Category Archives: Business

Why Airplane Boarding Takes Forever

The short answer is because the common method is the slowest method. The longer answer is probably because… money: a lot of people will pay more for a first class ticket just to avoid the horrors of boarding. Vox has a pretty in-depth article on the five different methods of boarding a plane:

Boarding time for 173 passeners Boarding Methods for 72 passengers

  • Back-to-front, a.k.a. the Standard: people in the rear of the plane board first. This is what most airlines do, and it’s been proven to be by far the slowest method of boarding a plane. Why? Because a lot of the time someone already sitting on the aisle has to get up to let someone sitting by the window through, and people have to access the same overhead spaces, so everyone ends up waiting and waiting. It takes 173 people 25 minutes to board a plane in this way.
  • Assigned Random: no order; people just line up and go to their assigned seats. Because they’re scattered all over the plane, it actually takes less time than the back-to-front method. So here’s a situation where engineering has actually made things worse than doing nothing at all. This takes 17 minutes.
  • Outside-In: like back-to-front, but with people by the windows boarding first, then middle seats, then aisles. No one has to get up to let anyone else in, so congestion is much decreased. United does this now, and makes exceptions for groups traveling together, so they all board at once. Down to 15 minutes.
  • Unassigned Random, a.k.a. the Southwest: just like the bus, in which people get on and sit somewhere. This is faster than the Assigned Random because people will just sit somewhere rather than wait in line for their assigned seat. Few really like this method though, due to the added stress of “will I get a good seat?”. It makes us feel much better knowing ahead of time that we’re stuck in the middle. 14 minutes.
  • Optimized Outside-In, a.k.a. the Steffen: just like the Outside-In method, except only one side of the plane is sent in at a time, and rows are skipped to keep people from using the same overhead space. The method is named after a physicist studying this very important problem. Experiments done with this method were for 72 people instead of 173, but extrapolating from the proportions, you get about 13 minutes to fill the 173-person plane. That’s almost twice as fast as the standard method. Here’s a video demonstrating its awesomeness:

The Vox article has simulation videos of all of the boarding methods and more details on them.

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From Vox, via… Gawker, maybe?

American Airlines Promises Even LESS Legroom

This is not a joke: the VP of flight service said they expect to add seats on almost 70% of its planes. More seats + same amount of space = less space per seat. In the past 20 years, airline seats shrunk from an average 34″ of leg room to 31″; on some low-cost carriers, they’re even down to 28″.

no leg room


The only thing making American think twice about this is that the FAA requires a steward(ess) for every 50 seats, and American already averages almost 150 seats a plane, so adding any more seats means adding another flight attendant, which means adding enough seats to make that worthwhile. They’re also looking into using smaller seats, so they can cram more of them in.

So, any way you look at it, the message is “Don’t fly American”.

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From Airline Biz Blog, via NPR

The 8 Secrets Of Success

Author, entrepreneur, athlete, and millionaire Richard St. John gave a very short three-minute TED talk about his list of eight traits that lead to success, which he gathered by interviewing 500 successful TED attendees over seven years:

  1. Passion: do it for the love, not for the money. Do something for which you’d pay someone to let you do it.
  2. Work: anything that’s going to make you successful is going to be a lot of hard work. Which is why you need the passion: it makes the hard work fun.
  3. Good: you have to be really good at what you do. This takes a lot of hard work, which requires passion. To be good, all you have to do is practice a lot — 10,000 hours, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers
  4. Focus: if you’re doing three things at once, you’ll be mediocre at all of them. Focus your energy on one thing, so that you’ll be amazing at it.
  5. Push: there are always going to be obstacles; your own psyche (self-doubt, shyness), external factors, barriers. You have to push through them all. Sometimes you need others to push you.
  6. Serve: you can’t give yourself millions of dollars — others have to give them to you. And for that, you need to create something of value and serve it to them. In return, you’ll get rich.
  7. Ideas: come up with a great one. It’s not hard: listen, observe, be curious, ask questions, problem solve and make connections.
  8. Persist: through failure, through CRAP (criticism, resistance, assholes and pressure)

So, pick a field you have a lot of passion for, work hard to get good in it, come up with a great idea, focus on it, persist and push through all the obstacles, and then serve it to people. Ultimately, it’s not the idea that makes you successful, it’s the execution. Ideas are a dime a dozen.

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From TED, via Lifehacker

Machines Are Killing The Middle Class

For the past 60 years, the American economy has been growing steadily. We know this mostly due to four important economic indicators:

  • GDP: the value of all the stuff a country produces
  • Productivity: how efficiently that country produces its stuff
  • Private employment: how many people are employed by businesses which add to the GDP
  • Median household income: how much money each family makes

During the first half of those 60 years, from about 1950 to 1980, all four indicators rose together.  Which makes sense: people have jobs, they do good work, they make a lot of stuff, and their salaries go up. But in the 1980s, median household income started to lose steam. People still had jobs, lots of stuff was still being made, and it was made efficiently, but salaries started to stagnate. In the 2000s, private employment started falling behind also. You’d expect that less people, working for less money would create less things less efficiently, but in reality, the GDP and productivity levels kept going up as if nothing had happened.


One of the authors of Race Against The Machine, an MIT scientist named Andrew McAfee, has an intriguing post on his blog about this trend, which he calls the “The Great Decoupling of the US Economy” — the observation that employment and income have become unhinged from the well-being of the economy. Why the GDP barely blinked while unemployment has shot up and wages have gone down, is partly due to tax changes and globalization — but also due to automation. Machines have been stealing jobs for decades, though until recently, they’ve been low-skill jobs that could be easily automated. Employees that lost those jobs were retrained and became supervisors of the machines, and their income even went up.

But now, machines have crossed another threshold and have begun taking high-skill, high-wage jobs: secretaries, travel agents, accountants, paralegals, researchers, translators, etc. And, as we’ve seen before, even better artificial intelligence is knocking on our door: soon, systems like IBM’s Watson will begin doing the work of doctors, lawyers and clerks. But, they won’t, and don’t, do it for their own sake: they do it at the behest of wealthy industrialists, who find it cheaper to buy a machine than to hire an employee. He still gets the same output from either the machine or the person, but at a cheaper price. And so the profits still roll in, while the value of the human worker is diminished, since there is now competition from a cheap robot.

As cheap technology takes over the skilled labor on which the middle class is based, that middle class will start to disappear. The social makeup of the year 2100 could very well reflect that of the year 1800: a small aristocratic class which controls almost all wealth, and an impoverished working class which does whatever it can to get by — nevermind live comfortably. In such a world, most employment would be in the service industry, with smaller numbers in the arts.

Dinner at Downton Abbey


We would effectively live in Downton Abbey, a castle in which there is no actual need for as many employees as it has: a cook and a maid would serve just fine. In fact, the castle itself is much, much too big for a family of six. But rather than live with scores of unemployed beggars, the aristocracy created jobs out of thin air by means of useless, elaborate rituals: extravagant dinners which require multiple cooks and multiple servants; needlessly complicated fashions which require maintenance by valets and maids; and management to keep these employees organized and “productive”. Besides these human roles around the mansion, our 22nd century aristocracy would likely also demand human service when going out, of course: waiters, clerks, salespersons. Besides service jobs, the only other employment that will never be replaced by machines are artists: writers, painters, sculptors, filmmakers — that industry is likely to see little change through the robotic revolution, since their products are subjective.

For the past 150 years, since steam-powered machines started replacing human labor, new inventions and new industries have always saved the day by bringing ever more need for skilled labor. However, as machines replicate more and more of our versatility, intelligence and skill, that road is coming to an end. And so, we need to start the discussion on the end of employment as we know it, and what humanity’s role will be in a world in which very few humans are needed to make the goods and services they use.

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Via Andrew McAfee and Slashdot

McRib To Be Delayed Until Christmas This Year

The people at Advertising Age got their well-manicured hands on an internal memo from McDonald’s. It says that while the McRib was going to sell from October 22 to November 11 as per the usual, they’ve had a change of heart and pushed that window to the latter half of December. Why make us wait with watering mouths for two agonizing months more? Greed, that’s why!


This coming winter is supposed to be fairly snowy, and bad weather keeps people from trolling to McDonald’s for their burger with a side of large French heart attack and refreshing diabetes. So how do you get the lazy cowards to brave the elements and make the trek to McDonald’s? You make them an offer they can’t refuse: a delicious, pre-formed mostly-pork shoulder patty that looks like ribs, topped with onions, pickles, and probably heroin to make it irresistible. Because McRib fans will turn into veritable postmen and neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these people from the swift devouring of the most elusive of sandwiches. And so, the McRib will prove to have yet another power: that of saving 4th quarter corporate profits from Old Man Winter’s cold, sinister hands.

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From Advertising Age, via NPR

All Signs Say Facebook Is In Big Trouble

Just before Facebook’s IPO in the middle of May, GM decided to pull its advertising from the site, saying it’s not effective. The GM advertising chief who made the decision has since quit (for other reasons), and the company said it plans to return to Facebook — though it hasn’t yet. But that snowball was the beginning of an avalanche of trouble for the social network’s revenue stream. Around the same time, NPR did an experiment in which they gave a start-up pizza joint money to advertise on Facebook, to see if it helped sales; the result was a resounding no: after tweaking their ads, they got 250 likes, but only one customer from those likes. A couple of days later, the much-hyped IPO suffered from a NASDAQ glitch and, whether related or not, the stock flopped: it opened at 38$, and within two days, it fell to 31$. That grossly mishandled IPO lost a lot of people a lot of money — UBS lost 357 million dollars.

Facebook made it through June relatively unscathed, but the news in July went from bad, to worse, to even worse:

  • July 12: BBC announced that an investigation of Facebook’s “Likes” system showed that most of them came from spam bots, not actual people. Facebook denied the accusation.
  • July 17: A survey by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index showed people were much happier with Google+ than Facebook. In fact, every social network scored higher than it: LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Wikipedia.
  • July 17: 1.1% of Facebook’s American users left the site.
  • July 20: Google reports that for the third quarter in a row, its revenue per ad has gone down. And it’s not just Google: online ad revenue has been going down across the board, probably as people are getting used to ignoring all the ads. This is particularly bad for Facebook, which makes almost all of its money from advertising. Google, makes most of its money from ads, but has also diversified so that ad sales don’t impact it as much anymore.
  • July 26: Facebook reported its earnings for the first time as a public company. They just barely met expectations, and after the IPO and other bad news, investors decided to call it a day: their stock fell to 23$ — the lowest price yet.
  • July 30: A start-up called Limited Run reported that they’re leaving Facebook because they want to change their page’s name, but Facebook is holding it hostage, unless they buy 2,000$ in ads per month. So they did an experiment to see if it would be worth it, and found out that about 80% of the clicks to their website that came from Facebook, came from spam bots.


Facebook stock from its May 18 IPO to July 31st, 2012


From Forbes, NBC NewsNPR, BBC, The Register, The Atlantic Wire, and The LA Times

Why Burgers Look Better In Ads

McDonald’s Canada made this video showing exactly how burgers are photographed and how they compare with ones made in the restaurant. It’s a very interesting and surprisingly frank behind-the-scenes look at the advertising process.

From YouTube, via Laughing Squid

Apple And Samsung Are The Only Ones Making Money On Smartphones

According to ABI research, there are really only two players left in the smartphone game: together, Apple and Samsung ship 55% of smartphones and take 90% of profits. No word on how the other major Android phone manufacturers (HTC, Motorola, LG) are doing, but RIM and Nokia are both on their deathbeds, even though the latter finally came out with an excellent phone:

At this point in the year, Nokia will have to grow its Windows Phone business 5000% in 2012 just to offset its declines in Symbian shipments — Michael Morgan, senior analyst, devices, applications & content at ABI.

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From BusinessWire, via iMore

Prepaid iPhone Saves You 1000$ Over Two Years

Starting June 24th, Virgin Mobile will be offering prepaid plans for the iPhone, using Sprint’s network. The downside: these plans are prepaid and not on contract, meaning the iPhone is not subsidized and you have to pay the full price of 650$ for it. The upside: their plans are much cheaper than AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint; Cult of Mac figured out that even with the crazy expensive phone, you can still save a grand over the life of a two-year contract with the mainstream carriers. A Verizon iPhone with unlimited texting, 2GB of data, and 450 minutes of voice will run you almost 2400$ over the two years; a Virgin Mobile iPhone with unlimited texting, unlimited data and 300 minutes of voice will run under 1400$. If you upgrade to 1200 minutes of voice, it’ll be just over 1600$ — still 800$ cheaper than Verizon. (AT&T’s prices are comparable to Verizon, while Sprint is 200$ cheaper.)

From Cult of Mac


With the extra money, you can buy yourself an iPad. So save that 650$ and buy the phone upfront instead of getting skewered by a contract just to get the phone subsidized. Oh, and Get Rich Slowly figured out something similar last year, when they discovered secret phone plans.


From Cult of Mac, via Lifehacker

Doritos Tacos Are Taco Bell’s Most Popular Product Ever

In retrospect, the question shouldn’t be “how did they come up with it?”, but rather “why haven’t taco shells always been made out of Doritos?” Face it, it just makes sense. And that’s probably why Taco Bell has sold 100 million of them in ten weeks, meaning they sold about one per American household in that time. It took McDonald’s 18 years to sell it’s first 100 million burgers. Next up: they’re making a Cool Ranch version.


Via Huffington Post