Should you move down to a better seat?

It’s a question that theatre goers and sports fans have asked themselves for years. There’s a better seat over there. Why don’t we move down to it? What’s the harm.

We saw this happen several times at Saturday’s Argos/Redblacks game. For once we had pretty good seats, in the sixth row near the center of the field behind the Ottawa bench, and admittedly there were quite a few empty seats in the area (which is a problem that’s very hard to solve, apparently, but I am going to keep going to Argo games until this works!)

And quite a few people snuck down to our section – and a BMO staff person was politely shooing them away. Many were, I think, parents of the large dance group that was performing at halftime – and the staffer asked them to come back when halftime started when a lot of people leave anyway, just not right now while the game’s still on – but some were just fans wanting a better view than the one they’d paid for. I don’t envy the BMO staffer having to be the heavy, but they have a job to do.

So should you move down?


Well, let me modify that. You could try, but if someone calls you out on it, you should move back to your original seat.

It seems tempting, doesn’t it. What’s the harm if I sit in that unoccupied seat?

This is strong language, but you are cheating and stealing from the team if you do that.

Try this the next time you’re on an airplane. Can I sit in that empty business class seat? We’re all flying to the same place. It’s going to take the same amount of fuel whether I sit in the back or not. Forget the fancy meal, I just want to sit here. Can I? I suspect they’d say “no.”

People often wonder why a team with lots of empty seats doesn’t give away a billion free tickets either. Both things have the same answer: It cheapens the product. If people know they can pay $20 for a cheap seat and move to a $90 expensive seat later, why would they buy an expensive seat? Or why wouldn’t they just wait for a free ticket? You’re sending the message that the experience is only worth $20 or less.

It’s bad for business, IMHO, and we all want our team to succeed, we need all the seats filled with paying customers.

Randy Cohen, the former New York Times Ethicist columnist, wrote about this years ago. I like Randy – former Letterman writer – and I bought his books, but I think he’s wrong. (He was also wrong about whether you should recline your seat on the airplane, but I think I straightened him out on that one.)

Seeing the unusual sights of New Mexico

Business took me to Albuquerque this week and I made great use of one of my favourite apps – Roadside America.

Roadside America screenshot

This app shows you various strange and unusual tourist attractions near where you are right now, and it has been great fun using it in my travels and seeking out an interesting spot.

(Once while in Bangor, Maine, the app directed me to Stephen King’s house, which looks exactly like you’d think Stephen King’s house would look. Another time it directed me to a piece of the Berlin Wall just steps away from where I was in Hawaii.)

So I gave it a shot here in New Mexico today and I am very pleased to give this brief report on four different sites it recommended.

One of the recommended sites you’ll see on that list was a place that sells blue candy which was actually used as a prop representing Crystal Meth in Breaking Bad… I’m sure that might cause a few questions from the TSA or Canada Customs so I decided to skip that one.

The Birthplace of Microsoft


Microsoft got its start in Albuquerque in 1975 in this very unassuming strip mall, and there’s a historic plaque on site. What ever happened to that company? You don’t hear much about them any more.

Walter and Skyler White’s House

Breaking Bad house

Fans of Breaking Bad will surely recognize this house.

The current owners have put a fence around it since the show was filmed, removed pizza from the roof, and there’s a sign saying “Take your picture from across the street. Do Not Disturb Us.” I did, I hope I didn’t.

The Singing Road

Amazing. A stretch of historic Route 66 / Highway 333 with grooves cut in the pavement so that your tires play an excerpt from America the Beautiful as you drive over. Apparently this was built by National Geographic, of all people, in 2014 but the signs pointing it out seem to have been removed, and the sound was pretty quiet and I only heard a few bars, which makes me wonder if the thing is wearing out and needs to be refreshed.

It’s still wonderful though and you can hear a fragment of the tune at about 0:35 in this video I took, and before you jump all over me, no, I wasn’t holding my phone while I was driving.

More places should have this. I want highways entering Ontario to play Ontari-ari-ari-o.

another version of America The Beautiful

I love the Singing Road version, and I’m torn about whether it is now my favourite setting of that wonderful song. It is hard to top this one:

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Truth or Consequences, NM

I’ve always wanted to visit here! The town of Hot Springs, New Mexico, was persuaded by Ralph Edwards, host of the radio (and later TV) show Truth or Consequences, to change its name and in return, the show broadcast an episode from there. And Ralph Edwards even returned to the town’s annual Fiesta every May for 50 years.

We used to watch the TV show with Bob Barker. (If you never saw it, the general schtick was that you would be asked some dumb riddle, and if you didn’t tell the Truth (which you never did), you’d have to pay the Consequences (undertake some stunt.)

I imagine not many other towns tried this; at the very least I haven’t been to Deal Or No Deal, Manitoba or The $100,000 Pyramid, Pennsylvania but maybe they’re out there.

You should totally get the app. What will it steer you to on your next trip?

On the seventh Date of Christmas, my true love saw with me: Judy

We’ve got some catching up to do on this amazing Christmas 2018 gift where Cathy promises to see one movie every month with me with “no whining.” So on Saturday, off we went to see the Judy Garland biopic Judy, starring a very convincing Renée Zellwegger.


So here’s a brief review.

A) Renee Zelwegger is VERY convincing and I’m sure she’ll get nominated for whatever the awards are.

B) I am not convinced that the onstage band is actually playing the arrangement we’re hearing. This is a risk when you have violins and trombones on stage. We can tell by the way their arms are moving whether they’re faking.

C) Here’s a crazy idea. How about a movie about a famous musician who did NOT have a difficult and depressing life? After learning about Freddy Mercury and Elton John and Don Shirley during this journey, I’m ready for a great story about a musician who had a happy childhood, worked hard and became a success without alienating everybody or turning to drugs.

Hmm. Maybe we need an Anne Murray movie next.

bonus live theatre – The Band’s Visit

The following day we went to the Ed Mirvish Theatre to see the Tony Award winning musical The Band’s Visit. I had offered to Cathy that – given the price of the tickets – maybe this could count for the July/August/September movies that she still owes me, but she graciously declined, meaning we still have some movie catching up to do.

I loved this musical.
I loved the original film, and this production included Sasson Gabay reprising his role as the leader of the Alexandria Police Ceremonial Orchestra who wind up in the wrong small town in Egypt.

It’s the story of a talented group of musicians who think they are bringing culture to a sophisticated place, only to discover they are among a group of dullards in an exceedingly boring backwater town. No, wait, that was the last time Argonotes visited Hamilton.

It was a great musical on a small scale, that I enjoyed much more than many of the huge productions we’ve seen lately.

And since we were in row 4, I had a pretty good opportunity to decide if the on-stage musicians were actually playing.

I’m suspicious about one clarinetist, but everybody else was playing, even the trumpet player although he barely new enough of a scale to play the opening part of My Funny Valentine, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he’d taken trumpet lessons just for this show.

I’m excited about seeing The Music Man on Broadway starring Hugh Jackman in 2020! THEY better be playing, although it will be very hard to top this 2000 Broadway production where the entire cast learned enough trombone to make for a spectacular encore:

Stupid interview puzzles

My high school friend Gary pointed out an interesting article — Elon Musk asks this tricky interview question that most people can’t answer — about Elon Musk and his hiring techniques at SpaceX, which got me wondering about this popular idea of challenging job applicants to solve the interviewer’s favourite puzzle.

Briefly, Musk asks people this question when hiring –

the puzzle

“You’re standing on the surface of the Earth. You walk one mile south, one mile west and one mile north. You end up exactly where you started. Where are you?”

and in the article above they even have a video where they ask people in the street this question.

one answer

One answer, and by far the most common one, is The north pole. If you’re at the north pole and you walk a mile south, and a mile west, and a mile north, then you’re back at the North Pole.

another answer


Musk then asks, Where else could it be? and apparently sits back and waits for you to come up with another possibility, namely at a point near the South Pole. If you are just a wee bit north of the south pole, then you can hike one mile west in a perfect one-mile-circumference circle around the pole and be back where you started. Any point one mile north of this circle would be another answer.

The article says –

Once the applicant arrives at this answer, Musk then asks, “Where else could it be?” A second answer to the puzzle is near the South Pole, where the Earth has a one mile circumference. You’ll walk one mile south to reach this circle, trace that mile-long circle’s path, and return one mile north to your starting point. Fewer engineers give this answer, according to Vance.

Like this helpful not-to-scale diagram I just whipped up.

If you want to get all mathie here, a path of circumference 1 mile would have a radius of 1/(2π) miles, so starting at a point of 1 + 1/(2π) miles north of the pole would be an acceptable answer to this puzzle.

Of course that’s not just one point. ANY point on the circle 1 + 1/(2π) ~= 1.16 miles north of the south pole is an answer.

the discussion

“Fewer engineers give this answer”, the article says, and it continues to say…

Luckily for his applicants, Musk doesn’t place much emphasis on whether applicants give the right answer, explains the author. Instead, he uses their response to analyze how they process information and approach problem solving.

Given SpaceX’s mission, to send humans to Mars, employees must be able to reason their way through problems and find novel solutions.

here’s what bugs me

You know what, Elon, there are even more answers to this puzzle. What if, in walking west, you went twice around the south pole, along a circle of circumference 1/2 mile, with radius 1/(4π)? So now any point 1 + 1/(4π) ~= 1.08 miles north of the south pole is ALSO a legitimate answer.

Or if you went three times around the south pole, circumference 1/3 mile, radius 1/(6π) ? Any point 1 + 1/(6π) miles north of the south pole is ANOTHER answer. And so on.

So there are even more answers than Elon Musk, in his wisdom, is looking for.

what are we measuring here?

I suspect that interviewers, including Elon Musk, think that a puzzle like this is measuring the applicant’s problem solving ability.

I think it’s actually measuring whether the applicant has heard of this puzzle and its answers before. There are widely publicized lists of trick interview questions and answers like this, where the goal is to come up with the clever answer the interviewer wants.

Here’s a book full of interview puzzles that I enjoyed –

How Would You Move Mount Fuji?: Microsoft’s Cult of the Puzzle — How the World’s Smartest Companies Select the Most Creative Thinkers

back in my day

It would not surprise you to know that I was on the Math Team in high school.

Once a month or so, every high school in the city would send a five person team to my school, London Central, and we’d do problems in the cafeteria and declare a winner.

Central did pretty well when I was on the team.

I thought I might carry this secret to my grave, but I’ll spill the beans here: one reason we did well was because the organizer of the contests was a teacher at our school, and he happened to go to the school library to consult books of puzzles to come up with the questions for the contest.

all of which I had previously read. multiple times. I loved those puzzle books. No wonder Central usually won these contests.