Selling office supplies to angry women

Back during the Clinton administration, I had the pleasure of working for a supervisor who once blandly let me know that she hated men, but not me. Naturally this rankled a bit, and while commiserating with another man on the team (one of the funniest men I ever worked with), he related this story:

Some years ago he worked selling office supplies to corporations. He partnered with a woman who happened to be the junior salesman of the two. When doing cold calling, if the purchasing manager was a woman and they determined that she was a man-hater type, he would contrive to ‘accidentally’ spill his sample case on the floor. His female partner would then bark out something like “You clumsy oaf! Go to the car and get a new sample case!” Appearing suitably humiliated, he would gather up his stuff and rush out of the office.

By the time he apologetically returned from the car with a new sample case, his female partner would be closing the sale…

Always know your elevator number

Murray Rothbard, and other scholars, have pointed out that one of the widely held misconceptions in our society is that things are inevitably getting better with the passage of time; the notion of an ‘inexorable march of progress’. In fact, a study of history reveals that improvement is frequently followed by decline. This came to mind a while back when I was riding an elevator that stopped moving between floors, and I opened the little door and picked up the red phone:

(rings many times) “Acme Elevator Service, this is Rachel, how may I help you?”

“Well, this elevator has stopped and the doors didn’t open, and I think somebody ought to … ah … get it going again.”

“I’m sorry for your inconvenience, sir. Can you tell me the number of your elevator?”

“I thought these things must have some sort of caller ID or something…”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I have 5,000 elevators from all around the country, so I need to know which elevator you are on.”

“Hmmm, I see something here that says ‘Elevator 3’, is that it?”

“No, sir, it would be a 5 digit number.”

“Can you tell me where the number would be shown, in the elevator?”

“No, I’m sorry, sir, but it really depends on the manufacturer and model.”

(After looking around a bit): “Well, I don’t see any number like that here. I can tell you I am in Minneapolis, on the Fizbin Companies elevator…”

(Impatiently): “Ok, sir, if you can hold a minute, I will try and find it.” (click, and on hold)

I never learned if she found my elevator. While I was on hold, the elevator started moving again, and I hung up the phone and quickly exited the elevator.

Things they don’t teach you in school

Background: I am currently a Junior in the Mechanical Engineering program at the U of M – Twin Cities. This past January I accepted an 8 month, full-time internship with St. Jude Medical.  I am part of the R&D (Research and Development) group in the Cardiovascular Division.

For a variety of reasons I spend a large portion of my time at work in the machine shop. It is my understanding that I am not at all required to but it allows me to be involved in every part of the R&D process. The machinist, Ed, enjoys teaching and has sort of taken me under his wing. Ed is almost always swamped with projects meaning that if you need something built it could take days or weeks.

One day, Ed and I were working in the shop when our mutual boss, Ralph, came in with a pretty urgent project which he hoped Ed would expedite. Now some people come into the shop, throw down CAD drawings and quickly leave expecting Ed to drop everything for their project, but Ralph knew better. After casually chatting with Ed for a while, Ralph handed Ed some CAD drawings and said, “Alright Ed, here is an opportunity [he paused for dramatic effect] to excel. This project goes all the way to the top (it didn’t at all). Before today Dan Starks (St. Jude CEO) said ‘Ed who?’ but not after this project. 20 years from now employees will still be talking about you!” Ralph said this with a smile and Ed knew it was BS but he appreciated the effort and quickly finished the parts for Ralph.

Weeks later I was at my desk when Ralph approached me. With a smirk on his face he said, “Alright Anthony, I have an opportunity for you to excel…”

Apparently there was an urgent project that no one wanted to do, so Ralph needed me to do it ASAP. It turned out to be a great project; very interesting and enjoyable but now when I am approached by an unusually friendly superior, I expect to receive an important, urgent, or undesirable assignment.

My handmade engine

After two weeks and many hours of carefully building, troubleshooting, and fine tuning I got my Engine running off of compressed air. I didn’t really expect it to run at all, let alone so fast and smooth so I am quite thrilled.