The Recurring Full Moon Phenomena

March 3, 2010

The stuff that dogs howl about

It’s been a while. I’ve been out of sorts with nothing good to say, so I’ve ignored the blog altogether. After a couple of good months at the end of 2009, Poor Richard fell back into panic mode as business disintegrated at the printshop behind the red awnings on Poplar Street. January 2010 was bleak. I had just begun a serious study of biblical eschatology when the last day of February rolled around and all of our customers woke up at the same time.

I’m thinking it’s the moon. I’ve written about this before (see Poor Richard’s post The Full Moon). Last time, I discussed the deleterious effects of  minute changes in the force of gravity on machines and those who operate them. This time, I’d like to consider the tidal effect on the minds of the folks who visit our Gralpharaphics “business center.” (The franchise, who shall nevermore be named in this blog, became disenchanted with printshops a year or two ago and decided that we would henceforth become “business centers.”)

The moon was full on February 28th and the orders came rolling in. All of the work that our customers had decided they didn’t need in January and the first 27 days of February, they now needed immediately on March 1st.  It’s not that the tight deadlines are all that unusual, but there were small oddities about several of the orders. Just for entertainment, Poor Richard is pleased to provide you with a few snippets from the past couple of days:

“I gave you my business card as a .jpg. What do you mean you can’t blow it up into a 24 x 36 poster?”

“My last printer closed down. I had been doing this business with him for a while and he wasn’t charging me much. I was hoping that you’d be less expensive.”

“No, the order for 10,000 rack cards went to another shop; but we need you to donate 1,000 posters. Is that a problem?”

“All of their salespeople quit. They decided not to do the mailout because there wouldn’t be anyone to respond to the leads.”

It’s not quite the Twilight Zone, but things are a little bizarre. I answered the phone at lunchtime on Friday. “Do you do raffle tickets?” queried the voice on the line.

“Yes, ma’am, we’ve been known to,” I responded.

“Well, how much do they cost?” said the voice. Even with the sure knowledge that I could not be seen through the telephone, Poor Richard made a conscious effort not to roll my eyes and began to launch into his memorized series of questions regarding quantity, size, paper, numbering, perforations, etc.; only to be interrupted in mid sentence:

“My baby’s in a pageant, and I just need some raffle tickets.”

What kind of person raffles off their baby in a pageant?

We delivered 5000 sets of a stapled document to a customer on Friday – 4 sheets, 2 sides, stapled. This morning they called and said that they had counted the order and were 25 sets short. Poor Richard found it peculiar that anyone would actually take the time to count 5000 sets of copies and also a little dubious that they were short. The job is simple and familiar. We send the file to the big black and white machine manufactured by the nearly palindromatic company that begins and ends with X. The quantity is specified in the print job. The machine prints and staples, the documents are boxed and delivered. The machine log indicates that 5005 copies were produced. Poor Richard is certain that the missing 30 copies were transported into a parallel universe.

About the poster sized business card . . .  we printed it. When we explained that it would not print clearly at 24 x 36, we were instructed to repeat it as many times as possible on a 24 x 36 board. We printed it 90 times with a pretty blue background on a nice piece of foamcore for the customer to put on an easel.

It may be the full moon, or  perhaps terrorists have injected hallucinogenic drugs into the water supply in Macon. Poor Richard isn’t sure, but he’s happy to be busy even if the orders are a little odd.

Isn’t life grand?

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The View from My Window

October 25, 2009

The view from my window is sometimes entertaining and sometimes thought provoking. Here’s what I see when I look out from under the red awnings at the printshop on Poplar Street (brand name omitted to protect the delicate sensibilities of the franchise):

The Poplar Street Park Congregation

The Poplar Street Park Congregation

At Gralpharaphics, we call them the Poplar Park Congregation. Their membership ebbs and flows with the weather and the economy. Lately, it’s been growing. It’s not that Poor Richard really minds the congregation that much most of the time.  It’s a public park and they have a right to be there. And they’ve been there or somewhere else downtown for a long time. My dad, who has worked in downtown Macon for over 70 years, knows many of them by name. They are loud, profane, occasionally drunken, and mostly harmless to others; if not to themselves.

There is an occasional preacher. There are frequent arguments and brief fistfights. If an event is upcoming, the Macon Police Department will clear them out for a day or so.  When the event is over, they come back. My customers have learned to always park on our side of the street to avoid jeers, comments, and requests for money. The money is used to buy a beverages in brown paper sacks from the Poplar Mart, the foodstore on the other side of the street that sells beer by the bottle.

We’ve had occasional fun with the congregation. There was the time when beautiful wife was given plug-in air fresheners by a friend who works at a bath boutique in trendy North Macon (where the congregants dare not tread).  Thinking to improve the atmosphere at the printshop, beautiful wife plugged in one of her new acquisitions in the lobby of the printshop during a brief Saturday afternoon visit. What she didn’t know was that there was a reason the trendy boutique had decided to dispose of the air fresheners at a deep discount. It was the fragrance–“Aroma de French Bordello.”

None of the printshop crew had ever worked in a bordello and they found the perfumed aroma somewhat strong for their tastes. With burning eyes, they unplugged the air freshener and transferred it to an outlet in the middle of Poplar Street Park just as the congregation began to arrive for the day.  It made for an entertaining morning as we watched the members of the congregation try to identify the source of the noxious odor.  One of them finally noticed the plug-in on the column in the middle of the park, and on hands and knees stuck his nose directly above the source of the smell and began to sneeze. The air freshener was removed by one of his fellow congregants, pocketed presumably to take to a location where Aroma de French Bordello would be better appreciated.

Now to the thought provoking part. The Poplar Street Congregation is indicative of a problem that is not getting any better. Macon, our lovely city, didn’t fare too well in the press last week. Forbes magazine published a top 10 article and we made #7. We’re #7 in the list of the top 10 most impoverished metro areas in the nation. That’s not a statistic that does much for civic pride. For the purposes of this short blog entry, it’s not worthwhile to go into the details of the problem . . . high unemployment, low incomes, poor education, etc. Fill in the blanks or read the Forbes article.

The causes of the problem are tough to tackle. The symptoms are visible from my window – the Poplar Street Congregation is a segment of the population that doesn’t even fall into the ranks of the unemployed. They haven’t been employed and they’re not looking for work. Goodwill, the agency whose motto is “Building Lives, Families and Communities – One Job at a Time,” used to operate the store behind the congregants. It shut down three months ago.

It seems that the Macon of my lifetime has always been a town just on the edge of getting it together. There was a time in the 1960s and 70s when we were a music mecca for Soul musicians and Southern Rock bands. We have a great university (Mercer) in town, plus Wesleyan College and Macon State.  The cultural scene is really pretty amazing. As is the case in many small cities, real estate and development interests have been allowed to run unchecked, leaving areas of abandoned and decaying buildings in their wake. Before the Decession, Poor Richard was convinced that downtown was on the verge of a renaissance and that may yet be the case. There are still signs of life and a great organization (Newtown Macon) that is devoted to the restoration of the city center. But the view from my window is troublesome today.

It seems that because the causes of the problems are tough to tackle, we don’t try. It’s easier to argue, to blame political incompetence and the inability to make rational decisions on race, to pretend that North Macon is part of another city entirely, to put personal aggrandizement ahead of the best interests of the community. Or perhaps it’s easier to pretend that there are no problems, that it’s all a bed of roses. Poor Richard is  afraid that the smell is more like french bordello air freshener than roses.

The Forbes article indicates where we are as a community. It is a warning of where we might wind up. It’s time to get behind the positive efforts to change Macon’s  direction. The list is long:  improving public schools, keeping the museum district intact, developing the College Hill Corridor, consolidating the City and County governments, reducing the number and improving the quality of our city and county representatives. It’s not impossible, though. Poor Richard is an optimist –  I’m sure that there are many like me who don’t want any part of politics, but will be glad to pitch in and help if we can all work together.

I’d like to still be looking out of my downtown window in a couple of years, and I’d like to see a different scene. Instead of the Poplar Street congregation, I’d like to see shoppers and tourists enjoying the park with open stores and businesses behind them that employ people.  Instead of the Poplar Mart selling beer, there will be a new grocery store to serve all of the folks who are moving downtown. Grant’s Lounge will be open every night, featuring the best Indie bands, who all want to play in Macon. It could happen, couldn’t it?


Neither Rain Nor Sleet, nor ?

May 3, 2009

A Summer Sale.

That’s what the subject line of the email stated.  I nearly clicked the junk button, but a quick glance at the sender held my attention.  DMMAdvisory.  Wait a minute, that’s the U.S. Post Office.  They don’t have summer sales . . . what’s up here?

mad-letterDMMAdvisory is the USPS email link to keep mailers informed about all sorts of goings on at the Postal Service.  The DMM is the domestic mail manual.  Actually, I think it’s the domestic mail manuals . . . there’s a bunch of them (if you’re curious, you can look at ’em here).  Usually, the DMMAdvisory is all about new rules that are going to be issued because they’ll make the USPS more efficient or rescinded because even though the USPS will be more efficient, everyone else will be less efficient.  The Advisories also talk a lot about Intelligent Barcodes, Move Updates, and services like PostalOne!, the online portal where mailers like AlphaGraphics are supposed to enter in all of their mailing data to make the USPS more efficient.  And we’ll be glad to do it, too . . . just as soon as the USPS figures out how to make the website work.

I’ve never seen a DMMAdvisory that talked about a summer sale. I got kind of excited about that, thinking maybe this was something we could use to promote mailing services. So I clicked on the link to find out about it. What I got was a 32 page .pdf document.  The USPS doesn’t advertise a sale, you understand, they file a Notice with the Postal Regulatory Commission. That kind of advertising wouldn’t get results for the rest of us, but apparently it works for the USPS.

Poor Richard, feeling brave, waded into the document. The first important fact I discovered is that Standard Mail is an important investment for American business and that it is incumbent upon the USPS to encourage American businesses to invest:

The current state of the economy has forced businesses, particularly Postal Service customers, to pull back on important investments necessary for ensuring their continued prosperity. The precipitous decline in the use of Standard Mail for marketing products and services is an illustrative example of the unwanted choices many postal customers have had to make because of the economy. The Postal Service believes it can, and should, find ways to help its customers increase their use of mail during these challenging economic times (pp. 1 -2).

On p. 3, Poor Richard discovers that the sale will run from July 1 to September 30.  A 30% discount for 3 months, that’s some sale! Oops, not so fast . . .here’s a catch on p.4:

The “Summer Sale” program will run from July 1, 2009, through September 30, 2009, and will provide a 30 percent rebate to eligible mailers on Standard Mail letters and flats volume above a mailer-specific threshold. The threshold is calculated by taking the percentage change between a mailer’s postal fiscal year-to-date (October 2008 through March 2009) volume and the volume mailed in the same period last year, and applying that percentage to the volume the mailer mailed between July 1, 2008,
and September 30, 2008.

So, the deal’s not so sweet.  The 30% discount only applies to the increase of mail volume in relation to the ratio of last year’s to this year’s mailings from October to March, factoring in of course the projected daily volume of pork belly contracts in the same period and the average shoe size of a U.S. mail carrier.

Reading on, Poor Richard discovers another hitch:

Qualifying mailers must be able to demonstrate volume of at least one million Standard Mail letters and flats, between October 1, 2007, and March 31, 2008, for one or more permit imprint advance deposit account(s), precanceled stamp permit(s), or postage meter permit(s).

This is looking less like a sale to Poor Richard. One million Standard Mail letters effectively rules out 100% of my customers. In fact, it probably rules out 99.9% of the mailers in South Georgia. And reading further:

Mail service providers (MSPs) are not eligible for the program.

It also rules out mail service providers, like AlphaGraphics; who if they might be large enough to aggregate and mail a million pieces of mail or so for their  customers and wanted to promote mailing services and pass along a little discount, would not be eligible to participate.

“Not a sale at all,” thinks Poor Richard.

The next couple of pages communicate the Postal Service’s intent to contact eligible mailers by letter and then direct them to a website to register to participate in the summer sale. The projected additional revenue for the USPS from the sale is between $38 and $95 million with costs at around $1 million to administer the Summer Sale.  A respectable projection of return, but qualified with this statement:

In particular, an overestimate of the additional volume generated by the incentive or an underestimate of the administrative effort required could unfavorably affect expected financial performance. (p.7)

Unexpected costs related to the malfunction of the response website are also presumably not included. The remaining 23 pages of the .pdf file encompass further justifications of the US Postal Service’s desire to try a “sale,” the regulatory provisions which allow them to do so, why the Postal Regulatory Commission should approve the request, and 17 pages of appendices that detail applicable postal rates, projections on pork belly contracts and historical data pertaining to the average shoe size of a US Postal Service Mail Carrier.

Poor Richard might humbly suggest that if Standard Mail is indeed in “precipitous decline” (and I have no doubt that it is), this proposal is unlikely to rectify the situation. I might also point out that a rate increase is scheduled for May 11 that will presumably do little to reverse the decline or encourage postal service customers to “invest in their continued prosperity” through a return to conventional mail.

Mail volume, like print volume, is decreasing; but there remains a need and demand for both services, at least in the near term. Mail has come under competitive pressure since the introduction of the telegraph, but in today’s communications environment, the pressures on both mail and print are extreme.  Barring a collapse of the Internet, mail and print volumes will continue to decrease. That said, there are still applications where printed mail is the best solution. Direct mail is demonstrably more effective with the 45 and over age group (dinosaurs like me, irrespective of Facebook enrollment). E-mail blasts will never have the impact of a well-written letter, especially if it is personalized.  Even “junk mail,” because it is tangible, has measurably justifiable place in some marketing campaigns.

Because the cost to disseminate printed mail is  higher than electronic communications, it is necessary to justify its value.  Specifically, this can be measured as ROI (return on investment) in any campaign.  It is also important to make it easier for customers to access and understand both printing and mailing. Poor Richard thinks that the US Postal Service is not succeeding in this area. Recent changes to the postal code (Move updates and the IM barcode) have been cumbersome to implement, difficult for mail service providers to understand, and completely inscrutable to our customers.  These changes have not really provoked anger among USPS customers, because they expect this kind of clumsiness, but the customers are very definitely not encouraged to increase their volume of mailing.

Perhaps the USPS should consider doing something proactive for their customers to encourage them to continue to consider mail as a viable means of communication.  Do you think a sale would work?


Possessed

December 15, 2008

My printshop is possessed by demons and I’ve been given the job from Hell.

Aside from that, things are going astoundingly well.

devilLet me preface this post with a simple statement of faith. I know that God is still in control and I am firmly convinced that he has a sense of humor. I will not sit in the ashheap in sackcloth and bemoan the situation, because it really is too ridiculous to be serious.

I’ll try to chart the sequence of events.  I think it began when Debra, the service tech who works on our nearly palindromatic digital color machine (begins and ends with an X) was given a week’s vacation by her nearly palindromatic company.  Good for Debra, bad for AlphaGraphics. The nearly palindromatic machine kicked out and backup was sent in.  At 10 am on day one, he had been trained to repair the machine and was fully confident. At 7 pm on day one, he was missing parts and had patched the machine well enough for us to run some critical jobs. At 9:30 am on day two, we had run one critical job and the X___X digital color machine had melted down. Backup showed again on day 3, this time with tenacity, a cell phone, and a full day’s supply of cigarettes. Day 3 and Day 4 went by and backup gave up completely.  Poor Richard calls for reinforcements from the big city.  They show up on Day 5 and we’re up and running . . .

BUT: We’re printing in bright reds and bright blues.

Upstairs . . . the fans won’t go off on the machine that is manufactured by the company whose initials begin with the eighth and sixteenth letters of the alphabet.  The fans are a good thing . . . they cool down the ultraviolent lamps that make the ink stick to whatever it is that you’re running through the machine. It doesn’t take 2 hours for the lamps to cool. Mike, who runs the machine upstairs, decides that two hours is indeed excessive and perhaps he should turn the machine off and on to see if it will reset. He is successful at turning the machine off.

We have a good customer, who, like all of the rest of our good customers, is trying to squeeze blood from turnips. We’ve missed a couple of jobs, but she’s sent us this one. It’s a booklet . . . all ready in Microsoft Publisher. She needs 75 of them. All of the photos and none of the fonts are embedded in the file.  It’s ginormous . . . we could actually see the lump coming over the phone lines as we downloaded it. It has 6,374 photos compressed into 24 pages.  All were taken with the camera in my cell phone and they’re all in RGB mode. She needs 75 books in color and she won’t understand it if we charge her to fix the file. Nor is she particularly excited about fixing the file herself.

Fast forward from last week to today . . . Jamaal, my remaining pressman, is totally unflappable.  What that means is that he can’t be flapped. I am convinced that he could smile through the devastation of a hurricane or the horrors of nuclear war. At 1 PM he prepares our envelope press for a short run of remittance envelopes. Printing these envelopes requires a special feeder. It is a fairly cantankerous beast on a good day. Today, the envelope press will not run . . . it is putting ink where paper should go and paper where ink should go.  Jamaal switches the envelope feeder to another press. It will not feed.  Poor Richard tries to help and makes matters worse . . . much worse. By 4:30, Jamaal is flapped . . . he has managed to accomplish 45 minutes of work in 3.5 hours.

Upstairs, a technician has arrived to fix the machine manufactured by the company whose initials begin with the 8th and 16th letters of the alphabet.  He is fortified with 3 large boxes of parts sent by that company . . . all of the circuitboards needed to fix a wide format printer or put a man on the moon. None of them are working.  Poor Richard is praying that his customers will be patient. Didn’t it take about 10 years after Kennedy’s speech before Neal Armstrong actually played golf on the moon?

Debra has returned from vacation! Hallelujah!  The booklet from hell is still printing in bright reds and blues! Not Hallelujah!

If there is one thing that I have learned after 10 years in this business, it’s that sometimes the best solution is just to go home. The kids have band concerts tonight. What could be better than that?

God is good. Isn’t life grand?


A Modest Proposal

November 22, 2008

Way back in the early 1700s, Jonathan Swift wrote a clever essay entitled “A Modest Proposal.” If my recollection serves me well, it was directed at the concurrent problems of poverty and population growth in Ireland. Swift’s hyperbolically satirical solution was simple . . . sell the children as foodstuff.

Swift maintained that the market for the delicacy was adequate, though the price might be somewhat steep:

“I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.”

Byrd and Kennedy

Could it be that our paternalistic leaders in Washington D.C., tiring of the practice of insignificant populist one-upmanship, have finally come upon the holy grail of dissipation? It seems that they’re now willingly selling our children to finance their own political (and assuredly financial) well-being.

Meager billion dollar pork-barrel projects (a la Senator Byrd) have become passe. I mean, what’s an FBI crime lab or two in comparison to a $600 billion dollar distribution of political largess?

And there’s really no need to face up to the problems we’re creating right now, is there? Surely very few of the respected Senators or Representatives hope to live long enough to even see a small dent made in the Federal debt. It’s our children they’re selling anyway . . . why should they care?

The market for children has changed a bit, too. Rather than selling our kids as delicacy for persnickety aristocrats, instead they’ve been sold piecemeal to China, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. But we don’t have to deal with that uncomfortable fact right now, do we? So, let’s just mint a little more money, increase the debt another trillion or so and leave the problem of how to pay it back to the next generation.

Let’s do the math. As I figure it, $600 billion divided by the population of the U.S. (roughly 300 million), comes to only roughly nearly precisely $2,000 per capita. For a small family like mine, with nine (including grandparents) in the household, we’ll only have to cough up $18,000 to pay off this bit of Congressional generosity. That’s really only chicken feed compared to the total obligation owed by our country. According to the The National Debt Clock , the per capita debt at 6:47 EST this evening (November 22, 2008) stood at $34,946.20. For my family, that’s a note of only $314,515.79.

In all fairness, the debt is owned by all kinds of different entities. 22% is owned by foreign and international investors. Roughly 4% is owned by some of the same domestic banks that are currently being bailed out. If you have Savings Bonds, you actually have bought up some of the very debt that you owe . . . take a minute and think that one over.

Here’s the point. It’s not just that we’re electing the wrong people to Congress. We are. But we’ve developed a political system that virtually guarantees that the last thing an ethical, responsible and honest human being will do is run for public office. Take the current Senate campaign in Georgia as an example . . . but I digress.

Back to the proposal. Let’s cut to the chase . . . let’s have an end to our politicians and their Lilliputian attempts to solve our country’s difficulties. Poor Richard proposes a sheerly Brobdingnagian solution . . . let’s sell the children outright! It’s reasonable, even if it does involve a little slavery or indentured servitude. We’ve incurred a debt for them, why not offer them up on the open market and turn some of the debt they owe into cold, hard cash? After all, what’s the likelihood that a 10 year old will ever be able to pay off the debt that our leaders are obligating them to? Sell them to the rich.

We should take this action sooner, rather that later; while the value of a small child still exceeds the $34,000 in debt that they owe.

Acknowledging my obligation to Swift, I’ll end with his words:

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the
least personal interest in endeavouring to promote this necessary
work, having no other motive than the publick good of my country,
by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the
poor, and giving some pleasure to the rich. I have no children,
by which I can propose to get a single penny; the youngest being
nine years old, and my wife past child-bearing.*

*With tongue firmly in cheek, my youngest is 12 and far too contrary to make a good servant and while my lovely bride is still of childbearing age, a crafty surgeon precluded this option for us several years ago.