Saturday, September 13, 2014

Internet Permanence

Statement:  Nothing you post on the internet ever goes away.
Proof of Statement:
Fact 1.  In 2001 Carol and I took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Africa.  I posted a journal of the trip, with pictures, in a blog.
Fact 2.  At that time, Raid bug killer used the slogan, “Kills Bugs Dead.”
Fact 3.  The Swahili word for “bug” is “dudu.”
Fact 4.  On my trip I saw (and took a picture of) a huge billboard outside of Nairobi, Kenya, that said...  Well, here’s the picture:

Fact 5.  Today, 13 years later, I received the following email:
I was going through photographs online and came across your blog that mentions you took a photo of a billboard in Nairobi that said 'kills all dudus dead.'
I'm an entomologist working with Nature Kenya and would like to use this photo in a presentation on the conservation and importance of insects.
If you could share the photo by email I would appreciate it - and will credit you for its use of course.
With thanks
Kind regards
Dr. Dino J. Martins
Insect Committee of Nature Kenya
The East Africa Natural History Society & Turkana Basin Institute, Kenya
I rest my case.
(Yes, I sent him the picture and received a nice acknowledgement.  And yes, I'm pretty sure he's legit.  Check this link: )

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Shopping Carts with Square Wheels

1. The Problem

Ever notice the high percentage of shopping carts having one or more wheels with flat spots? Ever found it annoying? 

How often do you grab a cart, hear and feel the familiar "clunk, clunk, clunk," leave it there and grab another? Or if you DO decide to go ahead and put up with the noise, once you start loading canned goods and other items in the steel basket, the banging of your cart will seem amplified across the aisles until half the store can hear you. Of course, you can also hear others from half the store away. Does this bother anyone else? Or is it just me? 

I think it bothers most of us because I sure hear others complaining about “square wheels.” It just makes the trip to the store a negative experience—something I don’t think corporate management folks would like... if they even knew about the problem... which I doubt.

2. The Cause

Next time your cart starts galumping across the smooth linoleum floor, look closely at the problem wheel (or wheels). It will ALWAYS be one of the back wheels, never the front. 

Ever wonder how the flat spot gets there? When the wheels are rolling they don’t get flat spots. But I’ve never pushed a cart that didn’t have both back wheels turning pretty freely. At least they weren’t dragging along the floor like a car with a locked brake. And even if they did drag a bit, the floors in most retail stores are smooth and polished. I became convinced that it wasn’t customers who were creating the flat spots, so who could it be? And why is it always the rear wheels?

Then I watched an employee gathering carts in the parking lot and bringing them back to the store entrance. He’d get about 20-30 carts in a train-like “stack” jammed together, and push from the rear of the stack. No problem...until he had to turn the stack. Then he would shove the back end of the stack sideways to get lined up in the direction he wanted to go, and then start pushing forward again. That sideways shove is when the rear wheels of several carts near the tail-end of the stack get scrubbed across the rough asphalt parking lot, causing the flat spots!

Why not the front wheels? Well, because they’re on casters to allow them to roll in whatever direction the cart is moving. Thus they never slide sideways across any surface, and always stay nice and round.

3. My Solution

a) I thought of several improvements or solutions to the cart retrieval process, but rejected each because it would cost money. One example: Tell employees to bring in no more the 4-5 carts at a time so there’s no need to push the back end a long stack sideways. (Nope—inefficient and would require assigning more employees to cart-retrieval duties. Labor is expensive.)

b) Without going through all the others and their various negatives, here’s the winner:

Use the customers! Make them feel good about helping, and reward them at no net cost to the store.  I call it the "Cart Angel Program."

Customers walk from the parking lot right past carts that are either loose (and in the way) or in the cart collection areas. Promote the program with signs like this at the store entrances:

Dislike carts with flat spots on their wheels? So do we! Help us prevent them.

BE A CART ANGEL! (Cartoon picture of a halo over a person pushing a cart.)

1. Grab ONE CART (ONLY) from the parking lot on your way in.

2. Bring ONE CART (ONLY) to the Archangel station at the door.

3. Receive your Angel Award (and our thanks) from the Archangel.

4. Shop with a cart with round wheels!

Fine print: You may bring more than one cart, but only one at a time please (to save the round wheels!)

Limit of one Angel Award per person, per day.


At each entrance, or at a single designated entrance, station an employee (who would otherwise be out gathering and retrieving carts) wearing a halo-hat or sparkling vest identifying him/her as a Cart Archangel. 

Assign the Archangel to either:

(a) Give to each customer who brings in a cart an “Angel Award” coupon good for X% off on certain (marked) items in the store (that would otherwise be marked down for quick sale), or

(b) Let each Angel (customer) register for a free drawing of an item of some value. Daily, weekly, and monthly drawings are all possible. 

Use some of the money now being spent replacing cart wheels to pay (at cost!) for the items given out.

BONUS: Archangels’ jobs could readily be filled by hiring people with mobility challenging (or other) disabilities, and this “Hiring the Disabled” effort promoted in ads and articles.

Bottom line: It takes almost no appreciable effort to grab a cart on the way from the parking lot to the store’s entrance. I do it now even without any “reward,” just to help prevent flat cart wheels. I think customers would do it for a chance to win free merchandise. It saves the store money, makes the shopping experience more pleasant without clunking cart wheels, and offers good PR for the store.

If you agree, share this to pass it on. Also email a copy to the General Manager of stores where you shop and sometimes get a clunking cart.

Comment with alternate ideas or enhancements.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Fireworks and Things

Fireworks and Things

You know how it goes.

You’re talking with someone. The subject doesn't matter, but the Other Person says, “Say, you know that thing we were talking about earlier? Have you thought about it any further?”

Happens to me all the time. I look at OP, blank expression.

OP says, “I have. What if we used Velcro?”

More blank expression from me.

OP continues, “It would work. The thing wouldn't be too heavy, and we could sew one side of the Velcro to the fabric and use stick-on Velcro on the... thing.” Big smile.

Me: “What are we talking about?”

OP: “You know, Velcro?”

Me: “No. What is the “thing” you want to use Velcro on?”

OP, exasperated expression: “We were just talking about this earlier. You know, the thing we used in the camper.”

OP is clearly noun-challenged. Well, that’s not fair—actually OP has a wonderful vocabulary. OP knows exactly what object OP’s thinking and speaking about. OP can visualize it in three dimensions and in color. OP just begins speaking before remembering its name. Discussions similar to this one but on varying topics occur just about daily.

I have a fairly short fuse with the word “thing.” OP knows this. I have asked numerous times for OP to use any other word, and I mean any (I've suggested “item,” “device,” “object,” etc.), but somehow it’s always “thing.” My fuse is now lit.

I ask, “When were we talking about this?”

OP: “You know, the other day.”

Me, fuse almost burned down: “Give me a hint what we're talking about.”

The fireworks begin. Oh, nothing dramatic. No explosions, or skyrockets, or even pinwheels. No, it’s just a sparkler I’m holding that my short fuse has ignited. It’s pretty, with colored sparks that fly out about six inches before dying.

OP, eyes narrowed: “Don't make fun of me.”

I plead, “Just tell me what you're asking me about.”

Silence. I try again (20-questions style), “Is it bigger than a breadbox? What color is it? What’s it made of? Help me out here.” With a smile, I wiggle the sparkler about.

I notice that OP’s fuse is now exposed, out in the open, and the sparks from my sparkler are getting very close to igniting it. I know from experience that OP’s fuse IS connected to some serious pyrotechnics, and they are NOT pretty. So I stamp out my sparkler.

“I’m sorry. Really. I was just thinking about other stuff, and our earlier conversation got jumbled up with that. Tell me again your idea about the Velcro?”

OP: “I know. I get it. You're just giving me a hard time about saying ‘thing.’” (Searching...) “Oh, you know, the... white... plastic... uh—”

Me, with enthusiasm: “The fence posts! To use as spacers, right? You think Velcro might work?”

OP, fuse snuffed out and cold: “Well, yes. I know they're kind of heavy, but we could always double up on the Velcro. I think it would work!”

Another fireworks show avoided.

But more work needed on “things.”