Monday, May 16, 2011

Book priced at $23,698,655.93 on Amazon

A post on Michael Eisen's blog about genomes on 22 April 2011.

An unusual but great example of the potential pitfalls of automation.

Michael wanted to buy a book by Peter Lawrence called The Making of a Fly. He went onto Amazon. Although it was out of print 17 copies were listed for sale: 15 used from $35.54, and 2 new from $1,730,045.91 (+$3.99 shipping).

Michael knew the price of over a million dollars had to be wrong, but he was quite sure it was from legitimate sellers. However, he was even more surprised when the next time he looked the price was nearly $2.8 million. The price peaked on 18 April 2011 at $23,698,655.93 (plus $3.99 shipping).

The explanation is as follows (taken from The Risks Digest)

* Seller A didn't really have the book, but planned to buy it from
Seller B if someone placed an order. They had a better feedback
record than B, so someone might buy it from A even at a higher
price, and had programmed their price to be 27.0589% higher than A's,
so they'd make a profit.

* Seller B, meanwhile, was trying to ensure they just barely had the
lowest price, and had programmed their price to be 0.17% lower than
their competition.

* Both prices were updated automatically once a day—thus rising
exponentially until somebody noticed.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Make Them Uncomfortable (Avoiding Complacency)

Article from Aviation Week by Heather Baldwin on 11 May 2011

Complacency occurs when people become comfortable in their jobs and begin taking shortcuts, such as not using checklists or using an out-of-date tool rather than making the trek to get a serviceable replacement. It spreads because see someone taking a short cut and think they can get away with it.

Complacency is most likely to occur in job that require repetition. Maintenance technicians are particularly vulnerable because they are often performing similar tasks and end up working in automatic. This narrows their focus and leads to a loss of situational awareness. It is a classic example of where lots of training and experiences leads to problems.

According to Dr. Terry Tolleson of Blue Tuna Training and Documentation "It’s not about skill level; it’s about mental attentiveness." When you’ve done something again and again, "There is a tendency to see what you expect to see." This can lead to very serious errors.

Complacency is one of the harder problems to identify because it is intangible. But there can be warning signs including people not following their own manuals, not completing documentation as it should be and shelf-life sensitive items not being managed in a shop.

Technician workload can have a big influence. Mental underloading and mental overloading can both lead to complacency. Keeping people mentally stimulated but not overloaded is important. Also, creating professional development plans that continually challenge people with new responsibilities and new skill development opportunities. In other words, getting people out of their comfort zone.

Talking about complacency can help.