Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's Time for Some Gas Station Innovation

Isn't it about time we reinvent the average gas station?

A (seemingly) simple idea to revolutionize the common fill-up stop: automatic pumps

Instead of having to get out of your car or have somebody walk up to your car to pump gas, I would think there would HAVE to be a way to automate this mundane process. I'm no engineer or inventor, but let's do away with this current system. There's nothing pleasant about this task and for those folks who have to pump gas to make a living, I truly feel for them because it is a thankless, messy job.

Instead of the current manual pump system, an automatic pump would minimize or completely eliminate:

-Having to trudge out of your car on a snowy or rainy or scorching hot day
-The ever-pleasant gasoline smell on one's hands after filling the tank
-Toxic gas spillage on the ground
-The delay it takes for a gas station attendant to come to your car to ask what you want, start the pump, walk away to help somebody else, come back, top it off, get your payment, swipe your card (or count your cash), and finally send you on your way... this is totally inefficient for all involved
-Idling time as you wait for the pump to finish, and as other cars wait in line for the cars in front of them to finish filling up

All in all, the current manual system we have has no real advantage to it, as far as I can tell. An automatic system would still require at least one person to be on premises to monitor any problems, help people as needed, or, like the good ole' days, squeegee each car's windows.

Now let's get pumping on how to make this happen...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

5 Predictions for (the Remainder of) 2009

Ok so I'm a little late to the game to make predictions for 2009, seeing as how we're already nearing the end of February, but what the heck, I'm gonna do it anyway...

Here are trends that I think will become readily apparent in 2009:

1. Fewer people buying bottles of water. It's long been assailed that buying bottles of water is essentially a waste. The water in these bottles is often just tap water, and the markup for these bottles is incredible. (Consider: a gallon of water from the tap costs somewhere in the realm of 1/2 a cent. Meanwhile a 12 oz. water bottle can easily cost a buck in a vending machine or *gasp* $3.50 at a sporting event.) I think people will finally catch on to the scam at hand, now that budgets are getting tighter in an ugly economy and because of the green movement that discourages consumers from buying bottles that take up energy/resources to make. Bottles of water will certainly be needed, such as for emergencies, or traveling, and the like, but I think we'll see the demise of people spending gobs of money on these bottles for daily use.

2. More scrutiny on personal finances. It is quite obvious that people across the country need to focus on where their money goes. With the 2008 stock market crash, the Bernie Madoff pyramid scheme, the mortgage market mayhem, and hosts of other financial debacles that have unraveled, it goes without saying that we need to collectively take better care of our money. Buying cars on a whim is already a thing of the past, as we have seen with the rapid decline in auto sales, but even more abstract measures, such as determining how best to allocate one's 401(k) plan will take up a lot of Americans' time this year, and for good reason. These issues have been ignored for way too long and it has come back to bite us.

3. A decline in interest in what celebs do. This is just a personal hope of mine, anyway. How ridiculous is it that there's such a massive industry based around following celebrities around to see what they're wearing, where they're shopping, or what their kids are up to? To me this is a sickness and proves that too many people have way too much time on their hands. And what irks me is when these minor happenings (not to be confused with actual real-life events) make the local or national news. Not to be morbid, but unless there's blood, sickness, or death involved, there's no reason to be discussing a celebrity's life on the evening newscast.

4. An increase in hard work. This economy will, metaphorically speaking, separate the wheat from the chaff. The people willing to give their best efforts at their jobs will ultimately come out of this recession in relatively good shape. The folks who just cruise on by or lose motivation will miss a tremendous learning opportunity and fall behind... be it financially, socially, or emotionally. Hopefully more people fall into the former category than the latter category. A lot of people made a lot of money without truly earning for a long time, but that will certainly change this year.

5. Decline in sporting attendance. While sports are relatively recession-proof, (even in bad times, people need an outlet, as the theory goes), I have a hunch that this may be the year where people relax their passions for watching pro sports. Let's face facts here... hundreds of thousands of people are being laid off each month, and meanwhile athletes are landing contracts of 10, 20, 30 million dollars a year. Personally, I'm tired of spending gobs of money to support these skyrocketing sums. And when you hear that the ever-popular NFL is laying off people in its home office, that sends me a signal that all is not well in the sports world.

There you have it. 5 predictions for the remainder of 2009. Knowing my history of making predictions, chances are I'll be dead wrong on all of them, but whatever, it's a blog, not stone.

(Image from: http://melton.ca/samples/images/hmmath/water_bottle.jpg)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Billboard Vacancies

Riding around, I'll often see a billboard that is unsold, and a message on it reading, "Your Ad Here" + a phone number to call to buy the ad space.

Just a thought-- you've got this massive square footage of unused sign space, can't we use it for something for the public good in the meantime? Perhaps a photo of a missing child on one half and your ad on the other half? Or maybe you donate the ad to a charity for a week at a time, until the space gets sold. Or display a work of art by a local artist. Something, anything.

Billboards are considered to be an eyesore by many people. Why not try to counter that opinion with an engaging message instead of just shamelessly self-promoting yourself? In the end, if potential clients see the great possibilities that a billboard can offer, they'll be more inclined to want to rent it. Plus, seeing a sign that essentially says "nobody else wants to place an ad here, why should you?" is not exactly all that enticing to a prospective customer.

In other words, let's see billboard companies get creative and put their Monet where their mouth is.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cold Blooded Killers

Another weekend, another cop killing in Philly.

Eighth cop killing in three years. A sickening trend indeed. Way too many police officers, and civilians, being caught up in the line of fire by sinister gunmen.

(Side note: Not sure about you, but it irks me when people use the phrase "cold blooded killers" who do the killing. Is there such a thing as "warm blooded killers?" Aren't all killers despicable, evil, and a scourge on society... which is what cold blooded implies?)

Whatever the case, it's long past the time to weed out these killers from our world. Sooner than later.

Rest in peace, Officer Pawlowski. May this be the end to the "cold blooded killers" in Philly...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Ups and Downs of Electric Service

The winds were a-whippin' around on Thursday morning. And at about 6:00am the power in our house blacked out here in South Jersey.

I called PSE&G, our power service company, and was sent to an automated system. At first I was annoyed because I wanted to speak to a person to find out what was going on. But in the end this system was quite helpful and easy to use as it let me know within a minute what the status was (there were many reports of outages in the area) and when power should be back up (around 8:30am).

So I went about my business and got ready for work--in the dark-- and left for work around 8:30 with the power still out.

Around 10am I called PSE&G back to see if I could get a status update since I would go home at lunch to check on things if it was still out. This time, instead of an automated system I got a customer service representative right off the bat. Unfortunately, this rep was rather curt with me but let me know that power had been restored around 9:30. So I was quite disappointed that I would have rather dealt with an automated system instead of this rep. In this economy, there's no excuse to be rude to customers when there's most certainly 100 other people out there who would take your job in a heartbeat.

Hopefully this was just a one time thing with PSE&G... not just the power outage, which happens and is understandable, but also the unfriendly customer service, which is not.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Personal Planners: Paper or Plastic?

As phones become "smarter," more and more people are using them for various everyday uses, that were, up till a few years ago, never really thought about before.

Your average iPhone or Blackberry, among others, allows you to check email, surf the internet, play games, take photos, and maintain a personal calendar. Though I have not yet taken the plunge into smart phone territory, it is tantalizing to consider buying one due to all that they have to offer. At this point my main hesitation is a monetary one, but another one has since surfaced. For my personal planner, do I prefer paper or plastic?

Let me start by saying that I've never been all that proficient in maintaining a calendar on a regular basis, electronic or otherwise. Somehow I manage to make it to all of my daily appointments, but traditionally it's been a scramble for me. For instance, I don't always get into the habit of looking at my calendar a few days/weeks ahead to see what I have coming up, I just kind of wing it and look at what I need to do soon. Additionally, I've never been good about keeping one single calendar; in other words, I'd have a calendar at work, scraps of notes at home, etc.

However, that has all changed since the start of this year. I bought an old fashioned pocket-sized weekly planner (at a cost of about $5) and attached a thin Moleskine cahier notebook to the front, with a handy rubber band, and I use another rubber band to keep a refillable pencil on the side so it's available at all times. You're probably reading this and thinking it's quite ridiculous that a person in this day and age is carrying around a pocket planner, note pad, and pencil all day long. And to this I say... haha, yes, you're probably right!

But to be totally honest I actually dig it!

Here are my thoughts about this...

-I sit at a computer all day at work and then spend many more hours in front of a computer at home (like, ahem, now). So do I really need another computer to tag along with me and run my life? Well, maybe a smart phone could be helpful and fun in some ways, but I don't think it would make a huge difference in planning my life.

-I love writing with a pencil on paper. So much better than tapping an electronic keypad. And faster... I can flip to the page and write a date down faster than most phone users.

-An elder business colleague of mine, a man who is highly regarded and extremely successful, totes around a similar small personal planner. If he's successful with this simple, almost primitive calendar, then that system can work for me!

I'm going to stick with the paper planner for now and see how it goes. Call me if you have any better ideas...