Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Some Assembly Required

 It wasn't long ago that I had to assemble bunk beds that we bought for visiting friends and family with kids.  One of the dowels that connects the bottom bunk to top bunk was missing, and rather than try to get a replacement part ordered by spending half an hour wading though voice prompts and trying to describe the part to a customer service rep halfway around the world, I opted to drive down to Lowe's, buy a dowel rod for a couple of bucks and cut it down to size.

Then as I was putting together an office chair that I had bought the other day, it dawned on me that there was a time when you could go to the store and purchase furniture and it would arrive already assembled.  I'm sure the furniture companies save a lot of money by using the consumer for free labor, but why do we accept this imposition when we buy a computer desk but not for other products?  Can you imagine buying an iPad or digital camera and getting a box of parts and a soldering iron with instructions in French, Spanish and bad English poorly describing how to put all the parts together to get your finished product?  Am I the only one that thinks we're letting the businesses that sell us components, parts and fittings in the guise of finished products off easy?

I suppose it could be worse.  I mean, the company that sold me a fake Christmas tree makes me put that sucker together every year.  At least I only have to put my office furniture together once.  Although in all fairness, I suppose I could assemble the tree once and just decorate it every winter.  The rest of the year I could pretend it is an evergreen tree growing in my loft.  Hmm, not a bad idea, actually.

Of course the idea of charging the customer full price for reduced services is not limited to cheap furniture from China.  They now have restaurants where you can cook your own meal.  Hey, thanks, but I've already got a place for doing that, it's called my kitchen.  Sometimes I wonder if the world's going crazy or if I'm just missing out on awesome marketing opportunities.  I need to brainstorm some ideas for saving labor by having the customers do what paid workers would normally accomplish.  Jack in the Box put digital ordering systems in their restaurants so they can fire the kid behind the counter making minimum wage to punch in "Sourdough Burger Combo", so I'm too late for that one, but I'm sure there are other opportunities out there.  I just need to keep my eyes open and never underestimate the power of changing the paradigm while nobody's looking.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Long Arm of the Law

Not too long ago I found myself on the wrong side of the law.  It wasn’t the first time I had been caught transgressing our nation’s driving laws.  The last time I was pulled over for speeding was extremely annoying.  Allow me to set the scene.  I was staying at a lodge in the mountains with friends, the majority of whom were skiing at the mountain which this lodge conveniently was located at, or Breckinridge to be precise.  I, being the frugal (or cheap, depending on your point of view) person that I am, having purchased a season pass to another set of slopes, opted to take the 30 minute drive up the road to ski there rather than skiing with everybody else.  I don’t remember the cost of the tickets but this saved me somewhere in the ballpark of $120 over a two day period.

Imagine the bitter irony, when, only about a half mile from the lodge, I was pulled over for speeding through the tiny town of Breckinridge.  Sadly, I had just noticed that my speed was a bit high, and had already started slowing down when I saw the police car behind me.  Needless to say, the ticket I received cost me more than it would have cost me to simply ski the very mountain where I was staying.  Aggravation really isn’t a strong enough word to express my sentiments about that point in time, but what are you going to do?

Flash forward almost 3 years, as my speeding ticket is finally about to drop off my record, dropping my insurance rates back down (no, I wasn’t even counting that cost in the equation), and here I found myself with a police car following me once again with its lights flashing.  This time I was driving on a country road where the speed limit is inexplicably only 40 mph.  As it turns out, I was doing 50, but that wasn’t the surprising part of my conversation with the police officer.  The surprising part came when he asked me about my Illinois plates and I explained that I am in the military.  He actually gave me a warning ticket and thanked me for my service!  I had heard of warning tickets before, but as someone who has been pulled over several times and never received one, somehow they were in the realm of semi-believable entities, like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.  I don’t know if I like Texas or not but I do like Texans!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Adding a Pool Room to the House

I still remember the day when a coworker offered to sell me his PlayStation 3 for only $250.  Almost as well as I remember the day, a couple of months later, when it stopped working on me.  So when a guy at work offered to sell his pool table to make room for his girlfriend's stuff, you couldn't blame me for being hesitant.  But since Heather and I have wanted a pool table for awhile, and since he was offering it for only $100, to include not only the table and balls, but also 2 nice pool sticks and a wooden rack that mounts on the wall to hold them, I couldn't resist.

The only problem was figuring out where to put it.  My house comes in one of two floor plans, one with 4 bedrooms and a large loft, and one with 5 bedrooms and a small loft.  Unfortunately, mine was built with the small loft, which I calculated to be a bit too small for the table.  It would have fit, of course, but taking shots from the sides would have required shortened pool sticks or else a lot of aggravation and awkward high angle hits.

Not to be defeated, I did the measurements on the master bedroom upstairs.  One of the draws to our house is that it has a master upstairs and down, and we chose the convenience of not having to climb stairs each night and morning traversing to and from bed.  That left the master bedroom upstairs for a guest room.  As much as I didn't want to lose the guest room, it was the only other place the pool table might fit.  Once I measured the dimensions I realized there was no way to have a bed and a pool table in there, but the pool table would fit with plenty of room all around by itself.  The guest bed would just have to relocate either to the loft or more likely to one of the other bedrooms (sorry guests, but you'll have to either walk down the hall to the bathroom or we will move the pool table into the corner and put the bed in the master bedroom while you're in town).

Next up was getting the actual table to my house.  The kid I was buying it from has a large diesel Dodge truck, so I knew this wouldn't be a problem.  We took the table apart and carried the top down the stairs and to his truck.  There wasn't a good way to put the rest of the table in his truck without possibly damaging the felt, so I  decided to see if it would fit in my Vibe.  The Vibe has carried a lot of freight, from a dishwasher to 500 pounds of paving stones to a 52 inch TV, so I figured it was worth a try.

The stand barely fit, and that was with the hatch glass open so the legs could extend out the opening, and with the front seats as far forward as they would possibly go.  I'm a pretty small guy, but there was literally only inches between the steering wheel and the seat.  Just try moving your seat all the way forward and see if you can squeeze in there.  Make sure the seat back is at 90 degrees too.  I dare you.

Needless to say, I couldn't even hold my head up, or it would have been crushed into the sun visor, so I tenuously placed the car in reverse with my head less than an inch from the glass, turned to the left so as to get me a view of the road.  With my knees hugging the steering column I slowly creeped down the road following the big red Dodge with the rest of my purchase.  Turns were executed using a boat captain hand to hand motion, and I gained a new appreciation for Clowns, even though I still hate them.  Fortunately it was only about a 10 minute drive to my house, and I'm thankful I wasn't in an accident because I probably would have either been decapitated or killed from the force of the airbag exploding my internal organs.

Once we got to the house and I extricated myself from the car, we got everything upstairs, which was a sweat drenching exercise, and put it all together it the new pool room.  It wasn't easy, but it was worth it.  I even put our two bar stools up there and mounted the pool stick rack right away.  Heather and I have been enjoying our own personal pool hall, and the pool table shouldn't suddenly stop working in a few weeks either.  My house just went up a coolness level.