A Short Story I Like

A toothpaste factory had a problem: Due to the way the production line was set up, sometimes empty boxes were shipped without the tube inside. People with experience in designing production lines will tell you how difficult it is to have everything happen with timings so precise that every single unit coming off of it is perfect 100% of the time. Small variations in the environment (which cannot be controlled in a cost-effective fashion) mean quality assurance checks must be smartly distributed across the production line so that customers all the way down to the supermarket won’t get frustrated and purchase another product instead.

Understanding how important that was, the CEO of the toothpaste factory gathered the top people in the company together. Since their own engineering department was already stretched too thin, they decided to hire an external engineering company to solve their empty boxes problem.

The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP (request for proposal), third-parties selected, and six months (and $8 million) later a fantastic solution was delivered — on time, on budget, high quality and everyone in the project had a great time. The problem was solved by using high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box would weigh less than it should. The line would stop, and someone had to walk over and yank the defective box off the line, then press another button to re-start the line.

A short time later, the CEO decided to have a look at the ROI (return on investment) of the project: amazing results! No empty boxes ever shipped out of the factory after the scales were put in place. There were very few customer complaints, and they were gaining market share. “That was some money well spent!” he said, before looking closely at the other statistics in the report. 

The number of defects picked up by the scales was 0 after three weeks of production use. How could that be? It should have been picking up at least a dozen a day, so maybe there was something wrong with the report. He filed a bug against it, and after some investigation, the engineers indicated the statistics were indeed correct. The scales were NOT picking up any defects, because all boxes that got to that point in the conveyor belt were good.

Perplexed, the CEO traveled down to the factory and walked up to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed. A few feet before the scale, a $20 desk fan was blowing any empty boxes off the belt and into a bin. Puzzled, the CEO turned to one of the workers who stated, “Oh, that…One of the guys put it there ’cause he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang!”

http://cs.txstate.edu/~br02/cs1428/ShortStoryForEngineers.htm

I was once on a US military ship, having breakfast in the wardroom when the Operations Officer (OPS) walks in. This guy was the definition of NOT a morning person; he’s half asleep, bleary eyed … basically a zombie with a bagel. He sits down across from me to eat his bagel and is just barely conscious. My back is to the outboard of the ship, and the morning sun is blazing in one of the portholes putting a big bright-ass circle of light right on his barely conscious face. He’s squinting and chewing and basically just remembering how to be alive for today. It’s painful to watch.

But then zombie-OPS stops chewing, slowly picks up the phone and dials the bridge. In his well-known-I’m-totally-asleep voice he says, “Heyyyy. It’s OPS. Could you … shift our BAFPAT … yeah, one-six-five. Thanks.” And puts the phone down. And he just sits there. Squinting. Waiting.

And then, ever so slowly, I realize that that big blazing spot of sun has begun to slide off the zombie’s face and onto the wall behind him. After a moment it clears his face and he blinks slowly a few times and the brilliant beauty of what I’ve just witnessed begins to overwhelm me. By ordering the bridge to adjust the ship’s back and forth patrol by about 15 degrees, he’s changed our course just enough to reposition the sun off of his face. He’s literally just redirected thousands of tons of steel and hundreds of people so that he could get the sun out of his eyes while he eats his bagel. I am in awe.

He slowly picks up his bagel and for a moment I am terrified at the thought that his own genius may escape him, that he may never appreciate the epic brilliance of his laziness (since he’s not going to wake up for another hour). But, between his next bites he pauses, looks at me, and gives me the faintest sly grin, before returning to gnaw slowly on his zombie bagel.

http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread995013/pg1

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Additional Anguish

Additional Anguish

Paul Woodward sat in his cramped eight by eight office cubicle sipping on what would be his last coffee of the day. By this point in the work day he wasn’t doing much work at all. It was an hour before the market closed and people would start to head home to begin their weekends. Instead of thinking about what he and his fiancée’s plans for the weekend were, Paul focused on something that had been stuck in his head for the past week. It didn’t bother him, it just occupied his head more than he would have liked, and it was distracting him from the simplest of tasks. He attempted to look busy by staring at his computer and clicking every few moments to keep his neighbors from growing suspicious. Paul was always self-conscience about the sound his clicker made since the office was so quiet throughout the day and a majority of the noise came from the clicking of other’s mice. His eyes displayed the standard look of exhaustion that comes from staring at a monitor all day. But behind Paul’s eyes his thoughts raced wildly. “It’s so simple. Why has no one done it? Will I get caught? Could I go to jail?”

Paul lived a relatively quiet life. Between the eight hours at work that promised just a few short conversations in the break room, and the hour long silent commute to and from his home, he had a lot of time for personal reflection and miscellaneous thought. Coming home was always a relief from the toll a quiet day can have on the mind. Paul’s fiancée, Ramona, was always a conversationalist. She and Paul would talk for hours after he got home from work, and they talked about everything from how their days went to their favorite childhood television show to the small addition to their house that Paul was in the process of building. It was young love at its finest, wanting to spend as much time together as possible and caring deeply about what the other had to say. The only thing Paul kept from Ramona was what had been on his mind the entire week, but it didn’t bother him because he knew she wouldn’t want Paul to be involved in what he would be telling her. He felt somewhat guilty, but felt a stronger urge towards just doing it without mentioning it, he was enticed.

Five o’clock came and like a perfectly timed flash mob everyone in the office turned their computers off and said their friendly goodbyes. Paul stayed a few minutes longer, finishing his coffee, and trying to configure his plan for execution that night. There wasn’t much to it, but Paul wanted to make sure everything was set. Paul got up from his desk, packed his belongings, headed out to the parking lot, and hopped into his pick-up truck to start his hour-long, silent commute home.

Paul took the usual exit to get off the highway and began making his way home using back roads. He was in the more secluded part of his drive when he suddenly slowed down on a main road straight-away, and there to the right hand side was a construction site of a residential home being built. Paul slowed down, not quite to a stop but slow enough to get a good view of the lot. He saw the basic frame of the house on the concrete foundation, piles of two by fours, stacks of plywood sheets, and the dirt covered land that one would expect while looking at a construction site. There were no signs of people, and it appeared as if the construction team had packed up and called it quits for the day some time before Paul had driven by. He casually sped back up and headed home to Ramona.

Paul opened the door to the warm embrace of Ramona and the smell of chicken noodle soup from the kitchen. Paul threw his briefcase in the backroom to be forgotten about for the weekend and like every other day after work he and Ramona discussed their day, sat down for dinner and enjoyed each other’s company.

“Hey hun, did I mention I need to go to the hardware store after dinner for the wood?”

“You’re already that far into the addition?” Ramona hadn’t been paying too much attention to the progress of the expansion. But always enjoyed seeing Paul light up when discussing the building project. He had always loved working with his hands, which was fairly evident with all the furniture in their home that Paul had made over the years.

Paul’s eyes lit up, “Yup. The foundation is set, floor joists in place. All I need is the flooring, framing and siding, which is some of what I’m picking up after dinner.” Paul tried to play it cool and not make eye contact. He couldn’t stand openly lying to Ramona.

So, they went about eating dinner and discussing weekend plans. Talking about Ramona’s parents stopping by for dinner Sunday night and Thanksgiving being just around the corner. When they were finished Paul changed out of his business clothes and put on some jeans and a dark sweatshirt, said bye to Ramona and was on his way to “the hardware store”.

He was on the same secluded road that he had taken home from work, and a car was approaching from the other direction. Paul looked out his window and saw the framework of the house under construction, and a stack of plywood and two by fours. He carried on past the home in order to not cause suspicion from the driver of the car passing by. Paul turned around, didn’t see any cars or people in sight, and pulled up onto the construction site with his pickup. He slowly pulled up behind the house and turned his engine and lights off. There was silence, Paul sat there for a minute and thought about going home. He thought to himself, “I have the money to pay for the wood, why am I doing this?” A few minutes passed without the sound of a car passing by out front, so Paul hopped out and quickly began stacking the two by fours on the back of his truck then the sheets of plywood. Paul didn’t usually sweat in the cold weather, but tonight he was sweating profusely from nervousness, but his adrenaline was kicking like never before. Paul grew over the nervousness realizing absolutely no one was around and he would be able to hear a car coming from a quarter of a mile down the road even though none had come by yet.

Just when Paul had filled up his truck with wood the sound of a car down the road grew louder, echoing against the trees surrounding the road being pushed towards the construction site opening. Paul hid behind the house poking his head out so he could see the street. The sound grew louder and the car emerged from the tunnel of trees, and Paul read “Errington Police”. His heart stopped and Paul knees slowly gave out, he slipped down into a crouched position leaning against the houses framework. Paul listened as the cop car faded off into the distance. He waited there until he could he nothing but the dry leaves rustle in the soft wind. Paul slowly got up and poked his head out to see nothing that hadn’t been there ten minutes ago. He jumped in his truck, put the windows down, heard no cars and started his engine but kept the lights off. He slowly pulled along front took one last look and listened for any cars. Nothing. He turned his lights on and pulled onto the road for the drive home.

Paul unloaded the truck and brought the wood to the back yard next to the addition. His nerves had settled since the cop drove by, but he was still nervous about interacting with Ramona. He finished unloading, walked inside and sat down to watch television with Ramona. Paul seemed to have over prepared for the questions he was expecting Ramona to ask, but she didn’t even question the “hardware store” transaction. Instead she asked if Paul had seen this new show yet, she thought it was pretty funny. Paul relaxed and just enjoyed the company of Ramona.

The next morning Paul woke up and got to work. He felt a need to get rid of the evidence, and he tried his best to hide his guilt. Paul’s guilt wasn’t necessarily from the act of stealing the supplies but from the adrenaline rush and the draw towards repeating his actions outweighing what he believed he should be feeling morally. The night before he felt alive and wanted more of it, he hadn’t felt a rush like that since before Ramona and before his professional career started. Paul was beginning to realize how life slows down in your late twenties, in a good way he reassured himself. While working on the addition that day, Paul had a lot to think about in the silence of his mind, but he inevitably decided he would do it again. It really was too easy just like he’d thought it would be. He didn’t care about saving the money, he wanted the ecstasy that came with doing what others haven’t and pushing his limits with the law. He was draw towards this more than anything he had previously experienced in his life, this slightly frightened Paul but he ignored it and jumped on for the ride.

A month passed of Paul taking his weekly Friday night drive to different construction sites around the area. Paul wasn’t paranoid but he was cautious and he was smart about his ways. The addition was in its final wood framework stages when Paul grew less interested in the rush he once was drawn to. He didn’t have the same passion for his detrimental acts. Instead another emotion was slowly festering deep down inside of Paul. He thought about it occasionally but didn’t think it meant much, maybe he was finally feeling the guilt he originally thought he would feel. But it was stranger than he anticipated, the guilt struck Paul on a personal level. Every piece of wood he used was associated with another imaginary home owner. At the time Paul was only thinking about his own addition and had made no connection to the wood he took being intended for other future home owners, and Paul didn’t like how it was making him so upset.

It began effecting Paul’s everyday life as he started taking alternative routes home from work in order to avoid driving by the houses he had stolen from. He got off the highway an exit later than usual to avoid the rural part of town where these houses were being built, although this did add fifteen minutes to his commute Paul couldn’t bear possibly seeing the people who lived in these houses.

A week before Thanksgiving Paul finished the addition, which didn’t leave much time for Ramona to furnish it. His self-inflicted guilt slowed the process down but he pushed on under the pressure of Ramona. They were planning to have both sides of the family over for Thanksgiving and Ramona suggested it would be nice if the new room was done. Ramona furnished and styled the addition, positioning the TV as the center attraction in the corner. Paul couldn’t deal with sitting in the walls of someone else’s room so he stopped watching TV. Instead he picked up an old hobby of reading which he would do in seclusion upstairs in the den. He spent less time with Ramona, and he felt a distance growing between them which was also growing due to the fact Paul didn’t want to share what he was emotionally going through, with Ramona.

It was taking a toll on him like he’d never imagine. Paul figured he had gone through the worst of it the first night he went to the “hardware store” when he collapsed from nervousness. He was losing sleep at night and it occupied his mind so much during the day that it severely affected his work. He felt an immense cluster of stress and guilt that was rapidly tearing apart his life. But Paul was looking forward to the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend in hopes that time spent with family and good food would help clear his head once and for all.

The house was silent when the doorbell rang, and a breach of conversation and laughter immersed Paul and Ramona’s home. Everyone was impressed by their new addition and it was where everyone gathered as the Thanksgiving turkey aroma crept in from the kitchen. Paul felt overwhelmed with all the questions about the building process that everyone seemed to be asking about, so he grabbed a drink, a bottle of scotch. He didn’t want to, but offered it to anyone who saw him with it in order to make his appearance with a hard drink more acceptable. Paul didn’t usually drink much but he couldn’t handle the bombardment of guilt pressured on by his family in a time when he thought would be enjoyable. Paul sat down in “his” new room for the first time, turned the football game on, and drank.

The alcohol failed in suppressing his anguish, his fear had a mind of its own. Paul couldn’t even grasp what was going on around him, all he pictured was the families whose wood he stole having their own Thanksgiving parties with no idea of what really happened. He saw the Carters in the wall to his right, the Whites in the baseboards beneath him, and the Grahams in the rafters; all having a good time.

A commercial for a special sale on lumber came on TV during halftime, and that was it. Paul had boiled over, his brain had ticked as if a blood vessel had finally burst. He jumped up from his chair and yelled at the top of his lungs. Everything stopped, no more talking, no more laughter, no more eating, just the TV blabbering on about the lumber sale. All eyes were on Paul waiting for an explanation, Ramona was frightened and the guests felt uneasy. Paul walked smoothly over to the wall and punched a hole straight through the drywall. He pulled his fist out covered in dust and blood, turned to look at everyone still frozen in confusion, stood there for a second, then picked up the ottoman beside him and threw it at another wall. Chaos ensued, Paul’s family ran from the room screaming, while Ramona cautiously approached Paul trying to ease the unrecognizable man. Like a blur of motion, Paul went berserk throwing books through windows, tearing his shirt, throwing his bottle of scotch against the ceiling, flipping furniture, and kicking holes in the walls. Ramona didn’t know what to do, tears falling from her eyes, she backed away slowly, and joined the rest of her family as they watched Paul destroy what he had built, what he had stolen.

Utopia

It was in 8th grade when I learned about the book Utopia by Thomas More. We didn’t read the book we were just told about its attempt at describing a perfect society and how it originated the adjective “Utopian”. I often think about what a perfect world would consist of, in my own imagination. I envision a world where people’s jobs would be whatever they wanted. The world wouldn’t necessarily use currency so the job would more so be a hobby that everyone would have to find and spend a good portion of their time enjoying. Just replace the hours you spend at your current job with a hobby you love, anything you can imagine as long as it provides progress in some way or another. I think the question of what you would do is a lot harder for most people than one would like to think. I feel the idea of spending 60 hours a week on a specific hobby for a majority of your life would be difficult for people to accept. Sure it’s an easy lifestyle and at first seems do-able, but that much time to one specific thing, I think, would be daunting/overwhelming. The compensation of money for work allows people to work towards taking part in hobbies in their free time, it makes the job bearable because it will be worth it, for the use of hobbies. Maybe without money there will be no desire to achieve because you don’t have to work towards a goal. I am speaking in terms of what I think a majority of the population would go through, I for one know exactly what I would do for my “job”, travel! My god, I can’t start talking about traveling or else this will be a post that will break the internet. But I don’t know too many people that have a passion for something that I have been lucky enough to find in traveling. This sort of scares me, and I am promising to myself right now that I will ask people tomorrow about this question. “If you could replace your job with any hobby, what would you choose?” I think this question will tell a lot about a person, and I look forward to deciphering the people I ask this to.