6 November 2006

shopping 'til it hurts

We left the hospital Thursday morning, and surprisingly Jessica let me go almost a whole 24 hours before driving our baby to a store.

Of course, according to pretty much everything I've read and heard, the newborn brain is incapable of learning anything more complicated than sucking or peeing for the first six months*, so we probably shouldn't be worried about her inability to find the freshest gallons of milk or know if the cashier has short-changed her yet. She's got a little time before we can really brush up on basic consumer skills; after all, you've got to learn to walk before you can push a shopping cart. I think.

But the experience was relatively painless, but I'd been thinking about writing about shopping stuff many weeks ago (you know, the ones in months that are blank in the archives) but never got around to actually putting fingers to the keys.

I'm not a big fan of shopping in stores, whether it be for something I want (DVDs, small toys) or need (groceries, socks). Grocery shopping in particular is a source of many annoyances:

Items that are shelved in a haphazard fashion, in aisles that have no discernable heirarchy
I never know where to go to find kidney beans. This is not the only food I can't find, just the one I remember most (searching for them, not where they are). I realize there is a good reason - for the store's bottom line - to send me searching every single aisle that has anything like "vegetables" or "cans" on the index-board, but it always seems to me that sorting the store by color could well be easier and faster for the shopper. Cereal and bread would all be together, more or less, but all the tomato products (diced, salsa, paste, ketchup, juice) would all be together, as well. Of course this would still be troublesome for things that have indeterminate colors (I bought prune juice once, and I think it was either purple or brown) but the store associates would only need to say which color to check, not send shoppers down aisles for which they may or may not know the numbers. Yes, I realize this is completely impractical and dumb, but you tell me why every store has the potato chips five aisles or more away from the crackers.
Whoever picks the music has horrible taste
If there's music blaring, more often than not it sucks. It's either eighties revival (i.e. the same five songs that comprise every bad eighties mix), lite rock (Celine Dion and bad Elton John) or cartoon ballads (again with the Elton John, and so forth). I miss hearing Muzak - at least then I have the fun of trying to figure out which popular song is being mangled, but sadly grocery stores don't seem to use it.
Unit prices aren't always in standardized units
I shop based primarily on price and value. If I can determine that I get a better price per ounce buying one box instead of another, I'll reach for the first one as long as its something that doesn't change much vendor to vendor. However, if one has the price per ounce given and the other is price per hogshead or some such, then I'm outta luck and end up shaking the boxes and making up mathematical conversions to make a decision. Then I generally pick the box that has better graphic design, since a company that spends more time and money on presentation of the box must logically have better stuff therein. This, of course, is foolishness and I know it.
No concessions are made for competent shoppers at the checkout lane
Having long ago realized that the "15 or less" rule for Express lanes is merely a suggestion, I doubt there's anythign the store would be able to do about my idea, but here it is anyway: a checkout lane for competent customers. Like me. When I get to a checkout lane, I'm ready to go. I know more or less what every item should cost, I have whatever coupons I need to use ready, and I've got my credit card and pen ready too. I preempt most of their questions ("Hi, doin' fine, thanks, here's my card, and no bags for the milk") and often will be out of the store in less time than it took to find the kidney beans. I'd almost be willing to pay a little fee or endure some sort of licensing test to have exclusive access to a true 'express line', since half of the time I try to check out quickly, something ahead of me in line has happened, and then I'm screwed. Nine times out of ten it's somebody paying with a check.

Now don't get me wrong - just because it takes me over a year to get through that first fifteen checks the banks give you for opening an account - I'm not anti-check. I am, however, firmly against people who wait until every item has been scanned and bagged before that crucial moment of "Gee golly, I guess I'm gonna have to get out my checkbook and pay for these groceries. Now where did I leave it in this bottomless purse... and now where's that pen..." after which the checkbook is found, and the cashier begins the twenty-point checklist of personal items required to be written on the check and/or signed in triplicate from a notary public.

And yet, to these people, this isn't hassle enough to get them to stop using checks, or to figure out how to streamline the process (like filling them out in advance, or at least having the checkbook out and ready by the time it's time to pay), and as such I think the stores need to step it up and get these people in line. Since they're not going to implement my competent checkout license idea, I'll give them another: go for blood.

Why not get one of those pinprick blood test things that the Red Cross uses (and also as seen in Gattaca)? I'd imagine that a drop of blood would be more conclusive to a person's identity than writing some numbers on the check.

This would speed things up considerably, and make paying with a check that little bit more annoying to discourage the slow people in front of me from doing so.

I'm not suggesting that people sign the checks in blood - that would be going a bit too far, at least, at first.

* It may in fact be the six week mark that changes her from stupid to studious. I can't say for sure; lack of sleep makes me a little dumber too.

20 May 2006

keeping a business afloat

An idea struck me yesterday, as I sat at rapt attention in a meeting about the ways (and whys) our manufacturing contracts are doled out to which factories in which countries. A factor often igrnored is shipping time and cost, whether it be the slow boat from the far east, or the bandit troubles of trucking from South America, or the high cost of air freight from pretty much anywhere.

I'm not really in a position to affect any choices about any of those. As such, my mind began to wander a bit, and I started thinking about new approaches to the shipping and timeliness of stuff from across the Pacific. Why not, I wondered, put the factory on the boat? Then the long travel time becomes almost an advantage, I think.

The idea intrigued me, and I started fleshing it out. I'm in the garment business, and could easily imagine a couple hundred workers poised over sewing machines deep in the hull of some slow-going barge.

[2009 note: And then, I promptly forgot about it.]

1 August 2005

on the other hand

So there's this trick I learned in a 'lots of things to do when you're bored' (or whatever) book by Shari Lewis for remembering the lengths of the months of the year. In a nutshell it allows you to know which months have thirty one days and the ones that don't.

It's an easy trick. Make a fist, with the back of your hand toward you. Whichever hand you use is irrelevant, unless you are particular about handedness and pointing and whatnot. With your other hand, point to (or tap) your leftmost knuckle* and say (or think) "January".

Between your first and second knuckles is a little dip. Point to it and say "February", and then to the second knuckle, "March", and then to the second dip, "April" and so on and so forth until you run out of knuckles at "July".

Point to that same knuckle again, say "August", and continue backward on the same hand for September through December. Alternately you can switch hands here, but that could be too confusing.

More so than these instructions, at least.

The point of all of this is that any month that is a knuckle has thirty-one days. The dips are thirty (except February which is never more than twenty-nine, of course) day months.

So for the title of this to be "on the other hand", I mean that we have passed from July to August, and that, therefore, is a new knuckle. Make sense?

* Well, you could use your rightmost knuckle if need be, as this trick is geared to the left-to-right mindset so prevalent in the English-reading-world. Do what you want; it's just a children's trick anyway. But it does work.

3 December 2004

buzzing on the entertainment

I've got something of an entertainment buzz going. Now that Nano's over and my vacation hold at the library is off (despite only writing four or five days last month I never turned my hold off) the good stuff is just rolling in.

I've been cracking up flipping through Interior desecrations by the very funny Jim Lileks. It's possible that I'm just tired but some of that stuff is side-splitting. Check out this book if you have any sense at all of taste or humour.

Last night I watched Suddenly, a thriller from 1955 that is more known for having Frank Sinatra as a villain than for being a pretty good movie that gives far more screen time to Sterling Hayden than it does to ol' blue eyes. This is not to say that Frankie doesn't turn in a good performance. He turns out to be a pretty decent psycho killer out to make a cool half mil to off the president, but pretty much everybody is good. I haven't seen the other film on the DVD, ostensibly with Frank again as a heroin addict or something like that, but Suddenly is well worth watching. Then again, I like to watch Sterling Hayden. If you have no idea who he is, go out now and track down The killing (one of Stanley Kubrick's forgotten early films about which I have written previously). It's a darn good movie and you shouldn't regret watching it. I don't.

I'm also happy to have finally stumbled across the excellent drama The Wire that HBO's been showing for a couple seasons now. Though it treads on the same turf as Homicide: life on the streets it's a different beast altogether. It's dense, clever, well-written, dark, gritty, and even funny at times, and I'm enjoying it immensely. Altogether I've done well to have waited and had all of these hit me at once.

Harshing the buzz considerably though is the continued stupidity of HBO's DVD people who cannot seem to consistently stick a chapter stop at the end of the opening credits. Why is this so difficult? I cannot be the only person in the world who does not want to sit through the entire theme song every fifty minutes when I'm devouring these shows. I am enjoying this show so much but when I watch five episodes in one night that means I need to fast forward four times (I did want to hear it all the way through, once) and tomorrow night I'll likely need to do it eight more times too if I know the way that I watch these things.

Then again I didn't pay for this (thank you Columbus Metropolitan Library) but I was thinking that I would probably be willing to pay an extra dollar or two (not more than two though) when I do buy discs of a show if it had chapter stops after the opening credits. At least until everybody figures out what the producers of M*A*S*H seem to already know. DVD makers, just put a chapter stop after the opening credits, please, damnit. This just gets to me for some reason.

On the upside, though, now I have a challenge. 'Roundabout the end of episode three ("The buys") I heard a familiar tune, albeit in an unfamiliar fashion. The song was one that I first encountered on the highly underrated soundtrack album for Batman forever called "The hunter gets captured by the game" and as far as I had known until today the song was done first by Tracy Thorn backed up by Massive Attack.

How wrong I was. Though that album is no stranger to cover tunes (Lou Reed's "Passenger" done by INXS's Michael Hutchence comes to mind) I'd never considered this song, one of my favorites of all time, to be one. Well, the one in the show sure didn't sound like Massive Attack and I immediately (and correctly) inferred that the version I knew and loved was likely a cover, but this one could well be also.

So I went out on the web, and I'm still not sure what I heard. Unfortunately "The Wire" is too common to help out on a search, and the HBO forums don't have a good enough search either. I'm pretty sure nobody else has asked about the song on there, and I moved my search over to the good old allmusic guide instead. There I discovered that the song was written by none other than Smokey Robinson and it was probably first performed by the Marvelettes. Unfortunately it's also been done by another five or six artists, too. So now the hunt begins.

I enjoy the hunt.