January 17 '98
I Have A Dream It Came Upon A Midnight Clear
I had a vision the other night (12/11/97). No, an angel did not appear and announce anything, nor was I caught up to a third heaven. No, I did not visualize in a dream-like state or at least none of which I am aware, nor have I delivered a speech on the subject to incite the masses. Yet, when I awoke at 3:58 a.m. Friday morning, I envisioned the solution to a problem that first reared its ugly head almost a year ago.
I am, or at least I perceive myself to be, a problem solver. The work that I now do for SUPERVALU is largely problem/ solution oriented. Of course there are problems that I can't solve. If I could solve all the problems of the world, I would command a higher position. My problem solving is on a smaller scale. I seek to address those problems that I encounter in life and strive to find a solution for them. With respect to personal problems or relational problems I count myself a failure, but that may merely be the result of being my own self's worst critic. I have a considerably higher ratio of success in problems involving logic, design, or methodology.
So far, my work has not led to a great invention such as exemplified by T. A. Edison and the electric light, or a great methodology such as the assembly line concept envisioned by Henry Ford. Neither have I developed a chemical process or other means to eradicate the nemesis of cotton farmers, the boll weevil, a challenge I once dreamed of assuming, but neither has my work with "problems" been without its rewards.
I have no way to explain why I am driven to overcome problems and obstacles, and I certainly cannot explain the successes or failures in but the crudest of terms. Yet, I will share a couple of examples so that you may better understand the totally, NOT earth-shattering accomplishments to which I am referring.
My father, Daddy as I most often used when addressing him, believed it would be good for both of us if he taught me the value of work. He proceeded to incorporate me into the work of his grocery business at an age when I had much rather been doing anything but working in and around adults. One of the results of that work resulted in my learning how to cut up a whole fryer. After learning the basics such as which joints to sever, I began to direct my attention more and more toward a speedier way to disjoint the cold, wet, slippery fryer on the butcher's block in front of me.
At first, I was nervous, attempting to perform a task under the watchful eyes of customers. You see, I was working in a full service Meat Market (self service had not yet made it to Pontotoc), where I was required to greet each customer with, "Good Morning," or another appropriate term, and to follow with, "May I help You?" For a thirteen year old introvert, that was a pretty tall order. But, to have every move scrutinized by the person you were helping was worse. I can't say with certainty that because of customers watching me work I learned to quickly dispatch the various parts of a fryer beginning with one having all parts intact, but it must have contributed. In time, some customers would buy a fryer just to see how speedily I could cut it up. I probably never set a speed record, but I have never found a butcher that claimed to have cut a fryer into 11 pieces, including the pulley-bone, in less than 18 seconds. If you are really interested in this, I will add that it took 13 knife strokes, two quick joint-snaps without a knife, and twice laying down the knife and picking it up again before the final cut completed the task. Thus, each movement averaged about 1 second. You might say this activity was an early version of "fast food." Today, there is little demand for this particular job skill, but it was a vital part of my job for a portion of my life.
In case you wonder if I am the person in the following situation, the answer is NO! Furthermore I do not know if the story is truth, half-truth, of just plain fiction. The story is set in the days of service meat departments in grocery stores. It was the era of ice-packed chickens and a time when folks just asked the butcher for a whole chicken or a particular steak or roast. The time was late Saturday night (stores were closed on Sundays) when most of the meat for the week had been sold, especially the supply of fresh chickens. The last customer in the store walks up to the meat counter and asks the butcher for a chicken. The butcher plunged his hands into the icebox beneath the service meat case and pulled out the last chicken. The customer was unable to see the area where the chickens were kept. Flinging the bird on the meat scale, the butcher announced the weight and price, whereupon the customer pondered for a moment and then stated she really needed one a little larger. The butcher knew he did not have one any larger, but seizing the opportunity to fatten his profits, pitched the chicken back into the icebox, scratched around in the ice, and produced the same bird again, but this time he announced a slightly greater weight and price. The customer, again, pondered the situation and finally said, "I don't think one will be enough, just let me have both of them." If you were the butcher and faced this dilemma, what would you do?
The preceding ethical dilemma is not really intended to serve as a problem solving example, but I will share a solution. My answer requires the butcher to tell a second lie, not a wise choice, but one that should get the him out of the corner in which he has painted himself. He should explain that another customer phoned a few minutes earlier and asked that a chicken be saved for her to pickup at closing time, and he (the butcher) can only sell one of the two remaining chickens to his current customer..
A second illustration of problem solving involves a bit of ingenuity and carpentry skill. In the mid-Seventies, a supposed crisis concerning the supply of world oil reserves sent oil prices to record highs. The country's economy was struck with high rates of inflation, costs of living indexes soared, and as my family struggle to remain financially stable, we began to reduce our heating/ cooling costs through measures such as adding extra attic insulation, installing storm windows, and weather-stripping all doors. Even though we were able to reduce our consumption of electricity, inflation factors did not allow us to see any dollar savings. Our only savings were the difference in what we were currently paying versus what we would have been paying had the energy saving measures not been in place.
I had read about increased consumer interest in solar power as a way to reduce fossil fuel and electric power consumption. Using some scrap lumber and materials salvaged from a recent remodeling project at the Sunflower store where I worked, I constructed a solar heater for our master bedroom. It was a passive system, devoid of thermostats or fans, using only known principles; hot air rises, and in a passive system rising warm air must be replaced with cooler air. Picture a large rectangular box open on one end, partitioned with a chamber to contain cool air and insulated from an upper chamber where warm air is created by allowing sunlight to pass through a Plexiglas panel and heat the exposed black surfaces of the upper chamber. A small inlet between the upper and lower chamber allows cool air to rise into the upper chamber as warm air escapes. Now picture this device mounted and angled outside a bedroom window with unrestricted southern exposure, and you will see my solar heater.
One cold but sunny day in January, with the bedroom closed off from the heat of the rest of the house, I measured the temperature at 70 to 72 degrees despite outside temperatures that did not rise above freezing.
Well, there you have a couple of problem solving illustrations, simple but certainly not profound.
Returning to my vision, I need to explain that last February our company distributed approximately 200 order machines to our retail customers. The handheld order entry unit is not only capable of ordering any of the products our company sells to our retailers, it also has the ability to handle requests for new price tags to replace ones that have been damaged on the retailer's shelves. The problem is the new machines have a feature that shuffles the data and arranges it in numerical sequence from the smallest number to the largest number. Our old machines, those formerly used by our customers, did not have this feature and, instead, allowed shelf tag requests to be printed in the order in which they were scanned into the machine. This allowed the retailer to quickly re-tag an aisle or section of merchandise. But, tags ordered using the new machine might require trips to several aisles just to hang the tags printed on a single sheet.
One of my responsibilities is the distribution, inventory, and maintenance of order entry terminals. Naturally, a solution to the problem was sought as soon as the problem was discovered. However, I was informed by the programmers from the company that provided the equipment that this feature could not be changed, but when the next software release became available, sometime next year, the requested feature would exist.
A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues from our Regional Office was in my office, and we were discussing the features of the order machines. I mentioned a bug in the present software that occasionally changes the quantity of the item ordered by a factor of 10. Example: A retailer keys in a quantity of 4 for a particular item, but the machine makes a mistake in the shuffling process and tacks a zero after the four and the retailer receives 40 instead of 4. This happens infrequently, but it happens with enough regularity to frustrate everyone. My colleague mentioned that Blind Order Entry did not re-sequence the data, and we talked of other concerns common to our work area for a few minutes.
Thursday morning (12/11/97), one of our Retail Business Consultants stopped in my office and asked if there were enough of the old order machines so that one of our larger retailer groups could use them for ordering tags. I explained that we had sold our old machines to be used as spare parts by a refurbisher of used equipment, and the few that I had on-hand were spares for our general merchandise representatives to use. I further explained that when the new software was available, the tag issue would be resolved.
Years ago, I was taught that we never forget anything we have seen or heard. Our every experience is stored in the brain. Most of the data we collect is removed from our consciousness and stored in our subconscious collection center. I don't recall if this was taught as a theory or a fact, yet I find it believable and a means to account for that which might otherwise be unaccountable. Weird dreams are a good example of how our subconscious mind picks and chooses from among many bits and pieces of data and conjures some of the strangest connections and relationships.
I have come to the point in life where Nature awakens me somewhere between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. each morning and gently prods me to get out of bed and respond to her "call". I do not remember dreaming anything prior to arising, during the night of my vision, but as soon as I became awake enough to stand, there was a linking or fusing of two important pieces of information that were stored in one or both areas of the brain that I have been discussing. It was brilliantly clear to me how to solve the tag-order problem. I was so inspired by the impression, that I almost ran outside to get an order machine out of the trunk of my car and test the solution that had just moments before been birthed. The frigid night air dissuaded me from acting impulsively, but as I crawled back beneath the warm bedcovers, I could not sleep for the next hour as I thrilled in the reality of the vision.
Lewis Grocer's order machines are programmed in such a way that the user can turn on or off certain options based upon a particular need. Blind Order Entry (BOE) is one such feature, but I was told it held no advantage over the Intelligent Order Entry feature (IOE), and was discouraged from using it. Yet the vision clearly connected the BOE feature with the tag request feature and provided a solution to a problem 10 months old.
As soon as I arrived at work Friday morning I grabbed a spare order machine and modified a couple of user selected fields, and BINGOit worked. Now, at last, retailers who desire to order a complete section of tags and have them printed in the order they are entered, say left to right along the top shelf of aisle 3, have the ability to do so.
No, no, no. The folks from Nobel won't be calling. There won't be any awards or plaques presented by our company president. The event won't be highlighted in a company publication. It is unlikely there will be any at-a-boy's and probably not even a single thank you. Adulation or admiration is not my goal. My reward is the result. My esteem, my self-worth is contained by an ego that recognizes service above self. My work ethic, instilled by my dad, remains "A job worth doing is worth doing well."
Mastering Divinity Cold Hot Wet Or Dry Weather
My mother claimed you could not make divinity candy except on a cold, dry day.
I have, since, learned that Mom was wrong. A couple of years after Mom died, a lady in Indianola, Shelby Knight, shared her secret to making perfect divinity. She claimed her technique would work any time of the year, regardless of the temperature or humidity.
I figure if I can make this, you can too. I will share my mother's recipe since that is the one I use, along with Shelby's technique. Before giving the recipe, I will explain the technique.
Divinity is basically sugar and egg whites. Sugar, corn syrup, and water are boiled in a sauce pan until the boiling syrup reaches the proper state or stage. The state of the boiling syrup is proper when the liquid syrup spins a thread This is tested by dipping a table spoon into the boiling syrup, raising it about a foot above the pan and watching the drops fall from the spoon. After the first drops fall, you will notice the last drops produce a fine, silk-like threads that almost float away in the rising vapor. When the syrup reaches this stage, it is said to spin a thread. At this point, pour about half the syrup into stiffly beaten egg whites and continue to beat them.
The remaining syrup is, immediately, placed back onto the burner and heated until the syrup forms a hard ball when dropped into cold or cool tap water. This can be done using a cup or shallow bowl with an inch or so of water. Dip your spoon into the hot syrup and quickly raise it over the water, allowing a drop or two to fall into the cool water. You may or may not hear a cracking sound, but if you press a finger on the crystallized ball of syrup in the water, you can feel its hardness. Had you performed this test when the liquid first began to spin a thread, you would have discovered the ball that is formed is soft (Note: This is called the soft ball stage). If you have never tested for the hard ball stage before, the soft ball test should be done so that when the syrup reaches the hard ball stage, you will know what to expect.
Once the syrup reaches the hard ball stage, pour the rest of the syrup into the egg whites and continue beating the mixture until it begins to stiffen. It should be stiff enough that it will hold most of its shape when you spoon it onto a waxed paper surface to cool. If it appears too runny, allow the mixture to cool a little more before dropping spoonfuls of divinity onto the paper.
Mom's Divinity Icing (also divinity candy)
2 1/4 Cups Sugar (Domino)
5 Tbs. Light Corn Syrup (white Karo)
3/4 Cup hot water
3 Egg whites (beaten)
1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract.
Heat the Sugar, Corn Syrup, and water as described above. In a mixing bowl, beat the whites of 3 eggs until they become stiff. Once all the hot syrup is poured into the bowl, as described above, mix in the vanilla extract prior to shutting off the mixer and spooning up the divinity. (Note: A stand mixer works best; I prefer a KitchenAid brand mixer.) Add pecan halves to the tops of the pieces of divinity if desired.
Bodock Beau Of Southern Signage
Beau said he, too, had seen some pretty funny signs. The rear end of a truck he followed the other day boasted:
#1 In The #2 Business.
As he passed the truck he read the name of the company lettered on the side.
Hilliard's Septic Tank and Grease Trap Service