Saturday 22 August 2015

Gaming the dinner

In the early 90s, I was post-docing in TCD in O'Hara's the old Genetics Building.  There were two damn-smart graduate students working in the same group who are now a Professor in Manchester and Project Manager at Oxford.  We all worked all the hours that the gods sent and the lads would often go to the café across the street for their dinner before it closed at 7pm. As the last of the "starving" variety of graduate students, before that animal was replaced by the casual-affluent grad-studs of the Tiger Years, it was important to get value for their limited money. One of these chaps discovered that if you ignored the tum-filling menu-item "Lasagna with chips" and asked for "Lasagna" with a side order of chips you could get the same amount of food, or even a little more and save £1.

Interns are the new graduate student. Youngsters with oomph sign up with Megacorp or a political party or in a professional office to "gain experience" while working for nothing-or-buttons. Some interns aka work-experience personnel are a burden: you have to allocate one of your effectives to train the intern up which seems to take an unconscionable long time. How long can it take to work out how to do back-to-back photocopies??  In other cases, it's a dream: girl turns up with a sunny disposition, is quick on the uptake, does whatever you ask and soon enough is suggesting ways to make the process more efficient. The custom nowadays is that neither sort of intern expects to get paid, so they have to mind their money while they work off-stage hoping for an opening.

Dylan Grosz is/was in intern at with a penchant for burritos. He carried out a controlled experiment to see how he could get the biggest burrito for his bucks in Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. [L for normal size and shameless plug for the company]. It's the Lasagna . . . with Chips story gamed to the max . . . and duly measured, recorded and compared. If you ask for half chicken & half beef + half pinto & half black beans + half white & half brown rice then you get as much as 86% extra food for the same price.  Well strictly, you only crank it up to 86% extra if you demand all the 'freebies' at the very end of your order: a generous handful of "fajita-veggies" and "grilled corn" is colorful, crunchy, 'free' and good for the bowel.  What happens is that the counter staff can't easily make a half portion so they throw in a short portion of maybe 75% of the standard amount. A fully extra'd burrito amounts to 900g (= 2 lb) of food wrapped up in tin-foil. That's a lot to carry let alone eat, so be sure to take a wheel-barrow when you go for lunch. The joy with which young Dylan reports putting one over on Chipotle w.r.t. the free stuff makes me wonder why he doesn't snag a few ounces of sugar sachets and non-dairy creamer on his way out and add that to the mix.

Back in the 90s, those two graduate students followed the boss to England when he got his own Chair in one of the UK Universities. I stayed behind to set up some bioinformatics infrastructure for the country.  Part of that infrastructure was the mother of all computers which was delivered in a van-load of cardboard boxes.  I was too technophobic to wade in and set up the hardware, the firmware, the software, the databases and the first users, so I asked one of the young chaps, let's call him Speedo, to come back for a month's consultancy and £1,000 to help me put the show on the road to the frontiers of science. I called him Speedo because he was so quick and confident of his own ability. After watching over his shoulder as he carried out some frightening elaborate and brain-melting task, I balled up my fan-knickers and threw out "Jaysus, Speedo, how come you're so clever."  He replied "You think this is clever? You should have seen me before I went to college, I was really smart when I left high-school."  It turned out that in the freedom and lack of oversight of being a student he started a social drinking lifestyle that he soon parlayed into a 'bottle a day".  "Bottle of beer?", I asked. "Bottle of vodka", he replied. While most of us have a million neurons die all through our adult life; Speedo was wasting about 10 million a day for several years. Let that be a lesson to you: sometimes Less is More . . . both for burritos [obesity] and booze [cirrhosis].

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