June 13th, 2006

Work Annoyances

I work for a major retail chain. I work on the logistics and "night flow" team, which means I work from 10 PM (when the store closes) until 6 AM...at least, those are my scheduled hours.

By and large the work is not easy. It's physical labor. Every night there is at least one full-length semi trailer which must be unloaded, its contents distributed; besides that, more stock must be pulled from the stockroom and sent to the floor. When the pulls are done, freight from the truck must be put on shelves in the stockroom; and then whatever stuff that got sent to the floor which will not fit on the shelves--we call it "backstock"; other stores refer to it as overstock--must also be shelved in the back room. The idea is for all this to be done before 6 AM.

We use a portable computer access terminal--called, variously, a PDA or a PDT--running a custom application under Windows CE to tell the store's inventory computer where we've put everything. This is also how we know what, and how much of it, to pull. It's a pretty good system and it's usually fairly efficient.

The inventory computer knows what's in the store and what is on the truck; so as boxes come off the truck they're scanned by a person with a PDA, and that person marks the box to indicate whether it goes to the floor or to the back room. The stuff which goes to the floor is taken to the floor in pallet-sized loads, as the pallets fill; the stuff which goes to the back room typically is allowed to stack up in the receiving area. (Also, a truck will typically have "bulk" on it--bulk items are usually stored in the receiving area.)

Monday night was pretty typical. The truck had about 1,800 pieces on it (1,800 boxes) and the pulls ran somewhere around 1,100 separate products. (I have no idea what the total number of "eaches", or units, that 1,100 comprised. We pull by the product's UPC code; we had 1,100 UPCs to pull, but it could have been any number of each UPC that needed pulling.)

The problem, however, is that the management assigned two people to the stockroom; and I spent the time during the truck unload actually unloading the truck. One of the team leads was in the back room during the unload, but when it was done I was sent back there and the team lead went to the off-side warehouse, where we store big stuff like furniture and such. So, there were two guys in the backroom, me and one other guy.

We had some help dealing with the freight--a little. The guy who was assigned to receiving was sent to the backroom to help us until we were done with our freight. He got pulled off before we were quite done, but that was okay. We also had a little help from one of the people assigned to the floor; she was on the "presentation team"--the folks who set up aisles and such--but her efforts were not needed for about an hour, so she helped us out in back.

Even so: pulls were not done until 2 AM. Freight was just barely done around 5 AM. That left me an hour to backstock stuff from the floor.

"But," you ask me, "couldn't you have stayed late and finished?"

Technically, yes, I could have stayed. I have done it before. But I am one person; I cannot do the work of two (or more) people. We had two people assigned to the back room.

If we had had four people in the back room and we'd gotten utterly slammed, then yes, I would have stayed. But I refuse to kill myself for this job; if they aren't going to schedule enough people to get the work done, why do I have to suffer for it? Especially when there are two people in management at that store who almost never do anything that makes them break a sweat?

I'm not kidding. There were three team leads on the schedule tonight. One went to the warehouse; I've worked with him before and I know he works. One is the guy in charge of the presentation team; he, too, works through the shift, although not as hard. The third is a lazy-ass motherfucker who got promoted because of perfect attendance and ass-kissing.

The latter person I have never seen do a whole shift's work, not even before he was promoted to team lead. Last week he threw a piece of paper on the floor, and when another team lead told him to pick it up, he replied, "That's what we have team members for." He's lazy, arrogant, stupid, and extremely annoying; it's always a shock to see him doing anything other than walking around and being a moron. I actually saw him doing some work tonight, in the chemical aisle, but I have no idea how much actual work he did, because I was too busy doing my own work.

All of this might not be such a big issue if it hadn't been Monday/Tuesday. Tuesday is "new releases" day, and the guy who's in charge of Music and Movies once again demonstrated that he's a sub-literate moron.

I put in for that promotion, but didn't get it; instead, this guy got it. He can't read very well: "Fried Green Tomatoes" became "Fred Green Tomatoes"; he couldn't pronounce "Einstein"; and every Tuesday morning he mangles something else. Seeing him stumble through a "huddle" where he holds up the new releases and ALMOST tells us what they are just reminds me that promotions in that store are based on something other than experience and ability.

I've heard other team members complain that this guy does not do his work, leaving much of it for others to accomplish.

So it seems that one of the requirements for advancement at our store is laziness...?

No, the requirement is that you be friendly with the boss.

The boss who promoted these guys has left the night shift, for which I am just as glad; the guy who replaced him does more work in a single shift than the previous boss did the entire time he was in charge while I was there. (The previous boss, having heard that people were grousing about him not working, handed out copies of the employee manual pages which describe his duties. "These are my required duties, and I do them." I note here, however, that his replacement works his ass off on the floor.)

Still, I have some residual ill feelings, as you can probably tell. I don't mind helping out but I will not be taken advantage of, and scheduling two people for the back room on any night that involves a typical-sized truck is just stupid and short-sighted.

If this happened because someone else called off, why do I have to make up for that? If it's because they don't have the budget for hours, why is that my fault? I can only do so much; I only have two hands.

They've really got to start scheduling enough people to get the work done.

Parts Car

Today I stuck a battery into the parts car.

Everything immediately switched on, even though the ignition switch was in the "lock" position. I cycled the switch a couple times, and nothing changed.

Ergo, the electrical system is screwed up, somehow.

I think the ignition switch is screwed up. The steering column appears to have been apart, and the steering wheel doesn't lock when the switch is in the "lock" position.

I'm going to have to double-check the wiring on the switch, and then on the starter. I don't see how a bad starter could result in everything always being on, unless someone pulled the starter and put it back in wrong.

Anyway, the first order of business will be to pull the air bags and put them in a safe place. After that, I'll worry about the ignition system. If the electrical system is all fouled up I won't feel so bad about stripping the car, though.

Blank Media

I'm running low on DVD+Rs and CD-Rs, so I checked the Sunday ads. OfficeMax had Memorex blank media on sale: 100-disk CD-R spindle, or 50-disk DVD+/-R spindle, for $15 each.

I could have paid $30 for a 50-pack of OfficeMax brand DVD+Rs and gotten a second spindle free--but that would have ended up being the same price as the Memorex, anyway, so why bother? Besides, I don't like buying off-brand disks. My brother has had problems with the durability of the off-brand disks he's bought.

I looked, once again, at a Brother laser printer. 20 pages per minute! When I first got started as a computer technician, in 1990, you had to pay $5,000 to get 17 pages per minute--that was back when the now-venerable Hewlett-Packard LaserJet IIIsi came on the market.

17 pages per minute is pretty fast, but printers are getting faster. 20 pages per minute from a $80 printer is the norm these days, rather than an exception; even the inkjet printers are getting into double-digits.

I would like to get a new printer. I've got an old laser printer here, a Brother HL-8e. It's a Canon SX engine printer; it uses the same toner cartridge as, and shares many parts with, the Hewlett-Packard LaserJet II and III. I spent many hours in the early 1990s repairing these kinds of printers, so I'm an expert on repairing them. This printer is still usable today because of that expertise; I've rebuilt its fuser at least twice, and replaced other parts as they wore out. Since they are tanks, they just go on and on forever; with proper maintenance they just don't break at all, and when they do, the parts are pretty commonly available. And there are no symptoms this printer can have which I can't diagnose and repair.

The only conceivable thing that could go wrong with it, making it unrepairable, would be if the formatter board blew. If that happened I'd have to either find an HP Laserjet III with some issues and use this printer's parts to fix it, or spend $$$$ on a new formatter board. Instead I would probably just buy a new printer...but it would be a sad occasion.

The Canon SX has a top speed of 8 pages per minute--a cheap inkjet is faster than that, these days--and a resolution of 300 dpi. It is, in short, obsolete. Despite that, I just can't seem to give up on this thing. I want a new printer, but this one has the charm of a classic car.

Well, the time is coming. If I ever see a printer in my price range which can duplex (print on both sides of the paper), this one will get retired. I'd really like a color laser printer which can duplex print--that would be awesome, and they're rapidly coming down in price.

A note: whenever you shop for a printer you must always look at what the consumables cost, not just the printer itself. For example, a typical Lexmark inkjet printer can be had at OfficeMax for $40. The ink cartridges, however, run $30 each. It's slightly more expensive brother requires different cartridges which cost only $22 each. Considering that you'll average about 300-500 pages per pair of cartridges (depending on what you print, of course) the cost-per-page can get quite high. On the other hand a laser printer typically gets 5,000 pages from a toner cartridge. The cart may cost $60, and the printer may cost $200, but the cost-per-page is still much lower than it is for an inkjet printer.

Also you must make note of what kind of paper it requires. Some inkjet and dye-sublimation printers require very expensive paper for optimum results. If you want to print photographs--and you want them actually to look like photographs--expect the paper to cost a dollar per page. I prefer a laser printer which uses cheap, recycled paper, myself. ;)