Do You Want Your Penny?

As I was paying for my breakfast of cereal and juice, the checkout clerk pushed some buttons and announced the price: $2.09. I handed her a $10 and she started counting out my change. “Do you want your penny?” she asked. No, I didn’t. I already have pennies in my desk drawer that I’ll probably never spend.

I barely gave up anything. Just a penny. In fact, even if I were to lose a penny at every transaction where the change would include a single penny, what would I lose in a year? Maybe 50 cents? Even at ten times that, it’s no big deal.

Now look at it from the merchant’s viewpoint. Rather than having just a couple transactions per day, the cafeteria has hundreds or even thousands. What if they profited an extra penny on some of the transactions? That could add up.

Or not — let’s run some numbers. Let’s assume 1000 transactions of which 20% would give a single penny in change. That’s only $2. Or $10 a week, $50 a year.

Okay, so it’s not a lot of money. Would she have asked if I was to receive two pennies in change? Running the numbers again, let’s assume 1000 transactions, 20% would give a single penny and 20% would give two pennies. That’s $6 a day, $30 a week, and $150 a year.

I wasn’t offended by the question. In fact, it made me smile, then it made me think (and then blog). However, if a customer were offended, then the potential penny or two wouldn’t be worth the risk.

What do you think? Would you be offended if a merchant asked whether you wanted your pennies? Do you think it’s worth the risk for a merchant to ask?

One more question, what would you think if the merchant rounded up your change to the nearest nickel? Would your increased “love” be worth the extra few cents?

A mind at work

Once in a while, I’ll listen to talk radio. Certain hosts attempt to excuse their arrogance by claiming to be “confident.” Nice try. When positions are stated so there is no room for debate, no possibility of being wrong, I see a closed mind.

I started another book last night (my books page is at least a couple of books out of date). It’s A Shortcut Through Time by George Johnson. In the preface is a somewhat relevant quote originally by Alan Lightman:

For me, the ideal essay is not an assignment, to be dispatched efficiently and intelligently, but an exploration, a questioning, an introspection. I want to see a piece of the essayist. I want to see a mind at work, imagining, spinning, struggling to understand.

That’s not a bad description of the ideal blog.

Turn a kid on to Engineering

Jack Ganssle
Jack Ganssle
Jack Ganssle, embedded systems guru, challenges you to turn a kid on to engineering.

In the ’60s and early ’70s a national Apollo-era fascination with things technical helped groom youngsters for an electronics career long before entering college. It wasn’t (quite) as dweebish to enter a science fair as is the case today. Kids were excited about science and engineering.

Above all, perhaps, was the specter of ham radio. Like so many others of the time, I got my first ham license at age 16. Though even back then sophisticated operating modes like single sideband (SSB) existed, most of us teenagers couldn’t afford the latest cool technology. We were forced to build our own equipment.

“Forced” is hardly the right word, since building stuff was much more interesting than actually using it, when and if it finally worked.

It brings back memories for me: endless hours playing with Legos and my Erector set, the two-stroke lawnmower engine spread out across the shop (that never worked again), the crystal radio my dad helped me build, the blown fuse from connecting a ham code key using just an extension cord (don’t ask…), the ham radio receiver in my bedroom, the Jacob’s ladder in the garage.

What do kids play with these days that interests them in hardware? Ganssle has some suggestions:

Get a Digikey catalog. Surf over to www.imaginetools.com. There are indeed a lot of resources for young EE-wannabees. Check out www.arrl.org, or Ward Silver’s Ham Radio for Dummies, Wiley Publishing, April 2004.

Sounds like fun!

The Rain Comes Down With A Pitter-Patter-Pit

When the Asian tsunami struck, one of my pastors was in Australia. The massive devastation, the enormous loss of life, prompted some soul searching and resulted in her making five resolutions. Her third resolution was simply stated: obey God more. To illustrate the point, she referred to Jesus’ story of the wise and foolish builders.

24Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” —Matt: 7:24-27 (NIV)

When you obey God, a single set of principles governs your behavior and you become a whole, real whole person. You build on one rock.

When you compartmentalize your life, you act differently around different people. You follow different rules depending on the circumstances. Rather than being one, real person, you are multiple, fake people. (It’s interesting how duplicitous is synonymous with fake.) You don’t build on one rock; you build on a bunch of little rocks. And what is sand, but a bunch of little rocks.

I’ve heard this story explained many times, but this was the first time I’d heard building on the sand be described as being compartmentalized and fake. It spoke to me. Maybe it will speak to you, too.