This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Zen of Vending Machines

Warning: The following post has absolutely no chemistry in it. It is a rambling, stream-of-consciousness rant about vending machines…mostly. I have used footnotes in an attempt to increase clarity. You have been warned!

I checked out the vending machine today at work and, amazingly, I actually found something I liked -- Raisinets. Lately, finding items I like in this vending machine is cause for celebration. Our building only has about 50 people left as most have already moved into our new, much larger lab. Since vending machine use has slowed down, the vendor isn't bothering to restock it on a regular basis any more. The situation has become dire enough that the mere appearance of the “restocking guy” creates a bit of a frenzy in our building. I suspect the line that forms behind “restocking guy” as he winds his way to the vending machine creeps him out a little. I’m fairly sure he doesn’t care much for the crowd watching as he resupplies the machine. And I’m quite positive he doesn’t take kindly to the stocking suggestions thrown out by the nervous spectators, but that’s what earns him the big bucks.

The process of actually buying something from this machine is somewhat of a ritual. First, you have to overcome the fear that the machine will steal your money, which this particular machine is known for doing. (See note 1) Your outward demeanor is very important. Since a crowd has formed by this time, it’s important to give your co-workers the impression that, hey, you know you might lose money here, but that you’re the kind of person who savors risks. (See note 2) Next, assuming you were successful and the desired snack has appeared, you check the expiration date. This can be difficult since the ink has often faded by the time a snack makes it to this machine. There also remains the possibility that the date consists only of a month and day. If you have to ask “what year?” then you probably have no business touching this machine. And if the expiration date has passed, you have to decide if the date is real or more of a suggestion. Surviving the consumption of the snack will embolden your coworkers into purchasing the same item.

I realized long ago that vending machine operators operate by a different set of rules. I used to think vendors would fill their machines with highly desirable items (Hostess snacks, for example) which would be bought quickly and yield great profits. Vending machines in public places are like that, since the owners can charge insane prices for the right to eat unhealthy snacks. However, vending machines in static locations at the workplace are a different story. Apparently vendors can make more money in these locations by offering crap that nobody wants but which the vendors can get at cutrate prices. Oh, they may occasionally add a few desirable snacks to keep people from abandoning the machine, but they make their money on those people who cannot leave a vending machine empty handed. My vending machine epiphany occurred several years ago when I noticed a recently restocked machine. Before restocking, this vending machine had completely sold out of one item (a Hostess snack) while the item right next to it (some wretched peanut based monstrosity) was completely full. Not a single one had been sold. Not only did "restocking guy" refuse to fill the empty slot with more Hostess snacks, he filled it with more of the wretched peanut based monstrosity that obviously was not selling. Either he had been ordered to push this stuff off on us or he was tired of restocking our facility.

Note #1: This is the same fear parents with young children feel when they are about to put money into an arcade machine at shopping malls, where the machines are poorly serviced, the odds for success are dismally low, and where there really isn’t any recourse available if the machine eats your money.

Note #2: Last weekend, I found myself in just such a situation at a local restaurant – a national chain specializing in buffalo wings. After dropping 2 quarters into a racing game (for my son) requiring a dollar to play, the game rebooted. Yes, I said rebooted -- with hard drive checks and everything. After about 30 seconds, it had finished and, of course, wanted 4 more quarters to play. Now I had to make a choice. If I gave up, my son would disown me. If I lost more money, my wife would dismember me. She was already in a less than happy mood, since our dining experience had been, shall we say, slightly flawed. The portion sizes had been small, it had taken 45 minutes to get our food, they had forgotten to put the proper BBQ sauce on her ribs, and my ribs had been cold – refrigerator cold. So it was with no small trepidation that I dropped in 4 more quarters. Fortunately, fate shone upon me that day.

1 comment:

Chad said...

Hmmm... seems as though the vending machine beats out the "national chain specializing in buffalo wings" in overall customer satisfaction!!! (and possibly with less money lost)

I enjoyed your rant - I'll be stocking my machines with "highly desirable items (Hostess snacks, for example)" from now on!

Napa Valley Vending