Archive | February, 2014

Pick n Pay’s Puzzling Policy

21 Feb
You *magazine*, or someone else?

‘You’ magazine, or someone else?

I just had an interesting interaction at a nearby Pick n Pay Supermarket. They used to have a ‘scan-right’ policy in which they promised to give you a product gratis if they charged you a different price at the till than was listed on the shelf (and if it was demonstrably their fault). They have recently changed their policy so that they give you double the difference between the two prices.

At least, that is the simple version. According to the lovely ladies who helped me this morning, the calculation is complicated by one additional step.

Sorry if you lose sleep over maths story sums, but here is one:

Jordan goes to buy some cheese. The shelf says ‘R36’. When scanned at the till, Jordan is charged R50. He complains to the manageress who kindly honours their ‘Double the Difference™’ policy. How much change should Jordan get?

If you’re keeping up, you might be calling out ‘R28!!’ but you’d apparently be wrong, because our branch has interpreted the policy to mean that you must calculate what double the difference is, and then subtract it from the till price (R50). So I received R22 change.

I insisted that this can’t be right, and they pulled the “I’m sorry, sir, we don’t make the policies” line after trying to explain a few times. Eventually I took the R22 (because score anyway, right?), and left.

Not being a mathematician, I’ve had a go at working out by means of trial and error whether this can actually be their policy. Consider the following table:


The first line is my actual transaction. You subtract the list price from the till price to get R14, double it to get R28, and then subtract it again from the actual till price to get my change: R22.

Observe what happens when I make the difference smaller or bigger. In line 5, for example, if Pick n Pay only mislabelled their item very slightly wrong (by R2), I should receive R46 change. By contrast (line 6), if they made a huge mistake and listed the cheese at R10 instead of R50, I would owe Pick n Pay an additional R30 for their error.

Please, mathematicians, by all means tell me if I’ve gone wrong, but otherwise, Pick n Pay ladies, your move.




Max Martin and Milli Vanilli

20 Feb
I'm here for your idiot money. And idiot blog-visits.

I’m here for your idiot money. And idiot blog-visits.

This post on has been bouncing around on Facebook for the last week or three, pointing out how influential Swedish ‘unknown’ Max Martin has been on the music industry. Everyone has rightly been expressing amazement that behind the scenes this person has been cranking out hit after radio-smashing hit.

It would be easy to complain that his songs are idiotic. Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ is certainly that (do tigers even roar?), but then idiots also have money to spend, and it makes sense to appeal to them. I also personally find writing poetry and song lyrics nearly impossible, to say nothing of catchy tunes, so anyone who can successfully do that year in and year out is deserving of acclaim and he has my sincere respect.

What amazes me more is that it provides just one more window into what the music industry is actually like. I had always assumed that Katy Perry’s breakthrough hit — the one about kissing a girl — was written by her, and it was her on-the-money (idiot-money again, but still) talents that gained her the attention of the music world. In fact, Max wrote her first hit too.

That means that some music exec somewhere is walking around with a shopping list, bringing together all the ingredients for another big hit. ‘Right, so Max has agreed to write the song, I’ll get my usual guys to play the instruments [Does music still have instruments? –ed], I just need someone to have the boobs…’

Every ‘artist’ that we adore is just some made-to-order recipe dreamed up by rich guys at Sony.

This has two interesting spin offs for me:

Firstly, how lame can the Grammys possibly be? We’re giving the industry’s highest honours to people who can’t play instruments and don’t write the songs. We’re giving song-writing awards to people who came up with:

Am I original? (yeah)
Am I the only one? (yeah)
Am I sexual? (yeah)
Am I everything you need?
You better rock your body now

Everybody (yeah)
Rock your body (yeah)
Rock your body right
Backstreet’s back alright (alright)
(yeah, oh, yeah, oh, rock your body)

So everybody, everywhere
Don’t be afraid, don’t have no fear
I’m gonna tell the world, make it understand
As long as there’ll be music we’ll be coming back again

Everybody (yeah) (c’mon get it)
Rock your body (get it)
Rock your body right (rock your body right)
Backstreet’s back

Everybody (rock your body) (yeah)
Rock your body (rock your body) (yeah)
(everbody rock your body)
Everybody (rock your body)
Rock your body right (rock your body)(everybody)
Backstreet’s back alright

It’s like giving Michelin stars to McDonalds or Pulitzers to Twilight fan-fic. Why is there not a Grammy category for best breasts and cutest teenage boy-band boy? That’s what sells records, and sales seems to be the major criterion of quality if the awards are anything to go by.

Secondly, why on earth did anybody ever criticise Milli Vanilli all those years ago? Wikipedia reports thusly:

“The group’s debut album Girl You Know It’s True achieved international success and earned them a Grammy Award for Best New Artist on February 21, 1990… Their success turned to infamy when the Grammy award was withdrawn after LA Times author Chuck Philips revealed that lead vocals on the record were not the voices of Morvan and Pilatus.”

Why the outrage in response? Why is it applauded not to play music, write songs, produce music, plan stage shows, choreograph your own dance routines, or choose your own public persona… as long as you can hold a note (with a little help from Autotune)?

All Milli Vanilli did differently was to outsource the singing to ugly guys — one more step in the recipe.

Either we develop better criteria for defining and rewarding what is art in music, or we give Milli Vanilli back their Grammy and learn to live with the fact that some of our best ‘musicians’ are only ever as musical as a magazine cover.

The Worst Rule in Football

20 Feb

Ugh! The glare from those floodlights! Let me just shield my eyes with this.

Arsenal Football Club has had to endure some painful red cards in its day, with Robin van Persie’s red against Barcelona surely ranking as one of the most appalling refereeing decisions in the history of the sport.

This week, both Manchester City and Arsenal lost 0-2 at home in the Champion’s League because of ‘last-man’ red cards. The last-man red card is the worst rule in football.

The rule means that if you foul a player who has a clear goal-scoring opportunity, and if you are the last line of defence, you earn yourself a red card (and a suspension) as well as whatever free-kick or penalty the foul incurred. Because you have denied the opposition a clear goal-scoring opportunity, the penalty kick compensates the wronged team with another one, and because you cheated, the red card punishes you. It supposedly also acts as a deterrent in future, because it makes it too risky for players to strategically foul opposition strikers.

Of all the punitive measures they could have chosen, killing the entire football match is the one they came up with? Genius. Each red card this week happened about half way through the game with scores at 0-0. If at this point in the game the ref had said, “Right, I saw that you clipped the striker’s heels there, making him fall theatrically to the ground; we’re abandoning the game here and awarding the opposition a 2-0 victory,” would anyone not say that this was ridiculous overkill? And yet that is effectively what took place.

As Arsene Wenger pointed out, an early injury claimed his one substitution, and having his goalkeeper sent off forced him to use his second, and this in turn made it impossible to use his third one tactically, because he needed to keep it in case of another injury (which would leave him with only 9 men on the field). His hands were tied for the remainder of the game. So the team lost its keeper and its key strategist because of one foul. When you’re playing Bayern or Barcelona, that’s game over.

As with the death penalty, it is questionable whether killing the game ever truly acts as a deterrent. Defenders still have to defend; small errors of judgment are going to happen no matter what the rule.

What are the alternatives to killing a game? Here’s an easy one: award a penalty goal. Not a penalty kick, a penalty goal. The wronged player who had a chance to score gets given the goal he was denied. He is more than compensated. The fact that a possible goal is made into a certain goal acts as the punitive measure, making it a pointless strategic move to foul attackers. And the game continues as a contest.

“Feminism? I think I’ve heard of that.” – Execs

2 Feb

I saw this little girl’s letter to the Lego company on Buzzfeed, and it reminded me of something I forgot to moan about.

buzzfeed lego girl

Us parents have to go to toy stores once in a while, and seeing as I have girls, I have to go to the pink half of the store. Judging by the toys on offer, our major toy retailer reckons that all girls ought to aspire to dressing up in outfits, wearing make-up, cooking and cleaning, or having babies. If there were any girls’ toys not in those categories, they made up about 5% of the stock.

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s been quite a long time that women have been allowed to work in any field they want, or to engage in hobbies that aren’t gossiping or racism. Why are we still telling girls that toy musical instruments and science kits and adventure equipment are ‘boys things’? I am grateful for–and deeply respect–women who choose to use their energies to be home-makers and kid-havers, but why are we training girls to think that this is the proper summit of their aspirations?

Why with 7-year-old Charlotte do we need to ask toy-makers to include girls in other awesome things?

I consider myself fairly backward, and I find this horrifying.