In Praise of BRITA Water Pitchers

The Muttroxia household has had a Brita water pitcher for years. It’s easy to use, the water seems to taste better, it fits in the fridge nicely. And at 12 cups, it has generous capacity.

What is the downside? The downside is that our pitcher was bought somewhere around 2002. It just seems gross. Nothing you can point to, but after 15 years, it was time to replace it.

But I couldn’t. Because they don’t make our model anymore. The new standard ones are only 10 cups. With five family members, that’s not enough. There is a bigger model, but it’s more of a fishtank, takes up far too much room. I literally spent months trying to find a 12-cup model. I even called Brita headquarters (they were very understanding and polite). Finally I folded and bought their newer standard version.

I’m glad I did. It’s wonderful. Here’s a product that gets it right.

  • It pours smoothly, and is easy to aim.
  • It holds just as much. I don’t understand how this can be. It is clearly 10 cups compared to 12 cups we used to have, but somehow it has just as much. I believe this is because the ‘lower’ section of filtered water is bigger. The 2 cup difference was mostly in the top half, unfiltered water.
  • It refills incredibly smoothly. In previous versions, you removed the entire cover or pulled up a flap to reveal an opening. No more. Now you simply pour directly onto the top. The water pressure pushes that hinged area down so the water goes into the pitcher. Better yet, as the jug fills the buoyancy of the water gradually closes the flap (similar to a toilet floater). It’s an incredibly elegant solution. The user never needs to touch anything but the water handle. Whoever designed this should be richly compensated.


Three cheers for the new Brita water pitcher!

As requested, here is an explanatory video.

LinkedIn Weirdness

Linkedin has large elements of a social media platform. I was advised that liking and commenting on others folks posts would elevate my own profile, and I should also write papers and contribute original content.

They were right. Consider this graph. A few weeks ago, I started actively liking and commenting. Last week, I posted about Tom Brady and analytics.

Search Trend on LinkedIn

Those searches include recruiters who are suddenly picking up the phone and calling. This is a real world outcome. You would think a recruiter would just want to see the most qualified candidate, but the platform biases them towards candidates who do stuff on Linkedin. Weird!

player game

More of “our” Blogs (Cross-Promotion)

Many of the readers of this blog (okay, just about all the readers) are personally known to me. Since we all know one another, here are a few other blogs run by ‘us’. The only thing we all have in common is low readership and infrequent posting, so get in there and inspire the authors to write more often.

  • Sidney VanNess: Sid was kind enough to host Muttroxia for its first ten years or so. He has just started his own blog (inspired by Muttroxia?). It’s too early to say what it’s about yet, but it is bound to be insightful and entertaining, like Sid himself.
  • Montyland (Steve Montagna): Steve is an old school mate, much like Muttroxia he writes about whatever he feels like with no particular center. Somewhat of an outrage valve, so a fair amount on gun violence and the GOP.
  • Attention Deficit Delirium (Bryan Reesman): Almost forgot him…. unlike these other blogs, Bryan has actually made a successful career out of the content, reviewing and writing about music. His site hasn’t been updated for a while, he’s probably too busy with actual paying gigs.
  • Pete Tao: Another old school chum, Pete puts out smart postings on the business of real estate, centered in San Francisco area. I’m waiting for his musings on the Celtics, The Cars, and Fantasy Football.
  • You may also like… (Steve Robinson): Steve and I worked together in many roles over the years. This blog is for his thoughts on Decision Support. As a leader in technology, analytics, business intelligence, data science, and many other related buzzword disciplines, each post will leave you smarter.

Odds of Trump Collusion (Predicting Muellers Findings), + 4 months

To end 2017, I predicted the results of Mueller investigation. Four months later, new angles and findings are coming out every week. Overall, I think those predictions are holding up well. People in Trumps close orbit were guilty as sin. They worked with the Russians and betrayed America. Trump himself is a dupe and a moron, but unlikely to have colluded. If he had underhanded relations with the Russians, it was about his business interests.

I stand by the outcome predictions as well. No matter what Mueller finds, there will be no serious impeachment hearings. I believe Lindsey Graham is the sole GOP Congressman not retiring/dying to state any kind of limits on Trump.

Book Recommendations #4

We haven’t done of one of these for a long time, this list has been percolating in the background for years while Muttroxia was on the shelf. There are so many good ones missing… I’m bad at book reviews, so just plug in “It was awesome!” for all of these.

Science-Fiction (or Fantasy)

    • Story of your life (and others), by Ted Chaing: For years, I’ve been told to read Ted Chiang. I finally did. These stories are wonderful at taking hard science ideas and applying them in unusual ways.
    • The three body problem trilogy, by Cixin Liu: This is by a Chinese-Chinese (not Chinese-American) author, it has been translated to English. Big ideas done well, this trilogy won pretty much every award they got. The first volume will particularly blow your mind.

three body problem

    • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke: I can’t wait until I have forgotten most of this book, so I can reread it. There is swords and sorcery, and then there are books like this. Placed in the very realistic world of Victorian England, what if faerie is real, what if magic is real (but very rare), how does that play out? Delightfully literate and mind-bending.
    • The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern: Much like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in tone, but with a more surreal atmosphere, and shorter. I read this while on a Disney World trip and spent more time with my nose in the book than anything else that weeek.


  • SevenEves, by Neal Stephenson: Neal Stephenson is a category unto himself. All his books are great, some of them are truly remarkable, this is one of the remarkable ones. Recommended by Bill Gates and all thinking humans, go get a copy and dig in. After that read The Crytponomican and the Baroque Cycle.


    • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain: Cited by many, this follows American soliders on break from Iraq, as they are brought out to be honored during a Dallas Cowboys game. Alternately funny and serious, it mostly feels real even as it clearly isn’t. This was made into a movie sometime in the last few years.
    • Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
    • The Fault in our Stars, by Josh Green: Have you seen the movie already? I don’t care if it’s kids fiction or teen angst fiction or whatever they call it. It’s a great story, great characters, well told.
    • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff: It will stay with you for a long time after you read it.
    • All the Light we Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr: I resisted reading this because the description seemed so dumb. In the WWII era, it follows a young German as he becomes a SS officer, and a young blind girl, and how their stories gradually overlap. Whoopee. But the book is wonderful, gorgeous language, wonderful imagery and a plot that’s well grounded in reality.
    • A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles: Our book group was unanimously in love with this book. Any description won’t do it justice. Go read it. Marvelous!



    • Pre-suasion, Robert Cianaldi:
    • Best know for his classic book Influence, Cianaldi returns with this very readable overview of how we are convinced. As clear as a Malcolm Gladwell book but with more science.

    • The Second Machine Age (by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee):
    • They are not the only ones to draw the analogy between the inventions of fire, bronze, etc. to how the Industrial age changed the world, to the age we are in now. What is unusual is how cutting edge the information is, how broad the scope, and how well they walk through some of the economic implications. If you as a parent have ever wondered what education is most likely to ‘hold up’ in the information age, this is mandatory reading.


  • Sapiens (A Brief History of Humankind), by Yuval Noah Harari: You want big scope, you got it. Just about every page in the first few section will take your understanding of the world and rearrange it before blowing it up. Another favorite from Bill Gates, it gets weaker as it moves toward the current day and beyond, but much like Gun Germs and Steel, he is such a master at putting together eclectic disciplines to support his argument it’s hard to know exactly how to object. A tour de force.
  • What it Takes by Ben Richard Cramer: It’s an old book. Cramer follows several candidates for the 1988 Presidential Election. Following them all the way from their life story to their decision to run to their eventual defeat (except Bush of course). What separates it is two things. One, the incredible portrait drawn for each candidate. Two, the feeling of being there in a campaign. What does it take to be president – what sort of person, what sort of strategy, what sort of everything. You’ll never look at another campaign the same way.

Previous book recommendations:

Chinese Food Delivery Economics: A Puzzle

Consider the following menu (from our default Chinese dining choice). Consider the incentives on that recurring question, “Should we pick-up or get it delivered?”.

Delivery Menu

The puzzle is this. Getting the food delivered is higher cost to the restaurant. They have to hire a driver to support delivery. There is no additional revenue, nothing but more cost. And yet, they reward that behavior with additional free food. Why? All it does is make me want to have them do more work for more cost to them. They won’t budge on this policy. I pointed out these perverse incentives to them and got nowhere, all the time feeling like I was Larry David getting angrier and angrier at the stupidity of the world.

Why do they have this system? After years of intermittent noodling on this, I believe I understand. Do you have an answer? Mine is below.

Show Answers

Best Cover Versions of “Africa” (by Toto)

What a wonderful song this is, eh? I’m not the only one who thinks so. Much like Yesterday or Hallelujah, everyone wants to take a crack at covering it. Here are three of my favorite versions.

Mike Masse and Jeff Hall: This duo has several great covers, getting a lot out of two instruments and beautiful vocal harmonies. As a sidenote, how impressive is Google? I found this quickly by searching on “africa cover those two old guys at a bar”.

Andy McKee: I have several of his tracks. It is important to note, this does not have any overdubs. He does it all with two-handed tapping, harmonics, and all around skill.

Angel City Chorale: If you watch only one of these videos, make it this one. I have no idea what the Angel City Chorale is, but I love ‘em. Inventive, joyous, filled with power, it just nails it. Try playing this for someone without telling them what song it is first. I guarantee you’ll get a big smile out of them when the vocals hit and they’ll stay until the end.

Readers, do you have any others?

Bad Game Theory in the NBA

“He’s got two fouls in the first quarter, he’s going to the bench.”
“They are taking a risk starting him in the second half, he’s already in foul trouble with three”

I don’t know a single NBA team that deals with “foul trouble” correctly. The correct approach is to mostly ignore it.

The logic is simple. Leaving a player in who has foul trouble might result in them fouling out. That is bad. But then again, it might not result in them fouling out. When you take your player out of the game, they are for sure 100% out of the game. To take your player out of the game in case they might get taken out of the game later… it’s nonsense.

“You want that player in the final two minutes.” Erm… maybe. A basket is a basket, and it counts the same no matter when it is scored. There might be some legitimacy here. But again, taking a player out of the game for sure so that there is a chance that they might play those same minutes and at a more important time seems like a poor gamble.

This approach shouldn’t be absolutist. If my star player picks up four fouls in the first five minutes, then they should probably have the rest of their time allocated more conservatively. Right now though, the pendulum is in a crazy place and needs to swing back to letting players play. Much as NFL teams have been gradually getting more aggressive with ‘going for it’ on 4th down, the NBA should take a lesson from them and be more aggressive about letting their player stay in.

I can’t find stats about how fouling out trends, but in 2010, another writer saw the trend, and came to the same conclusions
(coaches are wusses).

(Here is a reddit discussion with some others answers I find unconvincing.)

And because Draymond Green is a jerk, here’s one of him getting it also.

Hurray for *not* attacking Trump

Democrats like Conor Lamb and Doug Jones (over Roy Moore) are winning deep in “Trump Country” without talking a lot about Trump. They are talking about local issues. They are spending less time attacking Trump and more time talking about what they would do. They are not coming from the Bernie Sanders wing, they are coming more from the center, and often have positions at odds with the center of the left. The GOP was wildly exaggerating to claim that Conor Lamb won because he was a Democrat in Republican clothing, but the exaggeration has some truth. Around the country, Democrats are running candidates with strong military backgrounds and candidates who own and shoot guns.

This is a good thing. The country needs less partisan ideologues on both sides. The country needs less nutjobs blowing up America to get their party a slightly bigger portion of the leftover scraps. The country needs more people who defy stereotypes of a typical Republican or typical Democrat. The country needs less of each party making a name by blindly supporting/attacking the President. The country needs more people who represent the people of their district/state as well as their national party.

So a big Muttrox hurray for candidates who simply represent their own district.

Tom Brady on Analytics

While watching the excellent Tom vs. Time documentary, I was startled to find that Tom “gets it” with analytics. He really is the greatest of all time! I have been parts of lots of analytics projects and work that don’t result in any real-world application. Analytics is a means to end. If it’s not usable, don’t bother doing it.

This is exactly where businesses struggle. They have incredible amounts of data. They have a team of bright young gearheads. But somehow they can’t leverage all that the way they want. That’s where folks like me come in, to bring the data to life and get real value out of it.

I apologize for the brief digression to my professional life, we now return to your normally scheduled blog posts of Trump, the NBA, and 50-year old music.

Why Don’t Any Prominent Republicans Defy Trump?

I don’t get it.

Let’s take it as a given that everyone in Congress sees that Trump is unfit for office on multiple levels. They see and understand the real threat he poses for American democracy. None speak out. The only ones who have are a few retiring Senators (Corker, McCain, Flake).

Why none others? The most common explanation is that he is delivering on the major policies goals of the GOP. He is all-in with transferring wealth and power to the rich on multiple levels, and… well, you don’t need anymore. Whatever other heresies he may commit, that is the sine qua non of the modern Republican party. And he has done well with those goals. So why defy him.

And yet. The first senator to actively speak out against Trump will likely be rewarded. Trumps approval ratings are in the toilet, and even within the GOP he is not particularly popular. Particularly if a group of Senators (and/or Representatives) take an active opposition against him, they are likely to be catapulted up to national prominence.

Perhaps not. Perhaps they will simply be ground into dust by the Trump and Fox machine. But from a game theory standpoint, the reward is surely worth the risk. Going into 2020 as the opposition to Trump, from within the GOP, is a good place to be. It is not a sure winner, but it is a good shot at winning. That person would also be getting support throughout from Democrats and Independents who are desperate to see the anti-Trump movement get some legs. Even if they lose, they will have speaking fees and book sales for the rest of their life.

It seems like a good gamble. Forget policy and morals, from a strictly greedy venal game theory perspective, there should be a few Senators within the GOP looking to make their bones by resisting Trump. So why hasn’t it happened?

“Please listen to these choices carefully, as our menu has recently changed”

Dear voice tree programmers: Stop this. Just stop it now.

  1. No one memorizes the numbers. When someone calls, they listen to the choices, they pick the one and proceed. No one dials the main number, then quickly starts punching in “3-7-*”.
  2. Even if that’s wrong and people do memorize the sequence, it’s not a big deal. The cost of making a mistake is simply trying again. Or hitting zero.
  3. The cost of this message on the other hand is a few seconds multiplied times a number with lots of zeros. Every single person, every single call, every single time.
  4. Your menu hasn’t recently changed. It changed a long time ago. I don’t know your business, but I know this. You made the changes and it was a big deal for you, but no one else noticed or cares. And they shouldn’t. Well designed products don’t need to be explained.

Would you like to do something productive? Figure out a way for me to reach a human being more effectively. You can usually say, “Human. Representative. Operator. Help,” hit zero a few times, and one of those will trigger the system to find a human.

Some places with complicated backends try harder. They ask you to explain what you need so they can get you to the right department. That seems like a good thing, right? Except for that it demands more voice recognition and matching to pre-set phrases. If your need was standard though, you wouldn’t have tried to get a human. It is easy to get caught in loops where it doesn’t know what you want and keeps returning you to the top of the tree to try again. Cut it out. If I need a human, select a default choice that the system will point to if it can’t figure out what I want.