On the Evolution of Serving Hot Coffee

More than 20 years ago, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck ordered coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She spilled the coffee, was badly burned, and one year later, sued McDonald’s. The jury awarded her $2.9 million but she eventually settled for about $500,000. Her story became a media sensation and fodder for talk-show hosts, late-night comedians, sitcom writers, and political pundits. The New York Times has a short piece and a video on how serving hot coffee has changed since then:

The point is, the world now caters to the coffee drinker. The idea of getting into a car without cup holders and lifting the lid off the cup in order to add milk and sugar and drink the coffee, as the facts of the case show Ms. Liebeck did that morning, seems strangely anachronistic.

Within the ensuing years, some genius invented a sculptured lid with a little sipping hole in the top, eliminating the need to open the cup and reducing the potential for spills. Sloshing grew less likely once the lip was raised above the cup rim.

Let’s not forget the evolution of the cup holder. Teams of car engineers continuously work to perfect their design for drivers in the front and those passengers two rows back.

In which you also learn about the zarf, that cupboard thingie that goes around the cup of coffee.

David Sedaris on His Sister’s Suicide

Writing in The New Yorker, this is a deeply moving personal reflection by one of my favorite writers, David Sedaris, on his youngest sister’s suicide:

“Why do you think she did it?” I asked as we stepped back into the sunlight. For that’s all any of us were thinking, had been thinking since we got the news. Mustn’t Tiffany have hoped that whatever pills she’d taken wouldn’t be strong enough, and that her failed attempt would lead her back into our fold? How could anyone purposefully leave us, us, of all people? This is how I thought of it, for though I’ve often lost faith in myself, I’ve never lost it in my family, in my certainty that we are fundamentally better than everyone else. It’s an archaic belief, one that I haven’t seriously reconsidered since my late teens, but still I hold it. Ours is the only club I’d ever wanted to be a member of, so I couldn’t imagine quitting. Backing off for a year or two was understandable, but to want out so badly that you’d take your own life?

The family’s back-and-forth on what to name their beach house was amusing in an otherwise very melancholy piece.

Elon Musk to Make James Bond Submarine Car a Reality

If anyone can make it happen, it’s Elon Musk. A report from CNN:

Thursday night, a Tesla Motors spokeswoman confirmed that the submarine, modeled after a Lotus sports car, had been bought by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Musk plans to take the movie prop and turn it into an actual car that transforms into a submarine, the very thing it was built to portray in the movie.

“I was disappointed to learn that it can’t actually transform,” Musk said in a statement provided by Tesla. “What I’m going to do is upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain and try to make it transform for real.”

What will he think of next?

On Trustworthiness and Apologies for Rain

A paper titled “I’m Sorry About the Rain! Superfluous Apologies Demonstrate Empathic Concern and Increase Trust” out of Harvard Business School explains how if you want to be perceived as more trustworthy, attempt to apologize for things outside your control (the terrible Atlanta traffic, the gloomy Portland weather, and so on). BPS Research Digest summarizes:

The most compelling evidence came from Alison Brooks and her colleagues’ fourth and final study in which a male actor approached 65 strangers (30 women) at a train station on a rainy day to ask to borrow their mobile phone. Crucially, for half of them he preceded his request with the superfluous apology: “I’m sorry about the rain!” The other half of the time he just came straight out with his request: “Can I borrow your cell phone?” The superfluous apology made a big difference. Forty-seven per cent of strangers offered their phone when the actor apologised for the rain first, compared with just nine per cent when there was no apology.

The field study followed three laboratory experiments. In the first, 178 students thought they were playing a financial game with a partner located in another room. They were told that on some rounds the computer would override their partner’s decisions. Later, if their “partner” (actually the whole thing was pre-programmed) apologised for a computer override, the participants tended to rate him or her as more trustworthy and were more generous towards him or her as a result. This despite the fact the apology was superfluous and for a situation beyond their (the partner’s) control.

In a second experiment, 177 adult participants (average age 28) watched a video of a stranger approaching a flight-delayed passenger at an airport to ask to borrow his/her mobile phone. The participants were to imagine they were the passenger and to decide how to act. If the stranger was shown apologising for the flight delay before making his request, the participants were more likely to say they’d agree to share their phone with him.

Another experiment involved 310 adult participants imagining they were heading in the rain to meet a seller of a second-hand iPod. If they were told the seller apologised for the rain, the participants tended to rate him as more trustworthy, likeable and empathic.

“Across our studies, we identify significant benefits to apologising,” the researchers concluded. “Superfluous apologies represent a powerful and easy-to-use tool for social influence. Even in the absence of culpability, individuals can increase trust and liking by saying ‘I’m sorry’ – even if they are merely ‘sorry’ about the rain.”

Does this work too? I am sorry if you read something terrible on the Internet today.

Atlas Hugged: A Dating Site for Ayn Rand Fans

The Wall Street Journal has a piece on the rise of niche dating sites. It’s pretty interesting, especially the description of Atlasphere, a dating site for fans of Ayn Rand and Objectivism:

A growing number of niche dating sites have popped up to serve people who think they know exactly the type of person they want. These includes Farmers Only, whose 100,000 users may have been attracted to the site’s tagline, “City folks just don’t get it.” More recently, GlutenFree Singles launched for love-seeking wheat-free folks.

Atlasphere founder Joshua Zader, 40, of Phoenix, says niche sites are more efficient than broader sites such as OKCupid or Match.com.

“If you assume that maybe 1 out of 500 people is a serious fan of Ayn Rand’s novels, on a normal dating site you have a 1 in 500 chance of someone sharing the same basic values,” he says. “On the Atlasphere, every profile shows you what you want,” he says. The 10-year-old site has seen a spike in membership in recent years—it has more than 16,000 dating profiles—after two “Atlas Shrugged” movies were released, says Mr. Zader, a Web developer. User handles include “Atlas in Arlington” and “ObjectivelyHot.”

He founded the site after attending Objectivist conferences, where the “open secret” is that most people are there to meet potential partners. “You shouldn’t need to fly to a conference to meet people with your values,” he says.

The site was efficient for Mr. Hancock’s now-wife, Stephanie Betit-Hancock, 33. Her now-husband messaged her 12 hours after she first put up a profile in 2007, and proposed after dating long-distance for six months.

Ms. Betit-Hancock, a schools special-needs coordinator, says she had been “kind of freaking out,” wondering how she’d find someone “rational” to date. She met a man at a meet-up group for fans of libertarian former congressman Ron Paul, but “he couldn’t explain why he supported Ron Paul and why the ideas behind his policies made sense.”

Mr. Hancock, an engineer, says he specifically wrote his profile to “scare people who weren’t serious Objectivists away.”

Read the rest of the piece here. There’s also GlutenFree Singles and Farmers Only dating.

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(via @mims)

Sergey Kolesnikov and Igor Rybakov: Russia’s Roofing Billionaires

Often you hear of the Russian “new rich” who’ve accumulated wealth through corruption or usurping some power. So it was refreshing to read this Bloomberg piece on Sergey Kolesnikov and Igor Rybakov, who built a multi-billion dollar roofing business in Russia. What’s amazing is that they were actually enrolled at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, one of Russia’s top research universities, and worked in roofing as a side business/project.

The roofing degree paid off. Closely held Technonicol, the company they founded while in college, is now the country’s largest roofing-supply company, with a network of 700 distribution outlets across the country, 180 of them wholly-owned. The business had revenue of 59.4 billion rubles ($1.9 billion) in 2012, up 25 percent from the prior year, according to financial statements provided by Kolesnikov.

The company is valued at $2.8 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, making the equal partners two of the youngest billionaires in Russia. Neither has appeared on an international wealth ranking.

“I always liked to solve puzzles, and to me business is a kind of puzzle,” Kolesnikov said. “Neither of us ever thought about earning money of such scale.”

The billionaires, both 41, had a well-timed entry into the market, catching the start of a wave of private homeownership and government upgrades to Soviet-era housing. The number of newly built private homes in Russia almost doubled to 205,000 from 2002 to 2012, according to data from the Federal State Statistics Service, and new apartment units increased more than two times during the past decade to 838,000.

Here’s how they got their business off the ground:

In 1995, four years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Kolesnikov and Rybakov used $40,000 in savings and debt to buy their first plant, a roofing factory complex constructed in 1918 in Vyborg, a city 75 miles northwest of St. Petersburg. They spent $15 million modernizing the facility, and have since built 36 more plants — 30 in Russia, three in Ukraine, and one in Belarus, Lithuania and the Czech Republic.

Important to note their casual culture:

Kolesnikov adheres to western and Japanese management philosophies and quotes management consultant William Edwards Deming, whose statistical theories are credited with inspiring the economic growth surge in Japan after World War II. When Kolesnikov visits Technonicol’s plants, he hands out copies of “The Toyota Way,” a book about the Tokyo-based carmaker’s principles for continuous improvement and respect for workers.

Rybakov, who declined to be interviewed for this story, uses a YouTube channel to post videos of his family on yachting and skiing excursions.

The company maintains an informal corporate culture. It publishes an annual swimsuit calendar featuring female workers. To celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary last December, the billionaires hired a heavy-metal band to record a rock song and created a music video starring Technonicol employees singing in the studio after a day of answering phones and eyeing the clock before grabbing their coats and dashing from the office…

Great story.

Amy Poehler on Her First Summer Job

A delightful piece by Amy Poehler, past cast member on Saturday Night Live and star of Parks and Recreation on NBC, on her first summer job and how it was a catalyst for her to go into acting:

Chadwick’s was one of those fake old-timey restaurants. The menus were written in swoopy cursive. The staff wore Styrofoam boaters and ruffled white shirts with bow ties. Jangly music blared from a player piano as children climbed on counters. If the style of the restaurant was old-fashioned, the parenting that went on there was distinctly modern. Moms and dads would patiently recite every item on the menu to their squirming five-year-olds, as if the many flavors of ice cream represented all the unique ways they were loved.

There was a performance element to the job that I found appealing, to begin with. Every time a customer was celebrating a birthday, an employee had to bang a drum that hung from the ceiling, and play the kazoo, and encourage the entire restaurant to join him or her in a sing-along. Other employees would ring cowbells and blow noisemakers. I would stand on a chair and loudly announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are so happy to have you at Chadwick’s today, but we are especially happy to have Kevin! Because it’s Kevin’s birthday today! So, at the sound of the drum, please join me in singing Kevin a very happy birthday!”

I wasn’t sure yet that I wanted to be an actor. I was planning to go to Boston College as an English major and maybe become a teacher, like both of my parents. But when I stood in the dining room and demanded attention I was reminded of things I already secretly knew about myself. I wasn’t shy, I liked to be looked at, and making people laugh released a certain kind of hot lava into my body that made me feel like a queen.

I love this line: “It’s important to know when it’s time to turn in your kazoo.”

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If you’re a subscriber to The New Yorker like I am, I highly recommend the entire series:

“Piano Man” by Jeremy Denk

“Caught Napping” by Nicole Holofcener

“Labors” by Norman Rush

“Pure Bleach” by Ed Ruscha