Thursday, February 25, 2016


Uh, what's that again Sarge?

TIFPA, Things I Find Particularly Annoying. I intend this to be a continuing, sporadic series of posts. Each will be marked by a Roman numeral, this being the first is adorned with an "I" - subsequent posts in the series will have "II," "III," "IV," etc. When (if) I get to number 50, I won't as the recent major football spectacle did, use 50. The post will be TIFPA L. Which, no doubt, will confuse some but I'm sure the well-educated and informed crowd here at The Chant will handle in stride.

(Some of us, ahem, Old NFO, actually learned to count using Roman numerals. So Murph has hinted at, more times than I can remember. And yes, TIFPA has been added to the Acronym Page. Yes, in alphabetical order...)


Let's launch TIFPA I with my rant/whine/diatribe/tirade concerning the ever growing presence of self checkout stands in various food and big box store emporiums.

While I personally have no problems operating this marvel (sic) of modern technology, I can't say the same for other members of my species. And therein lies the source of my fulminations vis-à-vis this ubiquitous piece of machinery.

Why would someone who is uncomfortable with technology even think about using a self checkout machine? First they stand there staring at it (thinking perhaps that the machine will talk to them, maybe), then they realize that no one is going to assist them. Hence the "self" in self checkout.

So they wave their first item at the machine. Nothing happens. So they do it again, and again, nothing happens.

Dumbfounded, they stare at the machine, then the item in their hand, then back at the machine. That's when some helpful soul will explain the concept of the barcode to them, you know, this thing -

"What does that do?" They just have to know.

"Well, it is read by the machine and the machine can tell what the item is and how much it costs."



"How does it do that?"


[grumble, grumble, smarta$$, grumble, grumble, stupid computers...]

And so it goes.

Most people, once they figure out the secret, get pretty good at it. Until the window on the bottom of the machine gets too filthy to read anything. In some stores, not all, they have an employee dedicated to assisting customers at the self checkout. Which I guess would make those a semi-self checkout. (Some of those employees, though dedicated, as in allocated to, that task aren't, shall we say very dedicated.) Those folks will also (occasionally) wipe down the glass so that it can actually read the barcode.

Sometimes I will point out to these customers who are struggling with the filthy, yet-to-be-cleaned-by-the-allocated-but-apparently-not-dedicated-employee, that there is a horizontal glass (ya know the filthy one) and a vertical glass. Puzzled they will look at the machine as if they have just discovered something wondrous and particularly exotic.

"What's the vertical one for?"

"Same thing as the horizontal one."

"Why have two?"

"Why not?"

[grumble, grumble, smarta$$, grumble, grumble, stupid computers...]

Yeah, something like that...

There are folks who just never get it, but apparently they enjoy not having to interact with a fellow human, or have someone bag their stuff, so they will wheel their massively overloaded shopping cart to the self checkout and spend the next hour trying to scan things, having the machine tell them "the bagging area is full, please bag some items..." Which they will do, after studying the item in their hand, the machine, the bagging area, their shopping cart, the item in their hand once more, before they sigh and go bag some items.

As the shopping cart is still heavily laden they now ponder where they are going to put the items they just bagged. For the self checkout stands don't really have this long belt for you to dump your stuff while someone else rings it up, someone else bags the stuff and either puts it into your original shopping cart or stacks it at the end of the register where (unlike the self checkout) there is ample room for four or five bags full o' stuff.

The number of self checkout lanes has grown in my local grocery emporium since they first introduced this novel (hey, we don't have to pay the machines!!!) concept. While there are still a "crap ton" of the normal, manned by a human, checkout lanes, the store seems to not want to man (person?) those. (Because they do have to pay the humans. A key point here in all this self checkout stuff.) Unless it's a peak shopping day. Such as when The Missus Herself makes her bi-weekly shopping run or it's the day before another predicted (but non-occurring) Snowmageddon which the Weather Channel is fond of predicting.

At that point the store is mobbed with the senior set who will purchase enough water, milk, and bread to last through an Ice Age, let alone a snow storm which may or may not occur and which may or may not be like The Great Blizzard of 1978!!! (Which to tell the truth was godawful bad, according to the old-timers in these parts. I wouldn't know, I was on Okinawa. Where it never snowed. Ever.)

So when I hit the store there will be two or three manned registers and all five self checkout aisles open for business. Back in the old days the senior set were terrified of those self checkout registers.

Maybe with good reason.

Now though they are overconfident and merrily hit those self checkout machines like they know what they're doing.


It's quicker sometimes to go to the human manned register (where someone is arguing that "this week's flyer shows that as 75% off, I'm sure...") and they have enough groceries to end hunger in some small countries. And when they finally have all their items rung up, totaled, bagged, and carted, they dig through their purse for their checkbook and ask the cashier...

"Do you have a pen I can borrow?"

Or the old guys who pull out their little plastic change holder and start digging for that two cents they need. Which they seldom have and which they will finally ask for all of their coins back and so that they can then dig for a paper one dollar bill, which they swear they had this morning. Before they went to the coffee shop where everyone else had to wait while they decided what size coffee they wanted and wondered should they have a donut or a muffin. Which they paid for with a five dollar bill, their last one dollar bill, a quarter, a nickel, and the two pennies they will look for later at the grocery store.

Yeah, self checkout stands and the people who don't know how to use them, but insist on doing so anyway.



  1. Yes, yes, yes!

    I think you can divide the senior set into at least two groups. One group thinks that the world's technology should have stopped improving at whatever age they were when they were last comfortable using technology. (most likely when the rotary phone was the best new thing)
    The other senior set things that technology is only tools, and is going to use the technology to make life easier and more interesting.
    I learned to type on a manual typewriter and I have no desire whatsoever to go backwards. I like the tech toys and what they can do.

    On self checkout, my wife and I were visiting our local food store a while ago, her job is to have a list, and my job is to push the cart, and upon command, to put various items in the cart. I noticed a large set of blueprints laying out with nobody near them. I passed the cart off to my wife and went over to read the prints. (when last were blueprints really blue) Noticed a couple of big points, we were getting a beer sales area, and the self checkouts were going to be removed. We visited a short time ago, and although the beer thingie has not yet made an appearance, the self checkouts were gone. The cashier stated the store was losing money on self checkout. I wonder if this trend is going to continue.

    We learned a very long time ago, that keeping some powdered milk and flour in the freezer meant we could skip the OMG the world is ending lines at the food store.

    The 2001 references were perfect.

    Thank you for brightening the start of my day.

    1. Hahaha! Any time John!

      I may be approaching geezerhood but I enjoy tech gadgets.

  2. I'm glad you started this series, because if I had, we'd already be at TIFPA (what's the Roman Numeral for a Bazillion?).

    I'll confess I don't use the self-checkout very often. I've got the concept down, but the initiation of the process is sometimes not well explained. The dirty screen thing annoys me and I don't feel it's my responsibility to clean it, nor do I usually have the means to do so. No, I'm not going to use my shirt.

    Finally, I live in a small town, I know most of the cashiers and enjoy chatting with them as they ring me up. Some of them are retired and working for some extra cash and to keep occupied. Others are former students, who are lucky to be working, if you get my drift. In either case, it would be a shame if they lost their jobs to automation.

    Just to clarify, I have handed cash to the cashier, just to get the penny digger out of line. No, I haven't written a check in years. Not sure we even have any, as the wife handles the finances. (I get 50 cents a week as allowance)

    1. Feel free to chip in with your own TIFPAs, just remember to increment the Roman numeral properly. (Roman numeral for a bazillion is undefined, they didn't have a bazillion of anything in those days. So Old NFO tells us if Murph is correct in his assessment of Old NFO's antiquity.)

      50 cents???? Dang, you're rich!

  3. Even a Latter Day Luddite like myself can appreciate self checkouts and debit cards. About the only thing I use cash for is lotto tickets.

    1. Hhmm, Latter Day Luddite, I may have to steal, er, borrow that from time to time.

  4. Whenever I go to the big city I delight in using the self-checkerouter-thingies. I don't go to the big city that often, so my experience is limited, and I've never had to wait in line to use one, so I've never had the kind of experience you describe.

    In our humble, small village no such technology exists. We have people operated checkerouterthingies, and I know all the people chained to the thingies. It can be a drag when the retail establishment is busy, because that is when you find the highest density of penless, change-digging, flyer-clutching proto-humans. Which is awful for the poor saps who can only shop during peak hours, but not so bad for me, because I can shop at non-peak times.

    I did recently witness a frightening exchange at the local food supply emporium. A young fellow (early 20's. VERY early 20's) shoved a cart filled with 50 frozen pizzas up to the register and was astonished to be asked to tender two-hundred thirty-four dollars and fifty cents. "These are on sale," he cried indignantly, "for one dollar each!" Careful perusal of the flyer showed that the pizzas were...

    You Save

    Which he was only able to decipher as...

    (Some meaningless number)
    YOU SAVE!!!
    These pizzas is only a doller each!!!

    Of course he's gonna sue for false advertising. Be fun to watch his lawyer try to collect a fee...

    1. Ah, it's fun to watch the LIVs shop innit?

    2. Yes it is. Two questions.

      What's a LIV (54?), and will it be on the test?

    3. Low Information Voter (I would accept 54 as an answer, though in context it doesn't make much sense.)


      (It's on the acronym page, when in doubt...)

    4. Doh!

      I'm either sheltered or simple.

      And I think we all know I'm not sheltered...

    5. I don't think so. Speaking as a LV voter I object! It took me LV years to get here and here I remain!

    6. Shaun, I don't regard you as sheltered or simple. Tired from all that work on the plains of Nebraska yes, that's what it is. Fatigue is ever the enemy of attention to detail.

    7. Cap'n - Hahahahahahahahaha! Well played.

      Sayeth the LXII.

  5. Thank you from everyone of us who has privately made this same rant!!!

  6. I will not use those lines, I fear the day when they are the only choice. I suppose I could learn, like I can now pump my own gas when I leave the borders of our "No Self Service" gas station state, but I prefer the luxury of someone helping. Maybe New Jersey can pass a law against self-checkout at the Supermarket.

    Always wondered how Romans added and subtracted. XI - IX= do you change the X to IV and borrow the I? That doesn't seem to work.

    1. That's right! New Jersey is a "No Self Service" state. I always considered it the height of luxury to gas up in New Jersey, didn't even have to leave the vehicle.

      Roman math is easy. For instance, XI - IX: first you borrow X to make I, XI then subtract IX to get II.

      Or something...

    2. Fascinating question, and got me to thinking, which set me agoogling. Evidently, they used an Abacus or something like one.

    3. My head is spinning. I'll just accept that it works. Did they let you sneak a counting board in class for math tests?

    4. And that is the million dollar question! (Or would that be the MMMMM... question?)

  7. I loathe self-checkout. I think I have some kind of electrical interruption signal built into my body...either that or some kind of devious radar that seeks out malfunctioning self-checkout stations. I'm technologically savvy, I know what to do,,,and it never works as intended. And I love this series Sarge....a nice tribute to GOML.

    1. The first versions we had at S&S were pretty good, machine responded faster than you could enter data. With the "upgrades" they put on the machines, by the time I'm selecting a payment method the machine voice is still on "Welcome to Stop and Shop." Grrrr...

  8. I think I've seen one o' those fellas in the first vid at the local Wally's world.
    Coincidentally, it's the only shop in town with the self checkmate thingy.
    The other supermarket doesn't have self checkmate.
    Come to think,I haven't seen those devices in any of their stores.

    The only other places I've run across those gadgets is at the home improvement emporiums.
    I like the convenience of them when there are few customers.
    They're a pain when the stores are busy.
    That's because of the folks who will always get in the shortest line, even if it's the wrong line.
    Those are the ones who really believe the customer is always right, even when they're wrong.
    (come on, you know at least one of those!)

    Anyhoo... I seldom shop at Wally's and I'd go less often if I could get away with it.
    The employees there aren't as bright as those characters in the monolith vid.

    1. Re: "self checkmate" - Brilliant!

      As to the "customer is always right crowd," I know dozens of those types. Always there when I'm in a hurry.

      I haven't been in a Wally's world in years. No need to ask why, you know.

  9. I remember my first time using one of those POS's at Home Despot. I scanned an electrical outlet cover and put it into the bag. The voice told me, "Please put item into bag area." The outlet cover was too light to trigger the weight sensor.

    Okay, fine. I reached over and pushed the metal plate under the bag to prove that yes, I HAD actually put the item into the bag. Picked up the next item, found the bar code, and the voice loudly demanded, "Please scan next item."

    I swear the volume had gone up a notch.

    "Trying," I growled. Put the second item in the bag. Scanned a ten-foot piece of molding. It was too big for the bag area.

    "Put scanned item into bag area." I slammed the bottom plate to satisfy the damned thing, stood the molding up against the side of the bag holder, and went for the next item. As I let go, the bottom end of the molding slid out and it clattered to the floor. Picked up the molding and tried to position it so it wouldn't trip anybody.

    "Please scan next item." Finally laid the molding on the floor alongside the machine. "Please scan next item." It sounded like "Scan the next item, you freaking idiot." I was sure the volume had been turned up again.

    "Please scan next item." At this point I'm convinced several customers, observing smoke pouring from my ears and laser death rays blazing from my eyes, abandoned their purchases and fled the store.

    Scanned the final item and pulled out my wallet. Chose a credit card and looked at the screen to see what I needed to do next.

    "Please scan next item." I contemplated returning to "Tools," buying a maul, and performing a few adjustments.

    Finally complete with my purchase, I saw a woman in a Home Depot smock watching me with sad empathy.

    "I hate that f---ing thing," I told her.

    "Yeah," she said. "Everybody does."

    1. I have had that exact same experience in Home Cheapo (which is what my electrician calls it).

      Got in trouble with The Missus Herself one day when I suggested to the machine that it should go reproduce with itself. In fewer words.

      The other customers found it amusing. The Missus Herself? Not so much...

  10. I aim my cart at the cutest or the strangest looking young lass working checkout. OK, I don't, the cart does it all by itself. It's nothing to do with me I declaim.

    1. At least you have a plan, a method...

      Well, your cart does and that's something...


  11. Self checkout...I grok. It's a time for introspection. I check out myself to make sure I'm at one with the universe. Then, for good measure, I check myself in the mirror. If none is available, I look for my reflection on the glass with the red disco light show going on. After I check myself, if there's time, I scan and pay for my groceries...

    1. So now I understand that guy in front of me a couple of days ago.

      And here I thought he was suffering the after effects of a blow to the head.

      Introspection is good. (As long as you're not holding up the line.)

  12. No rant here, but ...just think about the miracle of UPC bar codes. When I was a kid, you'd have a stocker who would use a handheld contraption to stick a price sticker on each can/package/banana/item as he took it out of the shipping case and put it on the store shelf. Then the checker would read each sticker (is that the "Mark I Eyeball" thingy?) and manually (that means, with her digits) 10-key the price into the cash register. Item by item.
    Bar codes (now UPC & others) are right up there with Velcro(R), WD-40(R), duct tape (any kind), and transistors/solid state electronics as first world foundation inventions.

    From Wikipedia: "The very first scanning of the now ubiquitous Universal Product Code (UPC) barcode was on a pack of Wrigley Company chewing gum in June 1974."

    Think of it: 1974

    1. Gotta note as well: bar coding of consumer products was established by PRIVATE industry. The industry ITSELF saw opportunity for a more economical system for checking out customers, and worked to make it happen. Much like container shipping, which was the brainchild of a guy named McLean, and which slowly took over the shipping industry as others saw and realized its enhanced value over break bulk shipping. (For a fascinating history of the development of container shipping, read "The Box" by Marc Levenson. Here:

    2. I love me some barcode.

      Made my life as a cashier easier!

    3. I had no doubt private industry was behind it.

      Another book to add to the ever growing pile!


    4. The story of container shipping is fascinating (to this insatiably curious-about-everything nerd, anyways.) You have the quintessential chicken/egg quandary of what gets address and/or converted at what point amongst: container dimensions standardization, very expensive and time-lagging construction of ships designed to carry naught but containerized goods, port cranes & port storage organization/tracking software to manipulate and identify individual containers, conversion of railroad cars to carry them (not just one, but even stacking them), rails right up to the port crane location for direct loading/unloading, conversion of semi-trailers to carry containers OTR, and not least, persuading unionized port stevedores et al. that container shipping was inevitable and they'd better sign on to this new & better idea.
      It's kind of a wonder, really, how it ever got done. But now they're building the biggest container ships ever, and digging out deeper U.S. ports to handle them.

    5. Wow! You've given this some thought.

      There is more to this story than the casual viewer would realize.

      I'll never look at a shipping container the same way ever again.

  13. I rarely use those self-scanners, especially if I have fruit, veggies, or soft items in a bag which can distort the bar-code. It takes me longer to check out a few items than the professionals do with a full cart. And waiting behind others having the same trouble makes it not worth it in the least.

    1. Fruits, veggies, and soft stuff, anathema to a barcode reader!

      It really is a crap shoot with those things.

  14. It seems Target is solving the public's aversion to self check-out and consequent monetary loss by leaving all of the adjacent speed lines at our local "Super Target" unmanned (sorry sexist pig me, "unpersoned") forcing one to either hit the self-check-out area or go further down the line and stand in line behind five people with two months worth of groceries and a winters worth of new clothes to check out.

    1. I have just now returned from the grocery emporium and experienced just that.

      Target is a place which terrifies me. Didn't used to be that way. I believe that the general populace is getting more and more, I dunno, uncivilized?


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.