotti.

They had arrived to the Louvre on Sunday afternoon and managed to find a hiding space in a small storeroom near the Salon Carré, a gallery stuffed with Renaissance paintings. They spent the night. In the morning, wearing white workmen’s smocks, they had gone into the Salon Carré. They seized a small painting off the wall. Quickly, they ripped off its glass shadow box and frame and Perugia hid it under his clothes.

And so The Mona Lisa was stolen.

Remarkably, it took more than 24 hours for anyone to notice that the painting had been stolen. Granted, at the time, the Louvre had lax security and The Mona Lisa wasn’t even the most famous item in the museum.

My favourite piece of trivia about the theft: the artist Pablo Picasso was considered a suspect in the theft of the Mona Lisa; he was brought in for questioning but promptly released.

The Mona Lisa would not be found for 28 months. The best account I’ve read recounting the story of Mona Lisa’s theft is this brilliant, must-read piece in Vanity Fair.

On Medals, Prizes, and Honors

In this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, in a piece titled “The Truth About Being a Hero,” Karl Marlantes writes about his time in the Vietnam War. The excerpt is from his upcoming book, What It Is Like To Go To War. I encourage you to read the whole thing. My biggest takeaway was Marlantes’s view on what it takes to get a medal (and how much luck is involved):

Medals are all mixed up with hierarchy, politics and even job descriptions. What is considered normal activity for an infantry grunt, and therefore not worthy of a medal, is likely to be viewed as extraordinary for someone who does the same thing but isn’t a grunt, so he gets a medal and maybe an article in Stars and Stripes.

I got my medals, in part, because I did brave acts, but also, in part, because the kids liked me and they spent time writing better eyewitness accounts than they would have written if they hadn’t liked me. Had I been an unpopular officer and done exactly the same things, few would have bothered, if any. The accounts would have been laconic, at best, and the medals probably of a lower order. The only people who will ever know the value of the ribbons on their chests are the people wearing them—and even they can fool themselves, in both directions.

He goes on to say: “I was eager for medals early on, but after a while I was no longer so anxious to get one of any kind. But the same phenomenon of being taken over by something, or someone, still seemed to operate.”

Now, compare Karl Marlantes’s words to those of Richard Feynman, my favourite scientist:

In the above video, Feynman explains how he doesn’t much (or at all) care for prizes. The true prize is the pleasure of finding things out, the observation other people are listening and using your discovery. As Feynman notes, those are the real things; the honors are unreal.

Warren Buffett on Taxing the Super-Rich

I really like Warren Buffett. He’s got a no-nonsense approach to investing, he speaks with charisma, and in today’s edition of the New York Times, he makes his voice heard loud and clear: tax the super-rich. And heavily.

In an op-ed titled “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich,” Warren Buffett explains how he paid the least amount in taxes from his office of twenty people (even when he made the most money):

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

Some important statistics to digest (about income disparity in America):

Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

And his resilient conclusion:

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Bravo. Now, let’s make it happen.

Mark Cuban on Creating Jobs in America

Mark Cuban, the outspoken owner of the 2011 NBA Champions Dallas Mavericks, has an unorthodox view on how to create jobs in America. Forget the proposals by the Republicans and Democrats, he argues, and focus at the source: American corporations. What do they need to create jobs?

How is this for a revolutionary thought: Companies that would create jobs if they had more cash know who they are. Right ? If you own a company and are thinking to yourself “Self, if I could borrow or get an investment into my company I could hire X more people to grow the company/meet demand/release a new product/whatever”  So rather than guessing and hoping what might happen, why don’t we let companies self identify themselves ?

And not only should they self-identify themselves as companies, they should be able to bid on Government Loans or even actual equity investments. Call me crazy, but I think we should be playing a game of “I Can Name that Tune in X Notes” re-named and reformatted as “I Can Create X Jobs for Y Amount of Money”

Would this system be open to everyone? No, says Mark Cuban:

Of course you will have to set some minimum parameters in order to prevent the dreamers, crazies and who knows whats from clogging up the system. I would set those minimums including: The company must be in business for at least 10 years. They must be have at least 100 full time employees. They must do 100mm in revenues.  And of course they must be up to date on their taxes and I’m sure there are other things to think of as well.

Ten years seems an awfully long time for a company to be considered established, but Cuban’s idea is certainly an interesting one. Especially if you believe Cuban’s argument that tax cuts are only going to help Americans to pay off their massive debt (credit card, mortgage, student loans) rather than go out and buy consumer goods…

What do you think?

On Living in Atlanta

Atlanta has been my home for most of my life. It’s a massive, sprawling city unlike any I’ve lived or visited in the world.

In the latest issue of More Intelligent Life, a correspondent for The Economist, Jon Fasman, reminisces about living in Atlanta, after having lived in New York City, Washington D.C., Hong Kong, London, and Moscow (Russia). It’s a great read.

Ah, the big ice storm in February of this year which shut the city down:

The weekend after we moved down, it snowed. Not much—an inch or two over a full day—but it shut the city down. Something similar but worse happened this year: a three-inch storm coupled with a week of below-freezing temperatures shut the city down for nearly a week.

I like this comparison:

Different cities are suited to different seasons: a few years back I was posted to Moscow, which blooms in the winter and wilts in summer. New York’s summer days are repulsive—walking outside feels like swimming through garbage soup—but there is no place I’d rather spend a summer evening. Atlanta is built for spring and fall—the pleasant seasons, and Atlanta is a profoundly pleasant city. 

Vivid descriptions in this paragraph. Though I suspect you can extend the relaxation into the weekends in Atlanta (at least, in my view, more so than you would in New York City):

That is not as easy as it seems. New York is thrilling, Hong Kong a marvel of density, Moscow the closest a city can get to a cocaine level of jitteriness and excitement, London endless: I love all four places, but I would never describe them as pleasant. They are none of them as comfortable and human-scaled as Atlanta. Social life just sort of happens here. In New York and London my calendar filled up weeks in advance; here it is not unusual to look forward to a relaxing, empty weekend on Thursday and then find that Saturday and Sunday are frantic.

Lastly, I have to agree with the author’s assessment here. Atlanta has terrible traffic (I believe Atlantans spend more time in traffic getting to their jobs than anywhere else in the country), our public transportation system (MARTA) is severely limited, and schools ITP aren’t on the same level as those OTP.

 Atlantans divide the area into “ITP” and “OTP”—Inside the Perimeter and Outside the Perimeter, the highway that rings the city and its closest suburbs. Most of the area’s population is O; most of its charms are decidedly I. One quirk of Atlanta’s development is that urban areas like mine feel rather rustic, while suburbs that were rural 30 years ago are now strip-malled, parking-lotted and planned-communitied into blacktopped uniformity. For all its charms, Atlanta provides an object lesson for mid-sized cities today in how not to grow. It sprawls, it really does have bad traffic, and thanks to a befuddling stew of overlapping city and county governments, it has negligible public transport and dysfunctional state schools. Better to treat the perimeter as a national border, and cross it only on trips abroad.

Do read the whole article and don’t miss the solid recommendations on what to do/see at the bottom of the piece.

If you’re a native to Atlanta, what’s your opinion on the author’s take of Atlanta? If you’ve only visited Atlanta, how does it differ from other cities you’ve visited?