July 6th, 2008

#1153: Yeah, it sucked.

I was able to deal with the pain in my feet and the heat in Receiving. What I didn't need was the six pallets of water some dickhead had stashed badly in the Chargeback aisle.

The way Receiving is laid out, there are three aisles--the one that goes all the way to the stockroom, which is the 108/109 aisle, or the "Push" side of the line; the one which terminates against the back of the shelves for stockroom aisle 001, the 110/111 aisle, or the "Backstock" side of the line; and then there's the Chargeback aisle, which is the 112/113 aisle. (The numbers are stockroom locations. For example, a particular bin on a shelf might be in aisle 1, section E, number 27, so it'd be 001E027. These locations really only matter to the inventory computer.)

At the beginning of the night, to prepare for the truck unload, the area around the conveyor must be cleared. The stuff on the backstock side gets shoved down the Chargeback aisle.

Now, in general, the Chargeback aisle is supposed to have non-inventory stuff in it. Vendor pallets are kept there; all the bicycles, both boxed and assembled; and other things like hangar boxes, repacks, salvage merchandise, etc, etc. Sometimes, "stage" pallets--pallets of merchandise for the planogram team, sorted by aisle, which will reset an area and use it all--will be put there. When Receiving is most full, then merchandise can be stocked back there. But it's only supposed to be temporary.

We got eight freaking pallets of water on one truck in early June, and the person who did Receiving that night just threw all eight pallets up in the Chargeback aisle.

All of this is acceptable. You do what you can; if you have an hour to do Receiving--which has been happening too much of late--you just put stuff wherever there are empty slots.

What's not acceptable, though, is the way these pallets were half-assed into position.

All this mattered to me last night because we got four pallets of bicycles, and bicycles go in the Chargeback aisle. Besides, no one has been able to pull any of this merchandise because pulls are done first, and the aisle is choked with crap when the backroom team is doing pulls. I wanted to move the water so that it could be pulled and so I'd have a place to put the bicycles.

The steel (big heavy-duty shelves) has pallet-sized locations established. You put a pallet up and scan it into the inventory computer. The locations are set so that if you place the left edge of the pallet over the location label, you'll have no trouble with other pallets, on the steel or under it.

We use a Crown stacker to put stuff up. It's the bastard child of a pallet jack and a forklift; it can lift about a ton. It has two legs in front, a bit farther apart than a standard pallet is wide; so if you have a three-shelved rack in front of you, you can--theoretically--slide the legs in between the pallets on the floor while you're trying to get at the pallet on the top shelf. As long as the pallets on the floor are in the right position, and the pallet on the upper shelf is in the right position, you can slide the thing right in there.

That's if everything is lined up.

Now, if you are lazy, you can put a pallet on the top shelf without lining it up carefully or fixing the alignment of the bottom pallets. All you have to do is get about 30% of the pallet on the top shelf, lower the forks, move the Crown backwards, raise the forks, inch the pallet forward, and repeat, until the pallet is securely on the shelf. You can even do this with a heavy load like a pallet of water.

That is what the dickhead did who put this water up.

So what should have been about a 10-minute job--moving six pallets of water--was already complicated into an hour's work because I first had to clean out the Chargeback aisle, then had to move floor pallets around between each move with the Crown.

Then, to make matters even worse, while I was taking the one reasonably-placed pallet down, I bumped it against the steel wrong.

And the whole fucking thing just rained down.

The entire freaking pallet. It got bumped, moved, kept going, the freaking pallet broke--a Chep pallet!--and thirty nine out of forty-eight fucking cases of water hit the floor.

When the smoke cleared, there was a pile of water on the Crown's legs, there were nine cases laying on the top shelf of the steel, and the mangled remains of the pallet were dangling from one fork of the Crown.

I think about half of the pallet was salvageable merchandise. I filled a standard grocery cart with loose bottles of water. I didn't really count as I cleaned up; I just stacked good cases and tossed loose bottles (and a friend helped me) until there was nothing left on the floor but a puddle of water from the lone bottle that had ruptured.

That was the miraculous part: only one bottle broke. When I got the last nine cases down, one bottle in one of those cases had been punctured, somehow. Other than that, no leaks.

No injuries. Other than my pride.

When the boss went through Receiving, I called him over and told him what had happened. I didn't try to hide it; I was up-front about what had happened.

"Why were you even moving it?"


I swear, he actually did ask me that question. At the time I just answered it: "Because the backroom team can't pull it back here and I needed the room for the bikes that came in tonight"--but when I thought about it later that question really pissed me off.

(I note here that there is the plus side to not having a quick wit: if I had been possessed of the gift of glibness I might have gotten mad at him right then and there.)

At least that answer seemed to satisfy him.

In the end, if I had to drop a pallet of something, I'm glad it was water. Not bleach or detergent or flat-screen TVs. Someone did that--dropped a pallet of TVs--and now we're not allowed to put them up on top. (There is a certain dickhead at our store, probably the same one who did the water, who does.) I would have been happier if I'd dropped a pallet of toilet paper or paper towels, though.

But the simple fact is, there are two kinds of people who work Receiving: people who have dropped stuff, and people who will. Period. You can't avoid it.

I recall a few months back when I dropped several cases of Gain detergent; the other guy who did Receiving at the time was going around and telling people about my spill and laughing about it and saying he'd never do that...and then the same night he was doing that, he dropped more cases of All detergent than I'd dropped of Gain. Karma hits you in the face like a 18-pound sledge, bitch.

...regardless, it sucked, and it pissed me off; and when I left work I felt like I'd been beaten with a stick.

* * *

And to continue a theme, Bullshit. In order to make power, a car must burn a certain amount of fuel. An engine making 400 horsepower is not going to get 110 MPG.

To be sure, an internal combustion engine is about 20-odd percent efficient. Most of the energy of combustion ends up going out the tailpipe, and the rest of the waste heat is why you need to cool the engine. If you can change that, you could get better performance from an engine for the same fuel input.

But my instincts tell me that even at 50% efficiency you wouldn't be getting any 110 MPG out of a 400 HP engine.

I would like to be proven wrong. Believe me, I'd love it if this guy was actually on the level and his numbers were legitimate. But there are too many examples of the "100 MPG engine" out there which turned out to be fraudulent or mythical.

And even if the guy has managed, somehow, to beat the odds and has actually developed something which does what he says it does, it's not going to go into production anytime soon. Why?

Consider the piston. We have been extracting mechanical energy from the expansion of gases using pistons for literal centuries. The mechanical and material properties of both piston and cylinder are well-understood; using 1950's technology a corporation can manufacture an internal combustion piston engine which will last for decades without major repair.

Contrast that, then, with the myriad of "super-efficient" ideas from inventors like this guy. Let's say this guy has an all-new way of turning gasoline into motion and it's really worthwhile, that with some refinement it actually can lead to 500 MPG cars as the article claims.

How's the longevity of the engine?

I mean, can you build one that'll go 100,000 miles without requiring an overhaul?

Of course you can't. It's brand new.

When the gasoline engine was first developed--and the diesel before it--it was a cantankerous machine prone to failure. Early gas engines leaked, smoked, and broke a lot, and didn't make all that much power.

The Ford flathead V8 made fifty horsepower when it was first introduced. Fifty. Okay? And 100,000 miles from one would have merited a celebration, because they didn't know how to build engines with that kind of longevity, not then.

What automaker is going to be comfortable selling cars with this guy's new engine? Who's going to step up and risk their reputation on untested technology? Will American automakers, still suffering from a perceived (not real) deficit in build quality, risk equipping cars with engines that might not last 50,000 miles, much less 100,000? Will Toyota risk its hard-won reputation as a manufacturer of dependable vehicles? Honda? Ford? Chrysler? Who?

If anyone does it, it'll be someone in China or India, and they'll just take copies of the guy's patents and go to town. The guy won't see a dime from it, and the actual cars won't be allowed in the US. Maybe someday, 50 or 100 years from now, there'll be cars on the road in the US with his engine in it. Maybe.

And that all assumes that his claims are even accurate and true, and not self-delusion or fraudulent. Which is not the way to bet, because this kind of thing crops up every time gas gets expensive.

Don't get me wrong. I'm an engineer by inclination and training, and the inefficiency of the piston engine just offends the crap out of me. I'd love for someone to develop a new way of doing things. But this is a story that has been plainly told before, and it's always turned out to be wrong. And the fact that the guy won't even describe his engine makes me suspicious. "Patent pending", my ass.

* * *

"Dam under construction"="stay away if you want to live". Why can't people understand that?

Compounding the stupidity: "...almost none of the victims wore life vests."

Yeah, attempt something patently dangerous and don't bother with basic freaking safety equipment.


* * *

So it's a hot and sticky Sunday night, and all I did today was sleep. I got up around 6-ish for dinner, but then went back to sleep after I watched the tape of Saturday morning's car shows. I finally got up at 11 and sat down here.

At least my feet stopped hurting.