*נכנס יין יצא סוד

I’ve been a relatively temperate wine aficionado for several years, but only developed the taste after starting to keep kosher. I initially liked the sweeter wines – like Baron Herzog’s white zinfandel (whose label boasts “hints of cotton candy”) or the assorted moscato d’astis (closer to a wine cooler than they are to champagne). Eventually I graduated up to a more complex palate (i.e. wine that is good with dinner rather than dessert), and have preferred a nice dry red wine (preferably pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, or tempranillo varietals or blends) over the alternatives.

For a few years, there was a small not-quite-synagogue-based wine club – we jokingly styled ourselves the “Georgetown society for the promotion of inebriation” and would have blind tastings. The person who could identify the most wines was the winner, who received the acclaim of the rest and then had to host the next tasting. Oodles of fun, but eventually things changed – Sarah stopped drinking alcohol, so these events got a lot less pleasant for her, and some of the regulars moved away, so the whole thing basically petered out.

So I’ve settled down into a nice comfy rhythm involving inexpensive table wines. But then a friend of mine who was a wine guy from before he kept kosher told me that he was on a quest for a non-mevushal Bordeaux. I had encountered plenty of mevushal ones, and they were pretty good to my uncultured palate, but his opinion was that the heating process wrecked the delicate balance of the flavors, rendering those wines more disappointing than not.

So this piqued my curiosity, and I set about looking for non-mevushal Bordeaux wines, and I found a few. Most were out of my price range by a factor of 2-3, but one happened to be below $20: the Château La Chèze 2002 was around $19, so I got a few bottles. I now see what this friend was talking about: this Bordeaux is vastly more complex and delicate than the mevushal varieties that I’ve tried, and it was an absolute delight. I don’t have an educated enough palate to even know what all of the words the wine people use mean, but this seemed to change flavor both between sips, and also while it was on my tongue. If a good pinot noir were Newtonian physics, then this is quantum electrodynamics.

I suspect that more of this will be in my future.

*Eruvin 65a – “wine comes in, and a secret departs”



There have been several articles in the last few months written about how the dc metro (WMATA) employees have been working a bunch of 16-hour days with no breaks in-between. This is said to contribute to mistakes, bidget overruns, and dangerous safety problems.

In a statement in today’s examiner WMATA representatives said that they will phase in a maximum 14-hour day in 2014 (!)

I think that there may be an easier, quicker way to fix this problem. Currently, WMATA employee pensions are based on the 3 highest gross earning years. Given that the employees are hourly, and this overtime boosts their gross earnings, that tremendously increases the pension burden which WMATA has.

I think that this problem with overtime is pretty predictable with these incentives: work like a sled dog for three years and your pension payouts for the rest of your life increase dramatically. I know that •I• would do that.

So here’s a thought for the negotiations next time: make pensions based on the 3-years highest •salary• rather than the gross. This would reduce some of the financial incentive and burden of overtime, while still giving OT pay to the people working it in a given year. It would also mean (and this is the salient point) that a surprise need for OT work (say, repairing after an earthquake) would only hurt the immediate year’s budget, rather than incentivizing the managers to externalize the cost onto future years. Finally, it would mean that WMATA would find itself forced to hire more employees, which is good for the agency (in terms of shared knowledge and experience), good for the union (more members), and good for the area (more jobs).

So given that this both tastes great and is less filling, what’s the over/under on this approach being considered, let alone selected?

Complexity lishmah

I have seen several styles of queueing in practice recently.

Trader Joe’s in dc has a long snaking line feeding a whole bunch of register in a strictly FIFO manner. An employee stands between the registers and directs customers to the next open register.

Safeway has a traditional grocery store model, where there are lots of independent queues, with a few express lines as well.

CVS has almost entirely switched over to a small number of self-checkout kiosks. There is no real concept of queueing- people gather in a bunch and self-organize who’s next. This reminds me of “lines” that I saw in Israel.

Costco has a bunch of independent queues, but has no express lanes (besides, who goes to Costco for fewer than 10 items anyway?)

So these are over the place – it should be obvious that FIFO will on be the best strategy (i.e. have the shortest average wait time) while Safeway offers the highest throughput priority queue (which it achieves by reducing the number of queues available to non-priority customers, and thereby both increasing the average wait and increasing the speed differential between the priority and regular queues).

The CVS approach is a random lottery: there’s no way to predict all of the possible situations, and the efficiency loss is a greater than linear function of the number of people present (think CSMA/CD in a half-duplex environment).

And of course the Costco approach is the most familiar: its average wait will be a little bit better than Safeway, but the range of wait times will be larger than that of the non-priority queue at Safeway.

And now I’ve seen something new: the new Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom has a queueing strategy I’ve never seen in a store before. There are a variable number of lanes which are drained in a not-quite round-robin fashion, and they are drained to a common pool of tellers. The draining process causes a fair amount of confusion as people are sent to registers variable distances from the queueing line. The confusion increases when multiple lanes are drained at the same time.

My gut reaction to it is that it’s needlessly complex- it’s esoteric for it’s own sake, like much modern art and architecture. I prefer simple to complex as a general rule, which is part of why I am skeptical of technocratic social engineering and the like. Gears and other simple machines let you move power from one place to another, but even the best machines lose work to friction.

Anyway, given that the WF approach does not differentiate between the lanes, I’ve had a hard time understanding why they wouldn’t be better off with a strict FIFO line. I still don’t understand it, but my theory is that the WF designers thought that the psychological problem of equal queues (I always get the slow line) was better than the psychological effect of the snaking FIFO line. I’ve heard a tremendous number of people complain about the length of the TJ’s line, even though they’ll get through it faster than any other type, so perhaps WF has a point.

As for me, I’d take FIFO any day- it’s a truly fair approach to queueing, and is a maximally efficient use of resources, and that appeals to my conservationist (née hippy) side.