The tempest of a teapot

If you read my column regularly, by now you know that I enjoy a cup of tea. My tastes in tea run to classic Chinese varieties like Oolong and Pu’er, and I can joyfully spend an hour or two exploring new varieties of fine tea.

Teapots, on the other hand, are a source of disappointment, specifically, the way so many of them “dribble” instead of “pour.” The function of a teapot is simply stated: a water-tight receptacle for brewing and neatly pouring tea into a cup. Almost all teapots easily manage the former, but an equal number fail to perform the latter, usually dripping and dribbling hot tea down the underside of the spout where it indecorously lands upon the surface of the table or counter.

Tea brewed within a pot sits in a relative state of orderly rest until the pot is lifted, tipped and tea poured from the spout. Fluid dynamics dictates the way in which a liquid moves within a contained space; accordingly, as the pot is tipped, the liquid within moves into the interior of the spout, where its movement is compressed and confined. As the angle increases, the tendency of the tea to accelerate as it travels to the mouth of the spout increases. As it emerges from the confines of the spout, issues of turbulence and disorder arise, potentially disrupting the even flow of the tea. If the spout opening is poorly designed, it dribbles.

An increase in turbulence creates the potential for disorder and chaos, and this is always true of fast moving liquids in a confined space. This same effect pushes river water above riverbank curves and promotes the accumulation of plaque in bifurcated coronary arteries. Areas of turbulence easily slip into chaos, whether due to speed or obstructions. Even non-liquid systems exhibit this behavior; financial markets, which track and anticipate the flow of currency, also can slip into chaos when speed and turbulence increase beyond the effective limits of the technological container constructed to control its movement.

The recent Facebook IPO provides a prime example. For 30 minutes, the NASDAQ trading system was not able to properly contain and direct the volume of trades pouring through, effectively depriving buyers and sellers of the opportunity to purchase or sell Facebook shares. In an industry where milliseconds mean millions, this was a major financial spill, and mopping up, NASDAQ has now agreed to pay $40 million in compensation. Talk about a dribbling pot!

Life teaches that any teapot will dribble if one gets greedy and pours too fast, and it was greed that really caused the trading turbulence and chaos, fed by weeks of headlines, news stories, speculation on stock prices, profiles of Mark Zuckerberg, valuation estimates, and fantasies of becoming overnight millionaires. Facebook IPO shares were sold like lottery tickets, and of course the biggest losers were the small individual investors who were allocated shares at the opening price. They could not get out fast enough, and suffered big losses by the end of the day. A better bet would have been on Red at the Roulette table.

It is possible, of course, to design a teapot that pours tea well and does not dribble. My wife’s 91-year-old Godmother Trudy has one and while exercising appropriate restraint, it was my pleasure to recently use it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *