Wednesday, 24 October 2007

The Difference

In this case, the difference between Scientists and Normal People.

Yesterday I spent the day talking quality. That time of year had come when we needed to expose our records and documentation to the quality auditor (a very exciting man by the name of Bernard), and provide sufficient evidence that not only does our quality management system rock the big quality stick*, we actually follow the rules we created. As you can imagine, it was a high-adrenaline and fun-filled seven hours, culminating in the observation by the auditor that our system was good enough to beguile anyone*.

So one way or another, I had an excess of creativity needing an outlet. This usually manifests itself in idle and wandering thoughts. For example, it occurred to me that the reason Bounty bars (the chocolate-covered coconut confection) come in two pieces is probably that, were it a single item, the chocolate covering would be insufficient to support the weight of the crumbly coconut filling if a consumer chose to hold the bar by one end, with the bar oriented horizontally. What I had always supposed was just an arty design may well be a necessity given the thickness of the product's chocolate coating.

As a second example, inspired by my observation that whilst my nostrils point downwards, Ruby (the dog) is the owner of a fine nose with nostrils pointing forwards. I wondered whether this (front-facing nostrils) might be a better design. Were I designing a human from scratch, I think I'd probably put my chemical sensors on the back of my hands. The advantages of this design over the usual facial location are that:

  • It would be much easier than craning over items to get a good sniff;
  • On packed tubes and trains, you could just put your nostrils in your pockets, keeping them well away from stale armpits. This would be a vast improvement. One could go further and invest in pleasant-smelling items for pockets (e.g. herbs), such that tube journeys could potentially smell good. Either way, freeing up the nostrils to be rapidly relocated strikes me as a being A Good Thing.

Stray commented that it's not exactly normal behaviour to spend one's leisure time thinking about the material properties of popular confectionery and whether the design of successful products is optimal. I have a niggling concern that she may be right. Regardless, I was reminded of The Difference, one of my favourite cartoons from the genius at xkcd. Go have a look. Go on.

I was am a scientist. I identify with the need to repeat the experiment, to establish a pattern, and perhaps later to understand it. A single observation would never be enough for me. I would electrocute myself once more, and perhaps a third time for good measure. Not because I particularly enjoy inflicting pain on myself (despite my erging exploits, good description here, btw), just to check that the world does indeed react in a consistent manner to being 'prodded' in a particular way. And then I might try to repeat the experiment with/on an independent observer. Again, this is not because I particularly relish inflicting pain on others, far from it.

Having said that, were Bernard around, I might consider a special investigation into the effects of applying high voltage across auditors...

*These items are direct quotations from the day. Oh, we had fun...


DJ Kirkby said...

Lol! My previous job was all about DQASS (Down's Syndrome Screening Quality Assurance Support Service), as well as other aspects of the National Screening Service, but for some unfathomable reason it is the DQASS that has burnt a hole in my memory...

Andrew F said...

I know it's an actual quotation, but I really hope 'rock the big quality stick' was said with a suitable sense of irony. Or I shall just cry.

trousers said...

Hahaha, I love the phrase (amongst may others) "so, one way or another, I had an excess of creativity needing an outlet."

Marvellous! I was reminded also of musings from Vic Reeves' Big Night Out on the Curlywurly, which was deemed to be "far too elaborate."

I'll check out the link to The Difference later, but this post is a delight.

Pixie said...

I'm so relieved that you've done the thinking on the bounty question, stops me having to put it on the list of unanswerable things in life.

and if your smell receptors are on your hands what will that mean when we want to hold hands with someone.... I feel your research may need more work here!!

But Why? said...

It looks as though someone tried really hard to get the word "Ass" into that acronym, and for that, I commend them. Anything that brings humour to quality should be strongly encouraged. Quality is life. The rest is just detail...

Do auditors have a sense of irony? I'm not sure I've ever seen any evidence to support the hypothesis... But anyway, if you see a big quality stick around, well, frankly, we rock it big style.

How the devil are you? And thankyou so much for your kind comments. (Your cheque is in the post.) I quite often find myself needing a outlet for the random rubbish that festers in my mind if I'm not busy or doing something mundane (sitting watching our quality system being audited is both of these things). It's a pity that the excess creativity doesn't manifest itself in a way which results in something more tangible (and potentially profitable). But anyhow, what I meant to say was that I haven't heard the Curlywurly comment before; I concur wholeheartedly.

I aim to please. Your comment reminded me of something my father said recently after finding himself unexpectedly participating in a hen night - that he wishing that being a 'hen' had been on his list of things to do before he dies, and then he could've ticked it off, only it'd never occurred to him that this was achieveable and he thought the rules of lists precludes items now accomplished being added retrospectively.

I think having one nostril on the back of each hand will work fine with hand-holding. I think one unintended consequence of the re-engineering would be that sales of bidets would increase dramatically...

Gary said...

D'you know, I never thought of Bounty bars in that way - but you are right, they would not support their own weight.

Now that you have solved that one you need to consider part two of the question - why, in the olden days of Bounty bars, did the scientific packaging-type guy consider it necessary to support said confectionary with a cardboard tray inside the package, only to abandon said idea in recent years - is this a prime example of over-engineering a product and if so could it just be the case that they have under-calculated the non-support issue on (for example) 12 inch long Bounty bars ?

And the cardboard liners made an ace noise when rammed into the spokes of you bike wheels.

trousers said...

Gary has a good point.

I think we should be told.

But Why? said...

Gary, Trousers,

I would love to be able to tell you that the reason for the demise of the cardboard trays was due to Mars attempting to become a little bit greener and use less packaging. I can however reveal that the truth of the matter is that the loss of the Bounty cardboard was truely necessary to prompt the John Shuttleworth song "Mutiny Over The Bounty", the lyrics of which can be found here.