Mental Giants: The Wal-Mart cashier

Sometimes I have to interact with people who really aren’t very intelligent. In fact that happens most days. Sometimes I find it humorous, sometimes it makes me angry, it really all depends on the mood I am in going into it. Well, that and just what their incompetence happens to be. While I may find it funny when someone is trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole, it is more likely to make me angry if I suffer a loss of time or property as a result -say like if I owned the peg and hole they are trying to mash together.

I find that the most common form of incompetence that I run into on a day to day basis is Math. I suppose that makes sense, since every time I make a purchase at a store it involves Math (well, nominally, since most of the transactions are strictly card-based at this point). The thing is that I have always been good at Math, so I can’t understand how someone can struggle with it. I am not talking about Calculus or Trigonometry here, I am talking about very basic addition or subtraction; the type of 2+1=3 crap that you have to learn to make it out of the first grade.

A good example of this is when you are buying something at a convenience store and the total comes out with a few cents change. Say the total is $3.14, and you give the clerk a $5. After they have already entered that in the register, you realize that you have the 14 cents and hand that to them as well. Now they are staring at a screen that tells them to give you back $1.86, but also holding your 14 cents, and sometimes they just can’t do the math in their head. I try to help them along when I see them struggling with it; “you owed me one eighty-six and I gave you fourteen, that makes two-hundred.” If they don’t get it pretty immediately (usually claiming a brain fart or something) I will just take the change back. No sense ruining my day and theirs over a pocketful of change. If you are feeling really sadistic you can take this to the extreme: when the total comes to $6.86, give them 12.11 and watch them stare vacantly.

Anyway, the particular circumstance that I ran into today was something much simpler. I had to buy a new air conditioner for my bedroom, so I found myself at Wal-Mart looking over their selection. Of the three that they actually had in stock, the two that were still in boxes were far too small for the room. That meant that my only real option was the larger display model. I am no stranger to buying display models. Basically you get an item that has never actually been used, but that item may come with a couple of scuff marks on it, and you get it for a decent discount -just how decent the discount depends a lot on the store, since many stores just do a stock 10% or 20% discount for floor models, and they don’t allow their cashiers any latitude for negotiating. Such was the case with the air conditioner at Wal-Mart. 10% off the already reduced price (prices on air conditioners were slashed somewhere around the end of June, that I know because I was trying to find one for my office at the time, but couldn’t find one to fit a vertical window opening).

I can’t find the exact machine that I bought on the Wal-Mart website, but this one is damn close. The price was reduced to $217.00 from the original $237.00, and they were going to give me an additional 10% off. That was going to put it right about the same price that I paid for the tiny little machine that it was replacing, so I was all over it. I threw that bad boy in my cart, making sure that the department manager put a note on the tag reflecting that the discount was in addition to the marked price, and made my way to the register.

I got to the register and waited as the cashier keyed in the UPC code, hoping that it would ring up at the discounted price. It took her three tries to get the code right, but it did indeed ring up at the $217.00 price, so I was halfway home. Then the register prompted her with the message “enter reason code”. I thought for sure that there must just have been a button that she pushed which allowed for an immediate 10% discount, but alas it was asking for the reason she had to manually enter the UPC in the first place. After she looked up and entered the code for that, it was time to get to my big 10% savings. The cashier pulled a small scrap of paper out of her trash can and began to write the following equation on it:

x    .10
    0 0 0 0 0
2 1 7 0 0
2 1 7 0 0 0
I shit you not. She wrote the equation down, complete with the multiplication sign, did the long multiplication, then added the columns together. After which she counted one too many decimal places over and proudly declared that my discount was $2.17. Of course I corrected her, saying that $2.17 was 1%, $21.70 was 10%, and she didn’t believe me. She walked over to the manager’s station (whatever happened to calling for help?) and came back a few minutes later with the receipt paper from a 10 key, where someone else had actually taken the time to multiply the whole thing out instead of just moving the decimal point one to the left. Anyway, now she knew that the discount was $21.70, so I figured that all she had to do was type that into ye olde register and I would be able to pay and get on my way. Instead, she started writing the following equation on her piece of scrap paper:

– 21.70

In the time it took her to actually write that down, I had subtracted 22 from 217 in my head then added 30 cents back onto it (I always do it that way too. When subtracting odd decimal amounts I always round up -even if the decimal is like .08, I will subtract the next whole number then add .92 back to it. Since that is the way I have always done it, I don’t have to try to remember if I rounded up or down. It is always up. Of course that is just me). I told her it was $195.30, and she just kind of stared at me. She didn’t even try to do the subtraction on the scrap of paper, just headed back over to the manager’s station. Why she didn’t think to go ahead and do that the first time she was over there is beyond me. A few minutes later I was pushing the cart out the door.

I won’t fault the woman for not being able to subtract the 21.70 from 217 in her head, not everyone can do simple math that quickly, I accept that. What I will fault her for, and her manager as well, is actually doing the math on a 10% discount. I mean, it’s 10% FFS, that’s not Math, that’s moving a decimal point! I would lay down even money that any child in the third grade could have done that without having to resort to a calculator.

When the woman actually started writing down the equation for the 10% discount, at first I was going to get angry, then I was going to laugh, then I was kind of dumbfounded. I imagine that I must have looked much like that guy I handed $12.11 to at the convenience store earlier…

Happy new keyboard day to me!

When I initially set this site up all those years ago, I never really planned for it to become a daily “blog” type thing. That just sort of happened. Much in the same way that I never intended for it to become a daily thing, I also never really planned to stop posting, that also just sort of happened.

As I write now, I have just had a birthday (33 candles, happy birthday to me!). As I sit and think about it, I have had more changes in my life -very drastic changes- in the last year (18 months to be fair) than I had experienced in the other 31+ years leading up to it. Without going into too much boring detail, I will just say that now, for the first time I can really remember, my life doesn’t suck. I am not unhappy. I can’t think of anything that I would really want to change or improve (sure I would love to be rich, and I have always wanted to have chiseled abs, but one mustn’t be greedy). A lot of what I used to post about here was self-deprecating, and with the changes in my life over the last year or so, I am just about out of that type of material. I guess what I am getting at here is that happiness just isn’t a very rich subject to write about.

That is the deep, philosophical reason for why I haven’t been posting anything lately. Now for the shallow, material reason that I haven’t been posting anything: My keyboard sucks!

I bought a new keyboard about a year ago, I remember writing a post about the process, but I can’t seem to find it now. Anyway, I always have a problem finding a keyboard because it has to, and I mean has to have four very simple features:

1) It has to be a v-shaped keyboard. Most companies call that “ergonomic”, but I happened across a keyboard that used that term for a standard keyboard. I guess having some wrist padding on the front of it also qualifies it as such. When I do get to writing, I write a lot and I write pretty fast. A standard keyboard starts to really burn on my wrists after only thirty minutes or so of concentrated writing action, so when I do decide to write something, I need the relative comfort of the v shape or it is right out the window.

2) The left, down, and right arrow have to be lined up side by side. I always thought that this was the only configuration for them until I started trying to find a new keyboard. For some reason a lot of keyboards now have all the arrow keys lined up almost in a cross pattern; like a video game controller. I can’t use them when they are set up like that. When you spend 30 years typing on them in one configuration, it is difficult to change to another layout. So any keyboard that doesn’t meet this very simple standard is out of the question.

3) The backspace key has to be a double-sized key. I am so used to using a larger backspace key, and I use it so often to correct myself while typing that if it is a standard, letter-sized key, I will end up with sentences that look like this “Teh=he cow jumpd=ed over teh=he mon=on”. That is assuming that the key next to the backspace is the “=” key. I don’t look at the keys while I type, but I also don’t really look at the screen. When I am typing, I am putting it to paper (well, the keyboard) as fast as I am thinking it, and I know, even without looking at either, when I have made a mistake. I will correct the mistakes as I go without ever having to look down. Unless, of course, the backspace key has been secretly replaced by another key, in which case I will be throwing a whole bunch of random characters in that I will have to go back and decipher later. So, no double-sized backspace key, no keyboard for me.

4) The [insert][home][page up] keys have to be in a single row right above another row with the [delete][end][page down] keys. For unknown reasons, some keyboards have changed those rows to being only 2 keys wide but three keys high. That may save them a fraction of an inch in overall keyboard width, but it seriously fucks with me when I am trying to find the keys. I may not get a hell of a lot of use out of those keys, but they need to be where they should be, and in the right damn order, when I do need them.

It would seem like those four things would be easy enough to find in a keyboard, but in practice, it is hard as hell to find all four on the same keyboard. First off, it seems that the v-shaped keyboards are falling out of favor. It used to be that if you searched keyboards at any pc supply website, you would get at least half of the returns for v-shaped ones. Now it seems that there are usually only one or two, usually either Microsoft or a brand that you have never heard of. Never anything in the middle of the road on that one. Not a cheaper one from a company that you may have bought some other product from to be able to judge whether you would like it or not based on previous experience (unless you count Microsoft, but if I get to basing whether I will like a keyboard on how much I hate the latest version of their OS, I will never buy another MS product. I still think it has been straight downhill since windows 3.1), either Microsoft of Nakashimiashi. Nothing else.

The last time I bought a keyboard, every Microsoft keyboard that I could find was missing one of my four key features. In fact the only keyboard that I could find which actually had all four was a Belkin, which I am sure you will all recognize as the leading manufacturer of pc accessories (I put that in as sarcasm, but for all I know they really are). The keyboard looked just about like this one:

I started having problems with it almost immediately. Since the shape of the keyboard is basically like a little hill, with the t and y keys right about the top of it, one would assume that the keys were somehow set up so that the keystrokes would be slightly off from straight down. One would be wrong. So while my hands were not sitting flat, it was required that I push the keys down straight, else they would be hard to push, and also stick a lot. This was a nuisance for sure, but something that I got used to since it was my only option other than a keyboard that either wasn’t v-shaped, or one that was missing most of the other features I was looking for.

As time passed though, the problem got much, much worse. The last time I actually tried to type anything other than an instant message on it, I had to spend at least 3x as long correcting myself as I did writing it in the first place. The keys were sticking on nearly every word, and some of them didn’t get pressed hard enough (or straight enough down) to show up at all. Note that the keyboard still function just fine, you just have to hold your hands slightly raised from it while you type. If you rest your palms in their natural position, you can’t push the keys straight down. That is both maddening and painful.

After having to type something on my pc, the wife decided to gift me a new keyboard for my birthday. See, she hated it so much after just one session, and a short one at that, that she had to do something about it. She ran into the same wall when trying to find a keyboard that was suitable though. When she finally did find one that matched all of my criteria, it was actually a Microsoft one. The one that she bought me looks just like this:

The layout of the keys is right, but the shape is just a bit odd. Some of the keys really are curved a little bit, and it feels a bit odd to type on it. However, it doesn’t seem to be having the same issue the old one did when it comes to pushing down the keys. Also to note that I didn’t install whatever it was that came on the cd with the thing. I have never done that with any microsoft product that I have plugged into my machine; every problem I have with my pc is with a microsoft product. Be it windows or messenger (which I use very rarely, and which always encounters an error on close), every pc problem is microsoft related and I somehow doubt that adding more ms products to it is likely to help -like putting gasoline on a fire to put it out. For now it seems to be working just fine for me.

And who knows, maybe if the keyboard works out okay for me, I might go ahead and throw a post up here from time to time.

I make no promises.