Silly statistical shenanigans in the drive-thru

As a close friend and former roommate of a QSR (quick service restaurant or “fast food”) crew member and manager, this one strikes a special chord with me.

Consumerist.com reports on a really stupid pet trick being pulled by some QSR drive-thru workers. They are asking customers to back up and pull forward to restart the speed of service timer. A very low-tech and suspicious method of gaming the system.

The article does mention the prospect of in turn gaming the drive-thru jockeys out of free fries or similar such things. I find it difficult to take a real stance on the ethics of such a manuever. Hopefully, it will not matter soon; I am aware that at least Taco Bell, and possibly all other Yum! Brands QSRs (KFC, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver’s, A&W) have an amount display set up below the drive-thru window, which assumably cycles through to the next customer when “cheated” in such a fashion. I’m wondering why Burger King et al don’t adopt similar technology to squash this type of statistical shenanigans.

If the numbers are to matter, if the management of a QSR actually gives a damn about real speed of service and not just making the numbers look good to the next higher manager, this type of cheating needs to be dealt with by termination, first time, no exceptions.

And to the workers resorting to this in a vain attempt to save their jobs: If you can’t stay up to speed, stay out of the kitchen.

Is new technology in sports cheating?

While browsing recently I happened to find a very insightful article about sports and technology. Several major sports are referenced including golf, swimming, and tennis.

Of particular note is a quote from Martina Navartilova:

To me, using “illegal” equipment is the same as cheating with performance-enhancing drugs.

Or, put another way, cheating is cheating, whether with drugs or equipment. Navartilova’s reference to what would happen if we allowed major league baseball players to use graphite bats really brings it home. The technology is there, but allowing it would completely change the sport. Heck, we may as well not call it baseball anymore; it would make more sense to just rename the sport “Gone Home Run” because that’s what it would become.

Make no mistake about it: I am a fan of technological advances. I have posted on Twitter at least once how little I will miss CRT-based monitors, film, and magnetic tape-based media. (That could probably be extended to magnetic floppy disks as well.) There is, however, a very thin line between new world records set by performance of the athlete(s), and a new world record set simply because the technology which allowed it has only now become viable.

I don’t follow every sport; however, I do understand what Gary Hall Jr. is saying when he refers to times in swimming being measured in hundredths of a second, because races and world records used to be decided by those kind of time margins. When new world records in swimming are set by a difference of whole seconds in the past four years, you can’t tell me that it’s just the athletes that made it happen.

Is there really a difference between beating a world record by four seconds with steroids, or beating a world record by four seconds with a new swimsuit that simply didn’t exist five years ago?