Counting Pollen Smells Like Vanilla

Well, maybe not, but there’s definitely a link!

A flower of vanilla in a factory in La Réunion island.

I recently visited a vanilla bean factory in La Réunion island. Vanilla beans form from vanilla flowers after pollination. In Mesoamerica where it comes from, flowers are pollinated by orchid bees. However, only the plant was introduced in La Réunion, not its pollinator, and it takes a human’s hand for pollination to happen.

Beans undergo several manipulations to reveal and fix their sweet flavour, like a sort of boiling, fermentation during a few weeks, and drying for a few more weeks again.

Vanilla beans drying on racks.

Then they are stored for several months, before they finally get sorted by size. Workers use a simple ruler to quickly gauge each bean’s length, but I was more interested in the case they use.

A case were workers sort vanilla beans by length.

The case has one compartiment per length (in cm). The most common length is 14 to 19 cm, thus their respective compartiments are found in the middle and on the right, for quick access for the (right-handed) workers. The beans of 20-cm length and more, rarer, are sorted on the left side.

This is an example of an efficient layout. That’s not 100% defined by logic but by use, and it helps saving a few seconds at each bean being sorted, as less movements are necessary. At the end of the day, and after thousands of beans, that’s a lot of time saved!

The same principle can be applied with PolyCounter’s key layout while counting pollen (or anything else). Assigning the most common taxa the closer to your fingers’ rest position restricts movements to the minimum required. It decreases tiredness, avoids pain, and saves a lot of time. So don’t be afraid to go a bit away from logic if it makes sense from the use point of view. Just like piano, your fingers will learn, and more quickly than you might expect.

Posted by Benjamin

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