Work Smarter, Not Harder

Scott Adams has poked fun at this bit of business triteness that workers have probably come to enjoy hearing about as much as a dentist’s drill being scraped across a whiteboard.

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This morning I began to wonder if the originator of this phrase was known. As it turns out, he is.

Allan H. Mogensen (1901-1989), known as Mogy, was an American industrial engineer and authority in the field of work simplification and office management. He is noted for popularizing flowcharts in the 1930s, and is remembered as “father of work simplification” (Wikipedia)

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Allan Mogensen (left) with Ben S Graham, Jr. at an early 1960s conference. Graham was is the son of Benjamin S. Graham, Sr., an American organizational theorist. Image: Ben Graham Corp.

People like Mogensen deserve to be recognized for improving efficiency, safety, and ergonomics in the workplace… no matter how much we may cringe at hearing their slogans – especially when they’re mis-applied by incompetent managers.

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The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

 

The Trading Stamp Era

In a previous entry about things gone but not forgotten (by me and my generation, anyway,) I mentioned S&H green stamps.

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Trading stamps were incentives given out by grocery stores and gas stations in the same way as stores do with coupons, reward-cards, and other come-ons today. You’d collect the stamps, paste them in books, and then take your books to a redemption center somewhere and exchange them for consumer goods.

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Based on the amount of your purchase, the checker would dial up the amount you spent on a machine like the one above, and the thing would dispense stamps in 1, 10, and the coveted 50 variety. The last one was great because you could fill up an entire page in the book with just one lick.

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Depending on the area of the country you lived in, there were different varieties of stamps available. The ones I recall in addition to the S&H Green Stamps were:

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Gold strike stamps

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Page from a Gold Strike Stamp Catalog. This was not cheap slum; the premiums had significant value if you were willing to collect enough books.

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Blue Chip Stamps. If you’re curious about that “cash value one mill” (equivalent to 1/10 ¢) thing, have a gander at this article over at Mental Floss.

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Blue Chip Promotional Ad

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Plaid Stamps, particular to A&P.

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Pages from a Plaid Stamp catalog.

I remember helping my mother gather and lick and apply these things and looked forward to her regular trips to the grocery store. I can’t recall what, if anything, she ever redeemed her books for, but the memory of the collecting is very clear. While the craze faded shortly after, I’m glad I was able to live through this interesting bit of cultural history.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Did you know the Post Office sells your information?

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I wish I had known this long ago. I would never have put in forwarding requests. It’s mean, it’s ignorant, and from a moral standpoint it’s downright reprehensible – but it’s legal, and they do it gleefully to get gain.

After our recent move to the wilds of Utah to the east coast, I put in three forwarding requests – one for our personal mail, and two for businesses. Little did I know that this would cause me no end of trouble, as that information was instantly transmitted to marketing agencies and basically anyone who has two coppers to rub together, and immediately began receiving junk mail and having my new information appear on automatically scraped websites.

Here’s the Forbes article I found – a bit dated, but still valid – that opened my eyes to this dirty little secret.

Whenever you fill out a change of address form with the United States Postal Service, the USPS adds your new details into a database of 160 million previous address changes over the past four years. The USPS has deals with data brokers to sell this data to anyone who pays, provided they have your old address. That means data firms cannot buy the address of Leroy Jones in Cincinnati, but can obtain his new address if they know where he used to live, which they usually do anyway.

This is, in a word, filthy. The PO’s responsibility is to get my mail from here to there, and that’s where their responsibility ends. To take people’s personal info and sell it to data brokers is nothing short of criminal, and it shouldn’t be permitted.

So this time, when we move from our temporary apartment to the home that we will – it is to be hoped – shortly be purchasing, I will not be relying on the PO to forward my mail. In plenty of time, I hope to inform our critical correspondents of our new address individually, and let the junk mail  get returned to sender.

There is supposedly a loophole, although I don’t know if I trust the Post Office as far as I could throw a grand piano:

There is, however, a loophole that keeps data brokers from accessing your updated address. When you fill out the online form to change an address, you can indicate a temporary change that provides six months of forwarding that can then be extended for another six months.  That information, unlike the changes marked as permanent, is not included in the master list sold to data brokers.

Time will tell.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Domain Registraton Scam – Bad Actors from China

Be careful out there. I just got this email the other day, and while it looked dodgy from the outset, I thought I’d follow it down the rabbit hole to see where it went.

Dear sir or madam,

We are a registrar for domain names authorized by Chinese government. Today, we received an application from Daoc International ltd applying to register [domain] as their brand name and some top-level domain names(.CN .HK etc). After our initail checking, We found the main body of domain names is same as yours.

We are handling the application and we need to confirm whether or not you authorize them to register them? Let me know your positon ASAP so as to solve it promptly. Looking forward to your reply.

Best regards,
Elvin Lee
Tel:+86-551- 6349 1191
Fax:+86-551- 6349 1192
Address:No.413,Changjiang Road,Hefei City,Anhui Province

OK. So I simply responded and said, “These domains are not authorized, thank you.”

Next up:

Notice: regarding this case, we did not receive any of your reply until now. Concerning the mentioned brand name please confirm whether you need to register by yourselves? If need, please let us know in time, we can send an application form to you. If you think the registration of that company or the use of the brand name will not bring any negative effect to your company, i suggest you can give up the brand name, then we will accept that company application unconditionally. Further questions please contact me in time.

Followed the same day by this:

Notice: hi, i am Elvin Lee. We had discussed the case about disputing your company’s brand name. You have never registered the brand name, the dispute period will come soon. If your company does not register the brand name, we will start aforesaid company registration within 2 workdays. That company will become the legal owner of the brand name in the world. We had notified you, so we are not responsible for any dispute question about your intellectual property right and trademark after they succeed in registration. If you have any questions, pls contact us within 2 workdays.

Basically telling me I’ll lose worldwide rights to my domain name if I don’t quickly take action, or alternatively, I should abandon my own domain so that they can legally register it with other companies.

Lastly, today:

Thanks for your confirmation. As soon as receiving the application of that company, we checked and found [domain] is your company’s using name. We are concerned that your name might be affected negatively by their applications, this is why we informed you. Following brand name and domain names are applied by that company:
Brand name:
[domain]
Domain names:
[domain].asia
[domain].cn
[domain].com.cn
[domain].com.hk
[domain].com.tw
[domain].hk
[domain].in
[domain].net.cn
[domain].org.cn
[domain].tw
[domain].co.in

You know that the domain names registration is open in the world, that company also has the right to apply for the available domain names. You only have the preferential rights to register them.

At present, we haven’t passed their application, we need your opinion. If your company consider these names of importance to your company’s business or interest, i suggest that your company register these names first so as to avoid confusion or speculation. Of course, If you don’t think their application will affect your company in the future, you can give up these names so that we can finish registering for them. Please give me your company’s decision as soon as possible.
Uh, no. While I have no doubt that there are many good and honest Chinese businesses, this is not one of them – in fact, falls under the rubric of “morals of a honey badger.”
Above and beyond the standard advice, “Never deal with spammers,” I’d add that you be extraordinarily careful when unsolicited business proposals come from China – in other words, be doubly vigilant.
The Old Wolf has spoken.

Poland House Antiques – A recommendation, with a caveat.

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Driving back from visiting the Shaker Christmas Fair at Sabbathday Lake in Maine today, we decided to stop in at the Poland House at 338 Main Street in Poland.

My senses were overwhelmed. I have never been in a more crammed, crowded, and fascinating panoply of home decor both old and new. Every single nook and cranny in that old home was stuffed to overflowing with things to look at and covet – one example below, which doesn’t do the place justice:

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I loved so many things, and wished I were richer than Crœsus so I could decorate my own home with some of these treasures.

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An adorable mini-nutcracker stand.

But beware: my enjoyment of the atmosphere was soured like vinegar added to milk – read below the review I posted at Yelp:

I was totally gobsmacked by the incredible selection of stuff (we came at Christmas time, the atmosphere was mind-blowing.) Much of it was new, but there were a lot of really, really cool antiques. As I was leaving I asked the proprietor if this was how it looked after the Christmas season, and he said, no, he takes it all down by himself and replaces it with the antique stuff.

Then he saw my phone out and asked, “You weren’t taking pictures, were you?” I said, “Yes, isn’t that all right?” He replied, “No. People who come in and take pictures without asking are beyond me.”

Fine, dingaling. You may think that owning a half-million-dollar house stuffed to the gills with millions of dollars worth of inventory makes you better than everyone else, but here’s a couple of tips:

  1. If you don’t want people taking pictures, post a sign on your door to that effect.
  2. If someone happens to be taking pictures, you could ask them politely not to – something like “I appreciate your coming in, but I’d prefer you not take pictures.”
  3. Don’t make people feel like an idiot. I was taking photos to show everyone what an amazing place you run. Instead, you get one measly star for being a turdcasket.

So if you like lots of amazing knickknacks and decorative stuff, by all means shop here. The prices are not too outrageous, some of them seemed quite reasonable. But be warned – the proprietor doesn’t give a rat’s south-40 for his clientele.

It’s clearly not just me: have a gander at this review left by another Yelper, Marie H, on September 7th:

Well I didn’t get very far although the shop looks interesting. I chose to take a bike ride and stopped there to look around. The guy was outside and never said hello, just” you’re not going to carry much with that!” Eying my bike. Against my better judgment I walked in the entryway and started looking. He said ” can’t be too healthy doing that on a day like this. ( he could use some pedaling). The atmosphere really felt hostile to me so I left. He said ” that it?”
Will never go in there again

Every moment is a choice, and every choice has prices and benefits. Treat people well, and they’ll come flocking to your door. Treat them like dirt, and they’ll never come back.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

In memory of Radio Shack

Last week Radio Shack filed for bankruptcy, and the world I know will never be the same. HuffPo has a good read on why the company couldn’t survive in it’s current incarnation, and it may not be gone forever, but it won’t look the way it did in its heyday.

It used to be that you’d go down to the radio store for something like this:

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And you’d encounter salespeople like this (Dilbert, from 1989):

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RadioShack was once the playground of the inventor, the maker and the tinkerer. In the ’70s, Steve Wozniak—Apple’s co-founder—built a device to hack long-distance phone calling out of parts he bought at RadioShack. It was where amateur electronic engineers could pick up computer chips and build their own computers. (Quartz)

Tandy tried all sorts of things to expand its market share, things like Computer City (which lost $60 million for Tandy in 1996) and Incredible Universe, which lost $90 million; we had one of the latter in Utah before it closed in mid-1997.

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Incredible Universe tried to be the big splash in electronics; according to Wikipedia,

A typical Incredible Universe was 185,000 square feet (17,200 m2) of sales floor and warehouse, stocking around 85,000 items.

The operation was conceived by former TandyCEOJohn Roach. Many internal corporate philosophies of Disneytheme parks were borrowed; in an Incredible Universe store, retail departments were ‘scenes,’ employees were ‘castmembers,’ uniforms were ‘costumes,’ and so forth.

The stores featured a large rotunda area with an actual stage where sales presentations, product demonstrations, or even occasional musical acts were performed, and various retail departments (software, music and video, and accessories) were accessible from this rotunda. Moving through the rotunda area would lead one to the main storefront where larger consumer electronics and computers were sold.

It included entertainment areas for kids, and a built-in McDonald’s; the sales staff all wore purple shirts and called themselves “grapes.” Below is a commercial for the enterprise, sadly potato quality but at least it gives you the idea:

Here’s the Utah press release:

At a press conference held today in Sandy, Tandy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John V. Roach and Sandy City Mayor Tom Dolan unveiled plans for the opening of the giant consumer electronics gigastore this fall at the corner of Interstate 15 and 110th Street. “Incredible Universe is an electronics and home appliance store unlike any other in the world. We have created the hottest new shopping concept in America today by combining incredible fun, an incredible selection and incredible first-class service that caters to the entire family,” said Roach.

With sales estimated at $80 million per year, Incredible Universe will provide a local economic boost by adding substantially to the area’s tax base and by creating more than 350 new jobs.

Incredible Universe is so unique that it is often referred to as the “show.” Unlike many stores, guests (or customers) are encouraged to play with the merchandise — more than 85,000 products under one roof.

Guests can also create their own music videos at the sing-along Karaoke studio to test their skills at Virtual Reality and other computerized games. Community groups are invited to perform in the store’s Rotunda, and local celebrities make special appearances.

While adults shop, small children can entertain themselves with electronic toys and games in a supervised children’s play area called KidzView. Or, the entire family can take a break from shopping at the McDonald’s restaurant located inside.

Leading-edge guests can visit three state-of-the-art Multimedia Rooms to experience the combination of personal computers, full motion video, and home theater in a home setting; video teleconferencing in an office or Board Room setting; and DSS (Digital Satellite System), the latest in home satellite technology.

The newest creation in the Universe is a multimedia “library” with more than 2,500 different CD-ROM software titles. Other features of the store include a Home Theater, a computer-equipped Kitchen Design Center, and a giant-screen video display.

The 85,000-plus products available at Incredible Universe include 342 different televisions, 72 video cassette recorders, 60 camcorders, 181 refrigerators, 83 washers and dryers, 575 home and personal audio products, 300 car stereo/mobile products, 48 personal computers, and more than 70,000 music and movie titles.

Incredible Universe gigastores are open in the metropolitan markets of Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, Sacramento, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Columbus, Dallas, and Arlington, Texas. In addition to the Salt Lake City market, other new locations planned for 1995 include the Denver, New York Metro, Indianapolis, Houston, and greater Washington, D.C., markets. Corporate headquarters are located in Fort Worth, Texas.

The concept was launched just as stores like Circuit City and Best Buy were rising in popularity, and ultimately the huge mega-stores couldn’t compete. Buildings were so large they found no buyers, and Tandy had to sell them for pennies on the dollar. Six of the 15 stores were acquired by Frye’s, and one in Texas became a community college building.

I was a longtime Radio Shack customer and watched the evolution with interest. There were times I asked myself how long the enterprise could survive, given what I saw happening to the offerings and the staff.

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Radio Shack’s batteries were the cheap ones from China, but when you have three kids and a gazillion electronic toys, free batteries were always welcome. At one point we sprang for a bunch of rechargables and a charger, which probably saved a few quatloos in the long run.

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Robie still sits on my dresser, eating quarters with gusto.

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This is, effectively, a 3-band hearing aid. We inherited this one from someone else, but it works like a champ.

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One of the most useful devices I’ve ever had around the house. I wish it did the little mercury ones (I have a voltmeter for that) but this still works.

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Pocket “Simon.” Finally sold this one on eBay along with some other puzzles, but part of me wishes I had kept it just for the nostalgia value. But I’m sure my buyer is enjoying it.

There were countless other toys and gimmicks, as well as a pretty respectable combination turntable, dual cassette deck, CD player, and AM/FM stereo set we had for about 30 years; I just barely finished ripping my LP’s to digital format with it before it finally gave up the ghost.

Christmas time at Radio Shack was great in the 80s; there were countless fun gimmicks and toys, RC cars and trucks, and lots of things that kids would enjoy. As time went on, though, the offerings of this nature became slimmer and slimmer; cell phones became the dominant push, and everything else was secondary. According to the HuffPo article I referenced above,

RadioShack lost sight of who they were. Technology changed rapidly, but their gadgets did not, and many of them were rendered obsolete as smartphones came into the picture with apps that easily replaced them. They didn’t focus on the right things, and that led to fruitless attempts to become relevant once again.

Whether the company will survive in some form or other, or be acquired, or simply fade into oblivion, remains to be seen. For me, the most poignant image was not even real, but cleverly photoshopped – but it expressed in a single picture what I have been feeling over the last couple of weeks, as I digested the news of an old friend’s passing:

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The Old Wolf has spoken.

Custom Laser Engraving: Getting the Word Out

Business can be a fickle thing, sort of like success in show business. Some people just get lucky and get the breaks; others struggle for a lifetime to make a living at their craft.

Advertising is expensive, and from what I’ve seen, the only people who make money from advertising are the advertising promoters.

So here’s a bit of free exposure for some friends of mine up in Canada who could use a boost.

Fractal

They do all kinds of custom work.
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Pet Gravestones


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Wood Engraving


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Metal and Glass

If you have any needs in this area, I know they would appreciate your business. Visit them at www.fractalcoffee.com.

The Old Wolf has spoken.